Let me preface this little brain-squeeze by saying that I can’t recall reading any satire before, so the finer nuances of the genre may be a little lost on me. I came by The Breaking Of Liam Glass through my wonderful publicist Linda MacFadyen, and liked the sound of what the pre-publication soundbites were saying – hinting at a crime story that is both very topical and darkly funny.
Having now read the book, I can agree with that assessment in abundance, and must point out happily that such comments only scratch the surface here.
The book is as biting as it is harrowing, as funny as it is dark, as prescient and on point as it is a parable for the modern human condition. I really, really enjoyed it.
I realise it might sound a bit grandiose to say ‘a parable for the modern human condition‘ but I found it a very engaging autopsy of the public’s various relationships with the media, the law and government, not to mention the public’s obsession with celebrity, fame and all the trappings associated.
It was also one of the tensest books I’ve read in some time, something which I wasn’t expecting at all – but as the story of Liam Glass unfolds, and the race to get the story out there begins, I found myself swept up in that same urgency. I loved it.
I think my favourite aspect of the book, is that it never once treats the reader as an idiot. We are in on the joke, lamenting and laughing at the sheer ballsy hopelessness of it all. We are encouraged to make our own mind up and rarely is anything black and white – for example, despite the actions of some of the characters being utterly despicable at times, I found myself simultaneously genuinely sympathetic. And, as someone in myself who has his own views of the responsibility of the media, this is no mean feat!
In summary, The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris challenged me in all sorts of ways I didn’t expect, but throughout I was constantly engaged, educated and entertained. If you want to try something different, I’d completely recommend this – and even if you don’t, there’s so much to enjoy here, that I’d heartily recommend it anyway.
One of my formative memories in my fledgling writing career was at Bloody Scotland in September 2014, when, bumbling and in awe, I asked Danielle Ramsay to sign a paperback for me. I proceeded to go beetroot red as I pulled out more and more dog-eared books for her to sign, while she was a pillar of patience. She asked me what I did, and when I replied sheepishly that I had just got a literary agent, she was so bubbly and encouraging that long after the book festival was over, I would seek her out for advice and direction whenever I needed some.
Proving once again the now-ironclad adage that people in crime literature are just lovely, she was so effusive, thoughtful and helpful, and westill drop each other a line readily. She is one of the nicest people in the book world I’ve met, and one of the most important voices in my career so far. Her words meant the world to me at the time, and the books she signed for me are treasured. She was one of the first people I told when I signed my own book deal at the end of 2016.
And… she’s got a new book out! The Last Cut is the start of a brand new series (segueing from the brilliant Jack Brady series – check them out pronto too), and is her best and bravest book to date. I urge anyone who even has a passing interest in crime novels to check it out without delay. She tackles and analyses all manner of issues surrounding abuse and its effects, drawn remarkably from her own experiences – which makes the book for me even more of a triumph. It’s a breaking of chains, a catharsis, a confrontation – and Danielle explains it far better here than I could ever paraphrase:
The book follows DS Harri Jacobs, recently transferred from the Met police to Newcastle. She is still piecing her life together after a terrible assault a year ago, the after effects of which threaten to bubble to the surface – as bodies start to appear around Newcastle, and it becomes clear that a new dangerous killer is stalking the young women of the city and is subjecting them to abysmal horrors. Harri’s past and present intertwine in a constantly surprising plot that will have your skin crawling and your fingers peeling the pages.
My gratitude to and admiration of Danielle is a constant given – it just so happens that she writes great books too! The Last Cut comes hugely recommended, and you can grab it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01LZUGJTW/
It’s with great delight that I can share the news that A Wanted Man, my debut novel, has been published by Endeavour Press. You can grab it here!
A Wanted Man is, simply put, the story of a soldier who was discarded, but still has more to give. I kept asking myself what it would feel like to give everything for your country, only to come back to find everything was different – including yourself. What would happen if you only have training for things that are of no use at all in regular civilian life? What do you do when you’ve grown up while fighting wars abroad, only for the fighting to end and you’re not needed anymore? When I posed these questions to myself, the character of Ben Bracken began to form in my answers.
When I was 17, I wrote a screenplay that was about a criminal gang in Manchester, UK, near where I still live today. It was profoundly formulaic, and followed similar tropes seen in countless movies over the years. I loved a good crime yarn, and wanted to write one – that was my simple motivation. But as I got older, I mulled over this screenplay time and time again, realising that something was missing. It was only when my own friends and acquaintances started to come back from Afghanistan, and I spoke with them about their experiences, did the penny drop. Their collective states, each varied, inspired me hugely, both in terms of my admiration for them, and creatively as well.
And then I thought about dropping an ex-soldier into that old crime screenplay I’d written. The possibilities suddenly seemed endless, and I was away. The creative process organically seemed to turn the project into a novel, as I started from fresh. Before long I was flying and in 8 weeks, I’d written the first draft.
That was late 2013, and since then I have grown immeasurably, both personally and in terms of my writing, and it’s with immense pride that A Wanted Man finds readers today. I really hope you enjoy it. I had a blast writing it, and there’s plenty more to come from Ben Bracken, mark my words.
Every now and then a thirst for a scary story rears its ugly head, and I take a break from my usual crime novel inhaling to satisfy it. The last two I’ve read have both been so good, yet so markedly different, in the way that the authors have decided to set up their fictional world, and deliver the hauntings themselves. Sometimes when I read ghost stories etc, I feel a little deflated that the same old tropes have been fallen upon again, and rarely am I surprised. Both of these books elevated way beyond this, were original, fresh, beautifully written and very unsettling, and were the best two ghost stories I’ve read in quite some time.
Dark Matter is set in the 1930s and the period vibe provides an authentic, antiquated setup to proceedings. It’s a very real world, muddling along in between World Wars, the class divides as pointed as they have ever been, before the action moves from London to Norway, up in the arctic circle, where the light is fading fast and months of darkness approach. The haunting itself is gradual, teased, suggested, and ultimately beautifully told by Michelle Paver.
This is the story of a man so gripped by the desire to prove himself to his peers that he’d rather encounter the worst in order to do so, and before long, the worst indeed comes to find him. The spirit or force is a wonderful creation, and the story behind it genuinely affecting. The descriptions of the apparition itself are a wonderful mix of vivid and suggestive, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks around a few very unsettling details. Between a genuinely interesting force of evil, and a unique setting and time period that creates its own set of problems and parameters for our protagonist to overcome. The overall impression I was left with was of an expert, economical, unique ghost story that was unlike anything I’ve come across, told with a near hypnotic control of the reader. I couldn’t look away, nor did I want to. Superb.
On the other hand Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, takes a tried and tested formula (or at least the formula that worked so well for The Blair Witch Project) and throws the reader a monumental curve ball. Yes, the ghost witch exists. Yes, the protagonists know. Yes, the town of Black Spring is haunted.But they all have to get on with their lives somehow, and eke out a modern existence in a small town with a giant haunting secret. The witch could show up at any time, ruining your dinner. If the witch appears in an inconvenient spot, just put a sheet over her and go about your business. It’s a setup that I’ve not come across – one where the characters are almost jaded/bored by being haunted. This isn’t the world of ‘is there anything out there?’ – it’s more the world of ‘we know there is something out there but we just have to carry on’.
As a story set in the modern era, Heuvelt brings a laterally thought approach to how an acknowledged legitimate haunting might work, if people had to accept it and carry on with their lives. It’s the secret of the town and it always has been. If the rest of the world were to find out, all hell would break loose. But the town needs trade – it needs visitors and commerce in the area, and that involves outsiders. So the council of Black Spring have created a thoroughly believable smartphone app, managed by an in-town security setup, that lets residents log witch sightings/behaviour so that the town can plan their lives appropriately. It’s nothing short of genius, and exactly what you can picture happening if this were to actually happen in the real world. In that sense, it’s wonderful to see the story play out in such a well-thought out setting, because everything from there feels real and believable – something not always achieved in ghost stories. The motivations of the witch, and the behaviour of the witch, is as unsettling as anything I’ve ever read I think, yet Heuvelt still manages to make her a sympathetic figure. In doing so, he creates a fable about acceptance, social responsibility, love and bullying. It was another storming read, one which I couldn’t recommend high enough.
So you’ve got Dark Matter which takes a more traditional approach of creating a normal world that has elements of the supernatural invading it, then Hex which takes an all new (at least that I’ve come across) approach by having the supernatural elements very much a part of the world we live in (while it being delivered not remotely like a fantasy novel). Both were enthralling, both hugely believable on their own terms (with the help of a little imagination) and both just what I wanted when it came to scratching that ghost story itch. Recommend them both highly, and would love to hear about more fresh ghost story novels out there.
The Sean Duffy series became a favourite long before this sixth instalment, but this could be the best yet. Now a firm calendar highlight, the release of a new Duffy book guarantees a darkly funny, gripping ride with a cast of characters that I now find indispensable.
For me personally, Adrian McKinty is a close to literary royalty as it gets, and he consistently delivers the kind of prose, plots, twists and dialogue that have me in awe every single time. Whenever I am asked for my list of authors who inspire me, his is the first name out every time.
I took Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly with me on a little trip away to Copenhagen with my wife – our first just the two of us since our first daughter was born seven years ago. I don’t think my wife got more than two words out of me on the flight over, and I think they were ‘coffee, please’ (she’s a good ‘un, she really is). Entranced is the word.
I finished it sometime in the wee hours of our second night there – and was immediately gutted it was over. Duffy now in his late 30s, wrestling with fatherhood and his career, not to mention all the parties whose feathers he has ruffled in the previous five books, is a stone cold hero of modern crime literature – an ace, layered, caustic, witty protagonist that you’d just love a pint of the black stuff with. I can’t wait to see Duffy shell-suited to the max in the nineties, tackling banking corruption and financial collapse in the noughties and doing, well, who in the merry hell knows what with Brexit and Trump when he eventually gets to this decade.
If you haven’t found McKinty and the Duffy books yet, please get your act together sharpish. You will not be disappointed.