Editor’s Pick July UK/November US: BALL PARK by John Farrow

Ball Park

With Booklist calling his series the best of our time, and Lee Child also saying it is one of his favourites, it is a privilege to welcome John Farrow to the Severn House family. Our first entry in the Émile Cinq-Mars thriller series – the seventh in total – is the Editor’s Pick for July.

BALL PARK sees Detective Émile Cinq-Mars starting a new chapter in his career as he transfers from the notoriously tough Night Patrol division of the Montreal police force to the day shift. Yet his transition isn’t going to be a straightforward one. Cinq-Mars’s former supervisor Captain Armand Touton makes sure that he turns up for his first day in the new job hung-over and is assigned to partner another ex-Night Patrol detective some say isn’t on the “up and up”. With Émile known for being a by-the-book detective, he is unsure why Touton has done this. Is he setting him up to fail so he comes back to the Night Patrol?

Meanwhile, across town in Mt Royal, the richer part of the city, teenage thief Quinn Tanner breaks into a house and finds her victim at home with her secret lover. Despite a scare, Quinn escapes with some loot only to discover her getaway driver brutally murdered. Worried for her own life and how she could be accused of the crime, Quinn goes underground and hopes to stay out of the public eye.

For his first case on the day shift, Émile is sent to the property Quinn has just visited. Now their paths are set to cross. But has Quinn stolen something more valuable than she realizes? Who killed her partner and who is now hunting for her? And can Émile reach Quinn before it’s too late?

The city of Montreal in the 1970s was full of tough customers. The Night Patrol was an actual unit and Émile Cinq-Mars is based on a real-life policeman, and each had a reputation for taking a hard-line approach with criminals. Farrow’s knowledge of this history and Montreal itself comes across in this novel. The city is gritty and alive with colourful characters. Those inhabiting the pages of the book have an edge about them and they mean business – you certainly wouldn’t want to meet any of them down a dark alley. The grimier parts of the city feel like a place where the law rarely venture, while the wealthy parts enjoy the protection of the police.

With the two sides of the city set to clash, it is a conflict that could tear the foundations of Montreal apart.

Trapped in the middle is Quinn. While Émile is the beating heart of the novel, it is Quinn who steals the show. The witty, foul-mouthed teen is a match for any of the rough customers she comes face-to-face with, and you will be routing for her to win the day.

John Farrow is the pseudonym of Trevor Ferguson, a Canadian novelist and playwright with six previous novels in the Émile Cinq-Mars thriller series and seven literary novels under his own name.

BALL PARK is available from 31 July in the UK and 1 December in the US. Read more here.

 

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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!

 

 

Behind the author: SHAMINI FLINT

9780727889423_FCJack Ford 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.