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 – 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.

 

 

Missing A Writer…

There are many compelling reasons why new and established authors should join a writing group (look out for a blog about this soon!). A quite unexpected, but delightful, benefit is the new friends who enter your world. Eileen Elsey, proud redhead, gin connoisseur and writer of deliciously quirky stories, was one of them. She turned up at the same writing group five years ago and sprinkled fairydust in my life ever since. Her solstice parties were a legend, her friends were fun, and the improvements she suggested to my stories were fabulous.

I miss her, and I’m not the only one. Friends say there’s an Eileen-shaped hole in their lives. Her funeral last week captured her spirit perfectly – a stylish ceremony in a woodland chapel (see the picture above), with jazz, wine, food and interesting friends. Best of all was the greatest gift a writer can give: her latest short crime story, Handbagged, was published in a limited edition by her family and handed to everyone on the day. 

Three of Eileen’s wondrous stories have been published in an anthology under her pen name, DA Allen. You can see actor Alun Robins read one of them here (warning: there are four letter words) – it’s wickedly funny.

A beautiful spirit, much missed. I’m dedicating my next crime thriller to her.

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I’m a British writer. As well as three full-length crime thrillers, I’ve written many short stories – you can read some here.

Thriller of the Month – Dublin Dead, by Gerard O’Donovan

Newspaper stories of Irish crime lords describe mysterious murders and colourful characters like The Monk and The Viper. That’s plenty to inspire Gerard O’Donovan, who writes tense crime thrillers set in Dublin.

Dublin Dead’ is his second novel. In his first, ‘The Priest’, DI Mike Mulcahy and reporter Siobhan Fallon were an item. That’s no longer the case. Taken to the brink of death by a psychopath in ‘The Priest’, Siobhan bears physical and mental scars. She’s been suffering from PTSD. They’ve split up. For Mike, no other woman measures up to Siobhan, and his unrequired love for her is the thread that ties ‘Dublin Dead’ together.

Although they’re both investigating different leads – he a drugs deal that’s gone wrong, she a mother’s concern for her missing accountant daughter – their paths cross at several points in the story, including the dramatic finale. Gerard O’Donovan writes well, ratchets up the tension as the book progresses, and finishes with an unexpected but very believable twist. In my opinion, ‘Dublin Dead’ is the better book of the two, offering a smoother narrative and more hints at gore rather than graphic detail. It’s easy to follow without reading ‘The Priest’ first and those pages just keep turning. Highly recommended.

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I’m a crime thriller writer focusing on stories set in British cities. As a taster, read 5 minute crime thriller ‘The Gap’ here.

Characters I Hate, and Why

Some fictional characters are a joy to write about. I paid tribute to them in my blog last week. There are others, by contrast, that I hate. Every word added to the page is a triumph of willpower. Because I immerse myself in each character’s mind and thoughts, that’s a big challenge when his or her values are very different from mine.

Nowhere was that more evident than the chapters devoted to Jeb in my latest crime thriller, The Bride’s Trail. Apart from loving his mother, he has no redeeming features. Jeb is an East End villain, selling Class A drugs and running a string of prostitutes whom he’s hooked on his wares. Greed is his sole motivator. He lies, steals and kills without a second thought. The mind of a psychopath is a depressing place indeed. You can meet Jeb, and Kat, who gets the better of him – just – in short story The Gap, a “5 minute crime thriller”.

After The Interview brought Boris, a coward, womaniser and murderer. While I hoped to make his emotions and actions understandable to readers, I doubt that he was loveable. I couldn’t love him myself. His infidelity, the bullying treatment of the Polish concierge and the paranoid execution of his best friend were almost enough to drive a writer to drink. Boris hit the bottle instead…

By comparison, I said last week that autistic Jed Gardner was my favourite character in After The Interview. That’s not the whole story. His episodes of anger and misery cast a grey cloud over my life, and a huge sigh of relief when he finally found peace of mind. I was challenged by outrageous Tony, the womanising tobacco chief executive of Up In Smoke, too. An unreconstructed chauvinist and Big Tobacco poster boy, he was fun – but I still gritted my teeth as he sold tobacco to smugglers and treated attractive women as every bit as disposable as a piece of Kleenex. Interestingly, Tony wasn’t based on a real person, but several readers thought they knew him! A case of truth being stranger than fiction?

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Which fictional character do you love to hate, and why? Please drop me a line at aaabbottstories[at]gmail.com and let me know! As a British crime thriller writer, I’m open to feedback and suggestions for new angles. In fact, reader feedback is so important to me that every draft crime thriller is read by a panel of 20 beta readers before a final rewrite!

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!

Is There Madness in the Method? Method Writing & Research

Move over, Dustin Hoffman. Whereas method acting was once hot news, now it’s method writing. Writers aren’t just metaphorically putting themselves into their character’s heads, they’re living their lives for real to see how it feels.

It isn’t for me – I found it challenging enough writing from the perspective of sleazy Tony in Up In Smoke  or lost Jed in After The Interview. Simply imagining their thoughts, experiencing their emotions, made me tense and uncomfortable. When I’m working with characters whose values are so different from my own, I can’t wait to take a deep breath, close the laptop, and leave them behind for a while.

I do think research is important, though. Although that may involve enlisting a friendly policeman or lawyer to check my facts, sometimes there’s no substitute for personal experience. I was lucky enough to use a friend’s flat for a chapter in The Bride’s Trailsee the photo above – and visit pubs like The Plough in Harborne and the colourful Rose Villa Tavern (both highly recommended). Research also took me to casinos for The Bride’s Trail and there’s an imminent trip to a vodka distillery for the next book. As they say – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

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Having lived, worked and breathed in three British cities, I write crime thrillers set in my old stamping grounds of Birmingham and London. The Bride’s Trail centres on the hunt for a missing croupier. Will her friends or her killers find her first? As for the vodka – watch this space!