Harpenden Library Literature Festival - Crime Writers

No Exit Crime Press are hosting an evening at Harpenden Library on 30th March with four of their authors to discuss their writing, inspiration and getting published. All of the titles below - plus many more by each author -are available at the library, currently displayed on separate, prominent stands throughout the building. Here are some of my reviews of the author's books.

Blood Axe (DS Ian Peterson Murder Investigation)
This is the third DI Ian Peterson murder investigation - I haven't read the others and it did not affect my enjoyment or understanding of this novel so they can be read as stand alone books.

The story is set in York, which is recalled in vivid detail with close reference to real places and street names. Having been on a trip there very recently, I found this interesting but again, it wouldn't matter if you had never been! Russell's description makes it easy to feel as if you are there and easy to visualise the places he talks about.

York is experiencing a series of brutal murders....seemingly random murders, with a weapon that appears to be made of iron or steel and by a killer who leaves no clues.......

The opening chapter is rather surreal. It is filled with Viking imagery (appropriate for York!) about a murderous warrior. It's clear from the outset this is the anonymous voice of the murderer responsible for the incredibly violent attacks that are discovered throughout the novel and the fact that the chapters written in his voice are so different from the style of the rest of the book is effective. These brief carefully dispersed ramblings read like something from "Game of Thrones" and are a contrast from the rest of the realistic, ordinary narrative of a contemporary crime thriller.  Russell has captured the character of a deluded, dangerous, unhinged mind. The character is completely caught up in a world of fantasy, so convinced he his a Viking warrior it is as if he is possessed and this makes him even more threatening and unpredictable. His overwhelming sense of "purpose" and "quest" make him an alarming force of which there is no knowing how far he may go.

The crimes are brutal. Bodies hacked to death with an axe, skulls sliced in two, decapitations ..it's a grisly list and the violent attacks are savage. The attacks appear premeditated but at the same time, the work of a crazy mind.

Ian Peterson is a well crafted, likeable character towards whom I felt respectful. He is a workaholic but he is intuitive, experienced, perceptive and a good judge of character. He has a considered response to situations and people and an eye for details which are sometimes missed by his colleagues. He is alert to the most subtle reactions of his suspects and victims. Sometimes he appears overbearing, for example, when interviewing Gary, the victim's boyfriend, he set out to intimidate him "in the hope that fear would loosen his tongue" but I did not find it aggressive, gratuitous or egotistical in the way some DI's can be portrayed to be as a "loveable rogue"or slightly lawless in their approach to solving the case. When they interview Zoe, a friend of the victim, the other officers believe the 16 year old's account, claiming she is brave but Peterson's controversial response is that it is "disingenuous" and she has no idea of the trouble she is causing in order to "protect herself from getting into trouble with her mother." You will have to read on yourself to see who is right!

This would make a fantastic TV series. It reads like one. There are all the key ingredients for a great thriller - an axe wielding madman enjoying a killing spree, suspicious boyfriends and stepfathers, accusations of rape and a media frenzy. There are plenty of unforeseen twists and a great, suitably appropriate, climatic ending. Russell draws all the different threads of the story together well and has produced a novel with convincing characters and a realistic feel. I would recommend!

The Damage
This novel transports the reader into the seedy, gritty underworld of David Blake - a wealthy criminal who controls the city of Newcastle from his exiled luxury. His empire is one of contract killers, corrupt police, drugs, prostitutes and money laundering. He lives with the love of his life Sarah, although she has no idea he is responsible for the murder of her father two years ago.

The portrayal of this underworld is excellent and completely convincing. The vocabulary and writing is gritty, seedy and authentic. There is a range of characters - all deeply unpleasant and unlikeable but Blake himself does have charisma and does command respect. His control over the city is impressive and includes everyone from pub owners, his "staff", criminals and lawyers alike. There is no end to the level of corruption at play here. I thought this was an interesting angle as crime thrillers are usually witnessed from the point of view of the detective or person wanting to "right the wrongs" and this is the opposite. This novel is narrated from the point of view of a character struggling to manage criminals and illegal activities, deal with changing loyalties and scams. Blake is a business man, an entrepreneur , a marketeer and a killer. But he has some redeeming features - his love for Sarah, his (tenuous) charitable work and he's intelligent. The other characters in the book are generally completely unscrupulous, dangerous, selfish and full of resentment. Blake is more considered.

Linskey uses cliffhangers throughout the novel to add pace and tension. It also emphasises Blake's fragile position as he continuously feels a sense of threat, risk and that his position will be usurped. There is lots of violence and action and this is not a sensationalised portrayal of the criminal underworld but a very real authentic one. It does seem to include every crime under the sun so this is not for readers who want to retain any sense of faith in people or the justice system! If you are not easily shocked and want to immerse yourself in a world of gangsters and organised crime then this book is for you! It's a complex, well written novel.
Killing Eva (Eva Scott #2)
This follows on from Blackmore's debut novel "Lethal Profit", the first in the Eva Scott series. I didn't realise this when I selected it from the library shelf, even though "Lethal Profit" was sitting right next to it! But it didn't seem to be too much of a problem. There is enough recap given when needed, although for a few moments I did feel like I'd missed something but once I realised it was referring to a previous backstory and the details were filled in, it was fine! And I've made a mental note to borrow "Lethal Profit"!

This is a compelling conspiracy thriller. The opening is dramatic and we witness a death within the first page. Eva is unsettled by this death which she inadvertently witnesses and seems more bothered by it than maybe she should be which immediately tantalises the reader. There is a strong sense that she is scared of something.

Eva is clearly traumatised by the death of her brother 13 months ago. He was embroiled in some government work and there remains much mystery about his death. There are suggestions of violence, torture and illegal activity. There is no doubt about the direction this novel is heading towards as Blackmore establishes a backdrop of illegal crime and sown many seeds of suspicion and intrigue.

As with all accomplished thrillers, there is a second plot line and this is introduced early on to keep the pace. Stefano Giza, a scientific researcher specialising in genetics, is in the process of discovering a way of establishing trust artificially. The narrative is quick to point out how lucrative this drug would be and how important it's discovery would be. Giza's assertion that he deliberately chose this line of investigation in order to make money implies that it could also place him in danger - equally, what might happen if this drug fell into the wrong hands? He also sounds as if he could be corrupted, so driven by needing recognition and pursuing a marketable genetic line of research.

Within the first 30 pages the reader has experienced death, attempted abduction, murder, stalking and threats. There are references to Eva's dark past, that she has killed before and has already been party to incidents of violent attacks and outbreaks of deadly viruses. Our protagonist is a troubled character and this gives the book a lot of appeal. She feels a constant sense of unease and paranoia, always looking over her shoulder in case she is being watched or followed. She is frightened. Why? She is not safe. Why?

I won't say anymore! Only that this is an exciting, fast paced, well developed and well drawn crime thriller.

And Is There Honey Still for Tea?
This is the third in the series of Ben Schroeder Mysteries, but again, I hadn't read any previous adventures and it did not affect my understanding or enjoyment.

This is much more of a legal thriller with more of a court room drama feel than the other titles reviewed above. It is much more dense and involved and took a little bit more investment to engage with and read. There is a lot of detail and a lot of information.

The novel is set in 1965 during the Cold War. Sir James Digby QC, respected member of the bar and member of the Chancery Division of the High Courts of Justice, employs Ben Schroeder to to sue an American journalist - Hollander - for libel. Hollander has accused Digby of spying for the Russians. He needs Schroeder to restore his good name. As Schroeder becomes more involved with the case, he realises it is more complex than first appeared and includes association with the Cambridge Spies. As MI6 become part of the drama, Schroeder is no longer sure he can save Digby from ruin.... will it be enough to obtain vital evidence even if it means putting his own career on the line as well?

More of a slow burner than the others books selected for this evening's talk, it is still worth a read and offers a more complex story of spies and legal drama rather than the more immediate violence of the other titles.

I'm sure the evening will be fascinating and it's a great opportunity to meet "real live" authors and hear directly about their work. It is great that the Library is hosting such an event and I hope it will be well supported in order to encourage more such evenings.

If you are interested in attending - whether with your book club or as an individual please see the details below.

Hope to see you there!

No Exit Press Crime Panel

Wednesday 30 March, Harpenden Library, 7.15pm
Leigh Russell, Howard Linskey, Peter Murphy, Alex Blackmore and other surprise guests from No Exit Press discuss their writing and getting published.
Book your tickets online - £7 / £5 concessions - includes a complimentary glass of wine

01707 2815333
direct from Harpenden Library

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notification of future posts. 


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