A deleted scene from A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1 #newbooks #murdermysteries

A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1 came out 10 days ago, and so I thought I’d share a deleted scene from the book. It ended up being quite a long story, and I waffled horribly as I tend to do, which meant there were a number of scenes that didn’t really offer much to the overall plot apart from a pleasant read for a few minutes over a cuppa. So they had to go.

Dee Gascoigne, the title character, is on a train heading for the coast. She’s left  her husband, and as a result, she’s lost her job (It’s the 1960s, divorce and marital separation were a big no-no, especially for the woman). She’s also been ill, and has been sent somewhere on the coast to recover. Recently she ahs been wondering about work and what to do with her life. Here’s the train scene, I hope you like it.

The train was very full, and Dee was forced to squeeze into a half-seat next to a very large gentleman sporting the largest moustache she had ever seen. She quelled a childish desire to point and laugh, merely smiling politely as she sat down. She quelled a further childish desire to ask him if his name was Monsieur Poirot or if he was simply a walrus. Instead she sat neatly with her feet together and her hands folded in her lap, keeping her eyes down so as not to allow them to accidentally stray to the right to gawp at the glorious growth on her neighbour’s upper lip.

An elderly lady sat opposite. She was engaged in looking through her handbag in a distracted manner. She was growing increasingly upset. Next to the elderly lady sat a young man in a very smart suit whose face was hidden behind the business pages of a broadsheet newspaper. Dee mentally characterised him as pompous and snobbish as he did not deign to notice the distress of the lady next to him. Dee leaned forward.

‘Have you lost something?’ she asked, thinking she might know what it was.

When the old lady looked up, Dee saw her eyes were brimming with tears, and her heart felt for her. Impulsively she reached out her hand.

‘Don’t upset yourself, perhaps I can help?’

‘It’s my ticket. The man will be coming along in a minute and if I can’t find my ticket, he might make me get off, because I shan’t be able to pay for another. I’m old, you see, and my income is sadly restricted. I’m afraid I’m rather forgetful. And I mustn’t be late getting to my sister’s for she is sending her son to meet me and he’s terribly busy.’

Her choice of phrases reminded Dee forcefully of her old nanny, Miss Minter, not that Miss Minter would ever have lost her rail ticket. But this was exactly how Miss Minter used to speak. Even the antique outfit this old lady wore made her a sister in taste to Miss Minter.

‘Where have you looked?’ asked Dee and immediately felt stupid. She had seen the lady looking through her bag. And on a train, there weren’t so very many places to look. However the old lady held out her bag.

‘I’ve checked in here, but if you wouldn’t mind, could you just check again for me?’

How trusting she was, Dee thought with dismay. Anyone could just help themselves to the meagre possessions if they were so inclined. As discreetly as possible in the cramped conditions, Dee peered into the battered handbag. With great embarrassment she opened the tattered coin purse then looked into the bag’s little zipped side-pocket, but no ticket lurked in these recesses. There was so little in the bag it would have been impossible to miss the small rectangle of pink card.

Next she helped the old lady pat her coat pockets. They looked at each other in consternation as the door at the end of the carriage opened and the guard proceeded to call ‘Tickets, please,’ as he made his way slowly towards them, clipping and nodding to left and right as he went.

If necessary, Dee thought, I can pay her fare for her although she will no doubt insist on paying me back once she gets home. Just as the train jolted over some points, Dee helped the lady to get to her feet and together they checked the ticket hadn’t caught in the folds of her coat, or fallen onto the floor or down the side of the seat. The young man tsked loudly behind his newspaper and shook the pages loudly. The man with the walrus moustache watched with interest but offered no help.

‘Oh dear me, oh dear me,’ murmured the old lady, and her tears threatened to spill over and run down her cheeks. Dee patted the lady’s hand and was concerned to find it icy cold. And then inspiration struck.

‘Have you got your gloves?’ she asked. Miss Minter had never travelled without gloves, even in the height of summer. In her day it was something a lady simply did not do. They would be black or navy wool in the winter, and white or tan cotton in the summer. The old lady cast about her in confusion.

‘Well they were here a moment ago.’

The guard was almost upon them. Dee checked the floor, but no gloves were there.

The large man next to Dee elbowed her sharply. His moustache jiggled satisfyingly as he said, ‘I believe he is sitting upon the lady’s gloves.’ And he nodded in the direction of the smart young man behind his paper.

All three of them turned their eyes upon the smart young man. Finally he felt the force of their gaze, and dropped his paper.

‘What?’ he demanded in the rudest manner possible.

Dee recollected Miss Minter saying very frequently that money could buy a lot of things but it couldn’t buy good manners. She treated him to a frown of distaste then asked whether he was sitting on the lady’s gloves.

‘Tickets, please!’ the guard said at Dee’s side, making her almost jump out of her skin. The suited man, with an air of great annoyance, stood to his feet, and on the seat beneath him, there were the missing gloves. Dee snatched them up and immediately felt something hard inside one of the pair. She took it out and with an air of triumph, handed it to the guard then quickly found her own ticket.

The guard looked, clipped and moved on. The suited man, without apology, retreated once more behind his newspaper. The large man squeezed past Dee to get off at the next station, and the elderly lady moved across to sit beside Dee, thanking her profusely for her help:

‘You ought to be a detective, my dear. It was so very clever of you to think of my gloves and then find them like that. I can’t tell you how relieved… Oh dear!’

Dee smiled and said she was glad to have been of help. Then the elderly lady was telling her all about the planned family party she was travelling to, until Dee felt rather sad that she would never meet any of them, she had them so well fixed in her mind.

***

 

Dates for your diary! #newbooks #cozymysteries

Okay so I know I’ve kept promising and promising, but really soon, I promise, cross my heart and so on, there will be an actual new Dottie book this year and of course, the Miss Gascoigne mysteries new series will also be starting, which is a spin-off from the Dottie Manderson series.

(Sorry if I’m repeating myself, I know you know this stuff really, this is just for the occasional accidental tourist to this site!)

So without further ado here it is:

A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1 :

A 1960s-era traditional mystery series set in Britain and featuring Dee Gascoigne, a newly separated woman who has just lost her job and is wondering what to do with her life. Dee has a family who love her, and a rather massive crush on her not-quite cousin, Inspector Bill Hardy, who struggles to keep the women of his family out of police investigations.

The eBook will be out on 7th October 2022, with the paperback and large print paperback coming out probably a day or two earlier.

The eBook will only be available from Amazon. It will also be available through Kindle Unlimited.

The ‘normal’ paperback will be available from most online stores including Barnes and Noble, D2D, Scribd, and many others.

The large print paperback will also only be available from Amazon.

If you’d like to know more about this series, please click this link to go to the Series Page for the Miss Gascoigne mysteries.

And here’s a teeny snippet from the book just to whet your appetite: It’s May 1965, and something bad has happened to Dee’s neighbour…

The stairs were right ahead of her as she entered the house. The interior was dim; only the first three or four stairs were illuminated by light coming in at the open front door. With a pause to allow her eyes to adjust, as well as to try to get her nerves under control, Dee placed her hand on the panelled wood of the enclosed staircase and began to ascend. The steps were steep and shallow, and with no rail on either side, it was a precarious climb in the near darkness. How on earth did Mrs Hunter manage, she wondered. Perhaps the old lady had a bedroom downstairs? At the top, she paused and took a calming breath. She turned to the left and as instructed walked along the gloomy corridor to the end, where a door stood open, spilling a little pool of yellowish light into the hallway.

She felt a deep reluctance to enter the room. Already she knew this was no ordinary moment. There was a musty stale smell, and something else besides. The metallic scent of blood on the air. She was still puzzling over the idea of there being blood as she went into the room. After all, no one had said anything about…

She stopped dead. Staring at the scene, her brain scrambled to make sense of the picture in front of her. A person—Sheila, yet not Sheila anymore—was seated in an armchair beside a small circular table. On the table was a wine bottle and a single glass with a small amount of wine left in it.

Unwillingly, yet knowing it could not be avoided, Dee turned to look at Sheila Fenniston. She had fallen slightly to the side, leaning against the edge of the table, and her head lolled back, her eyes half-open, her gaze fixed upon something Dee couldn’t see. Sheila was wearing a nightdress of a surprisingly demure variety, and all over the front of the white cotton was a dark reddish-brown stain. Sheila held her hands in her lap, and all down the forearms and on the lap of her nightdress was the brown sticky mess of blood. It had run down on either side of her and formed two puddles on the thin aged carpet. And there by her right foot, glistening softly in the half-light was the razor, dirty with blood.

Dee put her fingers to Sheila’s neck, knowing it was pointless. The skin was cold. There was no pulse. Dee backed out of the room, groping her way down the stairs. She closed the front door behind her and said, her voice faint, ‘No one can go in. Sheila’s dead. We must get the police immediately.’

*

Meanwhile, back in 1935, Dottie is ready for another outing as Rose Petals and White Lace: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 7 is now available to pre-order prior to release on 9th December 2022.

Once again, the eBook version of Rose Petals and White Lace will be out on 9th December 2022, with the paperback and large print paperback coming out probably a day or two earlier.

The eBook will only be available from Amazon. It will also be available through Kindle Unlimited.

The ‘normal’ paperback will be available from most online stores including Barnes and Noble, D2D, Scribd, and many others.

The large print paperback will also only be available from Amazon.

If you’d like to know more about this series, please click this link to go to the page for the Dottie Manderson mysteries book 1-4, or this link for the Dottie Manderson mysteries books 5 onwards.

Here’s a sneak preview from Rose Petals and White Lace to get you in the mood:

It’s 1935, and Dottie Manderson is helping out Inspector William Hardy’s sister, Ellie, who has a problem in her tearoom:

Lunch was, if anything, busier. Every table was occupied both inside and out, and the spare chairs at Dottie’s table had been borrowed to be set around the other tables where there were more than four people in the party.

Everything was going beautifully when two tables away, suddenly a man exclaimed loudly and in a disgusted tone, ‘Good God! What on earth is this doing here?’

There was no time to see what ‘this’ was, for he immediately dropped it onto the floor and stepped on it. Very rudely, he shouted, ‘Girl!’ to Ellie or Ruth who were already both making their way over. Ellie looked as though she felt ill, whilst Ruth looking angry. Dottie got up for a better look at what was going on, thinking Ellie might need her help.

Looking down at his plate, now the man said, ‘What? I can’t believe it! There’s another one!’ His annoyance rose and he looked about him angrily. ‘Where’s the manager?’

Ellie reached his side, clasping her hands and saying, ‘Excuse me, sir, may I help?’

He rounded on her in his fury, and she took a nervous step back. Red-faced, and with his voice reaching everyone in the building, he shouted, ‘Get the manager, you stupid girl. This is an utter disgrace! In all good faith I came in here with my family and ordered some food, only to find not one but two maggots on my plate!’ He was on his feet, towering over her, and Ellie was patently alarmed. Dottie glanced back towards the bakery counter and noticed that Andrew was ignoring the situation, calming greasing loaf tins, his back to the tearoom. For a brief moment Dottie wondered if he was actually deaf.

‘Darling, I’ve found another one!’ the woman with the angry man declared, leaping to her feet in revulsion and taking two steps back. She had a napkin to her mouth as if for protection, or to prevent herself from being sick. Around the tearoom, there was a deathly hush; everyone had turned to watch and listen.

‘Don’t gawk, you idiot, get me the manager! Now!’ the man yelled in Ellie’s face, a tiny spray of spittle flying from his mouth to her cheek.

Ellie began to stammer an apology, adding, ‘I am the m-manager.’

The man directed a scornful look up and down her frame. ‘I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life.’

I hope that has got you in the mood. This book will be chock full of creepy-crawlies and bugs of all kinds, so if they make you itchy and uncomfortable, make sure you have some nice soothing tea and biscuits on hand when you start reading. I always do!

***

A quick catch-up with Criss Cross

I self-published my first book in January 2013, so  nine and a half years ago.

(note to self, you should have waited until January 2023 so you could do a 10-year anniversary post.)

(note back to self from self: I might still do that, no one will remember that it was only six months earlier that I did this post, will they?)

The book was Criss Cross, and it was the first book of a trilogy called initially the Posh Hits Murders then I changed that rather clunky title a few years ago to the Friendship Can Be Murder mysteries.

Why did I self-publish?

I finished the book in 2012, (congrats, self, it’s been ten years…) and finding that people were still rather scornful of self-pubbed books – and still are today, btw – I tried to persuade around thirty publishers and agents to take it. The responses varied from dusty silence for months on end with tumbleweed rolling by, to responses two or three weeks later of ‘Sorry it’s just not for us, so sorry, but no,’ to responses by return of mail, saying, in effect, ‘Hell no!’

Some people said, ‘We enjoyed it but it won’t sell, it’s not commercial enough. It doesn’t fit into a genre.’ (True)

Lots of them said, ‘Good luck with that.’

And so that was why I thought I would ‘give it a go’ as a self-published author. Whilst waiting for replies from the latest victim, I had read quite a lot about self-publishing and thought it sounded like something even I, technologically challenged as I was, could do. So I did.

It was a long and difficult process as I had never done anything like that before. I knew very little about editing, or formatting of manuscripts. I was still working full time, so I had very little time to do anything ‘extra’, and I had no spare cash to pay anyone to do anything for me. In those days I didn’t know any other writers either so I had no one to ask. I learned it all from a book. and from research on the Interweb.

And then apart from the technology, I had another issue: I was really really scared!

What if people didn’t like it?

What if I discovered that I was genuinely a terrible writer?

What if the publishers and agents had been right and it was a huge failure? Well that one at least wasn’t too much of a problem – if it flopped, who would know or be worried apart from me?

It took a while to overcome my fears and just go for it. But eventually I got tired of wondering ‘what if’ and just – did it.

And yeah, it’s not made me a millionaire. I sell something like 100 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries to every one of the Criss Cross books I sell. But every month I sell a few, a nice little handful of eBooks and paperbacks and even large print paperbacks.

And yeah, not everyone likes it. One of my earliest reviews – which could have stopped my writing career right there if it wasn’t that I am super stubborn and contrary, was a one star review that said ‘This is the worst book I have ever read.’

Quite honestly they did me a favour. Because that was exactly what I had been dreading all that time, so once it came, everything else seemed okay. And by that time book 2 was out, followed by book 3 and book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries.

I think most writers dream of getting an offer from a publisher to publish their works. That’s never happened to me and I don’t know how I would feel or what I would say if it did. I kind of just kept on with the self-publishing as it seemed pointless to waste time trying to place my books when they could be ‘out there’ within a day or two. I make a nice living now from my books. Currently I have ten books published and two more about to come out later this year. I’m not a millionaire. To be honest I’m okay with that. I love the creative control of my books and I enjoy working with other authors to edit or proofread their works or to offer ideas or support.

And I have received so much help from many lovely authors. Now, I quite often get emails or message from readers telling me they like my books. I usually apologise first. then thank them.

Readers, you have no idea how amazing it is when someone tells you that something you came up with out of thin air has given them pleasure. Thank you, wonderful readers, for your kindness and support too.

What’s the book about?

So what’s Criss Cross about?

Loosely speaking, it’s a murder mystery. But it’s written in the form of diary entries by the protagonist, Cressida, and is from a limited-ish first person point of view.

(And those are some of the aspects of it that were not commercially viable for a publishing house.)

She’s terribly posh and entitled, and has a plan to kill off her mother-in-law who is making her life a misery.

I can’t really say it’s a mystery as quite a lot of what happens is told to the reader directly by Cressida. But of course, she herself doesn’t always know what’s going on, so there is that element of mystery. But there is a strong chick-lit vibe, and there’s romance.

(More reasons why it’s not a good choice for a publishing house.)

As the story moves on, the body count piles up, because stuff just happens, as Cressida quickly discovers. Outwardly self-sufficient and uncaring, she is really a fairly lonely person who builds herself a family, and it is these relationships that she wants to protect at all costs.

It’s humorous, a bit snarky, but warm and occasionally poignant. Each story leads on from the previous one, these don’t quite work as stand-alones, I’m afraid.

If you fancy reading a bit more, you can find a sneak peek here.

NB – just to let you know, I’ve been toying with the idea of continuing this series, so who knows – watch this space, it might end up a series.

***

Flight and Refuge

Like many writers, I have written a lot of stuff that, for a number of reasons, hasn’t been published. It might be absolute rubbish, or it’s unfinished, or I am, as always, too busy on other projects…

That’s the case with a book of 110,000 words that I wrote in 23 days flat back in about 2005 or 2006. The story is called The Refuge. I mention it from time to time on here, and have posted a couple of extracts (click to follow the link to chapter one, if you’re a bit bored). The premise is that Britain is at war: towns are under attack from air raids, soldiers have invaded the country, and are subduing and capturing etc, as tends to happen in wartime. (Sounds a bit ‘current’, doesn’t it? And that’s one of many reasons this book is still on a shelf and not ‘out there’. It’s a bit real. )

The main characters are Anna, a journalist, and Mark who was a government advisor. They knew what was about to happen and had a few days to prepare. They move to an area near some caves, planning to hide there with Anna’s family, until it’s safe to emerge. As Anna and Mark make their escape they find it impossible to turn their backs on survivors they meet so the group quickly grows in size.

I often talk about ‘closed communities’ and how useful these are in mysteries to stage the crime. But what if it’s an actual community, a village, hidden for decades, maybe even centuries from the outside world? My characters find themselves in just such a place. They and their new friends have to fit in, and adapt to a new way of life.

Research for this book really made me think. What if this really happened? If I had to leave my home, knowing I might never come back, what essential items would I take with me? I think if there are more people rather than fewer, that actually helps as between you, you can carry more.

My first thought was, obviously, food. And water. But…

Am I going somewhere where there is no food or water? If so, what am I going to do? I can’t possibly carry and keep fresh sufficient food to keep me alive for a year, let alone the rest of my life. Can I? And I’m not alone, so we need more.

So I had to ask myself, how long might we be gone for? Are we going for a few days in the hope ‘it’ will all be over by then? If we can learn anything from history, (and current affairs) it’s that these things tend to linger on much, much longer than we expect or hope.

If we’re going ‘forever’ then a couple of packets of noodles and a few bottles of water isn’t much good, is it?

So are we leaving just so we can died quietly somewhere on our own terms? Or are we going to make a new life, to support ourselves ‘forever’?

If the latter, we need:

a) more information about what ‘resources’ are at the place we plan to head to.

b) based on that, are we going to become a hunter/gatherers? Farmers? Or are we going to take refuge in a community broadly similar to our own, where there is an established supply of food and water and hopefully other amenities?

It really wasn’t as straight forward as I initially thought.

My refugees in The Refuge decided they would initially camp out until they had a chance to figure out what to do next. The important thing in the first instance was just to get away. So they planned to take tents, sleeping bags, water, water purification tablets, matches, candles, some food, a spade, a few basic tools, etc.

Being sentimental humans, they gave into the urge to rescue their pets: Anna turns up with two cats in a cat basket, and Mark arrives with his German Shepherd. No doubt the dog was a bit more useful than the two cats, but at least the cats can forage for themselves…

I’m assuming it’s a given that my family are coming with me, so I asked myself, what would I take – what were the things I couldn’t bear to be separated from?

Family photos.

Writing.

Books?

FOOD and WATER.

Not sure the baby photos, my notebooks and pens, or my reading materials would be a good idea. They’d be heavy and not actually contribute to keeping us alive, though they would give us something to entertain ourselves with in moments of leisure, or in a pinch, something to fling onto the fire…

If we had a chance to plan ahead, we could have everything neatly packed in backpacks and possibly take a few extra items that fell into that ‘not quite sure’ grey area:

Knife for veg/any cutting tasks; forks, spoons, plastic bowls, water in large plastic bottles, antiseptic or disinfectant, aspirin, loo paper (or??? I can’t decide about this one…); mirror, tweezers, scissors, plasters/bandages, clothing – just a couple of changes for each person. Some sturdy boots (on our feet so no need to carry), waterproof jackets. Comb, toothbrushes, face flannels and maybe small towels, soap for clothes and people.

Candles? Matches, definitely. Firelighters or briquettes, washing line, pegs, string, folding chairs (a luxury? But I can’t stand up for the rest of my life, nor sit only on the ground…) rope. Waterproof sheeting. Binoculars.

A screwdriver? Probably not – again – I’m just not sure, this is where I need a bloke to advise me. (Sisters can’t always do it for themselves.) A saw, hammer, nails, cutters? Am I building a shelter for myself, or…?

Large plastic bowl, kettle, small bowls to eat from, a wooden spoon? Small pans? Dried milk, tea, sugar, porridge, oil, stock cubes, dried beans, rice, tinned meat.

Tent or tents according to the number of people, sleeping bags.

These are all for our own survival. But what if, like Anna and Mark, we find ourselves in an already-established community? ‘Stuff’ might be less important and maybe psychology would be more important? What about the moment of our arrival? How would we fit in?

I think I’d feel eager to please. Eager to like everything, to approve of everything, to be accepted, understood and grateful, to be liked. Excited, keen. Then, a few months later, when difficulties arose and the ‘honeymoon’ period was over, I might feel lonely, homesick, and wonder if I should have just stayed where I was.

What about clashes of ideology? We might agree in public but at home, in private, we can say what we really think, do what we believe is right. Or can we? How private or safe are we really?

In my book, the small village is isolated, self-sufficient. It doesn’t cope well with ideas and attitudes from outside. I had to think about how relationships remained intact through the stresses and strains of everyday life in a new place. What about fallings out and antagonisms – how much do they affect everyone else?

For my people, going to the village instead of trying to cope on their own, meant:

initial relief at being with others, as this meant more support, the village was better established, more resilient, had a more structured way of life than simply living in a few tents. There was a sense of having reached a goal that seemed almost normal.

But then came the struggle to fit in when they realised attitudes, beliefs and way of life were different. It was hard to find common frames of reference. And although the majority adopted/embraced/adapted to the new way of life, a small number won’t/can’t seem to fit in.

Not all the villagers would welcome the new arrivals. There might be tension which leads to a sense of ‘us and them’, which could boil over into aggressive behaviour and even violence.

This in turn could mean that for some of the newcomers, there was a tendency to stay in the same groups and not to blend in.

And then of course, because I am a mystery writer at heart, I couldn’t resist adding a bit of difficulty of my own: the new arrivals have a gradual realisation that this is not a perfect society but is it possible or are they even morally justified in attempting to bring about change? Is it even okay to suggest change when you are an outsider, and need them more than they need you?

I had to consider that some of my characters might, eventually, feel they were not able to stay in this new place, no matter how convenient or safe it seems.

But at this the point, they may well discover the truth: no one is allowed to leave.

 

***

 

Reading history

I was an only child and I spent a great deal of time on my own. We did not have a lot of money but we always had a collection of books, and of course library cards.

Books intrigued me. There were grown-up books with lurid enigmatic dust jackets, pictures of strangers lurking in darkened doorways, or a single outflung hand, or an image of lip-sticked women with broken pearl necklaces. These I was not allowed to read as they were ‘too grown-up’ but I liked to look at the covers.

Then there were the books that had either been my mother’s or one of her brother’s or sister’s: Enid Blyton’sThe Island of Adventure’, Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Five series. I read the ones we had again and again, struggling at first with the more advanced language of the Saville books, but not wanting to put them down – something in those stories gripped me. And when I became old enough to have pocket money, aged 9 or 10, I began to spend all my money, from birthdays and Christmas too, on any books I could get my hands on. By the time I was 11, I had hundreds.

Now more than 50 years old!

I can remember making paper models of Famous Five and Lone Pine Five stories, cutting out little people–and of course the dog–and things like tents and bicycles. I also wrote to Malcolm Saville and was thrilled to receive a letter back, signed by him and enclosing a Lone Pine Five badge—he was already in his late 70s or early 80s at that time.

I can remember writing my own stories on the back of scrap paper, and stapling them together inside a ‘cover’ made from a cereal packet which I decorated with crayons. I made dozens of little notebooks for myself.

An aunt gave me a massive book on Christmas–the complete works of Lewis Carroll. I loved that. Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, of course, but even the essays, the letters, acrostics and puzzles, and, new to me then, the magical Sylvie and Bruno stories. I read ‘Twas Brillig…’ in German—or tried to—before I even started to learn the language, and it too was magical.

I can’t remember the day when I suddenly thought ‘I could do this, I could be a writer’. I can only remember that those early books gave me something that I longed to participate in. By the time I was 10 or 11, it was a fully fledged ambition. I wrote stories and made covers for them from cereal packet carboard. My teacher took them seriously and critiqued them.

Poems that inspired me, and filled me with encouragement, a sense of story, and with awe: Jabberwocky. Daffodils by Wordsworth. I read it as a child and felt I could really see them—the simple imagery was something I could understand and relate to. The haunting opening line of Walter de la Mare’s The Traveller—‘Is anybody there…?’

The first Enid Blyton ‘detective’ story I read.

It wasn’t until I was older, in my mid-teens, that I began to see writing as something I wanted to do in a professional capacity—but I was told I didn’t have the right background, or the right education, the right skills, that kind of thing. Did it stop me? No, of course not. If you’re passionate about a thing, no one and nothing can stop you. I told myself I could write ‘just for myself’, not to try to be published. So I saw myself as a hobbyist.

Formal studies at school and through university courses made me learn to see books as works, and view them from the outside, so to speak, not just immerse myself into them as an experience. I learned to understand techniques and things like plots and motifs and point of view. I discussed meaning and learned phrases like ‘unwitting testimony’. I honed my own writing skills and learned important grammar stuff. A lot of the books I ‘had’ to read didn’t appeal to me beyond the course. But I learned so much about books and writing.

Mrs Dalloway

Wow, I was staggered by the whole concept of stream-of-consciousness writing. And this was one of those works that really made you think. I was in bits by the end.

The Colour Purple

It was the direct yet otherness of the language that showed me how to reveal pain, to gain the reader’s sympathy and it made me want Celie to find her children and be happy. It felt all-engrossing. When she finally started addressing her letters to her children and not to God, it felt like an arrival. An emotional one.

Pride and Prejudice

It was what wasn’t said that I found touching. And also the gentle humour. I had never realised until I read P & P that ‘classics’ could be enjoyable.

The Wind In The Willows

The richness of the language, definitely wasted on children, was what inspired me. That and the busy minutiae of the animals’ everyday lives, so clearly people by any other name.

Patricia Wentworth & Agatha Christie

My cosy mystery heroines. The ‘safety’ of their stories and her worlds, the cosiness, the black and white certainty of each story is so restful and enjoyable. The intellectual wanting to know ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘who’. The satisfaction of revealing the culprit and vindicating the innocent. Christie sometimes added an extra layer of meaning, but overall I feel that her books remain cosy.

These were the books and the authors that got me started on the slippery slope! What are your book memories?

***

 

Patricia Wentworth’s The Chinese Shawl – a recent reread

I’ve always loved reading, and mysteries have always been my ‘thing’. Of all the authors in all the bookshops and libraries in all the world, Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth remain my favourites by a very long chalk, with Patricia a wee bit out in front.

Why do I love them so much when a) there are thousands—literally–of modern authors out there, and b) these traditional mysteries seem rather tired and old-fashioned by today’s standards?

Obviously I don’t believe they are tired and old-fashioned. I mean, yes, the author styles are out of touch with our era, and the roles and attitudes of characters are sometimes really horrifying. But for me, it’s the irresistible lure of the era: a time of long frocks, a time of afternoon tea, dinner parties, bridge evenings (I can’t even play bridge) and so forth. Yes, the plots can seem tame, contrived and are often insular, but as Christie’s Miss Marple often comments, ‘you see every aspect of life in a small village.’ And what we need to remember is that these stories were written, some of them, almost hundred years ago, and were fresh, new and very exciting at that time—the plots weren’t overdone or overused – they were more or less brand new, and I’m sure at the time, many of the plots would have seemed innovative.

Patricia Wentworth’s works are a wee bit tamer and even more moralistic than Agatha Christie’s, but we need to remember that there is a little over twenty years between their dates of birth, so I would definitely place Wentworth squarely in the previous generation of mid-Victorian Britain. Like many of Christie’s settings, Wentworth’s stories often revolve around a country house, and a small village, and her sleuth, Miss Silver is in many respects quite similar to Miss Marple. I like a village or country house setting; for me it’s like viewing a sample of the whole of society under a microscope. I love to see how ordinary (kind of, if rather posher than me!) people react in an apparently ‘safe’ setting when something goes horribly wrong.

I often reread these books. I have read all of Christie’s works at least twice, often many more times than that, and the majority of Wentworth’s many more times than that, although I’m still working my way through her non-series books. I have five or six different copies of some of Wentworth’s books, all with different covers, from different eras, and one of them is quite valuable. I won’t tell you which in case you nick it. (Clue 1: It cost nearly as much as my wedding dress. Clue 2: I got married in 1981 and my wedding dress didn’t cost nearly as much as it would have done today, but even so my mother gasped…)

I recently decided to reread The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth. As you can see, I used quite a few sticky notes as I read it and made notes for my own fun/blog writing at the same time. I wish I could say there was a special coded reason for using pink then yellow sticky notes, but it’s simply that I ran out of pink!

The Chinese Shawl was published in 1943, placing it in the latter third of Wentworth’s writing career. Her first novel, a romance, was published in 1910. She died at the beginning of 1961.

There’s something a bit different about reading a book if you are a writer, and also, if you’ve read it several times before. As well as an enjoyable read, it’s been an interesting, and useful experience. Different things struck me this time. Here are a few of them: (btw – contains spoilers!)

Point 1. Wentworth is a great one for setting the scene. Her murders seldom happen as quickly as, for example, Christie’s. We get a lot of background—sometimes I feel maybe there’s too much, but it does mean that by the time the reader reaches the murder scene, they know the main characters quite well, and are deeply immersed in the story. The murder quite often doesn’t take place until almost halfway through the book, and sometimes we don’t meet the sleuth, Miss Silver, until that point, and often even later, although in this one, she is already there, in situ as a house guest, from chapter ten.

I also feel quite often in Wentworth’s books, that you can see the murder coming. But it’s not in an annoying, ‘Der—I knew that was going to happen’ kind of way. It’s more like watching a car crash in slow motion: you can see the inevitable outcome and are powerless to stop it. You can only watch it happen in a kind of fascinated horror. (Not that they are gory or horrifying in that sense.)

Point 2. The ‘sleuth’ is Miss Maud Silver. Like Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is an elderly lady, a retired former governess who primly knits her way through interviews and afternoon teas and picks up all sorts of gossip, clues and insights as she does so. She is an acute observer of human life, and a highly moral, highly principled person. In fact sometimes she’s a bit annoying in her manner which can seem outmoded by today’s standards. But she is a treasure, too. Her main advantage is that she is often ignored, overlooked or just plain underestimated. Miss Silver often makes remarks that I find hilarious, such as this one from Lonesome Road (pub. 1939) ‘In their own way, men can be quite useful.’ Men as a breed are for Miss Silver largely a closed book. She remarks somewhere that the chief difference between men and women is that men require two eggs for breakfast instead of one. 

Point 3. In this book, the victim is not a very nice person, and so it’s hard to mourn her fate. But Wentworth never condones murder or violence, and even in the death of a nasty piece of work, there is a righteous indignation and a determination to get to the bottom of things. For Wentworth and her detectives, nothing ever justifies murder, and that’s a position I thoroughly applaud.

Point 4. Obviously, we have a sidekick. Usually a sidekick is a ‘Watson’ type character. In this case, it’s the official investigator – Randal March. He is not my favourite sidekick for Miss Silver—he is arrogant, pompous and (usually) far too self-satisfied. But then, maybe that’s more realistic for the era? All I can say is, thank goodness for Miss Silver, his former governess, as she usually takes him down a peg of two. In this book he has risen to the rank of Superintendent. When it comes to a supporting cast for Miss Silver, I prefer her other sidekick, Sergeant Frank Abbott, and if absolutely necessary, I can even put up with Abbott’s boss, Inspector Ernest Lamb, who is devoted to his three daughters. It’s a refreshing change to have a detective who is a family man with no massive issues.

Point 5. There is a wealth of period detail in this book, from fashion and etiquette to black-out regulations of WW2. I love this stuff, we get a really strong sense of the era and feel so deeply entrenched in the book. There is always a strong romantic, (quite an old-fashioned, polite romance,) thread running through the mystery. What I particularly like is the contrast between the dutiful ‘war work’ of bitter Miss Agnes Fane and that of Miss Silver:

Miss Fane surveyed it (Miss Silver’s knitting) with disfavour.

‘You should be knitting comforts for the troops.’

Miss Silver’s needles clicked.

‘Babies must have vests,’ she remarked in a mild but stubborn tone.

For me this sums up perfectly the difference between Miss Silver and Agnes Fane, the alpha female of the story. Agnes Fane is all about being seen to be right and perfect in every way, and above reproach. She craves status, yet her heart is in many ways cold though obsessive. Miss Silver, dowdy, slightly irritating, definitely overly moralistic and governessy, nevertheless does everything she does from a place of love, which is why, for me, she is the best sleuth. She is devoted to her former charges, their loved ones and their growing families.

And lest we forget, she’s a working girl, a gentlewoman come down in the world due the premature death of her parents and the very real need to earn her own living. Unlike, for example, Miss Marple, she is not an amateur detective who does it because she’s nosy or in the right place at the right time, she hires herself out at a decent rate as a ‘private enquiry agent’. This has given her the means to afford a nice flat in London and a maid to take care of her. Girl power! She don’t need no man!

Point 6. As in any good mystery, there are a number of suspects. The murdered woman leaves behind her a slew of cast aside lovers, a divorced husband, the wife of a cast aside lover and another chap’s girlfriend, not to mention other possibilities. It seems as though almost anyone could have carried out the dastardly deed. And then of course, comes the twist—maybe she was killed by mistake? That leaves the already wide door thrown even wider. Who killed her, and why?

Point 7. Actually, when I said sidekick, I should have said sidekicks, because front and centre in this story is our heroine, Laura Fane, and her new beau, a former lover of the murder victim, all-round war hero, Carey Desborough. Actually the romance between these two flourishes within the space of a day or two—it is love at first sight, and it’s essential for the lovebirds that they help Miss Silver get to the bottom of the crime so everyone can live happily ever after. Well, almost everyone. And a rather unbelievable attempt to set up first one of these as the baddie then the other fails to convince the reader, and so we know we can rest happily in the fact of their happiness.

Point 8. Really my only criticism of Wentworth’s books generally, and this one in particular is her frequent use of that hateful tool ‘the had I but known/little did they know’. I hate this ploy with a passion. And it crops up here several times. On top of that, we almost always have a phrase along the lines of ‘little did they know but the events of that evening were to be sifted and gone over with the utmost care, and everything they did and said would be held up to the light and examined.’ *sigh* Moving on…

Point 9. Wentworth loves a dramatic ending. And so do I. Although I knew ‘whodunnit’ because I’ve read this book loads of times, I still savoured the outcome. There is too, generally a nice ‘wrap-up’ scene where the good guys take tea with Miss Silver at the end and she expounds and moralises, a good egg teaching her pupils. This one is slightly different as the wrap-up is with Randal March, but it’s still good to get insight into their thoughts about the crime and its resolution. And of course, the two lovebirds go off together into the sunset, but it’s a slightly scaled back happiness—after all, there’s still a war on. A very satisfying ending.

As a review, I know this isn’t much cop. I’m hopeless at reviewing, but if it’s made you think, ‘I might read that’, then my work here is done. Enjoy!

Other of Wentworth’s best works include:

Lonesome Road

The Listening Eye

The Alington Inheritance

The Clock Strikes Twelve

And there are loads more, both series, and non-series.

***

Holiday reading

This week, I’m being spoiled rotten by another kind author’s contribution of a blog post. So I shall immediately, and with gratitude, hand over the reins to Gordon Lawrie:

Gordon Lawrie was a secondary teacher in his native Edinburgh for 36 years until he could no longer resist the challenge of writing a novel. His first awful attempt remains buried undiscovered in a safe place, but a couple of romantic comedies followed before his first crime novel, The Midnight Visitor, appeared in March 2022. In addition, he is the Founding Director of Dean Park Press, which provides services for self-publishing authors, and the editor of the online publication Friday Flash Fiction.

 He has his own website, www.lawrie.info  where you can find lots more embarrassing information about him, as well as a great deal of free stuff to read. He also has a Twitter account: @thesaucers where he sometimes says more than he should about the government of the day, golf, birdwatching and his beloved Hearts football club.

 I’m pretty addicted to crime fiction. I think it might my need for escapism, but I also enjoy being challenged in a non-confrontational sort of way. I’m addicted to Wordle, too.

I’ve written a handful of novels now, some of which have been better than others. What seemed to work best for me was romantic comedy, but there’s little money in romcoms unless Danny Boyle or someone equally famous decides to turn your novel into a smash hit starring Hugh Grant. No, crime fiction is the way to go if you’re trying to make a living from your writing. Crime – whether it’s a detective thriller or a courtroom drama – not only holds out the prospect of a modest income; there’s half a chance someone will try to use the characters to turn your stories into a TV series. That’s why I started to write my DI John Knox/Sister Mary Maxwell-Hume mysteries. Shameless, I admit it.

But be under no illusion, crime writing is hard. There are so many strands to keep track of: the plot, of course; the characters; the pace; maintaining the general suspense; and of course the reader has to feel satisfied by the eventual solution. Ideally, the reader should end up feeling like the detective’s sidekick, wondering how they managed to be so stupid as to miss the giveaway clues that were the key to solving the mystery. Keep your Booker or Nobel Prizes. Writing a crime novel is the true Everest of literature.

Crime writing, though, is far from homogeneous. Readers of Caron’s blog will be familiar with her cosy country-house whodunnits (that’s an official term, not an insult, by the way). Or perhaps you prefer Raymond Chandler-style hard-boiled thrillers, usually told in the first person to allow the writer to make acerbic observations on the social circles in which he – it’s almost invariably a ‘he’ – moves. There’s a whole genre of historical crime fiction, whether it’s Brother Cadfael in a monastery, or the exceptional Bernie Gunther series mostly set during and in the aftermath of Nazi Germany. There are any number of “noir” crime thrillers: Nordic noir, tartan noir, Icelandic noir and so on. Recently, Richard Osman and others have written successful crime novels with comedy overtones. My fellow Edinburgh author Olga Wojtas is currently having lots of success with a bonkers time-travel comedy crime series. Her librarian protagonist is sent back in time to solve assorted mysteries (the latest being to exonerate MacBeth and discover who really killed King Duncan). Janice Hallett’s The Appeal is written entirely in emails and texts. There’s plenty of choice.

But although I’ll read virtually anything, my all-time favourite crime genre is what I’d term “holiday crime”. Set in some lovely location that I’m either familiar with, or would like to go to, I’m transported there as I turn the pages. I particularly like the ones set in Italy – Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series set in Sicily; Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen set in various cities; but above all Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series set in Venice.

Venice is a city I think I know fairly well, and each of Leon’s novels takes me there on another holiday. An American, she was a Professor of English Literature at Venice University, and she clearly casts herself as Paola, Guido’s wife. What we end up with is a series of novels where the plot is almost secondary, sometimes even thin, but the reader doesn’t mind because there are so many other things to enjoy – the interplay between familiar characters; the politics and society of Venice; Guido and Paola’s own literary preferences; Venetian cuisine; but above all the city itself. There’s even a book of walks called Brunetti’s Venice where you can trace the steps of the great man for yourself. (I’ve done a couple. How sad is that?)

Living in a tourist hot-spot like Edinburgh, you’d think I’d find it easy to weave the city into my books. But there are so many outstanding crime writers who also live here – Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin and Alexander McColl-Smith to name just three – that I feel rather in awe of their skills. And because writers still have to concentrate on plot, characters, pacing and all the other aspects of a novel, they also have to be careful that describing ‘scene’ isn’t perceived by the reader to be mere padding. That’s especially dangerous if your reader is from your own home city; they probably don’t need to be given a guided tour.

You might not even have heard of Donna Leon, because the only TV series that’s ever been made of Commissario Brunetti’s mysteries was in German. More surprising still, Leon has expressly forbidden her novels ever to be translated into Italian – she’s completely unknown in Venice itself. That might be the secret. The reader needs to feel they’re off on holiday, and it’s not much fun trying to escape in your own town. I think we all learned that during the pandemic.

Thank you so much, Gordon, for this fascinating tour of Italian crime!

Also by Gordon Lawrie:

Self-Publishing: The Total Beginner’s Guide

The Midnight Visitor

The Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-Hume

Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie

100 Not Out

and more! All available from Amazon and good book shops.

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Peril in Persia by Judith Cranswick: the new Aunt Jessica adventure lands tomorrow!

This week I am delighted to talk to Judith Cranswick about her brand new book, Peril in Persia, which comes out on Monday 31st January. This will be the third book in the cosy mystery series Aunt Jessica adventures. For those of you who are new to Judith’s series, Aunt Judith is a historian and noted lecturer on art and cultural history who is in great demand on tourist trips to add that extra special something to the tour. She brings along her favourite nephew, Harry, and the pair of them always seem to get into scrapes and fall amongst ne’er-do-wells.

Judith also has another notable series, the Fiona Mason mysteries which are similar to the Aunt Jessica books in that Fiona Mason is a tour guide who accompanies groups on their trips with Super sun Holidays. Fiona has solved her own large share of mysterious murders and dastardly deeds. There are also a number of stand-alone novels, short story collections and even creative writing prompts to help authors to harness inspiration and put pen to paper.

About Peril in Persia: Aunt Jessica mysteries book 3

A forty-year-old conspiracy leads to murder and more lives are threatened.
When a fellow passenger is killed on the first day of their tour of Iran, Harry believes it was no accident. But who would want him dead and why? The murdered man was clearly no tourist so why was he on the tour? What is the link with the hotel manager? The questions keep coming. Harry becomes suspicious of several of his fellow passengers who he is convinced are not what they claim to be. He will need Aunt Jessica’s steadying hand to stop him rushing into danger to solve the mystery.
Revel in the magnificent setting as you take a tour of ancient Persia, exploring the glories of Darius the Great’s magnificent palace at Persepolis, the mud-brick desert cities from the 13th century, the palaces and gardens, to the peak of architectural splendour in Shah Abbas 17th century capital of Isfahan. But be prepared for treachery and deceit as the past demands revenge.
A whodunit with plenty of unexpected twists with a touch of humour. It will keep you guessing until the end.
What readers are saying: –

‘The thing I love about Judith Cranswick’s books is that you are transported to another world. The writing is so vivid, you can see the magnificent sights – the rich colours of the mosques, the sparkle of the palaces – hear the throng of the busy marketplaces and smell the perfumes of the lush Persian gardens.

‘Well researched. I never realised that Iran had such a rich history and the stories associated with the last Shah’s family were fascinating.’

‘Another unputdownable gem in a great series.

Click here to buy Peril in Persia: Aunt Jessica mysteries book 3

Like her protagonists, Judith also gives talks on a wide range of topics when she is on-board ship, helping holidaymakers to get more out of their trip.

Judith was kind enough to answer a few questions for me this week when I nabbed her in a dark corner, stole her passport and wouldn’t let her leave. (Not really.)

Caron: Many of your books are set on a holiday tour, are they all based on trips you’ve made personally?

Judith: All my travel mysteries are based on holidays I’ve taken. That is always my starting point. The trip comes first. The itinerary in the book is the same one I followed. Many of the things that happen on our journey end up in the novel. For example, I slipped down the last couple of stairs and twisted my ankle on the way to the Rhine Valley. I was able to use that idea in ‘Blood in the Wine’ to further the plot. Similarly, when we were in the Galapagos, we saw a sea lion with a tuna fish in its jaws batting it from side to side. I remember thinking, ‘What if that were a human arm?’ It was one of the things that inspired ‘A Death too Far’. Places can also give rise to ideas. The Hilton Hotel in Berlin has an impressive atrium which inspired the idea of hoisting someone over the balcony on the third floor for ‘Blood Hits the Wall’.

Caron: Have you ever had any odd encounters on your tours that you’ve thought would be perfect for a book, or perhaps even too unbelievable even for a novel?

Judith: After our tiger watching holiday in India, I came back with a complete plot. Our party included a successful Australian businesswoman who was partially deaf. She had paid for her young assistant to come with her. They were both drinking gin at breakfast which didn’t go down too well with everyone else. To make matters worse, the two fell out bigtime, so much so that one night the assistant went out of the compound where we were staying in the middle of the tiger reserve. A tiger had killed a man from one of the villages in the reserve only the week before and the guards were prohibited from going out once the gates were shut. In the end, one of the passengers went out on foot to bring her back. Our guide then had no choice but to go after him in a jeep to help find her. All three managed to get back safely, but the friction that followed would have made an excellent plot. Bar an actual murder, I had all the material – characters, subplots and fantastic wildlife and scenery – for ‘Tiger, Tiger’ another psychological suspense. Sadly, I’ve never had time to write it.

Caron: When is your next Fiona Mason book coming out? Any hints as to location? 

Judith: The next Fiona Mason Mystery will be set in Paris. I’d like to think that it will be ready by the end of the year, but I have a lecture cruise coming up at the end of March so I shall be busy putting together my presentations for the Canary Islands until after Easter. We also have a holiday planned for October when we’ll be doing a Nile Cruise. I’m hoping that will give me enough ideas for the next Aunt Jessica and Harry Mystery.

Caron: Are your characters based on people you meet on your travels? What about your sleuths? Are you the real Aunt Jessica or Fiona Mason?

Judith: My characters are always my own creations. Like many writers they take on a life of their own even doing things that surprise me. I’ve had a couple who point-blank refused to be the murderer and Peter Montgomery-Jones, who I only ever intended to be a minor character in the first Fiona novel ‘Blood on the Bulb Fields’, insisted not only on a bigger role but on coming back in all the later books in the series. It makes the novels considerably harder to plot. Not only do I have to find an additional terrorist/political mission for him to be involved in, but also tie it together with Fiona’s investigation at the end of the novel.

Although the idea of Aunt Jessica came from the Islamic specialist who came with us on our trips to Morocco and Persia, Jessica is nothing like Diana though they both work in the British Museum.

My characters may be totally from my imagination, but my locations are not. I need to picture them exactly. Hotels, flats or kitchens might not be in the places I say they are, but they are real. I had to make a special trip into Swindon to find a café in the right part of town, even sit in the same seat at a table in the window as my protagonist, before I could write the scene.

Many thanks to Judith for those wonderful insights.

You can find Judith on the following social media – do follow her for updates and other exciting stuff!

Website: www.judithnew.cranswick.org.uk

Facebook – author page: Judith Cranswick – crime writer

Twitter: @CranswickJudith

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/ 7211080.Judith_Cranswick

My review:

Join Jessica and her nephew Harry on a new journey to discover art and cultural history in their latest adventure, Peril in Persia.

Jessica has been invited to host a series of lectures on an exclusive tour of Iran, presenting the holidaymakers with insight into the wonderful landscape of what is a trip of a lifetime for most. For some it’s the last trip they will make.

It doesn’t take long for Jessica and Harry’s seasoned eyes to work out that some members of the group have got something to hide, and still others are clearly not as unfamiliar with the area as they claimed. For a group of strangers, some of them certainly seem to know a lot about one another, too! As the group travels from site of interest to site of interest, soon the masks begin to slip and old animosities surface, with devastating consequences.

Fans of traditional cosy mysteries are in for a treat with book 3 in this series, as the clues begin to mount up and Jessica and Harry begin to figure out what’s really going on.

As always in Judith Cranswick’s books, the setting is a huge part of the enjoyment of the mystery, lending its own unique features as a backdrop to murder and intrigue. Like the Fiona Mason mysteries, the Aunt Jessica and Harry mysteries are perfect for both he armchair tourist and the armchair sleuth. Highly enjoyable!

***

Deception: the latest thriller by Helen Forbes – OUT TODAY!

Lily Anderson has it all. A beautiful son, a wealthy fiancé, and a luxury apartment in Edinburgh. But Lily is living a lie. Estranged from her family, she’s tired of covering up the truth about her relationship with Nathan Collesso.  

Lily’s not the only one with troubles. Her friend, Sam, is being pursued mercilessly by a rogue cop determined to silence him. Living on the streets, Sam sees and knows too much. 

As Lily’s wedding approaches, a desperate bid to escape leaves her with a head injury and a missing fiancé. Did she harm Nathan? Did she kill him? She can’t remember. 

The net tightens, entangling Lily and Sam in a web of deception that stretches from Edinburgh to Poland. Hard truths come to light, and every decision Lily has made since the day she met Nathan Collesso comes back to haunt her.  

One false move, and she could lose her son, her friends and her life. 

Hi Helen, and welcome!

Thanks for agreeing to virtually come along and be grilled on my blog. Last summer, I had the happy task of joining in with your blog tour for the release of your thriller Unravelling, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I was really excited to take part in the blog tour to promote the release of your new book, also a thriller: Deception.

I thought I’d be cheeky and ask you a couple of questions while I’ve got you here. Kind of.

C: What was the inspiration and motivation behind the new book, Deception?

H: Deception began in my head with the character, Lily Andersen, a young mother with a child and a keen social conscience. Unusually for me, I could visualise her clearly, and I felt compelled to write her story. I always knew she was going to have problems with her partner, but I’m not sure even I was prepared for the utter depravity of Nathan Collesso. I was also keen to explore the idea of unconventional friendships. Someone like Lily was bound to show compassion towards Sam, but I wanted to take their relationship further, showing how people with very different lives can form strong bonds and support each other through adversity. 

C: Do you think your legal training and experience enables you to approach your work from a different perspective? How do you bring your work into your writing?

H: My past experience as a social welfare lawyer has undoubtedly influenced the themes in my writing, which include addiction, mental health issues and domestic abuse. I worked closely with Women’s Aid in the past, and many of my clients were survivors of domestic abuse, a hideous problem that is often unseen. I like to think there is a strong social commentary running through each of my novels, which has definitely been inspired by my legal experience.

C: How important to you is setting. Do you feel the settings you use imbue your books with something special?

H: As a reader, I love writing that promotes a strong sense of place. It’s crucial to my enjoyment of fiction. When I wrote my first novel, In the Shadow of the Hill, several people commented that the Isle of Harris was like a character in the book. It wasn’t consciously done, but I think it’s something that has recurred throughout my writing. I lived in Edinburgh for several years, and that’s where I first began to write. It is a beautiful city, full of character, particularly the Old Town, where much of Deception is set. But, like any city, there’s more to it than what you see on the surface, and I hope I’ve succeeded in bringing a darker side of Edinburgh to life.  

C: What’s next in the pipeline for Helen Forbes and for Scolpaig Press?

H: My next novel, Queen of Grime, is also set in Edinburgh. It features Erin Flett, a crime and trauma scene cleaner from a deprived area of the city, who has a dark secret that endangers her and her family. Interestingly, the idea arose while writing Deception. Originally, the Deception character Julie Ross was a crime and trauma scene cleaner, but there was so much going on already that I couldn’t do justice to the storyline, so I decided to change Julie’s occupation and save the idea for a new project. I’ve really enjoyed writing Queen of Grime. Researching the subject of crime and trauma scene cleaning has been interesting, and not for the faint hearted. I hope I’ve managed to lighten the story with some humour, much of it black.  Queen of Grime will be published by Scolpaig Press later this year, and I am now writing a second in the series.  

Many thanks Helen for taking the time to talk to me and many congratulations on the new book!

My Review:

Let me say first of all, I loved the book. It was at times a difficult read, dealing with some of our hardest social issues in modern-day Britain. But don’t let that put anyone off reading this fast-moving, twisty-turny story.

I felt the story was insightful, the characters were cleverly, convincingly drawn and not all of them were the kind of people you’d want to spend time with. It was easy to ‘take sides’ so to speak with those characters who seemed to be genuinely good, yet at the same time, I wasn’t quite sure if I was being duped, as it quickly became clear that several people were being less than open about their pasts and about what was going on in their everyday lives in the ‘now’. It’s hard to know if you are trusting the right person at times.

I don’t want to spoil the story for those of you who haven’t yet read it – most of you as the book only comes out today! But there was one moment about halfway in the book when I just sat back and thought, I just didn’t see that coming. (Hats off to You Helen, I’m not usually surprised!)

Deception is exactly what it says: there is deception lurking in every character’s story, and at times the story is quite dark, but there is a sense of resilience and hope at the end of the book which makes the journey worthwhile and ultimately uplifting.

Fans of thrillers definitely need to read this book!

About Helen Forbes:

Helen Forbes is an author of Scottish crime fiction. She lives in her home-town of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands. Helen began by writing contemporary and historical fiction, with no intention of turning to crime. It was a chance remark at a writing group about one of her short stories that led to her debut police procedural novel, In the Shadow of the Hill, set in Inverness and South Harris, featuring Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith. Madness Lies is book 2 in the DS Joe Galbraith series, set in Inverness and North Uist.

A standalone crime thriller, Unravelling, was published by Scolpaig Press in July 2021.

Helen would be delighted to hear from readers. Please contact her and join her mailing list on her website http://www.helenforbes.co.uk

More Killer words

I mentioned a while ago (I’ve already forgotten when it was…) that one of the best parts of a murder mystery is when the killer is ‘on-stage’ and speaks. It’s the highlight of the story for me–their moment of crowing glory or abject defeat. This is the moment when we the audience have already heard the detective’s wild accusations or seen their insurmountable proof. Then, turning to the perpetrator, the audience holds their collective breath. And then the killer speaks…

After The Funeral by Agatha Christie is one of my top ten of her books. I just love the way, right from the start, the reader is deceived. (I’ve tried to do this without spoilers, but there’s only so much I can do and still make my point!)

Here is an extract of the denouement. Poirot has been outlining his case. Then the killer remarks:

‘No, one doesn’t bother to look at a mere companion-help… A drudge, a domestic drudge! Almost a servant. but go on, M Poirot. Go on with this fantastic piece of nonsense!’

So Poirot does go on.. and it’s too late now for the killer to save him/herself. I love it when the killer challenges the detective in a rather snarky way–we know they are about to get their comeuppance. Of course Poirot has more up his sleeve. When it comes, it is, of course, irrefutable. The murderer realises they’ve given themselves away irretrievably, but if they can’t have their way, then nothing else much matters:

‘You don’t know how boring it is to listening to somebody going on about the same things, hour after hour, day after day… Pretending to be interested… And nothing to look forward to…’

All too often, the murderer has a side-kick who is apt to be thrown under the bus at the final moment, for their ineptitude. Side-kicks are notorious for saying the wrong thing to the detective in the final showdown:

‘…darling, it’s not true. You could never kill anyone, I know you couldn’t…it’s that horrible girl you married. She’s been telling lies about you….’ said the side-kick in Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, only for the villain to turn on them and snarl:

‘For God’s sake, you damned bitch… shut up, can’t you? D’you want to get me hanged? Shut up, I tell you. Shut that big, ugly mouth of yours.’

Life’s tough for a side-kick. The murderer will always be centre-stage, their vanity demands it.

What about the ending of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – a controversial book in its day, one of my favourites, and still hugely popular. Here, after revealing the murderer, Poirot says to him/her:

‘It would be most unwise on your part to attempt to silence me as you silenced M. Ackroyd. That kind of business does not succeed against Hercule Poirot, you understand.’

To which the murderer responds, with a characteristic touch of vanity:

‘My dear Poirot,’ I said, smiling a little, ‘whatever else I may be, I am not a fool.’

It is important for him/her to be appreciated and treated with respect, even though they are a cold-blooded killer. At least for the reader, justice is served–or about to be–whilst for the killer, their dignity is more important than their life.

The best ‘killer speaks’ moment is when the murderer is unable to maintain their aplomb and with terrifying and self-condemning rage, they launch themselves at the detective–for whom this is usually all in a day’s work–and the game is most definitely, and fatally, up. This is that moment in Evil Under The Sun – my number one Agatha Christie novel:

‘Poirot said: ‘You will be interested to hear that both you and (……) were easily recognised and picked out by the Surrey police… They identified you both…’

(…..) had risen. His handsome face was transformed, suffused with blood, blind with rage. It was the face of a killer–of a tiger. He yelled:

‘You damned interfering murdering lousy little worm!’

He hurled himself forward, his fingers stretching and curling, his voice raving curses, as he fastened his fingers around Hercule Poirot’s throat…’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a satisfying conclusion! The murderer must have his or her moment in the spotlight, to explain their motivation. It’s all very well to know how they did something, and of course, vital to know who committed the crime, but if you don’t know why – it’s one of those puzzles that can never be put to rest.

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