Dead Line – Chris Ewan

716-ctbctqlTitle – Dead Line

Author – Chris Ewan

Published – 2013

Genre – Thriller

I enjoyed Safe House and it’s ridiculous that I let Dead Line languish on my TBR for so long, but I’m glad that I finally got round to reading it.

Dead Line is another gripping thriller with perhaps more of a mysterious feel to it compared to its predecessor. The main character is Daniel Trent, one half of a hostage negotiating duo, who live and works in France. He appears to be planning some sort of heist of his own when circumstances overtake him and his plans change.  The opening of the book is quite cryptic and Ewan drip feeds the reader information to flesh out the background to Trent’s story and the motivation for his attempt to turn from gamekeeper to poacher.

Cleverly written and fast-paced this was just the sort of thriller I enjoy and reminded me of Christmas mornings and not being able to resist racing through a new Dick Francis novel. There were some twists and revelations that I saw coming and others that I didn’t – a balance that means that this made a rewarding thriller that held my interest.

If I have a gripe it was the ending and I understand that I’m not the first person to have a grumble about it. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if you think my complaint is justified!

Everything a good thriller should be, I can highly recommend this. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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Looking forward to 2017

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Perhaps it’s the post-Iceland Noir blues but I’ve already started to think about the crime events to look forward to next year, so it seemed a good time to put my 2017 events listing together. Remember this isn’t all literary events (there are plenty of lists of those and there must be hundreds of events) but it is a list of the main dedicated crime fiction events taking place in the UK.

I aim to maintain the list and update it as dates are confirmed so do let me know if there’s anything I should add.

January

Nothing uncovered so far – perhaps we’re all busy reading!

February

March

31 March – 2nd April – Quais du Polar – Lyon
The theme for 2017 is due to be published shortly (December) – the festival is free, a short flight from the UK and much of the content accessible for English-speakers.

April

May

18-21st May – Crimefest – Bristol
A four-day convention drawing top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world.

June

July

20 – 23rd July – Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate, Yorkshire
Four days of Europe’s biggest come writing event, this year Peter James is the chair of the Programming Committee.

August

18 – 20th August – St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend, Oxford
This looks like it may be getting a bit of a re-vamp in 2017 – https://www.sthildas.ox.ac.uk/content/2017-st-hildas-mystery-and-crime-conference 

August – Margate Bookie, Margate
There is a dedicated series of crime fiction sessions in their Crimewave (ha!) part of the programme date TBC.

September

8 – 1oth September – Bloody Scotland – Stirling, Scotland
Scotland’s festival celebrating crime writing – bringing together leading Scottish and international writers, showcasing debut voices and encouraging new writers.

13 – 17th September – International Agatha Christie Festival – Torquay, Devon
Traditionally taking place in Torquay in the middle of September this festival features a range of events celebrating the life and work of Agatha Christie.

14 – 17th September – Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, Norwich, Norfolk

October

November

December

All busy shopping for books …

Hidden Bodies – Caroline Kepnes

Title – Hidden Bodies51pgbojyk2l

Author – Caroline Kepnes

Published – 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

This is the sequel to You by Caroline Kepnes – a book that I couldn’t stop raving about. I was thrilled to hear that we hadn’t seen the last of Joe and I was very much looking forward to Hidden Bodies.

So the question is – did it deliver? Sadly the answer is that I don’t think it did. In Hidden Bodies Joe has met a new woman and is putting the past behind him – except for one little issue that he left behind in a wardrobe. But when the tables are turned on him he heads for Los Angeles with plans to exact his revenge. Along the way he loses his purpose and becomes involved with a fantastically rich film-making pair of twins. Kepnes stretches the reader’s credulity with his exploits in the film world, nevertheless the bodies continue to pile up.

This lacked the intensity of its predecessor as well as much of the tension. I also didn’t find Joe’s behaviour consistent with the character I remembered from You. It’s obviously not inconceivable that his experiences have changed him but I don’t believe that’s the case, Joe was pretty entrenched in his views and behaviour. I also struggled with some of the cultural references, it was easier to follow the more literary ones in the first book than the ones in this sequel. Where the first book gave Joe’s quirky and skewed view of the world this felt more a piece about the excesses and superficial nature of the film industry and I’m not sure that New Yorker Joe was the right character to explore it. The pace also left a lot to be desired. Where You flew along this really seemed to drag and my attention wavered but perhaps this was a combination of the factors I’ve already mentioned…

This didn’t deliver the impact of Kepnes’ debut and wasn’t the twisted, stalker Joe that I wanted to read about.

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Keeping up

Moving house by Derek Mayes

Moving house by Derek Mayes

I’ve not been the most regular or reliable of bloggers. I always have a book on the go and if you check my Goodreads you’ll see that there often a few that I’m part way through but my reviewing can never keep up with the speed at which I read – even though I’m not a particularly prolific reader. There are currently around a dozen books that I’ve read but have yet to review – a situation that makes me feel perpetually guilty! So this post is to serve as a warning that if things go to plan this is a situation that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

With a bit of luck this won’t jinx things but we anticipate that before Christmas everything we own will be packed into a lorry and shipped to a whole new county (county not country – I’m not that brave!). It will be an exciting time and a big change for us but the list of things we need to do to make it happen seems never-ending and getting 12 book reviews posted to my blog is getting further and further down the list.

I’m currently trying to clear the backlog but while I will carry on reading and do intend to review the books I read it’s hard to say when a more ‘normal’ service might be resumed. Watch this space!

Ford County – John Grisham

61avjhwpgxlTitle – Ford County

Author – John Grisham

Published – 2009

Genre – Legal

Ford County is the setting for a number of Grisham’s trademark legal thrillers, including A Time to Kill, and in this case provides the location for a series of short stories.

Following quickly on the heels of 20th Century Ghosts this was another disappointing collection of short stories. I had expected that because the stories shared the same setting that they would have something in common –  a location, a character or similar thread providing a connection, but no. In fact the setting didn’t seem particularly important and if they had been set in a number of different locations I’m not sure it would have made any difference.

The stories themselves were based around a legal premise although not all involved lawyers but for the most part they seemed to lack much in thrills, or legal twists. At best focussing on the characters in the stories and often delivering a moral message these weren’t engaging and I felt as if they were working towards some sort of climax but they failed to carry through.

Not a collection I would recommend.

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Behind the Scenes – the Cover Designer

This forms part of in my ‘behind the scenes‘ look at some of the often unsung heroes who help to bring us readers great crime fiction. This time my Q and A is looking at the role of the cover designer and Neil Lang from Macmillan was kind enough to give up his time to answer my questions.

Possibly Neil’s most recognisable work is on the covers of Peter James’ Roy Grace series, all of which he redesigned in 2015.

Was being a book cover designer something you imagined you would do when you were at school?

I’m not sure that I even knew that job existed. I think like most kids I had a different career choice every week. Although I still remember being given a class project when I must have been about 7 which was a cover design with the title ‘They rounded the corner and there it was’. I seem to remember I drew some sort of flying saucer and a group of kids peering around a wall. If only I’d kept it!

After finishing my degree at Ravensbourne, I worked in a repro house for a while and then got a job at Macmillan in the text design department as a lot of the course work I had was typographic, posters, logos, even some calligraphy.

It was very different then, I remember we had a mac with a portrait screen (so you could only see a single page) which now seems crazy. Most images would be sized and sent off for scans, and you’d mark up your layouts for position. On four colour books we’d often work on the covers, and then later I’d work on TV tie in books for Channel 4, with a few for BBC and Channel 5.

That was sort of my path into cover design, as once a cover design position became available I went for it and with more confidence and experience I’ve been lucky enough to work on pretty much anything.

9781447277705Can you outline the process of designing a cover?

It varies but usually I get a brief from the editor, with a synopsis or details about the key themes in the book, and who the target audience is. It could be it’s a classic in which case you might know the story, such as American Psycho, they also tend to be books where you can be a little more creative as the target audience tend to know what they are getting.

final-hbIf it’s possible it’s always better to read the manuscript, it’s the best way to get ideas. I tend to have a notepad at the side of me and just scribble ideas as I go. Might be colours, settings, characters, objects or even the weather, most of it won’t be useful and no one else will be able to read anything I’ve written! For the recent Zero K cover design I had pages of barely legible scribbles but luckily I understood enough.

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Do you see the process as a collaboration with the author of the work?

Not all but most cover designs I’ve done before speaking to the author, it would then usually go through a cover meeting which might have up to 20 people expressing opinions, then a revised version would be shown to the author. Most of the time everyone is on the same page so to speak, in that it needs to be a visual with a clear message, which defines the genre, and hopefully stands out amongst all the competition.

What are the factors that you take into account when putting the design together?

Where the book is likely to be sold, the books you’ll find face out in Asda will be very different to those sat on a table in Waterstones. If the sales are mainly online, then you would try and keep the image simple so that it works as a thumbnail. The target audience, is it male or female, also the age of the person buying the book. It could be the book is more of a gift purchase, which usually throws up more problems with finishes and production values. Often the brief will ask for a combination of all the above!

9780230760608If the author has a successful backlist you don’t want to stray too far from that. The redesign of the DCI Grace Peter James covers evolved from what is already a successful brand but I wanted them to have more impact in bookshops but especially with a view to online sales.

One of the key things in the redesign was to make more of the titles, making them much bigger so they can be read easily even as thumbnails online. By desaturating the image it becomes more of a background on which the titles in a bright pantones and fluros have much more impact. Used in combination with a matt finish and spot varnish over the embossed lettering it makes the physical books stand out more. The bright colours also act as a series identifier, which I’ve carried over onto the spines, using Peter James author branding much larger so there can be no doubt when seen on a bookshelf who the author is.

Recently I’ve been looking at the David Baldacci brand, images used on the front but also the design of the spines which now have his name much stronger but also identify which series the book belongs to and where it sits in that series.

How much does the growth of ebooks and online sales influence the design of covers? 

There was a trend towards simple graphic, bright covers which I think came from people wanting an image to stand out as a thumbnail. So I think there has been a change, but it’s hard to say it’s down to ebooks and online sales as publishers just want their titles to stand out wherever it’s being sold.

I think it goes back to the earlier comment of the cover giving a clear message, that could be with the lettering or the image, but probably needs to be more obvious at a smaller scale.

On average, how many different designs might you put together before the final one is agreed?

This is an impossible question, sometimes you get one that works, but I’ve also had some with 100 visuals! Or you might work on something for a week, then some crazy idea comes to you 10 minutes before the cover meeting starts and that’s the one everyone picks. Although sometimes you need to work through the ideas that don’t work before you hit on one that does.

Do you have a particular style that means we might recognise a ‘Neil Lang’ book in a bookshop?

9781447263449I think if you worked as a freelancer you’d possibly want to have a style as people would come to you for that, in a sense they would know what they were getting. In the same way I would commission an illustrator, I’d look through their portfolio and get a sense of how they would tackle a brief. You might art direct the illustrator, throw in ideas or things you would like included but ultimately you’ve gone to that illustrator because you like what they do.

I’m lucky enough to work on all genres,  so I think that means I can bring different ideas to different covers. Certainly a poetry cover will look different to a crime cover, and that will look different to a misery memoir although that’s not to say there won’t be crossover.

What do you think makes a really good cover? 

A clever idea executed well. Which is easier said than done, and not always the brief!

You’ve designed covers for a range of different genres, which do you most enjoy and which provide the biggest challenges?

I enjoy working on all the genres, but I’d probably say the mass market covers provide the biggest challenge as they have to stand out in a crowded market. Often a publisher has invested a lot of money behind those titles so they are expecting good sales. These are the books that might also have the most outside influence, maybe from the retailers.

What book or series would you love to be asked to design for?

I guess I’ve already had the chance to do some such as the Picador 40ths a few years ago, various Picador Classics I’ve worked on, recently I’ve been working on a series of 24 classics (which is why this has taken me so long to write) which have been great fun. Sometimes what you think would be a great series are the ones with the most restraints, but the challenge of tackling the big names such as a Grisham or Lee Child, or maybe a fantasy author like Michael Moorcock would be fun.

9781509822812 9781509824311What are you reading at the moment?

Usually I’m reading a manuscript, two I’ve recently worked on I can recommend would be The One Man by Andrew Gross which is out now, and What you Don’t Know by Joann Chaney (out next year) as it’s a crime story told from different characters perspectives which I found was really interesting.

I’m way behind everyone here as I’ve just finished the Wool trilogy which was fantastic and not what I expected at all, and by the time you read this I’ve probably moved onto something else.


I’d like to thank Neil for taking the time to give such considered answers to my questions, and I’m looking forward to finding out what the series of 24 books is that he’s been working on!

Crime fiction debuts to look out for in November 2016

This is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in November 2016.

3 November 2016

81ql23-uw5lCut to the Bone by Alex Caan (from 
Twenty7 Books)

Ruby is a vlogger, a rising star of YouTube and a heroine to millions of teenage girls. And she’s missing. She’s an adult – nothing to worry about, surely? Until the video’s uploaded. Ruby, in the dirt and pleading for her life.

Who better to head up the investigation than the Met’s rising star, Detective Inspector Kate Riley? She’s leading a shiny new team, high-powered, mostly female and with the best resources money can buy. It’s time for them to prove what they can do. Alongside her, Detective Sergeant Zain Harris – poster boy for multiracial policing and the team’s newest member – has his own unique contribution to make. But can Kate wholly trust him and when he’s around, can she trust herself?

Alex Caan has spent over a decade working in Information Systems Security for a number of government organisations, and is currently specialising in Terrorism Studies. A lifetime passion for writing was sparked by the encouraging words of an English Teacher in school, and eventually led to Alex successfully completing an MA in Creative Writing.

91-pajh7yLL.jpgGone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen (from Headline)

Hannah Monroe’s boyfriend, Matt, is gone. His belongings have disappeared from their house. Every call she ever made to him, every text she ever sent, every photo of him and any sign of him on social media have vanished. It’s as though their last four years together never happened.

As Hannah struggles to get through the next few days, with humiliation and recriminations whirring through her head, she knows that she’ll do whatever it takes to find him again and get answers. But as soon as her search starts, she realizes she is being led into a maze of madness and obsession. Step by suspenseful step, Hannah discovers her only way out is to come face to face with the shocking truth…

Mary Torjussen has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University. She worked for several years as a teacher and lives outside of Liverpool, where Gone Without a Trace is set.

10 November 2016

81xfgs9camlThe Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey (from No Exit Press)

I’m not quite sure if this counts as a ‘ringer’ in my debuts posts, because if you look on Amazon you will find that this book has already garnered over 60 5 star reviews. I think this is because of a change of publisher and /or that the book was originally published in three parts. Not bad ratings for a debut whichever way you look at it!

Henk van der Pol is a 30-year-term policeman, a few months off retirement. When he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour, his detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his jurisdiction. Warned off investigating the case, Henk soon realises he can trust nobody, as his search for the killer leads him to discover the involvement of senior police officers, government corruption in the highest places, Hungarian people traffickers, and a deadly threat to his own family…

Daniel Pembrey grew up in Nottinghamshire, England — beside Sherwood Forest. He studied history at Edinburgh University and spent over a decade working in America and more recently Luxembourg, coming to rest in Amsterdam and London — dividing his time now between these two great maritime cities. He is the author of the Henk van der Pol detective series and several short thriller stories, and he contributes articles to publications including The Financial Times and The (London) Times.

25 November 2016

Losing Juliet by June Taylor (from Killer Reads)

A twisty psychological drama about a friendship gone bad.

Juliet and Chrissy were best friends until one fateful summer forced them apart. Now, nearly twenty years later, Juliet wants to be back in Chrissy’s life.

But Chrissy doesn’t want Juliet anywhere near her, or her teenage daughter Eloise. After all, Juliet is the only person who knows what happened that night – and her return threatens to destroy the life that Chrissy has so carefully built.

Because when the past is reawakened, it can prove difficult to bury. And soon all three of them will realize how dangerous it can get once the truth is out there…

Out as an ebook in November this will be followed by paperback publication in Jan 2017.

June Taylor is a UK writer who was runner-up in the 2011 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition with her Young Adult book Lovely me, Lovely You. But she mainly writes Adult psychological thrillers, and Losing Juliet is her debut novel. She was a TV promos writer/producer for many years before becoming a full-time writer. June also writes plays as well as fiction. She is very active in the Yorkshire writing scene, on the Board of Script Yorkshire and part of Leeds Big Bookend.

For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, JulyAugust, September and October.