EJ Knight’s Monthly Crime Reviews: October 2015

This month, EJ Knight kicks off a series of crime novel reviews with a diverse selection of serial characters.

When do you finish writing a popular series? Sue Grafton appears to have made her decision from the first novel as she gently winds our way with Kinsey Millhone and the alphabet series to ‘Z’; Janet Evanovich seems destined to go on forever and may be, even now, pondering what adjective or adverb to go with infinity; while Lindsey Davies took the clever step of a spin-off from the Falco novels. I found myself pondering ‘the end’ while I was reading The Survivor by Kyle Mills. Mills has been brought in to continue the Mitch Rapp series after Vince Flynn’s death. And, he almost pulls it off. The Survivor picks up immediately from where The Last Man finished and the race to find top secret material before it is posted on the internet. The action, as one would expect from the series, is unrelenting and the story, although predictable, is exactly what one reads this type of book for. But, for me, the characters were just not quite right – too introspective whilst, at the same time, being too flat. I’d completed the book before realising that Flynn had died and Mills was taking on the series and, as I read the last page, I wondered if it had been a book too far in the series. There is only one Mitch Rapp; and there was only one Vince Flynn to give him the right voice.

So as one series hits the ‘do not buy again’ list, I’ve discovered two new series this month which I would definitely read again, one which I’ll consider, and one which I may have caught as it finishes. Cover Shot by LynDee Walker is the fifth in the series featuring Nichelle Clarke, a journalist in a local newspaper who, in the pursuit of the full story, finds herself investigating murder, hostage-taking, and fighting for her own life. It’s the usual plot of an amateur detective but that would be to undersell what is a really well-written, well-paced and compelling story. I liked Nichelle and I wanted her to find out who had killed the doctor and why. I really did. And so what if I thought it was a little derivative of Evanovich? It was still a great read and I’ll read the earlier ones in the series now. The same is true for Rose Strickland in Diner Knock Out by Terri L. Austin. This time the main character is learning how to be a private investigator and, out of pique with her employer, takes on a case without telling him. Surprise, surprise – it turns out to be more complicated than she realised and she needs his help to solve the murder(s). As in Cover Shot, there is a criminal boyfriend whose heart is in the right place and there are side-kicks who are also colourful friends. But, again, it really works and I found myself rooting for Rose, wanting her to sort out her love life and solve the murder. And survive the threats to her life so that there would be more books in the series.

By coincidence, the fourth book in this review is also set in the US. Brother can you spare a dime by Jack Martin is set in the Depression. The main character, Henry Bierce, is an enigmatic member of the FBI, with a twist which is strongly alluded to but never quite stated clearly. I’m not going to say more because Martin introduces the hints with great subtlety and a very deliberate pace and, it would give away much of the suspense to know the twist before reading the book. In trying to identify the conspirators behind an attempt on FDR’s life, Bierce has run-ins with Bonnie and Clyde and other gangsters of the period – all of which give an interesting twist to the known stories of the time. This is the first in the series and it doesn’t quite work in places – I found some of the pacing uneven and there was sometimes too much setting up of series story-lines at the expense of successful novel resolution – but I am certainly looking forward to the next in the series and getting to know more about Henry.

And will I ever get the chance to know more about Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May without going back to the previous 11 in the series? The Burning Man is number 12 and, given the way it ends, it has a sense of finality to suggest that Fowler has decided to call it quits. Or has he? Because the Kindle edition suggested that there may be more to come. If there are, I shall be reading them. Bryant and May may not need much introduction since they were introduced in 2003 in Full Dark House. The two members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit live and work in London and, in this novel, rush to find an arsonist and murderer before anarchy spills over from the City to the rest of London. I read this with that feeling of being the newbie to the meeting – the person who has to learn who is who and ‘why things are done this way’ but it didn’t detract too much from the clever and contemporary plot.

*****

All the books reviewed here were free from NetGalley in exchange for impartial reviews.

EJ Knight will be publishing a monthly review of crime fiction. If you would like your book to be considered, please email at allonymbooks@gmail.com. EJ Knight’s novel Broadway Murder of 1928 is available from all Amazon websites.

“Biblical fiction is potentially divisive”: Eleanor de Jong talks to Evie Woolmore

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore talks to Eleanor de Jong, author of Delilah and Jezebel (published by Avon/HarperCollins) about the challenges of writing fiction whose characters are known from one key source.

Evie Woolmore: We met at the London Book Fair last year, Eleanor, and I was surprised to see you at the Author Lounge, hanging out with the indie authors. You’d already had a two book deal with Avon/HarperCollins to publish Delilah and Jezebel, after all. What did you learn from the event?

Eleanor de Jong: What I learned was how much fun indie authors have! There’s a sort of collective spirit about gatherings like this that I think can sometimes be missing among print published authors. I wondered when KDP first took off how the latent sense of competition in traditional publishing – to pick up an agent, to get a great deal, to get good reviews, to sell well – would translate to the indie market. But what I think no one really anticipated was how mutually supportive most indie authors are of each other, how willing people are to share their experiences and expertise, and how much the book buying market has been blown open by e-books and the sort of pricing that indie authors are using.

EW: I remember talking with you about pricing in particular. At one time, I think you said, both your books were priced at 99p by Avon for Kindle at Amazon – that’s normal pricing, not a Daily Deal.

EDJ: That’s right. I was really interested by that. The paperbacks retail for £7.99 and although the Kindle edition came out a few months later for Delilah, my first book, they put it on at 99p immediately, I think. When Jezebel was published, the e-book came on immediately at that lower price. They both went up to £1.99 eventually and have now settled at £1.49. The effect of the 99p pricing though was really fascinating. Sales shot up very quickly and for a while both books showed the effect of that in the rankings. Given how much flack print publishers get for their e-book pricing, I thought it was interesting that someone somewhere had worked out that this was the way to sell this particular type of book.

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EW: You’re smiling as you say that. Go on, what do you mean?!

EDJ: Well, I wondered at the time – and I still think about it now – whether there was a bit of a van Gogh factor involved. By that I mean the idea that the price of the book indicates the implied level of worth of the art. Print publishers are generally reluctant to price the e-book versions of novels by their ‘big name writers’ at lower levels, while they accept that the print versions will be discounted. At some level, I’ve always suspected that there’s a cachet/worth thing going on there, that while one might promotionally discount a hard copy book to get it started by catching people’s eye in a bookstore, the e-book price has come to represent the latent value  to the publisher of the work, in other words a sort of benchmark value below which the book will never drop. Like the way that we accept that gold will always have a minimum certain value, like van Gogh will always sell for a certain kind of figure at auction.

EW: While your books sold at 99p…

EDJ: And your books too! Cheap at half the price! Seriously though, I want to be really clear that I don’t think this strategy applies to indie authors: I mean, how could it? Indie authors are each doing their own thing. There’s no capacity for conspiracy in the market, implied or otherwise, no potential for price-fixing as such. It may be – and I’ve seen certain indie published books that bear this out – that there’s an issue around ‘worth’ that is a factor for indie authors. They want to price their book at a certain level because they feel that is what it’s worth. But like buying a house, something is only worth what people are prepared to pay. And if you make it easier for them to pay less, they will. But the point you were heading towards is that if the new Jack Reacher is over £8 for Kindle and my books are £1.49, I am considerably less valuable to my publisher than Lee Child is to his.

EW: And that is what you mean by worth.

EDJ: Exactly. The worth to the publisher, not the absolute artistic worth. Now, I would caveat that by saying that Avon and HarperCollins have, as they put it, made a deliberate decision to ’embrace the digital revolution’ by pricing their e-books relatively low. But the wider point is that Avon understand that there is a market for a certain kind of book at a certain kind of price. And actually I have benefitted from that in sales. Which is all the more surprising when you read some of my reviews!

EW: I wanted to ask you about that. You’ve had some brutal responses. To Jezebel, for example: “Inaccuracy about significant elements of the biblical account- is simply useless & unworthy. Should be discredited.”  And: “…a book that glorifies a queen who was not someone to glorify and which directly contradicts the truth in the Bible. It was not only poorly written but it was actually offensive.” How do you respond to that?

EDJ: I don’t think any writer likes to disappoint their reader, but I’ve always known that a book which might be described as ‘Biblical fiction’ is potentially divisive. However, I think there are two elements to think about here. One is the issue around historical authenticity and how readers of historical fiction respond to that. Delilah got picked up by a historical fiction book club in London last year, and one of the comments which came back to me after they met to discuss it was that the novel wasn’t really historical fiction at all, not in what is the currently accepted convention of meaning historically factual, factually driven, precise and authentic. There’s huge debate around that, at least for me, to do with scales of ‘accuracy’ if you like. Where do writers who set their novels in the past place themselves on the scale between Hilary Mantel-esque moment-by-moment authenticity and a reasonable stab at a plausible setting?

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EWAnd with that, the question of how much the history controls the story or the story controls the history.

EDJ: Yes, and I know you’ve thought about that with your own novels. But secondly, and I think more problematically for some readers, there is the genuine challenge of writing stories using characters not only from another book – because the Bible is nothing if not that – but a book which has varying degrees of authenticity to different people. If you are a reader of the Bible who comes to it as truth, then you are likely to feel that the people of its pages should not be taken out of context. If that is your  starting premise, I wonder why you would pick up a book about one of those people which is clearly a work of fiction. Fiction is about invention, imagination and artifice. My books are also very clearly Romance, as indicated by the cover and the blurb, and Romance is a genre which drives story over context every time. I think therefore that if as a reader you want to protect one particular source of a person’s story, you are always going to find it a challenge to read another telling or another interpretation.

EW: So you’re not at the Hilary Mantel end of the scale?

EDJ: Absolutely not! I don’t think I’d call myself a historical novelist either, at least not in the sense that other historical novelists would want to be seen sitting at the same table with me!  But that was not the point of writing these novels. I wrote them because I like romantic fiction, and I was interested in seeing how the lives of these two women might be envisaged as romance in a time when alliance and allegiance were much more important in relationships. I also enjoyed the chance – as all imaginative writers do – to invent and imagine some historical details that aren’t really available to us, such as some of the more insignificant domestic rituals that are a key part of the colour of this genre. There are very few other purely historical sources to go on – Lesley Hazleton‘s very readable research on the untold story of Jezebel is excellent – but I am a romantic novelist. I am not claiming to have written a factual historical novel. The readers who have enjoyed my books have taken them, I suspect, for what they are. That is not to say that I like to offend a reader any more than I like to disappoint them, because I don’t. But I don’t think the novels hide what they are. And in the age of downloading digital samples instead of flicking through the first few pages in the store, it’s still more than obvious from the outset what the novels are like.

EW: Didn’t someone say that to you as a reason for not reading Delilah?

EDJ: (laughing) Yes, my best friend picked up Delilah when it first came out, told me how proud she was of me, and  then said, “But in all honesty, El, why would I buy it when I know how it ends?” She had a point. I don’t know if proper historical novelists think about that too. But being a romantic novelist, it’s all about the journey for me. We all watch agog every time a new film version of Pride and Prejudice is made, even though we know that Mr Darcy is going to get his girl. It’s the twists and turns that make us watch though.

EW: So what’s next for you? Another romance drawn from the Biblical cast list?

EDJ: I don’t think so. Avon offered me a two book deal and they got their two books. They haven’t shown any interest in any more, but that frees me up to write whatever I want without adding my publisher to the list of people I can disappoint! I remember being hardly able to breathe with excitement when I got the deal five years ago. But so much has changed. And for the better, I think.

*****

Eleanor de Jong’s books are available in print from bookshops and on Kindle from Amazon. Evie Woolmore‘s magical realist novels are all available from Amazon, and you can find out more details by visiting her page.

 

Get in the mood for the Magic Realism Blog Hop with a free magical realist novel!

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This year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop is just a couple of days away, so why not get ready by downloading a free copy of magical realist author Evie Woolmore’s haunting and evocative novel Rising Up? Today is the last day of the Kindle special offer to buy it for 0 pounds and 0 pence! Discover just one of the many ways in which magical realism infuses historical fiction.

Cover Design for Rising Up by Evie Woolmore

LIMITED SPECIAL OFFER! Download Evie Woolmore’s Rising Up for free today and tomorrow!

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“A highly enjoyable novel, a blend of historical and contemporary fiction with a dash of spiritualism and magic realism” ~ Spiritual Wisdom Magazine

“One of the best books [on the Holocaust] I have ever read” ~ Katharina Gerlach

“Simple and beautiful, haunting and poignant” ~ Leigh Podgorski

To coincide with the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2014, download Evie Woolmore‘s haunting novel of the Warsaw Ghetto for free from Amazon , for two days only – 3rd and 4th August.

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

Find out why the Historical Novel Society’s reviewer recommends Evie Woolmore’s magical realist novels “to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences”

Find out more about Evie on her webpage, read an opening extract, or find out about what influenced Evie to write Rising Up.

COMING SOON! Download Evie Woolmore’s “Rising Up” for free for two days only!

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“One of the best books [on the Holocaust] I have ever read” ~ Katharina Gerlach

“Simple and beautiful, haunting and poignant” ~ Leigh Podgorski

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

Evie Woolmore‘s  haunting novel of the Warsaw Ghetto is downloadable for free from all Amazon sites on 3rd and 4th August 2014. Find out why the Historical Novel Society’s reviewer recommends Evie Woolmore’s magical realist novels “to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences”

Find out more about Evie on her webpage, read an opening extract, or find out about what influenced Evie to write Rising Up.

A terrific review of Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore“Evocative, gorgeously written, this haunting tale of discovery will have you madly page turning until the wee hours.”

What more could you want from a book? allonymbooks’ fellow spiritual novelist Leigh Podgorski has reviewed Evie Woolmore’s latest novel, The Salt Factory, on Amazon and Goodreads, and she obviously really loved it! She gave it five stars and her review captures perfectly the essence of the book. She didn’t receive a review copy from us, so her opinion is genuinely impartial and honest.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about,  why she thinks that the heroine Thelonia Jones is a ‘perfectly realized Victorian heroine’ and how the ‘ethereal characters…give the novel its luminescence and sheen’ then read an extract of the book, and find out more about Evie’s three magical realist novels. Or better still, go to Amazon and buy a copy for yourself!

Lawrence Block: How many novelists does it take to change a lightbulb?

This week we are delighted that Lawrence Block, the incredibly prolific, endlessly successful and thoroughly engaging writer of  books of all hues, has spared a few minutes to chat with our own Cadell Blackstock. And if you want to know how many novelists it takes to change a lightbulb, read on….

Larry, thanks very much for sparing time to stop by allonymbooks for a chat. You’ve been really busy lately issuing your earlier novels in e-book form. What has direct publishing offered you, as an already experienced and highly successful print novelist?

Direct publishing to Amazon, Nook and Smashwords has given a new life to quite a few of my out-of-print titles. I’ve been writing for over fifty years, and my backlist is enormous, and I’m delighted that my early work can reach a new audience.

And I’ve also self-published some new work. A collection of columns for stamp collectors, “Generally Speaking,” struck me as having too small and specialized an audience to interest a print publisher, but worth making available as an eBook. So I published it, and every month a few people pick it up. Similarly, I’m planning to ePublish a pair of collections of my assorted non-fiction.

You are renowned for your excellent advice on writing, so what have you learned from the direct publishing process and your forays into social media that you wish someone had told you early on?

Hmmm. I don’t know that anyone could have told me this, or that I could have taken it in, but I’m struck constantly these days by the pace at which the whole world of publishing is changing. (I’m sure that’s no less true of the world outside publishing, but it’s particularly noticeable here.)

What’s it been like getting reacquainted with some of the characters from your early years as a writer? Had you remembered them better or worse than they are?

I don’t spend a lot of time revisiting early work. And, in fact, I’ve learned not to judge what I wrote years ago. For many years I tried to disassociate myself from early pseudonymous work, and was in fact sustained by the thought that the books had not been printed on acid-free paper. (God speed the acid, I was apt to say.) But who am I to say which of my books a reader ought to like?

As you know, my central character Crash Cole is a bit of a rake, a bit of a cad, a man no father would want his daughter (or granddaughter) to date. Who among your characters would you prefer stayed well away from the ladies of the Block family?

I think my daughters and granddaughters can take care of themselves.

In Don Giovanni, the opera that Crash Cole is loosely based on, Don Giovanni is invited to dinner in hell by the man he has killed. Who would be at your ‘dinner party from hell’?

As age turns me increasingly antisocial, I’ve come to regard all dinner parties as infernal in origin.

Crash is also a collector of sexual conquests, much as Keller is a collector of stamps, and you are a collector of countries visited. Is there anything else you would start collecting now (other than more royalties!), were money no object?

I don’t think so. Age, I’m sure, is a factor here. It undercuts the urge to possess. My wife and I discovered some years ago that our admiration of an object no longer embodied the urge to acquire it.

Lastly, a quick word on the upcoming film of A Walk Among the Tombstones. I blogged a few months ago about the adaptation, and on the experience of watching novels one loves turn flesh on film. Are there any of your other novels you would like to see made into film or TV?

I have high hopes for the film, and enjoyed my several visits to the set. Liam Neeson is brilliant in the role of Matt Scudder, and of course I hope the film’s enough of a hit to lead to further installments. Of the Scudder books, I’ve always that A Ticket to the Boneyard is particularly filmable.

As for what else might work, well, the most important factor is the enthusiasm of the filmmaker. Writer/director Scott Frank got interested in A Walk Among the Tombstones a good fifteen years ago, and stuck with it until it finally happened. I’d like to see Keller on the screen—ideally, I would think, as an edgy cable series, but possibly as a feature. I’d like to see someone do right by Bernie Rhodenbarr.

Ultimately, though, I’m most interested in my books as books. And, through the miracle of eBooks, virtually everything I’ve written over the years is now eVailable. Neat, innit?

Neat indeed! And I think everyone who has enjoyed Bernie Rhodenbarr would like to see someone do right by him. Anyway, Larry, thank you so much for sharing a few minutes of your time with us.

By the way, how many novelists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Novelists never want to change anything.

Lawrence Block’s latest Keller novel, Hit Me, is available in hardback and e-book. The film version of his Matt Scudder novel A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson, is released in 2014.  And details of all his many other excellent novels and books on writing and stamps are available at his terrific website. You can also visit LB’s Bookstore on eBayLB’s Facebook Fan Page and follow him on Twitter @Lawrence Block

Cadell Blackstock’s satire on sex and celebrity, Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, is available on Kindle at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US.