Posted in Blog Tour, Excerpt, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Archimimus Clio Gray #Extract @UrbaneBooks @ClioGray #LoveBooksTours #HistoricalMystery #HistoricalFiction

#Archimimus

The stunning new historical thriller from Clio Gray, the acclaimed author of the Scottish Mysteries series.

Lukitt Bachmann is waiting in his Lanterne de Mortes, a Tower of the Dead, in the middle of a cemetery.

He’s had a complicated life: son of a Herrnhuter Brother thrown out of his sect; help-meet to a pastor; sailor; fisherman; boar-hunter; and student and lecturer, exploring the varied histories of the Knights Teutonic and the bone-chapels their descendants left behind them.

He has become an assassin and a murderer learned the terrible highs and lows of friendships made and lost and is awaiting now his last remaining friend to set him free so he can put right past wrongs.

As Lukitt is let loose on a world gone mad, can this avenging angel finally find solace for his soul?  

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Excerpt From Archimimus – Clio Gray

Preface

v

I’m sitting atop the Lanterne des Mortes in some Alsatian hole but here, in Sansonnet-St-Genès, lives my only friend. I’m crouched below the casement window, knees to chest, hands beneath armpits; the fire in the old upturned bell is burning, but still there’s frost on the walls, breath billowing like early morning mist. It’s high up here, thirty feet above the cemetery; the tower cylindrical and hollow, spiral staircase of stones protruding from its inner wall. It’s All Souls Eve, hence the bowl-fire, a Lux Perpetua leading the villagers from their mean houses as they hum the hymn of the Dies Irae, packets of bread clutched beneath their jackets, along with small flasks of oil and wine. They reach the cemetery surrounding the Lanterne des Mortes, begin tidying plots and graves, scrubbing down crosses and angels, pruning corpse-shrubs, straightening portraits hanging from rusting chains, poking mildew and lichen from roughly sculpted names and dates. They leave their gifts of bread, oil and wine; stick candles to the stones with warm-dripped wax: teetering will – o’- wisps in the darkness.

The priest arrives and intones the rite of Mass, everyone kneeling in the frost: old hips creaking, bunions aching, fingers clutched about each other turning white. Mass soon done – two more to perform the following day – everyone back home soon as they can decently go.

Only a few more hours now. Only a few more hours.

Lukitt Habakkuk Bachmann in his tower, waiting for his friend. How did you end up here, Lukitt? How did it all lead to this?

#ClioGray

Clio was born in Yorkshire, spent her later childhood in Devon before returning to Yorkshire to go to university. For the last twenty-five year,s she has lived in the Scottish Highlands where she intends to remain. She eschewed the usual route of marriage, mortgage, children, and instead spent her working life in libraries, filling her home with books and sharing that home with dogs. She began writing for personal amusement in the late nineties, then began entering short story competitions, getting shortlisted and then winning, which led directly to a publication deal with Headline. Her book, The Anatomist’s Dream, was nominated for the Man Booker 2015 and longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize in 2016.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Excerpt, Horror Fiction, Noir, Novella, Short stories, Suspense

Ryder On The Storm Ray Clark 4* #Review @T1LOM #LoveBooksTours @LoveBooksGroup #Supernatural #CrimeFiction #Novella #ShortStories #Excerpt #BlogTour #BookReview #bookbloggers

#RyderOnTheStorm

When builder Terry Johnson spots what he thinks is a bargain he can’t resist but to succumb to temptation. The large, detached house stands on the side of a railway track and would be perfect for his needs … and it’s cheap! 

But Billington Manor has a very tainted history, and the grounds upon which it stands were part of an unsolved murder back in the 1850s. Terry is about to discover that the road to hell is not always paved with good intentions.

Based upon a true incident, Ryder On The Storm is a stand-alone supernatural crime novella from the author of the IMP series, featuring desk sergeant Maurice Cragg.  

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Excerpt from Ryder OnThe Storm – Ray Clark

Terry slammed the door shut.

His head was all over the place, not to mention his stomach. If he’d eaten anything at all he was sure it would have reappeared. Pins and needles raced up and down both his arms.

What the fuck had he walked into? Was George a ghost? Was he being haunted? Is that what the Billingtons had been on about when they said “he’d” take care of the place. And who exactly were the Billingtons? What part did they play in it all?

Excerpt from Ryder OnThe Storm – Ray Clark.
#RyderOnTheStorm

I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

The blurb for the first story in this book intrigued me. I like stories with a supernatural element. This story starts in the past with the discovery of a body. Then in the present day, a builder is viewing an old house with a view to redevelopment. The elderly couple are strange and the logistics of the sale is similarly odd, but the builder’s eyes are focused on profit.

What follows is suspenseful and dark. I read it through twice, and the second time it resonated. The twist of the story is a popular one, but it is effectively used here. The more you think about it, the darker it becomes.

The other three short stories feature the author’s characters from the IMP series, which I haven’t read. The first two are Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries. Each is prefaced with an author’s note detailing how the story came about. This has intrinsic interest and puts each short story in context. The stories are well-plotted with complex characters and decent twists. All have engaging settings. Each delivers a good murder-mystery, and police procedural genre story.

I enjoyed reading all of these stories, perhaps the last three short stories are my favourite, and make me want to read the IMP series.

#RayClark

The British Fantasy Society published Ray Clark’s first work in 1995 – Manitou Man: The World of Graham Masterton, was nominated for both the World and British Fantasy Awards. In 2009, Ray’s short story, Promises To Keep, made the final shortlist for the best short story award from The Tom Howard Foundation. Ray is based in Goole and has set his Gardener and Reilly crime series in nearby Leeds.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Extract, Romantic Comedy

Meet Me In CockleberryBay – Nicola May 4* #Review @nicolamay1 @EyeandLightning @rararesources #RomCom #HolidayFiction #SelfDiscovery #Romance #Coastal #Relationships #Friendship #BlogTour

The cast of the runaway bestseller, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay, are back – including Rosa, Josh, Mary, Jacob, Sheila, new mum Titch and, last but by no means least, Hot, the adorable dachshund.

Newlywed, and with her inherited corner shop successfully up and running, Rosa Smith seems to have all that anyone could wish for. But the course of true love never did run smooth and Rosa’s suspicions that her husband is having an affair have dire consequences.

Reaching rock bottom before she can climb back up to the top, fragile Rosa is forced to face her fears, addiction and jealousy head-on.

With a selection of meddling locals still at large, a mystery fire and Titch’s frantic search for the real father of her sick baby, the second book in this enchanting series will take you on a further unpredictable journey of self-discovery.

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I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

There is nothing fluffy about this romantic comedy. It is romantic and humorous, but it explores what happens after ‘The Happy Ever After’, and deals with addiction, self-belief and jealousy.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but there is sufficient backstory, on events and characters, to make this one enjoyable as a standalone read. However, I do think I’ve missed out and want to read the first one too.

The setting of Cockleberrybay is authentic and lovely. The beauty of the setting hides a myriad of emotions, relationships and secrets you would never be aware of. The village setting is realistic, with the usual do-gooders, gossips and sense of community that is nearly always there and unique to this type of setting.

The story covers Rosa’s personal struggle with self-esteem and addiction, catalysed by her new marriage to Josh, which flounders when they are separated by distance. Titch needs to find her baby’s father, and her desperation adds emotional depth to this story.

Contemporary social issues are explored through flawed characters, who are easy to empathise. They are believable and you root for them. This story draws you into its picture-perfect setting and lovely, quirky real characters.

A story of real-life relationships, extraordinary friendship and community in a lovely coastal setting,

extract from Meet Me in Cockleberry Bay
where Rosa and Mary are still finding their feet in their relationship

‘Keep your sense of identity, Rosa.’ Mary took her daughter’s hand as they walked down the steep street to the beach. ‘“Give your hearts but not into each other’s keeping. For the pillars of the temple stand apart and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow”.’

          ‘Mary! Enough of Kahlil now, thanks.’

‘All he means is that space is good in a relationship.’

‘Says the woman who’s never had one,’ Rosa tutted.

Hurt, Mary released her hand. ‘You don’t know that.’

Rosa felt a sudden anger rising. ‘And anyway, I don’t need your advice,’ she said bitterly. ‘Thanks to you, I’ve been on my own in many ways and for many years.’

Mary squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. ‘And for that, I am truly sorry.’

Rosa softened. ‘Oh, I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean . . . I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve found love now, with Josh – and with you, of course. And I want to spend as much time as possible living and breathing it. It’s all so bloody confusing.’

‘There is no rush, let it all happen naturally. Although Josh is thirty-one now, isn’t he?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Rosa reared up again.

 ‘I know you had a miscarriage, love.’ Rosa flinched as Mary promised, ‘If you ever want to talk about it, you know you can.’

Rosa thought back to the painful and ongoing period she had suffered not long after the wedding.

 ‘In sickness and in health, my dear,’ Mary said gently.

‘I was just late, that’s all,’ Rosa lied, ‘and I tell Josh everything normally. I was just so happy about the wedding.  Didn’t want to make a fuss and spoil things.’

They reached the beach and Rosa bent down to let Hot off his lead. The excitable dachshund immediately tore down the beach towards a group of unsuspecting seagulls.

Mary stuttered, ‘I d-do love you, Rosa.’

Giving her mother a watery half-smile, Rosa turned and started to run over the sand towards the sea’s edge and away from the mutual affection they both struggled to accept and convey.

Award-winning author Nicola May lives in Ascot in Berkshire with her rescue cat Stanley. Her hobbies include watching films that involve a lot of swooning, crabbing in South Devon, eating flapjacks and enjoying a flutter on the horses. Inspired by her favourite authors Milly Johnson and Carole Matthews, Nicola writes what she describes as chicklit with a kick.

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Giveaway to Win a signed copy of The Corner Shop on Cockleberry Bay (Open INT)

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Excerpt, Family Drama, Gangland Crime, Historical Crime Fiction, saga

Trickster -Sam Michaels – 4* #Review #Author #Interview @Aria_Fiction @SamMichaelsGG #BlogTour #Extract #Historical #Crime #Fiction #Saga

To be ruthless is to be powerful, at least it is on the Battersea streets…

Georgina Garrett was born to be ruthless and she’s about to earn her reputation.

As World War One is announced a baby girl is born. Little do people know that she’s going to grow up to rule the streets of Battersea. From a family steeped in poverty the only way to survive is with street smarts.

With a father who steals for a living, a grandmother who’s a woman of the night and a mother long dead, Georgina was never in for an easy life. But after a tragic event left her father shaken he makes a decision that will change the course of all their lives – to raise Georgina as George, ensuring her safety but marking the start of her life of crime…

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I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Set in the early 20th-century ‘Trickster’ follows the fortunes of Georgina Garrett from her birth in 1914 when England declared war on Germany. Georgina knows tragedy from her first breath, she is no stranger to loss and falls foul of the depravity she is born into, despite the love and protection of her family.

This historical crime saga is characterised by well-researched historical detail, which brings the story to life. It’s easy to imagine the poverty, depravity and violence of the London slums. The writing is full of vivid imagery and dialogue which gives it an authentic feel.

The characters are believable and even though many of them are criminals, they are easy to empathise. Many are victims of circumstance, they commit crimes and act violently to survive. The strong family bond essential for gangland crime fiction is evident in this story, and it is this that makes it such an absorbing read.

The abuse, language and violence are graphic, but not gratuitous. They make this story an authentic reading experience, but there will be times when you will cringe or want to look away.

The plot is well- written and has many twists, that shape Georgina Garrett and her future self. The underlying theme of the story is based on a misnomer, which gives this story a refreshing uniqueness. This is an accomplished debut story and I look forward to reading book two.

Q&A with Sam Michaels – TricksterI

Sagas are popular in romantic fiction, but your story is a crime-based saga, what inspired you to write this? Are all the stories historically based?

I’ve always enjoyed sagas, been interested in early 20th- century history and fascinated with the criminal underworld. So, it made sense for me to combine the three, hence, Trickster was born. It’s been a good outlet for my ghastly imagination!

The stories in the Georgina Garrett series of books are historically based, though as they progress, the last one will end in the ’60s and ’70s.

When you write, what comes first, the characters, the plot or the setting? Why do you think this is?

My main character always comes first, along with a small scenario which sets the scene for the rest of the book. I think the character comes first as I believe this is the most important part of the story. Good, strong characters make good stories!

 Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mix of both? How do you make your characters realistic?

My characters are mostly from my imagination although I do bring in aspects of real-life people I know. To make them realistic, I find myself acting out each character’s point of view – their voices, facial expressions and sometimes even their body movements. Obviously, I do all this in my head as I don’t want my husband to think I’m a lunatic!

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I’m a fan of true stories, especially tales of triumph over hardship or really gory crime. I’ve recently discovered Bill Bryson books which are not my normal ilk but I’m finding them very amusing and interesting.

 When did you start writing? What’s the best thing about being a writer and the worst?

I’ve been writing for the past few years since I moved from the UK to Spain. The best thing about being a writer is knowing that your work is bringing pleasure to someone, and that could be anywhere in the world. The worst thing is being sat indoors in front of my computer when the sun is shining outside.

What are you currently writing?

I’m nearing the end of writing the first draft of the next book in the Georgina Garrett series. It’s been wonderful to dip back into the first book and bring out some of the lesser characters and give them a more prominent role in this story.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sam-michaels.jpg

Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel.

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Extract from Trickster – Book 1 – Georgina Garrett series – Sam Michaels

‘I dunno what to do, Mum. She needs a feed…’

Dulcie chewed her lower lip as her mind turned but then struck by an idea she said, ‘Don’t worry, Jack, I know someone who might be able to help. There’s a jug of ale in the kitchen. Go and pour yourself a glass. I’ll be back as soon as I can.’

Dulcie left her house and hurried along the narrow street with the wailing baby in her arms. She could ill afford to feed Percy and herself, let alone this poor little mite, and a wet nurse didn’t come cheap. However, if her idea panned out, she wouldn’t have to part with a penny.

Fifteen minutes later Dulcie was in the roughest part of town. This was an area where no person of good virtue would dare to frequent. Women hung out of windows with their bosoms on display, vying for business, while others were drunk, vomiting openly in the filthy streets. In a dark corner behind a cart, Dulcie glimpsed a woman bent over with her skirt up, a punter behind her, trousers round his ankles as he pounded hard for his pleasure.

This wasn’t the sort of place where Dulcie felt comfortable carrying a small baby. She held her granddaughter protectively close to her and tried to muffle the child’s screams in the hope of avoiding any unwanted attention.

The sun was still high in the sky. Dulcie was grateful, as she would have been worried if it had been dark. A short, skinny man with bare feet and a bent back walked towards her. His leering eyes unnerved Dulcie and she could see he was trying to peer at the child she held. He stood ominously in front of her, blocking her path. If she hadn’t had been carrying Georgina, she wouldn’t have given a second thought to kneeing him in the crotch.

With an evil sneer, he licked his lips, nodded towards the baby and then asked, ‘How much?’

‘This child is not for sale,’ Dulcie said firmly, then sidestepped the man and marched on. It was no secret that in these streets, any desire could be bought for the right price, but it turned Dulcie’s stomach. It wasn’t unusual for a prostitute to fall with an unwanted pregnancy, then sell the child on, no questions asked. Dulcie didn’t believe it was something any woman wanted to do, but the desperation of poverty forced them into it. Gawd knows where those helpless babies ended up, or what they went through, Dulcie thought and shuddered. She reckoned the women would be better off killing their babies – something she suspected her friend Ruby had recently resorted to.

She had seen many young women turn to drugs or booze to numb the pain and block out the memories of what they’d done. Some went out of their minds and ended up in institutions, a fate worse than death, and it was something she didn’t want to see happen to Ruby. The girl was only sixteen, with bright ginger hair and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Her fair skin was the colour of porcelain, so when she’d turned up on the streets one day her purple and yellow bruises had really stood out.

Dulcie had taken her under her wing and learned that Ruby was homeless after running away from her abusive father. Her mother had died when Ruby was seven, and her father had forced her into his bed to fulfil the role of his wife. When he’d filled her belly with a child, he’d beaten her until she miscarried, then thrown her out to fend for herself.

Dulcie did her best to protect the girl and would steer her away from the customers she knew had a liking for wanting to rough up the women, but it hadn’t been long before she’d noticed that Ruby was trying to hide a growing bump in her stomach. She’d had a quiet word with her and found that Ruby was distraught, fearing her secret would be discovered and she’d be sent to the workhouse. Dulcie felt sorry for the girl but, struggling herself to make enough money to live on, she could only offer a shoulder to cry on.

Less than a week ago and well into her pregnancy, Ruby disappeared, but then she’d turned up again two days ago, her stomach flat. She refused to discuss the fate of the baby, but Dulcie noticed her demeanour had changed. Where once she’d been a chatty young woman with a wicked sense of humour, she was now mostly silent, her eyes veiled in a darkness that Dulcie couldn’t penetrate.

Ruby lived in the basement of a shared house at the end of the street. It was decrepit, with the roof caved in and the stairs to the upper level broken. Dulcie thought the whole house looked unsound and had never been inside, but she had to speak to Ruby and hoped to find her in. She took a deep breath and braced herself for what she may find, then slowly walked down the stairs that led to the basement door. It was open, so with trepidation, she stepped inside.

Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Extract, Psychological Thriller, Thriller

She’s Mine – Claire S.Lewis – #BlogTour- 4*#Review- #Author #Interview- #Extract @Aria_Fiction @CSLewisWrites

She was never mine to lose…

When Scarlett falls asleep on a Caribbean beach she awakes to her worst nightmare – Katie is gone. With all fingers pointed to her Scarlett must risk everything to clear her name.

As Scarlett begins to unravel the complicated past of Katie’s mother she begins to think there’s more to Katie’s disappearance than meets the eye. But who would want to steal a child? And how did no-one see anything on the small island?

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I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

This is not what I expected. The first few chapters make you think certain events have occurred, and following on from this, the list of suspects is few, but then you are transported back to 1997, and what you discover there changes your perception of what happened on the beach.

The flashbacks are in a series of photographs which trigger a specific set of memories of the unknown narrator. The introduction of new characters seemingly unrelated to the event on the Carribean island, and initially cause confusion for the reader, but gradually the connections can be made and the puzzle starts to form a coherent picture.

Scarlett is an unreliable protagonist, she has past secrets, which reinforce her unreliability. She is also immature and easily swayed by the stronger, more mature personalities she comes into contact with. Costa is an unconventional investigator, they make an unusual but effective investigating team.

The characters are complex and all are flawed, keeping secrets, behaving instinctively, rather than with caution. Can the reader trust any of them for a truthful account?

The plot is intriguing, there are plenty of clues but these are countered by misinformation, so when you think you know what happened you don’t.

Surprisingly, I did work out the ending but this didn’t detract from the story.

A compulsive, psychological thriller, with well-crafted suspense and some clever twists, and an overriding poignant ethos, worth reading.

Claire S. Lewis – Author Interview

What inspired you to write this story?

She’s Mine started as a little exercise that I wrote on ‘setting’ for a beginner’s online creative writing course.  I chose a beach setting because I thought that would be a good way of using all the five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell – in the description.  You’re usually very engaged with your senses when lying on a beach!  To make it more interesting, I added the plot element of a nanny falling asleep on the sand and waking up to find that the little girl she was supposed to be looking after had disappeared. When I later took the Faber Academy course on writing a novel, I used this piece as the opening chapter for my novel draft which became She’s Mine.

What is the first thing you decide when writing a story, the setting, the plot or characters? Why do you think this is?

When starting a story, the first thing that gets me writing is the plot. Sometimes a conversation or a news item or something I hear on the radio makes me think, ‘that would be a great starting point for a novel’, or ‘if you put that into a novel nobody would believe it’, and from that scene or idea, I develop a plot.  Next, I imagine which characters would act out that plot and how they would interact with each other. And then I think about what would be an interesting or enticing setting or stage for those characters – usually, I like to pick locations that I know well and that I know I would love bringing to life in descriptions. So, in She’s Mine, much of the backstory is set in Oxford because I was a student there and it is a beautiful and atmospheric city that is still very vivid in my memory. I can easily wind back the clock and put myself in the place of my characters and imagine myself there, seeing and feeling it from inside their heads.

I think the plot interests me the most because I like the idea of setting up a puzzle and then gradually letting the readers into the mystery. The characters are there to act out the plot. I am also really interested in exploring devices such as the ‘unreliable narrator’ – like the nanny,  Scarlett, in She’s Mine. In addition, I enjoy playing around with changing narrative viewpoints so that the reader sees parts of the puzzle or mystery through one character’s eyes but has to read between the lines to work out the ‘truth’ that is eventually revealed when the narrative perspective changes to another character. I use this device a lot in my second novel. The plot is the starting point for all this.

Do you draw your characters from real life or are they purely a product of your imagination?

My characters are mostly imaginary – which is lucky because they tend to be quite dark and complicated! Of course, in some cases, I draw on certain personality traits of people I know in real life, or perhaps not so much personality traits but ways of speaking and interacting with other people. After reading the first draft of She’s Mine, my teenage daughter said to me, ‘So Scarlett’s basically me!’ I wasn’t conscious of writing this (and they certainly don’t have the same characters!), but she recognised herself in Scarlett’s narrative voice! So far all of my male characters have been flawed – weak, vain, untrustworthy, and the like. I wouldn’t say this is a reflection of the men in my life! In She’s Mine, my anti-hero Damien was in part inspired by a particularly unpleasant man I spoke to very briefly at an event some years ago! Sometimes it doesn’t take much to light the spark of a character…

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I love reading all sorts of fiction books as long as they are not too heavy or slow moving! Particular authors/books that I have loved since I was a teenager include Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby/Tender is the Night), Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent/The Power and The Glory), Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate) and Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley). I think these books are brilliant because they are so beautifully written with such intriguing stories, charismatic characters and entrancing settings. I also love modern psychological thrillers such as Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Cry and You. My all-time favourite novel is Gone With The Wind which I devoured when I was growing up.

What made you decide to become a writer and why does this genre appeal to you?

Before I had children, I was an aviation lawyer for Virgin Atlantic, but I’ve always loved reading and books, and always dreamt of writing a novel.  So after having been at home with the children for a few years, I finally took the plunge and signed up for some creative writing courses – both novel and screenwriting – to see if I could do it – then I got hooked. I love writing fiction because of the freedom it gives you to escape and get lost in other worlds. And I love psychological suspense because I find the psychological part fascinating – imagining what’s going on in other people’s minds – and the suspense part is so much fun to create because it’s what keeps us reading – the ‘what if?’ and ‘what next’ that makes us want to keep turning the page!

What are you currently writing?

I’m currently writing another story in the genre of psychological suspense about a beautiful young florist with a tragedy in her past. It’s wonderful to write because I’m researching the world of floristry and flowers (as well as getting to grips with the workings of dating apps such as Tinder which I’ve never looked at before!). The plot revolves around stalking (no pun intended!) but it’s not clear who is the predator and who is the victim…

Thank you so much, Jane, for giving me the opportunity to write for your lovely blog, Jane Hunt Writer!

Extract

That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. What I don’t reveal to her is an incident that took place in Christina’s bedroom the week before we flew out to the British Leeward Isles. I don’t disclose it because the incident doesn’t put me in a good light either! On Tuesdays, Katie does a full day at kindergarten so I have a little time to myself. I’ve got into the habit of using Christina’s en-suite, luxurious, walk-in power shower and expensive beauty products following the weekly hot yoga class that I go to after dropping off Katie. So last Tuesday, I had just finished my shower and wrapped myself in Christina’s bathrobe when I heard her bedroom door opening and then the sound of her antique roll top desk being unlocked.

I thought she must have come back early from work for some reason. There was nothing else for it but to come clean (literally!) and apologise for taking the liberty of using her bathroom without asking first. So I took off her bathrobe, draped a towel around me and opened the door. But it wasn’t Christina. It was Damien with his back to me, checking the contents of the desk. Caught in the act. Hearing the catch he started and turned in alarm. He reddened but quickly composed himself and went on the offensive.

‘What a vision of beauty!’ he sneered as I stood there, my wet hair dripping onto the carpet. ‘I didn’t realise you and Christina were so intimate.’

‘And I didn’t realise you made a habit of going through her private papers!’ I snapped back. I know very well that the desk, an old family heirloom shipped over from the UK, is a strictly no-go area that she keeps locked at all times. He just laughed and then cool as a cucumber, he slipped some documents into a green cardboard file under his arm, locked the desk, pocketed the key and marched out of the room.

‘Just mind your own business and keep out of our affairs. Or you’ll be going the same way as the previous nanny,’ was his parting shot.

I understood this was no idle threat. Christina’s so possessive and distrustful that I knew if she got wind of this brush with Damien, she would imagine the worst and I’d be out of a job. So I said nothing to Christina in New York and I say nothing to the police officer now as she converses with me in the hotel bedroom.

I decide to keep my suspicions about Damien to myself – for now.

*

For something that was supposed to have been a ‘friendly chat’ the questioning is intense. After asking about my relations with Christina and Damien she embarks on a list of questions clearly aimed at working out a timeline for my movements this afternoon. What time did I arrive at the beach with Katie? Did I speak to anyone? Did anyone approach me or Katie? Did I notice anyone watching her? What time did I fall asleep? What time did I wake up? When did I become aware Katie was missing? What did I do next? Did I see anyone on the beach when I was looking for her? How long did I spend searching the beach before raising the alarm? What time did I tell Christina her little girl was missing?

My head is pounding and I feel like a criminal by the time the family liaison officer finally puts her notepad away.

‘These questions are nothing to worry about,’ she assures me. ‘We just need to establish the timeline for the disappearance of the little girl.’ She ends the conversation by encouraging me to contact her ‘any time, any place’ if I need support or if I ‘remember’ anything else that may be relevant to the investigation. I half expect her to clap me in handcuffs and announce that she’s putting me under arrest when at last she says that I’m at liberty to go.

*

In a waking nightmare, we struggle on through the grief-stricken hours of the day making calls, badgering the search team for any new scrap of information and giving interviews to reporters in the belief that getting Katie’s story out there might somehow help in her rescue.

The worst moment comes just after midnight when the operation is called to a halt. I collapse onto a chair in a quivering heap. All the strength has gone from my legs. Christina appears distraught, begging members of the police and emergency services to go on searching.

‘There’s nothing more we can do tonight. We’ll resume at dawn. You should get some sleep,’ says the commander sternly. Holding our despair at bay and unable to contemplate the thought of sleep, we pace the beaches and the rocky headland for the next two hours, tripping over stones in the darkness, our steps lit only by the moon and stars in the cloudless black sky and the light from our mobile phones.

I am lightheaded with exhaustion by the time I accompany Christina to her room in the early hours of the morning. We sit out on the balcony mesmerised by the sound of waves rolling on to sand. We are too tired to speak. I make tea and give her three sleeping tablets from a packet I find in her wash bag. Once the tablets take effect, I steer her to bed, her expression vacant and confused, as she lets me pull the covers over her. It’s not until I shut Christina’s door and go down the corridor to the room I’m sharing with Katie that it strikes me again. Where the fuck is Damien? I haven’t seen him all day, not since he handed me the cocktail at the pool.

When I open the door, there is Katie’s blue bunny, propped up on her newly-made bed. The tears stream down my face. The bedtime story I was reading to her last night is still open at the page we got to when her eyes finally closed. It’s a beautifully illustrated copy of Peter Pan that Christina discovered in a quaint little bookshop called the Book Cellar, one of her favourite haunts for second-hand books. I glance down at the page. ‘The Mermaids’ Lagoon’ – Katie’s favourite chapter. She loves the colour illustrations of the mermaids diving in the waves. The doors to the balcony are open. I shiver in the sea breeze and step out through billowing curtains.

I stand there for a few moments still clutching Katie’s bucket.

Lost. Drowned.

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family. 
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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Excerpt, Extract, Friendship, Romance, Romantic Comedy

A Summer of New Beginnings – Lisa Hobman #BlogTour – 5* #Review – #Author #Interview #Extract @Aria_Fiction @LisaJHobmanAuth

Meet Zara Bailey, a travel writer paid to cover some of the globe’s most luxurious locations. Jetting from wooden huts on stilts in turquoise seas to boutique hotels with roaring fires to 7* penthouse suites with panoramic views of the world’s most glamorous cities…

Zara knows hers is the definition of a dream job! So she is seriously shocked to receive her next assignment; Scotland’s Northcoast 500 route. By bicycle. Sleeping in a tent so basic it can’t remotely be dressed up glamping! But this could be just the distraction the recently heartbroken, Zara needs. No men, no romance, just the breathtakingly rugged Highland scenery.

Until she meets croft owner Lachlan Grant, and his black and white Border Collie Bess, that is….

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I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, travel journalist Zara takes on an assignment that puts her firmly out of her comfort zone. Her cycle ride in the Highlands makes her realise that living life for the moment, and being brave enough to follow her dreams may be worth the risk.

The beautifully described setting makes it easy to imagine Zara’s journey. Her love-hate relationship with her mountain bike provides many humorous moments. Zara’s complex personality makes her both likeable and often frustrating. I found myself shouting at her to see the truth of the situations she’s in. So, she is realistic and easy to empathise. Lachlan is more of a mystery. He hides his kind nature under a brusque outward manner.

The plot is full of conflict and dilemma for Zara, it’s exhausting to read at times but worth the emotional angst. The well-written ending concludes all plot twists and gives Zara the life she deserves and needs.

Interview Questions: Lisa Hobman – A Summer of New Beginnings Blog Tour

What inspired you to write this story? The descriptions are realistic, have you cycled all or part of this journey?

I have actually driven the majority of the route. We visit the Highlands annually and last summer we had the pleasure of stopping off at some of the points I visit in the story. I’m not sure I’m fit enough to cycle it but I would love to camp it for sure!

The Scottish Highlands is a popular setting for novelists, what makes your stories different? Why do you think this is?

The Scottish Highlands evoke so many emotions and the dramatic scenery really does lend itself to romance, in my opinion. Many authors have this same attraction to the perfect setting. I tend to write stories about places I’ve visited and which have affected me in some way emotionally. I find this way I can give real credence to the descriptions of the breath-taking locations.

Do you draw your characters from real life or are they purely a product of your imagination?

My characters are fictional; however, there are certain traits observed in real people that find their way into the ones I invent. It may be a story that someone tells me that resonates or perhaps a general personality that sparks an idea. But overall I keep real people out of my stories. My dogs, on the other hand, do feature! Ruby from A Seaside Escape is based on my own little characterful Patterdale Terrier.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I tend to enjoy crime novels. Partly because I’m fascinated by how they’re constructed so cleverly—clues and situations all weaved together until a bewildering climax eventually occurs. I especially love Ann Cleeves Shetland books. The scenery she creates with her words really transports me and I can almost be present in the story myself. It’s a bit of a dream of mine to write something in this genre but I have yet to attempt it.

What made you decide to become a writer and why does this genre appeal to you?

Writing is something I’ve always loved since childhood. I used to love writing stories and even wrote a book when I was a teenager! Until recent years it’s always been a bit of a pipe dream but I’m so happy to be fulfilling it now. Romance is a genre that I absolutely love to write. I love to get lost in the passion of a relationship whether it’s friends to lovers or second chances. Romance is something I find flows from my fingertips and makes me happy.

What are you currently writing?

My current work in progress is a novel set at Christmas but that’s all I’m prepared to say just now! You’ll need to watch this space as they say!

Extract

Zara stared, open-mouthed, at Noah as if he had completely lost the plot. As if his marbles were literally falling out of his ears as he spoke. She tried to wrap her head around the words he had uttered but her mind was in some kind of baffled stupor. Did he really just say camping to the girl who was accustomed to reviewing five-star luxury resorts for a living?

She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Noah, but… is this a joke?’ she asked hesitantly, dreading his answer. ‘You seem to be getting me confused with someone who likes the outdoors. I mean… I like being outdoors on the beach or checking out historical places for my reports, obviously, but camping? And Scotland?’ Noah was known for being a prankster; she waited for him to burst into hysterical laughter and do the whole, ‘Ha ha! Your face when I said camping! Of course, it’s a joke!’ But she waited in vain.

He leaned forward and fixed her with a pitiful gaze. ‘Zara, I know this isn’t your usual bag. I get that. But the fact is that the whole thing is booked. Dillon knew this and he’s still betrayed me; well, all of us really.’ There was a sad yet bitter edge to his usually jovial voice. He huffed and ran his hands through his greying, floppy hair. ‘And I need you to help me out on this. Dillon’s intern simply isn’t ready – in fact I wouldn’t have employed him at all, truth be told, but that’s a story for another day. It’s not something I would normally ask of you, but I can’t let this slip just because Dillon thinks he has bigger fish to fry. We may be a relatively small publication in comparison to others, but we still need to be at the top of our game. I’m counting on you, Zara. You’re my best travel writer as it is. But now Dillon is going you’re my only travel writer.’

She sighed deeply and an image of her petite body being crushed by a giant rucksack manifested in her mind. ‘But, Noah…’

He held up his hands. ‘I know. I know. But here’s the thing. Travelarium have got wind of the fact that Dillon is leaving. I got a call from Joel at their head office today. He couldn’t wait to stick his knife in. Sarcastic bastard. Anyway, they’re going to try and get there first. You know they’re already trying to make a name for themselves, and taking a portion of our readership would be a big bloody boost for them. This article would be a perfect inroad, believe me. They’re doing the real nitty-gritty stuff; the Australian outback and the bloody camel rides in Egypt. They’re making us look like we only care about the fluffy, frilly shit. But that was never my intention with The Bohemian. Dillon’s trip was supposed to be a real nuts and bolts piece; a chance to show our readership that we take travel seriously. And that the UK is just as important to us as a publication as the luxury destinations are. We can’t let it go. I won’t, Zara.’ She had never seen him like this. Obviously, Dillon’s shock announcement had floored him. But she wondered if there was something behind it all. Was the magazine struggling? Why was he not telling her if that was the case?

And anyway, what was wrong with fluff and frills? Life was too short to be so bothered about real life and all the crap that came with it. What was wrong with a bit of escapism?

She realised Noah was still on his rant about Travelarium and snapped her attention back to him. ‘… and the North Coast 500 route is so hot right now, Zara. It’s big news and we need to get in there first. Think of the team, eh?’

Good grief, next he’ll be telling me to think of the children. Talk about playing for my sympathy. She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce. Not yet. ‘But surely there must be someone else better equipped and suited to doing the report. Surely there’s someone in the team, maybe a different department, for example, who loves camping and… and all that stuff.’

Noah closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them, he shook his head. ‘Zara, I’ve been let down by my best friend of God knows how many years. You currently have nothing assigned that can’t be put off for a while. I’m sorry but I can’t send anyone else. I need this to be done just right. I need your help on this. Please, Zara? You’re my only hope here.’

Suddenly the image of Noah dressed all in white with donuts for hair sprang to mind and she had to bite her lip so she didn’t laugh inappropriately at Noah’s Princess Leia-esque plea for help. She twisted her hands in her lap. She loved her job. And if the mag was in trouble she wanted to do all she could to help, obviously. Noah was an awesome boss and she wanted to be the reporter he needed her to be. But this was something above and beyond. She wouldn’t just be stepping out of her comfort zone. She’d be climbing in a spaceship and travelling until her comfort zone was a tiny speck on a distant planet. But she knew how much Noah had done for her. He’d taken a chance on her as a newly qualified journalist and she owed him so much.

She lifted her chin. ‘I need more information.’

Noah sat up straight once more, his wide-eyed expression filled with hope. ‘Anything. What do you need to know? Fire away.’

She cleared her throat, forcing the real question – i.e. Are you insane? – back from her tongue. ‘H-how will I be getting there?’

He nodded and took a slow, deep breath, which didn’t bode well. ‘Okay, so you’d be going north by train to Inverness. Then you’d pick up your bicycle and—’

‘Whoa! Hang on a darn-tooting-minute, here. Bicycle? You never mentioned anything about a bloody bicycle!’

Zara stared, open-mouthed, at Noah as if he had completely lost the plot. As if his marbles were literally falling out of his ears as he spoke. She tried to wrap her head around the words he had uttered but her mind was in some kind of baffled stupor. Did he really just say camping to the girl who was accustomed to reviewing five-star luxury resorts for a living?

She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Noah, but… is this a joke?’ she asked hesitantly, dreading his answer. ‘You seem to be getting me confused with someone who likes the outdoors. I mean… I like being outdoors on the beach or checking out historical places for my reports, obviously, but camping? And Scotland?’ Noah was known for being a prankster; she waited for him to burst into hysterical laughter and do the whole, ‘Ha ha! Your face when I said camping! Of course, it’s a joke!’ But she waited in vain.

He leaned forward and fixed her with a pitiful gaze. ‘Zara, I know this isn’t your usual bag. I get that. But the fact is that the whole thing is booked. Dillon knew this and he’s still betrayed me; well, all of us really.’ There was a sad yet bitter edge to his usually jovial voice. He huffed and ran his hands through his greying, floppy hair. ‘And I need you to help me out on this. Dillon’s intern simply isn’t ready – in fact, I wouldn’t have employed him at all, truth be told, but that’s a story for another day. It’s not something I would normally ask of you, but I can’t let this slip just because Dillon thinks he has bigger fish to fry. We may be a relatively small publication in comparison to others, but we still need to be at the top of our game. I’m counting on you, Zara. You’re my best travel writer as it is. But now Dillon is going you’re my only travel writer.’

She sighed deeply and an image of her petite body being crushed by a giant rucksack manifested in her mind. ‘But, Noah…’

He held up his hands. ‘I know. I know. But here’s the thing. Travelarium have got wind of the fact that Dillon is leaving. I got a call from Joel at their head office today. He couldn’t wait to stick his knife in. Sarcastic bastard. Anyway, they’re going to try and get there first. You know they’re already trying to make a name for themselves, and taking a portion of our readership would be a big bloody boost for them. This article would be a perfect inroad, believe me. They’re doing the real nitty-gritty stuff; the Australian outback and the bloody camel rides in Egypt. They’re making us look like we only care about the fluffy, frilly shit. But that was never my intention with The Bohemian. Dillon’s trip was supposed to be a real nuts and bolts piece; a chance to show our readership that we take travel seriously. And that the UK is just as important to us as a publication as the luxury destinations are. We can’t let it go. I won’t, Zara.’ She had never seen him like this. Obviously, Dillon’s shock announcement had floored him. But she wondered if there was something behind it all. Was the magazine struggling? Why was he not telling her if that was the case?

And anyway, what was wrong with fluff and frills? Life was too short to be so bothered about real life and all the crap that came with it. What was wrong with a bit of escapism?

She realised Noah was still on his rant about Travelarium and snapped her attention back to him. ‘… and the North Coast 500 route is so hot right now, Zara. It’s big news and we need to get in there first. Think of the team, eh?’

Good grief, next he’ll be telling me to think of the children. Talk about playing for my sympathy. She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce. Not yet. ‘But surely there must be someone else better equipped and suited to doing the report. Surely there’s someone in the team, maybe a different department, for example, who loves camping and… and all that stuff.’

Noah closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them, he shook his head. ‘Zara, I’ve been let down by my best friend of God knows how many years. You currently have nothing assigned that can’t be put off for a while. I’m sorry but I can’t send anyone else. I need this to be done just right. I need your help on this. Please, Zara? You’re my only hope here.’

Suddenly the image of Noah dressed all in white with donuts for hair sprang to mind and she had to bite her lip so she didn’t laugh inappropriately at Noah’s Princess Leia-esque plea for help. She twisted her hands in her lap. She loved her job. And if the mag was in trouble she wanted to do all she could to help, obviously. Noah was an awesome boss and she wanted to be the reporter he needed her to be. But this was something above and beyond. She wouldn’t just be stepping out of her comfort zone. She’d be climbing in a spaceship and travelling until her comfort zone was a tiny speck on a distant planet. But she knew how much Noah had done for her. He’d taken a chance on her as a newly qualified journalist and she owed him so much.

She lifted her chin. ‘I need more information.’

Noah sat up straight once more, his wide-eyed expression filled with hope. ‘Anything. What do you need to know? Fire away.’

She cleared her throat, forcing the real question – i.e. Are you insane? – back from her tongue. ‘H-how will I be getting there?’

He nodded and took a slow, deep breath, which didn’t bode well. ‘Okay, so you’d be going north by train to Inverness. Then you’d pick up your bicycle and—’

‘Whoa! Hang on a darn-tooting-minute, here. Bicycle? You never mentioned anything about a bloody bicycle!’

Lisa’s debut novel was shortlisted in the 2014 RNA. Her stories centre around believable, yet down to earth characters and the places in Scotland she has visited and fallen in love with. She is a happily married mum of one with two energetic dogs.

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Blog Tour – Book Spotlight – Blood in the Snow – Franco Marks – Extract


 

 

A perfect town set against the picturesque Alps. Four girls dead. One man willing to untangle a web of deceit and lies…

Marzio Santoni left behind the brutal crimes of the big city long ago. Valdiluce is a quiet ski resort, where all he needs is the peace, quiet and his trusty Vespa. At first glance, the town inhabitants are as perfect as their postcard scenery. But under the surface, nothing is as it seems… So when four women are discovered dead, seemingly by their own hand, Marzio can sense that something isn’t right. Fighting against his police chief, his own emotions and the evidence stacked against him, Marzio is caught up in a race against time to discover what truly happened. 

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Extract

‘The scooter roared along. Too slowly for the haste, he felt inside. Inspector Marzio Santoni, known to all as White Wolf, saw himself frozen, almost motionless, in the landscape. He could get to the Bucaneve quicker on foot by taking shortcuts, so he leaned the Vespa against a wall and ran ferociously. The soles of his shoes threw up earth and leaves. His blonde hair flew across a sky that was growing bluer. An animal. He calculated the fastest route, the distances, the slope, the slippery ground, the undergrowth, the low firs: obstacles that he avoided. The images glistened inside him as though a navigator was marking out his path. Arrows, angles, curves, straight stretches. The excited words of Agostino Uberti, the Bucaneve’s caretaker, echoed in his head.

“Hurry, hurry, it’s a tragedy!”

Elisabetta was in an apartment at the Bucaneve with her three friends. Considering that, what with the lack of snow, there were very few guests, it was all very predictable. There was no point him fooling himself. Did the excessive happiness of those days, the principle of love, have to be punished?

Under the sun, the scent of resin spread through the air wrapped in a light mist. A smell that could kill, the old people said: they had sometimes found foxes dead for no apparent reason.

Marzio Santoni was able to smell odours whatever condition he was in – to separate them, distinguish them. The rot of the leaves, the mossy ground. It was a gift. He came out of the beech forest. With its grey stone, green copper roof and turret, the Bucaneve looked like some cursed castle. Reflected in the blue pupils of White Wolf’s eyes, a gnat-sized fragment appeared, swooping through the sky. Far away, like a semicolon. Trogolo the falcon – the ‘ghost ship’, the curse of Valdiluce, a chain swinging from his leg.

It was an old story: Leopoldo the butcher had displayed a falcon in front of his shop. It had been a great success. The people of the town came to see the bird of prey, they enjoyed baiting him. Trogolo spent the day tearing at his leg to try and escape; in the silence of the night he recovered his strength, and then at dawn, his torments resumed. And even with the limited range, the chain allowed him, when he opened his wings he sent up a cloud of dust and blood. Until one day, the chain broke. Incredible. The falcon flew into the sky with that remnant of his prison attached to his leg. With each wing stroke, he sounded like a ramshackle cart. Trogolo the falcon. A bad omen.

Marzio increased his pace, uphill, leaning forward to counter the force of gravity; it almost looked as though it was he who was making planet Earth rotate. From his mouth came heavy breathing. With his nose, he sniffed out odours. One, in particular, grew stronger the closer he got. Treacherous and subtle. Methane gas. Enough of it to make you sick. His fear erupted.

Agostino, his eyes crazed, coughed out the words.

“Inspector, there’s been a gas leak, something terrible has happened!”

“Where?”

“Apartment twelve.”

“Who’s inside?”

“The four girls.”

Marzio put the red neckerchief he always wore over his mouth. Dazed, crying, sobbing and beating his fists against the wall, Agostino followed him.

“Hurry up, turn off the electricity.”

“I have done.”

Apartment twelve was locked. Agostino tried to open the door using his key, but his hands were shaking and he couldn’t get it into the lock. Marzio charged the door with his shoulder and knocked it down. Darkness. He moved through the gas mixed with a suffocating heat. He wanted to whisper Elisabetta’s name, hear her voice, discover her still alive, but he did not. With a hint of hope, he opened the window, and the light splashed into the room, illuminating a pitiless scene: on the beds lay, Stefania, Flaminia, Angela: composed, sleeping dolls. Elisabetta was trapped in a position that didn’t do her justice. A grimace, eyes appalled, hair betrayed by a messiness she wouldn’t have tolerated. Marzio stared at her in agony. Nothing remained of her beauty. It had flown away. All that was left was a motionless bundle.

Inspector Santoni tried to look at her with professional detachment, as though he must suddenly deny his emotions. It was impossible. Mortally wounded, trapped. Hunted by dogs. A poisoned arrow traversed his veins, pierced the petrified muscles and finally reached his groin. Rage violent enough to drive a man insane. Marzio clenched in his fist the memory of those days. Elisabetta’s sweet, smiling face. Their meetings. Their last harmonious kiss. On his lips, he gathered the magic of her body. Marzio crushed the story between his fingers. Madness. Perhaps it was because of the gas that continued to fill the room. He was losing consciousness. On his hands and knees, he went into the kitchen. He checked the knobs on the cooker – they were all open. He didn’t turn them off for fear of damaging fingerprints – the crime scene must be kept intact. He looked for the gas stopcock. It was open. From there came the poisonous hiss, the mouth of the dragon, the breath of death. He took the red scarf from his mouth and wrapped it around one hand so as to leave no traces. He turned the iron knob firmly, as though by that gesture he could return the four women to life. A bead of sweat, perhaps a tear, escaped him and flew into the light. He caught it and wiped it on his corduroy trousers.

“Inspector. Do you feel alright?”

Agostino stared at him with morbid eyes, as though trying to strip Marzio’s confusion naked. He returned to being an inspector. Abruptly, he bustled him out of the apartment.

“Get out of here immediately. Wait outside.”’

Franco Marks is a writer and television director who lives and works in Rome. He has written the novels La neve RossaIl visionario (shortlisted for the 2003 Strega Prize), Festa al blu di Prussia (winner of the Procida Isola di Arturo – Elsa Morante Prize 2005), Il profumo della neve (shortlisted for the 2007 Strega Prize), Lo show della farfalla(shortlisted for the 2010 Viareggio-Repaci Prize), Il suicidio perfettoLa mossa del cartomanteTre cadaveri sotto la neveLo strano caso dell’orso ucciso nel boscoDelitto con inganno and Giallo di mezzanotte. His books have been translated in several countries.