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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Leigh Russell - Fatal Act Blog Tour

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of Leigh Russell's writing and I always look forward to her latest releases. This time around, I'm really pleased to be able to take part in her blog tour, and today she is here to talk to us about her writing. I've been thinking for a while about the addictive nature of crime series such as Leigh's, so that's what I decided to interview her about. I hope you find her answers as interesting as I did.


Tell us a little bit about your latest Geraldine Steel book, Fatal Act.
Fatal Act opens with a car crash in the streets of London. A glamorous TV actress is killed, but the other driver miraculously survives - and vanishes. When CCTV footage suggests the collision was deliberate, the police suspect murder. When a second victim is killed, the murderer again effects an impossible escape. Geraldine is baffled by a killer who mysteriously vanishes.
And if you want to find out how it happens, you know what to do!

One of the things that spans the series of Geraldine Steel books so far is the story of her personal life. Do you think the careful balance of information about Geraldines personal life, as opposed to the case she is investigating, is crucial in keeping readers addicted to the series?
When the series started with Cut Short, I wasn't particularly interested in my detective. The killer was the character who fascinated me. The motivation of my killers drives my stories, 'taking the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche', according to Barry Forshaw, writing in Crime Time. Geraldine has emerged through the series to become the focal point of interest. She has a huge following, but readers' interest in her developed before mine. When readers began inundating me with emails about her, I realised I would have to give her some attention as a character, and she has just developed from there.

How far ahead have you plotted Geraldines personal story?
When I start a book, I know where the story begins and ends but the pathway from beginning to end evolves as I write. It's the same with Geraldine. She's on her 'journey'. With six books published in her series, and the seventh in progress, we are nearly half way through the series. I have the final chapter of the last book in my head, but the details of how she will arrive there have yet to be worked out.

At what point did you decide that Geraldines DS, Ian Peterson, was a well-loved enough character to carry his own series and create the same kind of interest and loyalty that Geraldine has done?
When I was writing the second Geraldine Steel book, Road Closed, I gave my first library talk to a group who had read Cut Short. I mentioned that I had written Ian Peterson out, and was giving Geraldine a new sergeant. The whole group protested, 'but we like Ian Peterson.' So I kept him in. He works alongside Geraldine in her first three titles, Cut Short, Road Closed and Dead End. She relocates to London in Death Bed, staying there for Stop Dead and Fatal Act, leaving Ian behind. So when my publisher approached me to write more for him, a spin off series for Ian Peterson was the obvious choice. I'm now delivering two books a year, and earning enough to focus on writing fiction full-time. Ian Peterson is a popular character - women have told me they are 'in love' with him! But whether his series will create as much interest and loyalty as Geraldine's remains to be seen. All I can ever say about any of this is, so far so good. 

Have you had to change your approach to writing Ian in his own books to ensure this happens?
That's such an interesting question. I suppose he's having to become more of a 'hero' - but he was always quite good looking, and strong, and immensely kind. So I'm not sure I have changed my approach really. The books are written mainly from his point of view, so readers find out more about what makes him tick, but otherwise he's much the same as he always was... I think.    

How important is it for the endurance of both series to have Geraldine appearing in Ians stories and Ian appearing in Geraldines stories?
I started this for fun, but I like the idea so much that I'm going to continue with it. Each series can be read independent of the other - indeed any of the titles can be read as standalone books. But Geraldine and Ian will both continue to make an appearance in each other's books.

In Geraldines own books youve replaced Ian with another DS, Sam. How did you go about giving her as much appeal for readers as Ian has in the earlier books?
As an author you cannot deliberately set out to make your characters appeal to readers. You can only write what seems to you to work, and hope other people like what you produce. I like Sam as a character. She's young, and feisty, and incidentally gay. Having same gender characters working together does make the writing more complex as I can no longer indicate which character is meant by simply using 'he' and 'she'.  

How do you balance the transient characters in your books victims, criminals, relatives etc with Geraldine and the other regulars in order to keep readers gripped as strongly as possible.
Main characters who only appear in one book can be just as important in that one book as the regulars who continue through the series. Readers who pick up any one of the books without knowing the series don't want to be shortchanged by an unbalanced narrative. At the same time, fans of the series will want to read more about Geraldine. It's a constant juggling act, trying to get the balance right. Minor characters also sometimes cause me problems. I can get carried away! My editor pointed out in one manuscript that readers don't need a detailed insight into the life of a character who only appears in one chapter. I had to decide whether to trim the description, or give that character a more important role in the book

Is there anything else that you do make sure readers keep coming back and stay addicted to your books?
I just keep doing my best to write gripping stories with engaging characters. I do pay attention to criticism, as long as it makes sense and is justified. Sadly that isn't always the case but there are always going to be spurious reviews. I recently had a spate of one star reviews on amazon immediately after announcing one of my successes. It's best to ignore those sorts of reviews. But I take on board genuine criticism from reviewers whose judgement I trust. Of course I'm much happier about good reviews! Luckily I've had more than my fair share of those, from reviewers like Marcel Berlins, crime critic in The Times, and Barry Forshaw editor of Crime Time, and many other excellent independent reviews. The Miami Examiner recently described Geraldine as 'one of the most interesting detectives of all time'. I can live with that!

Thank you for interviewing me.

Thanks to Leigh for a great interview.

You can contact Leigh and find links to all her books, her facebook page, blog and twitter account here.

And don't forget to join the next date on Leigh's blog tour Thursday 27th March - at Crime Time

You'll be able to see my review of Fatal Act here next Thursday.

More about Fatal Act! 



Fatal Act

The Sixth and Latest DI Geraldine Steel Mystery

A glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash. Returning for her sixth case, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is baffled as the driver of the second vehicle miraculously survives - and vanishes. Another young actress is murdered and, once again, the killer mysteriously disappears. Geraldine unwittingly risks her sergeant's life in their struggle to track down a serial killer who leaves no clues.


All she wanted to do now was get home safely. She drove slowly, looking out for a side road she could turn into. With luck she could slip away before her pursuer realised what she was doing. She passed a turning on the right, displaying a no entry sign. She braked abruptly. Her phone flew off the passenger seat. The van slowed down behind her. Worn out and stressed, she couldn’t even remember why she had been so angry with Piers. It had been a stupid argument in the first place. She wished she was back at home, away from the road at night and its wildness. Leaning forward to retrieve her phone from the floor, she punched Piers’ speed dial key. His phone rang, but there was no answer. She glanced in her mirror and glimpsed the other driver, his face a black mask in the darkness.


Genre: Mystery & Detective; Women Sleuths; Suspense; Crime
Published by: No Exit Press
Publication Date: 29th May 2014
Number of Pages: 320pp
ISBN: 978-1-84344-204-2
Series: DI Geraldine Steel #6; Stand Alone

Fatal Act by Leigh Russell
Blog Tour 2014!

Monday 24th March -Crime Book Club

Tuesday 25th March -Bookaholic

Wednesday 26th March - Fiction is Stranger than Fact

Thursday 27th March - Crime Time

Friday 28th March - Books, Biscuits & Tea

Monday 31st March - A Lover of Books

Tuesday 1st April - From First Page to Last

Wednesday 2nd April - Euro But Not Trash

Thursday 3rd April - Our Book Reviews



Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent, gaining a Masters degree in English. For many years a secondary school English teacher, she is a creative writing tutor for adults. She is married, has two daughters, and lives in North West London. Her first novel, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award in 2010. This was followed by Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead and Fatal Act, in the Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel series. Cold Sacrifice is the first title in a spin off series featuring Geraldine Steel's sergeant, Ian Peterson.







Stop Dead by Leigh Russell has been nominated for
The People's Book Prize
Do please take a couple of moments to visit this People's Book Prize link and cast your vote in support.


Friday, 21 March 2014

The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah

The Telling Error

I’m a huge fan of Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley series, so I was really thrilled to be sent a review copy of ‘The Telling Error’ so that I could feed my addiction.

Here’s what the publishers have to say about the book:

Stuck in a traffic jam, Nicki Clements sees a face she hoped never to see again. It's definitely him, the same police officer, stopping each car on Elmhirst Road. Keen to avoid him, Nicki does a U-turn and makes a panicky escape.

Or so she thinks. The next day, Nicki is pulled in for questioning in connection with the murder of Damon Blundy, controversial newspaper columnist and resident of Elmhirst Road.

Nicki can't answer any of the questions detectives fire at her. She has no idea why the killer used a knife in such a peculiar way, or why 'HE IS NO LESS DEAD' was painted on Blundy's study wall. And she can't explain why she avoided Elmhirst Road that day without revealing the secret that could ruin her life.

Because although Nicki is not guilty of murder, she is far from innocent . . .

Initially we are presented with two scenarios in this novel. One is a particularly twisted and elaborate murder with potentially hundreds of suspects, the other a woman going about her daily business, but with a secret to hide. The way that she goes about hiding that secret is the first thing to entangle her with the murder, but as the story continues the two scenarios become inextricably entangled.

As psychological thrillers go, this one is a stunner. It has that air of impossibility that characterises Sophie Hannah novels, and makes readers want to power towards the end to find out what really happened and why. But, as always, this is so much more than just a psychological thriller.

What I like about Sophie Hannah’s work is that each book invites you to think really carefully about what it means to be human, and about particular aspects of our humanity.

In ‘The Telling Error’, we are asked to think particularly about what it means to lie and to be lied to. Nicki has told a lot of lies and is keeping a lot of secrets, and they are her undoing. But a lot of the other characters are keeping secrets as well, and this adds to the complexity of the plot. What does Melissa, who is married to Nicki’s brother, know about Nicki’s childhood? Why has Damon Blundy been pretending to love his wife when she is convinced he doesn’t?

Which leads on to the second conundrum at the heart of this novel – what does it mean to love and to be loved? Damon’s relationship with his wife, and Nicki’s with her husband are put under the microscope and offer up some fascinating answers.

The structure of the novel is very clever as well. Nicki’s narrative carries the story, but we also have a posthumous contribution from the victim in the form of a series of online newspaper columns. In fact, the novel is very much at home in the online world, having email, Twitter, and chat-room correspondence telling part of the story as well.

The interactions between the team of detectives in Spilling continue to fascinate. At the centre of this we have the extremely touching and well drawn relationship between Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. But we also have Simon’s relationship with Proust, his boss, Simon’s relationships with his colleagues Gibbs and Sellers, Charlie’s relationship with Gibbs, and his (adulterous one) with her sister Liv. Going back to these characters, and seeing how the subtle balances between them have changed, is one of the delights of any new book in this series and more than enough to keep me going back for more.

For me, one of the most interesting things about this book was the effect that the conclusion of the case has on Simon Waterhouse. I can’t really say any more than that without spoilers, but that, more than anything, is what has me looking forward to the next one.

I loved this book on so many levels and can highly recommend it to existing Sophie Hannah fans and new readers alike.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

The Memory Book

‘The Memory Book’ is a beautiful, though sometimes painful read. Its portrayal of a woman falling apart as a result of early-onset Alzheimer’s is spot on and heartbreaking.

Based on the premise and the blurb, I thought this book would have me in tears by the end, but in fact it had me crying from about page 50 onwards.

Throughout the book we follow the narrative of Claire – who has just had her worst fears about her medical condition confirmed – and Caitlin, her daughter. Caitlin, it turns out, has plenty of problems of her own to grapple with as well.

We are also shown the contents of the ‘Memory Book’ – a notebook bought for Claire by her husband Greg to try to help her keep hold of the things she can still remember. Through this book we also get to see the thoughts of Greg and of Claire’s mother.

In some ways the story is tragic, but it is written with such humour and compassion that it is also uplifting. As a reader, whatever else you feel for Claire, you won’t feel pity.

And that is the genius that shines through in the writing of this book. We get to see into Claire’s life as it slowly falls apart and the portrayal of her Alzheimer’s-related memory lapses are portrayed so realistically that as the reader you feel like you are experiencing them with her. And yet her personality and strength assert themselves so strongly that they defy you to feel sorry for her.

The ending of the book leaves a few questions unanswered, a few things unsaid. And that is as it should be. One mystery though is solved in the most beautiful and unexpected way – cue for more tears.

Whatever you are left feeling about the ending, and whatever you think happens next in the story of Claire and those who love her, one thing is certain - Claire will still be there.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.