Wednesday, 23 July 2014


The 2 books here could have been 3 as I have Keilson’s The Death of an Adversary also on the shelves. Probably not crime fiction more regarded as literature I suppose, though any rational analysis of the Nazis couldn’t but help classify them and some of the unthinkable acts they perpetrated as criminal.

Keilson wrote his first book in the 30’s, which was banned by the Nazis. He fled to the Netherlands later and was a part of the Dutch resistance during World War II. For more details on a fascinating life check his Wikipedia page here.

He never received much acclaim outside the Netherlands until he celebrated his 100th birthday. Cue international fanfare and trumpets. He died a year later aged 101 in 2011.

In 2010 he was featured in The Guardian and was tagged “the greatest novelist you’ve never heard of.” The following year they were publishing his obituary.

Links to both pieces are here and here

Comedy in a Minor Key

"The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces and Hans Keilson is a genius... Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world's greatest writers."
Francine Prose   

A penetrating study of ordinary people resisting the Nazi occupation - and, true to its title, a dark comedy of wartime manners - Comedy in a Minor Key tells the story of Wim and Marie, a Dutch couple who first hide a Jew they know as Nico, then must dispose of his body when he dies of pneumonia. This novella, first published in 1947 and now translated into English for the first time, shows Hans Keilson at his best: deeply ironic, penetrating, sympathetic, and brilliantly modern, an heir to Joseph Roth and Franz Kafka. In 2008, when Keilson received Germany's prestigious Welt Literature Prize, the citation praised his work for exploring 'the destructive impulse at work in the twentieth century, down to its deepest psychological and spiritual ramifications.'

Published to celebrate Keilson's hundredth birthday, Comedy in a Minor Key - and The Death of the Adversary, reissued in paperback - will introduce American readers to a forgotten classic author, a witness to World War II and a sophisticated storyteller whose books remain as fresh as when they first came to light.

Life Goes On

Published when the author was just twenty-three, Life Goes On is an autobiographical novel that paints a dark portrait of Germany between the world wars. It tells the story of Max Seldersen - a Jewish store owner modelled on Keilson's father, a textile merchant and decorated World War I veteran - along with his wife, Else, and son, Albrecht, and the troubles they encounter as the German economy collapses and politics turn rancid. The book was banned by the Nazis in 1934. Shortly afterward, following his editor's advice, Keilson emigrated to the Netherlands, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Life Goes On is an essential volume for fans of Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key and The Death of the Adversary. At the age of one hundred, with his one copy of the first edition of Life Goes On in hand, he told The New York Times he would love to see his first novel reissued and translated, too. 'Then you would have my whole biography,' he told them. He died at the age of one hundred and one.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


Lori Rader-Day author of The Black Hour was the latest participant in my Question and Answers session.

The Black Hour was reviewed here. Anyone who has an interest in crime fiction set in the world of academia could do a lot worse than read this one.

Lori’s website is here.

Many thanks to Lori for her generosity with her time.

Is the writing a full-time or a sideline-passion-hobby? What’s the day job?

I work a day job at a university near Chicago. Writing is still pretty much a full-time job, though. You just have to do it in the other hours you might have normally had time to do things like read, go outside, sleep.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

It was pretty cool to hear that the New York Times Book Review would be writing about The Black Hour. Stunning, actually. I think the two best moments are when I finished writing the first draft and when my agent sold the book.
From start to finish how long did The Black Hour take from conception to completion?

I wrote the first draft in about a year and a half, and then spent another year revising before submitting to agents. I'm glad I spent the time to feel confident in the draft.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

Very haphazard. I write during lunch hours many days, some evenings, some weekends. I wrote 10,000 words of The Black Hour while on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. You write when you can, I guessand I like to write, so why wouldn't I do it on vacation, too?
Who do you read and enjoy?

I love Louise Penny, Charles Todd, Catriona McPherson, Clare O'Donohue, Lynne Raimondo, and Terry Shames. Good mysteries, a broad spectrum of styles—all delightful women writers. (Well, Charles is a mother/son duo.)

Is there any one book you wish you had written? 

To Kill a Mockingbird. It's an all-time favorite, and you really only have to write that one and then you're done.
Favourite activity when not working? 

Reading, but I have a lot less time when I'm not working these days.
What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

My next book is Little Pretty Things, out next July. I'm almost done but all this Black Hour business has certainly slowed me down.
If I check back in a couple of year’s time, where do you hope to be with the writing?

I want to be writing solid suspense novels, maybe have a series or two going. I have ideas, but I might need to be cloned to get them all written.



God, drugs, corruption, and morality come together in this gripping tale of desperation

In Gasconade County, Missouri—once called the meth capital of the world—Deputy Sherriff Dale Banks discovers $52,000 hidden in the broken-down trailer that Jerry Dean Skaggs uses for cooking crystal. And he takes it. Banks knows what he did was wrong, but he did it for all the right reasons. At least, he thinks so. But for every wrong, there is a consequence.

Jerry Dean can’t afford to lose that $52,000—he owes it to his partners and to a crooked cop. He also can’t afford to disappoint the crazed and fearsome Reverend Butch Pogue, who is expecting Jerry Dean to deliver the chemicals the reverend needs for his next batch of meth. To avoid the holy man’s wrath, Jerry Dean sets in motion a series of events that will threaten Banks’s family, his life, and everything he thinks he knows about the world.

Matthew McBride's new novel, A Swollen Red Sun, is rough and ready suspense, encompassing a wide array of characters from the sour side of life, and smashing them together with vigorous and blunt prose." —Daniel Woodrell, author of The Maid's Version and Winter's Bone

"The words practically vibrate off the page in Matthew McBride's amped-up and intricately-plotted novel about meth freaks and dirty cops. Filled with scenes of both tremendous brutality and heartrending compassion, it is the best fictional depiction of the current drug epidemic raging across the Midwest that I have ever read." —Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All The Time

Praise from two authors who I have read and enjoyed, always has me optimistic as opposed to merely hopeful when embarking a new book!

I do like reading books concerning drugs, drug dealers and drug users – perhaps I’m an addict! Add in a mess of cops – straight, crooked and one halfway in-between – we’ll call him conflicted. Throw in an odd-ball, disturbed preacherman; the one with two wives, one of which is chained up in the cellar with a ball-gag in her mouth. Even the crooked cops won’t venture onto the mountain where Rev. Pogue is cooking up his crystal!

Dale Banks is the cop who cashes in after kicking over a mess of cat litter during a raid. Banks, a family man and an otherwise honest cop up until this point at least, succumbs to the temptation, in full knowledge of repercussions further down the road. Banks endangers his young family and straight-laced partner with his impulsiveness, but doesn’t regard returning the money as a viable option.

As events escalate and spiral into further violence; Jerry Dean - $52k light – hatches a plan to recover his money and with a glint of ambition in his eye, rescue Pogue’s young ball-gagged wife whilst taking over Pogue’s operation. All the while, Banks is trying to figure out who he can trust to combat the growing threat to him and his family and Banks’ nemesis on the force, a man with political aspirations starts cleaning away any links to his involvement in the meth trade.     

Fast and violent. Not everyone’s cup of tea but certainly mine. Extremely enjoyable, with an ironic twist at the end.

5 from 5

I have Matthew McBride’s debut sat on the pile, the enigmatically titled – Frank Sinatra in a Blender. To be enjoyed soon, I think.

I can’t find a website for him, but he’s on Twitter (@matthewjmcbride)

I accessed this one via Net Galley. A Swollen Red Sun is published and available now from Mysterious Press.


Sunday, 20 July 2014


Captain A-9
Elaine Ash aka Anonymous-9, author of Hard Bite and the forthcoming Bite Harder was kind enough to indulge me with a few questions and answers.
Hard Bite was enjoyed back in late 2012.

The 1st Short Story Collection (unread as yet) preceded the novel and Just So You Know I'm Not Dead - 3 short stories was read earlier this month and triggered the invitation to Anonymous-9 to answer a few questions on her writing and reading.

Hard Bite review
Just So You Know I'm Not Dead review

Is the writing a full-time or a sideline-passion-hobby? What’s the day job?

No matter if I'm getting paid big bucks for advertising writing or little bucks for fiction writing (although those bucks just took a jump), it's all writing all the time.

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

It happened yesterday. I'm researching my DREAMING DEEP novelette commissioned by Uncanny Books and I landed an interview with a seasoned tugboat captain down at the Port of Long Beach which is a high security place. The Los Angeles area is a notoriously difficult place to land interviews. There are so many writers competing for information, and with paparazzi crawling everywhere there's not a lot of trust. Suffice it to say in my experience landing interviews is rare and tough. But yesterday, my work preceded me. I breezed through checkpoints and clearances, people knew who I was and had read about me in advance, I was welcomed onto a high tech boat, I even got to sit in the captain's chair in the wheelhouse! Being able to do the research for my book unimpeded was the most satisfying moment so far.

From start to finish how long did Hard Bite and Bite Harder take from conception to completion?

Hmmm.  HARD BITE started as a short story in 2008 and the novel manuscript was turned in to Blasted Heath in 2011. So that was three or four years. It felt like a decade. BITE HARDER took about a year, maybe a little more. I wrote 100,000 words and threw out 52,000 before I was done.

No spoilers (and I haven’t yet read Bite Harder), is there scope for a 3rd Sid the Monkey novel?

Yes, and it's in the outline stage. Allan Guthrie says I should call it THE LAST BITE and if I have another book after that I can call it THE SECOND LAST BITE. Ha.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I mess around at home putting writing hours in around everyday life until I hit a snag. Then I head for the desert and an empty condo that a Canadian pal keeps in Palm Springs. Once there, I put in 15, 16 hours per day. I allow myself out once per day in the car to eat at a restaurant and twice to go out for a walk or exercise. Other than that, I'm in a chair writing. My body often aches and I sleep on the couch so I can get up and jot stuff down in the middle of the night. I have no phone, no internet, no friends there, and I write everything in longhand, no typing or revising. The desert is all about tapping the imagination. It allows for deep concentration on the characters until the story becomes more real than the cloistered life I'm engaged in. I'll do that for 5 days at a time and then come home.

Do you insert family, friends and colleagues into your characters? Would they recognise themselves?

No. Although I'm always accused of that and find it rather arrogant on the part of the accuser.

Are there any subjects off limits as far as your writing is concerned?

No subject handled right should ever be off limits. Political correctness is a strait jacket writers need to shred and then burn in a dumpster.

What are the last three books you’ve read?

Who do you read and enjoy?

Chandler, Cain, Jim Thompson, I'm always seeking noir and if it has a funny, ironic edge so much the better.

Do you have any literary heroes?

Horror master H. P. Lovecraft  surfaces again and again in my life to feed me. I'm so moved that he died sick and penniless, writing stories that then swept the world. His legacy provides livings for thousands of writers connected to his work including me.

Is there any one book you wish you had written? 

THE GRIFTERS by Jim Thompson is so emotionally complex with that chilling mother-son relationship. Anything by James M. Cain.

Favourite activity when not working?

I take an hour a day to exercise and listen to music and lectures on my iPod. I enjoy range shooting, guns, Las Vegas for everything except gambling, Texas, Brit Grit as coined by Paul Brazill and furthered by Keith Nixon.

What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

See the answer on the tugboat research.

If I check back in a couple of year’s time, where do you hope to be with the writing?

I'll have a movie deal and HARD BITE will be in production. That's what happened for Douglas Lindsay (also published by Blasted Heath) and I hope it will happen for me. The HARD BITE series will still be going strong. The DREAMING DEEP series will be selling hand over fist for Uncanny Books. My newest and as yet unpublished series called CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS about a down-on-his-luck musician will have taken off (the first novelette is finished), and I'll be able to live modestly on the proceeds of my stories. If that sounds ambitious, I believe in dreaming!

Thanks again to Elaine-Anon-9. Bite Harder is out in September, published by Blasted Heath. The Blasted Heath website is here.

Saturday, 19 July 2014



For sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic—until a student she’d never met shot her. He also shot himself. Now he’s dead and she’s stuck with a cane and one question she can’t let go: Why her? All she wants is for life to get back to normal. Better than normal, actually, since life was messy before she was shot. Then graduate student Nathaniel Barber offers to help her track down some answers. He’s got a crush and his own agenda—plans to make her his killer dissertation topic. Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

"You know how wonderful it is to find a novel that you hate to put down? Lori Rader-Day's debut was just such a book for me. From its breathtakingly beautiful prose to its artful, escalating suspense, The Black Hour kept pulling me back for just one more page, one more chapter."
-JULIE HYZY, New York Times-bestselling author

"A terrific whydunnit! This dark page-turner of a puzzle-well-written, with bite and style and edge and simmering conflict-will keep you riveted from page one."
-HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author

"A riveting, ingenious first novel…. The Black Hour will linger with you weeks after you've read it."
-SCOTT BLACKWOOD, Whiting Award-winning author of See How Small

"Utterly compelling. The question at the heart of The Black Hour is original and engrossing, and I defy anyone not to devour the book to get to the answer…. A triumph."
-CATRIONA MCPHERSON, author of As She Left It

Another debut novel for me here and another mystery set in the world of academia, with the fictional setting of Rothbert University, a prestigious establishment at its heart. 

Our story is delivered by dual narrators. Firstly, Amelia Emmet as we pick up with her on her return to work, 10 months after being shot by a student, who then turned his gun on himself. Emmet is interesting as a character. She’s by turns, deserving of our sympathy as she struggles with the realities of her physical disability in the aftermath of the incident as well as the emotional distress she feels, especially returning to the scene of the crime. At other points she irritates and annoys with her treatment of those around her. On the whole mostly sympathetic, by virtue of her victim status but not really likeable. She’s flawed which is what makes her credible.

Our second narrator is Nathaniel Barber. He’s a post-graduate student, who has a bit of an obsession with violent crime and a fixation on Amelia’s shooting in particular. He wrangles his way into a job as Emmet’s teaching assistant. This comes across as a bit creepy, until we learn more about him. He’s a bit of a loner, is dis-connected from his father and still dealing with the aftermath of his mother’s death a year or so ago and the more recent break-up with his girlfriend. Less interesting than Amelia, but more sympathetic.

At the heart of the mystery is the quest for an explanation behind the shooting, which the police have decided was random. Both our narrators seek answers and have a common purpose in finding answers.

We are introduced to other professors and students at the university. We see the interactions between the teaching fraternity – the jealousies, the friendships, the barely concealed animosities and the competitiveness. There’s the head of department – a former love interest of Amelia’s, who has now married; there’s a reporter, traipsing around the campus, dogging Nath and Amelia; there’s the idle rich, silver-spooned, sailor-dude student and there’s the aloof and controlling co-ordinator of the student counselling service, designed to help depressed and suicidal, especially during The Black Hour.

Overall an enjoyable book, that had me flipping between suspects as it reached the climax.

4 from 5

Lori Rader-Day’s website is here.

Thanks to Meghan at Seventh Street Books for my copy.
Seventh Street are here.


Friday, 18 July 2014


A couple more from the shelves. Helen MacInnes was a Scottish-American author of espionage fiction. She produced over 20 novels in her lifetime and has been tagged as “The Queen of Spy Writers.” (Sunday Express)

She was first published in 1939 and produced on average a book every two years, the last being Ride A Pale Horse which appeared in 1984, a year before her death.

She was born and educated in Scotland and moved to the US in the 30's with her husband who worked for M16. 

Her books mainly concern World War II and The Cold War and often have romantic elements in addition to the spy-thriller theme.  

I’ve not read any of her books yet, but hope to rectify that sometime in the next year or so.  

The two here were published in the 60's originally.

Decision At Delphi

Just another routine overseas assignment. That's what successful young New York architect Ken Strang thought when a national travel magazine sent him to Europe to sketch Greek ruins. 
What he did not know, until it was too late, was that from the moment he boarded the ship, he had become the pawn in a murderous game of international intrigue.
To Strang, danger was no object. He could take care of himself, but he had reckoned without Cecilia, his beautiful photographer. When he fell in love with her, he gave his enemies the one weapon they needed.

The Double Image

While carrying out research in Paris, American historian John Craig is surprised when he runs into his old college professor. Sussman is a worried man. A survivor of Auschwitz, he in shock, having seen and been seen by one of the Nazis who tortured him in the camp. But SS Colonel Berg has been dead for ten years – or has he? Before Craig can help solve the riddle, Sussman is found dead and Craig is being questioned by the police. As various international organisations are drawn into the hunt for Sussman’s killer, he realises that the ex-Nazi is far more than just a wanted war criminal.

Soon Craig’s search for the truth takes him from Paris to the island of Mykonos, where he must unmask a dangerous and powerful foe.


I recently read and enjoyed Victoria's debut novel The Bone Church.

Over on her website, she describes herself as a Cold War Princess.
I come from the ultimate Cold War family – daring escapes, backyard firing squads, communist snitches, bowlfuls of goulash, gargoyles, gray skies and bone-chilling cold. It’s no wonder I became a writer – and one who inhabits that gray zone: gray politics, gray scruples, gray living.
My stories are true, made up and everything in between. They’re about spies, killers and dangerous pursuits, but they’re also about love. Love served cold. Of getting caught in history’s massive tailwind and blown to the other side of the world, yet despite everything, discovering the meaning of faith and love.

She was kind enough to humour me when I asked her some questions.

Is the writing a full-time or a sideline-passion-hobby? What’s the day job?

Writing is full-time for me. When I’m not writing fiction, I’m writing essays or speeches. I used to write and translate plays. I don’t think there’s been a time when I’ve not been writing.

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

I’d have to say publishing in the New York Times Modern Love column some years ago because the response was so immediate and overwhelming. It was also a very personal topic, which, being a very private person who likes to hide behind fictional characters was a new experience for me.

How important to you is " factual accuracy" when dealing with real events and people and places, or do you give yourself artistic license to take a few liberties?

I never let facts get in the way of a good story. That being said, I always do the research and I know exactly when I’m not being true to history. I think thematically, like a lot of fiction writers, so in my case I’m most interested in how human beings react under a tremendous amount of pressure and how historical forces not only change people’s lives, but their personalities. That’s what I always remain true to – the human condition – if not always the historical nitty-gritty.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I get up, get my kids out the door, exercise, write and then tend to my family again at the end of the day. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. And I love it.

Do you insert family, friends and colleagues into your characters? Would they recognise themselves?

I think it’s a common misperception for readers to believe that writers “model” characters after certain people. As if it’s a blueprint. In my experience, fiction writers call on every experience they’ve ever had. Not at once, of course, but the sequence is not linear. It’s haphazard and intuitive – like any piece of imagination. For me, fiction is like a conscious dream – you’re drawing on all sorts of things in ways that sometimes surprise you and the end result is rarely what you expected.

Are there any subjects off limits as far as your writing is concerned?

Perhaps writing about some horrific death of a child. As a mother, it’s very difficult to go there. It's cliche, but it's true.

What are the last three books you’ve read?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Time to Let Go by Christoph Fischer
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – which I’m reading with my son.

Who do you read and enjoy?

I love really good mysteries and thrillers – PD James, Tom Rob Smith, Daniel Silva, Alan Furst, and classic authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Those are my candy. But I’ll read from any genre, if it’s well done.

Do you have any literary heroes?

So many. Again, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bram Stoker, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee…I could go on and on and on.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?


Favourite activity when not working? 

Sipping a good whiskey on the porch with my husband. I have an illogically happy marriage.

What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

I’m in final edits for my second historical thriller, The Hungarian. An adventure, a spy-thriller and a love story, The Hungarian examines the intersection of three lives – a drifting ex-pat, a fugitive Russian diplomat, and a Hungarian assassin with a weakness for rich food and sadistic murder.

If I check back in a couple of year’s time, where do you hope to be with the writing?

Selling a lot of copies and interacting with my readers. I love reader back and forth - it's so much fun.

Many thanks to Victoria for her time and thoughts. I'm looking forward to her second book as and when it appears. There's a few of her short stories up on her website that I will make do with for the time being.