The Quickening: Cover Reveal

Here’s the gorgeous cover for The Quickening coming on the 20th August 2020 under the name Rhiannon Ward. My publishers Trapeze have done a fantastic job with the image which reflects the book’s gothic story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

I absolutely loved writing the book which is available for pre-order here.

Latest Crime Reads

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction at the moment alongside ghost stories so apologies for the lack of recent posts. However, I have read some great crime novels and here’s a selection of books I loved.

All the Rage by Cara Hunter is the lastest book in her series featuring DI Adam Fawley. An attack on a girl on April Fool’s Day is dismissed by the victim as a joke but Fawley believes there’s more to it than the girl suggests. When Sasha Blake is abducted in a van, he believes it has echoes of a previous case. Written in Hunter’s trademark style which mixes points of views and juxtaposes prose alongside texts and court papers, this is an engrossing thriller and a great addition to the series.

The Keeper is Diane Saxon’s first crime novel and she’s clearly a natural thriller writer. DS Jenna Morgan turns up to a Shropshire crime scene where a dead woman is found along with a dalmation belonging to Jenna’s sister. Jenna and her team have to discover both the identity of the murdered woman and who has taken her sister. The Keeper has a beautiful setting and a dark plot, and is a stunning start of a series.

The Measure of Malice is a collection of detective short stories from British Library Publishing around the theme of science. It begins with an 1891 Sherlock Holmes story The Boscombe Valley Mystery and concludes with a Freeman Wills Croft tale.   It’s fascinating the extent to which scientific rigour is applied to the discovery of bodies and crimes from early on in the genre. There’s a lovely story with the hint of the supernatural, The Horror of Studley Grange by Lt Meade and Clifford Halifax which, despite an unrealistic premise, really does have undertones of terror. There’s also an excellent Wimsey story from Dorothy Sayers not to be read if you’ve a visit to the dentist anytime soon. As usual, Martin Edwards has picked an excellent selection to highlight the theme with not a dud amongst them.

Blood Orange is the debut novel by Harriet Tyce. It garnered widespread acclaim on publication and I’d been dying to read it. The protagonist is Alison, a married barrister with a drink problem who’s indulging with occasional flings with a colleague putting her marriage and career at risk. She takes on a case of a woman who killed her husband but she’s being taunted via text message from someone who knows her secrets. Dark with an array of suspect characters I loved this book from the off.

Finally, this isn’t a crime novel but it does have a theft in it. One Christmas Night is the new book by Hayley Webster set on a single street in Norfolk. Nine households’ lives are entwined and their secrets are shown one Christmas Eve. The novel opens with the burglary of one house by a thief who clearly knows the street and its occupants well. As the narrative opens out, we discover how relationship break ups, deaths and old secrets unite the residents. Webster is great at creating believable characters without a hint of saccharine and has a clear eyed view of people’s foibles. This is the book you want to read this Christmas.

Three great crime books coming soon…

It’s been a while since I blogged as I’ve been doing my structural edits on The Quickening coming in August next year. It’s hard to immerse yourself in your own novel while reading critically others’ books. I do keep reading but it’s been mainly non-fiction which I’ve been updating readers about over on my Facebook page. If you’re ever wondering what I’m up to when all is quiet on Crimepieces, do head over to Facebook.

However, I have recently read some great crime novels which are due to be published later in 2019 and in early 2020. It’s always great to read strong debuts alongside more established authors and these three books show how diverse and entertaining crime fiction can be.

Magpie by Sophie Draper is the hotly anticipated follow-up to her debut, Cuckoo. Claire is making plans to escape a loveless marriage to serial adulterer Duncan. She’s convinced he’s having yet another affair possibly with a colleague in his veterinary practice. However, Claire and Duncan’s teenage son Joe has gone missing which may be connected to his discovery of an old coin which comes to the notice of fellow metal detectorists. The narrative moves between passages describing the time before and after a key event, the nature of which is only revealed at the end of the book. It makes for a page-turning structure and an unsettling read. There are gorgeous descriptions of the Derbyshire countryside alongside the realities of a disfunctional marriage. I loved it. Magpie is out at the end of November.

Another book partly set in Derbyshire is Firewatching by former Waterstones bookseller, Russ Thomas. In Sheffield, an arsonist is creating havoc while gaining a group of followers who name him ‘The Firewatcher.’ While the police try to identify the culprit, DS Adam Tyler is investigating the discovery of a body in a house at the edge of the Peak District. Gerald Cartwright disappeared six years earlier but the main suspect has a personal connection to Tyler which could jeapordise his position on the case. This is an intelligent police procedural delivered at great pace and I’m sure the start of a brilliant career for Russ Thomas. You’ll have to wait until February next year, I’m afraid to get your hands on a copy but it’ll be worth the wait.

I’m a big fan of Syd Moore’s writing and the short story format, so it was great to see that she has a collection of stories out soon. The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas are a group of interweaving stories featuring Rosie and Sam from her Essex Witch Museum series. Those not familiar with these books will find this an excellent introduction to Moore’s writing and the characters which inhabit her world. It’s always a nightmare to review short story collections because I really don’t want to give away any spoilers. The writer shares my love of cats and there’s an excellent story, Snowy, about an elderly woman who sees her cats as reincarnations of the people around her, and a brilliant follow up tale full of grim humour. The book is out on the 26th September.

 

July’s Recommended Reads

My recent reads have been a mixture of fiction and non-fiction for various festivals but I’ve managed to sneak in two books I’ve been dying to read for a while.

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey is a creepy, unusual read set in the the Yorkshire countryside. Charles and Erin Hayden are mourning the loss of their young daughter, wrapped in grief and recriminations. Newly arrived from the States, they take up residency in Hollow House which Erin has inherited from her distant relative, Caedmon Hollow. Erin retreats into an alcohol and drug haze while Charles becomes increasingly drawn to the history of the house. An interesting story with a dark theme Bailey portrays the mistrust and blame that follows an unexpected death.

The Vanished Bride is a historical novel featuring the three Bronte sisters, by Rowan Coleman written under the pseudonym of Bella Ellis, a play, of course on the moniker used by Emily to initially publish her books. Emily, Charlotte and Anne are back under the same roof for the first time in years. Charlotte is recovering from her unhappy love affair with the married Monsieur Heger and Anne has been forced to leave her last employment because of Branwell’s affair with the lady of the house. When a married woman goes missing in the nearby town of Arunton, leaving behind a bloodied chamber, the three sisters, aided by Branwell decide to investigate.

The novel is told from the points of view of the three sisters and, interestingly, it is Anne who comes across as the most forceful. Coleman has done her research and  references the sisters’ past and family life at Haworth parsonage. As Coleman says, there’s no evidence that the sisters investigated a crime but then there’s no evidence that they didn’t. I think Coleman, or rather Bella Ellis might be on to a winner here so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the book. You have a while to wait though. The Vanished Bride is out on ebook on the 12th September and hardback in November.

Audio Recommendation: The Conception of Terror – Tales Inspired by MR James.

I’ve listened to audio books for years, borrowing cassettes and CDs from the library before they were readily available elsewhere. Recently, of course, audio books have boomed in popularity. I have a subscription to Audible and I’ve discovered some great authors through listening to their books. I’ve not mentioned them here on my blog, largely because I find the listening experience different from reading and I often wonder if my response to print would be different. However, given my reading is now around fifty percent audio, I thought I’d start sharing some of my recent listens.

Audible Originals are audio recordings not published in print and I’ve found these incredibly satisfying to listen to. I recently discovered The Conception of Terror, four stories inspired by MR James. I’m a huge ghost story fan and MR James is probably one of the most familiar names of the genre. His stories are dominated by intellectual puzzles and vengeful spirits. Adaptations of his works abound in film and TV and, now, four of his tales have been updated by contemporary writers.

Casting the Runes is one of James’s most popular stories and Stephen Gallagher’s interpretation has academic Jo Harrington give a damning assessment of Karswell’s journal submission which results in her receiving a curse from the vengeful occultist. Her partner, Edward Dunning, a paramedic becomes increasingly concerned for Jo’s sanity. It’s a nightmarish, fresh take on a very popular story and brilliantly acted.

Lost Hearts is one of James’s creepiest stories involving the disappearance of children in the vicinity of an apparent benefactor. AK Benedict cleverly transposed the story to a modern day tower block, Aswarby House, where teenage Stephanie is being fostered. Benedict captures the tension and fear of the children involved and its tone is slightly more downbeat than James’s story which I thought perfect for contemporary times.

The final two – The Treasure of Abbott Thomas and A View from A Hill written by Jonathan Barnes and Mark Morris – move the stories not only to contemporary settings but address modern day preoccupations. In the first story, Mika Chantry played by Pearl Mackie is a former comprehensive school teacher who now heads up history in the independent Somerton school where allegations of abuse are surfacing. In the final story, a father’s grieving process after the death of his child is being recorded for a podcast which his wife considers intrusive and exploitative. In the finest Jamesian tradition, curiosity is punished and retribution gruesome.

All four stories could be enjoyed without knowledge of the James originals but are a delight to listen to when you know the stories. Hopefully we’ll get more stories updated  including my favourite – Warning to the Curious.

 

Derby Book Festival: John Harvey, AA Dhand and Fran Dorricott

This Sunday, I’m interviewing John Harvey, A A Dhand and Fran Dorricott at the Derby Book Festival. They’re writers at different stages of their careers and we’ll be discussing their books within the context of the contemporary crime novel. One of the best things about moderating panels is the opportunity I get to question authors about what they’ve written and I’m looking forward to the event.

John Harvey is the author of over a hundred novels, including the Nottingham based series featuring detective Charlie Resnick and, more recently, his Frank Elder books, of which  Body and Soul is the final instalment. Katherine, Elder’s daughter, is recovering from a traumatic relationship with Anthony Winter, an artist whose paintings of her suggest a relationship characterised by coercion and abuse. When Winter is found dead, both Elder and Katherine come under suspicion, while an old crime comes back to haunt them both. I’ve long been a fan of Harvey’s novels and Body and Soul is, unsurprisingly, a compelling narrative and a poignant ending to the series.

 

City of Sinners by A A Dhand is a slice of noir (in its traditional sense) set in Bradford. DCI Harry Virdee is called to a body found in Waterstones to discover he’s on the hunt for a sadistic killer who has a personal gripe with the detective. Part of the novel is narrated by Saima Virdee, an A and E doctor who is has to care for her estranged father in law. The combination of these two plots – the brutal and gritty search for a killer and the personal backstory of Virdee and Saima’s marriage make this a wonderful read. Dhand perfectly captures the rawness of late night Bradford.

 

After the Eclipse is the debut novel by Fran Dorricott. Cassie’s sister Olive disappeared in a small Derbyshire town during the 1999 eclipse. Journalist Cassie has returned to look after her elderly grandmother but, as another eclipse is forecast, a girl goes missing. Cassie, convinced that the two disappearances are connected, begins to look at the residents of Bishop’s Green to see if there’s a predator who has been living in the community all along. Dorricott excels at showing the tensions which arise when a crime takes place in a small town.

 

Three excellent books which I can’t wait to talk to the authors about. Tickets for the event can be found here.

May’s Recommended Reads

I recently watched a programme about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and the impact of the crimes on the families of his victims. The investigation had been hampered by the police’s assumption that the killer only attacked prostitutes ignoring other victims whose profiles didn’t fit their assumptions. In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold reassesses the five ‘canonical’ victims of Jack the Ripper whose murders in 1888 appalled contemporary society and whose stories have been dissected ever since. I remember going on a Ripper walk when I lived in London and was appalled by the use of post mortem photos of the victims. These depersonalised images were both salacious and shocking and Rubenhold’s book certainly helps to reclaim the women from the manner of their deaths.

The story of the five victims are told with both compassion and with reference to the wider context of women’s lives in the period. Whether they were deserted by their husbands (Polly Nichols and Catherine Eddows) or victims of chronic alcoholism (Annie Chapman) or simply women unable to escape their pasts (Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly) the author shows the limitations of women’s choices at the time. Abandoment by one man necessitated the finding of another to act as both protector and benefactor. Each women’s story stops at precisely the point where most narratives begin – their murder – and this excellent of this book overshadows all the dubious “X is Jack the Ripper” narratives that have proliferated over the years.

I enjoyed Michelle Paver’s two previous novels, Dark Matter and Thin Air and had have been looking forward to her latest. Wakenhysrt is set in Suffolk, a fenland county where marshland wilderness coexists alongside ordinary village life. We meet protagonist, Maud, initially through a newspaper article from 1966 and are catapulted back in time to the Edwardian period where intelligence and curiosity isn’t valued in girls. Her mother, forced into a repetitive cycle of childbirth and mourning finally succumbs to illness and Maud is left alone with her repressive father.

Dark and raw, I particularly liked the way Paver didn’t flinch from the realities of women’s lives, from the bloodied pails after miscarriages, to the choices made by men in relation to the fates of their wives. The countryside is beautifully depicted, the wildness of the fens supporting a community where myths and old stories entwine. Paver has used innovative story telling methods to unfold this Gothic tale and it made a perfect late evening read.