Author interview – J S Law

JS LawIt might have taken me a while to get to my second author interview but I’m thrilled that it is JS Law, whose debut Tenacity is published this week.

Tenacity is your debut, can you say a little about the story – what’s your elevator pitch?

Elevator pitch huh? Well, it’s Girl Gone from a Train meets The Bourne for Red October!!!

Or, a trifle more accurately, it’s about a female investigator from the Royal Navy, Dan Lewis, who’s called in to investigate a murder-suicide onboard a nuclear submarine. She’s an ultimate outsider – female in a very male dominated environment, a crusher (military police) – and when the submarine hatch closes, I don’t think there’s a locked room environment quite like it.

How have you found the process of getting your book published?

Getting published is a hard old slog, no question about that. I know some very talented, or very lucky, people just write the one book and it becomes a phenomena and fair play to them, but they’re few and far between. For the rest of us it’s about learning how stories work, writing some very bad novels as we start to hone our skill, and then submitting and hoping we get picked up by an agent.

And really, when you get picked up by an agent, that’s not the end of the road, but it is the point at which you get really great, market-savvy advice from someone who is invested in you and your book, and that is a huge help.

I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown, and this led to a three month re-working of Tenacity before we sent it out to publishers. Tenacity then sold at auction to Vicki Mellor at Headline and I was delighted, but that again led to another round of heavy re-writes. So it’s a long journey, but very, very worth it.

What drew you to crime fiction as a genre?

I tried a few genres and have completed novels that are horror (really, really awful!), Fantasy (I think I was being pretentious at the time and called it a Phantasy – it was terrible), Erotica (Oh hell yeah, I went there, and it was before 50 Shades – truly dreadful) and then hit upon thrillers and crime. I think my writing started to improve when I began writing in this genre and I really started to enjoy it more too. Once I started going to events like Crimefest and Harrogate, and met other authors in the genre, I was hooked. It should have been obvious really, as the vast majority of my reading is in Crime Thrillers, so I think I’ll be happy here for a long time to come.

Your investigator is a Royal Navy Special Investigator, have you ever crossed paths with one yourself?

Errr, I’ve crossed the Regulators on several occasions as young sailor – stories for the bar maybe?

What facts were you surprised to find yourself researching? 

You know what!! I dread someone looking at my search history, I really do – I think all authors must be the same. The things I Google about decomposing bodies and how people look when they’ve been suffocated and stuff…

Fortunately I do have some great friends in the medical profession who spare my search history sometimes and humour me by answering my odd questions.

The things that surprise me the most though are things I should know and have forgotten. I spent years walking on and off submarines and then have to Google pictures on the web because I can’t remember what the ship’s name boards look like or some such thing. You use it or lose it, definitely

What have your former submarine colleagues made of the book – do they think they can spot themselves?

You know, this made me more nervous than anything else – how would the submarine community react to the book – but it’s been hugely positive so far and several of the guys have read and enjoyed Tenacity, which is a huge relief. It’s also worth noting that it was only in my last few years of service that people found out that I wrote at all, as I’d kept it secret for many years (I don’t know why) so for them, this all seems to have happened very quickly and they’re very much behind me.

In regards to spotting themselves – they aren’t in there and I’ll never say otherwise ;-)

Have you found the writing process differs for the second book?

Definitely! When you write your first book you have carte blanche and can do as you please. You can twist and turn, add or remove characters at will, and stop and write something completely different if you choose. For me, I found getting the second book flowing much more difficult. All of a sudden I had markers laid down – a main character who already had a forming background and personality – supporting characters who we wanted to see more or less of – a location and a theme (the Royal Navy) that we wanted to stick with – and my new story had to fit within these markers, and comfortably engulf them.

I started book 2 twice, each time writing around 35 thousand words before I abandoned it. But, with help from Jonny and Vicki, (and this is where excellent agents and editors really are worth their weight in gold) we were able to locate the problem and I’m now off and running on book 2 and feeling much happier about it. In fact, I’m very excited about it.

Who are the writers who have inspired you?

So many, but to list a very few – Cormac McCarthy’s use of language is just phenomenal; William McIlvanney’s ability to present a ‘sense of place’ is second to none; Thomas Harris has a rare ability to create tension that you can actually feel through the pages. But there are so many others who have also helped to inspire me – Mark Billingham, Peter James, Val McDermid, Stav Sherez the list just goes on and on and I could wax lyrical about each of them, what they do brilliantly, and what it is that really helped me to develop as a writer.

I think the thing is, when you want to be a writer, you need to read books from these authors, as well as newer authors in your genre, and alternate between reading for fun and just enjoying it, and then reading to understand what these authors are doing, how they drive the story forward, how they foreshadow events and bring about amazing plot twists. Read it to study, slowly, take notes if you need to, and try to learn your craft from their work.

What are you reading at the moment?

Just finished The Dying Place by Luca Veste – Very, very good!

Next up is The Defence by Steve Cavanagh – really excited, reviews have been amazing!

After that on the TBR pile are

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – top ten bestseller by an amazing author – I can’t wait to get to this one.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl and Dark Places were excellent – so really looking forward to this one.

But…. I don’t really read fiction when I’m writing my first draft, so it’ll be The Grudge by Tom English and other rugby related non-fic until mid-October, I’m guessing.

Thank you very much for having me on the blog ☺ see you at the launch xx

Thank you to James for taking the time to answer my questions – you can find out more about him and Tenacity at www.jslawbooks.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Interview

Tenacity – J S Law

51mWy+KLpDLTitle – Tenacity

Author – J S Law

Published – 30 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

Tenacity is the debut crime fiction novel by J S Law (or James if you bump into him in the bar at a crime fiction festival) and one of the debuts that I have been looking forward to reading. Before entering the  shady world of crime fiction writing Law had an amazing CV – including ‘Senior Engineer and Nuclear Reactor Plant Supervisor’ in the Royal Navy Submarine Service. I don’t suppose there are too many people who can say that!

With such an unusual occupation it is perhaps no surprise that, following the old adage of writing what you know, this debut features an investigation on a submarine. Law’s main character is Dan – Lieutenant Danielle Lewis, an investigator and part of the Royal Navy’s Kill (Crimes Involving Loss of Life) Team.

The book has a gripping opening and sets up some of Dan’s backstory which involved an investigation into a serial killer. For a number of reasons, some of which are only hinted at in the early chapters of the book, Dan has just returned to active duty. She is initially tasked with investigating the suicide of a submariner who was discovered hanged on nuclear submarine HMS Tenacity. It subsequently becomes clear that this may not be a straight-forward investigation as the man’s wife had been found beaten, raped and murdered not long before her husband’s suicide.

As with many books set in similar institutions, everyone is hoping for a quick solution which supports their preferred outcome, and in this case time is tight as Tenacity is about to set back out to sea. Of course Dan is more conscientious than that and insists on trying to carry out a thorough investigation, and this means spending considerable time on aboard the submarine. It’s here that this book really comes into its own. One of the joys of reading fiction is the glimpse it can offer into a world which the reader is never likely to see for themselves – and in this case it’s the claustrophobic life on a submarine. In putting Dan into this all-male environment and one where her presence isn’t welcomed, Law creates something which is dark and atmospheric (both literally and figuratively!). She’s isolated in this oppressive and toxic environment and horribly violated. Although not particularly gruesome or violent there are some scenes where Dan suffers at the hands of men which I found quite disturbing – it’s weeks since I read the book and the images have stayed with me – this is powerful writing.

In trying to reach a resolution in her investigations Dan’s backstory becomes clearer and more relevant; she’s a complex and damaged character trying to do a tough job in a man’s world. She’s a female lead who doesn’t kowtow to anyone (even when she probably should) and although she does have ‘baggage’ it’s not of the clichéd variety. Law really brings the setting alive for the reader without the need to disrupt the pace by showing off his inside knowledge.

The ending sets the reader up neatly to want to pick up the next book in the series, and I for one can’t wait! Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see other points of view at Northern Crime, Grab This Book and Liz Loves Books.

1star1star1star1star

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 star

Two short reviews – July 2015

In an effort to make a dent in the (ever-increasing) pile of books I’ve read but not yet reviewed below are two short reviews for The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney and Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick.

91x4gFZhsML._SL1500_Title – The Liar’s Chair

Author – Rebecca Whitney

Published – Jan 2015

Genre – Psychological thriller

This debut psychological thriller has a gripping opening – a woman driving home to her husband, having spent the night with her lover, kills a man in a hit and run accident. Despite her attempts to keep the incident secret, she quickly confesses to her husband what has happened and he arranges for the matter to be ‘dealt with’ for her.

What soon becomes clear, though, is that this is no normal relationship and while they give the appearance of being a happy, wealthy and successful couple, there are some control issues in their relationship. While Rachel becomes more and more obsessed with what she’s done her husband attempts to exert more and more control over her.

There has been a trend towards fiction which features unsympathetic characters and The Liar’s Chair seems to fall into this category – I didn’t like and couldn’t feel any sympathy for, anyone. I felt that Rachel’s belief that she was suffering from psychological abuse by her husband wasn’t convincing, and with the exception of one or two incidents the events didn’t support this.

Not for me I’m afraid.

51j2aZKyhYLTitle – Love Like Blood

Author – Marcus Sedgwick

Published – 2014

Genre – Historical fiction

This is quite an odd story and Sedgwick’s first adult novel after a successful series of Young Adult / Children’s fiction. The story follows Charles Jackson, a man who glimpses something horrific in the basement of of museum outside Paris shortly after the Liberation. He becomes a consultant haematologist and by chance he has the opportunity return France in 1951, and he takes the opportunity to return to the site of the encounter. Although he is disappointed at what he finds, he is beguiled by a young woman who he encounters by chance and then (coincidentally) he sees her with the mysterious man from the museum basement. From then on this is a gothic story of obsession – with the woman, with the man, with blood.

There is a mystery here – what is it that Charles is following, what lies at the root of his obsession? Sadly, however, I didn’t really care. As with The Liar’s Chair – I could neither empathise with him, nor was I convinced of his motivation.

1star1star1star

2 Comments

Filed under 3 star

Taking Pity – David Mark

Title – Taking Pity

Author – David Mark

Published – July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the fourth in the Aector McAvoy series and it feels as if this is the book that brings the long story arc about the gang of criminals attempting to take over all the organised crime in Hull and beyond into sharp focus.

If you’ve read any of Mark’s previous titles, in particular Sorrow Bound which ended on a cliff-hanger, you’ll hopefully appreciate my attempts to avoid spoilers!

The police team which featured so prominently in the previous titles is now fractured as its members all deal individually with the fallout from the activities of the ruthless ‘Headhunters’ gang. This isolates the characters and pushes some of them outside the boundaries in which, as part of the investigating team, they had been operating. There are some surprises and twists as we find out a little more about some of McAvoy’s colleagues.

McAvoy himself has been on an enforced break and Pharaoh ‘takes pity’ on him and offers him the opportunity to carry out a routine review of an old case. Of course nothing he turns his hand to is ever routine and he can’t leave well alone, so what should be a straight-forward box-ticking exercise leads him to undertake his own full-scale investigation. In the meantime Colin Ray is trying to track down the omniscient man behind the menacing mobile phone calls he’s been receiving and Pharaoh has her hands full pursuing the Headhunters and becomes embroiled in the efforts of some old-fashioned criminals who want to see the back of them.

As we’ve come to expect from Mark there are numerous plots and you need to keep your wits about you and pay attention. There’s no waste in his books – every word is important, every action, every character comes into their own. What I missed in this book, though, was the importance of his relationship with Roisin (McCoy’s wife) who has such an influence on him.

I can thoroughly recommend this series, but if you read this without at least reading Sorrow Bound first then you might feel at a disadvantage.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view at Crime Fiction Lover.

1star1star1star1star

4 Comments

Filed under 4 star

The Murder Road – Stephen Booth

91lUv1SXpmL._SL1500_Title – The Murder Road

Author – Stephen Booth

Published – July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

It seems a bit of an oversight in my crime fiction reading that I haven’t read a title by Stephen Booth before, especially when you consider that The Murder Road is number 15 in his Cooper and Fry series. When I mentioned this on Twitter I discovered I seemed to be in the minority and there is a lot of love out there for the series.

This is one of those police procedural stories which starts with a very simple but intriguing premise. A lorry is stuck under a bridge in a Derbyshire hamlet with only one road in or out. The lorry is blocking the access for the residents and when one of them peers inside the cab they discover a trail of blood. When the police arrive there is still no sign of the driver and a full-scale investigation ensues.

The ‘Cooper’ of the series is Detective Inspector Ben Copper – he is leading the investigation into the abandoned lorry / missing driver and also has a new DS thrust on him. Cooper seems to be less cliched then many fictional detectives but from the references to his past things haven’t always been plain sailing. I assume that ‘Fry’ has made more of an appearance in previous titles – here she was a, sort-of, love interest.

The setting is brought to life by Booth and the seemingly simple story has twists and turns as the investigation unfolds. The situation is also a great way of setting up something akin to a ‘locked room’ mystery in the midst of the Peak District countryside. Although the investigative team is supported by a pathologist and teams of SOCOs the story is light on technical detail and relies on more traditional methods and the statements/evidence of those interviewed by the police. In sticking with a small-scale rather than having a sprawling plot or a rampaging serial killer Booth keeps the story credible and absorbing.

I often review series in order and want to tell people whether they will be at a disadvantage or not if they haven’t read the preceding titles. I have to confess, though, that already knowing the backstory does make it difficult to judge. Coming in at number 15 in this series I can definitely say that I didn’t feel I was missing anything that was relevant to the story. Of course there’s lots of background that was, at most, hinted at, but rather than feel I had missed something it was more of an enticement to explore the earlier books.

And books set in the Peak District seem to be a little like buses – I’m not sure when I last came across one but this comes hot on the heels of In Bitter Chill.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. I will defiantly be seeking out more in this series and if you’re not already familiar with the books there is a full list, in order, here – http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/b/stephen-booth/

1star1star1star1star

2 Comments

Filed under 4 star

Friday on my Mind – Nicci French

51eeDcrhV7LTitle – Friday on my Mind

Author – Nicci French

Published – 2 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

In the interest of getting through some of my backlog of reviews I have taken the executive decision (this is MY blog after all) to write a few shorter reviews. First up – the 5th of the 8 books in the Frieda Klein series.

I surprised myself by really taking to the series after all the previous standalones; I think in Frieda they have created a great and very likeable leading character. Strong and independent she’s been a magnet for trouble and despite leaving the post she held temporarily assisting the police, she has still managed to end up in dire situations. But of course the advantage of setting out the commitment to 8 titles at the beginning means that a long story arc can be plotted through the whole series to offer a little something in each book.

In ‘Friday’ the opening gives us someone else’s point of view of Frieda when a body is discovered with a hospital name bracelet bearing her name. Through this part we see Frieda through other’s eyes and it offers a different perspective, and we can see how being self-contained can come across as aloof, disinterested or even callous.

The body in question is someone who has been close to Frieda and with the backstory from the previous books and a little incriminating evidence, it is inevitable that the police believe that Frieda is responsible. Frieda herself believes that Dean Reeve is to blame and goes on the run to prove her case. She makes a pretty rubbish amateur detective (obviously crime fiction isn’t her first love). It feels quite a sad book, especially seeing Frieda out of her comfort zone and away from the sanctuary of her home.

This feels like a book where the series has reached a tipping point. Suddenly the familiar from the earlier books in the series has been taken away, there are lots of changes in the relationships and this is perhaps setting us up for the final few books. It certainly seems much more like a ‘middle’ book and is perhaps not so easy to pick up without knowing more about the characters.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
1star1star1star1star

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 star

In Bitter Chill – Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill blog tourTitle – In Bitter Chill

Author – Sarah Ward

Published – 2 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

‘In Bitter Chill’ was one of the debuts that I was particularly  looking forward to this year. I’ve known Sarah for a few years, initially as a fellow blogger (she blogs at Crimepieces.com) and then as a friend in real life, and I’ve been intrigued to follow her progress as she has gone from blogger to author.

The story of In Bitter Chill is rooted in the events of 1978 when two young girls were abducted on their way to school in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Bampton, later the same day just one of the girls was found. Move forward thirty five years and the mother of the still missing girl is discovered dead in the town’s hotel. The death appears to be suicide but her link to the abduction means that the local police are called in to investigate, and here we meet two of the main protagonists:  DI  Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs.

One of the original policemen involved in investigating the girls’ abduction has remained in the local force and has risen to be a Superintendent, the death prompts him to reconsider the original abduction case in the hope that new methods and new personnel will be able to shed some light on it.

DI Sadler sets his team (DC Childs and her colleague DS Palmer) to review the investigation but budget constraints mean that this requires old-fashioned detection rather than new-fangled techniques. It is inevitable that the officers will speak to the surviving girl, Rachel, despite the fact that she was unable to offer any information on the events at the time.

Rachel, the third point of view in the story, now back living in the town, is a single and seemingly quite isolated young woman pursuing a career as a genealogist. She is still unable to remember much of what took place in 1978 but the flashbacks of her memories fill the reader in on her perspective of the events. The renewed interest in the case is upsetting for her and something that was never adequately tackled at the time, but the more recent events and her own attempts to find out what happened mean that her memories start to return.

In unravelling what took place the book explores themes of family, especially the roles of women and the consequences of trying to bury the truth in the past. As the investigation progresses the characters of the three principals are fleshed out and it’s always a relief when the detectives aren’t saddled with some cliched addiction.

The book opens with a prologue that is intense and beautifully written with haunting imagery, the reader’s glimpse into the events that took place in 1978. What surprised me about the book was that despite the author’s interest in Scandinavian crime fiction (as a judge for the Petrona Award) the story is a quintessentially English police procedural. Discovering that one of her early influences was PD James makes much more sense. What she does share with the Nordic authors is an ability to evoke a sense place and the Derbyshire town is brought to life. The straightforward story-telling, lack of violence and the emphasis on the relationships between the detectives mean that this is an easy book to recommend to people.

I know that ‘book  2′ is in the pipeline so it will be interesting to see which characters make the grade and appear in the sequel.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Vicky Newham’s blog.

1star1star1star1star

4 Comments

Filed under 4 star