From haunted houses to Jaws: Caro Ramsay spills the beans!

Mosaic

Megan Melvick has returned home after a three-year absence to visit her dying sister, Melissa, for the last time. As she approaches the grand Scottish country estate where she grew up, the memories come flooding back. Just what did happen on the night of Melissa’s wedding five years before? Where has Megan and Melissa’s mother disappeared to? And why does Melissa whisper that solitary word before she finally slips away: Sorry. In order to overcome her demons, Megan must confront her painful recollections of that terrible night, the night of Melissa’s wedding. The night somebody died. But can she really trust her memories? And who is it who’s determined that she should forget . . .?

This menacing, twisty new thriller from Caro Ramsay kept us on our toes! Find out more about our Scottish storyteller below. (WARNING: her personal hero sent shivers down our spines . . .)

1. Favourite books:

On Beulah Height

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd

The Children Of Man

Black Beauty

2. Five books/albums/movies that changed your life, and why . . .

Jaws in a weird way . . . it great to lecture to people about how to write thrillers – making a difficult job very easy! It has been said that I don’t sit down long enough to watch a film all the way through.

3. An interesting fact about you that fans might not know

My own personal hero is the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but then I was on the side of the shark in Jaws!

I did get a lot of attention on Facebook when I took a picture of my house – Spooky House. It is  haunted, has bats,  stained glass windows and, err . . . there has been no roof at the back since 1915 but we are getting round to that . . .

MOSAIC is available from 28 June in the UK and 1 October in the US. Find out more here!

 

 

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Behind the author: SHAMINI FLINT

9780727889423_FCJack Flint receives a letter with a hand-printed address and a rectangle of Chinese stamps. It is from Xia, a Chinese woman he knew a quarter of a century ago – when he was an American spy, and she was a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The letter will lead him back to China, and back into his past.

Shamini Flint was born and brought up in Malaysia. Having studied law at Cambridge University, she travelled extensively throughout Asia for her work as a corporate lawyer, before giving it up to become a writer, part-time lecturer and environmental activist. Below, she reveals some of the books that have changed her life…

The books you’ll always keep:

  • Once by Morris Gleitzman – he dedicated it to me as someone who reminded him of Felix, the protagonist in the book)
  • My now departed uncle, K.S. Nathan, QC, who was the first Malaysian Queen’s Counsel in the UK and gave me a book on law.
  • My mother’s copies signed copies of Lord Denning’s memoirs which I treat as my own.

5 books/albums/movies that changed your life, and why:

  • Star Wars – a strong female character and because I have been in love with Han Solo since.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Atticus Finch is the reason I studied law.
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang – an extraordinary memoir of growing up in China.
  • All those Enid Blyton books as a child that made me feel different and unwelcome in the world of books.
  • Country and western songs played by my father in the car on long journeys in Malaysia.
  • ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot – “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”. The saddest line in the English language.

DID YOU KNOW?

Having participated in the discussions on cultural appropriation and written books largely featuring Asian protagonists, I am secretly amused to have written a story featuring the traditional white, male, loner hero.

The Vice President of the US in THE BEIJING CONSPIRACY – Elizabeth Harris, a powerful, decent woman – is named for Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in the US for 2020.

THE BEIJING CONSPIRACY is available from 28 June in the UK and from 1 October in the US. Read more here.

Did you know…? MURDER AT WHITBY ABBEY by Cassandra Clark

9780727889539_FCDecember, 1389. Arriving at Whitby Abbey in order to bid to purchase a priceless Holy Relic, Hildegard of Meaux finds it a decidedly unwelcoming place. But before the bidding war can begin, a body is discovered in the monastery’s apple store shed. Something is rotten in the heart of Whitby Abbey – and it’s up to Hildegard to discover the truth.

Cassandra Clark reveals some interesting facts she has discovered regarding real-life medieval drama…

Fact is often stranger than fiction.  This is a recent story I came across that I would never have believed if it hadn’t come from an impeccable source.  At about the time Hildegard was in York a real life drama was unfolding.  A nun called Joan of Leeds was sick of being shut up in a nunnery so, with the help of other nuns, she crafted a dummy in the likeness of her own body and had herself declared dead.  With due ceremony ‘she’ was buried in the nuns’ graveyard.

Inevitably the Archbishop got wind of it and was incandescent. We know this for a fact because his Register is held in York where it’s now being translated.

“In a cunning manner…having turned her back on decency,” he raved, “she perverted her path to the way of carnal lust and…having broken her vows and the modesty of her sex…she now wanders at large to the scandal of her order.”  Not only did she ‘wander’ – the lusty Joan discarded her nun’s habit, met several men outside the nunnery gates and rode off with them to Darlington to meet her lover, a fellow named Gregory. We can imagine how they must have lived in great happiness together.

What I love about this glimpse into the past is that it shows us real people in a way the history books never do.  It brings us closer to our ancestors and we realise we share a common humanity.  Joan did what Hildegard might do one of these days.  As a warm-blooded woman she too chafes at the restrictions of belonging to a monastic order.  But who will she run away with, the Abbot, or the hunky steward Ulf – or someone else?

MURDER AT WHITBY ABBEY is available from 28 June in the UK and from 1 October in the US. Read more here.

Behind the Book: THE BEIJING CONSPIRACY by Shamini Flint

9780727889423_FCJack Flint receives a letter with a hand-printed address and a rectangle of Chinese stamps. It is from Xia, a Chinese woman he knew a quarter of a century ago – when he was an American spy, and she was a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The letter will lead him back to China, and back into his past.

In this explosive spy thriller, ex-Delta Force operator Jack Ford finds himself accidentally in possession of an explosive piece of information that both the Chinese and American governments are desperate to get their hands on. Why was Shamini Flint drawn to a story about these two global superpowers?

I grew up reading Cold War novels. As an adult living in Asia and travelling widely, it has become clear to me that there is a new Cold War – between the US and China, between the West and China, between capitalism with democracy and capitalism without, between economic colonisation and a freedom of ideas. And anyone who has been the US and China knows that China is winning hands down, and this pace of victory has increased exponentially in the Trump years. The battle of ideas has been abandoned by the US government, whether for liberal values, minority rights, women’s rights, justice, etc. In the battle for economic and geographical influence, China is winning. As an Asian, I do not see this as necessarily a bad thing as an end result. But if we do not promote the ideas that have allowed an emancipation of humanity generally, we will not like the society-by-default we create. In addition, there is no clear line between the so-called good guys and bad guys (if there ever was). Each country and institution is riven with dissent and opposing views.

My protagonist, Jack Ford, has to tread a fine line, barely knowing who his enemies are, let alone his friends and he tries to confront the challenges of our time.

THE BEIJING CONSPIRACY is available from 28 June in the UK and from 1 October in the US. Read more here.

Behind the Book: MURDER AT WHITBY ABBEY by Cassandra Clark

9780727889539_FCDecember, 1389. Arriving at Whitby Abbey in order to bid to purchase a priceless Holy Relic, Hildegard of Meaux finds it a decidedly unwelcoming place. But before the bidding war can begin, a body is discovered in the monastery’s apple store shed. Something is rotten in the heart of Whitby Abbey – and it’s up to Hildegard to discover the truth.

Hildegard of Meaux is plunged into a baffling murder investigation in the tenth novel in this gripping medieval mystery series. Cassandra Clark reveals her original inspiration for a series starring a nun detective below…

I hope I’m fairly rational but I can’t help being astonished at the power of dreams and the connections that arise when writing.  It’s like a form of magic.  Take the idea to write a medieval crime series featuring a nun sleuth.

I’ve been writing for many years, plays for radio, TV and for my first love, theatre, as well as publishing many contemporary romances. Certainly I never wished to write medieval whodunnits.  I dislike the whole idea of crime and am happier (or so I thought) writing about love.

It was when my daughters were away at university and drama school I decided to go back to university myself so I enrolled on Malcolm Bradbury’s pioneering writing course at UEA.  There I decided I would really like to start my own theatre company.  But straightaway fate stepped in.

As an only child with two elderly parents I had to return to Yorkshire when my father had a stroke and it became difficult to write in between worrying about them as you do and keeping things running.  By the time I returned to my own life seven years later I had a head teeming with ideas about what I would write next.  But how to decide?   The theatre company had gone by the board and I was in low spirits, starting from scratch as it seemed.  Then one night I woke myself up by laughing out loud!

It was a dream in which two men and a woman were sitting around having a good old Yorkshire banter over a flagon of wine.  They were so funny I quickly wrote down their dialogue and went straight back to sleep.  Next morning I’d forgotten all about them until I found my notebook under the pillow.  Yes!  It was still funny!  But who were they? What were they doing?  Clearly they lived in the distant past – although I didn’t know then how distant.  It turned out to be Lord Roger, red beard bristling with astonishment at human folly, and tough, outdoorsy Ulf, hot-shot bowman, steward to Roger, and the self-possessed woman with no name turned out to be a nun. The time period was late medieval.  Why?  No idea.  I also knew nothing much about medieval nuns at that time but thinking it might make an interesting if weird short story I quickly found a library where I could do some research.

Now it does become strange as these three characters seemed to direct me to the reign of King Richard II, the beautiful and tragic boy king who ruled for over twenty years until he was murdered by his cousin and started off the Wars of the Roses.  I knew nothing about him either, but somehow I heard of a chronicle written in an abbey in the East Riding where I had spent the last seven years.  Never been.  Knew nothing about it.  But that was where the action started.

The good old BL had a copy but could not find it so I called in at the private library near my London flat with few expectations:  ‘I don’t suppose you have the chronicle for the Abbey of Meaux, do you?’  Eventually, from the depths of a dusty archive, the smiling librarian emerged with a leather-bound three volume set.  Astonishingly it was written by the abbot in the years when my three dream characters were alive – everything I needed to bring the place and the time to life.  By now it wasn’t a short story it was a novel. And as you know it soon became a series.

I eventually visited the ruins of the abbey at Meaux.  Again more connections, dreams and intimations from the past.  By mixing fact and fiction I feel I’m guided to give voice to unsung lives.

MURDER AT WHITBY ABBEY is available from 28 June in the UK and from 1 October in the US. Read more here.

Did you know…? THE GOOD COP by Peter Steiner

good cop1

Munich, 1920. Detective Willi Geismeier has a problem: how do you uphold the law when the law goes bad? The First World War has been lost and Germany is in turmoil. The new government in Berlin is weak. The police and courts are corrupt. Fascists and Communists are fighting in the streets. People want a savior, someone who can make Germany great again. To many, Adolf Hitler seems perfect for the job. When the offices of a Munich newspaper are bombed, Willi Geismeier investigates, but as it gets political, he is taken off the case. Willi continues to ask questions, but when his pursuit of the truth itself becomes a crime, his career – and his life – are in grave danger.

In 1920s Germany, despite intense political pressure, one newspaper stayed free for as long as it was able… Peter Steiner tells the fascinating story of the Munich Post here, and why he gave it such an important role in his compelling new historical mystery, THE GOOD COP.

THE GOOD COP is a fictional account of German resistance to Hitler during the
twenties. Hitler was often seen as a buffoon, but his followers were violent from the
start, so there was little resistance. Later when he was taken more seriously, it was
even more dangerous to resist. The Nazis used physical intimidation to crush all
opposition, and largely succeeded.

Even the press – which had been free – eventually caved in. Except for one
newspaper, the Munich Post, which sounded the alarm from the beginning, and
continued to report on Hitler’s rise as the head of a criminal enterprise as long as they
were able. When Hitler was named chancellor, he immediately sent storm troopers
to shut down the Post, and sent many of the paper’s staff to Dachau.
I had never heard this story until I started digging. Not enough is known
about the Munich Post. As homage I made the Munich Post an important force in THE GOOD COP.

THE GOOD COP is out now in the UK and available from 1 September in the US! Read more here.

CrimeFest 2019: The art of a good mystery (and party)!

Severn House was well represented at CrimeFest this year, with both Kate Lyall Grant and Carl Smith in attendance, along with a number of our authors (including Mike Ripley, author of the Albert Campion mysteries, in a very fetching T-shirt!). Much fun was had by all, and Carl reflects on one of the many interesting panels he went to below.

Fiction, fiction everywhere…

If you didn’t know, we publish crime, thriller and mystery books. It’s a popular genre. In the UK in 2017 crime and thriller fiction market became the biggest selling one. According to BookScan, 18.7 million units were sold in this market, meaning it overtook general and literary fiction’s 18.1 million sales. That was an increase of 19% on the previous year. But not only is this the biggest selling market in the UK, folk across the pond in the US also love them some crime books. It seems the mystery, thriller and crime genre is the most popular over there too.

With such a sizeable market and an appetite for what is new so fierce, it is up to writers to keep raising the bar with their work. But how do they get their inspiration, and how do they avoid plagiarising each other when so many titles are released in this market? During CrimeFest, the international crime fiction convention held each year in Bristol, a panel was held to discuss this very topic titled ‘The Plot Thickens: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?’ The panel included J.P. Delaney, Clare Empson, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, M.B. Vincent (or, at least, the ‘M’ part of that pair in the form of Matthew Strachan), and with Mason Cross moderating.

The most interesting takeaway from the panel came when the panel was asked how they’d react if they began writing a story to only then discover someone else had written something based on the exact same premise. If faced with this situation each said they’d have no issue with continuing their work. They outlined how you could feasibly give each of them – and every other writer out there – the same prompt and they’d still come up with something entirely different.

They argued that their own experiences are unique to them. No other person on the planet can share them. That means their writing is shaped by their individual experiences, and that impacts both their writing style and how they’d interpret the premise.

Because of that, the market will forever be progressing and never in danger of outright repetition. So, the moral of the story and panel, I believe, is that if you are ever writing and fear you’ve stumbled across an idea you are passionate about but worried may be too similar to another title, never fear. Don’t worry that the market may have already covered it. You can make it more of a repetitious story. Your voice and your interpretation of the premise should be enough to make it unique.

A sketch from Maximilian Wolf, the artist in THE GOOD COP by Peter Steiner

good cop1

Munich, 1920. Detective Willi Geismeier has a problem: how do you uphold the law when the law goes bad? The First World War has been lost and Germany is in turmoil. The new government in Berlin is weak. The police and courts are corrupt. Fascists and Communists are fighting in the streets. People want a savior, someone who can make Germany great again. To many, Adolf Hitler seems perfect for the job. When the offices of a Munich newspaper are bombed, Willi Geismeier investigates, but as it gets political, he is taken off the case. Willi continues to ask questions, but when his pursuit of the truth itself becomes a crime, his career – and his life – are in grave danger.

One man’s crusade to get to the truth in the Weimar Republic lies at the heart of this extraordinary new mystery that takes place during turbulent and dangerous political times. Artist Maximilian Wolf  and his sketches play a leading role in Willi’s crusade, and author Peter Steiner, who is also an acclaimed cartoonist, has sent us this incredible image – by Max’s own hand! 

Peter Steiner cartoon

THE GOOD COP is out now in the UK and from 1 September in the US! Read more here.

The Munich Post and the importance of the free press: Peter Steiner on THE GOOD COP

good cop1

Munich, 1920. Detective Willi Geismeier has a problem: how do you uphold the law when the law goes bad? The First World War has been lost and Germany is in turmoil. The new government in Berlin is weak. The police and courts are corrupt. Fascists and Communists are fighting in the streets. People want a savior, someone who can make Germany great again. To many, Adolf Hitler seems perfect for the job. When the offices of a Munich newspaper are bombed, Willi Geismeier investigates, but as it gets political, he is taken off the case. Willi continues to ask questions, but when his pursuit of the truth itself becomes a crime, his career – and his life – are in grave danger.

One man’s crusade to get to the truth in the Weimar Republic lies at the heart of this extraordinary new mystery that takes place during turbulent and dangerous political times. Author Peter Steiner discusses the importance of the free press in the face of fascism below.

When I started writing The Good Cop I decided that two of the main characters would be a newspaper reporter Sophie Auerbach and a newspaper artist Maximilian Wolf.  I was a newspaper cartoonist early in my own cartooning career career and understand from that experience the power and responsibility that comes with that position.  I was fired from my first job for a cartoon that called into question a land deal a town official was involved in. He also happened to own the paper. But the land deal was scotched.

Over time I have come to believe that a free press is as important for the survival of democracy as any of the three branches of government. In The Good Cop, my novel about Germany’s slide from democracy into fascism, the press had a critical part to play, both in the slide itself and in the resistance to it.

Sophie Auerbach’s journalistic career begins at a small right-wing paper Das Neue Deutsche Bild. In my haphazard way (I research as the need arises), I was looking into the history of the German press as I wrote.  In the course of doing that research, I stumbled on the story of the Munich Post and their heroic resistance to Hitler. First Maximilian and then Sophie went to work at the Post.

That the story was unknown to me is not surprising, given my limited knowledge about vast swaths of German history. But I soon learned that the Post’s history was known to hardly anyone. It had essentially disappeared into the fog of history.

As Ron Rosenstein explains in a 2017 article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, it was not until he was doing research for his 1998 book Explaining Hitler that he came across copies of the Munich Post in a German archive. He then brought to light in his book the remarkable story of the relentless and heroic battle the Post waged for democracy and against the Nazis.

The Munich Post was founded in the 1880s by the Bavarian Social Democratic Party to present and advance Social Democratic interests. But almost from the moment Hitler came on the scene, the editors and staff of the Post recognized, as few others did, the criminality Hitler and his party represented and their danger to the fledgling Weimar Republic.

The Post assigned teams of reporters to follow his every move, to expose every lie, every act of corruption, every act of violence and insurrection, every bankrupt idea. In 1931, when Hitler and the Nazis were not yet in power, in what Rosenbaum calls “their biggest, most shamefully ignored scoop,” the Post found and published a Nazi document laying out their plan for the “final solution,” the mass murder of the Jews. Hitler denied the story and attacked the “Lügenpresse” (the lying press), and the story was largely ignored.

Of course Hitler loathed the paper, called it die Münchener Pest (the Munich Plague) and die Giftküche (the poison kitchen).  One of his first acts, once he became chancellor in 1933, was to shut down the paper and imprison the journalists who had written about him. He had all the printing presses carried off and destroyed. He sealed off the building and went so far as to suppress the house number.

Why has the story of the Munich Post been all but forgotten, especially in this moment when the press is under constant attack? There are many possible explanations. But the Post’s is both a heroic story and a cautionary tale, and I decided, in part because it has been forgotten, to put a fictionalized version at the center of The Good Cop.

Sophie Auerbach and Maximilian Wolf are essential to the story.  Without them Willi Geismeier, the good cop, could not do his dangerous and essential work.  But almost as important to me is that they pay homage to the free press everywhere, the risks they take and the essential work they do. Sophie and Maximilian are my monument of sorts to the necessary virtues of journalists everywhere, which are more important once again than they have been for a long time.

THE GOOD COP is out now in the UK and from 1 September in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: THE GARDEN CLUB MURDER by Amy Patricia Meade

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Literary caterer Letitia ‘Tish’ Tarragon is preparing her English Secret Garden-themed luncheon for Coleton Creek’s annual garden club awards, but when she is taken on a tour of some of the top contenders with the garden club’s president, Jim Ainsley, Tish is surprised at how seriously the residents take the awards and how desperate they are to win. Wealthy, retired businessman Sloane Shackleford has won the coveted best garden category five years in a row, but he and his Bichon Frise, Biscuit, are universally despised. When Sloane’s bludgeoned body is discovered in his pristine garden, Tish soon learns that he was disliked for reasons that go beyond his green fingers. Have the hotly contested awards brought out a competitive and murderous streak in one of the residents?

The delectable new Tish Tarragon cozy is a tantalising follow-up to COOKIN’ THE BOOKS, and the perfect summer read for anyone who enjoys garden tea parties… and cake! Find out more about Tish and the mystery she is confronted with in this revealing book extract.

Tish was deep in thought as she hastened along Coleton Creek Way on her way back to the lifestyle center. Meeting Zadie Morris the legendary Zadie Morris, Cosmetic Queen  had led her to reflect upon her childhood. The long, sweet summer evenings when her mother, dressed in her best Saturday Night Fever disco attire would apply a coat of glossy coral Zadie lipstick and leave Tish in the care of her grandparents for the night and, if it were a weekend, part of the following morning.

Sundays spent at her grandparents’ house were the days Tish loved best. Waking to the smell of coffee, Tish would get dressed, pad downstairs, and meet her grandfather in the kitchen, where they’d both enjoy a ‘cup of joe’ his milk and no sugar, hers all milk and a tablespoon of sweetened brewed coffee. Upon drinking their respective beverages, grandfather and granddaughter would gather the week’s stale, leftover bread pieces into a resealable plastic bag, buckle themselves into the cream colored 1978 Buick LeSabre sedan parked in the driveway, and drive to the local duck pond. Once the bread was gone and the avian population of the pond was carb-filled and content, Tish and her grandfather would then travel to their favorite bakery for rolls and pastries for the morning breakfast.

Post-breakfast meant the dull routine of church, followed by Sunday lunch. Years later, after her grandfather had passed away, Tish’s grandmother, her faith in God and will to live eroded, would do away with church entirely. But Sunday lunch, invariably in the form of a stringy old roasting hen and overcooked vegetables, always prevailed.

After the lunch dishes had been washed and put away came the highlight of the weekend – the Sunday drive. For Tish’s grandfather, who had been raised in a coldwater flat in New York City during the Great Depression, the Sunday drive was an opportunity to show the world that the grimy kid from the Bowery had achieved the American dream. For Tish’s grandmother, who stayed home and tended to household chores and yard work, the Sunday drive was a chance to switch out her housecoat for a colorful dress, apply a few pats of Emeraude dusting powder, and swipe on her favorite shell pink Zadie lipstick.

For Tish, those halcyon afternoons were the only part of the week where her nuclear family and her extended family combined. There, in the giant backseat of the Century, she’d start sing-alongs, enjoy the scenery outside the open windows, play ‘I Spy’, and laugh.

A car drove past, snapping Tish back into the present day. She had lost so much since those untroubled, sun dappled days. A grandfather. A grandmother. A mother. A marriage. A home.

Tish blinked back her tears and drew a deep breath. There was no use in dwelling upon the past. It was the present and future that mattered and Tish’s future looked very bright, indeed, unless she failed to meet the Coleton Creek Garden Club’s expectations.

And there was a growing chance she might. There were still chickens to poach and shred, sandwich fillings to prepare, and several hot beverage dispensers to wash and sterilize. The workload awaiting Tish bordered on daunting, yet Sloane Shackleford’s murder was making it increasingly difficult to concentrate on catering, recipes, and mundane kitchen tasks.

Was someone at Coleton Creek responsible for Shackleford’s death? As Tish learned of motive after motive on the part of Coleton Creek’s residents, it seemed exceedingly likely. She recalled Susannah Hilton’s account of Shackleford’s harassment and both Pepper Aviero’s and Callie Collingsworth’s final, vulgar assessment of the man as a bastard. Had Shackleford been taken down by a vengeful woman? Or maybe even two? The scenario Zadie Morris suggested was not outside the realm of possibility.

Or had Shackleford met his fate at the hands of one of the gardeners from whom he snatched victory? Both Orson Baggett and Wren Harper seemed confident that Shackleford’s presence was the only thing standing between them and the best garden trophy.

And then there was the suspicious screaming match between Shackleford and the Knoblochs. Why did Shackleford bring a bag of construction materials to the meeting? Did he know something scandalous about the Knoblochs? And what, if anything, did the Knoblochs know about Shackleford?

THE GARDEN CLUB MURDER is available now in the UK and from 1 September in the US! Read more here.