Guest Post: The Quarry Girl – How I Build A Story by Tania Crosse #guestpost

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August 1883. The future for Ling Southcott, a quarryman’s daughter, seems to be already mapped. Marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Barney, a cluster of children, a life contained to the hamlet of Foggintor Quarry. For Ling, with her sharp, enquiring mind and love of books, it is an accepted, if unwelcome fate.

But then the new Princetown Railway opens across Dartmoor, connecting her remote hamlet to the neighbouring town of Tavistock, and even Plymouth.

SUDDENLY THE WORLD IS AT HER FINGERTIPS

Then Ling is rescued from a fatal blow. Her rescuer is handsome young medical student Elliott Franfield.

Elliott, man of education, is so different from her unambitious Barney. Almost against her will, Ling feels her eyes open to what life could have in store.

WILL LING CHANGE HER DESTINY? OR WILL SHE LET OPPORTUNITY SLIP THROUGH HER FINGERS?

(This book was originally published as A Dream Rides By.)

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, saga author Tania Crosse, to talk to me about her books and how she goes about building a story, with special reference to her book, The Quarry Girl. I’m going to hand over to Tania and her guest post now.

How I Build a Story by award winning author Tania Crosse

As an author, I’m often asked where I get my ideas from. Well, I suppose it comes down to being blessed with a naturally fertile imagination. A book always starts with inspiration of some sort, of course, but then the process of building the story kicks in. Being a writer of historical fiction/sagas, I like to put my characters in a specific historical situation and see how they cope with the difficulties that the era presents.

I’m particularly known for my Devonshire series, which covers from the Victorian period up to 1950s and is set on the western side of Dartmoor and the surrounding area. It’s a region I know well, and its fascinating history has provided me with a wealth of inspiration. Drive across Dartmoor today, and most visitors will appreciate the savage beauty of the windswept uplands and magnificent granite outcrops or tors. They will stop to take photographs of the few wild ponies that survive, smile at the scattering of hardy sheep and perhaps be wary of a herd of cows. All very picturesque on a summer’s day in the comfort of a modern car. But just think what it would have been like to scrape a living from the moor in the past and survive the depths of winter with no mod cons!

Dartmoor was far more intensely farmed in the past, but she also has a hidden history of industry. Particularly during the Nineteenth Century, the moor was dotted with mines and quarries, some larger concerns than others. There was even a gunpowder factory, and railways appeared. Not forgetting, of course, the infamous Dartmoor Prison. All fantastic inspiration for a novel.

Take, for instance, the gunpowder factory. What explosive situations that could lead to, if you’ll excuse the pun! I married that with the history of the prison in Victorian times for what has recently been republished as The Gunpowder Girl. (Also released in audio on 1st March.) However, to illustrate how I build a story, I’m going to use A Dream Rides By, recently re-released as The Quarry Girl.

Foggintor Quarry, a couple of miles west of Princetown, is a massive, mysterious and magical place. It’s also high up on the moor and utterly exposed to all the weather can throw at it. The workers didn’t travel in from cosy towns. They lived with their families in a little community at this remote spot in a square of one up, one down cottages, the ruins of which can be seen today. From one corner projects a small square, the remaining foundations of what was the chapel-cum-school.

Now, sagas are meant to be tough and gritty, so that box is already ticked. A strong, spirited, intelligent heroine is also a prerequisite, so she’s going to be the school assistant. The heroine always needs a foil of some sort, usually of a contrasting personality. This can often be a friend or an older person, but in this case, I decided to make this character her younger sister. Blighted by measles as a toddler, she is left hard of hearing and a little on the vulnerable side, shall we say, far too trusting and needing her elder sister’s protection.

Naturally, they live with their quarryman father and their mother. At a time when the only form of transport for the poor is shanks’s pony, they’re unlikely to have much contact with the outside world. As a consequence, the heroine is promised to her childhood sweetheart, also a young quarryman, of course. He is kind and hard-working, but unambitious. And herein lies the greatest element of any story but particularly of saga, inner conflict.

Though she loves him dearly, the heroine’s enquiring mind and knowledge gained through reading lead her to yearn to experience the outside world. Not necessarily to travel far, but at least to share an interest beyond the world of quarrying stone, an interest that’s beyond her intended’s intellectual sphere. So how will that come about?

Well, in 1883, the Princetown Steam Railway opened, passing by the end of the quarry. Constructed mainly to serve the prison and the local quarries, it was also to provide a passenger service. I saw this as the heroine’s path to the outside world. At the official opening of the railway, I invent a dramatic incident whereby she meets a young doctor, and he is to provide her inner conflict. I won’t give away any of the story, but you can see how she is going to be torn between her solid childhood sweetheart and the higher intellectual plane of this new acquaintance.

Quarrying is a dangerous occupation, especially so in a time when there were no health and safety regulations. I discovered that there was a particular way in which quarrymen buried their dead, so it was a must to have a fatal accident at the quarry, but it had to involve the heroine in some way, and add to her anguish and, in this case, her feelings of guilt.

So, I think you can see how I’m building up the story from historical fact. Something else that is integral to life at such a remote location is the weather. I had always planned to use the 1891 Great Blizzard in which the Princetown train famously got stuck in snowdrifts on the moor for five days. What a gift for a writer over a hundred years later! I turned it into a major turning point in the heroine’s life.

I remember my original agent, the late Dorothy Lumley, saying to me that I should always have someone working against the heroine in addition to the historical circumstances. While trying to dream up another storyline to fill this gap, the answer suddenly came to me when I was considering how I could work in the Great Flood of 1890. I decided to bring in the younger sister here, and link her with the black sheep of the community, another young quarryman who nobody likes. By giving the sister a story of her own and weaving it around the main action, it opened up a whole new prospect for the entire book, making everything gel together. That is something I always strive to do, have one or more sub plots that spiral around the principal thread, which gives a strength and richness to the novel.

When searching for inspiration for the personal stories of the characters, I sometimes draw on my own life experiences, and in some cases, those of my parents. The principal story in my 1945 London-set novel, The Street of Broken Dreams that won Saga of the Year in the 2020 Awards of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, was actually adapted from a wartime experience of my mother’s. Fortunately, what happened to her was nothing like what happens to my heroine, but there again, I built up layer upon layer to achieve all the necessary ingredients of a multi-faceted saga.

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Summer 1945. The nation rejoices as the Second World War comes to an end but Banbury Street matriarch, Eva Parker, foresees trouble ahead.

Whilst her daughter, Mildred, awaits the return of her fiancé from overseas duty, doubts begin to seep into her mind about how little she knows of the man she has promised to marry. Or are her affections being drawn elsewhere?

Meanwhile, new neighbour, dancer Cissie Cresswell, hides a terrible secret. The end of the conflict will bring her no release from the horrific night that destroyed her life. Can she ever find her way back?

Under Eva’s stalwart care, can the two young women unite to face the doubt and uncertainty of the future?

One thing I haven’t mentioned that you might find interesting is that I have a strange gift for seeing characters that appear to me in flash visions, usually quite unexpectedly. It first happened when I visited Morwellham Quay, the famous Victorian copper port in Devon that’s been a living history museum since 1970s. I saw a young cooper in Victorian workman’s clothes during a demonstration in the cooperage. I assumed he was a member of the costumed staff, but a second later, he’d disappeared and yet there was nowhere he could have disappeared to! This happened a few more times with other visions, and there I had the characters for a book on a plate. I built them up into a story in much the same way as I’ve described above, and it became my debut release, Morwellham’s Child, that’s soon to be re-released as The Harbour Master’s Daughter. The same sort of thing happened to me after a break from writing for personal reasons, when I really was going to call it a day. Winston Churchill no less spoke to me in a vision during a visit to Chartwell. It sparked such an interest in the Churchills’ private lives that it inspired what became Nobody’s Girl and its sequel, A Place to Call Home, and re-started my career.

Well, I hope the above has given you a little insight into how I build up my novels. I could go on about characterisation and all characters needing to be not black or white but somewhere in between, natural dialogue, avoiding long descriptions but picking out one or two relevant details to capture the essence of a scene, the list goes on. But I do hope I’ve managed to explain just some of the elements that go into the mix, and who knows, it might help you to build a story of your own!

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Thank you for giving us that fascinating peak into how your sagas are built up, Tania. I am not sure I would be quite as calm as you about having such vivid visions!

If hearing Tania talk about her work has piqued your interest in any of her books, I have included all the relevant purchase links in her piece above and her author bio below, so you can just click through.

About the Author

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Tania Crosse was born in London and lived in Banbury Street, Battersea, the setting of her two latest novels, The Candle Factory Girl and The Street of Broken Dreams. Later, the family moved to Surrey where her love of the countryside took root. She  wanted to be an author since she was a child, but having graduated with a degree in French Literature, she did not have time to indulge her passion for writing until her own family had grown up. She eventually began penning historical novels set on her beloved Dartmoor. After completing her Devonshire series, which is currently being re-published by Joffe Books, she took her writing career in a new direction with four Twentieth Century sagas set in London and the south east, which were published by Aria Fiction. She was thrilled when the last of these, The Street of Broken Dreams, won Best Saga of the Year in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2020 Awards. Tania and her husband have lived in a small village on the Hampshire/Berkshire border since 1976. They have three grown-up children, two grandchildren and a variety of grand-dogs! Tania’s interests, apart from reading and writing, of course, are dance, gardening and rambling, especially on Dartmoor, naturally!

Connect with Tania:

Website: www.tania-crosse.co.uk

Facebook: Tania Crosse Author

Twitter: @TaniaCrosse

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Backlist: Lori Anderson Series by Steph Broadribb #BookReview

BACKLIST

The third in my backlist series is catching up with the previous three books in the Lori Anderson series by Steph Broadribb before I take part in the blog tour for her new book, Deep, Dark Night. I’m really enjoying this binge-reading of the backlist titles in a series, it’s the literary equivalent of a consuming Netflix box set over a single weekend.

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Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia.

But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. 

I listened to the first two of these novels on audio and this was a really great way to get to know the characters. The narrator, Jennifer Woodward, maintained a perfect Florida drawl for Lori throughout the book which brought the character sharply in to my mind’s eye. It made me realise that I never really read with the accent of the character in my mind when I read from text, and it gave the story an extra level of texture. I found myself hearing Lori talk in this voice throughout books three and four, despite the fact that I was reading rather than listening to them.

I’ve never read a book with a bounty hunter as the main character before, and a female one at that, so it was a delicious departure from the norm for me, and the book truly transported me to another world, as all really immersive novels should. I fell in love with Lori immediately, a tough, independent, determined woman, but we, the reader, also get to see her vulnerability with regards to her daughter, Dakota, and in her relationship with JT, as the book unfolds.

Having a bounty hunter, rather than a police officer, lawyer, detective or other member of the law-enforcement establishment, as the main character raises some interesting questions of where the moral lines sits between justice and revenge, where the line between good and bad blurs, and whether people can judge that for themselves according to their own moral code. Lori’s actions go beyond what you may perceive on paper as being truly law-abiding, but then you ask yourself what you would do in the same situation.

The book is packed front to back with drama, action and tension, as we criss cross the US from the mountains of West Virginia to the alligator-infested swamps of the Florida Everglades. It is a book that picks you up and runs with you from the opening pages, and doesn’t put you down until the last chapter. Even then, there is the tantalising prospect of the next case dropped in at the end, and you are left desperate to see where fate is going to take Lori next. A kinetic opening novel to a thrilling series.

Deep Down Dead is out now and you can get your copy here.

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Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but the little girl’s cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything alive and kicking.

Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row. Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe – bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson ‘The Fish’ Fletcher, and JT walks free. This is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything…

So, we’re back with Lori and now she is faced with the reality of the love of her life in jail awaiting trial for murders he didn’t commit and at risk of facing the electric chair. Despite the ordeal she and her daughter, Dakota, have just faced in book one, Lori now has to leave Dakota behind and travel to San Diego on a mission for a dodgy FBI agent who has promised to arrange for JT to be exonerated if she brings in an escaped felon.

This novel adds a new dimension to the narrative by having us follow two timelines, one led by Lori and her attempts to track down the criminal in California, and the other charting the trials and hardships JT is suffering in jail. We also meet a new central character, a PI named Red who lives on a houseboat and has helped Lori in the past. I have to say, Red quickly became one of my favourite characters and I fell a tiny bit in love with him. If he were to be cast in a movie, he would be played by Sam Elliot, and I refuse to entertain any other suggestions.

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So, again, we have Lori dashing around in California, trying to track down the missing ‘bad guy,’ having to work as part of a team of other bounty hunters she doesn’t know that goes against her instincts. She is trying to work out who she can trust, who is on the make and whether the facts she has been given are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Of course, they aren’t, the lines between right and wrong, justice and injustice bleed in to one another. the right people don’t always end up winning and Lori is muddling through the best she can, relying on her own moral code and what is best for her daughter and her partner. You can’t help but get taken along as she battles the outside enemies, and the demons within, whilst only relying on her own skills, smarts and the three people in the world she knows she can trust.

The books are fast-paced and quite bloody, with lots of devious twists and turns of fate, and the author is really excellent at ramping up the peril. This book is mad, extreme entertainment, the equivalent of an action-movie in novel form and I raced to the end to find out if everyone I cared about made it out alive and free. Fantastic, adrenaline-fuelled excitement, perfect for getting your heart pumping while you sit on the couch.

If this review has tickled your fancy, you can get a copy of the book by following this link.

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A price on her head. A secret worth dying for. 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty-hunter Lori Anderson finally has her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead. Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With North due in court in 48 hours, Lori sets off across Florida, racing against the clock to find him and save her family. Only in this race the prize is more deadly – and the secret she shares with JT more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined.

In this race only the winner gets out alive…

The author gets really ambitious in this book, when Lori gets blackmailed into doing a job for the head honcho of the Miami Mob, a man whose vendetta has been haunting her since the events of book one and who she needs to get off her back if she is ever going to manage a quiet life with JT and their daughter, Dakota. That possibility seems to get further and further away throughout the course of this novel, as Lori is once again separated from JT and her daughter, chasing down a mobster-turned-rat, with only 48 hours to find him.

Steph keeps finding ways to ramp up the stakes with every book, and finding new ways of testing Lori and her loyalties. She has to, once again, involve herself with Alex Munroe, the FBI agent who has his own agenda and whose motives she can never 100% trust. Again, nothing is as straight-forward as it seems and she has to evaluate whose side she is really on, whilst only truly being able to rely on herself to get everyone out of trouble.

This is a fantastic book for anyone who loves a gangster story, and there is the most marvellous battle towards the end that would grace the screen of any mob movie you ever saw. In fact, these books would make perfect films, I would definitely go and watch them (IF Sam Elliott is playing Red – see above – non-negotiable!) but, until that happens, the story completely comes alive on the page and is surely something you should all be reading to take your minds off the current situation we find ourselves in. Anything more completely unlike what you are currently experiencing locked in at home in the UK you’ll be hard-pushed to find, and it will sweep you out of reality for a little while, without requiring you to strain yourself, the author has done all the heavy lifting in the flow of the writing. I still find it hard to believe she is from Buckinghamshire!

Deep Dirty Truth is available now and you can get it in all formats here.

So, hopefully this has caught us all up to the current state of affairs with Lori Anderson and we are ready to hear what the latest book, Deep Dark Night, has to offer. Come back to the blog later today to see my review.

About the Author

Steph Broadribb Author Pic

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter- ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges in her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls.

Steph is an alumni of the MA Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori Anderson thrillers. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens.

Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym, Stephanie Marland, was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Connect with Steph:

Website: https://crimethrillergirl.com

Facebook: Crime Thriller Girl

Twitter: @crimethrillgirl

Backlist: Chastity Riley Series by Simone Buchholz; Translated by Rachel Ward #Blue Night #Beton Rouge

BACKLIST

So, next in my occasional feature where I catch up on the back titles in a series before I review the latest release, are the first two books in the Chastity Riley series by Simone Buchholz. I will be reviewing the latest release, Mexico Street, tomorrow, so let’s see what we’ve missed so far, shall we?

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‘The hair stands up on the back of my neck and I get an age-old feeling in my belly. Like there’s a fight ahead. Like something’s really about to go off…’

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble.

However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

Fresh, fiendishly fast-paced and full of devious twists and all the hard-boiled poetry and acerbic wit of the best noir, Blue Night marks the stunning start of a brilliant new crime series.

When you first jump in to this novel, you can be forgiven for thinking it is the second or third book in a series and go off hunting for books one and two so you can catch up on the back story. But you won’t find them, certainly not in an English translation anyway, so you must just get to grips with the nature of the narrative construct that the author has used, disjointed and non-linear, jumping back and forth in time, bobbing between different characters’ viewpoints and using a mixture of straight forward narrative, snippets of memories and random thoughts. It is a very unique approach, and one that takes a little getting used to but, once you get in to the rhythm of the writing, it is pacy and gripping, but also poetic and lyrical and strangely effecting, given the genre.

So, we meet Chastity Riley, a state prosecutor for the city of Hamburg, following some kind of fall from grace which we discover more details about as the book unfolds but never really discover the whole story. She has been consigned to what basically amounts to babysitting a victim of a crime as her recovers in hospital, waiting for him to divulge evidence that made lead to them catching the perpetrator. Inevitably things turn out to be more complicated than anticipated and the simple assault opens onto a world of drug running and gang warfare.

The crime investigation is fascinating and brilliantly portrayed but fairly straight forward and the less interesting part of the book for me. What really stood out and made this a really startling and noteworthy read was the character of Chastity herself and the people with whom she surrounds herself. She is a flawed and complicated person with some kind of darkness driving her that is compelling but never fully uncovered in this book. She is obviously tormented, has unwise attachments and is someone we long to know better but know we have barely scratched the surface of what there is to understand about her in this book. The author reveals some of her innermost thoughts, while keeping so much still concealed and making us care for her deeply, whilst maintaining her hard veneer, all at the same time. It is some of the most skilful writing I have read in a long time. You get the feeling that the reason we can’t fully understand what drives Chastity is that she isn’t quite sure herself.

On top of the fascinating characterisation, I was really drawn to the dark and gritty portrayal of the Hamburg underworld, a setting I have not read about before. Despite the fact that the author is describing some of the seediest and least attractive parts of the city and its inhabitants, there is still a sense of life and affection and kinship here, perhaps more so than Chastity now feels with some of her law enforcement colleagues. The book blurs the lines between good and bad, wrong and right and light and dark in an intriguing way.

This is a book that takes you places you’ve probably never been before, and leaves as many questions as it answers, but with a deep affinity for Chastity and an urge to discover more about her, to help her figure out her life whilst she herself perhaps doesn’t feel the drive to do so. It is a relationship different to any I think I have had with a fictional character before.

I just have to mention the translation of this book, which is seamless and impressive. All of the nuance and sensation of the book has been maintained, the poetry and lyricism of what is, in places, sparse language. Not an easy feat, I wouldn’t have thought, especially to leave the reader without any inkling that they are reading a piece of translated fiction.

Delightful, in a deeply noir-ish way.

You can buy a copy of Blue Night here.

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On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of the biggest German newspapers. Closer inspection shows he is a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in similar circumstances.

Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect…to the dubious past shared by both victims.

Travelling to the south of Germany, they step into the elite world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred…monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves.

On to book two and this book is a horse of a slightly different, but equally unusual colour, to the last one. Beton Rouge has a much more straight forward narrative that Blue Night, less of the disjointed skipping around and back and forth. As we are now fully conversant with the main characters, there is less back story to be woven in and we can focus more on the current situation, and the new characters the author throws in to stir up the mix. And stir it up they do, particularly Chastity’s new partner on the case, Ivo Stepanovic, who is more than a match for Chastity. Even a soulmate, perhaps?

The story switches to and reveals different aspects of the Hamburg social hierarchy from the first book, as we move from the night time streets of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn to some of Hamburg’s most powerful men and the world of elite boarding schools. The plot even ventures out of Hamburg to a small village in Southern Germany and secrets hidden behind ancient school walls. And, as things are switching up in Chastity’s work, so drastic change is rippling through her social group at the same time. Everything is changing, and we follow Chastity as she tries to work out how all of these things are affecting her.

The book is written in short, sharp, snappy chapters which bowl the plot along at a riveting pace and the criminal investigation is again deliciously twisted and captivating. However, it was Chastity herself and her life and relationships that fascinated me once more, and formed the more absorbing part of the book. Her acid humour cuts through the narrative like a whiplash and makes it a joy to read, her developing relationship with Ivo, the way they bounce off each other, the new side of Hamburg that both Chastity and the reader see with his guidance were all great aspects that hooked me in to the plot. At the same time, her other deteriorating relationships bit deep, and I could feel her conflict and her pain. I think I’ve become a little obsessed with her, to be honest, and the way the author has achieved this in a couple of books with less than two hundred pages in each and pared back, not-a-word-wasted text is an admirable skill.

The more I read of this series, the more invested I have become in the character and her life. The more I get to know her, the more I want to know, and to burrow through the layers of complexity and defence she has built around herself and understand what makes her tick. The author has created a wonderful character and world in this series, and I have a feeling it is just going to get better and better.

Fresh, quick and surprisingly moving, whilst being dark and dirty. I absolutely loved it.

Beton Rouge is also available now and you can find it by following this link.

If this has whetted your appetite for this crime series, I hope you will head back over here on 13 March to read my review of the third title in the series, Mexico Street. I’ll see you then.

About the Author

Simone Buchholz Author Pic

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Connect with Simone:

Website: https://simonebuchholz.com

Twitter: @ohneKlippo

Backlist: Six Stories Series by Matt Wesolowski #BookReview (@ConcreteKraken) @OrendaBooks #SixStories #Hydra #Changeling #freereading #backlist

 

BACKLISTTomorrow, I will be reviewing Beast, the fourth book in Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series, as part of the blog tour for that book. In anticipation, I thought I would review the first three books in the series here for you, as a little amuse bouche before the main course. I think this might be the first in a new occasional series where I catch up with the previous books in a series before reviewing the latest release. It occurred to me this might be a good way to try and reduce my TBR a bit, which was, after all, the founding aim of the blog!

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One body. Six stories. Which one is true?

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivaled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame…

As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

The first book in the series introduces us to the slightly unusual format of the series, which takes the form of a podcast where the ‘host,’ Scott King revisits an old crime with the aim of exploring whether the accepted public story is actually the true one. He does this by allowing six different individuals connected to the case to tell their story, and for the ‘listener,’ (us, the reader) to draw our own conclusions. Anyone who has listened to the phenomenally popular podcast, Serial, will get the idea (in fact, Matt references Serial in the book.) As I was a massive fan of Serial, this premise really drew me in and, once you get your head around this unique approach and separate in your head who is talking throughout the chapters, it works brilliantly.

The author has a fantastic way of creating a menacing and claustrophobic atmosphere as he sets the scene, so the reader is immediately on edge and drawn in to the horror story that is unfolding before their eyes. And it is a horror story, but one written in a unique way, balanced with a mystery and a thriller and an exploration of teenage friendship dynamics and personality traits that can be hidden beneath a benign facade. This book sets up the premise that continues as a connecting theme throughout the series – things are not always as they seem on the surface.

Once I got in to the rhythm of the storytelling, I was completely hooked on the story, the tension, the twists and turns, the unexpected revelations that are cleverly unfolded as we hear stories from each of the individuals which come from different perspectives, which divert the reader down one path, then another, drawing us through a maze until we reach the heart of the story.

It is so clever and fresh and gripping, I absolutely loved it and could not wait to read the next one.

Six Stories is available by following this link.

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A family massacre. A deluded murderess. Five witnesses. Six stories. Which one is true?

One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the north west of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, father and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.

King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was a diminished as her legal team made out.

As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…

On to the second book in the series (which is actually a prequel) and a completely different case for Scott King. This time he has managed to secure an interview with a notorious murderess who slaughtered her whole family for a reason that no one can quite comprehend. Scott is keen to see if he can get to the bottom of a mystery that has evaded everyone else, why did Arla Macleod commit this crime?

Now I was used to the format, I got drawn in to the book much quicker than the first one and, partly for this reason, I enjoyed it even more. It is odd because there is no mystery as to who committed the crime as there would be in a normal thriller, there is no doubt Arla did it, but why? No one knows, we are desperate to find out. The method of slowly peeling back layers of the story as we move through the testimonies of six people connected to the case is genius. Add to this the fact that there are no witnesses to the crime save Arla herself, the ultimate unreliable witness locked in a mental institution, it is almost impossible to know what is the truth, who to believe and to get to the bottom of the story.

Parts of this book were completely terrifying, dealing as it does with risky online internet games that promise supernatural encounters and dangerous trials. There are also the constant references to BEKs (intrigued? You’ll have to read the book to find out what I am talking about!), I’ll admit I was completely wigged out and regretted reading parts of this book late at night. This book also had a jaw-dropping, did-not-see-that-coming moment and a fairly twisted ending, the whole thing was addictive from start to finish and I loved it even more than the first one. A book quite unlike anything you will have read before, an enticing mix of supernatural, horror, thriller and psychological  drama. So unique, could not wait to read on.

Hydra is out now and you can get a copy here.

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A missing child
A family in denial
Six witnesses
Six stories
Which one is true?

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the dark Wentshire Forest Pass, when his father, Sorrel, stopped the car to investigate a mysterious knocking sound. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.

Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. Journeying through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there, he talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know what happened to the little boy…

You wonder how the author can make another book in the same format different to the first two when you get to book three, and having read the blurb, I did wonder if this was going to be similar to book one. It did have some similarities, as the setting of a menacing forest for the mystery has echoes of the first one, but the author has come on leaps and bounds since then and the tension and fear is ramped up to a whole new level here. Part of this is due to the victim in this story being a very small child, which will immediately strike terror in to the heart of any reader who is a parent. There again is the supernatural element, which strikes from the very early chapters of this book but, by now, the reader should have grasped the fact that there is always more to the story than first appears and we are lead down one track, only to have our ideas, our opinions, our whole understanding of the story turned a full 180 by the next narrator, and again, and again. You begin to feel as lost in the labyrinth of the truth as characters were lost in the vastness of Wentshire Forest.

Despite the fact that this is the third book in a series that follows the same basic format, it managed to surprise me in so many ways. The underlying themes of the book are very different to the first two, the intrigues and misdirection become more and more ingenious and complex, the book will leave you breathless and twanging with tension and you will marvel at the ingenuity of the author as he keeps you guessing to the final page. This is a book that shows an author who, far from running out of ideas, is just hitting his stride and obviously revelling in bringing something new and exciting to each instalment. I could tell from the writing that he is having tremendous amounts of fun with his work, but also that this book in particular deals with a topic that he has a personal interest in exposing and has been careful to portray accurately.

These books are something so different to anything else out there, are so exciting and detailed and just rewarding to read. I am totally hooked on the series and am delighted to be bringing you my review for the latest book tomorrow. Honestly, one of the best discoveries I have made since I started blogging and would encourage everyone to pick up these books to discover something really innovative.

Changeling is available for purchase here.

Make sure you come back to the blog tomorrow to read my review of Beast.

About the Author

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Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is
an English tutor for young people in care.

Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- an US-based anthologies such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013.

Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller.

Connect with Matt:

Website: Beyond The North Waves

Facebook: Matt Wesolowski

Twitter: @ConcreteKraken

Instagram: @mattjwesolowski