Distress Signals – Q and A with Catherine Ryan Howard

As you may remember I recently read an excellent novel called Distress Signals based around the idea of cruise ships. I’m now delighted to be able to welcome to acrimereadersblog the author of that novel, Catherine Ryan Howard who has agreed to answer some questions.

Thanks for joining me Catherine, and thanks for the advanced copy of your debut novel. What was the inspiration behind the story in Distress Signals?

Back in late 2011 I read an article by Jon Ronson in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine which detailed a number of mysterious or unexplained disappearances from large cruise ships. He mentioned the International Cruise Victims organisation, which really struck me because I thought cruise ships were sunny, idyllic places where people went to have relax and have fun and drink cocktails with little umbrellas in them. I’d never once associated them with anything dark or untoward. I started doing research online and I was really quite shocked at what I found. I thought, A cruise ship is the perfect place to get away with a murder. And then, You should write a novel about that.

Exactly what I had always thought. Certainly not now, I think you may have put me off cruising for life. What would you say your typical working day is like?

I am the world’s worst procrastinator, so it’s 90% coffee-making and Twitter. 3pm is the danger time because I work from home and that’s usually when a nap suddenly starts looking like a REALLY good idea. It also almost always involves a trip to Starbucks. I love a wet (i.e. no foam) venti latte and two years or so ago I moved from Cork, which had just ONE Starbucks at the time, to Dublin which has one on every corner, so it’s difficult to resist the temptation. Plus, it helps resist the naps!

I did not know that wet meant no foam, I’ve always taken the wet part for granted when ordering coffee! Obviously it would include coffee, but what else constitutes your ideal afternoon off work?

Maybe lunch in the Pepperpot café in Powerscourt Townhouse Centre (near Grafton Street in Dublin), book-shopping in Dubray Books (on Grafton Street) and then a read-in-one-sitting session with my purchase on the couch at home until the sun goes down.

That sounds like my kind of afternoon. Do you read a lot yourself and if so who are your favourite authors?

I haven’t got much reading for pleasure done in the last couple of years, because I’ve been at college full-time AND editing Distress Signals and writing Book 2, but normally yes, I do. My favourite authors are Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben. I also love Tana French, Caroline Kepnes, Gillian Flynn… Outside of crime/thrillers, I love Kazuo Ishiguro and Lionel Shriver. And Jess Walter wrote what is probably my favourite book of the last five years, Beautiful Ruins. I could go on – the list is endless, really!

If you were not a writer what would be your ideal job?

For a very long time I dreamt of having a very specific job: a Biosafety Level 4 virologist specialising in the Ebola virus and working at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infection Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (Don’t ask!) It’s probably for the best I stuck with the writing instead…

Hmm, moving swiftly on! What are you working on next?

I’m finishing the first draft of Book 2, which is another standalone thriller due out this time next year.

I can’t wait! Thanks very much for answering my questions Catherine. I look forward to reading your new book next year.

If you would like to find out more about Catherine, or Distress Signals see below:

Read a preview of the first three chapters here:


Amazon.co.uk link:



Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.



Twitter: @cathryanhoward

Instagram: @cathryanhoward

Facebook: facebook.com/catherineryanhoward


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The Forty (nine) Steps

Back in the dim and distant time that was 2012 when I was but a much younger thing I set myself my first ever Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC). In case you don’t know this was for me to read a book by every author at the festival that year.

Well it quickly became apparent that that was rather an impossible feat, and I narrowed it down to reading something from at least one author from each session was much more manageable. Well its now 2016, I’ve just turned 40,  and so it is fifth time lucky for the TOPCWFC.

This time I’m feeling pretty hopeful.  As you’ll know I wrote a list of 40 things I’m going to do this year, it could be called 40 steps to making this year ‘The Year of Me’ (Spot The Middle reference there) Completing the TOPCWFC is one of those. The programme has been released and as always it looks like a fantastic weekend. There are some of my favourite authors returning including the excellent Peter James, Tess Gerritsen and Martina Cole. Val McDermid is doing a double hitter this year being in conversation on Friday night and of course doing my favourite New Blood panel. There is also what is sure to be one of my top ranked panel discussions ‘Domestic suspense – the killer behind the front door’ featuring five of my favourite female authors including Julia Crouch and Paula Hawkins.

As well as those who I’ve seen before there are some new faces to the festival although not new to crime fiction such as Jeffery Deaver the writer of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers most of which I’ve already read. Then there are others such as Gerald Seymour who is a new name to me although he has actually just written his 32nd book.

This year if my maths is correct there are 48 authors appearing alongside comedians, playwrights, forensic podiatrists, and radio producers. Of these I’ve read 26 already, so only 22 to go. That shouldn’t be too hard to do surely? Thanks to netgalley I’ve already made a start on A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee and I recently purchased a novel by Ysra Sigurdardottir so fingers crossed I’m well on the way to completion for the first time ever! (There is nothing wrong with a bit of optimism)



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Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard – a review

I was sent a copy of Distress Signals from the publisher. This is Catherine’s first novel, and a fantastic debut it is.

Adam’s girlfriend Sarah has supposedly been on a business trip to Barcelona, but doesn’t return to their home in Ireland. He starts to panic especially when the police are not particularly helpful. Days later he receives her passport in the post with a note on in saying ‘I’m sorry-S’. As he tries to find her he connects her to a cruise ship called the Celebrate. He then finds out that a woman named Estelle disappeared previously in similar circumstances, and she is not necessarily the first to go missing from the ship.

This was a great novel that I absolutely sped through. The disappearance of Sarah is intriguing, and throughout the story there are twists and turns that keep you guessing.

Within Distress Signal you get to hear from three different main characters all with their own stories. The character of Corinne who works on the cruise ship is clearly hiding something, and you wonder why someone of her age and health is still working. There is the young Romain who lives in Paris. Then there is Adam who is the main narrator. It’s not until the end of the novel that the stories all intertwine.

The characters are all well written. Adam is likeable and on the whole I felt sorry for him. However you can’t help but think he brings some of it on himself. He is a struggling writer, but is definitely more struggling than writing. His girlfriend has supported him for years seemingly without getting any support herself. It was interesting to follow him as it slowly dawns on him that his life wasn’t necessary as perfect as he thought it was. The writing was good and I can honestly say I now know more about maritime law than I ever realised I would do.

I would thoroughly recommend this novel, although if you are setting off on a cruise any time soon I would maybe leave Distress Signals until you come back. An excellent debut and I look forward to reading more from Catherine.



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Absolute Friends

So this week I’ve turned 40, which I have to say did not turn out to be the momentous occasion I thought it would be. In my head for some reason turning 40 was a huge deal. It’s half way through my life (although I have a 90 year old grandmother so I’m hoping I’m not quite there yet) and I thought this would be marked somehow. I don’t know how, maybe the Taj Mahal would appear in our garden, a troop of dancing elephants would shimmy down the Close singing happy birthday, I’d start wearing matching underwear and always carry a handkerchief. In reality, other than which box I tick on official forms absolutely nothing changed. I had a lovely day and thoroughly enjoyed myself but I didn’t change. I still haven’t brought about world peace, or done a handstand on the top of the Eiffel Tower, or anything particularly noteworthy.

This did cause me some consternation, and I was rather miserable when I woke up on my second day of my 40th year. Luckily I met a friend for lunch, who gave me just the kick up the backside I needed. She’d even bought me a book of things to do now that you’re 40. Her very good suggestion was to write a list of 40 things I want to do, and then actually do them. I’m a big list writer, although I’m not so good at the actual doing of the items. They don’t have to be big things like walking the Camino de Santiago as someone I know is doing (You can follow his blog here) They can be small things.

Another very good suggestion from a friend, was not just to write a list of things I want to do but also a list of 40 things I’ve already done that I enjoyed or am proud of. Both of these are excellent suggestions that I am going to be taking up.In fact by the end of the day I’d already knocked off one item from my list. I went to a lovely restaurant called Rattle Owl which I’d wanted to go to for ages and a friend took me as a birthday treat.

The day also reminded me that although I may not yet have found a way to stop slugs eating my cabbages or written a best selling novel, I have an awful lot of good friends which already means I have something to show for 40 years. So today after making 30 cupcakes for my party on Saturday I have begun my list. I still need lots more ideas but its a good start. Turning 40 may be just another number but doesn’t mean I can’t make this a momentous year (or at least a momentous list)

My 40 things to do

  1. Eat at the Rattle Owl
  2. Complete the TOPCWF 2016
  3. Afternoon tea at the Grand (My friend has already volunteered for that)
  4. See Orangutans in Borneo (actually a possibility as I’m going to Thailand at the end of the year)
  5. Eat a pizza in Italy
  6. Learn how to take good pictures
  7. Learn how to ride a bike
  8. Go to the seaside
  9. Learn how to crochet
  10. Do a park run in at least 4 different cities (I was going to say 40 but thought that was rather excessive)
  11. Go on a wine tasting course and actually put it into practice (no more ordering ‘red wine, whatever is cheapest’!)
  12. ?



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The Good Mother by AL Bird – a review BLOG TOUR

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of The Good Mother from the publisher and am very pleased to be taking part in the blog tour.

The Good Mother starts with Suzan waking up realising that she is being held captive in a bedroom and her daughter is missing. Soon she hears her daughter Cara in the next room who is also being held. Their only way of communicating is via pencilled letters pushed through a grate. Suzan is desperate to escape and between them they try and hatch a plan. Firstly though they need to work out who is keeping them prisoner and why?

I absolutely sped through this and couldn’t put it down. To me it seemed quite an original storyline. You know that she is being held and we hear a bit from the voice of the captor but it’s hard to pin point exactly who is telling the truth. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Suzan with occasional words from the captor. This gives quite a claustrophobic atmosphere as you almost feel you are the one being kept locked up.

My only slight criticism of this book is that the actual motives and actions of some of the characters did seem slightly unrealistic. It is hard to explain as this is an incredibly difficult book to review without giving away any of the plot. However I’m not really sure that people would act in the way that they did in this story even with the best of intentions at heart. However we never really know how far people will go to protect their loved ones.

This was one of those novels that you start to question once you have finished it and wonder what you could have missed along the way. The style of writing is probably not for everyone as it’s very fast and written in very short sharp sentences. To me this was perfect for conveying the fear and desperation that Suzan was feeling. It does start off quite confusing and some of the bits seem rather unbelievable. However once you hit the twist towards the end suddenly with hindsight everything starts to make sense. It wasn’t a twist I saw coming which makes this book all the better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to reading more from AL Bird.


Author biog

AL Bird lives in North London, where she divides her time between writing and working as a lawyer. The Good Mother is her major psychological thriller for Carina UK, embarking into the world of ‘grip-lit’. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London, and is also an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course, which she studied under Richard Skinner. She’s also a member of the Crime Writers’Association. For updates on her writing, you can follow her on Twitter, @ALBirdwriter, or by visiting her website, at www.albirdwriter.com

The Good Mother is out on the 4th of April and will be available from Amazon.


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The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza – a review

I was given a free copy of this via netgalley. The Girl in the Ice is the debut crime novel from Robert Bryndza. The story starts with a young man discovering a body in a frozen river. It turns out to be missing wealthy socialite Amanda. Erika is called upon to investigate the murder although she is still recovering from her last case that went terribly wrong. She is given a new team, but is hampered at every turn by family, as well as her own demons.

Whilst overall I did enjoy the novel, I have to confess to finding it a little disappointing. I thought the writing was ok. The descriptions gave a real sense of doom and gloom and you felt the despair and misery of a city in the grip of winter with a murderer at large. However although the story had potential I may have fallen foul of believing the hype too much. It was billed as a gripping serial killer thriller, so sounded right up my street. In reality I would say it was more of a police procedural. I do wonder perhaps if I had read the novel before reading any reviews would I have been expecting less and therefore wouldn’t have been so disappointed?

The idea of the girls trapped in ice sounded very chilling (excuse the intended pun!) yet for some reason it just didn’t seem to take off as it should have done. I personally thought the characters were all a little clichéd. The main character of Erika didn’t really garner the sympathy that she should have done, neither from me nor seemingly from her colleagues at the start of the story. My irritation at the silly mistakes she made combined with the well used character ploy of a rogue detective going on their gut instinct just annoyed me. I also felt that I’d missed something in terms of the building of relationships. One minute she was the outsider that no one liked, the next they were friends with her. I’m always keen to read a good female character but I felt this was a very one dimensional character that didn’t act in a very convincing way.

However saying all that, the story itself was quite interesting and had many twists and turns. The ending was not a surprise as most of the way along it was obvious it was one of two people, yet the final few chapters did perk the story up. Whilst I can’t say this was one of my most favourite reads,  I would read more of Robert’s novels but hopefully next time Erika can have moved on a bit and truly be a strong female lead.

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Trust No One by Clare Donoghue – a review

I recently had a trip to London so took the opportunity to catch up with some of my new netgalley acquisitions.
Trust No One by Clare Donoghue has an intriguing strapline, ‘He never saw it coming, she always knew it would’. The novel starts with Richard having a barbeque with his two children, Harvey and Olivia. Everything is happy and it seems the family are moving on from the breakdown of the marriage. Next morning Richard is found dead. Detectives Locker and Bennett are called into investigate and what originally seems to be simply a case of premature death is actually more sinister. As the investigation begins it soon becomes clear that there are plenty of suspects and that everyone is hiding a secret.
This is apparently the third of the novels to feature this pair of detectives which I must confess I hadn’t realised until I finished reading. Therefore I suspect my enjoyment was slightly coloured by lack of knowledge of some of the back story.
This was an enjoyable and easy read, but for me it fell a little flat. It could have been really good and I thought that the storyline itself was interesting with a few twists and turns along the way but it just didn’t completely workout. None of the characters really seemed to work together, however I suspect with hindsight that’s because I hadn’t read the previous novels. The actions of them all seemed a bit clichéd, for example the young policeman was seeing the bosses daughter which didn’t really add to the story and was obvious as soon as it was mentioned he was seeing a girl he was being cagey about.
As I say though Trust No One was still enjoyable and did have it’s good points. It was interesting to read how the characters lives intertwined. All of the characters seem to be credible and to be unlikely murderers, yet equally any one of them could be the mystery person at the beginning of the book planning something bad. The additional chapters from the killers point of view add to the mystery.
Overall it was certainly worth a read although it may be best to start with the beginning of the series to enjoy this at its best.

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