Standstill by J.A. Marley – Review

 

J.A. Marley - Standstill_cover_high res

Book Description:

Even the deadliest criminals leave a trail…

When a psychotic policeman drags the young, ambitious thief, Danny Felix out of bed, he could not imagine he was about to be plunged into the robbery of a lifetime. 

Corruption and coercion follow the corrupt Detective Inspector Harkness everywhere he goes and now he has Danny just where he wants him. 

But Harkness isn’t the only officer with Danny in his sights. Christine Chance is getting closer to him while doing her best to be a mother to her seriously ill daughter. 

Can Danny escape Harkness with his life intact? Can he avoid detection by Chance?  And does he have what it takes to use the streets of modern day London to pull off the theft of the 21st Century? 

Danny thinks he can…but there will be bloodshed?

 

Review:

Standstill is an invigorating read that feels like it is adding something quite fresh, modern and fun into an often tired and clichéd genre.

J.A. Marley writes with all the technical skill and self- assurance of a seasoned writer whilst managing to make his characters, plot and dialogue feel vital, realistic and utterly connected to the plot which unfolds at pace throughout this novel. For a debut author Marley’s ability to tell a story, which he fires relentlessly at the reader, is notable.

Written in third-person, past-tense throughout, Standstill is one of the paciest and most engaging novels I’ve read in recent times. The reader follows a number of characters through several weeks in which they are brought together on the road to what is essentially an audacious heist at the finale of the book.

What sets Marley’s characters, and his story, apart from the usual heist romp is his ability to convey the very best and the very worst of each of his characters; exposing their intentions, motivations and desires without judgment.

Marley lays his characters bare before the reader, utilising some lovely flashback techniques that in less able hands could’ve been unengaging exposition dumps. Marley takes these moments and expertly crafts tender, or brutal or, heart-wrenching insights into his main players. This is not an easy technique, that a debut writer is assured enough to utilise, and in such fine manner, is impressive.

My favourite example of this was a scene in which Danny replays sections of his childhood whilst picking locks. This scene was heavy with metaphors and symbolism and was a completely perfect little section of writing.

Marley’s characters are the lifeblood of this wonderfully invigorating read. Each of them pulses into vivid life displaying psychological damage, realistic motivations, flaws, virtues. Each are genuinely lost while still remaining intent on their goals. Complex stuff, from some truly terrific characters, none of whom are minor or act as bit-players.

Dialogue is also a major strength throughout. Always believable, and never wasted, Marley’s dialogue serves to move the plot or the character development forward. Not a ‘spoken’ word is wasted as filler.

Marley writes in an episodic manner. Short, sharp scenes, no nonsense, no fluff; each crafted to accelerate the plot or expose characters’ intentions. I could easily see these characters used in an ongoing TV series. A personal highlight for me, was Marley’s use of Mr Bright Sky to serve as a beat for the heist. Loved this.

The main flaw for me in this novel (and it’s a minor one) was with the main character, Danny. Whilst we saw excellent development with CC, and to a lesser extent, Harkins, I felt that Danny did not change significantly throughout the novel. He remained, for me, largely unaffected by the events unfolding around him, and at moments, a little too in control at all times. His past gave him a lot of doubts and flaws, I’d have liked to have seen more of these exposed in the latter art of his story. Really though, it’s a minor quibble, and one I’m sure there will be adequate time to work with on the follow-up.

A hugely impressive debut novel from a talent to watch.

 

Standstill is available now from Bloodhound Books and at Amazon worldwide.

 


 

ABOUT J.A. MARLEY

 John A. Marley’s writing career started with a poem about two brothers who both liked sausages…their names were Butch and Dutch and his Primary School teacher Mr. Murray liked it so much it made the main noticeboard at the entrance to Holy Child Primary School in West Belfast.  A little older but none the wiser, he ended up as a film journalist in his native Northern Ireland, contributing to local newspapers, BBC Radio Ulster and latterly writing as the main film critic for the glossy magazine, Northern Woman.

John’s love of good stories came from the Irish predilection for telling a good yarn and the fact that there was nothing quite like sneaking away his Dad’s battered paperbacks to read even though he knew they were meant for adults and not kids. And so pulp fiction such as The Edge Westerns by George G. Gilman, the adventure novels of Alistair MacLean and the thrillers of Jack Higgins all served to whet his appetite for a good story told at pace.

These days, his reading tastes still focus on thrills, spills and good plot and he can’t walk by a James Lee Burke or an Elmore Leonard without pausing to read a few pages…even if it is in a busy bookshop. 

John runs his own production company Archie Productions which he launched in 2008. Prior to setting up his own indie, John enjoyed a wide and varied career in television with creative roles at Talent Television, Planet 24, Carlton Television and Walt Disney UK. 

John’s broadcast media career started in his native Northern Ireland as a radio host.

Links:

www.jamarley.com

@jamarleybooks

Bloodhound Books

J.A Marley at Amazon

Advertisements

Snow Light by Danielle Zinn – Review

snowlight FINAL tagline

Book Description:

When Detective Inspector Nathaniel Thomas encounters a man attacking a young woman in a local park, the DI is unable to save her. Out of guilt, Thomas quits his job at Homicide Headquarters and relocates to the tiny village of Turtleville, where he regains control of himself and begins to enjoy life again. However, a year later, all the guilt and shame of the park murder re-emerges when a local hermit, Ethan Wright, is murdered with an unusual weapon and left on display in the centre of the village. For Thomas the situation gets worse when DS Ann Collins, a colleague from his past, appears to help with the case. But things become complicated when the victim’s identity is put into question.

Who is the victim? And why was he murdered? Thomas and Collins will find themselves trying to solve a highly unusual case and both may have more in common than they could have ever imagined.

 

My Review:

Bloodhound adds yet another fledging talent to its stable, and a hugely entertaining novel to their catalogue with Danielle Zinn’s Snow Light.

Opening with a flashback/nightmare scene relaying the lead character’s historic failure, Zinn wastes no time in placing her readers straight into the action in Snow light. It’s an often-used, but well utilised technique, in the crime genre and works well in this instance.

Employing Third-person, past-tense throughout, Zinn’s writing style is solid and unflashy, which for this type of story is most definitely a positive. This simple narrative style is perfect for the plot and for the characters, both of which could, for me, have lost a great deal of their vitality had another, or a variety of, POVs and tenses been employed.

Descriptive without getting bogged down in minutiae, Zinn’s writing style feels fresh and immersive, particularly when she allows her characters to do the talking.

For me, Zinn’s strength as a writer lies in her skilled use of dialogue, which is witty and, more importantly, feels natural in that it reflects and coveys the characters’ mind-set and intent and succeeds well in moving the narrative forward at pace. In those sections where the characters are allowed to exchange dialogue, Zinn’s writing shines and suggests a more seasoned writer than the debut novelist she is.

At times the narrative is, as is common with a first-time author, a little exposition-heavy at times. There’s rather a little too much telling, and just a tad not enough showing, but like any writer, Zinn will have developed a greater array of tools and skills with which to tell her future stories during the course of writing her debut.

Certainly, from a starting point, Zinn is a skilled novelist who will only continue to improve her considerable ability and whom already possesses a great deal more insight, skill in characterisation and realistic dialogue than many writers with several books under their belts.

A solid debut from a writer to watch.

snowlight FINAL tagline

Snow Light is available now for Bloodhound Books and at Amazon 

 

Author Bio:

Danielle holds a BA (Hons) degree in Business and Management from New College Durham and after gaining some work experience in Wales and the USA, she settled down in Frankfurt am Main where she works as a Financial Controller at an IT Consultancy.

Born and raised in a small village in the Ore Mountains/Germany, Danielle was introduced to the world of English literature and writing from an early age on through her mother – an English teacher.

Her passion for sports, especially skiing and fencing, stems from her father’s side. Danielle draws her inspiration for writing from long walks in the country as well as circumnavigating the globe and visiting her friends scattered all over the world.

Mix everything together and you get “Snow Light”, her debut detective thriller combining a stunning wintry setting in the Ore Mountains with unique traditions, some sporty action and lots of suspense.

Links:

Amazon 
@DanielleZinn4

Dig Two Graves by Keth Nixon – Review.

Tight plot? Check. Classic, damaged detective? Check. Punchy sentence structure? Check. Healthy dose of black humour and cynicism? Check.

Keith’s crime writer’s writer. A classic of his species.

His latest offering is a predictable leap forward in his development. Guided by Al Guthrie, Keith has fine tuned his finely-tuned skill set and story craft, producing his most accessible, tightly-edited and genre-perfect book of his catalogue to date.

Keith’s the best. Guthrie’s the best. Dig Two Graves is the best.

Be the best, read the best.

Dig Two Graves is available now from Amazon and Bastei Entertainment.

Killing Mr Black – Preview

After a long break from writing, the longest I’ve taken in four years, I began writing this a couple of days ago without much clue as to what it was about beyond the first chapter. A few days (and three hours writing time later), I’m 7,300 words into my next novel, provisionally titled ‘Killing Mr Black’, a psychological thriller. It’s good to be writing again. Hope you enjoy this short preview.

The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s ‘Killing Mr Black’. Copyright mark Wilson 2017. It is unedited.Chapter One

Her red pen moving, right toe tapping along to an Indie track playing through her ear-phones, Frankie’s eyes flick up to the standard school-issue clock on her classroom wall. Ten minutes ‘til break.

On any other day the realisation would be welcome, today the looming interval is less a chance for coffee and a quick moan with her peers, and more a reminder that yet another hour in yet another day with too few has slipped past her and her to do list has barely been dented.

Reminding herself that she loves her job, Frankie shakes off the threatening despair at always having more work to do, of never quite succeeding to finish one task before another materialises and stands from her desk.

Frequent micro-breaks. That’s her thing just now. That and the comfort blanket of music whilst she works.  A few seconds of walking around the room and stretching, then back to work. Just enough of a pause to break the fugue. Just enough activity to reenergise before returning to her task. The music provides motivation and positivity, both badly needed for a twenty-first century teacher drowning in admin. Music and pacing, a poor substitute for a good glass of wine.

Avoiding disturbing her noise-cancelling earphones, Frankie slips her right hand behind her neck and push leans until vertebrae slide and crack back into position with satisfyingly sharp pain. Frankie checks the clock again, assesses how much she’s accomplished during her free period and resigns herself good-naturedly to taking almost half of her work home tonight to complete it in front of her latest Netflix binge.

Netflix and chill, she mocks her own life.

Netflix and mark jotter, drink wine and eat chocolate’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Returning to her seat, Frankie runs both hands back over her head, smoothing her hair- a subconscious habit her close friends find endearing- that seems to ready her, steel her between tasks or sometimes before speaking. Inadvertently, she knocks her earphones back from her left ear. Immediately she hears raised voices; kids from the classroom next door. 

Dougie’s classroom.

Surprise flickers across her face. Dougie’s kids are generally a quiet bunch. He runs a good classroom. Strict, but not unfair. Approachable, but a firm expectation of the standards he expects in his classroom. Moving to stand closer to their shared wall, Frankie expects that she’ll hear the sounds of a busy class, enjoying some active learning that Dougie’s dreamt up. Something prickles her subconscious. Something about the tone of the voices next door.

Muffled through the wall, she hears desks being screeched across the room, not unusual in an active classroom, and a few squeals from girls. Again, nothing unusual in a fourth year class where screams, groans, grunts, shouts and hollers form a large part of the teenage response vocab. The next voice, Dougie’s voice, sends Frankie racing to her classroom door.

Mid-stride Frankie’s fear is heightened by more racket coming through the wall and spilling out into the corridor.

“Harry…No!” – Dougie’s voice sounds shrill, desperate.

Frankie hears the door to Dougie’s classroom slam hard. A blur of movement passes the slim window of her own door at the moment she reaches for the handle.

Through six inch-wide glass, Frankie watches Dougie Black manhandle a boy whose face she can’t see from his room out into the hall. Pulling at her door handle, Frankie starts to open the door outwards. Almost immediately the teenage boy’s back smashes against her door, shattering the glass and sending the door crashing into her face. Frankie finds herself propelled backwards. Landing roughly on her rear, her hands find her face. Fingers working tentatively to her nose she feels wetness and tastes blood in the back of her throat. Through tears she watches Dougie use a strong forearm across the neck to press the boy hard into her door. Dougie’s face is twisted into an expression that Frankie wouldn’t have thought it capable of. Pain, confusion, anger and fear war in his features.

“No, Harry. No,” he shouts into the kid’s face. Frankie can’t see Harry’s Jardine’s face, only the back of his head, but she knows the kid well enough to recognise his build and his wild, red hair.

The boy’s shoulders are hunched over. The muscles in his back bunch and clench visibly under his school shirt. Several cuts on his back from where he crashed into her door are now bleeding.

The kid is fighting back against Dougie, and fighting hard. His left hand fires into Dougie’s face landing a solid blow, staggering the elder man a few steps back. Harry steps away from the door, the pressure from Dougie’s arm no longer pinning him. With shocking speed and efficiency he shoves Dougie with both hands, forcing him to the ground. A flash of metal in Harry’s hand stimulates something primal in Frankie’s brain. Landing astride his chest, Harry’s elbow dances like a fiddler’s mid-jig and his right hand darts in and out from Dougie’s torso.

Rising to her feet, Frankie struggles to shove the door open as Harry’s arm and hand continue to work at speed and with force. Dougie’s feet against her door prevent Frankie from opening it more than a few centimetres. A coppery, salty smell carries on the air that rushes in through the gap.

Only when fully standing, with her face pressed part-way through the gap where the glass had been, does Frankie get a proper view of how tilted her world has somehow become.

Sat on Dougie’s chest- one leg bent and kneeling the other straight and out for purchase- Harry torpedoes blows into Dougie’s torso, the fiddler’s elbow increasing the tempo of its action. The knife flashes before Frankie’s eye and splashes red across the carpet and wall with each strike. Abruptly Harry’s hand ceases its work. Dougie lies still, his legs straight and lifeless, beneath the boy.

With shocking, vicious speed Harry changes his grip, rotating the knife in his hand. Frankie’s screams echo along the corridor. Harry pushes several inches of steel into Dougie Black’s, lower chest in a determined stabbing motion.

Almost immediately, the instant the blade enters the prone teacher’s chest, Harry’s body gives a violent spasm then sags forward. Harry leans onto the floor with his right hand. Frankie watches him jerk once more then fall to the floor, a marionette with its strings severed. Landing on his side, parallel to his bleeding teacher, Harry’s head twitches to his left. From Frankie’s perspective it looks like an involuntary act, the action of a person waking to a nightmare. Both hands pressed to the doorframe, Frankie can feel the change happen. Harry comes to his knees slackly. His muscles relax, his head movement suggests his eyes moving between his hands and the knife in the teacher’s chest. All purpose, all violence has departed him. He looks smaller, deflated and weak and lost.

Frankie steels herself and pushes at the door. Discovering that it is still blocked by the dead weight of Dougie’s feet and legs, Frankie’s fear departs leaving her with a grim determination.

“Harry Jardine,” she yells shrilly.

 The boy’s head snaps around, startling her. His eyes are wide, uncomprehending. He can see what he’s done, but the kid is having trouble processing the facts.

Years of teaching teenagers, managing their behaviour puts Frankie into auto-pilot and the horror of the day ebbs a minute amount. Enough for her to function. When she speaks again, her voice is soft and calm.

“Harry, Move Mr Black’s legs,” she says. Her voice is steady and authoritative. Her heart hammers the inside of her ribcage.

The teenager blinks dumbly several times. Classroom doors open all along the corridor. Teachers’ faces emerge from their classrooms. Several step instantly back into their room, instructing their kids to return to their seats.

A few, the department head included, walk slowly along the corridor towards Frankie’s room. Their mouths slack, their eyes darting from Harry to Dougie and then Frankie. Masks of incomprehension morphing into controlled fear and shock.

Frankie flicks eyes flick from one face to another, before returning to meet Harry’s pale face and sunken eyes.

“Move his legs a little, son. I need to get out of my room and help Mr Black.”

An almost imperceptible nod does nothing to alter the panic that’s beginning to take hold in Harry’s eyes.

Frankie subconsciously braces herself for the boy to lurch at or attack her. She swallows the fear rising in her throat and paints a neutral expression on her face. It costs her a fragment of her soul something to do this.

“A nod at Dougie’s legs. “Harry.”

The boy has started to shake, but he reaches forward with both hands to shove at Dougie’s legs.

The Weight from the door immediately moves and Frankie slips smoothly through the doorway into the corridor.

Fighting every urge to be anywhere but near Harry Jardine, Frankie approaches the kneeling boy who has resumed his panicked scanning of Dougie’s prone form. A hand on each of his shoulders, she helps him to his feet as one might a child in need of consolation. Her eyes widen and fill with tears as she takes in Dougie’s wounds. Each of them deep and oozing or spraying dark blood.

Frankie straightens her back and moves Harry a few steps to her right. Lisa Ferguson, the department head, is stood nearby, having made her way silently along the corridor. Frankie looks behind Lisa. The other teachers in the department, six of them, are stood at their classroom doors, guarding the rooms, blocking the view through the glass sections. Kay McEwan is on her phone.

Lisa’s eyes meet Frankie’s. An unspoken exchange takes place.

Lisa wordlessly places an arm around Harry, leading him to the staircase beside Dougie’s room.

Frankie falls to her knees at Dougie’s side, hard enough to scuff both knees.

Reaching out to feel his forehead, Frankie’s hands tremble almost uncontrollably. She swears, demanding better of herself and reaches for a second time to make what in hindsight will seem like a pointless gesture. Holding her hand against Dougie’s forehead and then face, like she’s taking his temperature, Frankie shudders at the coolness of his skin.

Warmth spreads around her knees as blood pools. Frankie ignores it and searches his wounds. After counting six wounds, all deep, all bleeding, Frankie preserves her sanity by ceasing her examination. She knows that her friend is bleeding out. He’ll die before anyone arrives to help. Pressure, pressure on the wounds.

First aid raining nags at her.

Out loud she swears again, how the hell can I put pressure on all these wounds at once?

Frankie scans the wounds again, this time forcing herself to examine teach of them. She counts eighteen stab wounds and nine relatively deep slashes. Most of the wound are pooling blood. Two of them are spurting blood in long streams in time with Dougie’s heart beat. Each pulse delivers less blood.

Think…bloody think.

 Jan from the office, the school’s official first aider reaches her side. Shouldering Frankie aside, she immediately begins pressing her hands onto the two deepest wounds in Dougie’s abdomen, impeding the flow of vital blood. Jan is visibly rattled, her hands slip several times before she applies the right amount of pressure to slow Dougie’s bleeding, but not enough to slide off of his blood soaked body.

“Go find something to press on these wounds with,” she hisses at Frankie.

Frankie runs back into her classroom, Jan shouts down the corridor. “Has someone called an ambulance?” Despite her calm exterior, her tone betrays the panic she is feeling.

Searching frantically around her classroom, Frankie comes up short on anything suitable to act as a bandage or even a gauze to press on. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

 Her handbag, at the edge of her peripheral vison catches her eye. Two strides take her two it, ten more carry her back into the corridor to re-join Jan.

Unwrapping two of the four sanitary towels she’s brought, Frankie hands them to Jan who smoothly lifts one of her hands from Dougie’s wound, grabs the stacked towels and pushes them down onto the wound. Almost immediately the blood loss changes from steady leak to mere dribble. Together, the women repeat the process hindering the flow at the second site.

Jan swears several times, instructing herself roughly as she works. Her eyes dart busily form one wound to the next. Slashes, gouges and less deep stab wounds cry for her attention, but her efforts are best spent at the two deepest wounds she currently tends. Jan feels bile rise in her throat at her inability to do more for Dougie.

Press fuckng harder.

More pressure, you bastard.

Both hands firmly covering the pads, she throws a look Frankie’s way.

Thanks….What now?

Frankie stops short of shrugging. A moment later it occurs to her that she should check Dougie’s breathing and heart.

Jan lets out a long breath, grateful that someone other than just herself is doing something, is responsible for Dougie. She watches as Frankie leans an ear close to Dougie’s mouth, then takes his wrist.

“He’s cold,” Frankie cries. “His heart rate is really fast…So is his breathing.”

Jan’s brain delivers part of a lesson she attended two years previously.

“His blood pressure will be low, his body is diverting blood to his core. That’s why his hands and arms are cold,” Janice blurts, sounding like an instructional video.

“Okay, okay…” Jan repeats to no-one.

Each of them soaked in their colleague’s blood, each almost as pale as Dougie himself, Frankie and Jan look at each other for several long moments. Unbidden, hot tears streak down Jan’s face. As though given permission to accept or process the horror her world has become in under three minutes, Frankie’s own dams break. Acid tears wash a path through Dougie’s blood along her cheeks.

They nod at each other once, a wordless reassurance. Jan’s hands do not move a millimetre form their task of keeping Dougie’s wounds under pressure.

“You’re doing great,” Jan says quietly.

Frankie almost laughs. Instead she merely bobs a nod.

Her eyes leave Jan’s, searching Dougie’s body she ransacks her memories for something else she could be dong to stop the man belling out. No staggering act of surgical genius presents itself, so Frankie starts talking instead.

“It’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, Dougie. Just hold on. Stay with us.

Daddy Monster by Kevin Berg – Review 

With Daddy Monster, Berg has taken a massive step forward in his development. With debut, Indifference under his belt (and displaying an impressive array of skills for a first time writer) Berg has clearly tackled his follow up novel with an increased vigour. Technically more skilled than Indifference, berg’s second offering has lost none of the dark humour and often vicious plotting of indifference but contains much more heart and is infinitely better paced and plotted than his debut managed. 
Inventive, filthy, dangerous and properly black-humoured, Daddy Monster finds a confident Berg utilising all of his impressive skills, manky imagination and cracking dialogue, but also employing a more considered approach than Indifference which at times felt like a series of set pieces written to elicit a response or perhaps purge the writer. 

Not so in Daddy Monster. Berg has written a properly funny, often dark and incredibly impressive work that screams originality and vitality in a genre that badly needs both. 

Berg is simply the best kept secret in US indie-publishing. 

Skeletal by Emma Pullar – Review

Book Description:

Gale City is the last city in the world and under the strict control of the illusive Centrals.

When females reach adulthood, they’re given the chance to compete at Showcase for the honour of becoming surrogates for the Morbihan – a highly intelligent, obese race of people, unable to procreate naturally. All the other girls are excited to become hosts, all except Megan Skyla.

Convinced there’s more to life, Skyla teams up with an unlikely friend and they go in search of a cure for the Morbihan condition. Things don’t go to plan and their journey becomes a harrowing quest fraught with danger and deceit.

How can Skyla discover the truth when everything she’s been told is a lie? Can anyone in Gale City ever really be free?

Skyla is about to discover that freedom has a price and she’s going have the fight to survive.

Skeletal is a disturbing vision of the future and a literary thriller unlike any other. 

 

Emma Pullar - Skeletal_cover_1

 

Skeletal is available now from Bloodhound Books and Amazon

 

My review:

Skeletal, for me, was a real surprise of a novel. Set in a dystopian future, but one that is entirely plausible, Skeletal isn’t your typical Bloodhound novel, at least not on the surface.

Drawing on the influences of Philip K Dick, Suzanne Collins and Koushun Takami, Pullar has succeeded in forging something entirely new and utterly engaging in Skeletal.

Pullar’s dystopian world is well-drawn, desolate, threatening, dark in tone and seemingly hopeless, but somehow the reader is pulled along the narrative with hope and even humour as the string tugging them along despite the apparent bleakness of the setting And circumstances of the main character.  

In Skeletal, Pullar presents her readers with a world that smacks of her obvious influences; but whilst Pullar’s dystopia runs parallel to that of the worlds explored by Collins or Takami- presenting a split society of have and have nots, rich and poor, gluttonous and starving- unlike those authors mentioned previously, Pullar tackles these familiar settings, the social commentary associated, and the juxtapositions with a refreshing, often deliciously-dark humour.

Pullar’s main protagonist is downtrodden, for sure, she’s suffered and is aghast at the life led on the other side of the fence, but what she has in spades is vigour, the darkest of dark humour and a self-awareness that the much grimmer Katniss’s of the world have never possessed.

Utilising first-person, present-tense throughout, Pullar’s narrative coveys an urgency to the reader. It’s an excellent choice of narrative and suits the plotting perfectly, drawing the reader into the ever-present danger and fear of sky’s world and her position in it. For me, it lent a degree of suspense the novel may have lacked if written in a different Point of view or tense.

Pullar writes like a screenwriter. She introduces characters and scenes in a very visual manner, presenting them in their current circumstance or setting with no preamble or forced exposition. She asks that the reader accept unfamiliar terms and places and hierarchies and rules. She demands that the reader trust her and lose themselves completely in what’s unfolding. This works beautifully for Pullar and- for me- was a particular strength in her writing style.

This type of episodic, scene writing doesn’t always work in a novel, and can be difficult for some writers to pull off; Pullar makes it look easy and my God, it worked perfectly for this character and this plot.

Skeletal was, as I said earlier, a real surprise for me, simply because the genre is a slight (but welcome) departure from the type of novel I’ve come to expect from Bloodhound’s rapidly growing catalogue. What remains consistent though is Bloodhound have yet again discovered a skilled writer, who has crafted a very accomplished, imaginative and skilled novel.

 

 

 

Skeletal is available now from Bloodhound Books and Amazon

Author Bio:

Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, went to number four on the national bestseller list and was named best opening lines by NZ Post. You can read her SJV Award shortlisted horror story, London’s Crawling, in the Dark Minds charity collection and her dystopian sci-fi story, Old Trees Don’t Bend, in The Anthropocene Chronicles. Emma has also written three shortlisted stories for Create50 which are awaiting the winner announcement. Her debut novel SKELETAL published by Bloodhound Books is due for release 27th October 2017.

Links: 

Twitter: @EmmaStoryteller

FB Page: Emma Pullar Storyteller

Instagram: @emmapullar_storyteller

Website: http://www.emmapullar.com/

 

Death Parts Us – Guest Post

Today I have a guest post from Alex Walters, discussing the setting for his latest work, Death Parts Us:

Book Description:

Twenty years ago, Jackie Galloway was a senior cop with a bad reputation. Then he ended up on the wrong side of the wrong people, and his career was ruined. Sacked and with no pension, he ends up eking out his last days on Scotland’s Black Isle, his mind lost to dementia, supported only by his long-suffering wife, Bridie.

 

Then Galloway is found dead. The police assume the death to be accidental, until Bridie Galloway reveals that her husband has been receiving apparently threatening letters containing only the phrase: ‘NOT FORGOTTEN. NOT FORGIVEN.’

 

DI Alec McKay is struggling to come to terms with life without his estranged wife Chrissie, and is living in isolation on the Black Isle. As a junior officer, McKay had been allocated to Galloway’s team and has bad memories of the man and his methods. Now he finds himself investigating Galloway’s death.

 

But when suspicion falls on him and more police officers are murdered, the pressure is on for McKay to solve the case.

 

Why would the killer seek revenge twenty years after Galloway left the force?

 

As McKay fights to link the events of past and present, he realizes that time is rapidly running out…

IMG_8017

Links:

Available now from Amazon and Bloodhound Books

 

Website: www.alexwaltersauthor.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexwaltersauthor/

Twitter: @mikewalters60

 

Guest Post:

MURDER IN THE BLACK ISLE

 

The Black Isle, as DI Alec McKay would be the first to tell you, is famously neither black nor an island. It’s the peninsular that juts out into the North Sea just north of Inverness, bounded by the Beauly, Moray and Cromarty Firths. As for the ‘black’—well, no-one really knows. One theory is that, because of its local microclimate, the Black Isle tends to be less susceptible to snow than the surrounding Highland region. Another, more intriguing theory is that the name refers to the area’s historical associations with witchcraft and the black arts. McKay, with the typical suspicions of a city boy, thinks the latter is more likely.

 

The area is less remote now than in the past, particularly since the opening of the Kessock Bridge over the Moray Firth in the early 1980s provided easier access from Inverness. But the Black Isle still carries an atmosphere all of its own. When I was seeking a location for a new crime series, I felt no need to look any further.

 

Although I was born in the English midlands, I’ve been making regular visits to the Scottish Highlands and Islands since I was a child. Quite what possessed my parents to drive up there so frequently in the days before motorways, I’ve no real idea, but they did it frequently. I have childhood memories of glorious scenery, empty beaches and—well, fairly mixed weather.

 

Even so, the Black Isle was unfamiliar to me until about ten years ago. It was just a name I’d driven by on the endless A9 heading even further north. Then, on a whim, we booked a holiday house in Rosemarkie and spent a couple of weeks falling in love with the place. We’ve spent a lot of our time there since, and we’re now in the process of making a permanent move (we’d already be there if it weren’t for the vagaries of the English house-selling system—suffice to say that an unreliable buyer may well come to an unpleasant end in one of my future books).

 

Location has always been an important element in my writing. My first three crime novels were set in the exotic environment of modern-day Mongolia. My subsequent Marie Donovan and Kenny Murrain series were located in and around Manchester, making use of both the urban settings and the surrounding Cheshire and Derbyshire countryside. I soon realised that the Black Isle offered a range of atmospheric backdrops that would provide the perfect setting for a new series.

 

The area packs extraordinary diversity within its small boundaries. Rosemarkie itself offers a strikingly beautiful beach, backed by woodland and fossil-filled cliffs. The village of Avoch (pronounced, with typical perversity, simply ‘Och’) is a working fishing village. Fortrose has its own ruined cathedral. Cromarty is an atmospheric jumble of narrow streets and vennels, offering striking views of the beauties of the Cromarty Firth and, more unexpectedly, the huge constructs of oil rigs being restored or dismantled in Nigg on the far side of the firth.

 

Apart from the sleazy Caledonian Bar, virtually all the locations described in the Alec McKay books are real (although sometimes lightly fictionalised to protect the innocent). The first book, Candles and Roses, begins in the eerie setting of the Clootie Well, a supposedly holy stream where the surrounding woodland is festooned with faded and rotting scraps of cloth. These are offerings left by visitors in the hope of securing improved health for ailing relatives or friends—the cloth has been wiped on the brow of the sick individual and, as the cloth rots away, so the illness is supposedly cured. Whatever the truth of that, the whole place has a disturbing atmosphere. Kelly, a young woman who appears in that scene, thinks ‘…the place was infested by ghosts, the spirits of those who clung on, earthbound by their last dregs of hope’. That was my feeling, the first time I visited, so what else could I do but leave a murder-victim there?

 

Of course, the real Black Isle is a tranquil place, untroubled by anything much more than the most trivial crimes. I’ve already managed incongruously to locate two serial killers in this most peaceful of rural environments. But that’s what crime writers do—think of Morse’s Oxford or Midsomer, apparently the murder capital of the UK. It seems to me that, for the reader, one of the incidental pleasures of crime fiction is often the contrast between the beauty of the settings and the horrors that are being enacted within them.

 

In this case, as in my Manchester-set books, the reader’s suspension of disbelief is helped by the proximity to an urban environment. McKay and his colleagues are based in Inverness—not a large city but one which offers a useful contrast to the quiet of the Black Isle and surrounding Highland countryside. The stories tend to have their roots in the city, even if the consequences play out in the country. In this fictional world, the Black Isle is somewhere people go to hide their secrets or to lose their past. Even McKay himself, in the latest book Death Parts Us, seeks bleak sanctuary there as his marriage disintegrates.

 

And, of course, like all locations that attract tourists, the Black Isle is a different place out of season. In summer, the place has a striking beauty, bathed in long light nights and wide translucent skies. In the winter, as the darkness closes in and the rain and wind whip in across the firths, the atmosphere is different again. Then his becomes a community closed in upon itself, focused on its own interests rather than the needs of visitors. That’s when secrets can breed and fester, and the seeds of future crimes are sown.

 

As I say, that’s what we crime writers do. We imagine what hidden truths might be lurking behind the curtained windows we pass, what dark thoughts might be crossing the minds of those we encounter in the streets. And from that we construct our narratives of murder and revenge, exploiting the otherwise-innocent world around us to help render them plausible.

 

It goes without saying that this is simply fiction. I hope that the good people of the Black Isle will forgive me for making use of their home in this way. The killings aren’t real. But the glorious, atmospheric settings are genuine, and I hope that in my writing I’ve managed to do them some justice.