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The Collector of Lost Things is both a departure from and a continuation of the novels I’ve written before. It’s my first historical novel, but is also a story about frontiers, about nature, and about being haunted by the ghosts of your own past – themes I have often written about. In the novel, Eliot Saxby, a naturalist and collector, is hired to travel on a trading ship to the Arctic in 1845. He is searching for a great auk, a year after the bird has become extinct.

It took a lot of research to understand the background of the novel. Writing a book is always a journey, and when you embark on a journey such as this one, you have to be prepared. I studied shipwright plans in the maritime library at Greenwich, whaling, hunting and trading journals written by captains, gentlemen hunters and medical officers, and surveys of unexplored coastlines and nameless reefs. I studied the history of clothes and fashions, diets, ships’ stores, gun designs, social etiquette, delusion disorders, shanty songs, mechanics of binnacles, capstans, sails and rigging. In the natural world I studied bird migration, breeding habits, Arctic flora and fauna, ice formation, temperature, visibility and climate phenomena. I crawled around historic sailing ships and travelled in Norway, where every thousand metres in height is equivalent to five hundred miles further north, in climate. At a certain point, you begin to feel confident that you might be able to write about the world of the novel with some degree of authority, and at that point you have to try and forget much of your research, otherwise you will write a Wiki-novel, boasting about facts and figures, and forgetting the real business – that you must concentrate on telling a story and breathing life into your characters. Because without that, there is nothing.

In all the accounts I read there was an awe for the otherworldliness of the Arctic. To the 19th century mind, the Arctic must have been like space-travel is to us. I read about mystery and spiritualism, where distances were deceptive, the animals monstrous and impossible, and where the demands of temperature and existence put such a strain on men and women that visions and hallucinations became common. Coinciding with the Victorian interest in Spiritualism, séances and automatic writing, the Arctic seemed a perfect place for my setting of a ghost story or, at least, a story that has its own ghosts. In my novel Eliot Saxby travels to the Arctic, but he cannot escape himself. And he is haunted by events from his own past. He journeys to a place where the submerged can emerge. Repressed thoughts, suppressed memories – the top of the world removes realities and certainties one by one, leaving behind a sterile ice sheet that’s also a perfect Petri dish for delusions.

 

I have always been fascinated about frontiers. In my previous novels, Salt was about living on the edge of land, and The Wake was about crossing over that edge, into the sea. The Collector of Lost Things is about a similar frontier, in this case, the Arctic. I write about journeys with the assumption that they are both a physical and a mental event, and to write about a journey across such a vast landscape while being cooped up in the wooden confines of a trading ship was especially tempting. So on board Eliot Saxby is joined by a joking-sociopathic embroidery loving captain, an unknowable and distant first mate, a frostbitten ex-whaler for second officer, and a dandy-dressed gentleman hunter travelling with his enigmatic female cousin. Again, it’s basically an outer space story. They’re in a claustrophobic spaceship, with a limitless void outside.

Trying to inhabit the physical world of the Arctic was one thing, but getting inside the head of a narrator writing in 1845 was also a challenge. My starting point was the belief that a man one hundred and fifty years ago was essentially no different to me. Eliot Saxby would have similar passions, similar relationships to others and to the natural world as I do. But it soon became apparent there was one distinct difference: in that age there was virtually no voice to save the environment or, more specifically, to save a species that might become extinct.

The environmental context of the mid part of the 19th century was alarming: nature was being attacked on an industrial scale. Nearly 100 million bison had been slaughtered on America’s great plains, whale and seal catches were collapsing, wolves, bears and eagles had been almost entirely shot out of Europe, yet no one seemed prepared to stand up for the environment. Those we hold up as naturalists now were, in that time, also compromised hunters: Audubon nailed rare birds to boards in order to paint them. Charles Darwin was also a passionate hunter, with a taste for turtle soup.

Of all the species in peril, the demise of the great auk was the most startling. Unable to fly, without fear of man – in fact, with a real curiosity towards man – oily rich edible flesh and fine feathers perfect for pillows, this bird’s attributes were the perfect storm for an extinction. There are anecdotal stories of sailors mooring alongside the vast colonies of great auks on Funk Island in Newfoundland, putting a gangplank to the rocks, and then clubbing the birds one by one as they wandered onto the ship and stood by the cargo hatch. They became extinct in Scandinavia, then Canada, then Greenland. The last British great auk was killed on St Kilda, when it was found wandering on the beach and assumed to be a sea witch. By the beginning of the 1840s, there were a few dozen birds left, living on rocks off Iceland.

A curious and shameful endgame emerged: gradually at first, but then in a panic, museums and collectors wanted to have a specimen, before the inevitable extinction. The price upon their heads and upon their eggs became astronomical.

The last two great auks were strangled on 3rd July 1844, by three Icelandic fishermen. The egg between them was needlessly crushed.

That’s the story of what happened to the great auk. And the story in The The Collector of Lost Things is both a departure from and a continuation of the novels I’ve written before. It’s my first historical novel, but is also a story about frontiers, about nature, and about being haunted by the ghosts of your own past – themes I have often written about. In the novel, Eliot Saxby, a naturalist and collector, is hired to travel on a trading ship to the Arctic in 1845. He is searching for a great auk, a year after the bird has become extinct.

 

It took a lot of research to understand the background of the novel. Writing a book is always a journey, and when you embark on a journey such as this one, you have to be prepared. I studied shipwright plans in the maritime library at Greenwich, whaling, hunting and trading journals written by captains, gentlemen hunters and medical officers, and surveys of unexplored coastlines and nameless reefs. I studied the history of clothes and fashions, diets, ships’ stores, gun designs, social etiquette, delusion disorders, shanty songs, mechanics of binnacles, capstans, sails and rigging. In the natural world I studied bird migration, breeding habits, Arctic flora and fauna, ice formation, temperature, visibility and climate phenomena. I crawled around historic sailing ships and travelled in Norway, where every thousand metres in height is equivalent to five hundred miles further north, in climate. At a certain point, you begin to feel confident that you might be able to write about the world of the novel with some degree of authority, and at that point you have to try and forget much of your research, otherwise you will write a Wiki-novel, boasting about facts and figures, and forgetting the real business – that you must concentrate on telling a story and breathing life into your characters. Because without that, there is nothing.

In all the accounts I read there was an awe for the otherworldliness of the Arctic. To the 19th century mind, the Arctic must have been like space-travel is to us. I read about mystery and spiritualism, where distances were deceptive, the animals monstrous and impossible, and where the demands of temperature and existence put such a strain on men and women that visions and hallucinations became common. Coinciding with the Victorian interest in Spiritualism, séances and automatic writing, the Arctic seemed a perfect place for my setting of a ghost story or, at least, a story that has its own ghosts. In my novel Eliot Saxby travels to the Arctic, but he cannot escape himself. And he is haunted by events from his own past. He journeys to a place where the submerged can emerge. Repressed thoughts, suppressed memories – the top of the world removes realities and certainties one by one, leaving behind a sterile ice sheet that’s also a perfect Petri dish for delusions.

I have always been fascinated about frontiers. In my previous novels, Salt was about living on the edge of land, and The Wake was about crossing over that edge, into the sea. The Collector of Lost Things is about a similar frontier, in this case, the Arctic. I write about journeys with the assumption that they are both a physical and a mental event, and to write about a journey across such a vast landscape while being cooped up in the wooden confines of a trading ship was especially tempting. So on board Eliot Saxby is joined by a joking-sociopathic embroidery loving captain, an unknowable and distant first mate, a frostbitten ex-whaler for second officer, and a dandy-dressed gentleman hunter travelling with his enigmatic female cousin. Again, it’s basically an outer space story. They’re in a claustrophobic spaceship, with a limitless void outside.

Trying to inhabit the physical world of the Arctic was one thing, but getting inside the head of a narrator writing in 1845 was also a challenge. My starting point was the belief that a man one hundred and fifty years ago was essentially no different to me. Eliot Saxby would have similar passions, similar relationships to others and to the natural world as I do. But it soon became apparent there was one distinct difference: in that age there was virtually no voice to save the environment or, more specifically, to save a species that might become extinct.

The environmental context of the mid part of the 19th century was alarming: nature was being attacked on an industrial scale. Nearly 100 million bison had been slaughtered on America’s great plains, whale and seal catches were collapsing, wolves, bears and eagles had been almost entirely shot out of Europe, yet no one seemed prepared to stand up for the environment. Those we hold up as naturalists now were, in that time, also compromised hunters: Audubon nailed rare birds to boards in order to paint them. Charles Darwin was also a passionate hunter, with a taste for turtle soup.

Of all the species in peril, the demise of the great auk was the most startling. Unable to fly, without fear of man – in fact, with a real curiosity towards man – oily rich edible flesh and fine feathers perfect for pillows, this bird’s attributes were the perfect storm for an extinction. There are anecdotal stories of sailors mooring alongside the vast colonies of great auks on Funk Island in Newfoundland, putting a gangplank to the rocks, and then clubbing the birds one by one as they wandered onto the ship and stood by the cargo hatch. They became extinct in Scandinavia, then Canada, then Greenland. The last British great auk was killed on St Kilda, when it was found wandering on the beach and assumed to be a sea witch. By the beginning of the 1840s, there were a few dozen birds left, living on rocks off Iceland.

A curious and shameful endgame emerged: gradually at first, but then in a panic, museums and collectors wanted to have a specimen, before the inevitable extinction. The price upon their heads and upon their eggs became astronomical.

The last two great auks were strangled on 3rd July 1844, by three Icelandic fishermen. The egg between them was needlessly crusheCollector of Lost Things is what could persuade a man, in the 1840s, to awaken his sense of environmentalism. What kind of man, with what kind of past, could emerge with the modern sensibility of wanting to save something that was going to be lost, and pass it on with a sense of stewardship for future generations?

With the Arctic in such a current state of jeopardy and peril, with all these issues very much in our awareness, this historic novel might turn out to be the most modern novel I’ve written yet. 


Jeremy Page
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In this giveaway you can win one SIGNED copy of Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan. Giveaway is open internationally and lasts until 25th April, 2014.

You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line HOLLOW to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or a Facebook post related to a giveaway will give you an additional entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.

Thanks to Michael J. Sullivan for providing us with the copy!

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This was not the book I was supposed to write for my third novel.

I had already started writing a completely different “portal” fantasy novel, which was set in both contemporary North American and a vaguely Egyptian desert country. I’d already written about five chapters but I was struggling with it and my editor at Penguin was ambivalent.

I am not one of those writers blessed with a dozen ideas a day. I’m lucky if I get one decent idea a year. My track record on getting those ideas published was pretty good but the thought of abandoning the novel-in-progress and coming up with a completely different one was daunting.

With all of this in the back of my head, I was wandering around in a book store (my memory says it was The Sleuth of Baker Street mystery bookstore in Toronto but I may be completely wrong), looking at books and idly mulling over the kinds of things I liked to read and therefore might be able to write. I enjoyed reimaginings of fairy tales (such as Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood and Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Deerskin) and I’d always loved Beauty and the Beast, but how on earth could I ever do anything with it that hadn’t been done before?

I could make the beast a female vampire.

The minute the thought came, I knew absolutely that I not only would I want to read that book, I wanted to write it. When I told my editor, she was equally excited.

Once I had that, the rest seemed to come fairly quickly. I read a book called Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture by Bram Dijkstra and the Symbolist images by painters such as Gustave Moreau and Franz von Stuck were the perfect vehicles for conveying the fear and fascination inspired by the vampire Sidonie Moreau.

This also determined a setting that felt like the late nineteenth century, though I ended up grafting 1890’s Paris onto a landscape that was partly Northern Ontario and partly the Rockies. Using this era also allowed me to add echoes of Dracula, such as the journey into the wilderness, the wolves, and the remote castle.

The fairy tale framework meant that Sidonie herself became a completely different type of vampire than Ardeth and Rozokov of The Night Inside. She inhabited a world where magic and miracles were possible, which gave me freedom in a way the earlier books had not. (Interestingly, all of the female reviewers of the book knew immediately which fairy tale I was using but virtually none of the male reviewers recognized it).

My research for this book was quite enjoyable: I watched all the episodes of America’s Castles on A&E, I took an oil painting course that established my complete lack of artistic talent, and I looked at lots of art and period fashions. I had a bulletin board over my desk covered in Taschen postcards of Symbolist paintings, pictures of obscure romantic poets, and images of northern landscapes.

Once I started the actual writing, A Terrible Beauty took me just over three months to complete. I wrote for a couple of hours most days, as I was working freelance only one day a week at the time. Sarah McLachlan’s brilliant album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy had just come out and it was on permanent repeat on my stereo, the perfect accompaniment to the prose one friend described as “chilly, but in a good way”.

I didn’t know that after I finished it, I’d end up struggling for 20 years to finish my next novel, but I look back on A Terrible Beauty as the easiest, most pleasurable writing experience of my life.


Nancy Baker
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The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland will be published on August 14, 2014 by Headline

Synopsis:


The reign of Richard II is troubled, the poor are about to become poorer still and landowners are lining their pockets. It's a case of every man for himself, whatever his status or wealth. But in a world where nothing can be taken at face value, who can you trust?

The dour wool merchant?
His impulsive son?

The stepdaughter with the hypnotic eyes?
Or the raven-haired widow clutching her necklace of bloodstones?

And when people start dying unnatural deaths and the peasants decide it's time to fight back, it's all too easy to spy witchcraft at every turn.


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Siem Sigerius is a man of countless talents. Over the course of this book we see him as nothing less than an extraordinary mathematician, a judo champion, a university professor, director of the University of Enschede and to top it all, the minister of education. He is also enjoying a beautiful family life with his wife and two stepdaughters. He even likes his stepdaughter Joni's boyfriend Aaron and despite him being a truly intimidating presence the two strike an unlikely friendship, even starting to practice Judo together. However, behind the illusion of charmed life, Siem has a dark secret. His son from previous marriage is in prison serving time for murder and few people know about it. Now his son is about to be released and on the eve of this event his life unstoppable starts to unravel. This final collapse also coincides with the massive explosion at a fireworks factory and similarly to its disintegration, Siem's whole existence is unraveling in fragments. First he recognizes Joni's picture on one of the pornographic websites he frequents and as his son appears he's quick to blackmail him.

In "Bonita Avenue" Peter Buwalda has created a sprawling family drama which despite its relatively long length (it is over 500 pages long) flows like a thriller. It is wonderfully written and while I'm not sure whether this is due to an excellent translation or the beauty of the original text, i found the use of metaphors and descriptions so brilliant that I started marking some of them down. In Netherlands the book received an unprecedented critical acclaim and sold over 300.000 copies. It subsequently went on to win two literary prizes while being nominated for two more and I can definitely see why it impressed both the critics and readers so much. It is true that at certain points Buwalda does lose himself a bit in the sheer amount of details and elements but quickly enough he steadies his hand and as the family finally completed its descend into madness, I was profoundly shocked by the dark finale. An impressive chronicle of one family's downfall.


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Review copy provided by Pushkin Press.

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When people ask me how I came up with the idea for my novel, my answer is “very, very nervously.”

Let's face it: science fiction is a tough-ass genre. When you write sci-fi, you're expected to bend the rules of reality in a way that's plausible (no magic wands), using concepts that haven't been seen before (good luck), with an audience so jaded, they make Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons look genial. And they have every reason to be cynical. The sci-fi field is littered with literary cow flops. The last thing I wanted to do was leave a new pile.

That fear kept The Flight of the Silvers locked in my head for twelve long years. While my outer self dabbled with historical screenplays and slice-of-life novels, the inner me constructed a parallel Earth, a place where an unprecedented cataclysm in 1912 changed the path of history and introduced a whole new form of energy. Now restaurants sail through the air in huge metal saucers while common household appliances manipulate the flow of time. I populated my story with interesting protagonists—two sisters and four strangers who survive the end of our world only to find themselves embroiled in a life-or-death struggle in this alien America. They also get timebending superpowers.

By the time I turned thirty, I became hopelessly lost in my unwritten epic. I zoned out of meetings, missed exits on the freeway, brushed my teeth with Cort-Aid. I was obsessed with the story, and yet I still couldn’t find the nerve to write it. “Is this really how you want to spend your literary energy?” my anxieties asked me. “Writing about superpowered people on an alternate Earth?”

Sometime during my dilemma, I felt a strange pain in my midsection. One doctor appointment led to another, until I was suddenly hearing terms like “malignant,” “stage 2” and “aggressive chemotherapy.” Though I was lucky enough to get one of the more conquerable forms of cancer, I’d never suffered an illness with survival odds before. It was an eye-opening experience, one that realigned all my views and hang-ups. In the new light of day, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I was keeping The Flight of the Silvers on my mental back burner. This was the story I wanted to tell. So goddamn it, just tell it already.

Fortunately, I had a full and complete recovery. Even more surprising, my cancer struggle connected me to my characters in a way I’d never been before. I spent four years bringing the Silvers out of my head and onto a laptop. The novel on screen proved superior in every way to the one I’d envisioned. This is more than a tale about superpowered people on an alternate Earth. It’s a story of six human beings and their complicated relationship with mortality. It’s a story about time.

My agent soldthe manuscript in the first round of submissions. With the help of my excellent editor at Penguin, I improved the book even more. Now I’m slavishly chipping away at the sequel, trudging ever closer to the series finale I’d dreamt up fifteen years ago.

I can’t tell you if my story will be counted among the classics or cow flops of science fiction. I just know that writing it has been—and continues to be—one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m just glad the universe gave me a second chance to get over my fears and follow my dream. Somewhere out there, on a parallel Earth, there’s another me who wasn’t so lucky.


Daniel Price
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Hello Mark,

Thanks for taking part of in this short Q&A session. I have been reading your new novel Son of the Morning for the last couple of days and I find it very enjoyable. It is an impressive piece of work!

Thanks. Very kind!

Q: So what can you tell us about it? How it came to be?

It came from a ‘wouldn’t that be cool’ discussion I had with my editor. It was a bit Bill and Ted, really. ‘The Hundred Years War with angels and demons. Whoah! Guy! Awesome’. Then I went away, thought about it and saw how I could make it something really interesting. In short, the angels aren’t guaranteed to be the good guys, the demons are far from evil. Or so one point of view within the book would have you believe.

Q: The novel is set during the tumultuous period of The Hundred Years War. What made you choose this particular historical period?

It’s hugely fascinating, with some larger than life characters. Queen Isabella ‘She Wolf of France’, for instance could quite easily provide a novel’s worth of material on her own. Edward III is amazing - age 12 he was used by Roger Mortimer as a puppet to overthrow his father. Age 16, he snuck into the heavily guarded Nottingham Castle, abducted Mortimer and had him executed bound and gagged at Tyburn - the first execution there. At 16! I couldn’t be trusted to get on the right bus on my own at 16!
The 14th century is known as the most calamitous in European history and it has so many stories that need telling. I fell in love with the period while I was researching - as much as its possible to fall in love with mass slaughter, plague, shipwreck and religious obsession.

Q: Did you do a lot of research during the writing of the novel and if yes, how did you go about it? As someone who's a historical buff I found the amount of details staggering.

I’m a history buff myself so I start from a good position but I did an awful lot of research. First a read a general book on the period - Jonathan Sumption’s excellent Trial By Battle. Then I read every Osprey book on the period and several biographies of the main players. I also read a lot on medieval life, clothing, attitude to relics etc and researched things as I needed to know them. The Internet is a great resource. Also, you can track the Hundred Years War day by day almost. It’s great, for instance, to note that the king’s lodgings in Antwerp burned down on such a day and to speculate what might have caused that.

Q: The unique twist to "Son of the Morning" includes the ability of nobles to summon Angels or even to open the gates of Hell. What inspired this transition from fact to fiction ? Was it originally intended to be a historical novel or a fantasy?

It was conceived as a fantasy novel from the start. Fantasy’s in my blood and I love writing it. I also dreamed up the book’s rather warped cosmology almost immediately - the idea that Lucifer made the world and God usurped him and imposed hierarchy on humanity. I liked the idea because it immediately suggested some characters - in particular Dowzabel, who is a champion of the poor and worshipper of Lucifer.

Q: Apart from great characters, there's an epic feel to "Son of the Morning". Who were the authors who originally inspired you to write fantasy and what recent fantasy titles would you recommend to our readers?

Too many to list! Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip Pullman, Robert Holdstock, GRR Martin off the top of my head, along with some non fantasy writers such as Boris Pasternak (Dr Zhivago) and, er, I’m not going to say in case I sound pretentious!
I’d recommend Joe Abercrombie - I love what he’s done taking inspiration from westerns, Graham Joyce, though it’s not epic fantasy it’s still very good, definitely GRR Martin (he needs the publicity, I know) Scott Lynch, Simon Morden’s latest Arcanum is excellent, Nathan Hawke’s Gallow, Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas books are great fun. They’re the ones that pop into my head!

Q: You are also writing novels as M.D. Lachlan. Three novels published so far tackle Norse legends and myths in fantasy setting. Why two names and is there a difference to your approach to writing under each of them?

My MD Lachlan books take their inspiration from the darker side of Norse Myth. Son of the Morning has an entirely different feel. I read a lot of Chaucer for research and I wanted to get that mix of adventure, fun and colour into it. Wolfsangel took a lot of inspiration from Beowulf and I wanted that mud, blood and grey skies feel. Son of the Morning’s characters are more educated, more sophisticated and the story, language and plot reflect that. They’re totally different and we didn’t want people reading the books and thinking ‘hmmm, page 425 and still no werewolf’.

Q: So what follows next? Is there a sequel? I haven't finished "Son of the Morning" yet but I already know that I would love to read more.

Yes, I’m writing the sequel at the moment. It’s incredibly difficult to know where to begin, so in the end I’ve opted for a day after the end of the last book. So much happens in this century - the Black Plague is just around the corner now, revolution by the poor, anarchy in France. it can be difficult to do justice to it all.
 
Thank you for taking the time to answer these and good luck with "Son of the Morning"!

Mark Alder
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There is something pleasing about reading "Midnight Crossroad" by Charlaine Harris. Here's an author who proved her point and managed to finish her big series (with all the unnecessary controversy surrounding the release) and now, at the beginning of the post-Sookie era, she's gained a care-free quality to her writing. It's like the weight of stress is finally gone and first novel in the Midnight, Texas series feels much gentler. And true to form, in the afterword Charlaine writes about pleasures of starting up a new series, of creating a whole new world from scratch. However, "Midnight Crossroad" is not completely new and similarly to the way Stephen King tried to tie all his books into one huge piece of work with the final few installments of Dark Tower series, here Charlaine introduces lots and lots of cameo appearances from all her other series - some of which will be noticed only by her most attentive readers.

Tiny town of Midnight, Texas has a new resident. Manfred Bernardo, a working psychic who in this, quiet, peaceful town finds a perfect environment to do his business. He quickly strikes a note with couple of locals down at the diner run by Madonna. His illustrious company includes such characters as Bobo Winthrop, witch Fiji and Joe and Chuy. However, good things are not to last as on their first picnic together they discover a dead body - Bobo's girlfriend Aubrey. All the evidence is pointing towards Bobo who resolutely claims his innocence. As the mystery unfolds, it turns out that no-one in this small community is without its secrets and I've really enjoy the story eventually slots together. It is wonderful seeing how well this disparate ensemble works together. It's a tight night knit community but one every everyone is united together by the things left unsaid. What's also notable is that this is, as far as I can remember, first time Charlaine has written a story told from multiple points of view and she has done well.

"Midnight Crossroad" is a strong opener of the new series and often feels like a love letter from Charlaine to her faithful readers. This gentle mystery shows an author confident in her writing and perhaps heralds the arrival of the best stage of her work - one where she writes primarily because of the sheer love for writing. An excellent read. 


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Review copy provided by Gollancz.

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