Crime Novel Review: Holy Island by LJ Ross

After a long absence enforced by having to read a lot of non-fiction, EJ Knight returns with a review of the bestselling Holy Island by LJ Ross, whose author has been described by one reviewer as ‘the queen of Kindle’.

I’m always interested in other writers who have mastered the direct or independent publishing route, not least to see whether they have used the route to circumvent agency/publisher processes with strong genre material, or used the independence to try something startlingly innovative that a commercially-minded publisher would not have the guts to take a risk with. LJ Ross falls into the former category, embracing the geography well known to readers of Ann Cleeves’ Vera series, with a series starring Detective Chief Inspector Ryan.

The first in the series, Holy Island, is set around the winter solstice on the mystical and historic Holy Island of Lindisfarne, its intense community cut off twice daily by the sea that swells over the causeway. DCI Ryan, sequestered there with demons of loss from a recent case, finds his unsettled isolation brutally disrupted by the murder of a local teenager, whose body is arranged in a clinically ritualistic manner. Ryan gets himself reinstated on the grounds of geographical convenience, but must negotiate with the input of a former island resident and expert on paganism to whom he becomes reluctantly attracted. As another murder is committed and the ritualistic elements become more complicated, Ryan encounters the complexities of a community that has one face for the outside world and another that looks inwards.

As other KDP success stories Rachel Abbott and Mel Sherratt have shown, the direct publishing market is a really effective one for genre crime, whatever that expression really means now with so many sub-strands, and LJ Ross has certainly taken her place in that roll call. Is this novel fluent and readable? Yes. Is it a pageturner? Mostly yes. Does it break new ground? Not really. The attraction between Ryan and the pagan expert Anna Taylor feels inevitable and its final consequences are predictable. The layers of interpersonal complexity and the impact of a tight-knit community on social identities and people’s choices are also not particularly surprising, and the small tragedies of village life are not unexpected. As the novel unwinds in the last third and the emotional relationships tighten up, I felt the plot became increasingly diffuse and with it the resolution of the murders.

There are some clever twists, but oddly the one thing that kept bothering me throughout was that this novel would somehow damage the reputation of Holy Island as a beautiful and restorative place. I can see Ross’s motivation for undoing the mysticism with reality and deconstructing the myth of spirituality with the liberal brutality of human motive (I’m sure my fellow allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore would also have something to say on that). But the pagan ‘expert’ doesn’t actually offer that much to Ryan’s understanding of what’s happening on the island, nor does Ross use Anna’s specialist knowledge to exploit the slippery interface between the predictable and the unpredictable. Furthermore, Ryan keeps control throughout the case because Ross remains in police procedural territory; Ryan surely should be much nearer the edge of his comfort zone but instead Anna is essentially his safety net which, given her personal situation in the novel, felt unlikely to me.

 

I can absolutely see why this has been successful, and with regard to a very early post that Evie made about pricing, I don’t think that does any harm either. Will I buy another? Probably not. But many people have enjoyed this book, because it is what it says it is. Solid crime fiction.

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EJ Knight is the author of Broadway Murder of 1928.

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.

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Cadell Blackstock responds to Leigh Podgorski

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Leigh Podgorski wrote a really interesting blog for the Magic Realism Blog Hop yesterday, in which this quote caught my eye:

In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button.”

Leigh had started her piece by sharing some different definitions of magical realism, and I liked Susan Napier’s suggestion that magical realist fiction “takes the supernatural for granted”. It sort of got me thinking about genre again, a topic which we argue about regularly at allonymbooks and which my stablemate Evie Woolmore has blogged about before: is magical realism the principle genre of the books she writes (and I dabble in), or is it just one of several?

In this incredibly crowded market for fiction, aren’t all writers looking for something that makes their work stand out? And yet, as Leigh implies, that’s thinking like a writer, not thinking like a reader. Readers – and I’m no different – look for the familiar, something they’re going to feel comfortable with, a bit like not sitting next to the panic-stricken guy on the plane. I was surfing through the top 100 Kindle books last week, looking for some holiday reading, and I was kind of mad at myself for drifting towards the familiar all the time. But unless your reading mindset is deliberately adventurous, and you want to be challenged all the time, you’re probably not the sort of reader who does press ‘Buy Now’ when you see a book is magical realist.

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverSo I’m thinking some more about this idea of taking the supernatural for granted. Is that like saying that in magical realist fiction, the supernatural is the least remarkable thing about the book? I know Evie’s approach is to normalise the supernatural stuff, to make it seem like it’s been there all along. Now by contrast, my lead character, Crash Cole, (let’s not pretend the guy’s a hero!) knows that what’s happening to him is anything but normal, but in all honesty I was more interested in writing innovatively about the lack of social and emotional boundaries we have now, and using the supernatural element (that Crash can hear everyone’s thoughts) as a way to show that. I was taking the supernatural for granted. But as a writer. I’m still not sure what readers think about that.

Leigh goes on to say “Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.” Which makes me wonder if readers are clinging on to the genre elements they can more easily relate to – the romance, the history – and they let the magical realism be the sprinkles on the cupcake. A kind of fancy add-on which doesn’t stand out as a flavour but makes the cake a bit more special. Would you buy a cupcake because it had yellow sprinkles rather than green ones? You might do if you were five (which is why kids are great audiences for magical realism), but as an adult you’re thinking “Is that red velvet under all that goo?”

I’m no further on in answering the question I set myself, but I’d like to thank Leigh for making me think about it. And actually, I kind of like the idea that we can take the supernatural for granted. It might make marketing my next book a bit easier too.

*****

Cadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a contemporary satire on sex and celebrity (with a bit of supernatural thrown in, but don’t make a big deal out of it).

MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

In admiration of….Ruth Dudley Edwards

In the latest in a series of blogs, new allonymbooks crime author EJ Knight discusses some favourite crime writers. This week, Ruth Dudley Edwards.

My next choice is a quirky one in that Ruth Dudley Edwards is more famous as a historian and journalist, including for The Economist and Financial Times. Since 1993, Dudley Edwards has also written a crime series based around the shenanigans of Robert Amiss and the memorable Ida Troutbeck.

In many ways, the series is less about ‘who-dunnit’, although each book has at its central story-line Amiss’ attempts to solve, or help the police solve, a vicious murder or murders, and more a vehicle for a funny, sharp and accurate satire on various pillars of the British establishment – from the civil service, to the Church of England, and to the British education system. In each book, Amiss is ‘persuaded’ to become involved by Troutbeck’s manoeuvrings and his own admiration for police detectives Milton and Pooley.

I read seven of the first eight in the series in the 1990s and remember vividly how upset I was that my copy of the second – The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders – had been printed so that I had the first hundred pages twice and no-more. My frustration was compounded by the fact that the bookstore had no more copies and all attempts to find another copy were fruitless. So, it was with great joy that I recently discovered that not only were all Dudley Edwards’ books now available on Kindle but also that, while I thought she had stopped writing fiction, Dudley Edwards had written another three in the series, with another on the way. Hooray!

Why do I keep coming back to these novels and why is Dudley Edwards my first choice for this blog? Because the books make me smile and keep reading. There are many great writers who have written elegant detective stories that could be considered great literary novels. But I didn’t enjoy reading them because they were so serious. Dudley Edwards is a wonderful writer – the plot moves with speed, the characterisation is sharp, and the dialogue is as real as it can be in written form – but what always stands out for me is that I feel happier once I’ve read her books. And it is for that reason that I will always keep them to read on a wet British afternoon (of which Dudley Edwards’ characters will know all too well).

*****

EJ Knight is the author of the Lucille Landaus series of historical crime novels, the first of which –  Broadway Murder of 1928 – is excerpted here.

Escape the chaos of Christmas: relax with a book!

Christmas is a vibrant, social time of year. But sometimes you just want to curl up quietly in a corner to recover from all that food (and drink!), and read a book. While you’re buying gifts for all your friends and family, why not treat yourself to one of the allonymbooks novels this year: high quality fiction at utterly affordable prices! From mystery to masculine satire, and historical fiction for adults and YA, there’s something for everyone. All allonymbooks books are available for Kindle at all Amazon sites.

Thank you to all our visitors in 2013. We hope you’ve enjoyed our blogs and reviews. If you read an allonymbooks novel, do please review it on Amazon and your other favourite sites!

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Firstly, if you’re a fan of mystery, try EJ Knight‘s new novel, Broadway Murder of 1928. (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US).

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Introducing Lucille Landau,  this is the first in a series of four novels set in New York in the Roaring Twenties. Lucille, an East End piano player with dreams of being the next Lil Hardin, has killed a man in London and marries another to escape on a boat to America. She seems to fall on her feet, finding somewhere to stay and the perfect job – playing piano for a new show by rising Broadway stars Tommy Anzonetti and Manny Wolfe. But surely Lucille can’t escape the past forever, and when actor Alfred Duff sees through her story, she’s relieved when he is murdered in his dressing room. But the police aren’t far behind, and they’ve got plans for Lucille. It couldn’t get much worse, could it? Except that Lucille is falling in love with Tommy Anzonetti and her husband keeps showing up…

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If you like historical fiction or magical realismEvie Woolmore‘s haunting and imaginative novels will draw you in from the first page. Find out why Read Dream Relax say that Evie is “one indie author worth reading”.

THE SALT FACTORY by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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‘I never shoot a man unless there is no other choice.’

The motto of Thelonia Jones, deputy Marshall, makes perfect sense in the silver-mining mountains of Colorado. But back in Victorian England, hoping to settle the debts of her half-brother Cadell, Thelonia finds much that bewilders her. Why has her wealthy stepfather abandoned his mansion to die alone in a rundown cottage by the sea? Who is the strange little girl who brings seagulls and sick people back to life? And why has the owner of the Greatest Freakshow on Earth followed her halfway around the world? For all her ease around matters of life and death, even Thelonia will be surprised by just how high the stakes are about to get. They say the past always catches up with you. For Thelonia Jones, that means literally.

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EQUILIBRIUM by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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“…original, poignant, illuminating…”  “a “fine yarn” where spirits, mystery and love waver …”  “…evocative writing…highly recommended…”

Epiphany and Martha are sisters with a stage mediumship act in Edwardian London. When they are asked to give a private reading at the home of Lady Adelia Lyward to find out the truth about her brother’s death, Martha must face up to her past. For two years ago, her affair with Lord Rafe Lyward ended in pregnant disgrace, and her attempted suicide in the River Thames. But there is more at stake than Martha’s anonymous return, for Epiphany bears the burden of restoring the equilibrium, not just to the Lywards but to her sister and ultimately to herself.

The Historical Novel Society review says “the story is rich in complex characters … I recommend “Equilibrium” to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences.” Equilibrium is also Awesome Indies Approved.

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RISING UP by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

smaller_ru“…simple and beautiful, human and poignant…”   “…mystery, history and a bit of mysticism…” “….it’s one of the best books on the subject I’ve ever read…”

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?

****

If you yearn to be a teenager again – or are one still – try Flora Chase‘s luxurious young adult historical saga:

THE STRATTONS by Flora Chase (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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The Strattons, the first volume of The Strattons young adult historical saga, is set against the backdrop of the luxurious late Edwardian era, on the eve of the First World War. Four young people, aristocrats and servant, are about to find their safe, comfortable world changed forever. Each must come to terms with the expectations of their class, their gender, and their destiny, and decide whether to embrace them or find the courage to fight against them.

When their diplomat father, the 4th Marquess of Stratton, is killed in Germany, Freddie, Julia and Blanche Matchingham, and their housemaid Dinah, find their world changed forever. Freddie must abandon dreams of university to become the 5th Marquess. Julia is wrenched from the contented obscurity of her books to face the nosy aristocracy keen to marry off her brother. Shallow, sociable Blanche finds her ambitions to take London by storm thwarted by mourning and social restriction. And why is Dinah, the first housemaid, suddenly being sent away from Stratton? The arrival of a German prince and a factory worker will turn all their worlds upside down and each of them must decide what their future holds, and whether they have the courage to face it.

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Finally, if you like a contemporary satire with a dark side, look no further than CRASH COLE IN ‘THE RAKE SPARED’ by Cadell Blackstock (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' cover

This is a scandalous tale with a supernatural twist. If you like your heroes to be decent honourable men, then look away now.

Crash Cole’s fans love him enough to literally keep him alive. But who hated him enough to want him dead? Just like Don Juan before him, celebrity TV biker Crash Cole finds himself at the gates of hell as a consequence of his dissolute and promiscuous lifestyle. Except this hell is of his own making. Hauled back from the brink of death by the unfettered love of his fans, Crash can now hear every one of their voices inside his head, a chaotic din that obscures his memory of how he nearly died in the first place. Learning to live with it proves more than Crash can bear, and with his body mending at a phenomenal rate due to the healing love of his fans, he goes on the run, aided by Julia, a nurse with a bit of a crush on Crash.

Virtually unrecognisable due to terrible scars on his face, Crash revisits his life and the accident, a voyage of discovery constantly overshadowed by the thoughts of those who wished him live and the silence of those who didn’t. But will he learn the truth before his fate catches up with him?

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him.