Pressure by Betsy Reavley – Review

The Book:

When the submarine departed, none of the ten people on board knew it would turn into a nightmare.

Trapped on the sunken vessel on the bottom of the ocean and unable to escape, one of them is discovered dead. The tension escalates as the survivors realise there is a murderer among them, who is preparing to strike again and again…

With mounting desperation, people begin to turn on each other. While they struggle to identify who is responsible, each must contend with their own past, the claustrophobia and the secrets they are hiding.

But who is who?  And which of them will be next to die?

Below the surface, the pressure is building and time is running out…

My Review:

This is my first Betsy Reavley novel and Pressure is one hell of an introduction to her work.

The basic premise of Pressure is a variation on the ‘trapped together, one of us is a murderer’ type. The novel succeeds in immersing the reader in a too-tight setting, conveying very realistically the confines of both the submarine and the options available to its characters. In some parts the novel feels like an old siege movie in the ilk of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, in that the overwhelming inability to leave, to even breathe, is ever-present for the characters and the reader.

Where Reavley’s novel differs, is in Pressure, the enemy is very much within, with the multiple threats of oxygen deprivation, close quarters and a murderer pressing in on the cast from all sides at all times. For me, the novel smacked of very modern, snarky slasher movies, isolated, alone, being hunted, but displayed all the char also of an old fashioned, set-in-a-manor whodunit.

The plotting is excellent and the pacing spot-on. A deep sense of foreboding and growing peril permeates the entire novel. Where Reavley excels though, is in her characterisation and the manner in which she conveys her characters emotions, virtues, flaws, vulnerability and cruelty.

Infinitely complex and viscerally-authentic, Reavley characters are fucked-up, heroic, cowardly and complex. Reavley’s use of shifting POV and narrative styles is skilfully-utilised and gave true life to the characters.

The POV shifts continuously, rotating through more than a few persons. I’m rarely a fan of this type of POV shifting, but Reavley has succeeded in altering the POV from person to person, whilst still maintaining the relentless flow and forward momentum of the narrative. This is not an easy thing to do, but when it works, Christ it really works, and Reavley utilized this device perfectly, bringing a tangible sense of immersion, unstoppable forward-momentum and augmented tension.

The shifting POV also served to heighten the impact of the roulette wheel of who the reader has deduced is the killer.

Reavley also plays around with her narrative style; switching between first-person, past tense and present tense to differentiate the flashbacks from the main narrative.

This also worked well and kept the separate sections distinct for the reader.

The highlight of the book for me was the sections placed throughout told form the POV of The Child. Extremely dark, gruelling really, these short interludes acted as intermezzi and demonstrated the depth of the author’s understanding of human suffering and our capacity for foulness and endurance. I wanted more of The Child, but also dreaded having to return to their pitiable world. These Interludes, for me, elevate Pressure, taking a good read and converting it into a great one.

Containing elements of a Thriller, at times dabbling into Horror, Pressure is an uncomfortable read, but hugely entertaining, which is a bit fucked up and entirely magnificent.  

Pressure is available now at Amazon and from Bloodhound Books.

Advertisements

Godsend by JA Marley – Review.

The Book:

It has been eighteen months since Danny Felix pulled off the robbery of his life.  His plan brought London to a standstill, but at a heavy price.

Now, living a quiet life running a charter fishing business in the Florida Keys, Danny is trying to come to terms with the death and destruction he had unwittingly unleashed. However, the low profile is beginning to wear thin and he soon starts to crave the adrenalin rush of his former criminal ways.

Little does he know that three very different women are about to enter his life and turn it upside-down. Soon Danny finds himself right back in the action.

But why has he been chosen? And does he have the appetite to pull off another job where the stakes are so lethally high?

My Review:

In Godsend (Danny Felix 2) we’re straight back into the snarky, cunningly-plotted world of Danny Felix, now ‘retired’ to Florida with his ill-gotten gains (see Standstill) and life as a fishing guide.

In the opening scenes (one of Marley’s most engaging scenes to date, for this reader) we’re treated to a very familiar Danny, ‘Super Customer’ indeed, and a felix who is very much in his comfort zone.

Marley then subverts his reader’s expectation of his main character and discloses the toll taken on his anti-hero in the aftermath of the London bombing from Book one. No indestructible, Gary Sue on display here for Marley’s readers, instead we are presented with the price being paid by an already flawed, but extremely likeable lead character, following the devastating conclusion of the previous book.

Panic attacks, self-doubt and countless shades of guilt and shame have seeded in Danny Felix’s soul, adding a new layer to an already terrific character. Felix is not allowed to merely move on from his actions in London and suffers the after effects of his deeds. Terrific characterisation and development here.
Fucking beautiful dialogue is on display also throughout with Marley slipping into Americanisms easily and convincingly, which isn’t always a strength for books written predominantly in UK English. Marley makes the shift appear effortless.

Having read Standstill, I didn’t really feel any great need for Felix to appear again as a lead character, I felt his story had been told. I was very wrong in this regard.

Godsend does what all good sequels do and takes the leads into new situations and challenges, developing their characters and squeezing their emotions and capabilities. The new characters introduced made great additions to Danny Felix’s world, and it was terrific to see some familiar faces from Book one return.

Marley writes with a thoroughly modern voice, always injecting an extraordinary amount of charisma, humour and depth into his characters. Each individual is well-motivated and allowed to display their strengths and flaws, rather than merely convey whatever is needed to move the story forward.

Marley is a writer who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, which shines through in his excellent characterisation and dialogue. Due to this, the characters population his novels feel fresh and believable, no stereotypes of the genre in sight, which is refreshing. Alongside, Ryan Bracha, Mark Tilbury, Robin Hobb and Jonathan Maberry, Marley has converted me from being an interested reader to an avid fan of his work, and an author whose books I simply can’t miss.

Godsend is a wonderful next chapter in Danny Felix’s story and a fine step forward inMarley’s development.

Godsend is available now frm Amazon and from Bloodhound Books

The Key To Death’s Door by Mark Tilbury – Review.

The Book:

 

If you could discover the murderous truth of a past life and seek justice in this one, would you?

Teenager Lee Hunter doesn’t have a choice when he nearly drowns after spending the night at a derelict boathouse with his best friend, Charlie Finch. After leaving his body and meeting a mysterious light that lets him to go back to the past, Lee finds himself reliving the final days of another life. A life that ended tragically.

After recovering from his near death experience, Lee begins to realise that he is part of two lives linked by the despicable actions of one man.

Struggling against impossible odds, Lee and Charlie set out to bring this man to justice.

Will Lee be able to unlock the past and bring justice to the future?

The Key to Death’s Door is a story of sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and murder.

 

My Review:

No messing about… I fucking love this novel. I read a lot of books, this one is, by quite some distance, my favourite read of 2018 to date.

Tilbury’s use of POV and narrative style is completely perfect throughout and Lee/Paul’s voice carries the reader very nicely through the changing time periods and settings. Very nicely done.

Tilbury’s believable and charming dialogue aids the effect of this this tremendously. The technical skill displayed here shows how considerably Tilbury has developed as a writer with this work.

The novel felt very current, but also prodded a lot of nostalgia that’d connect not just with 80s kids but with kids of any era because of the themes of friendship and family and fidelity used.

It read as very visceral, very real, but also played out on my mind like a Quantum Leap episode. Pure entertainment at its best.

 

With the recurring themes of friendships and newly-minted courage, and loyalty, it felt like Stand by Me, and a little element of Stranger Things, but only in the feel of the people and settings. This wonderful work is not derivative in any way of those films and shows but does evoke the warm glows of childhood, despite the darkness throughout. It felt familiar and dangerous and modern and strangely comforting. Wonderful stuff.

Tilbury has revealed a golden moment in this book. Not just in comparing the lives of present day kids to those of the past, but the social commentary on domestic violence, the apparent exterior normality of the central monster, friendships that transcend circumstances and the deep loyalty of the boys. The author has portrayed the boys in a very genuine way and not fallen into trying to use youth-isms or patronised their POV in any way. I loved these teen characters and the simple courage they discovered within themselves as the novel progressed.

Some scenes are horrific but they make the sun shine all the brighter when it comes out. Despite the darkness it’s a very hopeful novel, which is quite some trick.

I loved the little quirks that Mark has used to flesh out his characters, giving them a too-real presence for the reader. Charlie always refereeing to Lee as Gus is one of those special little character kinks that bring great characters and stories to life. I was delighted that Tilbury didn’t force any explanation of why Charlie does this. It just is, and it’s fucking perfect.

The Key to Death’s Door is an absolute beast of a novel and one that elevates its author to a new level of skill and technical accomplishment.

 

The key To Death’s Door is available now from Amazon and Bloodhound Books

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

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

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.