#BookExtract: SEASON OF DARKNESS by Cora Harrison

season ofWhen Inspector Field shows his friend Charles Dickens the body of a young woman dragged from the River Thames, he cannot have foreseen that the famous author would immediately recognize the victim as Isabella Gordon, a housemaid he had tried to help through his charity. Nor that Dickens and his fellow writer Wilkie Collins would determine to find out who killed her. Who was Isabella blackmailing, and why?

SEASON OF DARKNESS introduces Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as an unusual detective duo in the first of a brand-new Victorian mystery series. In the extract below, Dickins and Collins see the body of the young woman for the first time…

There was a girl there, quite dead, lying on the marble slab, her eyes widely opened, river water oozing from a faded red and green print dress, descending drip by drip into the drain below the slab. I gazed at the body in horror. The last dead body that I had seen was that of my own dear father, but he had been a tired, ill, old man. This was a girl younger than myself. Pretty, too. Smooth skin, lovely dark hair rippling out from an oval face, large black eyes, widely opened and staring up at me.

‘What happened to her?’ I blinked, wiped my glasses with an unsteady hand.

‘Strangled and then thrown in the river. The surgeon hasn’t seen her yet, but look at her neck. Been broken. That’s what killed her, I’d say. Not the river. Legs broken, bruises on her arms. Been beaten and strangled, that’s what I think, anyway. The old story. She’s dead now and that’s the end of her.’

SEASON OF DARKNESS is available now in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.


The darker side of Aspen: FIRST TRACKS by Catherine O’Connell

9780727888730_FCWhen Greta Westerlind awakes in hospital having almost been killed in an avalanche, she is devastated to learn that her close friend perished in the slide. With no memory of the incident, Greta can’t explain why they were skiing in such lethal terrain, but as a series of menacing incidents unfolds, she is convinced that someone means to harm her…

In this intriguing thriller, Greta Westerlind discovers there’s a darker side to the glamorous skiers’ paradise of Aspen. Catherine O’Connell reveals why she was inspired to start a new series set in a ski resort…

While best known worldwide as a ski resort, Aspen, Colorado really got its start as a mining town in the 1880s when the price of silver in Aspen was quoted on the London exchange. The miners denuded Aspen Mountain of most of its deciduous trees leaving the perfect set up for ski runs. During World War II, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley served as a training ground for the 10th Mountain Division that then served in the Alps. Following the war, Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke really put Aspen on the map when he founded the Aspen Institute where he hoped to create a new Greece  encompassing the mind, body and spirit of Athens.

This book has been totally inspired by my 30+ years as a ski bum – among other things. But living in Aspen in the 80s and watching the first women take on the ski patrol job was very inspiring for me especially since there were no women on ski patrol when I first started coming to Aspen. So when I decided I wanted to place a series in my hometown, and I wanted a strong yet sensitive and human protagonist, Greta Westerlind was created Greta taken from the name of a ski patroller friend’s daughter, Westerlind the last name of a former ski bum friend. As for coming up with scenarios, Aspen has no shortage of those. Between the wealthy and the uber wealthy, famous musicians and the Hollywood set, long time locals, realtors and real estate battles, athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, there is plenty of fodder for thrillers. And I’m lucky enough to have seen enough of it to fuel my overactive imagination!

FIRST TRACKS is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

Delving into the past: the inspiration behind MARKED MEN

9780727888815_FCAfter a couple of bodies are discovered drowned, a figure seen asking questions about both victims becomes the prime suspect. As DC Sean Blake delves into the pasts of the friends killed and still living – including one who’s now the crime lord of Manchester – their group’s transgressions as teenagers come to light and, with them, more suspects.

In this thrilling sequel to Loose Tongues, DC Sean Blake returns to investigate a number of violent drownings in the Greater Manchester area. Chris Simms explains below what led him to the plot of Marked Men

The book is, essentially, a revenge novel. A terrible act, now almost forgotten by the childhood gang that carried it out, comes back to haunt them.

Social media makes it easy to track down friends from so long ago it’s like you knew them in another life. I find it really interesting how many memories are stirred up when an unexpected friend request appears on my screen. It’s fascinating to see how much people might have physically changed over the years, but they’re still the same underneath.

I think that’s what led me to the plot of Marked Men. The childhood gang have all moved on in life. Some have struggled, others are successful. Most know vaguely of their old school friends, and all have done their best to bury the memories of the awful thing they did.

So when people start dying, it takes the survivors a long time to face up to the truth. After all, there are wives, partners and children to consider. Old group dynamics try to reassert themselves; disagreements, acrimony and treachery break out. But all the while, they’re being steadily whittled away. And the last thing they can do is go to the police for help.

MARKED MEN is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

#BookExtract: BLACK DEATH by M.J. Trow

9781780291161_FCChristopher Marlowe had never liked Robert Greene when he was alive. But when Greene is found dead shortly after sending Kit a desperate letter, he feels duty bound to find out who killed him. Before long, the playwright-sleuth finds himself in the midst of a baffling murder investigation – where nothing is as it first appears.

The shadow of the Black Death settles over London in this eerie book extract from M.J. Trow’s new Tudor mystery . . .

The Pestilence came to Dowgate that summer. The Spaniards sent it, the rumour ran, in plague ships that drifted with the tide up the river in the dead of night. The Lord sent it because the City’s Livery Companies had displeased him, worshipping Mammon as they did. Above all, it was the Devil, the old serpent, keen as always to add souls to his legions. What if they shivered when he sent for them, if their bodies bulged with black sores and oozed blood? It was all one to him, the great searcher, hobbling on his cloven hoofs down the cobbled smock alleys and prancing through the steelyards, ringing to his tune.

Meg Honeytree had seen him creeping along Elbow Lane; Jane Griggs had caught a blast of his foul breath as he brushed past her on his way to the Vintry. She hadn’t believed a word from the plague doctor in his leather beak, spouting some rubbish about the miasma that rose from the old Walbrook, the stream that lay buried under London’s streets. It was the Fiend, simple as that.

Robert Greene didn’t know. Robert Greene didn’t care. He sat in his house along Kyroun Lane, watching the Baltic ships riding the river’s tide. The huge cranes in the Vintry swung above the Thames mist, groaning as their ropes took the weight of the dark timber, the silver furs. Silent in the shadows, cats prowled, fat on the rats that streamed from the ships in their hundreds. Even at dusk the docks were alive, the sailors’ calls rising above the hum of a never-sleeping city, the lanterns darting like fireflies on the water.

Robert Greene was in his thirty-fifth year, but today he felt as old as Methuselah. Around him, in his garret room, the spiders ruled, weaving whole kingdoms in the casement, pattering over his parchment, leaving trails of God-alone-knew-what all over his Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. He dipped the quill into the ink. There would be no plays tonight, no poetry; not his own, nor anyone else’s. Tonight, he had to write a letter – just one – to a man he hated more than anyone in the world. He shivered suddenly as a draught caught him. He thought he heard a creak on the stair, a muttered word, a whisper just on the cusp of sound. It couldn’t be Mrs Isam; she never came this high into the eaves, not when Dominus Greene was there. And besides, she never spoke below a dull roar, being hard of hearing and of most other senses beyond cooking and laundering. And Dominus Greene had not stirred from his room for three days and three nights. Only one man had come to see him: not Doll, not the snivelling Fortunatus; no one, except that one man.

Greene felt cold and old as he dipped the quill again. How could he start this letter, after all this time? Yet, how could he not, when his life depended on it? He took a breath as deep as his rattling lungs would allow and pulled the linen shroud up over his head. The candle guttered as his hand moved past it and the quill tip scratched the vellum.

‘To Christopher Marlowe,’ he saw the words appear and nearly shrank from them. They seemed almost to glow in the gloom of his chamber. ‘Dominus of Corpus Christi College, poet, playwright, friend to the afflicted.’ It was in Greene’s nature to grovel, to compliment, to laud, even the most undeserving. But would the recipient of this letter appreciate it, that was the question? Marlowe, who could see deep into men’s souls with those dark eyes of his. Greene paused, a glutinous drop of ink frozen on the tip of the feather. He toyed with screwing up the letter and starting again. But time was of the essence and the sand in his glass had long ago run out. He dipped the quill again and forced his aching fingers to move to the next line – ‘Kit,’ he wrote.

BLACK DEATH is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

Small but powerful: the London newspaper that inspired WATCHERS OF THE DEAD

Watchers of the Dead

December 1882. Attending the opening of the new Natural History Museum, Pall Mall Gazette reporter Alec Lonsdale and his colleague Hulda Friederichs are shocked to discover a body in the basement, hacked to death. Suspicion immediately falls on a trio of cannibals, brought over from the Congo as museum exhibits, who have disappeared without trace. Alec however has his doubts – especially when he discovers that three other influential London men have been similarly murdered. When he and Hulda discover a letter in the victim’s home warning of a catastrophic event planned for Christmas Eve, the pair find themselves in a race against time to discover who exactly the Watchers are and what it is they want.

The two leading characters in this wonderfully intriguing mystery both work for The Pall Mall Gazette, a small but influential London-based evening newspaper of the time that had links to many famous writers, including George Bernard Shaw. Find out how the author’s fascination with the history of the press played a large role in writing the story.

Like Mind of a Killer, the first book featuring journalist Alexander Lonsdale, Watchers of the Dead is based in 1880s London. Its story centres around investigations by Lonsdale and his colleague Hulda Friederichs – both reporters for The Pall Mall Gazette – into a series of grisly murders that appear to be being covered up.

The setting and most of the characters were naturals for me to write about, because I have always been fascinated by the history of the press, and at no point was it more colourful, influential, and diverse than in late Victorian London. In the early 1880s, The Pall Mall Gazette was a small but powerful evening newspaper that featured perhaps the most impressive staff in the history of journalism, including editor John Morley; assistant editor W.T. Stead, and reporters Alfred Milner, Edward Tyas Cook, Edmund Garrett, and Friederichs.

Few figures in the history of the press proved more significant yet more controversial than Stead, a liberal firebrand who believed that newspapers could shape and voice the desires and opinions of the newly enlarged and literate British electorate, and that public opinion could be utilised by the press to determine government policy. As the mentor to Lonsdale and Hulda in the book, he encourages investigations that might have been thought ‘unseemly’ by the high-brow newspapers of the period.

As in Mind of a Killer, a variety of incidents in Watchers of the Dead were taken from actual, seemingly unrelated, newspaper accounts, and were woven together to form the central incidents in the book. Although there is no certainty if there was any connection between these events, we do know that they occurred – so they aren’t just all fake news!

WATCHERS OF THE DEAD is available from 29 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more here.

Secrets of the canal: the inspiration behind THE LEADEN HEART

Leaden Heart

Leeds, England. July, 1899. The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?

A shocking suicide lies at the heart of the new Tom Harper mystery, but the book also sees Annabelle deal with a harrowing  event: the drowning of two young girls by their father. Pure fiction? Sadly not. Chris explains the real-life tragedy behind this disturbing thread.

One thread in the book has Annabelle Harper, in her role as a Poor Law Guardian, reviewing a workhouse refusing entry to a father and his two daughters. Later that same night, he drowned the girls in the canal. This is based very closely on an actual event in 1900, in Holbeck, across the River Aire from Leeds. A man named Thomas Mellor lived with a woman who’d left her own family to care for him and his daughters. Mellor worked, but never gave her money to feed or house the family. Finally, in exasperation, she threw them out, hoping it would bring him to his senses. He tired to have the girls admitted to the workhouse, but was refused as he had enough money for lodgings. A drinker, he told people ‘The water is big enough for them and me, and all.’ He threw them into the canal. Before they could be rescued, both girls drown. Mellor was tried for murder and executed in August 1900.

THE LEADEN HEART is available from 29 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more here.

Editor’s Pick April UK/August US: A Conspiracy of Wolves

Conspiracy of

With A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES, Severn House is delighted to welcome to the list the highly-acclaimed historical mystery writer Candace Robb who, after a 10-year gap, has chosen to return to the bestselling medieval mystery series that made her name.  Set in late 14th-century York, A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES is the 11th intricately-plotted mystery to feature former Captain of the Guard, Owen Archer, who last appeared in A VIGIL OF SPIES – and who, in this 11th series entry, is persuaded out of retirement to investigate the violent deaths of a father and son, both prominent citizens of York.  Keen to dispel the wild rumours that wolves have returned to stalk human prey through the streets of the city, Owen sets out to prove that a human killer is responsible for the deaths. Teaming up with the writer Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward (the Black Prince), Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy – and a battle for his own survival.

Wonderfully atmospheric and impeccably researched, A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES reintroduces readers to Robb’s eclectic cast of much-loved characters, including the enigmatic healer Magda, the fastidious Brother Michaelo, and not least the upright, fairminded Owen Archer himself, as he doggedly pursues the truth behind the shocking deaths of Bartolf and Hoban Swann.  Real historical figures mingle seamlessly with fictitious: I particularly liked Robb’s portrayal of the garrulous, gossipy Geoffrey Chaucer, who makes for a brilliantly contrasting sidekick to the more sober, taciturn Owen.

Although Robb wears her research lightly, the plot is full of fascinating historical tidbits: I was intrigued (and rather appalled) to learn, for example, of the decidedly cruel practice of ‘lawing’, by which all dogs had to be de-clawed before they were permitted to enter the Royal Forests: just one of the many everyday aspects of 14th-century life of which I had previously been unaware.  And the wider political machinations against which the novel is set, with the overwhelmingly ambitious Neville family steadily manoeuvring themselves into positions of power from which to mount a future challenge to the ruling House of Plantagenet, made for an intriguing backdrop to the central mystery plot.

This well-crafted mystery, with its plentiful red herrings and credible suspects thrown into the mix to throw the reader off the scent, will appeal to fans of Ellis Peters, Paul Doherty – and anyone who enjoys an intriguing, historically accurate medieval mystery.

A CONSPIRACY OF WOLVES is available from 30 April in the UK and 1 August in the US. Read more here.

Behind the Book: SEASON OF DARKNESS by Cora Harrison

season ofWhen Inspector Field shows his friend Charles Dickens the body of a young woman dragged from the River Thames, he cannot have foreseen that the famous author would immediately recognize the victim as Isabella Gordon, a housemaid he had tried to help through his charity. Nor that Dickens and his fellow writer Wilkie Collins would determine to find out who killed her. Who was Isabella blackmailing, and why?

SEASON OF DARKNESS introduces Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as an unusual detective duo in the first of a brand-new Victorian mystery series. Author Cora Harrison reveals how she was inspired to feature Charles Dickens at the centre of her new series…

A life-long fan of Dickens novels, it was only a few years ago that I read through all the published editions of his letters and found, in his letters to Angela Burdett-Coutts, how he was instrumental in setting up Urania Cottage, ‘a home for homeless girls’ he called it.

Dickens, who was then writing ‘David Copperfield’ and dwelling on the sad fate of the two girls from the fishing community in Yarmouth who both strayed into prostitution, conceived an idea of rescuing such girls, who were about to be released from prison, and setting up this ‘home’ in order to give them another chance in life. His plan was that a small number of girls would, within this cottage, and under the supervision of a matron, lead a life where they would acquire household skills, such as lower-middle class girls would be taught by their mothers, and when well trained, be paid for to travel to Australia to begin a new life there.

I was immensely impressed by his ideas. He spent a long time talking with each girl before she was released from prison. And as soon as he had chosen a girl, he personally went to a shop and bought a dress length of material in a colour that would suit the girl. Angela Burdett-Coutts felt that all girls should be dressed in penitential black, but Dickens liked bright colours and wanted the girls to look well and to take a pride in their appearance. Their first sewing lesson was to make their own dress. Once in the house they were divided into groups and each group were responsible, for the duration of a week, for a different aspect of running the house: cooking, washing, cleaning, polishing – just as girls from a lower middle-class family would do.

But of course, some girls could not stand the supervision or the sheer boredom of domesticity and they left. It was Dickens’ letter about one such girl, Isabella Gordon that inspired my book, Season of Darkness. In one evocative phrase, ‘she danced upstairs… holding her skirts like a lady in a ball’, he made me see her. And Isabella’s subsequent life and death came to me in a rush of inspiration.

SEASON OF DARKNESS is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

Meet Kit Marlowe: BLACK DEATH by M.J. Trow

9781780291161_FCChristopher Marlowe had never liked Robert Greene when he was alive. But when Greene is found dead shortly after sending Kit a desperate letter, he feels duty bound to find out who killed him. Before long, the playwright-sleuth finds himself in the midst of a baffling murder investigation – where nothing is as it first appears.

Written by a husband and wife team under the name M.J. Trow, the Kit Marlowe series stars the ‘bad boy’ of Elizabethan drama. Below they explain the inspiration behind the character and the series . . .

We embarked on the series featuring Kit Marlowe because he is such an enigmatic character. The son of a Canterbury shoemaker, he won a scholarship to King’s School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Destined for the church as a career, Marlowe was a rebel, wrote poetry, read banned books and went to London to seek his fortune as a playwright. He quickly became the ‘Muse’s Darling’, ‘all fire and air’, producing iconic works like Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II. He was also, while still at Cambridge, recruited to the espionage service of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Both these elements – the theatre and the spying game – form the kernel of the series. It was a dangerous time for everybody. Marlowe may have been homosexual – a hanging offence. He was almost certainly an atheist – they burned people for that.

The Marlowe series features a mix of real life characters and fictional ones. We research as thoroughly as we can, but we also use poetic licence. For instance, Will Shakespeare (Shaxsper) is a bit player/playwright wannabe and everybody uses the now legendary phrases that are attributed to him. We never introduce the Queen herself – the stories are played out in the context of everybody’s response to her. Because we cannot be absolutely sure how people spoke in Elizabethan England – poetry, plays and legal documents were written in a specific style, not everyday speech – we have dispensed entirely with ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘prithee’ as being both annoying and corny.

Marlowe’s life is so full of inconsistencies – as indeed was the time in which he lived – that we have found room to be ambiguous in terms of what made the man tick. He loves the theatre, but does he love his country more? Neither Philip Henslowe, impresario of the Rose Theatre, nor Francis Walsingham in Whitehall, pay enough, so a man like Marlowe, as much as a swordsman as a ‘University Wit’, has to live by his blade and his wits to survive.

History tells us that Kit Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in Deptford at the age of 29. History, of course, is often wrong . . .

BLACK DEATH is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.

London Book Fair 2019: Talent, talks and tote bags


london book fair

The publishing world descended on London again this week for the 48th London Book Fair! Amid the hustle and bustle, wheeling and dealing, Luke made his LBF debut and shares his thoughts on a long and busy day below. 

The sky painted a metallic grey enveloped the morning in a shroud of mediocrity as the overground train pulled into Kensington Olympia. This was quite at odds with the colourfully absurd vignettes Brautigan was sardonically imprinting on the inside of my skull. A quiet relief at the prospect of disembarking, followed by a frantic dash to do so, seemed to sweep over those maddened by the enclosed space. Moments later, passengers in all shapes and sizes alighted and dispersed like ants. Amongst the multitude of people were the usual suspects I imagined were to accompany me to our destination. There was no need of a detective to spot a tote bag with a gimmicky slogan. And I realised I perhaps arose likewise suspicion with Brautigan peeping out of my jacket pocket. Silently, or so it seemed to me, I tread the unfamiliar road onwards and upwards toward London Book Fair.

I have never been to a book fair of any kind. What I expected was both exactly how it turned out and yet somehow entirely different. Accurate expectations seem to share this uncanny quality – we can never truly know what something will feel like, even if we have a good idea of what it will. I eyed the canteen and considered food. I had not eaten but decided I could go without. Approaching the entrance doors, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face from what seemed like a past life. The comforting thought of what a small world it truly is played upon my mind like a record. The world is full of meaningful coincidences and meaningless platitudes. Deciphering which is which can be difficult at the best of times.

I smiled at the coincidence, and momentarily reflected upon the person I was, the person I am, the roads like tree branches we both must have traversed in order to find ourselves momentarily pretending not to have seen each other. I wondered if we would talk later on, or if she would disappear into the whirr of existence. But I had a feeling we would; and more importantly, I had a delayed hope that we would. A sense of detached irony reverberated throughout the day. I was scarcely in control of it.

Once inside, the bright lights and vibrant commotion exploded into a chaos and order unprecedented. It seemed everybody and nobody knew what they were doing. I headed toward the Canongate booth, which was vibrating with the infectious energy of commerce. Here I met with a colleague, a welcome friendly face in a sea of meaninglessness. I grabbed an overpriced water and a ham and cheese croissant, and she a coffee. We spoke a little and then ventured to a talk with an author we had never heard of. This momentarily sliced through the vacuity and dove into the essence of the thing: the fiery magic of the written word. I felt replenished. I could now face the day with my levels of optimism slightly renewed. The passage she read had resonated with me like a scar.

Budding authors and emerging talents, metadata and business relationships. A somewhat unsettling juxtaposition that seems to know nothing of form. But this is the skeletal make-up of the unlikely microcosm that is the world of books. And such was my experience of the book fair itself. The information we process in a day can scarcely be recounted; but an attempt at tracing the shape of events can be.

Chance conversations witnessed between young and old seemed to form a pattern in my mind between life and the essence of the fair. An attempt at real life connection resonated with me. Variety of experience and sharing (what could otherwise easily remain silent) of that experience, is to be extolled. A tale of the tapestry of a life sewn with toils, pains, hopes unfulfilled, wives and marriage, is dispersed with a handshake and a “nice to meet you”. What remains I do not know. What I do know is that the pulse of the future continues to thud like a sphere of light growing in and out of intensity, spiralling on toward the next excruciatingly exciting thing. But all this excitement does not deceive the cynic’s gaze. The façade fails to capture the nuance, the ambiguity, the meaning. A deaf poet in the poet’s corner attempts to restore my faith once more; and he sticks like a shard into my tangled mind whilst he recites verse to a captive audience. Perhaps he succeeded.

After a long and tumultuous series of events, a talk at the tail end of the day is teeming with bright hopes shaped like human beings, all in search of answers. How do I make my future the best it can be? Echoes of the hopes and the ability we have to turn such hopes into a reality awaken, but the importance of perspective comes most to the fore. I meditate upon the truth of platitudes and the lies of platitudes, enigmas to be resolved one day maybe, or simply come to terms with as is more likely. I see the same familiar face from the morning and I know at once that I’d like to speak to her.

Upon a perfunctory, though well-deserved round of applause, synchronicity seems to catch us up and we both make to leave at the same time. Destiny dictates I speak. And I do.  The presence of reality and loose string of the past leads me to a social event at a pub where the buzz of alcohol-fuelled conversations sets the tone. I talk. I laugh. I trace new faces with optimistic eyes. I participate in something of an evanescent surrealness until we decide to head home. London’s burning lights accompany us to the underground. Here, words from a previous night find me, the tube is a repository of farewells. We hug and say goodbye, and we’ll catch up soon. And maybe, we will.

Read more from Luke here!