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.

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.

 

 

Thriller of the Month – The Firm, by John Grisham

John Grisham, crime thriller writer extraordinaire, describes himself as “America’s favourite writer”. His British sales aren’t exactly small either. His classic, The Firm, illustrates why his books sell by the million.

For a thriller, it has a slow and gentle start. Mitch McDeere, about to graduate from law school, is offered the job of his dreams at Bendini, Lambert & Locke. The law firm lures him with a fantastic salary, a BMW and a swanky house. His young bride is unimpressed that she’s expected to transform into a Stepford wife, but Mitch throws himself heart and soul into his work. Grateful for the riches heaped upon him and ambitious for more, he works a hundred hours a week. Sometimes, he slaves at his desk all night, popping home for breakfast and a quick shower at the crack of dawn.

I can assure you, having worked with many lawyers in my corporate career, that this is horribly realistic. Indeed, there appears to be a macho culture that prizes the ability to pull “all-nighters”. So far, so normal, then. But, just as Mitch settles into his new position, he’s approached by the FBI. Suddenly, the tension mounts and Grisham’s pace escalates to a breakneck speed, keeping the pages turning once Mitch realises he’s becoming trapped in a web of crime. He faces a race against time as he tries to escape with his life.

Mitch is by no means the perfect hero – he’s swayed by hard cash, and he hates his in-laws – but Grisham still makes him a sympathetic, and credible, character. His world and his troubles easily hold the reader’s interest. Do give John Grisham a go, if you haven’t already!

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Although proudly British, I’m also a crime thriller writer. Corporate skulduggery features in my books The Bride’s Trail, After The Interview and Up In Smoke, along with heady emotions, crime and suspense…

 

Living in a Box – Why Crime Thrillers are my Genre

I describe myself as a British crime thriller writer. While strictly truthful – I’m British, and I write books containing lots of thrills and crime – it’s not the whole story. My full-length thrillers also sizzle with suspense, sex and romance. There’s often a dose of office politics, as corporate emperors play games with each other.

Why, then, be pigeonholed in a box labelled “crime thriller”? There are four reasons why I believe choosing a genre is important:

#1. Readers know what to expect. It’s true of any genre, whether it’s sci-fi, horror or even divisions of non-fiction like biographies. An avid crime thriller fan can accept a little romance creeping into the plot. It may even be the motive for the crime (in After The Interview, a single adulterous incident has far-reaching consequences). On the other hand, a reader of romantic fiction might balk at a murder or two.

#2. It’s hard for readers who love blockbuster-style thrillers (or any other niche for that matter) to find them at random in the packed General Fiction shelves of bookstores.

#3. It makes comparisons easy. I’m not Kate Atkinson, Ruth Rendell or John Grisham, but my books are a little like each of them – and If you love any of them, you’re likely to enjoy my fiction too.

#4. The book trade – the mighty Amazon, bookstores and wholesalers – prefer it.

I give myself more latitude when I write short stories. Some, like 5 minute crime thriller The Gap, available free here, slot naturally into the crime fiction genre. Others delve into the realms of horror, romance and the supernatural. If you haven’t read my free e-book, Something In The City, yet, click here to receive a copy, and see for yourself.