Saturday, 21 March 2015

Book Review: THE BITTER TRADE BY PIERS ALEXANDER


My Thoughts on this tale of conspiracy, coffee and Calumny Spinks .......


Published:  April 2014
Source:  NetGalley

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life - but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself.

Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court.

********************************************************************
Calumny Spinks, a 'long-limbed red-haired Frenchy gawk' is the narrator of this novel and we follow his journey, after a tragic incident, from a small town in Essex to the big city of London where he becomes involved in conspiracies, coffeehouses and silk weavers.

He has a gift for mimicry, is bright and quick-witted and the young ladies seem to love him! In trying to repay his father's debt he uses his wits and his smooth tongue but this all leads him into dangerous situations and dangerous men.

The sights and sounds of 17th century London are brought to life with vivid descriptions of the workshops, hawkers, tradesmen, chandlers at their craft and silk weaving. This is an England where people meted out their own kind of justice, without fear of retribution, where a man could kill another man with his sword and be thought a hero but to kill another man with a pistol he would be thought a murderer. "If thou fight with pistols and win, law will call thee murderer. But to kill a man in a swordfight is no crime in English law".

There is so much packed into this clever novel, with twists and turns, romance, double dealings, murders, fears of an impending war and friendships, but it also has a soft side, especially the relationship between Calumny and his father which changed throughout the story.

The author has obviously done his research into silk weaving, boats on the Thames and 17th century pistols. My only criticism would be that some of these descriptions were so long that I found my mind wandering reading them.

Overall, a really enjoyable fast-paced novel with memorable characters and a memorable storyline. Looking forward to the next chapter in the life of mister Calumny Spinks.




The author's website http://www.piersalexander.com
Follow him on twitter: @thebittertrade


Friday, 13 March 2015

Guest Post and Giveaway for Cosy Crime Series: Cherringham: A Lesson in Murder

Today I am part of the tour for the latest in the cosy crime series Cherringham: A Lesson in Murder and on my blog today I am thrilled to feature a Guest Post from the authors, Matthew Costello & Neil Richards on how the series began, together with a fabulous Giveaway!


GUEST POST

And on the Eighth Day… The fictional village of Cherringham has grown faster than a gold-rush town since Matt and I invented it two years ago, sitting outside a Cotswolds pub in the autumn sunshine, sipping our pints of Marstons and making up stories. We were in the Cotswolds to research our new crime series about an ex-NYC cop Jack Brennan and local single mum Sarah Edwards who team up to solve all kinds of murder and mystery together. We wanted the series to be set in the very heart of the real Cotswolds, with all the variation of housing, class, industry, tourism, locals, that the area offers. But we also needed a village that had the Thames flowing through it - because Jack lives on an old Dutch barge. And we had a problem. We’d spent a week driving everywhere – but no single town or village fitted the bill. The perfect stretches of the Thames didn’t have quite the right village – and the perfect villages were miles away from the Thames. So we decided to invent our own Cotswolds town. What could be easier or more fun? We decided to use one village that we both loved for the core geography – then we took a couple of other villages and grafted them on. All we had to do then was pick up our favourite stretch of the Thames (complete with barges, medieval bridge and weir) and lay it in a delicate curve in the meadows below. And what writers could resist the opportunity to build a whole community from scratch? A market square and a set of medieval stocks? It shall be so! A charming little pub with a great landlord that not only does terrific food but always has a quiet table at the back whenever you need one? Voila! A police station with just one cop, who’s genial enough but no great shakes at solving murders? Put it there! Next step was to give our little village a name. At first it was going to have the suffix ‘on-Thames’ but then we decided to call the whole series ‘Murder on Thames’ so that had to change. For a while we ran with Sheringham, which has an evocative ‘olde Englande’ sound to it but our market research (wives and families) responded that everybody knew there already was a Sheringham in Norfolk… So then in a moment of genius (or to be more truthful a moment of sheer chance) we realized what Chippenham, Cheltenham, Chipping Norton, and Chipping Camden all had in common – and came up with the name Cherringham. And Cherringham worked so well – it actually became the title of the whole series. ‘Murder on Thames’ then became the title of the first book. But – back to creating our story world. Even then – right at the beginning – we also knew we’d have to map our village. If we didn’t – then as co-writers we’d quickly lose track. Matt lives in New York – I live in England – and we write our books across the Atlantic, across time zones: it was vital that we saw exactly the same geography, the same layout. Especially in a crime novel where sometimes the plot itself depends on the movement of characters across the landscape, the distances between homes and crime scenes, the relative location of suspects and victims… We knew our fictional Cherringham had to be laid down with as much logic as a town planner would apply when creating a new community from scratch. It started as a few scribbles on a pub napkin: “Here’s the High Street. And here’s where Sarah lives. So… down here must be the road that leads down to the river. And here’s Jack’s houseboat – half a mile north from the bridge? Which way does the river flow? Hmm – let’s put a loop in it... Sarah’s mum and dad – they have a place half a mile down-river. And let’s put a pub here on the crossroads. What shall we call it? The Ploughman’s. Oh and here’s Huffington’s – the coffee place – near the market square and the church. Here’s the primary school, and here’s…” And so on and so on… Until now our map of Cherringham is so big, so comprehensive, that it has to be drawn on a flip-chart sheet. We’ve created streets, businesses, chicken farms, studs, shops, stores, restaurants, farm shops, cafes, pubs, hotels, offices. We’ve set up Mothers and Toddlers Groups, a choir, a Cherringham Historical Society, the local drama group, an opera club, a whole church congregation, bell ringers. We’ve invented cops, solicitors, priests, electricians, plumbers, tyre-fitters, parish councillors, teachers, immigrant workers, kitchen porters, school pupils, cricketers, footballers, a tennis club, runners… And we know all their names and addresses and relationships (the secret ones too). Little did we know when we started that Cherringham would grow into a vibrant, functioning community. Now – two years later – we have just returned from another week staying in the Cotswolds to storyline the final episodes of Season Two. We stayed in the heart of a village which – secretly - is the heart of Cherringham. And all week long we kept catching each other out referring to the village as Cherringham – suggesting eating at the Ploughmans, or a meal at The Spotted Pig, or tea and scones at the Hobbit CafĂ©. Or wanting to bump into Tony Standish our friendly solicitor. Or Alan the cop. Or Sarah’s dad Michael. Or the Buckland sisters who run the toll bridge. Or Pete Bull the plumber… All of whom are so very real in our minds. But, sadly, are only fiction. The trouble with making up a fictional world is – you end up wanting to live there. And you really miss it when you’re away. Neil Richards Co-creator – with Matt Costello - of ‘Cherringham’


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What a brilliant guest post! Thank you so much for this insight into the series beginnings.

I love this series and have read the first two books



If you love cosy mysteries, especially ones set in small english villages, then I would urge you to check out this series. They are not huge blockbusters, they're relatively short stories that you could devour in one sitting, packed full of fabulous characters, great plotlines, all in a wonderful setting.


**************************************


Cherringham: A Lesson In Murder
by
Matthew Costello and Neil Richards



Nothing ever happens in the small Cotswold village of Cherringham, making it the perfect place to retire to – or so ex-NYPD Detective Jack Brennan thought. But before long, local web designer and single mother Sarah Edwards had convinced him to help her investigate a suspicious suicide. Since then, he and Sarah have solved mysterious deaths, unlikely accidents and perplexing robberies. “Peace and quiet” never really suited Jack anyway…


Cherringham is an ongoing “cosy crime” eBook series, that launched in December 2013 and features unlikely sleuthing duo Sarah and Jack. Released in monthly episode, it is written by award-winning game and TV writers UK-based Neil Richards and US-based Matthew Costello in a transatlantic collaboration – which mirrors that of Jack and Sarah. The new series, released from March, launches with A Lesson in Murder, in which the two are asked to investigate the violent death of a popular teacher at Cherringham Girls School.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS:



Co-authors Neil Richards and Matthew Costello are known for their script work on major computer games. The Cherringham crime series is their first fictional transatlantic collaboration. Matthew has written and designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean. He is also the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was made into a movie. Neil has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.


LINKS


GIVEAWAY
1st Prize – Winner written into a Cherringham episode plus an ecopy of the book
2nd Prize – ecopy of the book









Saturday, 7 March 2015

Book Review: THE IRON NECKLACE BY GILES WATERFIELD


My Thoughts on this novel of English and German families ..........


THE IRON NECKLACE
BY
GILES WATERFIELD


Publisher:  Allen & Unwin
Published:  2 April 2015


The wedding of Thomas, an idealistic German architect, and Irene, an English artist, brings together the Curtius and Benson families. But their peace is soon shattered by the outbreak of war in Europe. While Irene struggles to survive in a country where she is the enemy, her sister Sophia faces the war as a nurse on the Western Front. For their brother Mark, diplomatic service sees him moving between London, Washington and Copenhagen, all the while struggling to confront his own identity. Against a backdrop of war and its aftermath relationships are tested, sacrifices are made and Irene and her siblings strive to find their place in an evolving world.

I have very mixed feelings about this story which opens in 1910 at the wedding of Irene and Thomas.

I found it quite hard-going at times and struggled to read it, I didn't really care for any of the characters, except maybe Irene.  I thought they were all quite secretive, I didn't know what they were thinking for most of the story and I couldn't get to know them.

Their conversations consisted mainly of the war and politics, not surprising I suppose, but it did get boring at times and I wished they would talk of other topics.  Also, I don't know why the characters spoke so much in German without any English translation .... I found this very frustrating.

Though I did enjoy the storyline overall, it was interesting to see how Irene was treated during the war, living in Germany and unable to travel back to England.  And I enjoyed reading the descriptions of Berlin.

But I'm afraid that I wouldn't read any more of this author's other works, they are not for me, unfortunately.

My thanks to Real Readers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, 27 February 2015

World Famous Crime Series Gets A Modern Makeover: COTTON FBI


Cotton FBI is a modern remake of a world famous cult series that adapts the story for a new generation of readers. The history of Jerry Cotton started in 1954 as a dime novel series and grew to become the most successful crime series in Germany with a total of 1 billion copies sold. For the first time in English, Bastei Entertainment is rolling out the entire series with four collector's packs starting this month.


A new time - a new hero - a new mission

Cotton FBI is a digital cult-series for a new generation of readers

Cotton FBI is an exciting new eBook series reinventing the hugely popular Jerry Cotton novels.  The series provides a new way for readers to access and enjoy great crime fiction.

Packed full of suspense and drama, Cotton FBI is set in the dark underbelly of New York and tells the story of one man's mission to fight crime at any cost.




COTTON FBI SERIES GUIDE

COLLECTION 1 (Feb. 23)




EPISODE 1: THE BEGINNING. 
New York City. A Chinese woman was brutally murdered and Jeremiah Cotton, a young cop with the NYPD, just can't let go. He suspects that the woman is the victim of a serial killer, but no one believes him and he is taken off the case. While carrying out an unauthorized investigation, Cotton encounters a division of the FBI whose existence no one knows about: the "G-Team." Stubborn and persistent, Cotton asks uncomfortable questions about the mysterious unit - and runs afoul of Special Agent Philippa "Phil" Decker in the process. When he narrowly escapes an attempt on his life, Cotton realizes that this is no ordinary killer hunt and the hotter the case is getting, the more determined he is to stay involved ... 

EPISODE 2: COUNTDOWN. 
12:04 AM, New York. An American Airlines flight making its approach to landing. The descent is stopped and the aircraft begins to circle over Manhattan as if it were guided by an invisible hand. - 1:00 AM, G-Team HQ. Agents Jeremiah Cotton and Philippa Decker learn that terrorists have hacked the onboard systems and taken control of the airplane. They are demanding the release of Seif al-Bakkay, a high-level terrorist. The agents have only six hours remaining to find the perpetrators before the aircraft over Manhattan runs out of fuel ... 

EPISODE 3: HIDDEN SHADOWS. 
New York. Hundreds of commuters just barely escape with their lives when an attack on the George Washington Bridge fails. The attempt falls in line with a chain of acts of sabotage that occurred at famous landmarks in the past few weeks. Obviously, someone is targeting prominent structures in New York. What are the perpetrator's objectives? Agents Jeremiah Cotton and Philippa Decker are facing a mystery. Until there is another attack. Right before their eyes. Nearly 1,000 feet above Manhattan - on the Empire State Building ... 

EPISODE 4: WITNESS PROTECTION. 
A well-dressed man is found dead, floating in a New York harbor basin. The drowned man originally hailed from a small town in Alabama and, according to local authorities, died six years ago. The FBI gets involved. Agents Cotton and Decker soon realize that there are more cases like this: affluent criminals who were living under false names and then were murdered. 
These very names also appear on the list of a witness protection program and Cotton receives a visit from two colleagues who won't tolerate any further investigation. But a man like Cotton doesn't buckle under pressure ...



COLLECTION 2 (March 16)




EPISODE 5: THE INFECTION. 
The man with the inflamed stab wound in the Bedford specialty clinic is no ordinary patient. His name is Jeremiah Cotton, agent of the FBI, and he thwarted a biological weapon attack. Because he might be carrying the pathogen himself, he cannot leave the hospital grounds. Then one of the other patients dies under peculiar circumstances. Cotton starts to investigate - looked over by personnel as just a hobby detective and viewed with suspicion by hospital management. But then there is an attempt on Cotton's life and things get serious - and personal ... 

EPISODE 6: BONY BEACH. 
Human bones were uncovered by a winter storm on one of Chappaquiddick's beaches. While examining the remains the police found a dozen more buried in the sand. Philippa Decker and Jeremiah Cotton from the FBI's G-Team are on the scene to investigate. They are supported by Dr. Connors, a retired forensic doctor from homicide. For a long time he had been convinced that there is a serial killer active on the island, but no one ever believed him. He asks the two agents to help him find the killer. Just as a blizzard blows over the island, a dramatic showdown takes place ... 

EPISODE 7: THE KUMO CARTELL. 
John Saito, an American business man of Japanese descent, lies in his penthouse. He was murdered. All he had on was a condom. He had two Asian ciphers scrawled on his forehead which together form the word ?kumo' - the spider. It seems that the man was killed by some poison during sex games. Saito is not the first person to be killed in this manner. The G-Team is called upon to help solve the murders. Special Agent Jerry Cotton and Philippa Decker first suspect the Yakuza, or a similar organized crime gang, to be responsible for the killings. However, the true meanings of the homicides go far deeper. The traces lead to a network of dirty business and to a woman who is more dangerous than a Spider ... and deadlier.



COLLECTION 3 (April 13)




EPISODE 8: KILLER APPS. 
Four mysterious mass murders. All of them occurring at more or less the same time in New York. The victims: a middle-class family, a wedding party, a school group, and a police station task force. The culprits: people with no previous criminal record. The G-Team is on the case. Agent Cotton has been looking for a common thread and finds an ambiguous lead: Just before every crime, the perpetrators activated the same app on their smartphones. One evening, Cotton and Philippa Decker meet by chance in a restaurant. Both have been stood up by their respective dates, and they decide to make the best of it and have dinner together. Cotton shows his colleague an app that had just installed itself on his smartphone. Decker tries out the app. And then she pulls out her weapon and aims it at Cotton as if in a trance ... 

EPISODE 9: DEADLY GAMES. 
The star gamer from Korea, Park Dae-Young, arrived in New York to participate in an E-sports competition. The prize money is $600,000. A few hours after his arrival he is dead; and this despite having had body guards present. Cotton and Decker from the G-Team take over the case. There are certain indications that team members, who came with Park, may be involved in his death. It is suspected that they did so out of jealousy, and that Park's clan had participated in tourneys outside the regular "Counterstrike? gaming schedule, in which huge sums of money were involved. It seems evident that not only Park himself, but also the team members and the management too, had been involved in a betting scam. Something like this goes well only so long as all the members cooperate. 

EPISODE 10: PROJECT OMEGA. 
Once a year, the president holds a banquet for members of the military, police forces, and the Secret Service who have rendered outstanding service to the nation. This year, Special Agents Jeremiah Cotton and Philippa Decker have been invited for the first time. Cotton feels out of place at the party among all the "big shots.? But then a slightly older but still quite attractive woman approaches him. Joan Fallon is being blackmailed by a stranger. Not for money, but for the state secrets guarded by her husband - the White House Chief of Staff. Joan has a dark past that not even her husband knows: In her youth, she acted in adult films. And it seems that the videotapes weren't all destroyed. Cotton discusses the problem with Mr. High, the head of the G-Team. A White House scandal and national security are at stake. So Cotton and his attractive partner Philippa start an undercover investigation into New York's porn scene ...



COLLECTION 4 (May 11)




EPISODE 11: DEATH ON ORDER. 
When Peter Warren opened the door and saw a pizza delivery man standing on his porch, he thought that it was a mix-up; he hadn't ordered a pizza that evening. Then, instead of a pizza, the man pulled a taser out of the insulated transport box. The last thing Warren saw were drill bits, needles, and surgical instruments ... Over the period of few months, several people fell victim to a sadistic crime using this or similar methods. Oddly, they weren't killed right away, but fell into comas due to brain injuries and then died later on. The victims had nothing in common, except for one thing: They were all organ donors, and the last two victims had rare genetic profiles. A false set of documents is prepared for Cotton by the team's experts, making him look like the perfect organ donor. They insert it into the national databank of the country's healthcare system. At the home address listed in these documents, Cotton awaits the killer ... 

EPISODE 12: SURVIVAL. 
There's a new government training program intended to get FBI agents into top shape. 
Equipped with nothing but their wits and an emergency backpack, the participants will be dropped in the vast forests of the northeastern United States. There, they will have to survive a week in the wilderness. Philippa Decker, Zeerookah, and Steve Dillagio are selected as the first group from the New York division. The day before the program begins, Dillagio suddenly calls in sick. Agent Cotton steps in at the last minute as his replacement. What starts out as a relatively carefree expedition turns into a nightmare for the three FBI agents. The first night, they're woken up by the sounds of gunfire. Then they discover the bodies of another team of agents. By then, it's clear to Cotton and the others that someone is using the survival program to carry out a treacherous plan. And that they have been transformed from hunters into the hunted and must fight for their survival. 

EPISODE 13: WHISTLE BLOWER. 
After a lengthy investigation, Sandy Overmeyer, a young journalist, manages to get an interview with a powerful underworld boss, known and feared for his brutality. Roberto Gonzalez, who calls himself Bobby Gold, shows her one of his hideouts, where drugs are being packaged - by children. Upset, Sandy breaks one of the unwritten laws of journalism: Never reveal a source. FBI agents storm Gold's hideout. The operation doesn't go as planned, and Bobby Gold's innocent little brother Esteban gets shot. The drug lord manages to evade arrest. Now Sandy is in grave danger. Cotton tries to get her to safety, but he arrives too late. He realizes that he and his team have made a terrible mistake. Together with his former colleague from the NYPD, Cotton goes undercover to try to make amends, no matter who gets hurt along the way ... 

EPISODE 14: CIVIL WAR. 
A ruthless massacre. Thick clouds of gunsmoke stinging your eyes. Musket fire. In the small town of Perryville, Kentucky, the Northern and Confederate armies have been pitted against each other. Smoke engulfs the hills. Wherever you look, there are fallen men. But it's all just a game. A re-enactment for the anniversary of a Civil War battle. The uniforms and even the weapons are authentic. Only the bullets are fake. Except for one, which plows through the wooden side of the grandstand. Just missing the head of Senator Kendall Whatley. Was it an accident? An attack? Maybe even an act of terrorism? Special Agents Jeremiah Cotton and Philippa Decker are put on the case. They soon find out that not all of the residents of Perryville take kindly to the senator. So they decide to give the perpetrator an opportunity to strike again - the great ball at the end of the anniversary festivities, where everyone will be dressed in historical garb ...



A new legend is born!

Also available from Amazon UK



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Book Review: CHERRINGHAM: MYSTERY AT THE MANOR BY MATTHEW COSTELLO & NEIL RICHARDS


My Thoughts on the second in this cosy mystery series .......


CHERRINGHAM:  MYSTERY AT THE MANOR
BY
MATTHEW COSTELLO & NEIL RICHARDS


Published:  16 Jan 2014
Kindle Edition:  106 pages


The elderly owner of Mogdon Manor, Victor Hamblyn, dies in a mysterious fire. But was it really an accident? Jack and Sarah are skeptical - The victim's three middle-aged children, who all live in the village of Cherringham, are possible heirs. And possible murderers - Did one of them set the fire? 

"Cherringham - A Cosy Crime Series" is a series of twelve self-contained episodes. A new case for Jack and Sarah was released each month from Dec 2013 to Oct 2014.






I love this cosy mystery crime series.

This is the second in the series, the first one, Murder on Thames I reviewed here  In that one we're introduced to the unlikely partnership of retired NYPD homicide detective Jack and Sarah who's just returned back to her hometown of Cherringham following her divorce.

Here, they're investigating the suspicious death of an elderly man in his run-down manor who had a 'forbidden room' in the attic where he was found following a mysterious fire.

All his children thought they would inherit and they all had motives, but was he murdered or was it an accident?  

Jack and Sarah are very adept, between them, in coaxing information out of people and I enjoyed the interaction between them.

I enjoyed the structure of the plot, the authors really pack so much into such a short story, the characters are individually developed, and there were some unexpected surprises, which all made for a very satisfying whodunnit.

I'm already looking forward to the next in the series "Murder by Moonlight"  

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