REVIEW : The Last Lullaby by Carin Gerhardsen


In this day and age it is an old statement but one that occasionally still holds true. Carin Gerhardsen is indeed one of the most refreshing and unique Scandinavian crime authors, and probably one that you still haven't heard of. "The Last Lullaby", third novel in her Hammarby series which follows the Stockholm Criminal Investigator Conny Sjöberg and his team, is an absolute treat for those hungry for a superb piece of Scandi drama.

The fiendish story of "The Last Lullaby" unfolds with a multiple murder of a Filipino mother and her two children. Found with their throats slashed in a carefully crafted scene that initially shows no signs of struggle, Conny Sjöberg and his team are initially stumped by what they find. There's no obvious motive nor suspects and the entire situation seems wholly implausible. Woman's Swedish ex-husband, the first port of call, seems to be completely emotionally detached from the horrific tragedy and yet the family lived in an apartment worth millions. As if that wasn't enough, one member of the team, Einar Eriksson, suddenly goes missing, while the others are having issues of their own. Einar instantly seems that the team is slowly unraveling in front of their eyes. The crucial event for this particular storyline actually takes place in one of the previous books in the series but the reveal is nonetheless completely shattering and provides an element of subtle, bubbling and yet, almost, unbearable tension between Petra and the rest.

The difference between Carin and her contemporaries lies mostly in the way she crafts her characters. The stories themselves or the way in which the crimes are solved, or even the very setup of the team, is not too original. However, the sadness and emotional depth of the protagonists simply permeates the pages. The team feels lived in, weary of life spent tackling the worst aspects of human condition and yet perfectly incapable to quit. This is what makes Hammarby series special. Similarly to her previous two offering, "The Last Lullaby" is also characteristically sinister, with tension that simply never lets go. It is only after you finish that you realise that the entire story took place from Tuesday Morning to Friday Evening.

"The Last Lullaby” is a wonderfully creepy, immersive reading experience that's instantly gripping and, more often than not, completely surprising.

Review copy provided by Penguin/Michael Joseph
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REVIEW : The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo


Sometimes it is incredibly hard to accept the fact that you're becoming an adult. It's not only about dealing with responsibilities of 9 to 5 work but about being accountable for the direction in which your life takes its course. Suddenly there is no fallback to it is all up to you. Melissa DeCarlo's debut novel The Art of Crash Landing finds Matilda, Mattie Wallace at this precise point in her life. She will be first to admit that so far she wasn't particularly good at this thing called life. Most horrifyingly she slowly realizing that she's turning into very thing she always detested - her mother. She's pregnant with a child by a no-good boyfriend, without a single penny to her name or a place to stay, with only a few bags of stuff and a dodgy car that always breaking down. For Mattie the turning point comes when she receives the news that she there exists a possible inheritance left by a grandmother. In this sudden event she sees her chance to leave her past behind. Her mother left her birthplace, a small town of Gandy, Oklahoma, when she was a young girl never to return. Mattie decides to visit and once there discovers more than she's bargained for - a local mystery surrounding her mother. All the hints are suggest that there is something disturbing hidden in her mother's past and as she pushes more and more to get to the bottom of it, the harder it gets to move forward. Is this the very reason her mother turned the way she did?

The Art of Crash Landing is clever at putting the importance of choices and the past for the future life across. Despite feeling depressed about her life, Mattie still has all of the choice within her grasp. She can decide the direction of her life. Standing in contrast, her mother had her choices made for her and she's still suffering for it. This is the main crux of the story and the most important message of the book. The Art of Crash Landing is often inevitably sad and I suspect there's not a single person who won't find something of themselves in Mattie but ultimately, behind the Melissa DeCarlo's mystery is a celebration of that strange, troublesome thing called life. It will be interesting seeing what choices will DeCarlo make next but as things stand at the moment, there's every chance she an important new voice in literature.

Review copy provided by HarperCollins
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REVIEW : Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco


When crime fiction is discussed among ourselves, our editor often shares his opinion that Mari Hannah and V. M. Giambanco are two of the most important contemporary writers of the same. Never having read any of the fiction published by them I was pleasantly surprised when "BLOOD AND BONE", the latest novel in the Alice Madison series landed on my desk. You've guessed it, editor is reading the new Mari Hannah novel, “The Silent Room”, so this was my chance to find what the fuss is all about.

"BLOOD AND BONE" is the third novel in the Alice Madison series and quite unexpectedly it starts rather slowly, with an episode when our protagonist was just twelve. It is 1982 and Alice is running away from home. She’s taking with herself only the bare necessities with her, which include her copy of "Treasure Island" read to her by her mother. After her mother suddenly died, Alice was left to live with her father. There's plenty of dark hints as she makes her way to the nearby port and escapes on a ferry. It is a bleak and engrossing opening salvo which only serves as a hint for what is to come. Back in the present, Alice is attacked by two abusive men who get more than their bargained for. We are then treated to a slice of her, quite nice, relationship, and from then it's all the way to the heart of darkness. A man is found brutally murdered in his own home. His face is smashed without recognition and some of the jewelry is missing but what initially seems like a burglary turned nasty reveals itself to be a work of a particularly nasty serial killer whose victims go back for decades. There’s plenty of previously solved cases which will need to be re-investigated. And what about all those people that landed up inside for the crimes they didn't commit? I will step back from revealing too much but it is a damn good and addictive stuff.

If you go by the synopsis alone, "BLOOD AND BONE" might initially seem like a run-of-the-mill police procedural but just scratch beyond the surface and you'll see that it is much better than that. V.M. Giambanco works hard to establish her characters as real people, with feeling and anxieties, and this makes all the difference because once the going gets tough. You feel for their pain and frustration, and you want their issues to be resolved. I have to admit that I did feel like I lost something by starting from the third book. I found seemingly unconnected storyline with the character called John Cameron especially confusing but it was not too bad. I'll be making my way back to the beginning as soon as I'm done with writing this review but if you have no other choice, still give it a go. You won't lose too much and you might just agree with our editor in the same way as I did. V. M. Giambanco is definitely one to watch.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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The story behind Incarnadine by S.M. Guariento

When did I last see him, the shadowy author of that strange book? It’s so hard to recall these things precisely. Did I ever really meet him – or did I invent him myself? Such questions may strike you as absurd, even ridiculous. Yet over the past ten years – has it really been that long? – I have learned that the ridiculous, in particular, has the right to exist.

   Ten years ago: that’s when this story really began. A few harmless ideas, that’s all he thought they were – just ideas, seeking each other out along lines of magnetic force. And they grew, in the dark, in the shadows of his mind, in those secret rooms he never dreamt existed. Not once did he suspect they might escape his control, break down the doors and emerge into the light.

   I daresay it seemed innocent enough at the start. A pastime, nothing more. There were times, I recall, when he wanted to abandon the work altogether – as if INCARNADINE could ever permit such a thing! But the turning point came with his studies into the Hermetic Art, the esoteric doctrines of Trismegistus and Dee – those books of forbidden knowledge and arcane formulas, that was where the ridiculous finally took root in his mind and began to bear fruit. Strange fruit, dark and unfamiliar; and as he consumed their flesh, they consumed his...

   But I begin to wonder: was “S.M.Guariento” truly the author of this work, or merely a vehicle for forces he could not hope to contain? It seems preposterous that I know so little about him, even now. This morning, quite by chance, I found the following text scribbled in the margins of this journal, though I have no memory of writing it: “S.M.Guariento is a British writer currently employed full-time in the National Health Service, where his affinity for the absurd finds a natural home. He spends his spare time obsessively re-reading the works of J.G. Ballard, collecting vintage film posters and listening to electronic music. He also enjoys bragging of his family connection with the 14th Century artist Guariento di Arpo, which scholars have yet to disprove. INCARNADINE is his first novel.”

   A meaningless jumble of improbable facts. Yet reading them back stirred in me a familiar sensation, almost of recognition. Perhaps he is me, and I am him? But this was merely a trick of the mind: the hobgoblin of memory, taunting me again with an invented past. The Amnesis has erased so many of our yesterdays that we will clutch at anything, no matter how far-fetched, as evidence of those forgotten times, those forgotten lives.

   So if “S.M.Guariento” is not me, who is he? You smile. Perhaps you have begun to suspect, as I have, that “S.M.Guariento” is no more than a convenient fiction – a device, no more, through which his nominal creation, this “novel”, disguises the truth.

   Yes, the truth! I must speak quickly. Already I feel myself starting to change.

   Gather round, all of you. Listen to my words.

   I know now the secret of secrets, the real story behind the story of INCARNADINE. The true order of genesis.

   S.M. Guariento is not the author of INCARNADINE.

   INCARNADINE is the author of S.M.Guariento.

   Secretissimus –! 

S.M. Guariento
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The story behind A Conflict of Orders by Ian Sales

Earlier this month, the ebook edition of A Conflict of Orders, the second book of my space opera trilogy, An Age of Discord, was published by Tickety Boo Press. A signed hardback edition will be published at the end of this month, but is available for pre-order from the Tickety Boo Press website. A Conflict of Orders follows on directly from A Prospect of War.

The middle books of trilogies are curious beasts… They’re often seen as the least satisfying as the three, possibly because they have the most difficult role. The first book introduces the reader to the world and kicks off the story. This is all new, and so the novelty of it (no pun intended) is going to be a powerful draw. The third book resolves the story, it provides closure - the villains get their comeuppance, the heroes get their medals, the big romance is consummated, and so on.

So what’s the point of a second book?

I mean, why not just write two books. Some people do. But trilogies are much more popular. And far too often in those trilogies, the second book consists chiefly of the author moving characters about and setting up things for the big battle which finishes the story arc. This is not to say all middle books in trilogies suffer this problem, but it’s certainly a known issue. And one I wanted to avoid.

If A Prospect of War followed a somewhat traditional story template, then I was determined that A Conflict of Orders would not do so. It occurred to me that a good way to do this would be to, well, finish the story arc halfway through the book two. Not the entire story arc, of course. Just the big battle mentioned previously. That battle had clearly been signposted through A Prospect of War, so ending the trilogy with it would have been perfectly understandable. But there was also that troublesome underlying conspiracy I had hinted at in the first book…

So A Conflict of Orders builds up to the “final battle”... which takes place halfway through the novel. The rest of A Conflict of Orders considers the aftermath. After all, once the rebellion is out of the way, the whos and whys and wherefores behind it are also part of the story. The empire is still at risk and though the original threat has been neutralised, there might be more waiting in the wings.

At the end of A Prospect of War, Casimir Ormuz and the Admiral had gathered about them a fleet and an army, and were en route to the world of Geneza to meet the Serpent’s forces. A Conflict of Orders sees them complete that journey, battle the enemy army and fleet… But the Serpent already has the Imperial Palace under siege.

One of the things I was keen to do in this second book of the trilogy was given the villain a voice. Previously he had been only a codename, the Serpent, and an offstage threat. But I wanted his motives to be an important part of the story. So I gave him a narrative thread of his own - in fact, he opens the novel. And he gets equal time in the narrative with Ormuz, Inspector Sliva Finesz and Lieutenant-Commander (now Captain) Rizbeka Rinharte. As the public face, so to speak, of the conspiracy I needed him to be more than just a template villain.

This was because, in part, the story arc of the An Age of Discord trilogy was inspired by the concept of consolatory fantasy. In many such fantasies, the hardy adventurers rally the forces of good to defend the ruling dynasty against the evil dark lord. The whole point of the exercise is maintenance of the status quo. But if the existing system is unfair and oppressive, why would they want to save it? Maybe the evil dark lord would make a better ruler? Maybe he’s only the “evil dark lord” because he’s fighting against the incumbent ruling dynasty?

The best thing about tropes in genre fiction is how open they are to bending, breaking or even turning into some weird Moebius version of their original selves. Too few writers, to my mind, bother trying to do that. I, however, think that the true appeal of genre fiction - and in this case in particular, space opera - lies in its flexibility, not just in terms of literature but also in terms of the language it uses specific to itself. The forms exist to be played with, in other words.

In An Age of Discord, I am having a great deal of fun playing with those frms. And I hope my readers also have a great deal of fun in seeing their space opera expectations tweaked and bent into interesting new shapes.

The story of An Age of Discord will complete with A Want of Reason, due to be published in March 2016.

Ian Sales
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The story behind What She Left by T. R. Richmond

When I was a student, I could never understand people who’d work into the early hours.
I was always brain dead by about 7pm. If I had an assignment to finish, I’d take the opposite approach: I’d get an early night then get up at the crack of dawn.
That pattern was the one that guided my approach to writing What She Left. The hours of 5.30am to 8.30am are my most productive. My head is clear and uncluttered. I can get up and hit the keyboard running – obviously with the benefit of a coffee (a large black Americano if you’re buying, thanks).

Like a lot of authors, I’ve got a day-job, so this routine was also driven by necessity. But that brief window of time at the start of the day was precious. It was non-negotiable, sacrosanct. There were probably only a handful of days in the two years I was working on the book when I didn’t write anything. I had to keep the momentum going.
While routine is vital to me, it was ironically a break in my usual routine that actually got me started. I was away with work – staying for a week on my own in a hotel in Bristol. I wasn’t even intending to write any fiction that week. But I woke up one morning, sat at the desk and drafted the first chapter. By the time I returned home at the end of the week, five writing sessions later, I had 5000 words.
Those 5000 words went through many, many edits and probably only a quarter of them made in into the final version in any shape or form – but as the old saying goes, if you haven’t got anything written, you haven’t got anything to edit. They were the bedrock of the novel.

I’d had the germ of the idea for the book shortly before, when I saw a tweet from someone about the song they’d like played at their funeral. That got me wondering what else might I be able to learn about that person online, which eventually led me to the concept of constructing a whole story from a dead woman’s paper and digital “footprint”.
There are lots of good reasons why people begin writing books but never finish them. I quickly became obsessed with What She Left, however, and if I didn’t work on it every day I felt guilty.
Besides, once you’re in the meaty heart of a novel, you get to know your characters so well that you can really see and hear them. I felt duty bound to see their stories through to the end.
So I found a routine that suited me and stuck to it. It was hard work, but I’m not complaining. I loved doing it and a lot of jobs are a damn sight harder than writing. Ask someone who digs roads or stands on a factory line.
I subsequently worked on it for more than six months very closely with my agent. Then, when it was 50% written, we showed it to an editor at Penguin. We did the deal, had a glass of bubbly – then I got up early the next morning and carried on writing. I had a book to finish, after all…

T. R. Richmond
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The story behind Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco

BLOOD AND BONE is the third book in the Alice Madison series and one thing I knew for sure when I started writing it was that this was going to be a serial killer story – and then I proceeded to change the rules of the game, because that’s when the fun begins.

The Madison series in set in Seattle, a city in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and the main character is a homicide detective who in the first book had just joined the unit.

One of the great joys of writing a series is that you can develop characters and relationships in a way that is simply impossible with a one-off novel, and this has always been the main attraction for me. In BLOOD AND BONE things have definitely moved on for Madison and her relationships with the other characters have grown and changed – some in predictable ways and some in surprising ones. The core of the story – and of all the books in the series – is how the case that is investigated reveals and defines these relationships and, more often than not, puts pressure on them. I like my characters very much indeed but I’m happy to give them as much trouble as I can reasonably conceive.

I have always wanted to write a serial killer novel because one of my influences when I started writing was Thomas Harris and the Hannibal Lecter books, especially ‘Red Dragon’; and the challenge was how to make something fresh and interesting when it has been written about so brilliantly in the past. How do you take something familiar and turn it into a new experience that is going to be gripping from page one? Well, I started with the character: I needed a memorable villain, someone who would draw in the reader – almost making them complicit in their plans; someone who is dangerous and keeps the clock in the story ticking on; someone who has motive and a set of beliefs that make him more than a random killer; and, finally, someone who still had the spark of humanity that comes from a real person and not the bogeyman of our nightmares.  

As always with the Madison books, the locations become one of the characters in the story and I am very keen to use the wonderful Washington State wilderness as much as I can. I have traveled in the area quite a bit and every time I discover new spots that will be used in future stories. In BLOOD AND BONE I have at last set a particularly critical scene on one the local ferries – I have been wanting to do that for a very long time but was just waiting for the right situation.

In the end though BLOOD AND BONE is about Alice Madison and in this instalment I wanted her professional and her private life to be tangled up to the point where the whole structure might just collapse and she has to make some decision that will have repercussions on the rest of her life. It took three books to get her where she is now and I’m already wondering what trouble to throw her way next.  

V.M. Giambanco
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REVIEW : Cemetery Girl: Inheritance by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden


Over a year and a half since the first book in the Cemetery Girl trilogy of graphic novels written by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden we are finally treated to the second part of the Calexa Rose Dunhill's mysterious tale. As she wrote in her Story behind the Story piece about it, Cemetery Girl was something of a departure for Harris. She was never a huge reader of graphic novels, let alone a writer, so it was slightly surprising that her first foray into the medium turned out to be such a success.

To summarise the back story, Cemetery Girl is a nameless girl who after surviving a violent incident finds herself with horrific injuries in the middle of a Dunhill cemetery. Unable to remember anything about her life she takes the name from one of the nearby gravestones and becomes a Calexa Rose Dunhill. Being completely traumatized by the whole ordeal, Calexa decides to live in a graveyard for a while - at least until she can piece together the story of her life. This is where her tale truly begins as the lack of her own identity has left a hole within Calexa. This means that Calexa is in position to be possessed by spirits of others and that they'll only leave her once she solves the mystery of their deaths. It is this wholly original premise that make the whole thing tick.

Second book, entitled "Inheritance" continues her story and starts off with another traumatic event. An older lady, Lucinda Cameron is violently murder within her home and Calexa is once again possessed with a spirit. This time things are rather different. She was her only friend in the world and frightened from her own experience, Calexa is completely shattered by Lucinda's death. In short, she was the just about the only person who was kind to her and helped her out without trying to judge or threaten her. As such, "Inheritance" takes off in a wholly different direction and slowly turns into something of a neighborhood drama, with hints of a budding love with Mason, kindness of strangers and truly appalling examples humanity.

Unfortunately, nothing much is revealed about Calexa's past apart from one quick flash of memory and a sinister person that suddenly appears in the final few pages so the final part of the trilogy has a lot of ground to cover. It'll be interesting seeing how the story will ultimately unravel. Having said that, I really hope that this time we won't have to wait for such long time as both of the graphic novels published so far have been truly fantastic, if slightly too quick, reads.

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books
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The story behind Cemetery Girl by Charlaine Harris

I never talk about ideas I’m mulling over for a book. So it is really amazing that I found myself telling Christopher Golden about an idea I’d had, one I really found interesting, while we were sitting (maybe in a bar?) at Dragon Con, an amazing fantasy convention held in Atlanta, Georgia, every year. Chris and I, though friendly and with many mutual friends, did not know each other very well at the time, which makes it all the more peculiar that I would tell him about something so private.

“I’ve got this picture of this girl who’s living in a cemetery,” I told Chris. “She’s camping in a mausoleum or raised tomb, and she steals items to make it into a home. I’m not sure how she got there, but she doesn’t have any memory.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with images in my head. They didn’t seem to parse out to a full-length novel, they didn’t seem to compress into a short story. Yet I hate to let an idea that’s caught my imagination go free.

I’d forgotten all about my conversation with Chris until I got an email with him a few weeks later. I don’t have the email in front of me, but as I remember it, Chris said, “I’ve been thinking about that idea you had. I think it would make a great graphic novel.”

I was really startled, since that thought had never crossed my mind. For one thing, I wasn’t much of a graphic novel reader, and for another, I had no idea of the format of writing such a thing. How did you find an artist? How many pages should it be? But I reasoned that the idea had seemed so natural to Chris because he’s written everything, and he’s read hundreds of graphic novels. Maybe I could write one if he showed me the ropes. In fact, maybe if he collaborated with me?

I’d never tried to work with another writer. I was full of worries. What if we hated each other after we made the attempt? How would we work out the logistics, since we’re separated geographically by well over a thousand miles? What if I couldn’t learn the ropes? What if no publisher was interested?

Of course, two of those worries were just silly. With the internet, geographic distance is a non-issue, and as it turned out, Penguin (my publisher, and sometimes Chris’s) was very interested since it was starting its own graphic novel line, Inked.

The process of learning how to write a graphic novel was the bumpiest part, and I’m sure Chris wanted to throw up his hands in exasperation many a time. Finally, he wrote: You can’t write what Dan can’t draw. I thought that over, and it was like the proverbial lightbulb went off over my head.  After that, we went along much better, though I still don’t stop to smell the roses. I’m always hustling through the action, when slower would be better. But eventually, I hope, I’ll get that down, too. Chris has been a great teacher.

I hope readers enjoy the fruit of our collaboration as much as I have enjoyed learning something new. The story extended and altered in unexpected ways, and Dunhill Cemetery has become another place I visit in my imagination to see how its inhabitants are getting along.

Charlaine Harris
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Amazon US | Amazon UK

REVIEW : The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths


Whenever I open a new Ruth Galloway novel I get baffled by the fact that she still hasn't made her way to the small screens. If you think about it, it would be a perfect series. It is set in Norfolk, a place just perfect for those sweeping panorama shots that everyone loves, the mysteries are truly great and yet not too disturbing so they're easily approachable and enjoyable, and then there's characters. Ruth herself is instantly likeable, someone with whom you can find plenty in common. As if that wasn't enough, there is an overarching love story which includes love triangles and illicit child. What's not to love? Luckily, the books themselves have their loyal audience both here in the UK and overseas so the next title is always just around the corner. Currently we're already up to the 7th installment. "The Ghost Fields" which is just about to come out in paperback and is just great.

"The Ghost Fields" takes place during a sunny July and kicks off when a buried WWII place is discovered by the construction company's bulldozer. More interestingly, the pilot is found within the plane and while this archeological curiosity would be an extraordinary find of itself, it soon transpires that the man found within the plane is Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat went missing some time ago and not a pilot.

It’s a strange situation. DNA doesn’t lie and Ruth quickly realises that things are not so simple as they seems. Blackstock's family is reacting strangely to the news, and there's a new discovery lying in the Ghost Fields, the Norfolk's deserted air force bases, making things even more complicated. And if that just wasn't enough, it seems that there's a killer on the prowl. In between all this, Ruth is juggling between her insecurities, five year old daughter Kate, her endlessly complicated relationship with Nelson and even Cathbad is acting stranger than usual. It is all wonderfully engrossing and complex.

As is always the case with any novel featuring Ruth Galloway, this is a book that you just have to finish in a single sitting. It's literary unputdownable, not least owing to the ease with which the story tends to unfurl in front of your eyes. Turning pages is so damn easy.

"The Ghost Fields" is a fantastic new addition to a series that seven books in still hasn't made a wrong turn. Without question Ruth Galloway series has slowly turned into my favourite contemporary mystery series.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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The story behind Cold Play by Winona Kent

Cold Play is a novel with a very long history. Some books are written in no time at all. Some take a while to simmer and stew...and Cold Play is one of those.

As a child and a teenager, in the 1960s and 70s, I traveled to and from England by sea. It was the very end of the golden era of ocean liners, and the beginning of the jet age. My dad was a travel agent and he was able to get wonderful discounts for us on various ships, including the original Queen Mary – the one which is now a landlocked tourist attraction in Long Beach, California. I sailed on five different liners, but my favorite of them all was the Empress of Canada.

It was 1971, and we didn't know it at the time, but that summer was to be her last on the transatlantic run from Montreal to Liverpool. Perhaps I picked up a feeling, seeing the dwindling numbers of passengers sharing her public rooms and decks. Perhaps it was because I was nearly 16, and I was already writing stories and making up adventures for characters who lived with me nonstop, day and night. My imagination was primed. I fell in love with the Empress of Canada. And the summer of 1971 is where the story of Cold Play really began.

Years later I briefly became a travel agent myself, and when Carnival Cruise Lines began to market their first ship, the Mardi Gras, I looked at the pictures in the brochure and thought, this lady seems very familiar! And she was... my Empress of Canada had taken on a new life and was proudly cruising the Caribbean. She was the first of many ships for tiny Carnival, which eventually grew into a massive corporation which now also owns Princess, Costa and Cunard, among others!

My lovely Empress stayed in service for decades, but changing laws about safety at sea and the demand for newer and larger ships meant her days were numbered. Her last incarnation was as Direct Cruise's Apollon, but in 2003 she was finally retired, and sold for breaking up as scrap. It was a very sad end for my lady, beached in Alang, India, her entire hull exposed and her beautiful white and blue livery rusting in the blazing sun. I saw photos of her as she was demolished, section by section. It made me cry.

I knew I wanted to write about an aging ocean liner the minute I stepped off the Empress of Canada in Liverpool in 1971. But I didn't have a story, and at age 16, I didn't yet have the skills to be able to pull it off. I devoured movies like The Poseidon Adventure, parts of which were filmed aboard the Queen Mary; and The Last Voyage, from 1960, filmed aboard the old luxury liner, Ile de France.

Fast forward now to the late 1990s. My career as a travel agent was long in the past, but my sister had taken up the banner, and was working as a Captain's Secretary for a popular cruise line that sailed weekly from Vancouver to Alaska. She served on a number of different ships, but one of them happened to be a former ocean liner, a tiny jewel that had once been owned by Cunard. She was dwarfed by her newer and larger colleagues when she was docked at her ports of call, and she wasn't quite as beautiful as my Empress, but she was gracious and proud, and when I was given the opportunity to sail on her, as a guest of my sister, I leaped at the chance.

There are always perks associated with being related to a uniformed officer aboard a cruise ship, and this was definitely one of them. I stayed in my sister's cabin, which was located in the crew area. I ate in the Officers' Mess, and I consorted with the Pursers after hours when they held parties in their cabins, spilling out into the main connecting companionway. I stood up on the Bridge in pitch blackness while the ship was navigating the waters near Ketchikan. I was taught how to open and close watertight doors below the waterline. I stayed on board after all the passengers had disembarked, and I saw first-hand what turnaround day involved, before the next lot of passengers were allowed up the gangway. I observed how a cruise ship functioned from a crew point of view, and I knew then that I had my story.

But who was going to be my main character? And what, exactly, was the story going to be about – besides an aging cruise ship that was once a grand ocean liner?

In Cold Play's first draft, Jason Davey was a Purser. I had a notebook filled with anecdotes from my sister's colleagues, and from my sister herself, who had worked at the Purser's Desk before being promoted upstairs to the Bridge. Jason, an out-of-work actor, had run away to sea after the death of his wife in a fire that he believed he was responsible for: he'd accidentally dropped a smoldering cigarette end into a sofa. The novel was called Found at Sea, and the story involved an aging actress with designs on Jason who comes aboard and wreaks havoc for him and the crew; and a travel agent named Katey who is searching for meaning in her life after a messy divorce and facing burnout from her job.

I had an agent pitching Found at Sea to publishers in the UK in early 2002. But nobody seemed to be interested. We tried for about a year, and then my agent decided to pursue other occupations, and I took a buyout from my place of employment, and decided to go to film school to learn how to write scripts. Found at Sea became my major project and my first screenplay. After graduation I entered it in a contest, where it caught the attention of a local producer, who optioned it. We worked on it for a year or two, changing the name to Life Boat, and changing the location to Alaska.

Nothing ever came of the script, which is typical of 95% of screenplays – they sit in development, and then end up abandoned when the option expires.

Fast forward again, to 2009, and Twitter. I was part of a community of first-adopters of Twitter. It was fabulous fun, and the potential for plotting was enormous. There were constructed personalities operating under pseudo-names, claiming to get up to all sorts of adventures, in bursts of postings that were 140 characters long. You never knew who you were really talking to. And whether or not they were telling the truth, or were very convincing liars.

In 2009, I went on another cruise, again to Alaska, but this time I was a passenger. It was on a very large and modern ship, a different line from the one my sister had worked for, and I spent a good part of every evening in the ship's library, where the computers were, trying to connect with my Twitterfriends. Right next door to the library, separated by a glass wall, was the ship's biggest lounge, and every night there was a one-man band playing in that lounge, surrounded by electronic gadgets, playing his guitar and singing. Sometimes he had a full house. Sometimes he was singing to just himself and the bartender. But he captured my imagination...and I knew that I'd found Jason.

He wasn't an actor at all and he didn't work at the Purser's Desk. He was a ship's entertainer. And he was still being pursued by an aging and eccentric actress. And his love interest was still Katey, the recently-divorced-and-burned-out-travel-agent. But Jason now spent much of his spare time on Twitter, using the handle @Cold_Fingers to amuse his followers with tales of a life at sea. And because of that, he'd picked up a stalker named @SaylerGurl... who may or may not have been aboard his ship that week. And there was the added intrigue of an alcoholic musician from Jason's past who might know a very big secret. And there was still the question of Jason's wife's death in that fire...and who was really responsible for it.

And then there was the story of Jason's ship. I called her the Sapphire in the novel, but she was always the Empress of Canada in my imagination. And she was an important character, just like Jason and Katey, Rick Redding and SaylerGurl and Diana Wyndham and Jilly, Jason's "guardian angel". I wondered what it would be like for the Sapphire to be facing her last useful days at suddenly discover that she was going to be sold for scrap at the end of the season. And how she might react, as a result...

I was going to change the name of the novel to Cold_Fingers, but I consulted a friend who suggested Cold Play would be a much better title. I thought it was brilliant. I spent much of 2011 pitching the story to agents and publishers, who couldn't see a best-seller in it and therefore declined my offer. So in 2012 I decided to self-publish instead. I used one of my own photos from Glacier Bay for the cover. And my Empress of Canada story, born forty years earlier, was released at last.

I've recently signed with Diversion Books in New York, and as part of my contract with them, they've re-released all four of my previous novels. Cold Play has been given a new cover, and now has the potential to reach an entirely new audience. I'm so pleased my lovely Empress of Canada lives on, even if it's only in my readers' imaginations.

One final note... last October I went on a short overnight cruise from Seattle to Vancouver with my sister, who is no longer employed in the cruise industry. We traveled as passengers, on a ship sailing her former employer's flag. We were sitting in the atrium, enjoying coffee and pastries, when a musician sat down and started to tune up. He had a guitar, and some elaborate gadgetry. He looked extremely familiar, and when I checked his name in the daily bulletin, I saw that it was the same fellow I'd watched five years earlier, playing in the lounge next to the ship's library. My Jason.

Did I introduce myself, and tell him about Cold Play, and the inspiration he'd provided?

Winona Kent
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REVIEW : Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne


I have never encountered anything by Andrew Mayne before opening Angel Killer so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. In hindsight I would suggest that Andrew would appreciate this approach as he is quite big on all aspects of mystery. His website features a Magic Shop with quite a selection of titles for a budding illusionist and apparently he even had his own TV show which I haven’t managed to track down. Suitably enough, Angel Killer's main protagonist is a former prodigy illusionist turned FBI agent, Jessica Blackwood. While I was never actually impressed by the stage antics of illusionists because I can never let go the scientific part of my brain which is always aware that a) there's no magic as such b) there must be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the trick and by damn, I'll figure it out, I was always a huge fan of this particular setup in crime fiction. Best crime cases are the ones that are fiendishly difficult to understand and who is better positioned to unravel them than someone who has painstakingly trained for years to mislead the crowd. Just look at Jonathan Creek or Elly Griffiths excellent The Zig-Zag Girl.

FBI agent Jessica Blackwood is a wonderfully complex creation. All her life she was hoping that she left her magician life behind when she called to help with a seemingly impossible case. At the time she is working at Quantico trying to spot patterns in financial data but everything changes when a hacker calling himself Warlock hacks the FBI website and leaves a code which, when decrypted, leads the authorities to a Michigan cemetery. Once there, a dead girl is being discovered rising from the grave. It is much scarier and disturbing that I can possible explain it and this is just the first of Warlock's twisted set-ups. Due to her background Jessica is summoned by the FBI consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ailes to help his team catch the perp. The whole situation and the overarching style rings a bell for Jessica and she's forced to confront her past if she’s to make any headway into these horrific killings, while at the same time she must face the ruthless media and skeptical colleagues probing into the very things she wants to leave behind.

Angel Killer is a fascinating book. Andrew Mayne is obviously an expert in the field and this certainly makes wonders to enrich the very foundation upon which the books is built. Jessica Blackwood's troubled past and her exciting, if slightly frustrating, present, are also done particularly well. Angel Killer is lagging slightly behind when it comes to supporting cast which is not very memorable but that's not a big shortcoming as it might initially seems as the crimes are wonderfully twisted and ending itself doesn't disappoint. To conclude, "Angel Killer" is a fascinating insight into the world of illusion as seen through the eyes of crime. If you enjoy watching an odd episode of "Jonathan Creek" definitely check it out. You'll burn through it.

Review copy provided by Faber Books
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REVIEW : Unholy War by David Hair

A year has passed and predictably here’s David Hair with another monster. And I had such a nice plan before I’ve received it! In short the idea was to do a re-read of The Scarlet Tides and Mage’s Blood before embarking upon Unholy War. I consider first two instalments of The Moontide Quartet to be some of the best contemporary fantasy around so it was an obvious decision. What I didn’t count on is how huge Unholy War is. This is seriously big, nearly 800 pages long heavyweight doorstopper.  Hair is on the way to approach Sanderson category, if you know what I mean. If I’ve actually went on and read all three books in the sequence I would’ve finished around New Year so I gave up on the idea and sunk my teeth into penultimate book in The Moontide Quartet. Since the publication day is still some time in the future I’ll try to keep this review short on plot description but do beware for spoilers.

Similarly to The Scarlet Tides, Unholy War directly continues the story started in previous books and shouldn’t be read if you haven’t the first two instalments. This is also evident in the fact that Unholy War doesn’t even have an obligatory “What happened before” chapter which even I, someone who read and really enjoyed first two books, would welcome. As things stand situation around Scytale of Corineus, immensely powerful artefact which in the wrong hands could change the course of history, is getting increasingly complicated. Scytale is currently in the hands of failed mage Alaron Mercel and pregnant market-girl Ramita Ankesharan. World around them seems to be falling apart at the seams. After the battle of Shaliyah course of the war has changed and now East is on the rise, ready for counterattack. Still, some are not interested in idealistic view of the world and are trying to push their own agenda forward. For example, Queen Cera Nesti of Javon sees a chance to reclaim a throne. Others see an opportunity to reclaim the Scytale.

In our review of “The Scarlet Tides” we praised its focus on characters and the plot and I would like to reinforce that opinion here. David Hair seems to thrive on the fact that the worldbuilding is left behind and that he can focus more on the actual plot. The sense of chaos, endless politicking between factions and urge by characters to make sense out of events beyond their control is palpable as the pace becomes more and more frantic. My only complaint at this point is that Unholy War finishes at a point where it does. Yes, it is a logical choice but with the final sentence announcing exciting things to come and taking place nine months before the end of the Moontide, it’ll be a long wait until Ascendant’s Rite arrives. Until then, perhaps go back to an original plan and do a re-read?

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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REVIEW : The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

Den Patrick's novel "The Boy with the Porcelain Blade" was top of the class. It was one of last year's best fantasy debuts and all around excellent literary read. When its sequel, "The Boy Who Wept Blood" was announced I was pleased to learn that Patrick has opted out of doing a classic series and has chosen to embark on a sequence of novels set in the same setting with loosely connected characters. This usually means that novels are self-enclosed entities and come without frustrating cliff hangers. And certainly, "The Boy Who Wept Blood" doesn't disappoint. In fact, it is probably even marginally better book than its predecessor. With it Patrick is truly finding his unique voice.

"The Boy Who Wept Blood" is built upon the same premise as the first novel but takes place ten years after the events depicted in it. Lucien is gone but his spirit is going strong in Dino. Landfall, state resembling Renaissance Italy is still full of dangers for the unwary and this young swordsman often feels like his responsibilities go way over his head. He's sworn to protect queen Anea who, in her efforts to bring back peace and stability to Demesne, is swimming with sharks. Aristocratic families are simply not willing to let go of their privileges and will succumb to murder if necessary. Anea is proving once again to be tremendously able and accomplished character. A true powerhouse at the heart of Demesne. In the end, it is Dino who makes this book great. He's an anti-hero and comes with all his flaws bared naked for us to see. Often his decisions are not very logical and more than once you'll feel like screaming at his choices but there's something very charming in his occasional clumsiness. So like some great waltz, this political drama unfold itself before our very eyes but on the other hand, those looking for something more than courtly intrigue, should not fear. There's plenty of sword fights strewn around but admittedly all in carefully measured amounts.

Those who enjoyed "The Boy with the Porcelain Blade" will enjoy "The Boy Who Wept Blood" as well. It is all that a sequel should be – it is bigger, bolder and cleverer. Sequence format means that Patrick is not completely tied to the story of previous novels and this in turn allows him to develop which is one opportunity he completely takes in his stride. Readers who like their fantasy intelligent and historical shouldn't miss this one. You'll have a blast.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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The story behind Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Heading into the second book in the PEACEMAKER series, I knew that I wanted to explore the supernatural side of the story in greater detail. I had enormous fun researching everything there is to find on mythical creatures, and finally settled on a few that really stood out to me. The first was a Pocong from Indonesian mythology, the soul of a dead person wrapped in a shroud. That gave me potential to be as ghostly and creepy as I liked! The second was an Empusa who, though originally was from Greek mythology, I chose to use in its vampiric demon form – and a nasty bit of work she was too! Both appealed to me for their outright spine-tingling qualities, especially the Empusa with her one brass leg and one donkey leg. So weird!

*Spoiler alert*

I also decided that Virgin’s best friend would develop Multiple Sclerosis during the story. Having a close family member with moderate to severe Crohn’s disease, I know a little of the anatomy of chronic illness. So much of how you cope is tied up with your attitude towards it. That’s the bit I wanted to explore between Caro and Virgin: how it affected their relationship, how they each dealt with it. For Virgin, who is casual with her health and her body, it was quite shock. The truly freaky thing is that I had written this element in the novel and not told anyone about it, and then a few days before the book came out, my son tells me he’d just got a job as a MS care assistant. I had one of those “quivery” moments, like the universe was trying to tell me something.

Also, I introduced gnamma (pan holes or swirl holes) holes in significant places through MYTHMAKER. For those who aren’t familiar with them, they are smooth, round-ish depressions in rock caused by eddying water. We had a couple on the farm where I grew up. My dad used to tell me tales of how they were what was left of lava tubes formed when the earth was cooling. If you followed them, he said, you could find your way to the centre of the earth. It was a tale, of course, but it captured my imagination so thoroughly that forty-five years later I found myself writing them into my seventeenth novel! Never underestimate the power of childhood memories when it comes to creating fiction.

The last behind-the-scenes thing I wanted to share with you was about the two characters who found their way into the novel by just turning up on the page unannounced: Esther and Dr Rav. Neither of them had even been a glimmer in my eye, and yet they walked in fully formed and demanded air time. They were both good hearted, decent people. Virgin doesn’t have much of a support system, so maybe my subconscious decided she needed more quality friends! As Esther likes to remind her… “Remember, Virgin. Standards!”

Marianne de Pierres
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The Complete Double Dead by Chuck Wendig cover art and synopsis

The Complete Double Dead by Chuck Wendig will be published on February 9, 2016 by Abaddon Books


In February 2016 Abaddon will publish two of Chuck Wendig’s earliest works, the vampire-in-zombieland comedy horror Double Dead and the follow up novella Double Dead: Bad Blood, together for the first time in The Complete Double Dead.

With a brand new cover by Joey Hi-Fi and a bonus Tomes Of The Dead novella by Mark Clapham, this is an unmissable slice of full-tilt horror with extra added funnies, from before the time Chuck was one of the most talked about names in genre.

As an added bonus – as if all that glorious Wendig writing wasn’t enough – we’ve also included Dead Stop by Mark Clapham in The Complete Double Dead, giving readers even more undead carnage to sink their teeth into. Delicious!

Order The Complete Double Dead by Chuck Wendig here:

The story behind The Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz

A lot of people read books.  Some people read authors.

Few people follow authors the way baseball fans do, say, their favorite hitters. 

But if you do hang out backstage at the authors’ conferences – we are easy to talk to, starved of drinks and good conversation, so buy us a bourbon and don’t embarrass us to much and we’ll generally chat happily all day – you’ll soon discover that authors come in two basic flavors: plotters and gardeners.  Plotters map their books out well in advance, staking an end point and grimly working their way towards it, every conversation a gear in some great diegesis-generating machine.  Gardeners start with a small seed of an idea, usually an interesting sentence or some image that stuck in their mind, and pour words on it to see where this concept germinates to.  You have wild flourishes of plot that don’t go anywhere and need to be pruned, vines that creep off into shadow and die sad, unknown deaths.

Sequels, I suspect, are a plotters’ best friend.  They’ve done all the hard work – the characters and setting and motivations are in place.  Now drop an inciting incident in and we have novel!

But if you’re a gardener, well, you’re taking an existing garden and trying to garden harder. 

As such, THE FLUX was a difficult book. 

Now, no one was more surprised than me to discover that FLEX found an audience – I’d like to say I wrote a very personal novel, but that makes it sound like I wrote a memoir of my boyhood days down at the old fishin’ hole.  Whereas in truth what I did was to take my obsessions and magnify them into a weird-ass tale of magic – hey, I can play Fallout 4 for twenty hours straight, how can I turn videogames into magic?  Hey, I love eating donuts, can I have an old guy who does psychological testing based on donut choice?  I love both spunky children and fire, can I throw a spunky child into a scarring fire and generate a plot from that?

And I could.  Sorta.  I tacked on a framework of BREAKING BAD, but then threw away all the stuff I found disinteresting, which is to say screw the anti-hero, I wanted a hero hero who filled out forms, had a deep respect for rules, and was a nebbishy little man who would do the right thing when the world crashed down on his doorstep. 

Then I made him brew drugs.

So for the sequel, I floundered for a bit.  I knew that Paul, our hero, had only sort of saved his daughter – he’d kept her safe, but now she knew what the dark underbelly of magic looked like, and she was pissed as only a very young child can get.  I wanted to see what happened when you gave a small child immense power, so immense that no adult could rein her in, and see what happened when you took the reins off a kid who was furious at the world.  And what would that do to her father, who had proven in the first book that he’d do anything to keep her safe, and yet now she was trying to hurt people? 

The first ‘mancer book was, essentially, “Can Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, be both a decent father and stay obsessed with the magic he so dearly loves?”  Which was a delightful inversion on a question usually only women get asked, which is, “Can a parent really have it all?”  And it was established that Paul could, or at least everyone who knew him thought he could.

The question in Book Two then had to be, “Well, what kind of father is Paul then?” 

Because, I knew, every father has two things they fail at.  The first is protecting their children.  And that’s a horrible thing to say, of course fathers protect their kids – but I’d watched my six-year-old goddaughter Rebecca waste away from brain cancer.  She died as I held her.  And I remember the parents of Rebecca’s friends – for she was loved, so well-loved – taking six-year-old girls and explaining that sometimes, people die.  For inexplicable reasons.  In terrible ways.  And while not every parent has it that bad, eventually every father – every parent – comes to a point where there’s a bully they can’t save their kid from, a rejection they can’t handle, some monstrous unfairness.

And what you teach your child in that moment, whether it is rage or religion or resentment or resolution – is what they fundamentally become. 

What would Paul teach his daughter Aliyah about a world that hated magic, and therefore hated him? 

The other thing fathers fail at is in understanding their children.  If you have a child, you know right away there are secrets they keep in their sleep.  They may not understand that they are keeping it from you, with their angelic faces and eagerness to please, but even a two-year-old has a life of his own that he protects fiercely.  They play in different ways when you’re not around.  They rehearse their languages in their cribs.  And as they grow older, they start trying on different aspects of themselves, until in adolescence they become these incoherent collections of tics, trying on music and personalities and hobbies and discarding them just as quickly, because they want to find out how they are Not You. 

Aliyah has power.  And Aliyah had always been secretive.  And I realized that with that much at stake, she would lie to him, because she didn’t trust her father – he hadn’t protected her, and in fact it was her who rescued him at the end of FLEX.  In fact – spoiler warning - Aliyah flat-out murdered someone to protect her father, and what does that do to a six-year-old girl?

Especially when she could kill again, and nobody could stop her? 

The sequel flourished from that.  Because that was the question that drove the novel: Some people need killing.  Do you want to be the person who does that?  And yes, in THE FLUX there are all sorts of those personal things I added – my love of Fight Club as a romantic comedy, my adoration of comic books, my deathly love of fire – but in the end, they all spiraled around this central issue of a girl who wants revenge upon the world that would hurt everyone she loves, and what sort of person she becomes when her father is not watching her. 

I decided to test the limits of what a parent can do.  And it’s painful, and it’s personal, and THE FLUX is every bit as much me as FLEX was, and let me tell you how glad I was to find that out. 

It should be out now.  And you may like it, you may not, but I guarantee you that by the end, you’ll know what kind of father Paul Tsabo is. 

Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.

Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP.

He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.

Find Ferrett online at or follow him @ferretthimself on Twitter.

Ferrett Steinmetz
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REVIEW : Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff


The main reason why I get a tingling sensation whenever I am about to open a new book by Lauren Groff is because I am never sure what am I about to get. If there one thing that you can say about Groff's writing it is the fact that it has been constantly surprising. She dares to challenge herself and her latest, and by far the finest novel, "Fates and Furies" is no exception. "Fates and Furies" is a relationship saga, but one which strikes at the matter from the most unexpected perspective.

What if the people in a relationship truly loved each other? What if no one is actually a bastard? How to survive in those circumstanes? It's an innovative and, to me at least, a completely new concept to base a book upon. It's only after you start reading it that you can truly appreciate how refreshing it feels. If you think about it, relationship books where one or the other partner commits adultery, is unhappy or unfulfilled are ten a penny but you can't probably remember a single book which says otherwise.

"Fates and Furies", in short, explores the foundations of a great marriage and everything that takes to make it to stay great despite the ravages of time. If you've ever been in a long term relationship you'll know very well that it is not as easy as it seems. Love is not enough on its own because there's work, money and outside world to deal with and they will always seep through and cause trouble no matter how tough your barriers are.

Charting a period of some twenty-four years, Groff introduces as to Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder, a couple just made for each other. We initially meet this young, beautiful and fiercely ambitious couple, in their glory days, when the sparks are just flying. As years ticks by the couple continuously re-invent their opinion of each other, learning to appreciate the changes all anew and surprisingly, not least to themselves, discovering that they actually still like each other even after all the changes. While on the outside they marriage is the envy of all their friends, inside the bubble both Lotto and Mathilde realise how preciously fragile the whole thing is. They work hard (and always harder and harder) to keep everything afloat.

As the second part of the novel kicks in you truly get to realise the genius of Groff's writing here. The interconnectedness of everything that occurred before finally becomes obvious as each and every single action builds up to a bigger picture. Naturally, due to the nature of relationship, there two perspectives to everything and these are reflected against the Greek mythology and furies - "those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath ".

As a sum of a whole, "Fates and Furies" is nothing less than a brilliant and fiendishly clever exploration of a marriage and everything else that follows it. It succeeds against all odds and opens a brave new chapter for Groff.

Review copy provided by William Heinemann
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REVIEW : Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago


When Sven Hassel died peacefully in Barcelona in 2012 he left behind fourteen monumentally popular novels about life in the wartime German army. Sven Hassel was actually a pen name of the Danish-born Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen who moved to Germany in 1937 to join the army. His reason were not related to ideology but rather to that great migration motivator - chronic unemployment and the Great Depression. Hassel was so desperate for work that he even tricked his way into joining Wehrmacht - he simply wasn't a German citizen which was a prerequisite. As luck would have it two years later Hassel was part of the invasion of Poland. He was a tank driver. Subsequently he tried to escape the ranks but ended up taking part in many battles on almost all fronts, and reaching the rank of lieutenant. He even received the Iron Cross for his war effort, one of the highest German military decorations.

The rest of Hassel's life was/is shrouded in mystery (was he captured and interned at prisoner-of-war camps or was it all just an elaborate lie?) but ever since he published his debut novel "Legion of the Damned" in the 1953, he's been a literary sensation, selling over 55 million books in his lifetime. It's easy to see the appeal. Hassel draws from his own experience to create authentic account of the war as seen from the other side. Hassel himself often appears as a character, and the books track the exploits of a 27th Penal Panzer regiment, an atypical ragtag band pulled together by the circumstances. The books are unflinching in their brutality and filled with characters who desperately want to survive, no matter what it takes. They understand that they're taking part in a conflict that's far above their station. Rules and conventions are often ignored, and the sheer sadness and desperation of everyone's involved makes the entire series as one of the best weapons against the war.

"Wheels of Terror" is probably the most famous of Hassel's novels. It is the only one that was made into the film and to my knowledge the only one that was translated to Germany. I was thrilled when I found out that Wiedenfeld & Nicolson have decided to mark the 70th anniversary of the conflict's conclusion with the graphic adaptation of it, especially when it was announced that the illustration were to be done by the Spanish artist Jordy Diago. The end result is stunning. Diago's illustrations perfectly capture all the brutality and the hopelessness of the war and the manic desperation of 27th Penal Panzer regiment as they’re forced to do the most despicable things to survive. The novel itself was given a graphic novel treatment by the Sven Hassel's family and every word stays true to the spirit of the book. The opening chapter is more than enough to send shivers down the spine and the second one will make you weep.

It is simply the passages such as this:

"Dead, dead, only the dead.

Parents, children, enemies, friends,
piled in one long row, shrunken
and charred into fossils.

Those who have forgotten to weep,
would have been taught anew had they
stood behind the ghouls' squad,
and watched them at their work."

Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel is as much a classic of the anti-war literature as the original novel is. I urge you to get it.  

Review copy provided by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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REVIEW : Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson


Unless George R.R. Martin suddenly drops "The Winds of Winter", the new Mistborn novel by Brandon Sanderson will for many of us be the biggest fantasy literature event of the year. The importance of the original Mistborn trilogy is hard to explain in just a couple of paragraphs but the main thing for me was not its fantasy credibility but the fact that it was so approachable without being needlessly brutal or disturbing. And yet, it had all the stalwarts of the fantasy: both likeable and despicable complex characters, story, setting, action sequences, romance, and incredible magic system. To put it simply, it gave an easy and intelligent entry into the world of the contemporary fantasy to many people who would otherwise discard the genre as whole. It is a trilogy which still I tend to recommend to everyone willing to give fantasy a go.

After the original trilogy was published, Sanderson released "The Alloy of Law", a playful story set centuries after the initial events. "The Alloy of Law" was a different kettle of fish and introduced us to Waxillium Ladrian and Wayne who live in an evolved world, filled with technology and other paraphernalia. It was a strong miss-direction on the part of Sanderson and a book no-one really expected - a Victorian western set within the magical system as introduced in the Mistborn trilogy. Strangely, to everyone surprise, the whole thing clicked together remarkably well so I was incredibly excited when it was announced that Wax and Wayne will appear again in three further books, first of which, "Shadows of Self" is here.

"Shadows of Self" continues with the western theme but luckily for all of us, it doesn't take itself too seriously. For example, the prologue opens with the following:

Waxillium Ladrian, lawman for hire, swung off his horse and turned to face the saloon.
"Aw," the kid said, hopping down from his own horse. "You didn't catch your spur on the stirrup and trip."
"That happened once," Waxillium said.
"Yeah, but it was super funny."

Prologue goes further to describe the initial meeting of Wax and Lessie and even goes to playfully make fun of the "High Noon" through the slapstick action that follows. The story jumps forward seventeen years and Wax, Wayne and Marisa after a romp through the slums, are soon investigating a mass murder at an "auction" event.

Similarly to the previous instalment, "Shadows of Self" is easy to love. It's approachable and Elendel has developed even further. There's primitive motorcars about, driven expertly by Marasi, and Sanderson introduces them masterfully and logically to his creation. There are plenty of beautiful passages worth quoting, for example, my favourite: as our trio approaches the slums. Sanderson describes the place as:

"The tall, compact tenements cast deep shadows even in the afternoon. As if this were the place dusk came for a drink and a chat before sauntering out for its evening duty."

There’s no escaping the fact that "Shadows of Self" is not as revolutionary as the original trilogy but it is a wonderful new addition to the series which I deeply love and it completely fulfilled my rather high expectations. It is a literary equivalent of a big-budget action flick that's impossible not to finish in a single sitting. Riveting stuff.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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After You Die by Eva Dolan cover art and synopsis

After You Die by Eva Dolan will be published on January 3, 2016 by Harvill Secker


Dawn Prentice was already known to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit.

The previous summer she had logged a number of calls detailing the harassment she and her severely disabled teenage daughter were undergoing. Now she is dead – stabbed to death whilst Holly Prentice has been left to starve upstairs. DS Ferreira, only recently back serving on the force after being severely injured in the line of duty, had met with Dawn that summer. Was she negligent in not taking Dawn’s accusations more seriously? Did the murderer even know that Holly was helpless upstairs while her mother bled to death?

Whilst Ferreira battles her demons, determined to prove she’s up to the frontline, DI Zigic is drawn into conflict with an official seemingly resolved to hide the truth about one of his main suspects. Can either officer unpick the truth about mother and daughter, and bring their killer to justice?

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A New Open Door Period at Angry Robot

The Open Door period at Angry Robot will last from 1 December 15 to 31 January 2016.


More detailed notes are coming soon. For now, the message is simple:

- The next Angry Robot Open Door opens December 1st 2015
- It will close on January 31st 2016
- It will be open to full-length science fiction and fantasy novels
- We want to buy and publish the best of these books on the Angry Robot list
- Angry Robot have found a notable clutch of fabulous writers from Open Door in past – this time, it could be you.

More details here

The story behind Fatal Catch by Pauline Rowson

Fatal Catch, is the twelfth in the DI Andy Horton series and like the others it is set against the atmospheric backdrop of the sea on the South Coast of England. The sea has always held a fascination for me, probably because I was raised in the coastal city of Portsmouth with its vibrant waterfront, its great contrasts of modern and historic, its diverse multicultural population, its international port, its historic dockyard, fishing fleet and the home of the Royal Navy. Portsmouth Harbour is one of the busiest in the World and the Solent offers up every kind of sailing vessel you could wish for from giant container ships to ferries, naval ships to leisure craft, fishing boats and even a regular hovercraft service. Once the sea is in your blood it never leaves you and it seemed only natural for me to turn to it for inspiration for my crime novels.

In Fatal Catch two fishermen haul a gruesome catch – a human severed hand. Who does it belong to and where is the rest of the body? Is it the hand of missing criminal Alfie Wright? DI Horton is determined to get to the bottom of the case, but the deeper he digs, the more lies and secrets he uncovers. Soon Horton finds himself immersed in a complex case where everyone has a reason to lie and no one is who they seem. Assailed by doubts both in his personal and professional life, Horton desperately tries to keep his emotional feelings under control and his focus on his work. His instincts tell him to trust no one and believe nothing; he’s not sure though whether this time he’ll succeed. His investigations take him to Fareham Quay, in the upper reaches of Portsmouth Harbour and to the tranquil setting of Chichester Harbour to Thorney Island.

Despite my love of the sea and the fact that all my crime novels are set on and around the sea I confess though that I am a terrified sailor. My technical knowledge and experience of actually sailing (unless it’s on a ferry) is limited. This is not necessarily a bad thing because sometimes the more knowledge you have the more you are tempted to show it and put it in your novels and in so doing you risk the danger of it ending up reading like a manual. The same applies to knowledge of police procedure. OK, so I need some knowledge of how the police work but if I explained exactly how a major investigation is run then the novel would end up reading like a police manual, it is fiction after all. Likewise if I explained every nautical detail then the novel would be as stagnant as sludge.

So how do I research the nautical elements? Well, for this I draw on my husband’s expertise (an experienced and accomplished sailor) and I consult navigation charts and the tide timetables. For example, I’ll examine whether or not it is feasible for a body to be found where I have placed it and if the time frame is correct.   If the murder occurred in the past then I need to know the tide timetables on that day.

And it’s not only the time of the tides but the height that could make a difference to the plot or subplot. Can the type of boat the victim, suspect or my heroes, Andy Horton or Art Marvik, get into a certain harbour or marina on a certain day at a certain time? How deep is the harbour? Does it dry out at low tide? If so then I can’t possibly have the police launch motoring in and out of it whenever it suits them.

The reader will, of course, be unaware of this research. I don’t consider it a drudge. On the contrary I enjoy it and believe it’s important to get it right, because if it is real to me then it will be real to my reader wherever that reader is, the heart of America, China, the Commonwealth, or the UK. Whether that reader is living close to or thousands of miles from the sea, I want him or her to be able to smell the sea, to see it, feel it, taste it and experience it through the words on the page, and if I can achieve that then that’s what I call a perfect setting for a crime novel.

Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton series of marine mystery police procedural crime novels and of the new marine crime series featuring former marine commando, Art Marvik as well as standalone thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill.

The first in the Art Marvik series Silent Running is published by Severn House and is available in hardcover and as an ebook. It will be published in paperback in Spring 2016.

The latest in the DI Andy Horton series, Fatal Catch, is published by Severn House in hardcover. It will be published as an ebook on 20 December 2015.

You can read more about Pauline Rowson and subscribe to her newsletter on her website .

You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter and Like the DI Andy Horton Facebook Page.

Pauline Rowson
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Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama cover art and synopsis

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama will be published on March 3, 2016 by Quercus Books



For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter's kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again.

For the fourteen years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police's apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as 'Six Four'. They would never forgive the authorities their failure.

For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he'd known what he would find.

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REVIEW : Pedigree by Patrick Modiano


I have just found an astonishing piece of data. The Guardian article states that prior to his Nobel win, Modiano had sold just 266 books in the UK in 2013, and 284 in 2012. As you would expect, after the win was announced the demand skyrocketed. Published together with his most recent novel "Pour Que Tu Ne Te Perdes Pas Dans Le Quartier" (English title: "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood"), "Pedigree" is the second of MacLehose Press' English translations of Patrick Modiano's works. Initially I thought that the publication of "Pedigree" is a rather odd choice considering the fact that the vast majority of Modiano's bibliography hasn't been widely available to English readers, or even translated to English, but having just finished it, I can certainly see the appeal. It is a memoir unlike any other I have ever read. It is special because instead of relying on a chronological stream of events Modiano has decided to focus on everything that built him into a person that he's today. This includes everything from a period in which he lived in (post-war years), people (mainly his parents) that surrounded him and the city (Paris) as a living, organic entity.

As it usually does, Modiano's melancholy stems from his childhood. In post-war Paris, Modiano's was a child of an actress mother Louisa Colpeyn and a businessman father Albert who were never there for him. He usually spent his time in care of the others or in boarding schools, and even those few memories of time spent together is troubled in one way or another. This tumultuous period means that he was constantly on the run, feeling confused and unloved. Then there is that oft-repeated tragic story of his brother who dies when he was just eleven. But if any of these give the impression of a cohesive tale you would be mistaken. "Pedigree" reads more like a series of vignettes, and if some of the French reviews is correct, there is even a question about the veracity of some of the episodes. Admittedly it covers only the first 20 or so years of his life, a period that's at the best of times obscured by the veils of memory

Modiano's constant readers will recognize many familiar elements in "Pedigree", elliptic storytelling and metaphors he does so well are abundant. I found this poignant read to be both enchanting and unsettling. If you enjoyed "So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood" and are willing to explore Modiano's work at length "Pedigree" is, at the moment, your best choice for the next read. Whether you take its words for granted or approach it as a work of fiction, it is ultimately up to you.

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press
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REVIEW : The Traitor by Seth Dickinson


You might excused to think that fantasy as genre has lost its steam ages ago. It's a strange position when a genre that started as a flight of outlandish imagination has turned into something that my historian friend likes to call a place where people who like history go when they can't be arsed to be finish a degree and do proper history. It is an unfair remark but one that perhaps has a grain of truth. Reading recent fantasy literature often feels like reading a history book, only without those pesky historical figures and events that only serve to limit the story. You can't even find a book that does decent magic anymore (ok, I'm exaggerating for the sake of the argument). Seth Dickinson's debut novel "The Traitor" occupies this exact quasi-historical territory but is a stark reminder why this kind of fiction is more than welcome and why, in my opinion, it is absolutely necessary. It is a simply impressive and original feat, and best of all, it simply would never worked as a proper historical novel.

Seth Dickinson's allegorical tale revolves around Baru Cormorant, a young woman who manages to survive through some of the most horrific tragedies through the sheer power of her hate and determination - by bidding her time until she finally gets her chance to exact revenge. Story is a familiar one. When the advanced Empire of Masks came to the small fishing village of Taranoke, they effectively conquer and destroy her culture through the power of commerce. After outlawing the local customs, homosexuality and killing many, including one of her fathers who was serving in army, she still somehow manages to calm herself and join the Masquerade. As an insider working within the ranks, through her career she is climbing the power ranks and discovering the very secrets that will form the Empire of Masks' downfall. However, her path is not easy. To succeed she must become the very thing she hates. For example, as a final test she's tasked with bringing to the heel the distant Aurdwynn. Place full of rebels fighting the ideals close to her heart.

Baru Cormorant is a remarkably complex character. The range of her cold calculating schemes and master-planning have not been seen in literature since the days of K.J. Parker's Engineer trilogy and I imagine many will be torn apart with the events that are clinically delivered by Dickinson. He is clever at this sort of thing. While in the hands of some lesser authors Baru Cormorant might be seen like a sheer lunatic built by the post-traumatic stress, he takes us by the hand and leads us straight into the darkness, inviting us to embrace Baru for what she is. It's an interesting feeling as you'll be both sympathetic to Baru's cause but will also be disgusted by the many crimes she'll be forced to commit to accomplish it. There can be only one ending to her story but I will let you discover it for yourself.

As for Seth Dickinson, I can only applaud the sheer audacity and courage to deliver a book like this. It is a triumph of imagination and a powerful reminder of what fantasy is for. I am already looking forward to giving a copy to my historian friend and proving his theory wrong. History simply does not have a character like Baru Cormorant in it.

Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan
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REVIEW : Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz


After successfully tackling not one but two Sherlock Holmes novels (2011 House of Silk and 2014 Moriarty), Anthony Horowitz, OBE was approached by Ian Fleming's Estate about writing the new Bond novel, "Trigger Mortis". It would be a daunting task for everybody. To put it lightly, Bond novels written by other authors were rather a hit and miss affair. To be honest, I was slightly worried when I have heard about Horowitz being chosen as the next author in the series but not because he is a bad writer (quite the opposite, he is a fantastic one) but because Bond is always hard to do well. It all comes down to which flavour of Bond you prefer and I am all the way through for the one from the books. While I do enjoy watching the Bond movies they're simply nothing but a caricature of a vastly superb books. Ian Fleming's Bond is a damaged character. A product of its time and ideals, capable of failure and occasional fragility.

Luckily, there is no need to worry as, in contrast to say his latest Sherlock Holmes novel Moriarty, Horowitz didn’t try to reinvent the character but decided to fully and unashamedly take his inspiration from Fleming. In fact, there is even a bit of new Fleming “hidden” within its opening pages. Afterword explains that Horowitz discovered Fleming’s original treatment for a Bond TV series hidden within his papers and it is one of these fragments that is included in the novel opening's salvo - Bond's breakneck introduction to the world of racing. Together with the bits added by Horowitz this is by far the "Trigger Mortis" best part. It has everything from overarching conspiracy organised by none other than SMERSH, the return of Pussy Galore, Nürburgring Racing Circuit, and headlong jump into the cold lake from the topmost point of a castle owned by troubled and criminally insane Korean multimillionaire Jai Seung Sin. After this powerful sequence, "Trigger Mortis" furiously goes to the heart of the story. Photos found at said castle point Bond in the direction of USA's space programme and the infernal plan that could bring the whole country to its knees is slowly discovered.

Horowitz's Bond mimics Fleming's creation up to a fault. Horowitz has done his job so well that he even included all the bits that we hopefully all left behind since the 60s and 70s. In "Trigger Mortis" Bond is often sexist, and regularly underestimates woman but Horowitz masterfully offsets this with Jeopardy Lane, an incredibly capable female who saves his skin on more than one occasion.

In the end, "Trigger Mortis" is a great addition to the canon and probably the best Bond novel not written by Fleming. Against all odds, Horowitz has somehow succeeded in capturing Fleming's spirit and produced a book that actually feels authentic. If you like Bond, you're in for a treat.

Review copy provided by HarperCollins
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Tickets to a Gollancz Festival 2015 day for aspiring writers go on sale


Gollancz is delighted to share two substantial updates regarding The Gollancz Festival. Firstly, the full schedule of events, including the topics for discussion and selection of panellists, at the events in Manchester, 16 October, and London, 17 October, is now available at

Secondly, Gollancz is launching an additional Waterstones Piccadilly-based event for at aspiring writers on Sunday 18 October, from 12 until 3pm!

Tickets to The Gollancz Festival 2015 at London Piccadilly sold out in an astonishing three weeks. Subsequently Gollancz received a number of messages and tweets from disappointed genre fiction fans who missed out on purchasing tickets. Many of them are part of writing groups or identified themselves as aspiring authors. Inspired by their messages, Gollancz have decided to launch ‘The Gollancz Festival for Writers’ from 12 until 3pm on Sunday 18 October, tickets priced at £8 (£6 for Waterstones card holders). The event is aimed at aspiring writers and anyone looking for an insight into an author’s process. It will include talks from Ben Aaronvitch, Joe Abercrombie, Joanne Harris and Joe Hill, as well as a panel of talented debut authors discussing ‘the trials and tribulations of their first year in print’. Please see the full programme and buy tickets here.

Publishing Director, Gillian Redfearn said: ‘Gollancz has always encouraged new writers so I’m thrilled that we’re able to offer a bespoke event focused on helping them to build their craft. We’ve developed a programme of practical and inspiring talks from genre-leading authors, and debut novelists, as well as industry-leading agents and editors’.

A small number of tickets for the Manchester Gollancz Festival from 16 October 6 – 9pm, are still available for £8. Please book now to avoid disappointment. At Waterstones Deansgate, there will be two rooms featuring 3 hours of action-packed programming. In both rooms attendees will see the same brilliant line-up featuring more than 20 authors with headline names including Ben Aaronovitch, Joe Abercrombie, Joanne Harris, Brandon Sanderson and, in a new addition to the bill, Joe Hill. You can book tickets at

Tickets to The Gollancz Festival, London Piccadilly, 17 October from 2–7pm, are now sold out, but for those who have purchased tickets the programme is now available. While those haven’t been able to buy tickets are welcome to join us on Sunday 18 October at ‘The Gollancz Festival for Writers’ or at Gollancz Festival events at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Order tickets for the Manchester Gollancz Festival

The Sea Hates A Coward by Nate Crowley cover art and synopsis

The Sea Hates A Coward by Nate Crowley will be published on October 9, 2015 by Abaddon Books


Schneider Wrack was never a dissident. But since he’s serving the sentence anyway, he may as well become one.

Because in the city, the sentence for sedition is death. Death, and then reanimation, before being shipped out to Ocean to work until you fall apart – or something gets you. There’s always a need for fresh bodies in Ocean. In the 70 years the city has been under siege, it’s been the only place to get food, and so the whaling barges work night and day to haul in enough meat to keep three million people from the edge of starvation. Human labour isn’t an option – Ocean’s too big, too cruel, too full of monsters – so it’s the dead that man the whaleboats. They’re meant to be mindless, empty vessels, but the procedure isn’t perfect. Schneider has woken up months into his sentence, trapped in a living hell of meat and brine, and he’s not happy.

It’s going to take a lot to stir the workforce into revolt; few of them have all their original limbs, and fewer still can remember their own names. But you’ve got to do what you can with what you’ve got.

It’s time to bring hell back to the city.

Order The Sea Hates A Coward by Nate Crowley here:

REVIEW : The Watchers by Neil Spring


Since the 1970s Broad Haven, a small Welsh village situated in South Pembrokeshire is best known not for its beautiful beaches but for being the place where a significant number of UFO sightings took place. Dubbed by The Sun as the Broad Haven Triangle, Broad Haven is notable for being not only the place where the flying saucers were seen but where some of the residents claimed to have saw the actual aliens. When National Archives in 2012 eventually released the files examining these UFO sightings nothing much has been explained but significantly, the examiners suspected that the whole thing was just an elaborate joke. It is around these events that the long anticipated second novel, "The Watchers", by Neil Spring is loosely based upon.

Similarly to his extraordinary debut "The Ghost Hunters", "The Watchers" is an atmospheric chiller influenced by the works of great M. R. James. The story revolves around Robert Wilding's troubled life and his lifelong struggle to find what happened to his mother at an anti-nuclear protest at a nearby military base. Even in his adult life Robert Wilding is still suffering from the consequences. If he doesn’t his pills he's has truly horrific nightmares that hark back to one fateful night at the lighthouse. He can't even force himself to remember the days he spent at his continuously frightened grandfather's Ravenstone farm after his parents died in an accident in 1963. Back in 1977 he is finally making headway into his ongoing investigation and as he's preparing to submit his findings on the mysterious Project Caesar to the defence committee when he receives a dire warning to back off. In between all this, in his private life Robert is lusting after his roommate Selina. The catastrophic turn of events as the committee session was taking place changes everything for him. Selina ends up in a coma, and it is soon revealed that she knew much more than she let on.

"The Watchers" starts slowly and initially I found it slightly hard to read mostly due to the fact that I didn’t like Richard very much. He's a troubled character built on distrust and I have to admit that I found reading some of his passages grating (for example see the following: "I looked up to see Selina framed in the living-room doorway, slender as a willow, a blue towel rather disappointingly covering her breasts, though the sight of her still-damp thighs was pretty gratifying") but when the story finally started unfolding I instantly remembered why I liked "The Ghost Hunters" so much. It's that sense of malice that lurks just beyond the horizon. In the end, "The Watchers" turned up to be a worthy follow-up to its predecessor. It is a deliciously atmospheric old-fashioned Gothic story that is just perfect for a rainy afternoon.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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