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Posts tagged ‘thriller’

Catalyst by Michael Knaggs



Today’s book review focuses on Catalyst by Michael Knaggs, a book which I was compelled to buy after Michael, very proactively, approached me in the Waterstones branch in Hull. I liked that it didn’t feel as though I was on the receiving end of a ‘hard sell’, he just really wanted to discuss his book with customers, regardless of whether or not they would be likely to buy it. For this reason, I decided to go with something different to what I would normally read. And it paid off.

When three brothers, the leaders of a brutal gang, are lured to an isolated street and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press.

 Tom Brown, an MP for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story. Having built a reputation as a champion of law and order, he leads the crusade to implement a New Justice Regime with several supporters in tow, including local campaigner George Holland who embarks on a tour of the country to rally support for radical change.

When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George for his outspoken condemnation of their activities and uncompromising proposals for their demise. They descend in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Party Leader Andrew Donald is pursuing his own agenda…

 This intriguing novel, the first of the Hotel St Kilda books, contains themes of politics, crime and the military with family drama at its heart, creating a wide appeal for readers both young and old.

What’s great about Catalyst is that it strikes you from the very first paragraph. Kicking off immediately with tense and fast-paced action, the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. There certainly are no slow parts in the novel.

The second chapter, in which an incredibly shocking and controversial incident occurs, really is the catalyst for all that follows throughout the rest of the book. The whole narrative is a response to that first scene, and the action, intrigue and controversy never lets up. What particularly struck me about the book is how authentic it felt, even with quite an extreme and controversial subject matter.

As stated in the blurb, the book starts off with the ruthless gunning down of three notorious gang members who have been terrorising the village and local town for years. When you read this passage, a moral debate rages within your head: am I shocked and appalled at this seemingly cold-blooded murder, or on some level do I feel slightly satisfied that they got what was coming to them?

That is what the whole book really centres around: the question of taking justice into your own hands when the policing system seems powerless to intervene. And off the back of that, the Opposition party runs its own election campaign – to deal with gang members and violent offenders far, far more harshly and strictly than ever before…

Each character within this book felt really real. So much so, that I felt genuinely sad for the residents of Cullen Field. It’s a horrible thought that the kind of trauma and fear and intimidation that the residents of this book go through actually happens in real life. The subject matter of this book is incredibly topical.

Tom Brown, an MP within the Opposition Party, is smart, intelligent, good-looking and a radical thinker. That is one side of him that we are exposed to. The other side is an exposure of his insecurities, his marital problems, and his familial worries and joys. He often struggles to balance his work and his private life and they bleed into one another: something that I bet a lot of people can relate to. Tom Brown is likeable, but depending on your personal viewpoint, he is also lost in his own idealism and wishful thinking. It’s really interesting to try to make up your mind about him as reader, as you go through the book. His wife has many opposing views to his, and that heightens the tension and intrigue surrounding their family life.

Another fascinating character within the book is George Holland, a resident of Cullen Field, who helps support Tom’s vision and campaigns for radical change. I couldn’t help but love this character: he is slightly naive, a little out of his depth, but so convinced by the movement which promises to fight back against gang youths that he takes on the task of convincing the general public with growing enthusiasm. Even if you disagree fundamentally with the process that he is fighting for, you can’t help but love and sympathise with George.

The most intriguing, though, is Jad, the gunman who shoots the three gang members at the beginning of the book. As you go through the novel, his history and back story are revealed, and it’s so gripping. Equally as thought-provoking are his reasons behind his actions (why did he gun the gang down, when he hasn’t lived in Cullen Field in years? Why did he give a false name and identity even after being charged with murder?) and his relationship with Tom Brown and his family. There’s more than meets the eye there.

The writing style, for some reason, reminded me a little bit of John Grisham’s; not so much in style, although there are similarities, but more the effect of the narrative. Though fairly straight forward and devoid of unnecessary adjectives or poetic devices, it just sucks you in and compels you to keep on reading. It doesn’t beat about the bush: the author knows what his going on in his world and he tells you in no uncertain terms. But the style is engaging, and keeps the reader hooked throughout. I always found myself wanting to know more; wanting to know what was going to happen next.

A quite surprising outcome of reading this book was that it allowed me to understand the workings and mindsets of local politicians and their job roles. OK, so perhaps some aspects within the book might have been exaggerated or changed with artistic license, but being taken through the story from both private and political angles really helped me understand how events can shape political manifestos and campaigns. It also shows how gang violence affects every aspect of modern society. And the reaction to it in this book really is extreme. (But that’s what makes it all the more exciting to read.)

This book will most definitely appeal to all crime novels and thriller fans, which I think goes without saying. But I would urge people who would not normally read these genres (like myself) to give it a try, because it really is a great read.

I will be posting an interview with the author in a few days, but in the meantime, find out more about him here.

You can buy the book here on Amazon and on the Matador Books website.

*Blog Tour Stop* End as an Assassin Author Interview

I’m very pleased to be hosting an interview today with the author of the book I’m currently enjoying, End as an Assassin. I must admit, I don’t often read thrillers (although I do occasionally) so I’m grateful to the publisher for offering me the copy of this book. It’s good to read outside of my comfort zone, and this is also a great opportunity to get to know the author behind the novel, Lex Lander.

So, here goes! Enjoy!



Hi Lex! 

Hello, thank you for having me!

Your new book – what’s it all about?

END AS AN ASSASSIN is about André Warner, a hit man who, at the start of the story, goes into retirement. He then finds he is at a loose end and his life has lost purpose and meaning. He becomes something of a lotus eater – drink, drugs, loose women, etc. Then his violent past returns to bite him and he finds himself under surveillance by persons unknown. Around that time he meets a woman, divorced, defensive, suspicious of men, and they fall in love. She gets dragged into whatever is going on with him, and ultimately they both come face to face with death. Warner solves the problem the only way he knows how – at the point of a gun.

Why do you choose to write thrillers?

Quite simply, they’re my preferred reading – and therefore my preferred writing!

Why did you choose to start a book series rather than writing standalone novels?

I didn’t.  END AS AN ASSASSIN was meant to be a standalone book. But when I finished it I decided that the character of Warner had ‘legs’ and that I had so much more of his story to tell. This led to a follow up, and now to Volumes III (completed, being edited) and IV (75% complete).

Sell your main character to me – why does he or she deserve the spotlight? What’s unique about them?

Warner is a hit man with a heart! He used to work for the British Secret Service, and killed a couple of bad guys, though only in shootouts, not assassinations. When he left the Service under a cloud, with his much loved wife murdered, he was ripe for any interesting line of work that came up. He kills for a living, but wants out, wants normality, a wife, kids, and a home, but he can’t get off the treadmill.

What difficulties do you face as a thriller writer?

A lack of time, which of course is not specific to writing thrillers. Writing thrillers does not pose many challenges for me, apart from the obvious one of sticking at a story until it’s finished. Research is enjoyable, and I only locate my stories in places I have lived in or visited.

Kaybec publishing – who are they? What’s been the best thing about your publishing experience so far? 

Kaybec is a small company based in Montreal and run by Stuart Kay, who also had a publishing business in the UK in the 1990s. They do not intend to acquire a large stable of authors. They have 2 right now, and will probably never have more than 6, giving the company more time to nurture each one. The best thing about my publishing experience so far is having someone believe in me and my work.

Have you ever been published before? If so, when, and have things changed much since then? If not, how has it been different to how you imagined it might be, and how is it similar?

I have written a few books that were never offered for publication.  My first published title was ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER JACKAL, published by Kaybec in 2014. I had no imaginings about what publishing would be like, because I thought that getting published would be a longshot. I only landed with Kaybec because a member of my family knew Stuart, and that he had been a publisher (and a writer) previously. I felt lucky that he might was prepared to read it and offer constructive criticism. I never thought he would return to publishing just on account of my book!

Do you have any motivation/resilience tips for when things get difficult, either with writer’s block, difficulties getting published, etc.?

I’ve never suffered with writer’s block. Words are easy, I just keep setting them down on paper, without worrying too much how they flow until I get to the editing stage. As it happens, they usually do flow. The first edit is equally as important as the last. Stuart does the second, and sometimes third, edit, and is very ruthless. Regarding the resilience needed to get published, I am not the one to ask, as it more or less dropped into my lap through the family/friend connection. I am one of the lucky few. I do believe that it’s hellishly difficult to get someone in the trade to even read your work, but if you have the determination, you will get there eventually.

You have to believe in yourself!


You can buy the book here on Amazon.

The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

This book is written by one of the author participants of the BritCrime Online Literature Festival – one of the first of its kind and a massive success! Daniel has since become a good friend of mine, after I was lucky enough to give his whole Harbour Master collection a read.

My (well-read!) copy of the Harbour Master collection.

My (well-read!) copy of the Harbour Master collection.

Book 1 synopsis:

Maverick cop Henk van der Pol is thinking about retirement when he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour. His detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his case. But his bigger challenge is deciding who his friends are – not to mention a vicious street pimp who is threatening Henk’s own family…

Book 2 synopsis:

Henk roves further afield to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels – investigating a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. What connects the cases, and what risks must Henk run to uncover the criminals? 

Book 3 synopsis:

A powerful Dutch politician is hijacked, bearing parallels with the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. Henk, who worked on the Heineken case a the start of his career, is now operating outside of the official investigation. He becomes imprisoned himself, and, with rival cop Joost emerging as the winner, Henk must navigate dark currents at the highest level of Dutch society.

I read The Habour Master Collected Edition as one novel, which worked as perfectly as if I had read them as three separate stories. To say that I enjoyed this book to the point that I didn’t want to put it down at night is no small matter as I don’t tend to read a lot of this genre. But wow, did this book teach me a lot!

Each narrative winds its way through, and drew me into, a society completely alien to me – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels – and taught me a lot about the different sides of society in each city. It also opened my eyes to the kinds of corruption and crime that I just would not have contemplated before, which makes it more fascinating. It also contrasts the normality of Henk’s domestic life with his professional life to great effect. It serves to remind the reader that Henk is a normal, everyday family man as well as an impressive, dedicated but troubled policeman. He is also not immune to vulnerability and victimisation himself, which makes the book a lot more realistic than some thrillers which portray the main character as an unlikely untouchable hero.

Henk is surrounded by a number of colleagues and friends who, on one end of the spectrum show deep loyalty to him, and on the other pose a real threat to his career and safety. What makes the book particularly interesting is how Henk deals with each of these characters, especially those such as his devoted colleagues or corrupt but friendly politicians.

I love that these books portray Henk’s wife as a powerful character, with just as much influence and talent as her husband. She is not the damsel in distress who constantly needs protection from her husband – although there are times when her safety is put on the line alongside Henk’s – but rather a useful and important asset for Henk’s investigations as well as his life partner. The literary world needs far more of this kind of female character.

I would have liked to have experienced a little more of Henk’s emotions as well as his sharp and enquiring mind. However, I don’t feel like anything was taken away from the book. On the contrary, it retained the correct level of entertaining mysteriousness and complexity without completely losing me. This is no achievement to sniff at, as I must admit that although I am an intelligent woman, often detective novels tend to run away from me and weave too complicated a web for me to follow. Not so with The Harbour Master. I understood perfectly what was going on while being kept intrigued and hooked.

The Harbour Master combines all those features that one would seek in a thriller – colourful and varied characters, an air of mystery and corruption, fast-paced action and scandal, and of course a little bit of violence thrown in. There are a number of threads and layers to each story which means that the outcomes are far from predictable, adding to the excitement of the reading experience. Rather than having to wade myself through, I felt that I was being carried along by the narrative, and that, to me, is a literary job well done.

I very very much look forward to the next instalment of Henk’s story, hopefully with even more action this time around.


Daniel and I meeting face to face for the first time at BookMachine event in London. (ignore the daft fringe.)

Introducing Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Online Literature Festival Founder

The lovely Helen Smith

The lovely Helen Smith

A couple of months ago, I was extremely lucky to be asked to be part of BritCrime, an incredibly successful online literature festival which saw 45 crime writers come together on social media to discuss their work and writing crime fiction. I made a lot of new friends at the festival and feel privileged to have been part of something that is part of a growing phenomenon – the online festival. These are growing in popularity – see my interview with Sam Missingham – and I was so lucky to be involved in such a successful one. Here Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Founder, discusses Britcrime and its successes.

Please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career.

My name is Helen Smith and I live in Brixton in south London. I had my first book published in 1999. Since then I have written poetry, plays, children’s books and screenplays, but at the moment I’m making a living writing novels. I’m currently writing a mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. It’s a lot of fun to write.

Can you explain what BritCrime is?

We are 45 British crime writers and one American who are collaborating to put on free online crime fiction events to connect with readers around the world. Our first event was a three-day festival in July 2015. Our next event will be a Christmas Party. We have another festival planned for next summer.

How did the idea of BritCrime come about?

The authors involved in BritCrime love attending crime fiction festivals, but we often hear from readers who are disappointed they can’t attend. I offered to set up an online festival to see if it would be a good way to connect with readers around the world while protecting our writing time.

How did you go about marketing BritCrime and generating interest for it?

I set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website and a mailing list. Our publishers were very generous about donating books as prizes so I set up several giveaways to promote the the festival. We also held a draw for a Kindle Paperwhite for new subscribers to our newsletter. Interestingly, the buzz began as soon as the website, Twitter and Facebook pages went up as people in the industry speculated who was behind the idea. Once we shared the idea with readers and book bloggers, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the festival. We gained a lot of new followers very quickly.

What was your method for getting authors on board? Did you already personally know the authors, or did you have to approach them to get them on board?

It was self-selecting. I put up a post on Facebook saying that I planned to set up a one-day online crime fiction festival and needed twelve writers to join me. A couple of minutes later my friend Alex Marwood responded with an enthusiastic yes… and we were off! I tried to cap the numbers at 30, then 36… Within about 24 hours we had 41 writers involved and the date set for a three-day festival. I liked the serendipity of it. Had I approached writers individually, it would have taken weeks to set up. Also, as everyone involved had approached me and asked to join, it meant they were engaged with the project and they were fun to work with. As time went by, we were approached by various creative partners and I said yes to all of them for the same reason, and the partnerships were productive because they were all so keen to be involved.


What were the challenges of hosting an online festival? How much work goes into the logistics of hosting an online festival?

It was all quite straightforward, really. We used the free platforms that were available. There was a quite a bit of of work involved in planning and programming the festival – which I enjoyed – and a lot of admin involved in getting the information for 41 authors and their books up on our website and blog. The other authors helped out promoting it and running the Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I worked non-stop for six weeks, 15-19 hours a day to set it up and make sure it worked properly.

For the festival itself, we hired two assistant producers. One of them, Stephanie Cox, is asking these questions. I wanted them to be involved in the creative/logistics side of the festival and to have fun while they were doing it, so I kept them away from the admin and gave them clearly defined creative roles that were challenging and interesting and took advantage of the skills they had to offer. It was really useful to have a dedicated resource to help me that weekend.

What were the highlights, for you?

The creativity and the collaboration: I loved creating the virtual world where our online festival would be held, including The Slaughtered Author pub and the BritCrime Readers’ Cafe. Making the opening ceremonies and thank you videos was fun. I loved the “Our Authors Prepare” and “BritCrime Writing Dens.” photo galleries we created on Facebook. Working with the other authors was wonderful. If you get 41 creative people collaborating on a project, something exciting is going to happen.

Do you see the online literature festival as a concept that will grow in popularity?


What were the biggest lessons or insights learned from the experience?

I was reminded how much fun it can be working on a creative project for the hell of it, with no expectation of any financial reward. I knew there would be a lot of work involved in setting this up, but I hadn’t appreciated how much love I would get back, from authors and readers – and publishers, too. I got a lot of love for doing it. It was humbling and gratifying.

Have you received positive feedback from it?

Yes! The readers, bloggers, authors and publishers involved have all been really enthusiastic. We surveyed everyone who participated. The feedback was all positive. As soon as this festival ended, people started asking when we were going to do the next one.

What’s next for BritCrime and the BritCrime team?

We’re currently planning our Christmas party, the BritCrime Ball, which will take place Sunday 13th December, with a Twelve Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt in the run-up to it. It will be completely different from the summer festival and should be fun for everyone who participates! There will also be a festival next summer, with more authors involved.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She’s the founder of BritCrime.
BritCrime website:
BritCrime blog:
BritCrime Twitter:
BritCrime Facebook:

Do you have any questions for Helen? Please post them below and I’ll make sure she gets back to you!

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey

This book is a classic case of a blurb not giving away the premise of the story. A good thing in that it made a sale, and in that it made me read something outside of what I’d normally go for. However, (and this isn’t a spoiler as it becomes pretty obvious in the first few pages) it turned out to be a zombie apocalypse book, full of gore and blood and ripping flesh, and that immediately made me uneasy. It’s just really not my style. I like to relax when I’m reading, and there’s only so much relaxing I can do when reading about somebody’s intestines being devoured.


One thing you should know about me, however, is that I HATE to put a book down, especially one bought with my hard-earned cash. “The most original thriller you will read this year” the front cover promises.  A zombie apocalypse book, still being completely original? It was worth trying out. And I’m partially glad I stuck with it.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

The nice thing about this book is that it balances gore and horrific scenes – let’s not beat about the bush here – with real sentiment and warmth. The protagonist, Melanie, a little girl who is inflicted with a parasite that turns people into flesh-eating monsters, is such a wonderful character. She is, unknowingly at first, a test subject in a classroom full of infected children, there to inform scientists and take part in invasive experiments in the quest for a cure. She doesn’t know what she is – all she knows is what she wants to do when she gets out of school. And one of those things is to live with her teacher, Miss Justineau, whom Melanie loves almost to the point of obsession.

Miss Justineau knows what the children are, and has a dark past which affects how she sees and interacts with her children. She can’t be as cold-hearted as most of the other scientists and staff on the military base, because she teaches and looks after the children on a daily basis and forms relationships with them. Miss Justineau captures the readers’ heart just like she captures Melanie. This sweet bond between the two of them is a nice salve against the brutality of the rest of the narrative.

This book did follow most of the clichés of a zombie story/horror film – a group of very different people forming an unlikely alliance in the face of death and danger, each performing a stock role such as the Hero, the Coward, the Mother, the Cold-hearted Cynic, the Vulnerable Child. And without giving too much away, the outcomes were really quite predictable, except for the very end, which I actually found quite good.

The action moved a good pace, the dialogue engaging and often funny, and overall it is good quality writing. It’s just not my kind of subject matter.

If you love your 28 Days Later and other such types, you will absolutely love this book. As someone who winces at violence, it was a little too unpleasant for me. But, each to their own! I’m glad I gave it a try.

Her by Harriet Lane


Emma – A struggling mother who has put her ambitions on hold.

Nina – Sophisticated, independent and entirely in control.

When the two women meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn’t the first time their paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did.

But what does Nina want from her? And how far will she go in pursuit of it?

I finished this book a few weeks ago and while it made for fast reading and was enjoyable and interesting enough for me to keep reading until the end, I found myself ultimately disappointed when I finished it. When I picked this up in Waterstones, I was in the mood for a good thriller as I don’t read many books of that genre. But I’m sorry to say that I came away from this novel distinctly unchilled and unthrilled.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t entertained. Harriet Lane developed the characters of Emma and Nina effectively and convincingly. The way Lane built Emma’s environment around her – the pressures of motherhood, the frustrations of an untidy home, the lack of a fulfilling career – really helped the reader understand why Emma is such an insecure and discontent woman. Similarly, Nina’s confidence in herself is entirely believable given her successful life circumstances.

Lane manages to contrast matter-of-fact narrative with poetic language, a real skill and something I really enjoyed about the book. It helps give real depth to the character’s emotions and vulnerability, which I thought worked much better than the passages that tried to convey Nina’s dangerous side.

The house fills with the particular atmosphere that accompanies peacefully sleeping children: a rich narcotic silence that creeps down the stairs and twines itself around the table legs.

From time to time – in the hammock or on a lounger,  as the sun plays on my eyelids: red and black paisley, a languorous psychedelic swirl – I find myself thinking about home,  and it’s always a shock.

There were, however, some parts of the book that broke the mould in terms of style that I didn’t really understand. Speech throughout most of the book is written in standard speech marks, but peppered through are one or two instances of sentences like ‘So I say, fine, let’s speak tomorrow,  and hang up.’ Now, normally I am not so picky or pedantic as to care about something so small, but with the promise of a sinister atmosphere and chilling writing,  I kept trying to guess what the writer was trying to (unsuccessfully) achieve with each deviation of normal style, and I found that distracting when that happened.

The real problem I had was when I found out the reason behind Nina’s nasty deeds against Emma. I won’t give away what it is, but throughout the book I was expecting Emma to have done something truly terrible to justify Nina’s need for revenge. But I was really quite disappointed when it was revealed. In my point of view, it just wasn’t enough. It didn’t ring true that what Emma supposedly did would provoke such a reaction from Nina. And ultimately, for me, it took away the credibility of the story.

What I will say is that I still recommend reading this book. I’ve read many reviews that disagree with my point of view, and you may find that you do too. But reviews should be honest and that’s what I’ve tried to be.

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