Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Morecambe & Vice Crime Writing Festival - Spotlight on Paul Burston

I am really delighted to be one of the bloggers opening the tour for Morecambe & Vice, which takes place at The Midland Hotel in  Morecambe on 28th & 29th September 2019.  You can find out more about the festival and book tickets here: https://www.morecambecrimefest.co.uk/  And I'm thrilled to be showcasing fabulous author Paul Burston, a man who knows how to carry off a natty hat!



I was lucky enough to read Paul's latest book, psychological thriller The Closer I Get, a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. Before I re share my review of it, let's find out a bit more about Paul. 



Paul Burston is the author of six novels and the editor of two short story collections. The Black Path, was a WHSmith bestseller. His first novel, Shameless, was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award. His third novel, Lovers & Losers was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award. His fourth, The Gay Divorcee, was optioned for television. He was a founding editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including Guardian, Independent, Time Out, The Times and  Sunday Times. In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world”. He is the founder and host of London’s award-winning LGBT+ literary salon Polari and founder and chair of The Polari First Book Prize for new writing and the newly announced Polari Prize.


I asked Paul a few, rather random, questions - he came back really quickly with some great, interesting answers. Thanks Paul! 

Did you always want to be a writer, or was there a particular point, or person, that set you on that road? 
I’ve always written stories, since I was at junior school. I had an English teacher, Mrs Price, who encouraged me to write. So I wrote adventure stories about a boy named Jim and would read them out in class. I was bullied as a result - but they didn’t beat it out of me. 

You had personal experience of a stalker. Did you find writing The Closer I Get to be a cathartic experience, or was it emotionally difficult because of memories it brought back? 
It was a bit of both, at least to begin with. Reliving the impact of the stalking was essential because I wanted the book to be emotionally truthful. But what I found was that, as I wrote it, the process of fictionalising the story gave me control and that in turn gave me closure. I used to harbour a lot resentment towards the person who stalked me. Now I just pity them. 

If The Closer I Get was made into a film, what three songs or pieces of music would be on the soundtrack? 
- Morrissey - The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
- Blondie - The Tide Is High
- Kate Bush - Aerial 
All three are referenced in the book.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests? Please name four people, alive or dead, and tell us why.
- David Bowie - I met him, briefly in 2003. I’d love to continue our conversation - only this time I’d be sober.
- Marlon Brando - because he was a fascinating man who changed the face of film acting.
- Kate Bush - because she’s one of the few musicians I grew up worshiping who I haven’t met or interviewed. And I’m told she’s great fun. 
- Joan Crawford - because she was a fighter who overcame huge odds and had a strong work ethic. She was a gay ally long before it became fashionable - and she loved a party. 

What one book so you recommend to everyone and why?
Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s the book I turn to whenever I think I’m losing the plot or convinced I’ll never be able to finish my latest work in progress. He’s an inspiration. 


In case you aren't familiar with Paul's book The Closer I Get, here's the information:


Tom is a successful author, but for the first time in  his life, he has writer’s block. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone. Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her sick father and her social media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has. When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world collapses, whilst Tom is free to live his life again, and to concentrate on writing.

But things aren’t adding up. For Tom is also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he’s powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.

A compulsive, disturbingly relevant, twisty and powerful psychological thriller, The Closer I Get is also a searing commentary on the fragility and insincerity of online  relationships, and the danger that can lurk on the other side of a screen…

The Closer I Get is published by Orenda Books, and was released as an eBook on 11th May 2019 and as a paperback on 11th July 2019. You can purchase it from the publisher, Waterstones, Amazon UK, Amazon US and other good bookshops.


And to wrap up my wee spotlight on Paul, here's my review of the book:

Oh. My. Goodness. This is some book. It's dark and disturbing. And it's relevant. We all know about internet trolls, people who say vicious things about others on social media, often having never even met their target. And then there are some folk who take things a step further. To stalking online and maybe in real life too.

The story is told by both Evie and Tom, so we hear from the stalker and her victim. Each character gets their own chapters, and we switch backwards and forwards between them, which kept me both on my toes, and interested. But Evie's version of events is very different from Tom's. In fact, just about the only thing they agree on is that Evie came to one of Tom's book signings.

Everything seems obvious. Tom is a victim, and Evie is delusional, twisting the truth to fit her version of reality. But is everything as clear cut as it initially seems?

I warmed to Tom pretty much from the get go.. He is an author after all, and authors are my rock stars! But he is struggling because of all this nonsense with Evie - he can't write anything, and has become anxious and paranoid. The only person he trusts is his best friend Emma. He has pages and pages of printouts showing Evie Stokes' vicious, bullying tweets and Facebook shares. He's an innocent victim. Tom is easily relatable - I felt sorry for him, although I didn't always like the way he treated other people, but other than that, he was OK. BUT my opinion of him changed as I progressed through the book and learned a wee bit more about him.

And Evie? Evie is hard to like. She is clearly obsessed with Tom - pretty much her every thought and action is related to him, and she . She seems to be deluded, but is at as clear cut as that? There have been difficulties in her life, but it was hard to be sympathetic towards her - she's not a very nice person - and there was one huge OMG moment for me with her!

But both characters are so beautifully written. I felt I really knew them, was utterly absorbed and invested in what happened to them. I also have to mention Colin, a small player in the story but, for me at least, one who really stands out.

I found the whole story claustrophobic, chilling and compelling - my heart was in my mouth more than once. I didn't see where it was going, at all, which made the denouement all the better! There is twist upon twist in this book, so The ending was such a surprise. I still don't think I knew the entire truth, I still have questions, but that's OK. It means I'm still thinking about it now and may well revisit it.

Overall, I loved it. Dark, powerful and relevant, The Closer I Get might be a piece of fiction, but it shows the very real potential danger of online relationships, how they can be toxic, and how we all need to be vigilant in what we share on social media.


Huge thanks to Sarah Hardy at Book on the Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part in this tour, and to Paul for answering my questions!

Be sure to check out the other bloggers on the tour - there will be a different author highlighted each time!






Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Moorings by David Blake

Today I'm delighted to be one of the bloggers opening the tour for the latest in the DI Tanner series from David Blake. My thanks to Sarah Hardy at Book on the Bright Side Publicity & Promo for inviting me and to the author for my review copy.



The Blurb:

THE DEBUT CRIME THRILLER SERIES OF THE YEAR!

A war veteran murdered in his home, a property developer with links to organised crime, and an old family secret that seems unwilling to stay dead.

When Harry Falcon, a wealthy boatyard owner and highly decorated World War Two veteran, is found drowned in his bath, DI John Tanner and DC Jenny Evans start by questioning his two sons, each with a motive for wanting him dead.

But when the elder son is found with his head smashed in under a toppled yacht, and the younger son has been talking to a local property developer, one who’d spent months trying to buy the yard from his father, the investigation soon leads them towards a dark and dangerous secret, one which nobody can quite believe.

Set within the mysterious beauty of the Norfolk Broads, this fast-paced British detective series is a dark cozy murder mystery with a slice of humour and a touch of romance, one that will have you guessing until the very end, when the last shocking twist is finally revealed.

Moorings is a totally addictive gripping crime thriller, the third in a chilling series of serial killer books, ones which will rapidly convert followers of L J Ross, Faith Martin, Joy Ellis, Damien Boyd and Helen H. Durrant into David Blake devotees.


Moorings is published today by Black Oak Publishing Ltd.


My Review:

I really enjoyed Broadland and St Benet's (reviews via links), the first two books in this series set in and around the Norfolk Broads so was keen to get my hands on this new one. Before I tell you my thoughts, can I just say that I love this cover. I've liked them all, but think this is my favourite - maybe because it has a lot of purply blue in it and purple is my fave. 💜 Anyway, it's eye catching.

The first thing to say is although this is the third book in a series, it can easily be read as a standalone - background information is supplied as and when needed - enough for someone new to the series, but not so much that those who've read the previous books would be bored or irritated.

A bit of time has passed since the events at the end of St Benet's, and John and Jenny's relationship has moved on too. So much so, they've bought a boat together and live in it, moored up on the Norfolk Broads. They are still working together too, but things have been so quiet lately that they're given a box of old missing person files to work through. They've barely had time to glance at the first one when they are needed for a much more recent case. A brand new one, in fact.

An elderly boatyard owner is murdered in his bath, and Tanner is instructed to lead the investigation. As he, Jenny and the rest of the team begin to investigate the man, his children and grandchildren, they find there's not a lot of love, but instead a fair amount of animosity and the possibility of some money worries. There's also a bullish property developer on the scene who had wanted to buy the boatyard...

It was great to see Tanner and Jenny back - they have an easy relationship and great rapport. The various members of the Falcon family were well described - James Falcon was particularly unlikeable. I love that this series is set on the Norfolk Broads - it's not an area I know well, but I've been there a few times and have even been out on the Broads in a boat. I found it to be a still, eerie place, and there are moments in the book like that. And much of the jeopardy in this book takes place on the water.

The early part of the story is taken up with a lot of investigative work, making this a slow burner. But it heats up as the tale moves on. Things take a really quite dark turn towards the end, and I didn't see what was coming until about  ten seconds before it was revealed. There was also added depth and interest with a second plotline relating to something from Tanner's past.

This series is described as cosy (sorry, I know the term is 'cozy', but I'm sticking with the British spelling) crime. It's not a label I'm particularly fond of, and I discussed this in my review of St Benet's. I guess this is a little 'cosier' than that book, but it's still pretty chilling towards the end.

This was an easy, enjoyable read, and a good addition to the series.


The Author:


David is a full-time author living in North London. To date he has written sixteen books along with a collection of short stories. Moorings is the next in his series of crime fiction thrillers, after Broadland and St. Benet’s.

When not writing, David likes to spend his time mucking about in boats, often in the Norfolk Broads, where his crime fiction books are based.


Author Social Media Links:

Website: www.david-blake.com
Amazon Profile: viewAuthor.at/DavidBlake
Facebook Readers’ Group: www.facebook.com/groups/DavidBlakeAuthor
Facebook Site: www.facebook.com/DavidBlakeAuthor
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/15104629.David_Blake


Sunday, 15 September 2019

Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson (translated by David Warriner)

And so my Johana Gustawsson binge comes to an end with Blood Song. And, honestly, I'm bereft. I have enjoyed these books so.much. A huge thank you to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for my review copy.



The Blurb:

The third book in the award-winning, critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, featuring true-crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy.

Spain, 1938
The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Teresa witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Teresa gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016
A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.

Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells, and they soon find themselves on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer, in an investigation that takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule…


Blood Song will be published on 19th September 2019 by Orenda Books. It is available to pre order from Waterstones, Amazon UK, Amazon US and other good bookshops.



My Review:

Oh my days! Having worried that they wouldn't be for me, I then proceeded to read all three Roy and Castells books back to back (see my reviews of Block 46 here and Keeper here) and they were all brilliant. But I think this is the strongest of the three.

Again, the story moves between the present day and the past.  As we've come to expect, the present day action moves between London and Falkenberg. Aliénor Lindburgh is now working at Scotland Yard, studying under Emily to become a profiler. Alexis is spending a lot of time in Sweden planning a big event, with the help of her mother (who I love). Then Aliénor receives the awful news that her parents, who ran an infertility clinic, and her sister have been horribly murdered in their home. She returns to Sweden, accompanied by Emily who has become quite protective of her. Alexis goes to be with her friends and to see what she might be able to do to help.

Meanwhile, we are also taken back to 1938 during the Spanish Civil War and Franco's brutal regime. Teresa's family is murdered and she is imprisoned in a women's prison where she gives birth to a daughter who is taken from her and placed into an awful, cruel orphanage. This is a period of history that I was terribly ignorant about and the statistics that the author provides in a note at the start of the book make for truly horrific reading. Gustawsson has clearly researched this period and what happened, particularly to women and children, and this shines through her writing.

In present day Sweden, the team dig deep into the Lindburgh family's past and possible irregularities with IVF treatments. The further they dig, the more murky things become. It's obviously a particularly difficult time for Aliénor, but I liked that we are able to learn a little more about her.

Of course, I can't tell you what happens - you need to read the book for that! But I can tell you that Emily and Alexis are a dream team and it is so great to see two strong women taking centre stage. They are surrounded by a great team of wonderful, mostly returning, characters, and each and every one of them is exquisitely crafted. And a big shout out here to David Warriner for the great translation.

The story is intelligent and complex, the two timelines are eventually wound together, and I read the book almost in one sitting, I was so hooked. Beautifully written, I didn't predict the ending at all, and there was one particular moment that was a complete shock. I felt this was the case that touched Emily and Alexis the most - it certainly affected me the most. The descriptions of life in Spain for Teresa and her daughter really pulled at my emotions, some of Aliénor's scenes were heartbreaking and the denouement blew me away. And then the very final scene made me cry. Just beautiful.

I described Block 46 as a triumph, and I very much enjoyed Keeper - they are really great  - but for me Blood Song beats both. It is a beautiful book, and another one that will stay with me for a long time. I can't recommend this book, and indeed the whole series, enough. And I really hope there's more to come.

Just one quick question - is it common for Swedish weddings to have in excess of twenty speeches?! Really? 😱


The Author:


Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46 and Keeper, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Keeper by Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)


Next up in my wee Johana Gustawsson fest is the second book in the Roy and Castells series, Keeper. You can see my review of Block 46 (Book 1) here



The Blurb:

Whitechapel 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims.

With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.

Following the highly acclaimed Block 46 and guaranteed to disturb and enthral, Keeper is a breathless thriller from the new queen of French Noir.

Keeper was published by Orenda Books on 28th February 2018 and you can purchase it from Orenda, Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops.


My Review:

The action takes place eighteen months after the events of the first book. A woman is abducted from outside her house in London early one morning and it carries the hallmarks of a series of abductions and murders in the Tower Hamlets area of London ten years earlier. Then in Falkenberg, a body is found with gruesome injuries also reminiscent of the Tower Hamlets murders. Emily Roy is brought in to help build a profile and the London and Falkenberg police work together. The problem is the man accused of the Tower Hamlets murders is safely locked up in jail. Those particular murders mark a very painful time in Alexis' life, and as the investigation is reopened, she can't help but get involved.

Meanwhile, in Whitechapel in 1888, we meet Freda, a young woman recently arrived in London, desperately trying to survive doing menial jobs. It is a terrifying time to live in Whitechapel, as prostitutes, some of whom Freda knew, are murdered and mutilated by a perpetrator nicknamed Jack the Ripper.

Kommissionär Bergström in Falkenberg has some new members on his team for this investigation - Detective Karla Hansen and  Aliénor Lindbergh, a criminal law and legal psychology student. Aliénor is a fascinating character and, for me at least, a great addition to the team. She has Asperger's Syndrome, is very bright and hardworking, likes to work to a routine, doesn't show much emotion and can take things literally. As she is researching the Falkenberg and Tower Hamlets murders she notices the similarities between them and the Jack the Ripper murders...

This is another horrific and disturbing story and we watch  Alexis as she battles with painful memories and moving on. And Emily's brilliance shines through, and we learn more about how she deals with the awful things she sees. The story is complex and the two time line strands need to be followed carefully. Again, the characterisation is just exquisite, as are the descriptions of the settings. I've never particularly wanted to visit 19th century Whitechapel, but I  certainly don't want to now! The author has clearly researched this time period in depth and it shows.

Yesterday, I failed to mention the translation by Maxim Jakubowski. I am hugely grateful for the work he has carried out, which has generally been to a very high standard, as it enables me to read these wonderful books.

In Keeper, Johana Gustawsson has given us another wonderful, complex, disturbing story. Some of the action will make you catch your breath, and there are moments that will shock you right until the end. It didn't move me emotionally in the same way as Block 46 did, but it is a beautifully written book and a strong follow up.


The Author:


Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.





Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

In advance of my forthcoming blog tour stop for Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson, the third Roy and Castells book, I decided to read the first two books in the series. And I am so glad I did, because they are wonderful books.

So today I'm looking at the first of the three, Block 46, and my copy had been languishing on a shelf for a while. Too long.




The Blurb:

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea's.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea's friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

Block 46 was published by Orenda Books on 5th February 2017 and is available to purchase from Orenda, Waterstones, Amazon and other good bookshops.


My Review:

Well, this is a truly international book! From a French author, married to a Swede and living in London, the present day action moves between London and Falkenburg in Sweden, the historical pieces take us back to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany, one of our two heroines is French and the other Canadian, although both are based in London. Phew!

Before starting this book, I wasn't sure it would be for me. I don't really tend to read historical fiction, crime or otherwise. Not for any particular reason - it just hasn't appealed to me. So I wasn't sure if I would enjoy this. I needn't have worried - not only did I enjoy it, I was moved by it. The crimes described are brutal and stark, but there is a real beauty to the writing - it's hard to describe - you need to read the book!

Alexis Castells and Emily Roy are an interesting pairing. French true crime writer Alexis is open, polite, welcoming, obviously caring and shows her emotions in her face. Canadian profiler Emily Roy is almost the complete opposite. She shows very little emotion, has no time for social niceties and often seems to ignore her colleagues. I did wonder if she was maybe on the autistic spectrum but concluded that she is just laser focussed on her job, and able to compartmentalise the awful parts of it. As the book progresses we learn more about that, and also a difficult time in her past is hinted at. Alexis too is damaged by memories, and they are the reason she chooses to write about serial killers.

The story begins when a London based friend of Alexis is found dead in Falkenburg in Sweden, where Linnea has a second home. Alexis travels over to Sweden with another friend and Linnea's partner, Peter, to help the police with their enquiries. Whilst there, Alexis meets up with Emily, who she had first come across a few years earlier. Alexis knows Emily's involvement means solving Linnea's murder won't be simple, as she's only brought in for serial killers.

Meanwhile, in 1944 Nazi Germany, young medical student Erich Ebner is terrified for his life every single day in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He doesn't ever know if he will make it through. The conditions are horrific and the treatment brutal. And then one day he is dragged by soldiers to Block 46, a place of which he has only ever heard terrible rumours.

Gustawsson's characterisation is second to none. Sometimes I felt like I was stood at the back of the police briefing room with the team, they were so real to me. Or next to Erich Ebner, which was a much harder place to be. The descriptions of the concentration camp and what went on there are detailed and horrific. Of course this is fiction but the author has clearly carried out an awful lot of research. And in her note at the back of the book she explaina her personal reasons for choosing to write about that time.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, much about this book is dark, twisted and troubling, but it is written in a beautiful, exquisite way. I don't have the words to explain it any better than that, but it will pull at and twist your emotions.

So, wonderful characters - Olofsson gets a shout out here because he made me smile - and detailed settings. The crimes are heart breaking and will stay with you. Gustawsson blends the two story lines together and I read with a sense of mounting horror. The ending blew me away, it really did. Twice, in fact.

This book made a deep impression and will be with me for a long time. I finished it in two days and couldn't wait to move on to the next book. More about that tomorrow. In the meantime, someone find me a smörgåstårta - it sounds delicious!

The Author:


Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.





Thursday, 12 September 2019

In The Silence by MR Mackenzie

I'm delighted to share my review of this debut novel, which I bought after meeting the author at Aye Write in March. If you missed yesterday's Q&A with main character Dr Anna Scavolini, you can read it here. Before my review, here's a recap of the book information.


The Blurb:

DISCOVER A STUNNING MYSTERY THRILLER FROM THE DEBUT AUTHOR EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT.

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 MCILVANNEY PRIZE FOR SCOTTISH CRIME FICTION.

Anna hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years. And for very good reasons…

When Anna, a criminology lecturer, does return to Glasgow from Rome, during the coldest winter in memory, tragedy strikes. While out with her best friend from school, Anna has a chance encounter with a former flame, Andrew, and later that night discovers him stabbed and dying on a blanket of snow.

Soon Anna finds herself at the centre of the investigation as the star witness for the police, and embarks on investigating the case herself. But Anna doesn’t realise the danger she is in and soon finds herself in trouble.

When another body shows up, who has links to the first victim, it appears that the motive may lie buried in the past.

As Anna gets closer to the truth, the killer starts closing in.

But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?


In The Silence was published by Bloodhound Books on 10th September 2018 and you can purchase it from WaterstonesAmazon UK and Amazon US.


My Review:

Criminology lecturer Anna returns home to Glasgow after ten years away to celebrate her oldest friend's birthday. On her first night back, she comes across an old school friend, once a crush of hers, dying in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park. Once she recovers from the shock, and the police are involved, she knows she should stay out of the way. But she can't let it go, especially as she has little faith in the police officers leading the investigation. She begins looking into Andrew's death herself. She learns things about her friend she might have preferred not to know, and her enquiries lead her back to her school days, and a difficult time in her own life that she would rather not revisit.

Anna is a compelling protagonist. If you read yesterday's Q&A, you will have seen that she's pretty no nonsense! She is generally cool and calm, and perhaps comes across as a little standoffish. She's much more comfortable in her academic world than in any general social situation, but is passionate about the issues she cares about, particularly violence against women, which is a theme throughout the book. And there is more to Anna than initially meets the eye - she has her own secrets...

One person who can get under Anna's hard exterior is Zoe, her best friend from school. Zoe is the complete opposite of Anna - she's loud, brash, sassy, pure Glasgow and has pretty much no filter. She is the perfect foil for Anna and I adored her. Anna has not seen Zoe for 10 years, but has come back to Glasgow to help celebrate Zoe's birthday. They connect in the way they used to - affectionate banter and whispered stories. The scenes where the two women appear on their own, particularly the flashbacks, show that Mackenzie has a real grasp on how strong female friendships work, with all their ups and downs.

I loved the Glasgow setting, which for me is a familiar one. There is something great about reading a book and recognising where the action takes place. I really liked Mackenzie's style of writing - he has a real way with words. There is a fair amount of humour, mostly courtesy of Zoe, which is always welcome, for me at least, in a crime novel. The story zips along at a good pace, with plenty of red herrings and as a result, the denouement was a complete surprise.

In The Silence is a cracking read and a great debut. It's brilliant to see a strong woman, two actually, taking centre stage. Mackenzie has taken an issue which is often featured in crime novels but covered it in a fresh way and with style. He is one to watch.

The Author:


MR Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has an MA in English and a PhD in Film Studies.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent producer and has overseen Blu-ray and DVD releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante, Hideo Nakata and Jacques Tourneur. He has contributed chapters to books on cult cinema and regularly provides video essays and liner notes for new releases of cult films.

His first novel, In the Silence, was longlisted for the 2019  McIlvanney Prize and is shortlisted for the McIlvanney Debut Prize. The follow up, Cruel Summer, was published in May 2019 and The Shadow Men, the final instalment of the trilogy, will be released next year. 




Wednesday, 11 September 2019

In The Silence by MR Mackenzie - Character Q&A

In a recent lull in blog tour reads, I took the opportunity to dig into my toppling TBR pile, and will be sharing my reviews of these in the coming days. But first, today, something special.

I first came across MR (Michael) Mackenzie at an Aye Write event in Glasgow in March. He was on a panel with fellow crime writers talking about his debut novel, In The Silence. Since then, the follow up, Cruel Summer, has been published and the final book in the trilogy, The Shadow Men, comes out next year. And in The Silence was longlisted for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2019 and is shortlisted (with four others) for the inaugural McIlvanney Debut Prize for Scottish Crime Debut of the Year 2019, which as many of you will know is a pretty big deal. The winner will be announced at the opening ceremony of the  Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Friday 20th September.

Crime writers Caro Ramsey, MR Mackenzie, Neil Broadfoot & James Oswald at the Aye Write Book Festival in March 2019

Tomorrow I will be sharing my review (you can see it here) of In The Silence, but today I am delighted to welcome main character, criminology lecturer Dr Anna Scavolini to the blog for a Q&A. She's sharp as a tack and doesn't suffer fools gladly, and I fear she thought some of my questions were frivolous nonsense, but she was played along anyway and gave some fantastic answers. First, a bit about the book...


The Blurb:

DISCOVER A STUNNING MYSTERY THRILLER FROM THE DEBUT AUTHOR EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT.

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 MCILVANNEY PRIZE FOR SCOTTISH CRIME FICTION.

Anna hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years. And for very good reasons…

When Anna, a criminology lecturer, does return to Glasgow from Rome, during the coldest winter in memory, tragedy strikes. While out with her best friend from school, Anna has a chance encounter with a former flame, Andrew, and later that night discovers him stabbed and dying on a blanket of snow.

Soon Anna finds herself at the centre of the investigation as the star witness for the police, and embarks on investigating the case herself. But Anna doesn’t realise the danger she is in and soon finds herself in trouble.

When another body shows up, who has links to the first victim, it appears that the motive may lie buried in the past.

As Anna gets closer to the truth, the killer starts closing in.

But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?


In The Silence was published by Bloodhound Books on 10th September 2018 and you can purchase it from Waterstones, Amazon UK and Amazon US


Character Q&A:

Welcome to my blog Anna and thank you for answering my questions. 

So, the more serious stuff first:

Tell us a bit about your family and growing up.

I’ll give you the broad strokes if you insist, though I’d much rather put the past behind me and concentrate on the here and now. Not that I had it bad – far from it. I grew up in Kelvindale in the 80s and 90s. My parents weren’t loaded but they were certainly comfortably off, and we lived in a big old house near Great Western Road, just a stone’s throw from Glasgow’s West End. I was an only child, but if you think that means my folks lavished me with hugs and attention, you’ve got another think coming. I don’t mean to say they were unloving, but they weren’t given to strong displays of emotion or affection. They weren’t overbearingly strict either, but they had very definite views on how the world should be, and from an early age I realised those were views I didn’t share. I’m afraid I was a pretty precocious child. Back then, I thought I knew everything, and I had a bit of a tongue on me. To be honest, I still do have a bit of a tongue on me, though I like to think I’m a bit more aware of the limitations of my knowledge these days. Try to outmanoeuvre me on a subject I know inside out, though, and I’ll crush you.

How did you meet Zoe and why do you think you became friends?

We met on our first day at secondary school. Our first period was Art, and the teacher had everyone pair up so they could take turns being the model while the other drew them. Zoe and I were the only ones left without a partner – me because I always freeze whenever someone tells me to do the ‘find a partner’ thing and Zoe because she was the only person there who’d gone to Ruchill Primary and didn’t know anyone as a result. As for why we became friends, it’s very simple. Instead of drawing me, she drew an enormous cock which revealed a far more detailed knowledge of the male anatomy than a twelve-year-old ought to possess. When the teacher asked her what she thought she was playing at, she said she was exploring her creative boundaries as an artist. I realised straight away that I needed someone like that in my life.

She’s quite a character - you know her better than most. How would you describe her?

Zoe? She’s mad – completely and utterly stark raving mad. She’s also one of the kindest, most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet. And she’s extremely perceptive. A lot of people listen to the way she speaks and make the mistake of thinking she’s a bit dense, but in reality she’s one of the smartest people I know – certainly a lot smarter than a lot of people I could mention who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. True, she doesn’t always think things through, and that sometimes gets her into trouble, but everything she does, she does with the best of intentions, and I honestly wouldn’t have her any other way.

And what do you think Zoe would say about you?

Probably that I’m a humourless tight-arse who needs to learn to let her hair down once in a while! Actually, I like to think she helped bring me out of my shell in our teenage years – like, her being so outrageous gave me licence to be a bit more adventurous myself. For example, I remember this time when we were teenagers and we went on a day trip to air. It was November and absolutely blowing a gale, and we were the only people on the beach. And all of a sudden Zoe turns to me with this glint in her eyes, and she’s like ‘You and me are goin’ skinny-dipping.’ And before I know it, she’s busy taking off her clothes like she’s on the clock. Of course, I tell her it’s a bad idea, that we’d both catch our death, and anyway, there’s no way I’m doing it. And she just looks at me like this and says, ‘Well, if I’m goin’ in, you are.’ (Sigh.) And of course we both went in, and of course the wind got up and blew our clothes all over the beach so we had to spend ages hunting them down, and of course we both spent the next week in bed with pneumonia… but do I regret it? No. Sorry, I think I might have shared a little too much there.

know you left Glasgow for various reasons but why did you choose Rome? And why criminology?

I’d imagine, from my surname, you’ve probably guessed that I have something of a familial connection to the place. My grandparents on my dad’s side are Italian; my mum’s are German. I’m fairly fluent in both languages (though I’ve been told my German has a ‘hilarious’ Kelvinsider’s twang), and I knew I wanted to study outside Scotland, so it was a toss-up between Italy and Germany. Ultimately, though, Italy won out because of the cuisine, the architecture and the culture, and also because the Sapienza University is home to one of the best sociology programmes in the world.

As for ‘why criminology’, it’s because I care about justice. I realise that might sound kinda hokey, and people are going to be like ‘Yeah, OK, we guessed that. Now what’s the real reason?’ But it’s the truth. For as long as I can remember being aware that society was an unequal and unfair construct, I’ve wanted to change it, and, given my disposition, a career in academia always made far more sense than one in the judiciary or the police. For me, it’s all about gaining an understanding of the factors that lead to crime, particularly gender-based crime, and using my position to affect policy change in the areas I care about.

By the way, I also know some people are going to read the book and conclude that a certain formative event in my teenage years pushed me down the path of criminal justice. It might have crystallised matters for me, and I’m sure it played a role on the particular strand of criminology I ended up specialising in, but the truth is I’d already made up my mind what I wanted to do with my life long before that happened.

What was it like coming back after ten years away?

Well, on my first night back in town, I stumbled over an old schoolfriend bleeding to death in Kelvingrove Park, and pretty quickly found myself getting involved in the hunt for a serial killer, so it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But it did make me realise something: that Glasgow is and always has been home, and that I’ve still got unfinished business with the place.

You certainly get yourself in some scrapes and tight spots. Do you think you’re attracted to trouble?

Absolutely not. I’d much rather live a quiet life, just me and my research. I’d far rather research crime than become involved in it! But, as I’ve already indicated, I can’t abide injustice, and I also can’t bring myself to sit on the sidelines and watch while something I know is wrong is happening. That temperament has got me into trouble before, and I’m sure it will again.

And now for the fun stuff:

What music do you listen to?

I don’t really know much about music, to be honest. My appreciation of it tends not to run much deeper than ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that’. When I was growing up, I relied on Zoe for my musical education – she always knew who all the hot bands were and had bootlegs of all the latest chart stuff. She even persuaded me to come with her to a Cranberries concert when they played at the SECC in 1996 – my first and only gig experience. It was too loud and someone spilled beer all over me. Come to think of it, it might have been Zoe.

Are you currently reading anything? If so, what?

The life of an academic means that I’m reading constantly, whether it’s new books or journals published in my field, or students essays and dissertations… though I suspect that’s not the answer you were looking for. To be honest, I don’t have much time for novels and never have. I’ve always struggled to read fiction. Try as I might, a voice at the back of my head just keeps saying, ‘Why are you bothering with this? You know it isn’t real. Haven’t you got something better to be doing?’ If I’m looking to lose myself in someone else’s life, I much prefer films. They’re less of a time investment, and I can suspend my disbelief with them far more readily than with words on a page.

And who is your favourite author?

I could name any number fellow criminologists who impress me with their insight and ability to present a persuasive argument, but I suspect the number of people reading this who’d actually have heard of them would be fairly low. If we’re excluding academic writing, though, I did once get given a book of poems by Christina Rossetti as a birthday present, and I can remember sitting upstairs in my room, reading it from cover to cover in a single sitting. It’s been years since I last looked at it, but a bunch of them have stuck with me – ‘Goblin Market’ especially.

What three things would you take to a desert island with you?

That question suggests I would have actually chosen to go to a desert island, and I can’t see that ever happening. I’d go spare, stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Sorry, I’m really not the the best at answering these sorts of questions, am I? To be honest, you’d have been better off getting Zoe to do this instead of me… I suppose, if you put a gun to my head and forced me, I’d say sunblock, my laptop and enough unmarked student essays to keep me busy until I could finally get off this bloody island of yours. Can you tell I’m a fun person to have at parties?

If a movie was made about that crazy time in 2009, who would play you?

I can’t imagine anything worse than someone making a film about those events. Honestly, I reckon the people who enjoy that sort of thing need their heads examined. (Same goes for people who read crime novels – you’re all mad!) But, if there has to be a film, I’ve been told I look like Laura Fraser, and she has the advantage of actually being Scottish. Knowing my luck, though, I’d end up with some leggy American doing an awful Glaswegian accent.

And finally...

What else can we expect from you?

I took a bit of a back seat for the events of Cruel Summer, which details the tumultuous events Zoe managed to get herself mixed up in over the summer of 2013. I’m back front and centre for the next book, though. It’s called The Shadow Men and I’m hoping it’ll see the light of day at some point in 2020. I can’t say much about it now, except that it will contain elements of conspiracy, police corruption and long-buried secrets coming to light. And, of course, a body. Perhaps more than one...

Thank you so much Anna for stopping answering my questions! 


The Author:


MR Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has an MA in English and a PhD in Film Studies.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent producer and has overseen Blu-ray and DVD releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante, Hideo Nakata and Jacques Tourneur. He has contributed chapters to books on cult cinema and regularly provides video essays and liner notes for new releases of cult films.

You can find out more by visiting Michael's website, or by following him on Facebook and Twitter.

Morecambe & Vice Crime Writing Festival - Spotlight on Paul Burston

I am really delighted to be one of the bloggers opening the tour for Morecambe & Vice, which takes place at The Midland Hotel in  Moreca...