The Dickens connection: THE HANGING PSALM by Chris Nickson

hanging psalmLeeds, 1820. Simon Westow, a Leeds thief-taker, knows all about lost property. But when he is asked to find the kidnapped daughter of a successful Leeds businessman, Simon and his assistant, Jane, face a challenge like no other. Could the answers lie within the streets of Leeds and a figure from Simon’s own past?

 

 

 

This intriguing first in a new historical mystery series introduces us to thief-taker Simon Westow and his fascinating, deeply complex assistant, Jane. It also shows the Leeds of 1820 in all its dark industrial glory. Chris Nickson explains the parallels between his home city in 1820 and Dickens’ descriptions of London.

There are two Dickens references in the book. There’s a character named the Vulture who has some similarities to Fagin. There are also scenes in an old blacking factory. Mind you, Dickens worked in a blacking factory. Why? Because the Leeds of this book is as dark as the London of the poor that Dickens described. Worse, in some ways, because Leeds also had the factories, slowly taking over everything, yet not in complete control of industry yet. Dark, satanic mills indeed – and a similar time to Blake’s ‘Jerusalem.’

Leeds was dirty. Most places had no running water, and there was still nothing in the way of sewage; that would come a couple of decades later. One tiny area had gas street lighting, the rest was dark as pitch at night. It was two towns, industry during the day, crime and desperation at night.

THE HANGING PSALM is out now in the UK and is available from 1 January in the US. Read more here.

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#BookExtract: JUST ONCE by Lori Handeland

just onceFrankie Sicari’s ex-husband, Charley Blackwell is back – and thinks they are still married. He is married – to Hannah. When medical tests reveal shocking results, Frankie reluctantly cares for Charley . . . but can she forgive him for the past? And how can Hannah cope with her husband’s demise and the knowledge that he never stopped loving Frankie?

 

 

 

This beautifully moving tale of love and loss tugged at our heartstrings from the very first chapter. Check out this book extract from the start of the story, where Frankie comes face-to-face with a very unexpected visitor she hasn’t seen for more than twenty years . . . her ex-husband, Charley.

The front door rattled. Frankie paused with her foot on the first step leading to the second floor, listening for a wind gust that would explain said rattling, but the late spring night was still.

The knob turned right-left, right-left.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

“Fancy? Open up.”

Frankie felt a chill so deep it made her dizzy. Only Charley had ever called her Fancy.

Though she’d just gotten off the phone with his wife, she still couldn’t believe he was here.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

And trying the door as if he expected it to open.

“My key doesn’t work.”

“No shit.” She’d changed the locks the day after she’d seen him kissing her.

“I’m tired. I’ve been traveling forever.”

Frankie swirled her finger in the air – the universal sign for whoop-de-doo.

“I can see your shadow on the floor.”

Sure enough, she’d moved closer and the light from the TV outlined her silhouette on the reclaimed wood of the entry hall, her shadow clearly visible through the frosted glass windowpane to the side of the door.

Frankie stepped back. She didn’t want to let him in. She didn’t have to. This was her house and it was the middle of the night.

“I forgot to call again, didn’t I?”

The hair on her arms prickled. Something was very wrong. Charley hadn’t forgotten to call in twenty-four years. That’s what divorce meant. He no longer had to call; she no longer had to care when he didn’t.

“Come on, baby. Let me in.”

An odd sound escaped. It would have been a sob, if she hadn’t cried herself sick over this man long ago. It almost sounded like a laugh, but nothing was funny about this. Even though it must be a joke.

It just had to be.

“Fancy, come on.”

Charley sounded exactly as he had all those years ago whenever he’d come home late, forgotten to call, or left for some misbegotten corner of the earth without telling her.

And none of that had ever mattered. She’d known the man she was marrying; she’d understood his passion, his conviction, his need to record how he saw the world through a camera. She’d shared that passion, but where Frankie saw light and color, contrast and composition – the way the world came together – Charley saw how the world came apart.

They said it was his gift; Frankie’d always thought it more of a curse. Charley’s view of life had been pretty damn dark. She’d spent a lot of her time lightening him up. Dragging him into the sun after he’d spent weeks in the rain. And if it insisted on raining, then she’d dragged him out anyway and convinced him to dance.

Want to read more? JUST ONCE is out now in the UK and available from 1 January in the US. Click here for more details.

‘What if…’ The inspiration behind JUST ONCE by Lori Handeland

 

just onceFrankie Sicari’s ex-husband, Charley Blackwell is back – and thinks they are still married. He is married – to Hannah. When medical tests reveal shocking results, Frankie reluctantly cares for Charley . . . but can she forgive him for the past? And how can Hannah cope with her husband’s demise and the knowledge that he never stopped loving Frankie?

 

 

 

This beautifully moving tale of love and loss tugged at our heartstrings from the very first chapter. Lori Handeland reveals the very personal inspiration behind this emotional, heartfelt tale.

My late father, Buck Miller, who was a photojournalist on staff at the Milwaukee Journal for twenty years, inspired JUST ONCE. He always told the most interesting stories of his life as a child, in the military and as a photographer. I spent my childhood listening to them and loving them.

Near the end of his life from bone cancer, I sat by his bedside and he opened his eyes and cried out “Where’s your mother?” I could tell he didn’t remember that he and my mother had been divorced for decades, and he had been married to someone else for just as long. I thought, “What if someone didn’t remember twenty years of their life? What if . . .”

The idea percolated for several years, expanding, adding multiple settings and characters, but also making use of a lot of those stories Dad told before he left us. Several of the photographs described in JUST ONCE as taken by Charley were actually taken by my father over the years. Many of the settings — Milwaukee, Door County — are places I have lived or visited many times.

JUST ONCE is out now in the UK and available from 1 January in the US. Find out more here.

Behind the Book: THE HANGING PSALM by Chris Nickson

hanging psalm

Leeds, 1820. Simon Westow, a Leeds thief-taker, knows all about lost property. But when he is asked to find the kidnapped daughter of a successful Leeds businessman, Simon and his assistant, Jane, face a challenge like no other. Could the answers lie within the streets of Leeds and a figure from Simon’s own past?

 

 

 

This intriguing first in a new historical mystery series introduces us to thief-taker Simon Westow and his fascinating, deeply complex assistant, Jane. Chris Nickson explains where the burning anger at the heart of Simon’s character comes from, and how the world he inhabits isn’t entirely fictional . . . 

The chilling, brutal testimony given by Simon Westow to the commission at the start of the book is not fiction. The words are paraphrased, but a composite of testimony given by child workers to a similar commission in the 1830s. Including it was important for people to see just how children were treated, especially workhouse children, to illustrate the burning anger at the heart of Simon.

When I first read the testimony, it shocked me, it made me angry that this could have gone on. But this was a period when children worked for twelve hours at a time in the complete blackness of the mines, pulling carts, crawling on their hands and knees. There was very little compassion, yet the tide was on the cusp of changing. That these questions could be asked shows a glimmer of hope.

The words offer a glimpse into the world that formed Simon Westow. I wanted them to make people stop, to feel the same anger he does every day of his life. His circumstances might have improved, but he can never forget. In just over two pages, it gives an electric insight into the book’s main character, so it effectively serves two purposes. You know he’s determined, you know he’s strong, and you know he has a fiery sense of justice, of right and wrong. But the time the story really starts, you know who he is and you’re on his side.

THE HANGING PSALM is out 28 September in the UK and 1 January in the US. Find out more here.

Did You Know? A MISSED MURDER by Michael Jecks

Missed Murder

Having been ordered to kill a man, former cutpurse turned paid assassin Jack Blackjack determines to save him instead. But Jack defies his spymaster at his peril … and even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. When it appears that Jack has killed the wrong man, he reluctantly finds himself drawn into affairs of state.

 

 

 

Disobeying the orders of your spymaster is never a good idea, as Jack Blackjack is about to find out in this lively and thoroughly absorbing Tudor mystery. But did you know that there was more to Mary Tudor’s pregnancy than first thought? Michael Jecks explains . . .

Mary Tudor was deeply devout, and determined to bring England back under the wing of the Catholic faith. She was infuriated by her half-sister Elizabeth’s adherence to the new English Church, but when she managed to marry Philip she seems to have felt she had at last got one over Elizabeth, and when she discovered that she was pregnant, her joy was unbounded. Elizabeth had been born to Anne Boleyn, and on her birth Mary had been declared illegitimate and told to give Elizabeth her jewels. There was a lot of bad feeling between the two. Now Mary felt she had everything. Her status was renewed, she was Queen, married, and pregnant, whereas her half sister was no longer a princess and would never inherit the throne. Any child of Mary’s would have a better claim than Elizabeth.

But the pregnancy went horribly wrong. Mary swelled as should be expected, but on the due date, although there was an announcement that she had given birth to a son, the jubilation was soon curtailed when it was learned that the announcement was wrong. There was no child – yet. And as the weeks dragged on, it became obvious that there would be none. Although there was no proclamation to say so, there was no news of a child, and the matter was allowed to drop.

Sadly the chances of another baby were slim in the extreme. Philip had battles to fight, and shortly after the non-birth, he left England. Mary was devastated, and paranoia seems to have set in. But the interesting question is, was there a baby at all, or was it all her imagination?

She had been examined by court physicians, and the general consensus was that she was pregnant. But at the same time we now know that the midwives involved were doubtful. They said that apart from the swelling of her belly, there were no other symptoms of pregnancy. One midwife confided that she thought the doctors were either stupid, or too scared to suggest that Mary had a phantom pregnancy.

The question which has intrigued many people is, what was the cause of this (and other) phantom pregnancies, and what caused her death? There was an epidemic of influenza when she died, so some ascribed her death to that, but others have suggested that her pregnancies could have been caused by a uterine cancer, or perhaps a stomach cancer of some sort. We will probably never know.

A MISSED MURDER is out now in the UK and is available from 1 December in the US. Read more here.

Behind the Book: MR CAMPION’S WAR by Mike Ripley

campion's war

It’s Albert Campion’s seventieth birthday, and he has decided to enthral his guests at the Dorchester Hotel with his account of his wartime experiences in Vichy France more than twenty-five years before. But in doing so he unveils a series of extraordinary events, the repercussions of which put one of his guests in deadly danger . . .

 

 

 

How did lunch with one of his literary heroes inspire the plot for Mike Ripley’s new Albert Campion mystery, MR CAMPION’S WAR? Find out below!

They say you should never meet your heroes, but it isn’t true. As a teenager I devoured the early spy novels of Len Deighton with their wise-cracking hero ‘Harry Palmer’ (played by Michael Caine in the films). One of my proudest moments at university was having an economic history essay returned with a comment from my tutor saying: ‘Stop trying to write like Len Deighton!’

Some thirty years later I got to meet Len and found him a charming and generous man and, I like to think, we became friends, having lunch together whenever he was in London.  At one such lunch in 2014 the conversation ranged, as usual, across a wide variety of subjects including our shared interest in the history of World War II, and Len mentioned that he had come across a possible plot concerning Vichy France, North Africa and an outrageous ‘money laundering’ scheme.

In 2017, after four novels continuing the adventures of Margery Allingham’s Golden Age sleuth Albert Campion – set in the late 1960s with Campion approaching his seventieth birthday – I decided that in the next instalment, at his seventieth birthday party, Campion would finally reveal part of what he had done during the war.

In the original Campion novels, Margery Allingham had glossed over her hero’s war service, simply hinting that he had been ‘away’ on secret work, so secret he himself did not know what it was! I remembered that lunch with Len Deighton and thought this could give me an excellent plot, especially as in her 1941 novel Traitor’s Purse, Margery had used a background of economic warfare by the Nazis against the English currency – something she had thought up as fiction, but which turned out to be true, as revealed after the war!

I contacted Len and asked his permission to borrow his plot idea and he generously allowed me to, though I am sure he would have made a better job of it.

So I have been twice lucky in that I have met one of my thriller-writer heroes and now have the privilege of writing the continuation stories of one of my fictional heroes, Albert Campion.

MR CAMPION’S WAR is available now in UK and from 1 December in the US. Find out more here.

Bouchercon 2018: Hello, Florida!

 

 

Our leading lady, publisher Kate Lyall Grant, had a busy start to the month, jumping on a plane to St Petersburg to attend the Bouchercon 2018 conference! Read her diary of a fabulous few days spent on Florida’s Gulf coast.

Bouchercon: SEPT 6-9TH 2018

After a hectic two days in a sweltering New York, it was a something of a relief to head down the east coast to the (slightly) more temperate climes of St Petersburg (St Pete to those in the know), nestling on Florida’s Gulf coast, with its waving palm trees, relaxed ambience and beautiful sandy beaches.

Having noted that the most Frequently Asked Question on the Bouchercon 2018 website was ‘Can I bring my gun?’ (a strange concept for us Brits!), it was with something approaching trepidation that I entered the hallowed portals of the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel where the conference was being held.  However, my apprehension was entirely misplaced, as I found my fellow delegates – authors, editors, agents and fans alike – a  remarkably warm, friendly and welcoming crowd – and not a firearm in sight.

With a record 15 Severn House authors attending Bouchercon this year, I was kept very busy racing around the conference centre, trying to catch as many of our authors’ panels as possible. But I learned many fascinating facts along the way.  At the ‘Crossing Genres’ panel, for example, ably moderated by our own Karen Olson, I took on board the hot tip that anyone suffering writer’s block should read Tristram Shandy. At the ‘Writing As A Pair’ panel, involving husband-and-wife writing team, Vince & Rosemarie Keenan, I was intrigued to learn that Renee Patrick (Vince & Rosemarie’s pen name) has become very much the third person in their marriage – and she scares them both to death!

At the ‘Talking Tough’ panel on Friday morning, where Severn House’s feisty Caro Ramsay more than held her own among a panel of tough-talking male authors, I was fascinated to discover that Caro’s  authorial career began at the age of seven, when her short story ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ took an unusual twist in that the cuddly teddies in question turned on their owners and killed them – and a crime writing career was born!  And, talking of careers, I was immensely impressed at how Tim O’Mara’s schoolteaching experience stood him in good stead as he marshalled the troops at the Federal Agents panel with admirable discipline, chutzpah and a decidedly no-nonsense approach to members of the audience who had the temerity to ask irrelevant questions!

In between panels, I took the opportunity to become acquainted with several agents whom I wouldn’t otherwise meet during my regular NYC trips as they are based elsewhere in the US. After a wonderfully convivial lunch with Paula Munier (Talcott Notch Agency) and Michelle Richter (Fuse Literary Agency), it was off to Inkwell agent David Hale Smith’s legendary cocktail party at the Parkshore Grill. Having secured a coveted invite for the first time, I definitely felt I’d arrived as part of the in-crowd!

Later that evening, it was off to the Hotel Zamora for the prestigious Shamus Awards Banquet, to share the festivities  with Severn House author Michael Wiley,  who had been nominated for the Best Novel Award, with his superlative noir thriller MONUMENT ROAD.  Alas, this wonderful novel did not win – but Michael was up against some seriously stiff competition and, hey, it’s the taking part that counts – and, in any event, a fabulous time was had by all.

But the highlight of the conference for me has to be the Severn House author drinks, which has become something of a Bouchercon institution in recent years. Unfortunately, St Pete, the ‘Sunshine City’ , didn’t quite live up to its name on this occasion, as heavy downpours, deafening thunderclaps and dramatic lightning flashes meant a last-minute change of venue, as the rooftop lounge (with its spectacular views) which my esteemed colleague Samantha Bentman had booked for the event became a no-go zone.

But no one’s spirits seemed to have been dampened by the weather and, having relocated to the bar area on the ground floor of the Birchwood, I relished the opportunity to catch up with Severn House Bouchercon regulars (and old friends!) for our annual get-together: Clea Simon, Karen Olson, Michael Wiley, Marcia Talley, Cathy Ace, Glenn Meganck (aka J R Ripley), Tim O’Mara, Don Bruns and Caro Ramsay, as well as meet some longtime Severn House authors for the first time, like Jack Fredrickson who had travelled all the way from Chicago for the event, as well as forensic pathologist Lisa Black, author of the gripping Theresa MacLean mysteries – and, not least, to welcome brand-new authors to our close-knit Severn House family: glad to have you on board  Vince & Rosemarie Keenan (aka Renee Patrick), Marty Ambrose and Eleanor Kuhns.

Champagne quaffed, canapes consumed, anecdotes exchanged, finally, on Sunday morning, I wended my bleary way to Tampa International airport, tired but happy, and already looking forward to Bouchercon 2019.  Dallas, Texas: here we come . . .

 

Editor’s Pick October UK/February US: A SUDDEN DEATH IN CYPRUS by Michael Grant

This month’s Editor’s Pick is A SUDDEN DEATH IN CYPRUS by Michael Grant.

sudden death in cyprus

New to the Severn House list is serial Young Adult author Michael Grant, who breaks away from this market with a new thriller. Don’t be fooled into thinking the series will involve cosy walks in the park as Grant is known for pushing boundaries, and A SUDDEN DEATH IN CYPRUS is no different. Here we are introduced to David Mitre, a successful crime writer who also happens to be a fugitive.

Having melted easily into Cyprus’s relaxed expat community, fugitive crime writer David Mitre is feeling relatively secure. His cash stashed in secret accounts and his exit routes mapped out, he can concentrate on his writing. All that changes when he’s witness to a cold-blooded murder in broad daylight on Paphos beach. The killing brings David to the attention of the FBI, who forcefully request his help in solving a crime far worse than anything he’s been accused of.

Fight or flight? Is helping the FBI the only way David will be able to live his life without constantly looking over his shoulder . . . or could it lead to an even worse fate?

Mitre possesses a truly distinctive voice and conventions of the genre are flipped on their head and played with to excellent effect. The wise-cracking yet intensely vulnerable character, combined with fast-paced action and a clever ensemble cast, make this thriller series one to watch.

Check out an extract from the first chapter here!

Find out more here.

Behind the Book: THE ANGEL IN THE GLASS by Alys Clare

Angel in the Glass1

1604. When the emaciated body of a vagrant is found on the moor, it’s the verdict of physician Gabriel Taverner that the man died of natural causes. But who was he, and why had he come to this small village to die cold, sick and alone? Attempting to find the answers, Taverner unearths a series of shocking secrets stretching back fourteen years.

 

 

“The mystery satisfies with a tragic, far-reaching conclusion. Clare reinforces her place among the top rank of historical writers” Publishers Weekly Starred Review.

This top-notch historical mystery received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and we were just as impressed! From the evocative West Country setting to a series of bizarre events and devastating secrets, we were kept guessing throughout. Read the story behind the book and Alys Clare’s brilliant writing below.

I seem to have an obsession with healers and the world of medicine. My earlier Hawkenlye and Aelf Fen series both feature central characters involved in healing, and Gabriel Taverner, the hero of the new series, is a physician. I’ve been reading about past lives, and reincarnation, and if it is true that we have all been round before (and I’m not at all sure where the truth lies), then it seems likely I was involved in the medical profession. Researching the medical world as it was in Gabriel’s time has been intriguing, surprising and occasionally pretty disgusting. The early seventeenth century was a time of change, when we began on the long haul away from superstition, and a belief that sickness and suffering were punishments from a vengeful God, and started to wonder if there were more rational explanations. I have tried to make Gabe a man of his times in that he is prepared to look at the old medical practices and ask why they went on being used when patently they didn’t work.

I enjoy bringing real-life locations into the books. In this one, some long-hidden objects are found in a secluded dell on the edge of Tavy St Luke’s, and as I was writing the first of the scenes set in the dell, an image of a place I know came to mind. It’s in Brittany, on the fringe of a small copse beside a field that has been allowed to return to nature, beside a track through the forest. Exploring it one day, a pleasant Breton man engaged us in conversation, explaining that the deep dell is an ancient quarry. The granite was excavated by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century for their nearby commanderie and the church in the village a few miles away. The area is full of the presence of the warrior monks, with overgrown trails through the forest marked with worn stone crosses and perfect little chapels hidden away in places almost everyone has forgotten about. I’m hoping to meet the friendly Breton again – he said we could explore the dell any time since it was on his land and he gave us his permission – because I’d love to tell him his quarry has been faithfully reproduced in a book.

THE ANGEL IN THE GLASS is available now in the UK and from 1 October in the US. Read more here.