#BookExtract – The Devil’s Cup by Alys Clare

Sir Josse d’Aquin is summoned to assist the beleaguered King John in the latest Hawkenlye mystery, THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare.    

September 1216.  A 9780727887108foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d’Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself?  Meanwhile, Josse’s daughter Meggie is summoned to Hawkenlye Abbey to attend a sick patient in a very distressed state. The elderly woman is warning of terrible danger unless she can complete her mission. What she learns from her patient will set Meggie on a perilous journey to retrieve a cursed treasure. But will she be in time to prevent a tragedy? 

 

Here’s a sneak preview…

Then the wind changed.

The breeze, strengthening now, was coming from the sea. More quickly than Josse could have imagined possible, a sea fret came rolling in from the east, and where a moment ago they had been riding along in sunshine, with good visibility and no danger of allowing their horses to stray too close to the perilous marshes, suddenly everything was different.

They had come to a stream. It was quite wide, its banks dissipating into the surrounding marshy ground as its mouth opened out into the sea, although it didn’t appear to be deep; at least, it wasn’t when they first approached. But it had arrested their progress.  Up at the head of the train, a few rows in front of where Josse, Yves and Geoffroi rode, the King and his senior attendants were talking to the local guides. Quite soon they were not so much talking as arguing. The King, as ever, wanted to hurry on across the stream and be on his way. The elder of the two guides – a weathered man of late middle age with a skin tanned by sun and sea and deep-set grey eyes – was advising caution.

‘Tide turned quite a while ago,’ he said calmly. ‘With this mist we can’t see out to sea, but what I can make out of conditions out there I don’t much like.’

‘Explain,’ said the King tersely.

The man paused, obviously thinking. ‘Water’s higher than it should be at this time,’ he said eventually. He fixed the King with his grey stare, apparently undaunted at being in conversation with his monarch. ‘I’m thinking perhaps something’s piling up the sea out there.’ He nodded towards the Wash.

The King tapped his crop against his boot, the gesture swift with irritated impatience. ‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.

The man paused once more, then said, ‘You get the onshore wind, see. Out of the east, like this here.’ He raised a hand in a cupping gesture, as if testing the air. ‘Now there’s strange currents swirling out there at the base of the Wash. They’re unpredictable.’ He paused, gazing out to where the sea could be heard but no longer seen. ‘Sometimes – and my bones tell me this is one such time – the wind and the current combine with the tide, and the water rushing in up these streams and little rivers comes with an unusual force.’

The King urged his horse forward so that he stood on the near bank of the stream. ‘The water does not look deep,’ he said. His tone, Josse thought, was carefully neutral.

‘Maybe not. But, like I said, the tide’s coming in.’

The guide gave the impression that he thought that was the end of the argument.

But the King said, ‘How long until it goes out again?’

The guide narrowed his eyes. ‘Won’t be before dusk. And, if I’m right and there’s a surge of water coming in, it’ll be later.’

The King sat silent for some time. Watching him closely, Josse sensed he was deeply uneasy. He is spooked by this place, he thought. He mistrusts the marshes, the rank smell, the silvery fog off the sea insinuating itself through the air. But just then, a ray of soft, golden sunshine speared down through the mist, diving down between the billows of cloud and piercing the ground almost at the feet of the King’s horse.

The King’s expression changed. His mouth stretched into a triumphant smile, he roared, ‘An omen! God is with us!’ Then, nudging his horse further into the water, he said with an air of utter finality, ‘We go on.’

There was a low murmur among the attendants. The younger guide, anguish on his face, spoke to the older man in a low voice, the words indistinguishable but urgency clear in his very tone. The older guide nodded.

‘My lord King,’ he called, ‘we do not advise this. There is a wide band of quicksand in mid-stream, slightly closer to the far bank, and, in this mist and with the water coming in so fast, it’s not going to be easy to spot it.’

Without turning round, the King called out coldly, ‘Then the pair of you should keep your eyes open and be particularly vigilant.’ Then, raising his right arm, he shouted, ‘On!

THE DEVIL’S CUP by Alys Clare is published in the UK this month, and in the US in August 2017.  For further information about Alys Clare, please visit our website here.

 

Did You Know . . . this about Woodstock?

9781780290980This week’s interesting fact was supplied by Michael Jecks whose latest title, A MURDER TOO SOON, is available now. 

Woodstock was an ancient palace? Long before the rock festival, there was a fabulous royal palace. It was originally a hunting lodge built by Henry I, with seven miles of walls about it to protect his park, where lions and leopards are said to have roamed. It was here that Henry II had his first argument with Thomas a Becket, and Henry III liked the place so much he had a chapel and made the buildings more secure.

However, by the time of Queen Mary, the palace had fallen into decay. Mary herself must have had a poor opinion of the place, because it was here that her mother was installed when Henry VIII became infatuated with Anne Boleyn and married her. This galling experience clearly influenced her when she chose the place later to imprison her half-sister, Elizabeth. The irony of placing Anne Boleyn’s daughter in the palace where Mary’s mother had once been held must have been delicious to her – especially when she chose Sir Henry Bedingfield as Elizabeth’s guard, the son of the man who had been steward and gaoler of Queen Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon.

Please visit our website for more information on this series.

 

#BookExtract – Murder Take Three by Eric Brown

Murder Take Three book jacketMURDER TAKE THREE by Eric Brown is a British Country House mystery.  Private Investigator Donald Langham discovers that truth is stranger than fiction when he investigates a murder on an American movie set on location in an Elizabethan Manor house in the depths of the Norfolk countryside…

****

The door opened and a young woman stepped into the office, then paused and stared around her as if surprised to find herself in a shabby, down-at-heel detective agency on Wandsworth High Street.

Langham, for his part, was no less surprised that this strikingly attractive woman should have sought out the services of Ryland and Langham. She was perhaps thirty, a little over five feet tall, and had a small, perfectly proportioned face, brilliant crimson lips, and a head of tight, platinum blonde curls. She wore a cream pencil skirt, a box-shouldered jade blouson, and carried a tiny black handbag that was obviously more for show than utility.

“Donald Langham,” he said. “If you’d care to take a seat…” He indicated a rickety spindle-backed chair before the desk.

She remained standing, her small nose wrinkling suddenly. “What in God’s name is that awful smell?” she asked in a distinct American accent.

“Ah. That’s the distinctive redolence of month old beef dripping.”

“Say again?”

“Stale fat. We’re directly above a fish and chip shop. You get so that you don’t notice it, after a while.”

“I’m sure you do,” she said, eyeing the chair dubiously before seating herself and crossing her legs. “I must admit that this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”

Contrasted with the woman’s startling perfection, the office with its peeling, thrice-painted green wallpaper, worn brown linoleum, and fly-specked window, looked nothing like the headquarters of a successful detective agency.

Langham sat back. “We like to expend profits on assuring that our clients receive the best service possible,” he said, parroting the line he’d heard Ralph Ryland use more than once.

She stared at him across the desk, appraisingly. “And you don’t exactly fit the bill as a tough-guy private eye.”

He laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, how can I help?”

MURDER TAKE THREE by Eric Brown is available in hardcover now in the UK and in the USA in August 2017.  Please visit our website here for further information.

Approaching research by Eric Brown

Twice winner of the British Science Fiction Award, Eric Brown is the author of more than twenty SF novels and several short story collections. His debut crime novel, Murder by the Book, was published in 2013 and his latest book featuring crime writer sleuth Donald Langham, Murder Take Three, was published in the UK in April, and will be published in the USA in August.  

HMurder Take Three book jacketere, Eric Brown speaks a little about his approach to research…

One of the dangers of writing books set in a certain historical period is the temptation to put too much of your hard-won nuggets of research into the finished novel. In early drafts of Murder By the Book, the first Langham and Dupré novel set in 1955, I stuffed a lot of needless detail into the narrative that might have been relevant to social historians of the period, but which, I realised, held up the flow of the story. I found that a guide of how to suggest the period was to read novels set in the fifties, when authors were writing of the time – they didn’t need to establish a sense of period: it was a given. What I learned from these novels was that a greater flavour of the fifties could be given by writing realistic dialogue that reflected the time: morals, social standing, education, etc. This allowed me to get on with the story I wanted to tell.

Praise for Eric Brown’s previous books:

MURDER BY THE BOOK 

“Charming characters and a consistently entertaining tone mark this crime debut from sci-fi veteran Brown”  Kirkus Reviews 

MURDER AT THE CHASE

“Plenty of unexpected twists. Agatha Christie fans will find a lot to like.”  Publishers Weekly 

 “Brown’s charming English locked-room mystery (after Murder by the Book) features a well-crafted and exciting plot and two attractive protagonists who epitomize a postwar English generation willing to reach across class lines. For readers who enjoy classic Golden Age mysteries.”  Library Journal 

MURDER AT THE LOCH

“This promises to be a fine series, if future instalments are as good as the first three have been”  Booklist 

 “This charming book, which follows Murder at the Chase, brings to the page well-defined characters and a classic locked-room structure. Recommend for anyone who loves English country house murders”  Library Journal 

For further information about Eric Brown and his work, please visit our website here.

Author Trivia – Jo Bannister

Bannister, Jo 2017Long before I was a professional novelist, my mother insisted that one day she’d be riding on a train and a fellow-traveller would be reading one of my books. It would be nice to be able to report that it happened.  In fact it never did – possibly because for the last thirty years of her life she never went anywhere by train.

But last year something comparable occurred.  A friend was travelling in the Far East when she came across a copy of “Deadly Virtues” in a second-hand bookshop in Manila. Obscurely pleased and touched, I offered to sign it for her.  “Oh, I didn’t buy it,” she said airily.  “I thought I’d get a copy off you.”

*********

All the characters in “Other Countries” are figments of my imagination, except for one.  Patience is in (almost) all particulars my last dog Grace, whose photograph has figured in some of the reviews.  Of course she couldn’t actually talk – but then, she could make her feelings perfectly clear with just the tilt of an eyebrow.

 

**********

Yorkshire BowtopI sometimes go to my Yorkshire bowtop wagon “Tara” to write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jo Bannister’s latest title, Other Countries, is available now in hardcover and eBook. Visit our website for more information.

9780727887023

Editor’s Pick – Lone Wolf by Michael Gregorio

9780727887221LONE WOLF is the third deftly-plotted thriller to feature resourceful park ranger and lupine enthusiast Sebastiano Cangio, set amidst the stunning landscape of the Sibylline National Park in Italy’s glorious Umbria region, where husband-and-wife writing team Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio (aka Michael Gregorio) make their home.  The atmospheric rural setting is one of the standout features of the series, and the authors’  intricate knowledge of and deep love for the area shines through the prose.

The action kicks off when a badly burned body is discovered near Stansted Airport and a single clue leads the police to Perugia, Italy. Since he knows the region better than anyone, Seb Cangio is assigned to assist British detective Desmond Harris in his efforts to uncover the dead man’s identity.  But as the investigation gets underway, Seb begins to uncover evidence of the return of the dreaded ‘Ndrangheta, the most feared criminal organization in Italy.  They’ve tried to kill him before – and Seb knows they will try to kill him again.

From the visually arresting opening chapters with their unnerving portrayal of sudden, unexpected violence, I was drawn in right away and kept gripped throughout as Seb Cangio and the ultra-ambitious Captain Lucia Grossi gradually piece the clues together to reveal the horrifying reason behind the ‘Ndrangheta’s return.  Mafia boss Don Michele, with his towering, unpredictable temper and capacity for sudden, ruthless violence makes for a truly chilling villain. Meanwhile the inevitable culture clashes between the British and Italian detectives provide plenty of light relief from the novel’s darker aspects.

A topical, suspenseful and wholly compelling read, I would recommend LONE WOLF to anyone who enjoys an intricately plotted, intelligently written mystery with an unusual, richly evocative setting.

Previous titles in this series:

Visit our website for more information on this series.

Did You Know . . . this about forensic science?

9780727887023Our latest interesting fact was submitted by Jo Bannister, author of Other Countries featuring PC Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash. 

A record of where you’ve lived at different points in your life is immortalised in your teeth and hair. Analysis of the relative proportions of particular elements, especially strontium and oxygen, can be compared with a geological map of the world and pin-point quite accurately where you drank the water and absorbed the minerals?

It’s a technique useful not only to forensic scientists but also to archaeologists, which is how Hazel Best came to hear about it from her friend David Sperrin (“Perfect Sins”),  and how she was able to prove (“Desperate Measures”) that Gabriel Ash’s sons were not held hostage in Somalia.

Other Countries is available now in print and will be released in eBook on 1 June.

#BookExtract – As Dark As My Fur by Clea Simon

“Readers who enjoy the prickly pleasure of stepping into a strange alternate universe will welcome Simon’s hypnotic second Blackie and Care mystery, set in a blighted unnamed city” Publishers Weekly

As Dark As My Fur - Clea SimonA seemingly routine case becomes something far darker and deeper for novice private investigator, Care, and her feline companion, Blackie.
Blackie does not trust Care’s new client, factory owner Mr Gravitz, who has hired the young PI to shadow one of his workers, a man he suspects is stealing from him. With his feline sixth sense, Blackie knows the client is not telling the truth – but how can he protect and warn his companion, Care, when he is only a cat?  Here’s an extract, continuing the adventures of this original and unusual detective duo…

 

 

I watch the girl.

She is sitting at the desk, as she has since daylight, reading over the letter she has perused a dozen times or more, the page laid flat before her on the stained old blotter. I have eaten and slept, but lightly, in the hours that have passed, aware at all times of her slim form dwarfed by that old oak desk and the tension that keeps her hunched over that one piece of paper. That has her murmuring, anxious, as if by repetition she will soothe what worries her.

‘Tenant deceased,’ she reads out loud, and I believe she would argue if she could. ‘Vacate,’ she adds, reading further. The words stir something in me. A memory and a regret. But the girl only sighs and shakes her head. ‘If I had the money,’ she says, and falls silent once more.

This one room has been our shelter for weeks now. Our home. A shabby office in a rundown area of town, rented by the month by the old man who was her mentor and her friend. As much an efficiency as a workspace, with its kitchenette and the battered sofa, where I slept, yesterday, as the spring rains fell. As need drove her out, despite the cold and wet, to forage in our ruined city.

I woke as the paper slid beneath the door, which has been broken and must now be crudely barred. Guarded it until she returned, her worn cloth sack fragrant with broken fruits. Already, I had examined the notice, cataloguing the scent of the hand that brought it, the ink that forms the words as well as the strange imprint at its top. Markers I may once have known, but which now mean nothing.

The girl took her time with it as well, upon her return, staring at the imprint before putting it aside. With deliberate focus she then parceled out the contents of her sack onto the larder counter. Apples already darkened by decay, but which she separated into piles: wrinkled and sweet, bitter. Gone. She’d looked over as she did this, turning toward me, the question clear in her large green eyes, and I did my best to respond, settling myself comfortably on the windowsill and turning away to signal my disinterest in such vegetable matter, fresh or rotten. Only then did she eat, devouring one small fruit, fragrant with rot, and sucking each finger clean. She is hungry, this girl, to the point of weakness, and yet she would share her food with me, a cat.

She owes me nothing, this child, burgeoning on womanhood. Despite the time I spend here, my predilection for this sill and for a certain worn spot on that sofa, I am sufficient unto myself, a creature of the streets, and I have no need of her meager provisions. I appreciate her generosity, however. Few of her kind would choose to share – shelter or food – with such a beast as I, ragged and undomesticated. But I have little taste for what she consumes, the fruit of plants halfway to fermentation. Not in this form. In this life, and what came before is fading.

Even if I did feel such yearning, hunger burning beneath my coal-black hide, I would not take from her. My green eyes may seem distant, focused on other matters, but I see the blue tinge of her skin, the fraying lips. She is hungrier than I, as well as cold, and I – I would remedy both, if I could. For although I am a beast, I am not without heart. Indeed, I have tried to feed her, bringing her the choicest of my prey on several occasions only to see her turn aside. And as I cannot will her out of such dainty habits, I have taken to dining in private, sharing her company only once I have fed, before I return to sit and brood on lives past and that possibilities that remain.

I sit now on the windowsill, aware of how I must appear: a large, black cat at rest, my paws tucked neatly beneath me. As ruminative as any pet to the undiscerning eye, but what I brew upon is not fit for most to hear. My thoughts are dark. Although my eyes may seem to close, I remain alert. On a vigil. Waiting for what may come. For now, I watch the girl.

AS DARK AS MY FUR by Clea Simon is available now in hardback and eBook.

For further information about Clea Simon and her work, please visit our website here.

 

Behind the Book – Murder in Disguise by Mary Miley

9780727887146Why did I set my mystery series in the Roaring Twenties? Simple—no other decade offers more chaos and crime than the 1920s. This was the era when prohibition laws turned ordinary citizens into criminals and brought about organized crime, skyrocketing violence, and the corruption of police departments, courts, and government throughout America. A perfect setting for a crime writer!

The star of my mystery series is Jessie, a savvy young vaudeville performer who occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of the law. MURDER IN DISGUISE, the fourth in my Roaring Twenties series, begins in the fall of 1925 when a projectionist is gunned down in the theatre booth. The killer flees to the balcony and vanishes. His widow, who works at the movie studio with Jessie, asks her to investigate. Her vaudeville skills and connections help her succeed where the police fail.

I can’t help packing my stories with details that bring the Twenties to life and highlight the progress society has made in the hundred years since. And no one is more surprised than I to find my own views about certain current controversies changing because of my immersion in this era. For example, a deeper understanding of the disastrous failure of liquor prohibition has flipped me from anti- to pro-legalisation of marijuana, and my greater awareness of criminal behaviour has sent me to jail—literally—where I teach a writing class to inmates.

Praise for Renting Silence 

“A little sparkle, a hint of sex, some wily Prohibition-era shenanigans, and one smart cookie in the lead make this a great read that’s similar to Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying” Booklist 

 “All the details of her journey not only advance the story but are fascinating in themselves” Publishers Weekly 

 “With a well-developed and surprising plot twist, an appealing, resourceful amateur detective, and fascinating period details, this entertaining historical will delight fans of Old Hollywood and those who like the 1920s-set mysteries of Suzanne Arruda and George Baxt” Library Journal 

Visit our website for more information on The Roaring Twenties series

#BookExtract – I Wish You Missed Me by Bonnie Hearn Hill

9780727886798The traffic was as aggressive as usual for a Friday. As she pulled off the freeway, dusk gave way to night and Sacramento became a blaze of headlights. A vehicle behind her came up too fast. Kit touched her brake and adjusted her rear-view mirror, but she couldn’t see anything except a dark van, its windshield reflecting back the light.

So pass me.

She slowed down more so that the van could go by.

Instead, it slowed.

OK, don’t pass me.

Lots of vans in Sacramento. No reason to worry. But she did have to wonder why this one seemed to be following her, though now keeping its distance. Kit turned off at the intersection, glad to be free of the glare. She let the cool breeze blow back the hair from her face. Fifteen more minutes and she would be home.

At the stoplight on Broadway, she glanced in her mirror again and saw a van merge into the lane behind her. Same one? Maybe it was heading to the fast-food place in the brick-front shopping center to her right. She squinted to see better but the streetlights reflected off the van’s windshield and distorted her view of the driver.

Only one way to figure this out. Kit steered into the next lane and took a sharp left. Probably a paranoid move on her part but she already felt her heartrate slow down.

A yellow glow cut across her vision from behind. Any vehicle. It could be any vehicle, she thought. She slowed; so did the van. She sped up. So did it.

As she shot through the red light, Kit remembered everything that had happened to bring her to this moment and knew she had to just drive, just run, get away as far and as fast as she could.

John Paul didn’t live far from here. She could call him. But first, another stoplight. Kit grabbed her phone, dropped it and realized she was shaking. Carefully she picked up the phone again and sent a text to John Paul.

Need help. Just passed Stockton and Broadway. I think there’s a van following me.

His reply popped up immediately. Come here. My place.

OK.

Come now.

She no longer knew exactly where she was. Sweat soaked her shirt and her slick hands could barely hold onto the wheel.

Not sure how. Find me. I’ll go around the block back to Jack In The Box on Broadway.

Headlights sneaked up behind her again. They looked the same and she took an illegal left turn.

Her phone buzzed and Kit looked down. John Paul. She took the call, pressed speaker and slammed the phone down in the seat beside her.

‘I can’t talk, John Paul. It’s a van, and it’s . . .’

Headlights washed over her again.

‘. . . right behind me.’

The van nudged closer but she still couldn’t make out the person inside it. She pulled over to the curb and waited. The van paused, then backed up and went right. Kit began to tremble. Tears filled her eyes.

‘It’s OK,’ she said to herself. ‘It’s just a driver who made a wrong turn. Weird coincidence. That’s all. It’s OK.’

Visit our website fore more information on the Kit Doyle Mysteries.