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 – 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.

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.

Crowdfunding fiction

The Thriller of the Month is taking a back seat in March (not least because I’m busy writing my fourth crime thriller), so I’ve asked writer Pete Sutton for a guest blog explaining why he’s using crowdfunding to publish a bunch of short stories. Pete is the editor of Far Horizons magazine, and he’s crowdfunding in order to publish not just one, but THREE BOOKs of short stories that first appeared in Far Horizons! Here’s why…in his own words…

Far Horizons started with a simple idea. A bunch of writers on a Facebook group who were either unpublished or self-published wanted to create an anthology. That simple premise became Far Horizons e-magazine and we got enough stories and art to make a second then a third etc. Two years later the team and magazine have grown.  Our original remit hasn’t changed though. We exist to give new writers a voice. We will edit new writers until they become publishable. It is a labour of love.

The magazine has always been free. This has been to get the widest possible reach for the stories which are mostly from writers learning their craft. No-one gets paid at the moment and we offer adverts for the author’s work in payment for sending us their stories.

Our original idea to create an anthology is still sound, and so we have now created three.  Our hope is that by selling anthologies we’ll raise enough money to start paying our contributors. This is the main reason we are crowdfunding. The anthologies will be published regardless of how much money we make via the crowdfund. But we hope to raise enough money to cover our costs – and our real desire is to raise enough money to start paying our contributors.

We will do more anthologies and we will continue to publish the magazine (although the form may change after our second birthday). We also hope to publish some of the serials we have featured over the months as a thank you to the authors that have given us those serials.

Former Heroes we previously published but have remastered for this launch. It has stories in from published and self-published authors including David Gullen (Author of Shopocalypse and Open Waters), Gaie Sebold (author of the Babylon Steel and Shanghai Sparrow books), Sara Jayne Townsend (author of Soul Screams and Whispering Death) , Andrew Goodman (author of the Emperor Initiative series), Kate Charles (Author of Faisollus), Jim King (author of Trouble at the Docks) and Pete Sutton (author of A Tiding of Magpies and Sick City Syndrome). These are tales of men and women, and in one case a building, that have had a heroic heyday but that is now in their past. What do heroes do when they are no longer heroes?

Our most popular issue was our Zombie special so we saw there was an appetite for braaaains, er for well-told tales of the shambling undead. This anthology was filled through open submissions. We had a lot of fun reading all the stories and choosing the best to highlight.

Fantastically Horny started as a Facebook IM conversation. One of the staff writes erotica under a pen name and inquiring minds wanted to know if they put aliens or elves in, since they also write SF&F. We then wondered if anyone had ever put together a SF&F Erotica book. Which then inevitably led us to wanting to put together a SF&F Erotica book…

So we have ended up with not one, but three anthologies to launch. We hope that people feel inspired by our magazine and want to help us help new writers. Please head over to the Indiegogo and pledge. 

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Writer Pete Sutton is signed to Kensington Gore Publishing, who are about to launch his collection of short stories, “A Tiding of Magpies”, very soon. His novel, “Sick City Syndrome”, will follow later in the year. Read Pete’s excellent blog here, and follow him on Twitter at @suttope.

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!