Thriller of the Month – The Darkest Lies, by Barbara Copperthwaite

Like the famous Echo & The Bunnymen song, “The Darkest Lies” revolves around a killing moon. On brightly moonlit nights, two young girls are brutally attacked. Fobbed off by police and betrayed by friends, Melanie, mother of one of the victims, turns detective to find out who’s responsible for the awful crime.

At thirty-three, Melanie is a housewife and journalist manqué who has lived in the same Fenland village all her life. She thinks she knows everybody’s secrets, including her daughter’s. After all, Beth is an only child, and both Melanie and her loving husband have a close relationship with her. Nevertheless, as Melanie unpeels the surface of her neighbours’ lives, unpleasant truths are revealed. Melanie finds herself in danger, too, but willingly embraces it in her quest to avenge her daughter.

The strain on Melanie’s mental health and her marriage are too apparent. It’s impossible not to sympathise with her despite the poor choices she makes in her desperation to cope. This maintains suspense, as do the tantalising glimpses of the killer’s thoughts that punctuate the narrative.

“The Darkest Lies” is Barbara Copperthwaite’s third thriller. As ever, the pages keep turning right up until the nail-biting conclusion – on a moonlit night, of course…

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Like Barbara, I’m a British crime thriller writer. With other authors, I’ll be taking part in a big online thriller giveaway in June – sign up for my newsletter to find out more, and receive a free e-book of short stories.

Thriller of the Month – Silent Scream, by Angela Marsons

Thriller of the Month – Silent Scream, by Angela Marsons

British thriller writer Angela Marsons has sold 2m books. It’s easy to see why when you read her first crime thriller, Silent Scream (currently a bargain 99p on Amazon). The first page features a child’s clandestine burial, while a well-to-do woman is murdered in her bath in the next chapter. Marsons grabs the reader by the throat right from the start, and never lets go.

This twist-packed detective story has a very American feel, with the lawmen’s banter calling to mind vintage cop shows such as Hill Street Blues. However, like its author, heroine DI Kim Stone is based firmly in the Black Country.

The post-industrial urban sprawl to the west of Birmingham is sympathetically described. Marsons makes it clear that it’s not all high-unemployment sink estates; there are wealthy areas too. Occasionally, the distinctive local dialect crops up in characters’ conversations, but Marsons displays a light touch with that and there is no struggle to understand them.

So what of the story? Kim Stone finds herself chasing the serial killer of individuals who worked at a children’s home that burned down ten years before. Having established a link between the victims, Stone is in a race against time to protect remaining employees of the institution. Her suspicions that bodies will be found in the home’s grounds sadly proves correct. That triggers emotions for Kim Stone, who spent much of her early life in care. In fact, although perceived by others as cold and lacking in social graces, Stone is extremely emotional below the surface. In particular, she is determined to stick up for those without a voice. There is never any doubt that Stone will find the murderer, because she is so highly motivated by her desire to bring justice to the dispossessed.

Naturally, there are obstacles along the way – as well as plenty of red herrings and twists. The Queen of Suspense, Marsons keeps us guessing. Both the unmasking of the killer, and subsequent heartwarming ending, came as a complete surprise to me. They were, however, completely credible.

The book is a page turner, and I polished it off in a day. The only off note for me was Marsons’ rather harsh description of the Bull & Bladder pub. Luckily, she admitted the error and apologised in a later book. As a temple to Bathams Bitter, the alehouse serves some of the best beer in the land, and I’m jealous that one of her characters calls it his local. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to share the fate she has in store for him…

This is the first in a long series about Kim Stone. I’ll definitely work my way through the rest!

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I’m also a crime thriller writer, focusing on the buzzy British cities of Birmingham and London. Read “5 minute crime thriller” The Gap here.

Thriller of the Month – Dark Fragments, by Rob Sinclair

An unreliable narrator isn’t often used in a thriller, perhaps because it requires a great deal of skill to keep a reader engaged once it’s clear the “hero” is anything but. John Grisham did it well in “The Racketeer”. Now British writer Rob Sinclair joins him with “Dark Fragments”.

Dark Fragments” is a departure for Sinclair, who has previously written tense third person spy thrillers about secret agent Carl Logan. This, his first book for crime publisher Bloodhound, is told in the first person by Ben Stephens. At first, management consultant Ben seems a nice, ordinary guy. He adores his children and his wife. Yes, he’s down in the dumps, but who wouldn’t be in his situation? After all, he’s being threatened by gangsters over a soured business deal, he’s haunted by the unsolved murder of his first wife, and his career has plateaued. We can all imagine struggling with that kind of baggage.

This is where Rob Sinclair is very clever. Having made us sympathise with the man, perhaps even identify with him, alarm bells ring as Ben takes extreme actions to solve his problems. Rash and impulsive, he resorts to infidelity and violence, all the while seeing himself as a victim. The level of self-justification is such that the dramatic finale of the book is easy to believe, although it still comes as a surprise.

Sinclair’s style is pacy, energetic and liberally punctuated with cliff hangers. In consequence, “Dark Fragments” is a quick read, which leaves the lingering feeling that the ordinary people you meet every day may not be quite what they seem.

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Dark Fragments” is set in Birmingham, England. I also write crime thrillers that are (at least partly) set in the city and I very much enjoyed Rob Sinclair’s descriptions of its swanky and seedy areas. Do you like to read about places you know? Email me at aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com.

Thriller of the Month – Trouble with Product X, by Joan Aiken

The late British writer Joan Aiken is best known as an author of supernatural children’s stories, but her adult tales are worth seeking out too. This thriller is like a Formula 1 car, racing along at breakneck speed with many twists on the way. It’s a period piece, written about fifty years ago and set in a world my parents would recognise, when a train from London to Penzance took nine hours and you could avoid rush hour traffic jams in London.

Just as TV’s Mad Men showcased the US advertising industry in 1960s Manhattan, “Trouble with Product X” sheds light on their counterparts in London. Product X is a wonderful new perfume, expected to take the market by storm. Certainly, manufacturers Gay* Gal think so, and ad agency Salmon and Bucknell is delighted to win the account. It’s all hands to the pumps and Martha, a young copywriter, is despatched to Cornwall to produce ads for TV. She’s accompanied by colleagues, cameramen and assorted hangers-on, including a creepy client and his unpleasant chums. The trouble with Product X, as she rapidly discovers, is that the formula has been lost – or has it?

Tension rapidly mounts as the rich and beautiful are revealed to be feckless kidnappers and murderers. Luckily, Martha finds some good eggs on whom she can rely, including stalwart colleague Tom and a community of brusque monks with hearts of gold.

The book is a fun, quick read, and could almost be approached as historical fiction given that the events take place five decades ago. Joan Aiken worked as an advertising copywriter herself, and writes amusingly of the flattery employed to sell unprepossessing products. There too many twists and turns in the plot to describe, but all are believable (just!), and the book is well-written. Hats off to The Murder Room for republishing it for the Kindle. Note that old paperbacks are available for pennies on Amazon under another title, “Beware of the Bouquet”.

 

*The word “gay” is used a lot in the book in a very old-fashioned sense, basically describing a desire to go drinking and dancing.

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I’m also a writer of fun, fast thrillers – read The Gap, a “5 minute crime thriller” set in modern London, FREE, here.

Why dyslexia doesn’t stop you reading…

My grandfather was a telecoms troubleshooter. As a young Englishman in the early 20th century, he travelled the world, supervising the laying of cables across the sea, then keeping the signal crystal-clear after that. If equipment was broken, he’d fix it himself. His work took him to New York, Odessa and Persia, in ships and steam trains and a Model T Ford.

Despite his can-do attitude and undeniable skills, he never picked up a book. My grandfather was dyslexic; reading and writing was a struggle for him. He wasn’t alone, of course. Although I dodged that bullet myself (to compensate, fate decreed I’d be rubbish at DIY), dyslexia features in every generation of my family. In fact, 10% of Britons are dyslexic.

It isn’t that hard to produce a dyslexia-friendly book, but it costs more than a traditional paperback. That’s because, with larger letters and more space between the lines, the page count zooms up dramatically. Perhaps that’s why nobody has published fiction for adults with dyslexia – until now. Perfect City Press has produced new editions of my crime thriller, The Bride’s Trail, and its sequel, The Vodka Trail. Spot the difference! 

The Vodka Trail - Page 1 in traditional and dyslexia-friendly formats

The Vodka Trail – Page 1 in traditional and dyslexia-friendly formats

They’re also an option for older readers and anyone with visual stress – we’ve used a large sized sans serif font, lots of space, and cream paper, and they’re still affordable at £16.99. That compares with £7.99 for the traditional paperbacks and £1.99 for the e-books.

E-books are a great alternative, of course. You can adjust the style and size of the font, and sometimes the colour of the background. But for me, nothing beats a good old-fashioned paperback – and I suspect dear old Grandad would finally agree!

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I’m a British crime thriller writer. I’ve written a variety of short stories, and four full-length thrillers sizzling with suspense, sex, love and death. My latest, The Bride’s Trail and The Vodka Trail, are available in e-book, traditional paperback and dyslexia-friendly paperback editions through a variety of bookstores and online retailers.

Christmas Beers & Other Festive Treats

Real ale was a rite of passage for me, one of the pleasures of coming of age. Living in the Midlands, I discovered the delights of mild, a sweet, dark drink that’s rarely available elsewhere. I remember sinking pints of it at a job interview that went so well, it finished in the pub! Today, one of the best examples of the style is Two Towers Birmingham Mild, which Marty, Brummie hero of The Vodka Trail rather likes as well.

Luckily for dark beer fans, Christmas brings a crush of winter warmers with it. Here are my favourites – some available only in their locality, others nationwide. Bottoms up!

Let’s start with Two Towers. Their Sleighed Porter is dark as night, sweet with liquorice, and served at their Brum brewery tap from a pump decorated with a cartoon of local(ish) boy, Noddy Holder. Deceptively strong, it slips down a treat.

Moving south west, Bath Ales Festivity is widely on sale in supermarkets, so buy a few bottles to crack open on Christmas Day. It’s a quaffable porter with a hint of coffee.

Even better, if you can find it, is the Bristol Beer Factory’s Bristletoe. An oatmeal porter, it’s chocolatey and moreish. If the lady loves Milk Tray, give her this tall, dark handsome stranger to try.

Twisted Ales, in the shadow of the White Horse of Westbury, has concocted a festive beer that would drink well in summertime too. Crafty Santa is a well-balanced amber ale with a clean malt and a hoppy background. Extremely refreshing, it’s a great beer to knock back after Christmas shopping.

Deepest Oxfordshire has produced some fine brews too. Hook Norton Twelve Days is fruity like a barley wine, although not quite as strong – ideal for melting your icicles in the darkest depths of winter. Bah Humbug from Wychwood is another Oxfordshire winter warmer. Widely available in bottles, it’s golden and spicy.

Finally, slip across to Rudgwick in Sussex, where the Firebird Brewing Company unashamedly calls its Old Ale XXXX a “warming winter beer”.  It’s black, smooth and slightly smoky, and totally delivers on Firebird’s promise.

This winter, my hero will be spoiled for choice!

What’s your favourite? Drop me a line at aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com

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As well as drinking craft beers, I write crime thrillers and short stories. There’s a rather sweet Christmassy tale in short story collection Festive Treats, an Amazon No 1 with contributions from 15 writers. You can get it FREE here.

Thriller of the Month – The Woodcutter, by Reginald Hill

“I lived in a fairytale,” Wolf Hadda tells his psychiatrist from his prison cell. As far as he’s concerned, he achieved the impossible and won his fair lady.

Trouble is, they’re no longer together. In fact, Wolf, a former financial whizzkid, is now a convicted paedophile and fraudster. He’s penniless and his youthful good looks are gone, ravaged by an accident during an unsuccessful escape bid. Needless to say, he’s been abandoned by family and friends.

Elf, his psychiatrist, finally achieves the breakthrough that at first seems impossible. Wolf admits the crimes he’s been denying for seven years. He’s released on parole. Elf congratulates herself on a job well done. She visits his remote country cottage and even begins to acknowledge that she feels attracted to this reformed character. Then, as bad things begin to happen to those who have crossed Wolf Hadda, she starts to question her own judgement.

This isn’t so much a fairytale gone wrong as an allegory, especially as it features the shadowy JC, a spymaster with the power to put wrongs right. In a tale with many twists, it’s not always easy to tell who the good guys are, but at least we know by the end.

Reginald Hill sold millions of his Dalziel and Pascoe detective mysteries. The Woodcutter is another type of book altogether. With dodgy Russians, bent coppers, cokeheads and toffs, there are enough crazy characters and action scenes in The Woodcutter to please any thriller fan, but a heart-warming seasoning of humour and romance too.

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Like Reginald Hill, I’m a British crime thriller writer (my most recent book is The Vodka Trail), but I have other strings to my bow too. Get a free e-book of short stories – including crime, horror and romance! – by signing up here for my short and sweet newsletter.

Thriller of the Month – Flowers for the Dead, by Barbara Copperthwaite

After taking time out to finish my latest crime thriller, The Vodka Trail, I’m reading lots of fabulous fiction again, and Thriller of the Month is back! Barbara Copperthwaite’s Flowers for the Dead is a psychological thriller on a par with Ruth Rendell’s darker works – an all too believable story of the harvest reaped from a dysfunctional childhood.

Anti-hero Adam is rich, young, athletic and alone in the world. He’s also painfully shy and can’t communicate easily with women. Although he knows the meaning of different flowers, having taught himself from an old book, even his hand-tied bouquets are misunderstood by the girls he fancies.

Orphaned in his late teens (and we learn more about that as the tale unfolds), Adam lives in a Victorian mansion in a swanky area of Birmingham. He travels far and wide in pursuit of young women – London, Colchester, Reading and inverness. It takes years for the police to realise they’re looking for a serial killer. Segueing between past and present to show us how a killer was made rather than born, Barbara Copperthwaite draws us skilfully into the minds of Adam, his victims and the policeman who’s racing against time to rescue the latest object of the killer’s fixation.

There’s just enough police procedural detail in the book to satisfy crime fiction fans, but this novel is all about the serial killer’s psychology, the warped logic that allows Adam to justify his acts to himself. Emotionally, nothing is black and white. It is possible to pity Adam, while still being repulsed by his crimes and rooting for DS Mike Bishop to save the day. The final suspense-filled finish is a real nail-biter.

This is journalist Barbara Copperthwaite’s second book and a third is expected soon – definitely one to watch!

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I’m a British thriller writer who’s just released The Vodka Trail – a suspense thriller. Just like Flowers for the Dead, the conflicts in the story have their roots in the past…

A Fair, A Festival and Fabulous Beer – April’s Literary Highlights

I’ve been hanging out with readers and writers at three very different events this month – the London Book Fair, a live fiction night at a pub in Birmingham, and the Hawkesbury Upton Litfest at a village in the Cotswolds. All were not only fun, but a chance to learn from other thriller writers. Most of all, I get a buzz being around others who love books as much as I do.

I wrote a blog about the London Book Fair in 2015. If you’re not sure why everyone in the book trade (apart from the most important people, readers!) hits town every year, do take a look! Deals are done, free wine flows and there’s frantic networking. For me, the key messages this year were to make my thrillers available as audiobooks and go for a darkly sinister cover for my next crime thriller. Watch this space!

I’ve also blogged about live fiction events and literary festivals before. I can’t recommend them enough to readers. Stories come alive when they’re read aloud by their writers. The pub night, organised by Donna of Twitter’s @TheCultureHour, featured the well-respected New Street Authors. They all proved to be polished live performers as well as writers. Even better, it was hosted by The Gunmaker’s Arms, the showcase and brewery tap for beers from the Two Towers Brewery. The beer was awesome, a bargain at under £3 a pint, and worth a trip to the pub in its own right. I indulged in their Birmingham Mild, a style of ale quite hard to find outside the British Midlands, yet one of the most delicious drinks on the planet.

It’s only natural that the Two Towers, named after nearby landmarks that inspired the great JRR Tolkien, would want to support the local literary scene. So, back to the books, the main event of the evening. Although there were stunning performances by master of suspense Andrew Sparke and the cutting, creative and comical Gareth J Wood, it was New Street Author David Wake who stole the show. His steampunk Derring-Do Club series had the audience in stitches. Check them out, and if you’re organising a litfest, ask him along. With a theatrical background, David knows how to make an audience very happy indeed.

Coincidentally, half of the Hawkesbury Upton Litfest was also hosted by a pub, the ancient Fox Inn. A sweet honey-coloured Cotswold stone village, Hawkesbury Upton is a world away from Birmingham’s gritty Gunmakers’ Quarter. Seemingly, everyone in Hawkesbury Upton loves to read. At any given time, at least two events were taking place for adults at this full-day festival, and there were art exhibitions and children’s workshops too. A charming green chalk line directed punters between the Fox and poetry performances at the Methodist Church Hall. Did I mention cake? It appeared the villagers were brilliant bakers too, with home-made goodies on sale with all those lovely books.

Highlight of the litfest for me was meeting cosy crime thriller writer Jackie Kabler, whose TV newsroom murder mystery is storming the charts. I too prefer to keep graphic violence out of my books (thriller author Joanna Penn used the term ‘torture porn’ at the lifest) and it’s encouraging to know that’s what readers like too.

I left Hawkesbury Upton staggering under the weight of new books to enjoy! As an amazing April literary feast draws to an end, these are next on my ‘to-read’ list:

Copper Trance & Motorways, by Andrew Sparke – I’m already chuckling at the office politics in this wryly observed crime thriller.

Screaming Blue-City Murder, by G J Wood – I’ve dipped into this fabulous collection of satirical, sweary short stories already. Although I write about a shinier version of Birmingham than Gareth, I love his focus on seedy, sinister secrets. He’s a genius.

Marry in Haste, by Debbie Young. Romantic short stories with happy endings, great with a cuppa.

Me-Time Tales, by Rosalind Minett. More short stories, the ideal solution for time-poor fiction lovers!

The Derring-Do Club and the Invasion of the Grey, by David Wake. After hearing his stirring steampunk at The Gunmaker’s Arms, there was no way I was leaving that pub without a copy to read!

Who Needs Mr Darcy? by Jean Burnett. There’s nothing quite like a Jane Austen pastiche, and unlike others, this one is zombie-free…

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I’m a British crime thriller writer, following in the footsteps of Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson and our transatlantic cousin, John Grisham. Read tasters of my work, including 5 minute crime thriller ‘The Gap’ here.