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.

Characters I Love, and Why

As it’s St Valentine’s Day (read my thoughts in last year’s blog about it), I’m penning a tribute to the characters I really love. They may not share my values, but boy, these people were fun to write about. Here are the ones I love – and why:

Alicia, the amoral merchant banker in Up In Smoke. She has two aims in life – climbing the corporate ladder, and having fun. If a fling ticks both boxes, she’ll go for it. Never self-pitying, always resourceful, she’s hardly a role model, but she’s always interesting.

Tony, also from Up In Smoke (hear a chapter from the crime thriller here) is a textbook villain. A womaniser and a homophobe, he runs a tobacco company and uses his power to seduce every woman who catches his eye. Bad boys are just so entertaining…

…but the good guys are too. Jed Gardner, the autistic hero of After The Interview is my favourite character ever. Deeply flawed, struggling to understand and be understood, he makes mistakes and loses everything – but bounces back. As does Andrew Aycliffe, who would be my ideal boss.

Crime thriller The Bride’s Trail, on the other hand, stars strong women – orphaned Kat and her loyal flatmate, Amy. Both have a dry sense of humour, an excellent foil to the arrogant men they meet. I deliberately chose to keep Kat’s point of view hidden and reveal her personality through the eyes of others. That will change in the sequel planned for release this summer…

Although hardly characters in the conventional sense, buzzy Birmingham and frenetic London feature in all three crime thrillers – and many of my short stories, available free on this website.

I aim to build empathy for all my characters, but I don’t love them all. Some are simply too challenging. Find out more next week, when I tell you which characters I hate – and why!

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I’ve been a British crime thriller writer for several years, and an occasional writer of short stories for many more. If you like my blog, why not invite me to speak at your book group, social circle or business network? Please drop me a line at aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com!

Short Stories for your Coffee Break

In today’s frenetic world, stopping for a coffee is one of life’s pleasures – a precious pause to relax and reflect. It’s a great time to read a short story too. E-books can even be carried on a Kindle or smartphone, ready to slip a few minutes of sheer entertainment into that busy lifestyle.

I suggested a few superb short stories for you in a blog last summer. Do take a look at those recommendations – and some new ones below!

You don’t have to know Britain’s second city to enjoy The Sea in Birmingham from the respected Tindal Street Fiction Group. Writers include wonderful Kit de Waal and rocker Ryan Davis (seriously! Google him). The stories are beautifully written urban tales, each one thoroughly enjoyable. For me, they’re still more…Kit’s story sent a wave of nostalgia to carry me back to summer days lounging in my landlady’s garden. The Kindle book costs less than a latte – great vfm.

Ruth Rendell (whose The Tree of Hands was my Thriller of the Month in November) was arguably the greatest British crime thriller writer of her generation. Her Collected Short Stories are also a joy to read.

Breadcrumbs by Simon Fairbanks is next on my reading list! His full-length sci-fi fantasy novels The Sheriff and The Curse of Besti Bori overflow with chills, thrills and spills – so a good read’s guaranteed.

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I’ve written some sparkling short stories too, including five minute crime thriller The Gap free on this website. To receive my free e-book, Something In The City, just sign up for my newsletter here!

Bringing Literature to Life – Five Reasons Authors Should Read Their Work Aloud

One of the best decisions I ever made was joining a writing group. It’s given me the support to raise my game, and it’s helped me find my voice. I don’t mean just choosing to write crime thrillers, but being prepared to read them to an audience – injecting drama and suspense.

Here are 5 reasons why writers should read their work aloud:

#1. It can help the writing process. Grammatical errors, typos and other mistakes are much easier to spot when you’re reading aloud. You’ll still need help from beta readers (who read the first draft for you) and an editor, of course. Although I read the first draft of my last crime thriller The Bride’s Trail, out loud to myself, it was still immeasurably improved by the feedback I received from beta readers and editor Katharine D’Souza.

 

#2. Being prepared to read your work in front of an audience opens up a whole world of live fiction events, with the chance to meet other authors like you, and share your writing with a wider audience. I’ve read at some great live events, including evenings at Brewsmiths in Birmingham, Foyles in Bristol and the Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry.

 

#3. Social media is a powerful tool for almost any profession, and authors are no exception! Reading live means plenty of picture and video opportunities to share on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which is great for building a profile and an audience. Check out this story about school tutors, cocaine and gambling….

 

#4. Just as a poem comes to life when performed, a spoken story often takes on new dimensions and meanings when read aloud rather than from a page. This review of a Halloween fiction evening at Brewsmiths says it all. Richard Clay’s use of Black Country accents enhanced his gritty thriller, while Pat Spence dimmed the lights and brought a magic crystal for her chilling supernatural tale.

 

#5. It’s good for your health! Reading aloud has been shown to help with memory and depression, and even dementia. Check out this article from The Scottish Book Trust about authors reading their work at a care home for the elderly and why spoken literature is beneficial to author and audience alike.

 

Have you attended or performed at a live fiction event? I’d love to hear about your experiences – drop me a line on Twitter, Facebook or to aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com.

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I’m a British crime thriller writer. My latest thriller, The Bride’s Trail, is available on Amazon and through bookshops. I love reading short stories and chapters from my thrillers at live fiction events. Please get in touch if you’re planning one!

Great Ghost Stories

Rumour has it that ghosts walk abroad on Hallowe’en, the night before All Souls Day. While garish Hallowe’en goods have been on sale for months, a good old-fashioned ghost story is surely the best way to mark the unquiet night. Here are a few that will send a shiver down your spine…

The Greatcoat, by Helen Dunmore. Beautifully written like all of Dunmore’s books, unease building gently until the shocking finale.

Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come For You, My Lad, by Wilkie Collins. A classic British Gothic chiller, and available in an anthology of Classic Ghost Stories by other leading Victorian fiction writers like Charles Dickens and the marvellous J Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu wrote Carmella, the first vampire story. and one of the best – it has a fabulous dreamlike quality.

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Although a supernatural thread runs through the novel, what sets it apart from others is its focus on class tension. A bestseller, and deservedly so.

Edgar Allan Poe is the grandfather of horror, and all his poems and short stories are available on the Kindle for just 99p! The Tell Tale Heart is an exquisite tale – but the stuff of nightmares…

…and from the grandfather of horror to the modern world’s undisputed maestro – Stephen King. The Shining, a story of a haunted hotel, sets hairs on end. The film was awesome too!

Ghost stories are even better when they’re told live in the best campfire tradition. I’ll be joining Twitter’s @TheCultureHour for an evening of ghost and horror stories at Brewsmiths in Birmingham on 26th October – tickets are free and spinechillers guaranteed!

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Although I usually write crime thrillers, I’m taking a break to bring a ghost story along to Brewsmiths! I hope you’ll be there – book your free tickets here.