The Long Fall by Julia Crouch – a review

As regular readers of my blog will know, Julia Crouch is a definite favourite of mine and a regular at the Theaksons Old Peculier Crime Festival. So her new novel was one of the first books I bought at this year’s event and I’m pleased to say The Long Fall didn’t disappoint.

The main character is Kate. She is a successful woman, married with a teenage daughter Tilly. Kate runs a charity that was set up in memory of her daughter who died when young. Tilly is getting ready to go backpacking to Greece, which for some reason Kate is very reluctant for her to do. Interspersed with the present day story are diary extracts from Emma. She is a young girl who went backpacking in the 1980s. Heading first to France and then on to Greece Emma meets up with two new friends but things don’t go to plan. Gradually the two stories unfold as Kate’s past comes back to haunt her and she finds out the truth about what happened in Greece.

This was a great easy read novel. I thought that the two parallel storylines worked well together and the diary extracts were an interesting way of telling Emma’s story. I did think that some of the twists were quite easy to guess but I don’t believe that is always a bad thing and the story was a real page turner.

I thought that this was a very atmospheric book and the descriptions of some of the places made me want to go backpacking (well 4 star hotel-ing at least) However I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Kate. I think she seemed particularly naive and as a supposed successful business woman I think some of the decisions she made were a bit out of character. However saying that one of the big themes of the story is guilt which can make people act in very strange ways, and no one really knows how they would react if there family was being threated.

As with all Julia Crouch novels the crimes are not described in a gruesome manner, the tension is built through description and plotting which makes a change from some of the other books I’ve read recently. I also like the fact they are completely stand alone novels without a recurring character which makes a nice change from alot of crime novels. If you are looking for a quick gripping read then I’d recommend The Long Fall.

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No time for goodbye

The tents have gone, the bar is empty, and the dead body outline has been taken up from outside the front door, yes the annual Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished for another year. Despite the rain which was an unwelcome new addition to the festival, normally the organisers are able to arrange for glorious sunshine, once again it was an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Arriving on Thursday afternoon as soon as you drive up the path there is an unmistakable buzz that says you are in for a real treat. The tents were even bigger than last year, there was an outdoor bar and the whole thing was set around one of the best bookcases I’ve ever seen.

Anyone who has any interest in books will by now know that J K Rowling made an appearance as Robert Galbraith, an event which surprisingly was completely wizard free. However this was only one of many many fantastic sessions put together by programme chair Steve Mosby of which it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

There was no doubt that for me Lynda La Plante was definitely a highlight. It showed exactly what I love about this festival. I went along with a pre-conceived idea, I had seen a lot of her tv credits but had only read one of her books so I was in two minds as to whether to go. Yet she completely blew me away. She was funny, charming, interesting and intelligent, and it definitely goes down as the session I laughed the most in. I came away wanting to immediately rush out and buy all her back catalogue.

Unfortunately the back seat and boot of the car were already full with all the other books we’d bought so I thought it best to wait until I got home. Thanks to Mr F a copy of Twisted is now on the top of my ‘to read’ pile, a pile which could conceivably be described as more a tower than a pile. The number of books I came home with possibly out did even last year’s tally, as it is completely impossible to sit and enjoy listening to authors talk without wanting to go and read their books. I can’t guarantee I’ll manage to get through as many as Natalie Haynes who in the turning to crime session said she’d read about 220 novels last year, but I’ll give it a go.

As always there are some interesting debates and points of view put forward, during one session James Smythe suggested what is possibly both the best and the worst idea ever. He thought that one way of getting people to read books they wouldn’t usually read was by changing bookshops around so that books are stored a-z rather than by category. This could be a good way to find new books, but would mean that a quick trip to the bookshop would actually end up taking me all day.

People familiar with this festival will know that listening to the authors up on stage is only one part of the fun, celebrity author spotting adds another dimension, which author eats the most for breakfast, who was the last still standing in the bar at night, will people make it to the morning sessions, and of course the most important question of all, will anyone join us to make a team for the Saturday night quiz. Excitingly for us this year we were actually joined by the lovely Tony Thompson, although our performance was rather dismal compared to this years winning team lead by Stav Sherez.

The weekend is certainly not a relaxing one, its non-stop with sessions and book signings back to back throughout with little time for chatting. Yet it is definitely one of my most favourite ways to spend a weekend, finished off as always by a quick Betty’s lunch before heading home to sort through all my new books. Its a wonderful weekend,  and a great way of finding new authors, plus you never know what interesting knowledge you’ll pick up, who knew cabbage shows up the same as blood in some forensic tests. I’ll be more careful with my cabbage chopping in future!

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Questions and answers with Eva Dolan

As those of you who read my reviews know I recently enjoyed the Long way home by  Eva Dolan set in my home town of Peterborough. So I was delighted to be offered the chance of a question and answer session with Eva prior to her appearance at the festival. 

1) Why did you choose Peterborough as the setting for your novel?

The subject matter of Long Way Home – the murder of a migrant worker and the wall of silence met by the police in that community – dictated the location. Peterborough has a sizeable population of economic migrants from all over Europe and as the city is quite small it makes for an interesting social situation. It’s one of those places most people only see through a train window as they wait at the station or in the news when journalists want to look at the issues around migration, so it was familiar without being well known.
It was a new setting for crime fiction too and I liked the idea of having a city all to myself, one with a long and illustrious history based around the cathedral and a declining manufacturing industry which has left Peterborough slightly stranded and directionless in the 21st century. Also the surrounding Fenlands tugged at me. Tens of thousands of acres of black earth and steep, treacherous drainage ditches, villages standing isolated under those huge horizons – it’s a landscape built for nefarious deeds.

2) Did you start the novel knowing you were writing a series or was it something that you decided as you wrote?

I hoped it might grow into a series but writing is such an unpredictable business that I simply didn’t know what was going to happen.
Starting out I had a clear vision of my detectives, both outsiders to differing degrees, dealing with a community where the police are distrusted and avoided at all costs; DI Zigic, a family man and a solid professional, aware that his promotion to heading up the newly formed Hate Crimes department was based on his third generation status, an immigrant now in nothing but name, and DS Ferreira, born in Portugal, raised on the Fens in a series of caravans and bedsits as her parents scraped together enough money to give their children a better life. She is closer in experience to the victims they work with and her sympathy has a tendency to boil over into anger.
As Long Way Home progressed I began to realise these were characters I wanted to write more about; they kept revealing little secrets and personality kinks I hadn’t considered in my notes, while the world they were entering – of slums and brothels, gangmasters and thugs – kept moving into new, ever seedier, corners.
I wanted to stick with that world, and my characters, and hopefully readers will feel the same way.

3) Often writers say they get rejected a number of times before finally getting published, was this the first book you wrote or are there other unpublished novels that came first?

There are lots! I have a hard drive stuffed with unpublished novels, two other series spanning five books, standalone police procedurals and what would now be termed domestic noirs, countless partials and outlines. Mostly they were never rejected because nobody has seen them but me.
The book which hooked my agent is the only one which went out on submission and it received some very kind and complimentary rejections which, although disappointing, encouraged me to keep going. Ultimately that book just wasn’t good enough to stand out from the crowd and it was an important experience for me. I realised that getting published meant doing something a bit different, showing editors a world they hadn’t seen before – Long Way Home felt like that new and unusual something as I was writing it and thankfully it caught the eye of Alison Hennessey at Harvill Secker.

4) What other writers do you enjoy reading and is it mainly crime or other genres?

Too many too mention them all but I love the hardboiled classics like Chandler and MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thrillers, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and Martyn Waites for their social crime novels and when it’s escapism I’m hankering after, Jason Goodwin and Boris Akunin. The crime genre is positively humming with talent and the new writers coming up are producing an eclectic mix, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste’s fresh detectives look set to run for a long time, James Oswald and Lauren Beukes are producing fantastic crossover novels and the British scene especially is bristling with gritty talent; the likes of Kevin Sampson, Howard Linskey and Tom Benn.
I think it’s important for a writer to read widely in the genre but outside it too. The author I reread most often is Emile Zola – his Rougon-Macquart series contains the whole of human nature as it slams up against modernity and mechanisation, concerns which we’re still dealing with a hundred years on. Lately I’ve really enjoyed The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove – both excellent summer reads for people who want a bit of substance by the pool – and I adored The Goldfinch, completely ripped through it.

5) What is your next novel about and when is it due out?

The next Zigic and Ferreira book – still stubbornly untitled – is out in early January. Here’s the blub…

‘The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it.
DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the investigation but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect. But the case isn’t that simple and with tensions erupting in the town, leading to more violence, the media are soon hounding them for answers.
Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow. Journalists have been quick to acclaim Shotton, with his Brazilian wife and RAF career, as a serious contender for a major political career, despite his extremist views, but is his party a cover for something far more dangerous?’

6) Are you looking forward to the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival?

I am hugely looking forward to it. Lots of drinking and gossiping with lovely writing folks and an excuse to buy a new capsule wardrobe, it’s the highlight of the summer!
Last year was my first at the festival and the atmosphere was amazing, so warm and welcoming, authors chatting with fans and bloggers, a really chilled out affair – I’d urge any crime fan who hasn’t been yet to make the trip, even if it’s just for a day. The organising committee have attracted some massive name – JK Rowling, Lynda LaPlante, John Harvey and lots more – and, being Harrogate, where the wits are quick and the drink free-flowing there are bound to be fireworks on some of the panels…
On a personal level I’m honoured and delighted to be part of Val McDermid’s New Blood event, alongside three outstanding debut novelists; Ray Celestin, Helen Giltrow and Nicola White. Their books are all very different but equally original and compelling. Hopefully we’ll keep the audience well entertained for an hour.
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Thanks very much to Eva and Vintage publishing for their time, and don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Long Way Home.

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Win a copy of Eva Dolan’s novel – Long Way Home

Long Way Home pbkI’m delighted to announce that the lovely people at Vintage, to celebrate the release of Eva Dolan’s novel ‘Long Way Home’ in paperback last week, have offered 3 copies of the book as prizes to UK readers of acrimereadersblog. This was an excellent book and a review can be found here.

 

 

If you would like to win a copy all you have to do is answer the three questions below,

1) The founder of which high street pizza chain was born in Peterborough in 1929?

2) At what hotel was Agatha Christie found after her mysterious disappearance in 1926?

3) What session will Eva Dolan be speaking in at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writers Festival 2014?

To be entered into the draw to win a copy of the book email your answers along with your name and address to candic13@yahoo.co.uk. Winners will be picked at random on the 11th July and the details will be passed onto Vintage publishing who will be sending out the prizes.

Keep your eye’s peeled for a Q and A session with Eva Dolan appearing on this blog soon too!

Long Way Home by Eva Dolan

The start of a major new crime series from a CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted author featuring a detective duo from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. A man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed. DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder. Their victim is quickly identified as a migrant worker and a man several people might have had good reason to see dead.

Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.

is an Essex-based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player.

Shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she

was just a teenager,

Long Way Home is her debut novel and the start of a major new

series. The second instalment will be published in hardback in January 2015.

 

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A dark redemption by Stav Sherez – a review

One of the problems I find with a kindle is that I am much less discerning when it comes to buying books. As those who know me can no doubt testify if I visit a bookshop I take my purchasing of books very seriously. Whilst I tend to buy one or two at a time due to my inability to make a decision, I will carefully consider what I’m buying and then they go in the to be read pile in my room ready to be cracked open when the mood takes me.

I have no such problem with kindle buying, I’ll go click happy when I’m browsing Amazon and consequently I have loads of books on there that I buy with the intention of reading and somehow don’t get round to it. This was the case with my latest read, A dark redemption by Stav Sherez. It turns out I actually bought this back in May 2012 and it was only recently rediscovered when I was stocking up my kindle with festival appearance authors.

The book opens with Jack and two of his student friends going on a trip after University. They decide to go to Africa as they want something more interesting than the normal back packing student holiday. Through flashbacks during the book we start to find out happened during this adventure.

Back in the present day Jack Carrigan is a widowed police detective who has a habit of putting his foot in it. He is leading an investigation into the murder of a woman from Uganda whose heart is missing. Geneva Miller has recently been demoted and is given the chance of saving her career by spying on Carrigan and reporting back on his work.

I very much enjoyed this novel which links the atrocities in Uganda with a London based police procedural. The descriptions of both Uganda and London were very atmospheric and I particularly enjoyed the way that some of the history of Uganda was interspersed throughout the story without it feeling like you were being lectured at.

The two main characters were both reasonably likeable and I thought the characters backgrounds were really well entwined throughout but without detracting from the main thread of the novel which can sometimes happen in the first of a series.

I’ve seen Stav Sherez around at the festival but I don’t think I’ve heard him talk before so he is going to be a new one for me. He’s talking in a session titled Keeping it Real about the responsibilities that come with basing stories on events in real life so it will be interesting to hear him speak. It also goes to show that it’s always worth checking what’s already on my kindle in case there are other hidden gems like this one that I might have missed.

 

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Lonely Hearts by John Harvey – a review

I have recently read my first novel by John Harvey who is one of the main speakers at the Festival this year. Never having read anything by him before I decided to start with his first novel Lonely Hearts. According to the nice people at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival this novel was named by the Times newpaper as one of the hundred greatest crime novels of the century (that’s a list I should look up, it could be an idea for a new blog!)

In Lonely Hearts a woman is found raped and murdered. Her ex-boyfriend is the instant suspect as he was known for violent outbursts against her. However whilst he’s being escourted down from Aberdeen another woman is killed in a similar way. DI Resnick is first to spot the possible link and starts to investigate the case, in-between a bit of flirting with social worker Rachel.

This was one of those books that I started at home, then half way through I went away for a couple of days and so started reading something completely different on my kindle. A few days later I came back to this novel having forgotten a bit of the plot. Sadly I think that slightly ruined it for me. Lonely Hearts started really well, but I have to admit getting a bit bored half way through and it took me a while to finish. That may be because of my disjointed reading though.

I really enjoyed the character of Charlie Resnick (who doesn’t love a man with a cat?) but I found the relationship he had with Rachel a bit unlikely. The story itself was quite interesting, although slightly slow in places. However saying that, this book was written 20 years ago and so things by necessity were slower. It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t modern day or purposely set in a historical era so that added to the interest, a page of description of Resnick looking for a phone does give a somewhat slow feel, but that is how it would have been.

Despite my mixed reaction to this book, I will certainly read his other novels. It will be interesting to see how the character of Resnick develops as he moves towards the more modern day style of policing that I have now become used to. I think this is definitely a series of novels I would like continue reading. John Harvey has been writing novels since 1989 so it will be interesting to hear him talk, and find out how he thinks his books have changed over time. 

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The storyteller by Jodi Picoult – a comment

I’ve read a lot of books by Jodi Picoult and whilst I’ve always enjoyed them, like most things some are better than others. This was definitely one of the best. There are three main characters, the young baker Sage who lost her parents at an early age, her grandmother Minka who was a holocaust survivor and Sage’s new friend Josef. Early on in the story Josef is revealed as previously having been an SS guard at Auschwitz. The three stories intertwine and we find out the background of all three characters not only through flashback and interviews but also a fantasy tale that is told throughout.

It’s a difficult book to review as it almost seems wrong to say I enjoyed it bearing in mind the subject matter, but I couldn’t put it down. It took a little time for me to get into it, which can often be simply the fact that there were a large number of pages and it’s a big hardback novel. However once I became engrossed I didn’t stop.

The writing was good as always and I enjoy the way that Jodi Picoult takes difficult emotive subjects and writes novels that make you question your views. There is no denying that the Holocaust was one of the worst atrocities to ever happen and this novel goes some way to giving the reader an impression of the despair and hopelessness that the victims must have felt. However as with all of her novels there is another side, and in The Storyteller you get introduced to a guard whose job was to enforce some of the most hideous punishments to the victims during this time. He is now living in America, but is unable to escape the memory and guilt of what he has done.

Whilst this is obviously fiction the details of life within the camp are truly horrifying and the added element of the SS guards and their background gives an unusual aspect to a story, which shows that nothing is quite as black and white as it seems. This is not a history text book but it is a very powerful novel that will make you remember and question how something like this could happen, and how easily people get swayed by propaganda and ignorance. This is definitely one of Jodi Picoult’s best.

 

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