The Tanzanite Ring – A Valentine’s Horror Short.

The following story comes from Mark Wilson and Ryan Bracha’s Exquisite Corpse and is unedited. (Previously published as an advance peek on Mark Tilbury’s blog). Happy valentine

The Tanzanite Ring by Mark Wilson.

Paris, 2020

The high and muddy Seine slid beneath the bridge, hurriedly winding through the city; no care for its residents, its beautiful buildings nor an appreciation of a stunningly crisp winter evening. Sebastian checked the deep pocket in his overcoat for perhaps the seventh time in the last fifteen minutes.

The shape of the box within settled his nerves and caused his eager heart to skip a beat. Eleanor would be here any moment. Memories of their last visit to this spot together simmered to the surface warming Sebastian more thoroughly than the steam venting through the nearby grates.

He and Eleanor, in Paris. Walking the streets, loving the city. Right here on this very bridge they’d locked their love alongside hundreds of other metal declarations, giggling at the cheesiness of the act but brought closer somehow by it. As though a little padlock bought for two Euros from an opportunistic vendor, could deepen their love. But, somehow, it had.

Have three years really passed since last we had been in the city together?

So many other cities and countries explored together since.

Sebastian clutched at the box in his pocket once more as he scanned the padlocks and their messages to pass the time. A rough vibration from his phone shook Sebastian from his reverie. Checking the face, he confirmed the alarm he’d set.

Time to meet Eleanor by Notre Dame.

∞∞∞

I see her long before she notes my presence. Content to watch her for a few moments, I step back, cloaking myself in the deep shadows of a nearby statue. She’s right on time.

Eleanor.

Ten years we’ve had each other. A decade of travel, city to city, country to country. Each place we visit holds a significance known only to us. A special site where we’ve shared a moment together.

Where she’s given me her heart.

A few feet from the Trevi Fountain in Rome, huddled in a doorway where no prying eyes could penetrate.

Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. In my arms she descended the stairs with me, ducking into a secluded garden for a secret clinch.

Beneath the bridge at Camden Lock we indulged in perhaps the most intimate moment of my life.

The list goes on. Each moment a gift. Her time, her heart and her soul; given to me in a moment of purest connection etched for eternity into my memories.

Pride swells in me as I watch the familiar cadence and gait of her steps. She radiates goodness, this woman of mine. My heart beats so violently inside my chest I almost expect her to whip her head around to seek out and fix on the sound. Once again, my hand closes around the ring box in my pocket.

Inspiration flashes. I consider stepping out into the square to present her with the ring. Right here, right now. Removing the symbol of my unending love from my pocket, I rotate it a few turns, idly making a decision.

Recognising the rush of excitement for cheap impetuousness, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

Stick to the plan. Somewhere private, just for us.

Never one for making an exhibition of myself, I shove the box back into my pocket and step into the light to greet my love.

∞∞∞

One arm around Eleanor’s waist, the other pressed protectively…affectionately around her abdomen and curling round her hip, Sebastian led his love from the main square along the banks of the Seine. Eleanor shivered making the man who loves her pull her closer into his side. He kissed her on the cheek feeling the chill in her skin. He hoped his own body heat lessened her chill. Sebastian halted their brisk pace. Smiling at Eleanor, he removed his scarf with his left hand, keeping his right arm protectively around her waist to better share body heat. Looping his cashmere scarf around her slender neck, he asked, “Better?”

Eyes misting, she nodded her gratitude. They set off once again at a clip, crossing Pont Saint-Michel. Huddled in tight together against the nip of the wind, they walked along the Seine to Pont des Arts. Eleanor looked along the bridge to where the love-locks dangled, covering metres of the bridge’s railings.

Noting an older man at the half-way point of the bridge, she cut a sidelong look at Sebastian’s contented face, before jabbing a sharp elbow hard into her captor’s ribs. Sebastian was unhurt nor even moved by the blow. His response was to loop his left arm from around her back, up behind her head. His iron grip clenched her mouth and nose. Sebastian allowed a moment’s disappointment to show on his face. His sorrow was genuine but did little to alter his plans.

Sliding the short blade he held to her hip in deep enough to grate against the bone millimetres below- catching Eleanor’s scream in his leather-gloved hand, he moved his lips near to her ear.

“Oh Eleanor,” Sebastian whispered. “Why does it always have to end in an argument?”

Sebastian scanned along the length of the bridge, noting that the elderly man had not turned to look at the couple, and had continued along on his way, heedless of them.

Sebastian rotated the knife several millimetres, placing pressure on a nearby nerve cluster. Eleanor went limp as he withdrew the blade. With practiced swiftness he caught her before her knees bent.

“You will not ruin my plans for this evening, my dear.”

Scooping an arm under her armpit, Sebastian carried her off of the bridge as one might a drunken friend. Taking the stairs down the walkway to the river banks, Sebastian propped her against the wall, deep in the shadows.

Digging deep into his overcoat pocket, Sebastian retrieved a set of small keys and unlatched the padlock on a nearby shed. Tucked away under the bridge, the shed was used as a storehouse for seats and deckchairs, placed along the Seine banks during the summer months so that city workers mat enjoy the sunshine during their lunchbreak.

Nodding his approval at the preparations he’d made to the shed’s interior late that very afternoon, Sebastian retrieved his love, lifting her up onto this left shoulder, he entered the shed, pulling the door tightly closed behind them.

∞∞∞

“How many times do I have to say it?” She screams into my face. “I am not her!”

I shove the oily rag back into her mouth, securing it with heavy tape and storm away from her, barely stopping myself from punching the shed wall in my anger.

This won’t do at all.

Leaving the little shed, I stride the few steps to sit on the banks of the Seine, dangling my legs high over the dark waters. The frozen stone beneath is a sharp prompt to cool the heat in my veins.

Why must she always do this? Each and every time.

I breathe deliberately, allowing my stomach to expand as my diaphragm pulls and pushes, inhaling and expelling the chilled air. I feel my characteristic calm return and the stinging disappointment leave me as fog breath on the night air. Once more in control, I return to the shed, taking a kneeling position at her side.

Bound at wrists and ankles, propped against the shed wall, she glares up at me, unjust anger and fear taint her beautiful eyes.

She can see that I am calm once again and relaxes her shoulders a minute sag. She is very far from happy, but this little display of trust regained warms me. Slipping the box from my pocket, I creak open the hinged lid and slide the ring over her wedding finger. The light inside the shed, weak as it is, dances across the gemstone. Blues and purples and violets frolic and play across its surface and reflect onto her pupils.

“Will you do me this great honour?” I ask.

Her eyes are wide in shock. Tears flow freely along her cheeks and across her gag. She’s shaking with excitement.

Finally, the joyful reaction I was hoping for.

Fighting emotion, Eleanor nods her head, forcing a softness into her eyes absent until this moment.

I love you Eleanor. Thank you for coming back to me. To this place, once again to share yourself with me.”

The tears increase in pace as she accepts my love.

Gratefully I hold her to me for many long minutes until her sobbing ebbs.

She’s calming. Her body softens against mine, melting into my embrace.

It’s time.

Pushing gently away I hold Eleanor at arms-length, committing her loving expression to memory that I may revisit this moment at some point in future. Perhaps in the midst of rough times, or during one of her many absences. Eleanor notes the pure love I’m emitting for her and her eyes fill with hope.

I smile warmly, nodding an affirmation that she is correct in what she sees in my eyes.

Sending every particle of endless love through my eyes to hers, I close my gloved hands and tighten the vice they’ve become.

Eleanor’s eyes widen and then haemorrhage and then glaze over as I throttle every scrap of air from her airways. She accepts the coming death very quickly. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes she fights against it. It’s her choice, I am but a witness to her death throes. Watching the life dim and vanish from her eyes I force a final few ounces of pressure into my grip, compelling the cartilage in her windpipe to buckle and then splinter. Finally, releasing her, I cradle her gently to the plastic-covered floor and proceed to untie her bonds and remove the gag.

As Eleanor lies peacefully, I retrieve my work bag, stowed away earlier in the day at the rear of the shed.

I pour myself a cup of coffee from the little flask within and fish out the almond Croissant I bought from a charming little patisserie in Saint Germaine earlier that day.

Seated with my back up against the interior wall, legs straight out in front to act as a tray for my snack, I fill my stomach and warm my bones whilst I wait for gravity to have its way with her blood.

∞∞∞

Groggy awareness crept on him. Starting as he realised he’d fallen asleep, Sebastian checked his watch. Two hours had passed since he’d strangled Eleanor to death. Thanking no-one in particular that he hadn’t slept so very long, Sebastian rose to his feet before moving towards Eleanor’s prone body.

Crouching low, Sebastian lifted the side of Eleanor’s top, exposing her side which had become striped with a purplish hue towards her back where the blood had pooled and clotted. He pinched her fingertips, watching for any flow to blanch the area.

Certain that lividity had taken place, Sebastian removed her top completely, followed by her bra.

Smiling sadly, he placed a hand gently on Eleanor’s abdomen for a moment, feeling the coolness of her skin before retrieving his work bag once again. Producing a rolled piece of canvas, Sebastian unrolled the bundle parallel to the left of Eleanor’s body, exposing rows of very sharp blades and saws within. The final item pulled from the bag, Sebastian placed alongside Eleanor’s right side.

Seating himself in a straddle across her hips, Sebastian selected a small-bladed electric saw the size of a hand drill. Positioning its blade where her ribs and breastbone met, Sebastian activated the mechanism sawing smoothly from lower ribcage to clavicles.

Sebastian nodded at the neatness of his cut before placing the little saw onto the plastic around them. Reaching into the canvas bag, he selected a mechanism designed to open the chest cavity, placed it into the opening he’d made and began the process of rotating the wheel, watching with interest as her chest began to open, resembling a large toothy mouth.

Sebastian smiled at his practiced, smooth movement. Leaving the retractor in place, he selected a scalpel with which he cut through the pericardium sac, exposing Eleanor’s heart.

Over the next few minutes, Sebastian’s sure hands and clever fingers worked with accuracy and haste, disconnecting veins and arteries and removing connective tissue until Eleanor’s heart finally lifted free of its natural place. Checking his watch, Sebastian noted that he’d performed the removal one full minute more quickly than previously.

Pride widened his face into a smile.

Transferring the heart to the little clip-lock Tupperware box at Eleanor’s side, Sebastian, stripped himself naked, carefully folding his clothes onto a little box nearby. Working from neck to toes, and with the aid of two mirrors, he checked for and obvious scratches or tears in his skin. He’d been unaware of any opportunity for Eleanor to have taken a swipe at him, but experience had taught him to be prudent.

Discovering a very shallow scratch on his right forearm that hadn’t even broken the skin, Sebastian sighed at the additional tasks now required.  Selecting a Japanese chef’s knife, Sebastian began with the right thumb. Fearful of any trace DNA scratched from his skin being found underneath her fingernails, Sebastian removed each finger from the second joint, placing them in a thick hospital bio-waste bag which he would later incinerate. The Tanzanite ring he simply removed from the ragged end of her finger, placing it back into its case.

Sebastian folded his latex gloves from the wrist, turning them inside out and over the end of his fingers. Absent-mindedly, he dropped them into the open chest cavity then clipped the lid onto the boxy Tupperware.

Moving around the room, the killer carefully cleaned and packed away all of his tools, placed the Tupper-ware into a waiting ice-box, then set about the task of preparing Eleanor’s body for disposal.

His face took on a hint of disdain. He’d got what he came for and was done with her, but tasks remained to be done, regardless of any distaste he felt for them.

Blank-face and in auto-pilot, Sebastian placed some lead weights inside Eleanor’s chest before reversing the Retractor, closing and sewing her chest tight, and then wrapping her tightly in the plastic, secured by more tape.

Eventually, he slipped her cocooned body into the Seine, relief plain on his face.

One month later…

I chew on the last of the dried meat as intently as I chew on the decision in front of me. With my back resting against the newly-clean sandstone of the Opera national de Bordeaux, I feel the warmth trapped from the afternoon’s sunshine inside the stone, seep into my back, relieving a few knots that have developed there these last few days.

My eyes dart busily along and across Place de la Comedie, searching for her. As the notion that I may have missed her floats to the top of my thoughts, I abruptly catch her from the corner of my eye.

Dressed for the pleasant weather, Eleanor looks a vision. Her hair, brunette with a hint of auburn, as ever, is loose and swaying with the familiar rhythm of her walk. She looks relaxed, happy. My heart spills over with love for her. My hand strays to rest atop my little satchel. I can feel the shape of the box inside. Reassurance floods me as surely as courage does.

The power love holds surely is a wonder.

Bordeaux, so unfamiliar to us. We’ve never had a moment together in this city. Never explored our love or its streets here. Idly I fetch another strip of heart-jerky from my lunchbox, laid on the ground aside me. Tearing a piece off with my teeth, I watch Eleanor as she leaves the open area where people congregate on a summer’s day such as today.

It’s a fine place, to people watch, but inadequate for a marriage proposal. That will come later today in a more private part of this fine, beautiful city. Eleanor’s heart will once again be mine.

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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

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…

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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.

 

Anglesey Blue by Dylan H Jones – Review

Anglesey Blue is a pleasant surprise in a genre I rarely read. Written in 3rd-person, past-tense (again, uncommon in the genre), Jones’ narrative flows well and engages the reader effectively. Despite being a little exposition-heavy at times (for my taste) Jones’ excellent dialogue offsets what could’ve been a minor quibble in the chunks of exposition.

The dialogue feels ‘current’ in a way that many crime writer’s don’t always manage and always has purpose, whether in moving the plot forward or in slowly peeling away to reveal more depth to the characters than one might expect. For me this displayed an impressive technique in showing rather than telling in the dialogue sections, and clearly a strength for this writer.

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The plotting is tight, and mostly pacey, but where it lacks pace, I sensed important groundwork and character development being laid down for future stories, which is always welcome.

 A very solid start to a series. I will definitely pick up the next book.

You can find Dylan H Jones at Bloodhound Books and Amazon.

Book Review – Russian Roulette by Keith Nixon

A collection of all seven Konstantin Novellas:

    • Dream Land
    • Plastic Fantastic
    • Fat Gary
    • Bullet
    • Infidelity
    • Close Contact
    • A Chorus of Bells

Russian-Roulette

If you’re a crime novel connoisseur and love punchy, bullet-paced plots with pitch perfect dialogue and the darkest of humour, Nixon and his anti-hero creation Konstantin are the very boys for you.

Me? I never read crime fiction. It’s just not my bag, I’m a character-development man and like a slow burn story where people are gradually revealed along the way. Despite my unmanly aversion to crime novels, I’m first in the queue when Nixon delivers his latest work. In the Konstantin series Keith manages to pull both worlds together, violently fusing a hurtling plot with outstanding characterisation and development.

As each chunk is a complete little story in its own right shoving you through Konstantin’s hurricane, so too is the greater collection a cleverly constructed journal of Konstantin’s complexity of character, morals, and capacity for general mayhem. Konstantin himself seems genuinely ambivalent towards the right or wrong of his actions.

Nixon’s work, all pace, venom and clattering twists, never fails to drag his readers into the piss-soaked murky alleys and streets his characters frequent.

Another lesson in storytelling from one of the mainstays of the new Brit writer invasion currently swaggering through Amazon Bestseller lists.

You can find Keith and his books at Amazon, UK and US

Head Boy – Chapter 5 Preview

The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s Novella, head Boy. Due for release by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing on June 17th 2013:

All text copyright to Mark Wilson 2013

 

In this chapter, the main character’s friend and policeman father have a conversation.

Chapter 5

DCI Douglas Diller

 

Stevie, coffee in each hand and a bag of McMuffins under his arm, shouldered his way through the blue wooden doors into Bellshill police station straight into the path of a young, uniformed PC headed the other way.

“Fur fuck sake son!” Stevie hollered at the young copper as coffee scalded his hand, “that’s a coffee ye owe me.”

The PC showed a flash of anger before his training took over. “Sir, might I suggest a less aggressive tone when you’re addressing a police officer?”

Stevie cocked an eyebrow in amusement and annoyance. Mostly in annoyance. “Never mind yer pish, wee man. Get yer arse down tae McDs and get a large cappuccino for the gaffer.”

The PCs wee puffed-out chest deflated a little.

“Gaffer?”

“Aye,” Stevie nodded his head, indicating that he should turn around. “That coffee you just assaulted me with was destined for the hand of DCI Douglas Diller.”

Stevie gave the kid a moment to turn and acknowledge the appearance of his commanding officer.

“I’d go, PC Whitelaw, before ex-Detective Sergeant Miller sticks a boot up your lazy hole.”

PC Whitelaw nodded and made for the car keys behind the desk.

“Never mind, Bawbag,” Stevie conceded, “I’ll have half a cup. Dougie, here,” he offered the full cup to his former colleague, “you have mine.” Addressing Whitelaw once more Stevie growled, “Beat it, dick.”

Whitelaw looked very much like he wanted to retort, but kept his mouth shut and did as instructed.

“Still not any more fond of probationers, Stevie?” Dougie accepted the full cappuccino.

“I’m not overly fond of any of you pricks these days, Dougie. Where’d you find these wee fannies?” Stevie nodded at the door that Whitelaw had departed through. “He’s no’ a polis. Can you imagine a laddie like that in the force when we came through? Pffft.” He blew a whistle of disapproval through his teeth.

“It’s a different world, Stevie,” Douglas laughed. “PC Whitelaw has a degree in business and in fannying about with computers. That’s the future of the force right there. He’ll have my job in about ten years.”

Stevie grimaced, scanning Dougie’s face for a sign of humour. “Get tae fuck, Dougie. Yer joking?” he asked hopefully.

“’Fraid not, Stevie.” Douglas took a sip of his coffee and sat himself down behind the desk.

“Jeezus. One more reason to hate you pricks in blue I suppose.” Stevie wasn’t really joking, but Dougie laughed anyway to side-step any tension.

“How’s tricks then, Stevie?” Douglas asked as he inspected the contents of a sausage and egg McMuffin before deciding not to bother and chucking it back in the grease-marked bag.

“Aye, fine. Look, Dougie, I’m a night worker these days. It doesn’t suit me to be up and about before the lunchtime menu at McDonalds, so why don’t you just tell me what it is you’re wanting?”

Dougie leaned back in his seat, his smile fading. “It’s David. My David. I’m a wee bit worried about the company he’s keeping.”

Stevie filled his mouth with a gulp of coffee to avoid replying. He motioned for Dougie to continue “He’s always out, even on a school night. I know that he’s not a wean anymore, but he’s never in. I heard that he’s been hanging about up at Angel’s. You see him much?”

Stevie took a bite of his muffin and chewed over his reply along with the grease-slick ‘meat’. He hated lying to Dougie. Of all people, loyalty and history meant that he deserved better from Stevie, but Stevie didn’t subscribe to those ideals or live in Dougie’s world anymore. Neither did Davie, if he ever did. As he thought it, the wrap and the money from Dougie’s son felt heavier in his coat pocket.

“Look, Dougie. Davie’s in a few times a week, but he’s hanging about wi’ a good crowd. Folk wi’ money, they’re not scumbags. Actually, they’re the professional types. He’s no’ a big drinker and he doesn’t cause any bother. He’s just enjoying himself.” And making a fuckin’ fortune for himself and Big Hondo.

Dougie looked a little relieved for a second before his face hardened again.

“What is it Dougie, spit it out.”

Stevie was getting impatient. It was all right for Douglas sitting behind his cosy desk, and leaving for a nice comfortable house at dinner time. Stevie had a shift from six pm until three am, standing freezing his bollocks off outside and he was missing out on sleep.

“We had a young guy in here a couple of weeks back,” Dougie said. “Picked him up with a couple of grams of coke. Hondo’s coke, just cut a wee bit. Personal use, he said. He got a caution and sent home. On the way out the door, the desk sergeant overheard him worrying about repercussions and mentioning somebody called ‘Diller’.”

“So what?” interrupted Stevie. “It’s just some wee druggie worrying about the DCI Diller.”

Dougie shook his head. “Naw, Stevie. I’d never met the guy. I had no part in his arrest or processing. Do you think he was talking about Davie?”

“Don’t be daft. Davie doesn’t hang about wi’ folk like that. Look, Dougie, you’ve nothing to worry about with Davie Diller.” True. “That boy of yours is a grafter.” True. “Davie’s far too clever to get into trouble wi’ folk like this wee guy.” True. “As for Hondo, what the fuck would a smart guy like Davie be doing anywhere near someone like that?” Lie.

Dougie looked a little less worried than he had before. “Davie’s always had a wee element of danger about him, y’know?”

“Away tae fuck, Dougie. Just cos yer son likes a bit of risk doesn’t mean he’s out doing drugs and fuckin’ about wi’ folk like Hondo. The wee guy was just worrying that the station DCI would get involved. Davie’s got nothing to do with this. You know that.”

Dougie smiled warmly at Stevie. “Aye, you’re right enough. Even if he was the type, he works too hard to have time for that shite. Thanks, Stevie.”

“Nae bother DCI. Right, if you’re all done being a mother-hen, I’m off.”

Without waiting on a reply, Stevie headed for the door. As he approached the exit, PC Whitelaw re-entered with one of the station dogs dragging along behind. Catching scent of the coke wrapped tightly in Stevie’s inside jacket pocket, the wee spaniel went ape-shit, barking, yelping and pointing the metaphorical finger at Stevie.

“Seems that Muffin likes you, Ex-Detective Sergeant Miller,” PC Whitelaw scowled at Stevie.

“That dug’s as big a fuckin’ poof as you are, son.” Stevie barged past him and out the door.

Whitelaw started after Stevie. “I think you’d better come back here, sir.”

“Fuck off, goon,” Stevie replied without turning back.

Douglas walked around to the front door and pulled PC Whitelaw by the arm. “That dog needs more training, Whitelaw. His heid’s up his arse.”

Following the DCI back inside, PC Whitelaw looked unconvinced.

 

After a hundred yards or so, Stevie fished his iPhone from his pocket and scanned for Davie’s number. It was early, so he’d probably be on his way towards the school. As the ring tone started, he heard a phone ringing behind him and turned to see Davie ten feet away.

“Could’ve just shouted on me, Stevie,” Diller laughed.

“Aye, listen.” Stevie brushed off the humour. “Dougie’s been asking questions about your ‘night job’. Nothing serious but I’d make a point of meeting up with yer dad and laying on the charm.”

Diller’s eyes narrowed as he thought through the possibilities. “That boy Kenzo got picked up the other week. Did he open his mouth?”

Fuck, this boy is lethally quick thought Stevie. “Na, nothing deliberate, Davie, the desk-jockey that booked him overheard the name Diller mentioned when Kenzo was being released.”

Diller’s face was the coldest of steel. “Right. Thanks, Stevie. See you later, it’s time for school.

Stevie raked in the McDonalds bag for the last McMuffin, eyeing Davie’s back as he headed towards Bellshill Academy. Aye, Dougie, your boy’s far too clever to get himself in the shit he thought bitterly.

End of Excerpt

Mark’s other novels can be found now on Amazon

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