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CrimeFest 2017

May 30, 2017

Here are my highlights for CrimeFest 2017, the international crime fiction festival in Bristol, UK. Not only is it great fun but this year there was an even bigger contingent of international authors, including those from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany and the USA. I was lucky enough to be on a panel with two great Scandi Noir authors, Antti Tuomainen, whose thriller, The Mine, is one of the best eco-thrillers I have read in a long time, and Stefan Ahnhen, whose latest book The Ninth Grave is out now. The lovely Barry Forshaw of CrimeTime fame and thriller reviewer for The Guardian in London, moderated a number of hilarious panel discussions, including an American Noir panel, with the truly lovely American thriller author, C.J.Box, who I was lucky enough to join for a fun (crazy!) dinner one night. His current novel, Vicious Circle, has me on the edge of my seat. Not to forget the many other wonderful authors I met there, including C.J. Carver and Will Sutton, as well as the irascible Ali Karim and Mike Stotter from SHOTS. My second panel, sponsored by the ITW on realism in thrillers, was moderated by the very entertaining Simon Toyne, and with Chris Ewan, Quentin Bates and J.F. Penn. I feel very proud to have been in such great company.

Roll on CrimeFest 2018 and hope to see you there!

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Review of Triple Crown by Felix Francis

May 15, 2017

I will be moderating a panel at CrimeFest on Thursday 18 May called The Hunter Hunted, and joining me will be author Felix Francis, author of Triple Crown. Here is my short review of his book:

Great characters and fascinating insight into horse racing
I am not a horse racing fan but I found the author’s insight into the disturbingly corrupt world of international horse racing fascinating, and I really enjoyed the book’s very British central character, Jeff Hinkley, forced out of his comfort zone in the USA. The tension really mounts when Jeff goes undercover as a groom and faces numerous potentially hazardous situations. A really great read.

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Review of The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem

May 10, 2017

I will be sharing a panel discussion with Swedish author Stefan Ahnhem at CrimeFest 2017 on 18 May and I have really enjoyed his latest novel The Ninth Grave. Here is a quick review:

Clever, complex and unexpected.

At first this is almost like two crime fiction stories in one volume- one set in Sweden with detective Fabian Risk and the other set in Denmark with detective Dunja Hougaard. The two plot strands come together later in the book and this is certainly a novel that requires the reader’s full attention, but it is well worth it. Risk is without doubt the lead character and he is an unusual one: clever and persistent, but hesitant and sometimes fearful, he does not behave as you expect a hero to behave at the climax (I won’t say any more as I don’t want to reveal too much). The killer is also unexpected, both barbaric and sympathetic, and I love the way the author introduces the killer’s motivation with a letter that travels half way around the world


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Penguins who haven’t read the rule book

May 8, 2017

I’m a big fan of National Geographic Traveller UK, so I was delighted to have my article on my experiences in Antarctica published in the May issue of this magazine which you can find here. I’m also really chuffed to see an illustration of myself by Jacqui Oakley. It’s a great likeness!

Just in case the link doesn’t work for you, here is the entire article which I hope you enjoy:

A black and white Chinstrap Penguin, no taller than my knee, pecks at my boots expectantly. Clearly he hasn’t read the rule book. Much as I have tried to stay at least five metres away from Antarctica’s wildlife, as visitors are asked to do, this inquisitive fellow is intent on investigating me and my camera bag.

I am on Deception Island: a volcanic caldera shaped like a ring doughnut with a bite taken out of it. At its centre, hides a deep harbour, and an abandoned whaling station. This is one of the few places on the Antarctic Peninsula where the beaches are clear of ice – at least in summer – thanks to heat from the dormant volcano beneath us. No wonder my feathered friend has chosen this thermally-warmed island to nest.
I’m standing on a beach of black volcanic sand at Bailey Head, looking out at an inky sea, and, in the distance, a turquoise iceberg that resembles a two-storey high teapot. Penguins, like fat little torpedoes, launch themselves out of the surf and waddle inland, wings out wide for balance. Despite the flurry of activity, there is order to the chaos. On one side of the beach, Chinstraps head for the water. On the other, they head inland. I am standing in a penguin super-highway.

Half a mile inland, the rocky nests of over a hundred thousand breeding pairs stretch as far as the eye can see. The ammonia-tinged stench of krill-pink guano is pungent enough to singe nostril hairs. Grey, downy chicks screech for food, adults bicker and ward off raiding parties of Brown Skuas and Giant Petrels. The noise is one of Antarctica’s profound contrasts: barely hours earlier, I was enjoying a silence I have only ever experienced in Antarctica. No people, no voices, no machines. Just a few Crabeater Seals, lazily basking in the sunshine on floating sea ice as I sit atop an icy ridge.

I’m in Antarctica researching my next thriller. I’ve already interviewed scientists at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, and at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. But to bring such an alien land to life in my novel, I want to experience it myself. I discover first-hand the dangers of Antarctica’s volatile weather: one minute pristine skies, the next, raging blizzard. I learn how the intense cold hinders me physically and mentally and that somebody must always know my whereabouts: that’s why turning a small numbered tag every time I leave, and return to, the ship, is critical. But I don’t expect Antarctica to claim my heart in the profound way it does, or to be inspired to write not just one, but two thrillers set here.

Forget, for a moment, our multi-coloured world. Imagine one that is only blue, white and grey. A continent as big as Europe covered in ice. A land that growls and cracks as ice shelves calve and crevasses rend open, where you’ll find statuesque Emperor Penguins, sleek and deadly Leopard Seals and balletic wandering albatrosses. A place where you can be alone, so truly alone, it is terrifying – there is no permanent population, only a few thousand souls that come and go to the isolated research stations.
Antarctica has many abandoned stations. Some are famous, such as Scott’s hut on Ross Island. Others are hardly known. It was only when I visited the abandoned Base W on Detaille Island that I began to understand the extreme isolation experienced by early researchers who did not enjoy the modern, heated stations of today with access the Internet and phones.

As I tramp across the ice, I see a wooden hut that reminds me of a village hall, complete with green and white checked curtains, except the wood is bleached silver and the door is warped and scrapes across the floor as I open it. I discover is a time-capsule. I am back in 1953. A copy of World Sports magazine, dated August 1953, lies open and a pair of long-johns hang on a line over a rusted pot-bellied stove. Tins of Scotch Oats and herrings, though rusted, sit in a cupboard, intact. On the dining table is a half-completed jigsaw puzzle of a quaint English village scene. I begin to comprehend why the inhabitants had bothered with check curtains. They needed a little bit of England with them to preserve their sanity.

Antarctica is the most alien and beautiful place I have ever been. It is an icy Garden of Eden, a place that retains its innocence and unspoilt beauty. As long as The Antarctic Treaty that protects it is upheld, Antarctica can continue this way. Long may it last.

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Review of Strangers by Paul Finch

May 5, 2017

Delighted to be moderating a panel with author Paul Finch at CrimeFest on 18 May and I really enjoyed reading his novel Strangers. Here is a quick review:

I loved the central character, PC Lucy Clayburn, and was totally hooked as she struggles to prove she is worthy of becoming a detective by solving a series of brutal murders. Finch is a master story-teller who ensures that Clayburn is plunged into increasing jeopardy, until the dramatic and nail-biting climax. It shows that Finch is a former cop. His knowledge of policing really brings the story to life. I can’t wait for the next book.

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