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Moriarty Meets His Match by Anna Castle

I came to this book, the first in the Professor and Mrs Moriarty Mystery Series, because I so much enjoy the author’s Francis Bacon historical fiction series. The Moriarty books are different from the Francis Bacon books, as you would expect from such an accomplished writer, and it’s a mark of just how accomplished she is that – with just a couple of niggles, which I’ll come to – she manages so well the switch from Tudor times to the late Victorian age.

This book turns on its head the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. In Anna Castle’s version, Moriarty is an upright citizen of impeccable moral standing and honesty, while Holmes is a conceited, self-regarding bungler. Holmes is out to get Moriarty and to pin on him a series of murders, the unravelling of which is at the heart of this book. As with her Francis Bacon books, Castle brings us an outstanding heroine who would inspire in any man the thought, “My dear woman, just say the word.” And she does say the word (to Moriarty) and he responds as any red-blooded man might be expected to.

The niggles? They are not enormous, but they do matter. Anna Castle is American and writing a book set in Britain among British people is no easier for American writers than the reverse is for British writers. All the big, important stuff she gets right, but I found myself unwilling to believe that a London club of the quality Moriarty belongs to would serve its members American whiskey – and, sure enough, a few lines later she confirms that he is, in fact, drinking Scotch so it’s whisky and not whiskey. There are a few similar examples and, while they don’t detract from the quality of the book, they are there. There’s also a tendency, when her characters get into a real mess and you are wondering how on earth they are going to get out of it, to resort to the “With one bound she was free” solution. Finally, as a long-time fan of AE Housman, I was delighted in the early stages to discover that – like Housman and the object of his unrequited love, Moses Jackson – Moriarty is employed in the London Patent Office. Sure enough, Jackson turns up quite quickly and Housman immediately afterwards and I had great hopes that they would feature prominently in the novel, but that doesn’t happen. Perhaps in later books? We shall see.

Those are the reasons why I give this book four stars and not five, but I repeat that they do not detract from the enjoyment. I recommend this book without reserve to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, the unravelling of a crime, characters who emerge alive from the page and have completely believable motivations, a good love story, and/or first-class writing.

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Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle

This is a really good book. I like historical fiction, but – like many other historical fiction readers – I tend to stick with the periods I know, and I don’t know Elizabethan times. Anna Castle obviously does. The details she gives – food, clothing, social relations, office-holders, and much more – are convincing. What turns this from a good book to a really good book, though, is (as it has to be) the plot, the characters, and the motivations. I have to give Murder by Misrule five out of five on each of those heads. I’m not going to provide a spoiler, but I will say that the late scene involving Trumpet was not just an entertaining surprise. It was captivating. I’m delighted to have found a new author to add to my “must read” list.

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Place and the novelist

What has place to do with the novelist?

There was a discussion at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about writers and a sense of place. I wasn’t able to listen to it, because I was engaged in something to do with historical fiction in another part of the festival and I’m sorry to have missed it because I understand the importance of place to the novelist.
What triggered this post today was that I read a review of Sharon Wright: Butterfly on Amazon USA by someone whose nom de plume is “Professor.” It isn’t a new review – he wrote it last year – and I’m commenting on it now because of the thinking I’ve been doing about place. What the professor says is:

“a significant element of the story is set in France. a country that I love and holiday in every year. Lynch clearly knows France well. His descriptions are accurate and appealing and I truly enjoyed the enviable canal trip from Auxerre experienced by three of the characters.”

I was pleased to read that, because I know that canal well; I’ve cycled along it and I’ve made the journey River Yonne route de halageby boat in the same way as the characters do. I fell off my bike at one time on a particularly rough part of the route de halage (it was my fault – I was thinking about something else) and when someone asked how I was I remember being ridiculously proud that, despite the mess I was in, I remembered that the past tense of tomber takes être and not avoir.
Be that as it may – I know Accolay, where they pause for Carver to make his arrangements with Monsieur Arbot. In fact, here’s the very inn where that meeting takes place. I know the closed-in nature of the place, how it Hostellerie de Fontaine in Accolaybelongs to “La France profonde,” and the way it led me to say, “In the Nivernais, no-one watches you – but everyone sees what you do.” And after I’d thought about that it occurred to me that I also know the cafe where Carver sits as he watches Stacey, and where Stacey goes when it’s almost all over, and what it’s like on Eurostar, and…
The thing is that, when I write, I’m writing just as much about place as I am about people. When, in A Just and Upright Man, I wrote about “the wild whinscapes of County Durham,” I was writing from memory. (I don’t think whinscapes was even a word before I used it). I’ve had people who have read Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper say to me, “I was surprised that you managed to get it right when you wrote about sink estates in Newcastle.” Well, you shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not. And when, in that same book, Billy finds himself in Coeur d’Alene and says this:

It’s a strange place, Coeur d’Alene. Americans will tell you it didn’t exist much more than a hundred years ago, which rather rudely ignores the Indians. Now it’s a resort and you get lots of normal people, or people who can pass for normal in the northwest USA, and they have malls and restaurants and stuff to amuse themselves in. There’s sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter and golf most of the time when it isn’t actually snowing. Good old friendly USA.
But it started as a frontier trading post and went into mining and logging and gambling, and the people who did those things weren’t clubbable. Coeur d’Alene was where you got off the steamboat to try your luck at prospecting for silver, and where you got back on the boat to go home, or more likely to drift on somewhere else, when you realised this was not the place you were going to make your strike. There was no welfare state and no safety net and if you didn’t look after yourself in whatever way you could, you starved. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in that environment and beneath the tourist polish all that independence and egoism is still there.

I’m writing about what I saw. What I experienced. As I am when he describes an hotel bar in these terms:

Take Dan and Vern in Buffalo, Wyoming. We met in the Occidental Saloon. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane all stayed at the Occidental and when you stand in the bar you can see twenty-three bullet holes in the ceiling. It brings back every Western you ever watched.

I know it’s possible to do a great deal of research on the Internet, and the Internet will certainly tell you (with pictures, thanks – among others – to Google Earth) what a place looks like. But how it feels? There’s only one way if you want to write about that. You have to have been there.
For many writers, that means visiting a place to research the book they’re writing at the time. It doesn’t seem to work that way for me. Somehow, when I write about a place, it’s a place that I already know, and I put my characters into it. It’s like all those places have settled into a sort of mental sediment inside my head, to be drawn on when needed.
I said, for example, that I know that cafe from which Carver watches Stacey, but what I should have said is that I knew it, because the cafe was on the road out of Kingston on Thames and it must be nearly thirty years since I was last there. The cafe may well be gone by now.
All of these thoughts were originally triggered by “Professor’s” review of Sharon Wright: Butterfly. The mind, though, does not stand still and my present work in progress is about growing older. I put these two pictures side-by-side:

Haynes Oval and Ellis Park

The one on the left was taken behind the stand at Haynes Oval in Nassau either in 1964 or 1965. The one on the right was taken in 2010 on the pitch at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. On the left, I’m dressed to play cricket. On the right, I’m dressed to watch rugby (I’m leaning against the goal post because the match – Lions v Western Province – was over. Lions won). The fact that in 1964 I played and in 2010 I only watched is not the only change wrought by 46 years of living. Look at the hair. Look at the face. Look at the waist line.
What’s this got to do with place? Haynes Oval. I’ve never written about the time I spent in Nassau, but I remember the place so well. It’s time I brought it back to life. Now… What characters am I going to set down there?

Nobs or Nobodies?

THE historical fiction debate

Should we write about kings or commoners? About nobs or nobodies? I know where I stand on that question — and you can hear my side of the argument here.

The  book I talk about in that video is here.

How Sharon Wright: Butterfly came to be written


Crime fiction Sharon Wright: Butterfly

Writers get lots of questions about their books. Maybe this will answer some of them.
The first and most obvious question is: Where do you get your ideas? I always say the same thing: I have no idea. And sometimes that’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. What is true is that I never know when I start writing a book how it’s going to finish. An idea comes into my head. Maybe it’s a conversation. Maybe it’s just a person. And I put the words down on paper and look at them. Which isn’t actually true – I put them on a screen – but readers like to think about it going on paper. Writers say a lot of things that aren’t true. You might want to remember that while you read this.


Remember when you were young? And you said something that wasn’t true? And your mother told you “Don’t tell stories”? Well, that’s what writers do. We tell stories. Sometimes they’re true. And sometimes they’re not. If you can tell the difference when I do it, let me know. Because I usually can’t.

Anyway. Sharon Wright: Butterfly. I fell in love with Sharon while I was writing the book. Even though I knew that falling in love with Sharon would be a stupid thing to do. Because Sharon is an interesting sort of young woman. When she woos – as she woos Jackie Gough – She does it the way a female mantis might. Knowing that, when he’s served his purpose, he may have to die.

When the book was written, we talked about covers. And I was sent this picture.

I looked at it and I thought, “I don’t believe it! That’s HER! That’s my Shazzer!” Now, I am to graphics what Wayne Rooney is to the violin. So I left the cover design to someone who designs covers. I’m the writer; she’s the designer. It’s a good idea always to remember what you’re good at. And what you’re not.

And what Sharon Wright is good at is getting her own way. The tagline of the book is: “Nobody gives Sharon a chance. Except Sharon.” Shazzer comes from a very unfortunate background. Men think… Well. Let Shazzer tell you in her own words. This is an extract from the book:

She moved forward and smoothed the collar of his shirt. She kissed him gently on the lips. ‘Jackie. You know what I’ve learned? Started learning when I first went to school, and went on learning? Men need to think I’m dumb. Because I’m a woman, and I’m blonde, well, men think I’m blonde, and I like to spend a lot of time on my back with my legs in the air, and I like men for what they have that makes them men, I have to be dumb. Well, I’m not dumb.’
Gough shook his head. ‘You’re not, are you?’

As I said, while I was writing the book, I fell in love with Sharon. I hope you will, too. You can find out more about her here. And you can buy the book at any newsagent (ISBN: 978-1-910194-10-2). Or, of course, from Amazon.


The 3 Best British Contemporary Crime Novelists Writing Today

Why Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, and JJ Marsh are the best British contemporary crime novelists writing today

There’s a huge number of British novelists writing today about contemporary crime. A search of Amazon throws up a lot of them. Some are not much cop, as you’ll find if you open the Look Inside that Amazon so helpfully provides, but some are good. Quite a few British writers of contemporary crime are well worth spending a few evenings with – you’ll get a lot more pleasure and satisfaction from them than you will out of the average evening’s television schedules.

But the best three?

Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, and JJ Marsh

I’d put these three ahead of Peter James, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and a number of others with a good following. What they all have in common is:

  • They write about real people, and however bizarre the plots may sometimes be (and Elly Griffiths has some dillies), you believe in the story as it unfolds because you believe in the people. More than that – you recognise the people. They have characteristics, strengths and weaknesses just like those of the people you know. Just like your own, in fact;
  • While the authors may have – in fact, they do have – political leanings, there is no virtue signalling in their books. They know what they think; they don’t attempt to tell you to think the same thing. That is a lot rarer than I would wish;
  • The plots are well worked out and none of the three ever leaves you thinking, “You cheat! You hid that from me! If you’d told me that earlier, I’d have known who done it”;
  • They are in control of the back story; they realise when they need to reprise something from an earlier book but, unlike, say, Rankin, they ease it skilfully into the telling of the story. And I guess that’s it; they’re on this list because, good as some others are, these three are the best technically as well as in all the other attributes a crime writer needs.

Ann Cleeves Ann Cleeves

This is not a blanket endorsement. Ann Cleeves has four series in print; Shetland and Vera are both very good indeed, and well deserving of their TV success, but I’m less enamoured by her George & Molly and Inspector Ramsay offerings.

As for the other two:

Elly Griffiths

I can recommend both series by Elly Griffiths (that’s not her real name): she has the Dr Ruth Gallowayelly-griffiths books about a forensic archaeologist in
Norfolk and the Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto books; both series are excellent, but Stephens and Mephisto isn’t actually contemporary, because it’s set in the years immediately following the Second World War. Max Mephisto is a magician, which can lead to some plot points that challenge the reader’s willingness to believe; come to think of it, one of the central characters in the Ruth Galloway books is a druid called Cathbad, so both series have a strong magical element, but that does not detract from the sheer joy of reading these books.

JJ Marsh

jill-marshJill Marsh is a Welsh woman living in Switzerland who writes in a room on the top floor of her home there so that she can gain inspiration from looking into the cemetery next door. Yes, well…we are talking about crime fiction, after all. She is about to publish the final book in the Beatrice Stubbs series and promises that a new series with a new protagonist will follow. Given the quality of the Beatrice Stubbs books, I have every confidence that the new series will be excellent. For anyone who has not yet come across Beatrice, there’s a review of the first book in the series here.

It’s the story? What IS the story?

There have been times when I’ve regretted publishing Sharon Wright: Butterfly. I can’t escape the feeling that it needed one more rewrite. I’m a compulsive rewriter, and often more unwilling than I should be to let a book go, but in the case of Sharon, I sometimes wish I’d written a fifth draft and not stopped after four. Why? Because I hadn’t quite understood what the story was.

I realise that probably sounds ridiculous. I’d written the damn book four times – how could I not know what the story was? Well…

It’s clear when I talk to other writers that every writer works in a different way. Some work out the entire plot and write it down, scene by scene, before starting work on the book. We call that kind of writer plotters; I’m a “pantser” because I work by the seat of my pants. For example, when I started on the book that eventually became Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, I wrote the sentence, All I’d said was, I wouldn’t mind seeing her in her knickers. Then I sat for half an hour staring at the screen and thinking, “Where on earth did that come from?”

Zappa’s Mam eventually became a 96,000 word novel, and if I hadn’t a clue when I wrote that first sentence what it was going to be about, I knew by the time I’d finished the fifth draft. The fundamental theme of Zappa’s Mam is summed up in a single sentence – only 20 of those 96,000 words:

When you come right down to it, it isn’t the hand you’re dealt that counts, it’s how you play it.

That’s what I mean by “the story.” I didn’t know when I set out to write Zappa’s Mam that the theme was going to be that what matters is not the cards life deals you, but how you play the hand – but I did know that by the time I was finished. I understood what the story was. There was all sorts of other stuff in there – a murder, drugs and prostitution, love, a tragic death, inadequate parenting, a dedicated schoolteacher and others who were anything but dedicated – but in the end it all came down to that fraction of a sentence: it isn’t the hand you’re dealt that counts, it’s how you play it.

And what that has to do with Sharon Wright: Butterfly is that I didn’t really know what the story – the theme – of the book was when I published it. I realised later; talking to people about my books at book signings, when I came to Sharon, I would say, “While I was writing this book, I fell in love with Sharon. And falling in love with Sharon would be a very stupid thing to do, as Jackie Gough finds out. Because, when Sharon woos – as she woos Jackie – she does it the way a female mantis might. Knowing that, when she’s done with him, the male may have to die.”

That’s the story of Sharon Wright: Butterfly. Once again, there’s all sorts of other stuff in there; two hired killers, more than one murder, a bent policeman and several straight ones, depressed south London and a canal in the sylvan Nivernais. I thought at one time that the book’s tagline might be:

In the Nivernais, no‑one watches you. But everyone sees what you do.

It didn’t turn out that way; the tagline I ended up with is more suitable:

No-one gives Sharon a chance. Except Sharon.

Sharon is a very damaged young woman and her most pressing need is simply to survive. She’ll do anything to achieve that. And by “anything,” I mean ANYTHING. If letting Jackie Gough think they’ll be together and happy ever after to spend the money he helps her steal, she’ll do it. Why not? Poor Jackie!

It’s all in the book, but if I’d written just one more draft, I’d have made that central theme clearer. I don’t know why I rushed it. I wasn’t bored by Sharon. I did have a signing coming up, and I was keen to have another book on the table. Perhaps that was it. I’ve regretted it many times.

Which brings me to When the Darkness Comes. I started writing The Darkness ten years ago. It’s been through five complete rewrites, and the hands of a number of editors, agents and beta readers. Some of the rewrites have been responses to suggestions those people made. The protagonist is Ted Bailey and one of the questions I’ve been asked again and again is, “Are we supposed to like this man?” And the answer to that is: “I don’t see how you could. What is there to like?”

The response is always: “But you can’t write a book about someone it’s impossible to like. No one will read it.” And I accept that that is received wisdom. But is it true? Are there no popular, successful books about someone deeply unlikable? I can think of several. And while you might say, “Oh, well, but they all have some character aspect that makes us warm to them,” I would answer, “So does Ted Bailey.”

In any case, I’ve decided to publish it. I’ve got one more rewrite to do and I’ve fixed on the second Tuesday in February 2017 as publication day. But what’s the story? It’s a fairly incident-packed book. Drug running, espionage, and an incident that Ted’s best friend (if he had one) could not describe as anything but rape, though it’s fixed in its context in what amounted to courtship in those days; the girl herself, talking about it much later, says,

“I did not feel as though I’d been raped. This is nineteen sixty-two we’re talking about. It’s a world that’s gone, swept away and quite right too because it had very little to do with the way people really are. It was more the end of the Fifties than the beginning of the Sixties and the Fifties in Britain was a very dishonest decade. But it was real then and we all knew what the rules were. The man…what am I saying, the boy, they weren’t men in those days, not at nineteen, they were boys, the boy would push as hard as he could without hurting you, and if you were a decent girl you had to resist him. If you actually got him to the altar without giving in you got extra points for that but if you’d kept him at bay as long as you could and then passion got the better of the pair of you, or of just him if you couldn’t fight him off, then it was a matter for shame, you couldn’t avoid that, but it wasn’t the end of the world so long as he married you. He had to marry you.”

Her complaint was not that Ted had had sex with her when she didn’t want him to, but that he had not afterwards done his duty and married her.

There’s also murder, police corruption (no, I don’t know why I’m fixated on that. And, if I do, I’m not telling you) and, once again, France is there as well as the UK – but so are several other countries.

And there’s a chat show which is unusual in that one of the guests is on the verge of death and at least three of the others are already dead, so that we get this scene:

Dolan is looking more than a little brassed off and it seems that Betjeman has taken control in that effortless Marlborough College way. To the aristocracy of his day he may have been a parvenu, and foreign with it, but to most of us he was what an upper class English gent should be. ‘When we talk about the Church,’ he is saying, ‘we normally mean the people in it. Starting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and embracing all of the clergy and the laity. But when the man on the Clapham omnibus says “the church,” chances are he means his local parish building. Church architecture has influenced the development of the English character as much as the language of the King James Bible, and certainly more than any Jesuitical philosophising.’
Barabbas has been listening to this with an expression of undisguised contempt. He turns sideways and spits on the floor. Not an Italian “pah” type spatter; this is a full blown, greasy hockle, the type of expectoration a miner coming off shift might have used to clear the coal dust out of his mouth and nose before the days of the pit-head bath. Dolan looks at him in silent horror; Betjeman merely wrinkles his nose.
‘What we have to remember,’ Betjeman says, ‘is that the great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—took root in lands as harsh and inimical to human life as it is possible to be, where every day was a struggle for survival. Imagine if God had spoken to us through an Eskimo. The teaching we received from the Son of God as mediated through Gospels written…’
’I was the Son of God,’ says Barabbas.
‘Yes, of course, dear boy, in a sense you were…’
‘In a sense?’ I can see rage simmering behind the goatskin wearer’s purple face.
‘As Bar Abbas, the Son of God, of course you were. But I was referring to the Son of God who we know as Jesus of Nazareth.’
Barabbas spits again, as full throated as before, and Dolan half rises from his seat. ‘Will you please stop doing that.’
‘The Son of God who we know as Jesus of Nazareth,’ Betjeman repeats. ‘His teachings came to us first from men for whom every day was a battle simply to stay alive. They are black and white. There is no room for shades of opinion, only what is right and what is wrong. It is the same today in Saudi Arabia. People regard Wahhabism as some form of extremist creed, but what Wahhabis want is adherence to what they see as the pure, original teaching of Mohamed. No shrines, no priests, no mysticism of any kind. They may be seen as simply the Particular Baptists of Islam. There is a difference, of course. If he knows you recognise the authority of a bishop, a Particular Baptist will walk past you in the street without speaking. A Wahhabi meeting a dervish or a sufi will feel entitled to kill him for the greater glory of Allah.
‘And this is how Christianity came to us, at least before the humanising influence of Rome with its wine and its beautiful food and its art and its adultery. But God is an Englishman, and what He wants are English things. Compromise. Tolerance of difference. Politeness. Look at the cathedrals of Ely and Gloucester, the minsters of York and Southwell and you will see God’s will made manifest.’
Barabbas is on his feet, his short hairy skirt swaying. ‘Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew!’ he screams. ‘Like me. The People of God are the Jewish people! You want to know what God wants? He wants this!’ And his clenched fist slams into Betjeman’s face, splatting the nose and shaking loose a tooth. Then Alex says, ‘Oh, my God,’ and I see Haile Selassie emerge from the shadows and stride onto the stage, if a man with such short legs can be said to stride. He is quivering with anger. Barabbas turns to face him, his chin thrust out, looking for a fight.
‘The Jews were the People of God,’ says Haile Selassie. ‘You gave that away when King Solomon violated the Empress Makeda, whom the ignorant call the Queen of Sheba. She was searching for his wisdom, but he was what he was and he jumped her. His own people were so disgusted by the way he treated her, the way he broke faith and his promise, that they escorted her back to Abyssinia and they took the Ark of the Covenant with them. It sits where they left it, on the beach in the Ethiopian province of Eritrea. Which remains an Ethiopian province today, whatever those benighted savages may say. Our province, our beach, our coastline. My province, my beach, my coastline. On that day, the people of Abyssinia— my people— became the People of God. If anyone is to say what God wants, it is me.’
There is something ridiculous about this short man, midget would be only slightly too unkind a word, puffed up like this and Barabbas looks as though he will strike him, too. But Haile Selassie, physically unimpressive though he may be, has more presence than any man I have ever seen and his cold eyes face the old terrorist down. Barabbas turns and stalks from the room, shoving me and Alex out of his way.
Dolan stands. ‘We will take a short intermission while the floor is cleaned of this disgusting mess. Someone get these two out of here.’ And off he goes, no doubt for another cigarette. Hotel employees rush forward to help Betjeman to his feet. As they pass us, slowly because Betjeman is white, shocked and hobbling, I put out an arm to hold him.
‘What a dreadful man,’ he says. ‘Quite without breeding of any kind. And as for Haile Selassie…I wonder what all those Jamaicans with their knitted hats and their strange hair would say if they knew what their beloved Ras Tafar really thinks of them. You know he refused to think of himself as African? He thought he shared a continent with a bunch of monkeys.’
Yes, yes, I think, never mind all that. I say, ‘You talk about church buildings as the embodiment of God. Do you actually believe in Him?’
‘Oh, look,’ he says. ‘Man is a spiritual being. For all the crackpot lunacy of believers in intelligent design and those criminal madmen who think war between Islam and Judaism will lead to the Rapture and their ascent into Heaven, our need to believe in Him goes to the very heart of our human make-up. And as for Dawkins… If he had the brain he’d like us to think he has, he’d have taken a proper degree. The man’s a biologist, for God’s sake. That’s one step up from an astrologer. Does needing to believe in Him mean He exists? How should I know? It doesn’t mean He does not, you may be sure of that. Please excuse me. I need to find somewhere to lie down.’

It wasn’t until I was writing the book for the fourth time that God took that prominent place in it. And that was when I realised what the story of the book actually is. The tagline is:

Bore God at your peril

and the story – the theme – isn’t about murder and prostitution and rape and drug running. What unfolds (and it’s St Peter who explains it to us, so we can take it that it’s correct) is this: You can live a righteous, saintly and unblemished life for seventy years, but if you bore God you won’t get into Heaven. One more quote, and then I’ll leave the subject, at least for now:

God has favourites. Some people get away with murder, and I do mean that literally, and some people live like angels for seventy years and end up discarded. It isn’t just. It isn’t fair. So what? The atheists, which I used to be, are right when they say that Man has created a model of God that suits them. They abandon logic when they go on from there to say that there is therefore no God.  One does not follow from the other. There is a God. He just isn’t the God people think he is.

And there we are. That’s the story of When the Darkness Comes. And I’m going to tell it. I’m going to ignore the idea that you can’t have an unlikable protagonist. It will be out in February, and I’ll find out then whether anyone agrees with me.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

A Rising Man

It’s 1919 and Sam Wyndham, a Scotland Yard policeman who had a traumatic time in the trenches in WWI and then lost his wife to the peacetime influenza, has been recruited to join the police in Calcutta. He is thrown straight into the deep end when a senior civil servant is found murdered. Efforts to prevent him learning the truth and direct his investigation into channels acceptable to the authorities come right from the top.

Abir Mukherjee paints what I’m sure is an accurate picture of the British in the Raj with their snobbery, violence towards the natives, cupidity and indifference to justice and fair dealing. The book is carefully plotted. And yet I feel able to grant it only three stars. There are signs here of a great deal of promise and I shall certainly want to read Mukherjee’s next book in the series, but it isn’t possible to ignore the shortcomings of A Rising Man. The characterisation is thin – the main characters are more than cardboard cutouts, but not much more – and Mukherjee relies too much on the Deus ex Machina; long-standing readers of detective fiction have become tired of the hunch that tells the detective what the answer to the mystery must be. We demand more than that, and Mukherjee does not – yet – deliver it.

It’ll make a good TV series, though, and I’m sure someone is working on that right now.

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Early One Morning by Virginia Bailey

Early One Morning

Two women who have never met each other before and never will again exchange glances one fraught morning in wartime Rome. Wordlessly, they make a pact concerning the seven-year-old son of one of them. This book is the working out of the results of that pact.

Today is the 30th of April, I finished the book last night, there are two thirds of the year still to go and I cannot believe that in all that time I will read a better book than this one, or one that gives me more enjoyment. Virginia Bailey is a wonderful writer and she has gone to the very heart of this story. The characters live and breathe in every sentence, the events are totally believable, and anyone who by the final page is not utterly absorbed is an oaf who should never be allowed to open another novel.

It is only looking back that I see (through my tears) how brilliantly done the complex structure is. Very few writers make it onto my list – that special list that says “You must read everything this author writes.” Virginia Bailey strolled onto it with ease.
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Mandrill Press: Three Very Different Writers

Yesterday, I placed here a post that I’d taken from the Mandrill Press blog. Here’s another. I do get asked from time to time how I came to be mixed up with my two Mandrill Press co-authors. I’ve even been accused of being Kat Carlton and Suzie Hopkins in disguise — a suggestion I take exception to. This post attempted to explain to Mandrill Press subscribers the (wide) differences between the three of us.

Mandrill Press: Three Very Different Writers

What to expect from the three Mandrill Press authors

Our regular readers know this, but there has been a significant influx of new subscribers to the site over the past few days and – given the very different writing styles and worldviews of the three Mandrill Press authors – it’s probably a good idea to set out for the new subscribers exactly what they can expect to see here.

John Lynch
My name is John Lynch, I’m (with Suzie Hopkins) one of the two founders of Mandrill Press, and I handle all of the admin for the three of us so the chances are that you will hear from me more often than from anyone else. I write contemporary fiction and historical fiction as well as non-fiction and working as a writer for hire. You’ll find a description of my currently published books here.  Of the three of us, I like to feel that I’m least likely to cause offence because I don’t write what the others call “erotica”.

SF Hopkins
Suzie Hopkins is Canadian but currently lives in Abu Dhabi where she is a Marketing Manager. You can find details of her published books here. I mentioned erotica earlier; some of Suzie’s books are quite frankly and straightforwardly rude (The Binding and The Transformation of David) while the best way to describe a book like Lovers in Their Fashion is to say that it’s a strong contemporary romance that does not shrink from describing its characters’ sexual doings. In detail. Oh!

KC Carlton
I suppose, if I’m honest, that to tell you about Kat Carlton (and that could, perhaps, be rewritten as “to warn you about Kat Carlton”) is the reason for this post. Kat writes what she calls Erotic Christian Romance (see her books here) and her work is explicit. If seeing the word “Christian” makes you think, “Oh, well, if it’s Christian it can’t be too filthy”, you had better read what Kat says here. And here. As well as love between man and woman, Kat specialises in LGBT and M/M – that is, love – physical love – between two men. If this is not for you, I suggest you stick to the other two.

There you are. You have been warned. Now I’ll stand back and just say, take a look at the books. See what we have that you might like.