September 17, 2014

Ace aces it - The Ranger hits a sweet spot.

I try to keep a handle on new American writers because I'm always on the lookout for people to learn from.

Ace Atkins surprises me - not because he's good, which he is - but because he's written half a dozen or more books and I hadn't stumbled across him or his work until a few weeks ago.

The Ranger is the first book in the 'Quinn Colson' series. Colson is a Ranger - a high-class Special Forces soldier - who returns at the beginning of the book from seeing action in Afghanistan. You get a sense of the man in the opening paragraph:
Quinn headed home, south on the Mississippi highway, in a truck he’d bought in Phenix City, Alabama, for fifteen hundred, a U.S. Army rucksack beside him stuffed with enough clothes for the week and a sweet Colt .44 Anaconda he’d won in a poker game. He carried good rock ’n’ roll and classic country, and photos from his last deployment in Afghanistan, pics of him with his Ranger platoon, the camp monkey “Streak” on his shoulder, Black Hawks at sundown over the mountains. 

Look at the detail in that - Mississippi highway, second-hand truck, 1500 dollars, US Army rucksack, Colt .44 Anaconda, poker game ... concluding with his last deployment in Afghanistan and the Black Hawks in the background. That opening paragraph does so much work in just three sentences, giving us some backstory, some of his personality and even some of his skills ('his Ranger platoon'). We don't get five paragraphs of detailed explanation of who he is, where he's come from and what he can do. We get three packed sentences.

September 07, 2014

Hold the press ...

Just a couple of items of news before my next critique post, which will be on Ace Atkins' book The Ranger. He's a new writer to me but he's written quite a lot and has encomia on his book covers from people like Elmore Leonard and John Sandford, so they obviously recognise his worth. He's also written a couple of books taking on Robert B. Parker's Spenser franchise, which I'll also have to catch up on.


First, a note to say that the next book in the Sam Dyke Investigations series will be published on 26th September. It's going through its final edit now and will be available for pre-order from 16th September. Here's the final version of the cover:

Secondly, the translation of Actress into Chinese is coming on apace. I'm receiving queries now about Chapter 17, and as there are 26 Chapters in the book, that means the translation is about two thirds finished. The promised completion date was by Christmas, so they're well on target. There's been a slight delay with the translation into Spanish because the translator has moved house. Hopefully it won't be deferred too long.





Finally, I'm looking forward to seeing the new movie version of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder film, A Walk Amongst the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson. It'll be interesting to see how they translate Block's easy style into a wham-bang Hollywood movie, and Matt Scudder's reasonably passive modus operandi into an all-action hero. I hope it's not a disappointment!





August 20, 2014

Actress free downloads

Just a quick note to thank anyone who downloaded for free my contemporary novel, Actress, during the last week. In total there were 4613 downloads of the book between 15th - 19th August, which is one of the more successful freebie promotions I've done. Getting the promotion on Pixel of Ink had a good deal to do with that, as it contributed to 2296 downloads on the day the book was promoted on that site.


Now to see whether this has any knock-on effects on sales of other books, which is the point of it all. If you're interested, the book is now available for £1.49 from Amazon UK, $2.99 from Amazon US, and Euros 2.60 in Europe. 


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The Strange Girl, which is the next book in my Sam Dyke Investigations series is now entering its final phase of writing. There's about a third of the book left to complete. I think it should be ready, rewritten and proofread in about a month. There, I've not really put any pressure on myself at all ... 

August 07, 2014

German mysteries

The Dark Meadow is by a writer new to me, Andrea Maria Schenkel. She comes trailing plaudits as the first writer to win Germany's Crime Prize two years running and with her books translated into over twenty languages.

Schenkel seems to have developed a much-admired style that is minimalist and bleak, unfolding her stories in short chapters, each from the perspective of a different character, including the victim. The Dark Meadow, in a nicely-produced edition from Quercus, tells the grim story of a young single mother who returns to her family home having failed to find a life for herself beyond the village limits. It's 1947 and life is hard for a young woman with a child and living with parents who struggle to feed themselves, never mind another two mouths. The tale revolves around what happens to her, her parents and the various subsidiary characters who are witness to, or involved in, the murder itself.

August 05, 2014

Eee, book covers!

I've had a lot of fun lately designing book covers, both for myself and for others. The latest was for my good friend Jochem Vandersteen's latest hard-boiled book, the first in his Vance Custer series and soon to be published. Here's a preview of the cover:


August 03, 2014

The mastery of James Lee Burke

I've said many times before that James Lee Burke is probably the finest writer working in America today. His latest book, Wayfaring Stranger, is not going to dissuade me from that opinion.

Burke has had two strands to his fictional world - one of them involves the one-time police officer and private detective, Dave Robicheaux, who has featured in the majority of his novels over the last 30 or so years. The other strand plays with the fictional Holland family - apparently a meditation on Burke's own family, the Hollans. He has gone backwards and forwards in time with this family, and in Wayfaring Stranger we alight just before, during and after the Second World War.

Wendel Holland lives with his slightly detached mother and his grandfather (the hero of an earlier Burke novel), and at some point in the early 1930s has a run-in with Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, a meeting which colours and illuminates his adult years.

July 31, 2014

5 Signs Crime Fiction is Still Evolving - A Guest Post by Rebecca Gray

Today I'm pleased to publish a guest post by Rebecca Gray, who writes about real crime at backgroundchecks.org. Her comments on the impact of technology and new media have certainly made me think about my own practice as a writer in the modern world. Please add any comments you wish or write to Rebecca directly at the email address below.

image courtesy ponsaluk

5 Signs Crime Fiction is Still Evolving

Rebecca Gray

Crime fiction as a genre dates back to the 19th century, when Poe chilled readers with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and Conan Doyle gave birth to the archetypal detective in Sherlock Holmes. You can still cast new writing in that classic mold, but today's crime fiction continues to expand its reach, merging with different fields like science fiction and fantasy or exploiting the possibilities of new media.

Changes in modern culture and technology are driving these changes in crime fiction. The plots of old classics in detection like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Red House Mystery depend on the lack of formal methods for processing a crime scene we now use routinely, so in order to produce similar novels today, a writer would have to craft a story deliberately excluding modern techniques and solutions.

July 30, 2014

Support your local writer

A couple of months ago I heard about Pubslush, a site that is like a Kickstarter for books. If you don't know it, Kickstarter is a site where creative people can get financial backing from ordinary folk for their creative projects. Pubslush aims at achieving the same result for writers.

So, seeing as I'm well into writing the fifth Sam Dyke book, The Strange Girl, I thought I'd give it a go. The result is the page I'm linking to here. If you're so disposed, and have money to spare, you can donate some of it to a worthy cause - me - and in return, when the project is finished you'll get a reward of some kind, assuming I reach a minimum attainment.

I'm not anticipating lots of take-up, to be honest, but I'll treat it as an experiment and if it works, that's great. If not, meh.

Here's the link to my project page:



July 28, 2014

The Alliance of Independent Authors

I'm proud to say that I've just been granted Professional Membership of the Alliance of Independent Authors, a body that has been founded to promote and protect the interests of independent and self-published authors.

This is the first time I've been a professional member of anything and it gives me great pleasure that this first occasion should be for something that I love doing.

You have my permission to stare at and admire the badge on the right-hand side of this page.

July 25, 2014

Exciting news

This is just a placeholder post before I get around to reviewing James Lee Burke's latest book, Wayfaring Stranger.

There have been a couple of exciting developments recently, involving translation. First, I joined a site called Fiberead, who asked if I'd be interested in having one of my books translated into Chinese. Well, frankly, what writer wouldn't? China is currently the third-largest user of ereaders at the moment, and I guess that user-base will only increase with time. Getting my book into a form that will be readable should only be a good thing. The site is currently recruiting translators for Actress.

The second translation is coming from a site called Babelcube, who have put me in touch with a lady called Silvia Jurado Hermida, who is going to translate Actress into Spanish. Obviously this is also a large potential market, with Amazon having Kindle stores available for Spain and Mexico, for example. It's promised to be completed within 70 days - which will be some going.


Finally, just a nod towards Wayfaring Stranger, James Lee Burke's latest contemplation of The Way We Live Now. This book takes the Holland family strand that he's written about before and is positioned during and just after WWII. Although not evidently a 'crime' novel there are certainly strong plot elements in it that get the pulse racing, with Burke's usual mix of extraordinary villains and unusual characters. More later.

July 07, 2014

Digital Book Day

Just a note to say that July 14th will not only be Bastille Day, marking the beginning of France's freedom from oppression, but also Digital Book Day, marking the freedom of a number of ebooks from the oppression of having a price attached to them ...

You can go along to this site and on that day, download books from a number of wonderful writers for FREE! What could be better? OK, maybe a hot tub, but apart from that? Not much, I warrant. Here's the link, so put it in your diary:

Digital Book Day





June 20, 2014

Marlowe rises from the grave ... then sinks into it again.

It's been called literary ventriloquism - the ability to write in the 'voice' of another writer. That idea, once a jeu d'esprit, has now become big business. I guess it began with Kingsley Amis writing a James Bond novel - Colonel Sun - after Fleming's death, following his own critical examination of the Bond phenomenon, The James Bond Dossier. Subsequently, Wikipedia provides a frighteningly long list of Bond books written by other writers, culminating most recently with William Boyd's poor effort, Solo.

Recently, the Booker-Prize winning author John Banville, writing in his guise as Benjamin Black, has produced a Raymond Chandler 'continuation', The Black-Eyed Blonde, apparently a title that Chandler had earmarked in his notes for future use. This follows a couple of attempts at Chandler follow-ons from the prolific and often excellent Robert B. Parker - Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream, neither of which met with much approval from hard-boiled fans. But then, expectations are high when it comes to Raymond Chandler.