Losing the plot

Do you ever reach the point where you can’t see the wood for the trees?

Until this week, I’d always prided myself on seeing the big picture. (I’m ignoring the Cliché Police on Robservations this week.) As an environmental health officer and manager, I was always better at seeing how plans would pan out rather than the detail of how to get there.

But this week at Crouch Corner, I became so immersed in the details of my latest Kent Fisher mystery, No Remorse, I literally lost the plot.

Let me explain.

No Bodies coverNo Remorse is book three in the series and the storyline lends itself to revealing more of Kent Fisher’s character and emotions. In the first two books, No Accident and No Bodies, he simply gets on with the job and deals with the surprises and developments thrown at him without fuss. It’s his nature to ‘play the hand he’s dealt’.

So in the latest story, I thought it would be interesting to reveal more of his background and why he is the way he is.

It was a struggle at first because he’s not the kind of person to go on about his past or his feelings. The only emotion you see concerns his love of the environment and desire to protect animals from cruelty and neglect – subjects he’s passionate about.

But there’s a hint of romance, love and jealousy in No Remorse.

And this is where I started to lose my way a little. Getting Kent to reveal his feelings was tough work – and I created him. He’s not the most forthcoming of people, but I persevered and got to know him a whole lot better as a result.

But something didn’t feel right.

As an author, I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice – the one that tells me when something isn’t working. It’s usually, though not exclusively, a problem with characters. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a character or forcing them to behave in a way that helps the plot, but isn’t true to their nature.

So, encouraged by my inner voice, I delved deeper into the story, rewriting and revising for almost three weeks until it finally felt right. All the character behaved as they should, the conflict was strong, and everything was going wrong for Kent Fisher.

Relieved, I moved onto the next chapter, sailing through the editing. Then I started the next chapter and groaned in disbelief. Had I not tinkered with the original story, everything would have flowed and worked out. Now the story veered off in the wrong direction.

In my efforts to improve a few details, I’d forgotten the main plot.

How did that happen?

The original chapters, though not perfect, were generally fine. So, back I went and started to revise again. Only this time I kept one eye on the bigger picture, making one small, but significant change to satisfy my inner voice.

Yes, us authors spend a lot of time talking to ourselves, our inner critics and the characters we create, but that’s a discussion for another blog.


If you’re interested in the Kent Fisher mysteries, please click here to check my Amazon page, where you’ll find more details and reviews from readers.

You can also check my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk, where you can sign up to the Kent Fisher Reader group to find out more about No Remorse and the characters.

 

Past Imperfect

‘Don’t let what happened mess up what’s possible.’

It’s a simple enough sentiment, however you phrase it.

Don’t allow your past to get in the way of your future. Don’t let memories and regrets hold you back. Look forward not back.

Maybe it’s safer to cling to memories than create new ones in an uncertain world.

But memories can weigh you down, make you question your judgement, your abilities, your worth as a human being.

Maybe we’re programmed to recall past failures because they hurt us. Or is it the hurt that imprints itself on our memories? Is it the fear of more pain that makes us think twice?

For a writer, these questions fuel internal conflict, where a past failure becomes another obstacle to conquer on the hero’s journey. The possibilities are almost endless, depending on the past experience or failure.

DoubtPeople run from their pasts, shut them away in denial, or interpret them as something different. People can do whatever it takes to deal with those feelings of failure and doubt that can riddle us all.

But sooner or later, the feelings resurface, usually in moments of great stress or challenge, often at the lowest point in the hero’s journey, immediately preceding the climax. Doubt piles on doubt, undermining the already exhausted hero. There’s no way forward, no solution, no hope of success.

The tension becomes palpable, almost unbearable.

That’s when a hero digs deep to find his or her true nature, something or someone to believe in or to fight for. The hero casts off the shackles, breaks free and triumphs against the odds.

But not always.

The really wicked authors let their heroes carry the burden across several books, offering more opportunities to put them through the wringer.

Either way, the past is invariably at the heart of a hero’s flaws. Without it, these characters are not as interesting or intriguing.

We all carry the past around. We can haul it around in a trunk for all to see, or lock it away in a place we never intend to visit. Possessions, like memories, can make us look back, make us consider what we did or didn’t do.

As long as we learn lessons, understand what happened and improve, the past can enrich the future. But in novels, the past has to cast long shadows. Characters have to suffer before they can grow. Characters have to face their demons … eventually.

‘Don’t let what happened mess up what’s possible.’

The words tumbled out of Kelly’s mouth. She’s one of my favourite characters in No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher mystery. The moment I wrote the words on Wednesday this week, they struck a deep chord.

For many years, especially as a teenager, I believed the world was against me, punishing me for no obvious reason. Every failure, every opportunity missed, supported this belief. Mistakes ganged up on me to confirm that I would never succeed.

Even my successes became flukes, strokes of luck that had to come my way sooner or later. Even when I discovered that hard work and effort that led to these successes, I still dismissed them as luck.

Until I achieved something I never believed I could.

I quit smoking.

If you’ve never smoked, it may seem trivial, but smoking’s an addiction that your body and soul don’t want to let go of, no matter how rational you are.

Maybe past failures can be an addiction – an excuse to be lazy, to underachieve, to avoid risks, to blame everything and everyone but yourself.

So, I’m heeding Kelly’s advice in No Remorse, and looking forward.

I’ve waited most of my life to become a full time writer, so let’s see what’s possible.

Looking back


No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher murder mystery will be available in early May 2018.

To find out more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries, please click here to visit my Amazon page.

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Authors who inspire me to write better

Last weekend, I wrote about the authors who inspired me to move from the ideas buzzing around my head to putting fingers on the keys of a typewriter or word processor. (You can read the post here.)

Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder series, featuring Kinsey Millhone, helped me believe I could create my own detective and write crime fiction. Now, with two books published and the third scheduled for May this year, my inspiration comes from other crime writers who bring their own style and ideas to the party.

Plenty of choice

Let’s face it, there are millions of books out there, each vying for your attention as you scan the results on Amazon, Kobo or your local library bookshelves. But out of those millions, how many will appeal to you? How many would you class as ‘essential reads’? How many books would you buy on the strength of the author’s name?

There are so many good writers out there, offering different spins on the same themes and subjects. Why do some capture your imagination more than others? Why do they talk to you in a way that others don’t? What is it that draws you to a particular writer?

I’ve no idea, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the author’s voice and style. The author talks to you in a way you like and understand. The story and characters still have to be good, and familiar settings can help, but there’s something about particular authors that strike a chord or two.

I could list well over twenty authors, whose police procedurals, psychological thrillers or private detective novels have entertained me over the past few years. (There’s a similar list of authors whose books were dumped after a few chapters or pages.)

But at the moment, there are only four authors who inspire me, who make me want to write stronger and better to reach the benchmarks they set. They all write police procedural series with strong central characters, imaginative plots, and dramatic storylines. Yet each author is distinct, bringing something different to the table. I’ve listed them in the order I discovered them.

Robin Roughley – DS Lasser series

Tethered to the DeadRobin has written fifteen of sixteen books so far, set in and around Wigan, but I’ve only just finished reading Tethered to the Dead, which is No 3, but I love the character and his fearless pursuit of criminals. The plots are complex and explode in all directions from a simple crime. There’s social comment, an unflattering view of the seedier side of life, and a wonderful optimism and wit that reassures you that the world will be all right once DS Lasser gets the killer.

But best of all, I like the way the author takes you into the heads of his characters, good and bad, revealing there essence in a few paragraphs.

Peter James – Detective Superintendent Roy Grace

Not Dead EnoughAgain, I’m only on book three, Not Dead Enough, but I can see why Peter James is one the top crime writers in the country. Not only is he an excellent writer who can create memorable characters and brings them to life in a few paragraphs, his plots are wickedly clever. He portrays all shades of Brighton and offers plenty of social and political comment in his investigations, but it’s his attention to detail and police procedure that lift his stories above most of the others. That detail about how the police operate, the systems they use, the buildings they occupy and the rules and regulations that govern their work add great credibility and authenticity to the novels.

LJ Ross – DCI Ryan

I’m a newcomer to this series, set in Northumberland, but again, it’s the story and characters that matter, including a touch of romance, which we all enjoy, don’t we? Holy Island, had a distinctive plot, laced with an undercurrent of ritual and mysticism, to tax the charismatic lead characters in a tale filled with suspense and drama. The style leans more towards the cosy end of the crime market, but remains modern and relevant, which appeals to me.

Book two, Sycamore Gap, is my next read.

Rachel Amphlett – DS Kay Hunter

Will to Live coverI’ve only recently discovered this series and enjoyed the first two books, Scared to Death and Will to Live. Rachel has a no-nonsense, economic style of writing that engages you from the first paragraph. Like Peter James, her plots are different and deftly delivered with a touch of wit and humour to lighten the tone.

While she tackles gritty subjects and hard hitting crimes, she manages without littering her stories with profanities and gratuitous descriptions or violence, which proves it’s the story that counts. I also like to write this way.

These authors all have distinctive styles, but share a number of characteristics that heighten their appeal and inspire me, namely

  • strong central characters who will do whatever it takes to bring the villains to justice
  • complex, twisting plots that baffle, intrigue, entertain and fulfil
  • realism and credibility
  • humour and wit, often dark, that’s often lacking in many novels.

 

Though a newcomer to crime fiction with much to learn, these are the characteristics I strive to bring to my novels, and I’m delighted I’ve found such fantastic examples to show me the way.

I’m sure there will be many more authors in my ‘To Be Read’ pile that will entertain and hopefully inspire me.

That’s the joy of reading.


Click here for reviews of the novels mentioned in this post.

If you’d like to find out more about my novels and lead character, Kent Fisher, please check out my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk or my Amazon page.

If you’d like exclusive previews and insights, sign up to my Reader Group by entering you details in the form at the top right of the page.

The authors who inspired me to write – Part One

“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison.


Reading inspired me to write. The discovery of exciting new worlds, memorable characters and epic conflicts made me want to create my own. I wanted to bring as much enjoyment and pleasure to others as reading had brought to me.

Early stirrings

Famous Five seriesFrom the moment I learned to read, words captivated me. They offered me imaginary worlds, characters I knew better than my friends, and exciting stories that brought me every emotion you could imagine. From books, I learned about life, friendship, courage, good, evil, and love.

The first books to grab my imagination and feed it with possibilities were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. I wanted to join their adventures, to fight the bad guys and defeat evil, making a difference to the world.

The short stories I wrote for English homework mimicked these adventures, allowing my imagination to flourish.

The Narnia series by CS Lewis took me to more mystical worlds, where the fight between good and evil was much sharper as the future of mankind seemed to be at stake. For the first time I discovered betrayal and consequences, further feeding my developing imagination. Sitting in the attic of the house, I longed for a magic wardrobe, but had to make do with pen and paper.

The novel that changed my life

To Kill A Mocking BirdTo Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee had such a profound effect of me, I still find it almost impossible to put it into words today. Let’s just say it transformed the way I looked at the world.

I couldn’t believe that such ignorance and prejudice could exist in an educated world. I felt angry, driven to write my own novel that showed how education and working together would always defeat evil in any form it took.

I was 16 at the time, with little idea of how complex life could be, or how to get a book published, but I had to speak out.

Intellectual – don’t make me laugh

Harper Lee increased my appetite for more literary novels to feed my intellect. Tolkien and Aldous Huxley led me to Somerset Maugham to DH Lawrence to Graham Green and finally HE Bates.  I enjoyed their stories and their different styles, but none captured my imagination or inspired me to write.

Wilt Tom SharpeBut Tom Sharpe did.

He blew my socks off with Riotous Assembly, which satirised the Apartheid regime in South Africa and reduced me to  helpless laughter, often forcing me to read under the bedclothes so I didn’t wake anyone, with Wilt. He inspired me to write a humorous novel of my own. Though I couldn’t find a publisher that would take They Laughed at Noah, it remains one of my favourite novels and often begs me to revise and rewrite it for today’s readers.

A Joy to read

I continued to write as marriage and building a home took precedence, but nothing fired my imagination until I chanced on Joy Fielding’s See Jane Run. This psychological suspense story pulled me in with its terrific opening sentence and never let me go.

While I tried to write my own psychological suspense novels, I struggled with the plotting, failing to generate the suspense needed.

Then Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie came to my rescue, though I never read their books at the time. The TV adaptations of Inspector Morse and Miss Marple ignited a desire to write crime fiction. The shows taught me how to develop taut, complex plots alongside engaging characters. I still watch the shows today, always learning, always enjoying.

Despite the desire to write crime, and my newly acquired knowledge of plotting, I still struggled to produce memorable stories. It took one more book, or should I say series, to inspire me.

It’s as simple as ABC

Sue GraftonSue Grafton’s alphabet series blew my socks off.

I came across the first three novels in a compendium by a book club, which I ordered for free as part of an introductory offer. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know at the time that this book would become one of my most treasured possessions.

When I started A is for Alibi, featuring feisty Californian PI, Kinsey Millhone, I had never read another book like it. The first paragraph not only captured my imagination, it compelled me to write my own murder mystery novels.

Sue Grafton created something quite different and unique and showed me what was possible. Sadly, she died recently, not long after the publication of Y is for Yesterday, but as my own lead character, Kent Fisher, is a Kinsey Millhone fan, this wonderful author will never be far from my thoughts.

In Part Two, I’ll talk about some of the current authors who inspire and delight me.

If you want a sneak preview of who they might be, take a look at the Reviews page on my website, where I offer my thoughts on the books I read. You may find some of your favourite authors there.

And if a book or author inspired you, please tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

 

Alas poor Robert …

I wanted to be an actor.

I didn’t know this until I was eleven and stepped onto the stage during a Drama class at school. But it wasn’t until we were asked to pick a song and act it out that I realised acting was for me. I had no idea what to do with Metal Guru by T Rex, and realised I needed a song with a story. My mother liked Tony Christie, who was riding high with a song called, I Did What I Did for Maria, about a guy killing the man who attacked his wife.

It was melodramatic stuff and under my enthusiastic direction, we brought the song to life. I lost myself in the part, becoming the wronged man out to deliver his own form of justice in a world that didn’t care.

I’d always had a terrific imagination and drama allowed me to channel it. I wrote short stories and plays, eager to perform them. But alas, the kids in my class were neither keen nor as driven as me. To them, our one drama lesson a week was a chance to escape from behind the desk and lark about with a soft teacher. My ambitions and self-confidence took a hit, more so when I discovered that there would be no more drama classes the following year.

The following year, one of my teachers destroyed what was left of my self-confidence.

We had to choose the subjects we intended to take for ‘O’ level in two years’ time. Looking back, I should have realised it was an hour dedicated to ensuring every pupil took as many science subjects as possible.

You might be surprised to learn, I had no sciences on my list. The teacher homed in on this like a missile, cross examining me like a barrister, refusing to accept that any boy in the North of England could be interested in the arts.

Advisor“And how do you think you’re going to earn a living from arts?” he asked, focusing the class’s attention on me. “Employers want people with qualifications in science, not someone who can paint the view from the canteen window.”

The sniggers from my classmates told me I was on my own. “You don’t need sciences to be an actor,” I said defiantly, oblivious to the reaction this would cause.

“An actor?” The teacher said it several times, making me sound like I’d lost all reason. He studied me with disdain, his voice a mixture of disbelief and mockery. “You want to be an actor?”

He laughed along with the rest of the class, certain I needed to be totally humiliated to cleanse me of this disease that had infected my mind.

I could live with the laughter. It was the destruction of my dreams I couldn’t recover from.

Two years later, I did some scene shifting at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, meeting some well-known actors. I loved the atmosphere and mixing with these creative and artistic people, but I couldn’t muster the courage to take up acting.

After I’d left school, I trod the boards playing one of the orchestra in the finale of a musical in a local amateur production. I remember the makeup, dressing up in a red jacket with gold buttons, and choosing the French horn to march around the stage with. But it wasn’t acting.

reporterI could have written a review for the local newspaper had my dreams of going into journalism not taken a similar battering at school. It wasn’t a teacher who rode roughshod over my dreams of becoming an investigative reporter, delving into scandals and cover ups, exposing wrong doing and all manner of evils.

It was a careers advisor, brought in by the school. We each had a 15 minute session with him in a portakabin in the school yard.

“Have you any idea how difficult it is to become a journalist?” he asked. “Out of the thousands who try, only a select few ever make it. You’ll waste years at university and end up working in a chip shop.

The irony of wrapping greasy food in newspaper crushed another dream. I tried to reason and argue, to fight for my chosen career, but he had all the answers, and a manner intended to make me feel indebted to him for the way he destroyed my aims.

“You need a qualification that offers you the greatest range of opportunities,” he said, producing a brochure from beneath the table. “Business Studies is the degree to take at Manchester University. It will open doors into worlds of opportunity in almost any discipline you could imagine.”

“Including journalism?”

He shook his head. “I think we can both agree that writing’s hardly a business, is it?”

The following day, back among my classmates, I was surprised and then angry to discover that we were all applying to Manchester University to take Business Studies.

I continued to write and dream, but soon I would have to leave school and join the world outside. My desire to protect the world we lived in and banish the pollution that was causing so much harm drew me to environmental health. Even better, I could go to college or university, get a qualification and have a job at the end.

I didn’t realise at the time, but my career choice would not only allow me to indulge in some acting, it encouraged me to be creative and I got to meet some terrific and inspiring characters. I’m writing about many of them in A Health Inspector Calls, a collection of humorous incidents from my work. It’s free to anyone who subscribes to my Reader Group.

Just complete the form at the top of the page to join.

Throughout my career, I remained an artistic square peg in a scientific round hole, but I’ve no regrets. It took a long time, but my work allowed me to create Kent Fisher, described by reviewer Susan Corcoran as ‘a wonderful creation, unique in crime literature.’

He’s not a hard act to follow – just click here or visit my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk to learn more.

When Hollywood lent a helping hand

A year ago this week, the wonderful Carrie Fisher passed away.

Carrie FisherMy earliest memory of her is Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, but it was her TV interviews with Clive James that helped me discover and appreciate her wit, intelligence and delightfully acerbic sense of humour. This lady was sharp, irreverent and so honest you couldn’t help but admire her.

At the time, I had no idea she would help me create a new crime fiction character and series.

During the late 1990s, after some success writing articles for magazines, I wanted to write a crime novel. I was reading Dick Francis and Sue Grafton at the time, watching Inspector Morse and Miss Marple on TV, and desperately in need of something to put my heart and soul into.

I wanted to create something fresh and different, something that would stand out in a crowded market.

Why couldn’t an environmental health officer (EHO) solve murders?

But it couldn’t be a traditional EHO, bound by rules and red tape, working for a local authority. He needed to be dynamic, courageous and dogged, willing to bend or break rules, and he had to handle himself in difficult, life threatening situations.

But to bring this character alive, I needed to give him a name.

Names matter because they create an impression of the person behind them. Take my name, Robert. Think how different I would be if I were Rob or Robbie, Bob or Bobbie, Bert or Bertie. Each name conjures up a different character and persona.

I went through an alphabet of names before I settled for Kent. It was unusual. It said cool and decisive, dynamic, a man of purpose and action. It had echoes of Superman, which I liked. Maybe he’d earned the nickname, Superman, from his days in the army.

And if anyone asked why he was called Kent, he would tell them it was where he was born. (This would prompt the riposte, Lucky you weren’t born in Middlesex.) But in reality, he’d abbreviated the name Kenneth, which was a family name he hated.

This said plenty about his character.

His surname proved more of a challenge. I wanted a fairly traditional name that sounded good with Kent, but nothing sprang to mind. I thumbed through telephone directories, watched the credits at the end of TV programmes and checked the obituaries in the local paper, but without success.

So I explored his character, his background, his education and his tastes, hoping to trigger a name. That’s when I realised he was in love with his assistant, Jenny (later changed to Gemma). She looked like the young Carrie Fisher and had the same dark, sexy eyes.

As a teenager, Kent had idolised Carrie Fisher, loving her wit and humour, sharing her sense of not fitting in, watching all her films, pinning posters of her on his bedroom wall.

And that’s when I knew he was a Fisher too. He realised they could marry without Carrie having to change her surname. The fantasy amuses him – not that he would ever share it with anyone – and reminds him of those lonely teenage days.

Hollywood sign

Since then, Kent Fisher has changed and developed, and continues to do so with each novel, but he would never have existed without a helping hand from one of Hollywood’s finest.

Find out more about Kent Fisher.

Runaway success

When you think of healthy living, you don’t automatically imagine double chocolate muffins, right?

Think again, as this is one of the fringe benefits of running.

To most people running’s about exercise and fitness. For me, it was all about reversing a slow, but stubborn increase in my weight. So, three or four times a week, I left Crouch Corner, walked the five minutes to the gym and went through a pattern of routines on various pieces of equipment.

Then, the moment I left the building, sweating and tired, I would roll a cigarette and light up for the walk back home.

This wasn’t some kind of ironic statement or macho attempt to prove that smokers could also be fit, just the final flings of a habit that was about to become history.

And sure enough, I gave up smoking a few months later. By then, I was fitter and able to run for 15-20 minutes on the treadmill, prepared for the surge in weight that most smokers experience after kicking the habit.

Food replaces cigarettes.

And I was no different – except no matter how much I ate, I continued to feel hungry. This continued for months after I quit smoking. I ran further and longer, keeping my weight in check, turning flab into muscle, but the pangs of hunger pestered me day and night.

Then the reason dawned on me. I was eating rubbish food.

My body and mind were becoming leaner and fitter, demanding better quality nutrients. The pizza out of the freezer couldn’t sustain the running. Drastic action was needed. Out went most of the processed food and in came meals prepared at home, vegetables other than baked beans, and more fruit.

Running gave me better quality nutrition alongside all the health benefits.

Chocolate muffinBut you wouldn’t class a double chocolate muffin as quality nutrition. It’s a rather tasty treat, especially if it has a gooey chocolate centre, but at 500-600 calories a hit, it’s hardly healthy.

And when I met up with an old friend and former colleague this week, that’s exactly what I thought when he suggested we treat ourselves to cake with our cups of tea. One look at the counter display or beautifully presented muffins told me I would need to run at least four to five miles to burn off those extra calories.

Yeah, it’s hardly rock and roll, but it stops me eating cakes and other treats. And I don’t need to move up a trouser size.

Another fringe benefit of running is the time it gives me to think about writing. Whether it’s plot or characters, an idea that needs fleshing out, or simply reviewing this morning’s writing, running can be creative.

No Bodies coverThe opening to my second novel, No Bodies, was shaped and refined while running along the promenade, enjoying the sea air. Numerous plot ideas, twists and developments have been shaped while I pound along the roads, or over the rolling hills of the nearby South Downs.

The secret is remembering all the thoughts, revisions and ideas that rattle through my brain during a run. I’ve considered taking a notebook, but all that stopping and starting isn’t my idea of running. And the notebook would need to be small to fit into the tight pockets of shorts and leggings.

I could use the voice recorder on my mobile phone, but during playback the panting and heavy breathing would make it difficult to understand what I’d said. A brisk walk would eliminate the panting, but it’s not running, is it?

So I rely on memory, which has improved thanks to running.

And talking of memory, I recall an article I read in the 1990s. The author advocated healthy living as the only way to be a truly creative writer. In his view, drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol, coffee and tea polluted the mind and stifled creativity.

Robert runningLooking back, he may have had a point. Since I packed up smoking, started running and eating better, my writing has improved. I’ve found my voice, published two novels with a third on the way, built my confidence and improved my self-discipline.

Exercise works.

It takes you away from the computer or TV. It gives you fresh air. And you’d be surprised how many friends you can make out there.

But don’t worry – I refuse to give up crisps, chips, sausages or my regular infusions of strong, dark tea. And I can’t remember the last time I ate a double chocolate muffin.

If you’d like to find out more about my murder mystery novels, please use the tabs at the top of the page to check out my website or visit my Amazon page.

 

The Curse of the Baskervilles by Colin Garrow

August 2017

5/5 stars. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

Description

Intrepid investigators Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime in a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe. In three more adventures, the intrepid duo tackle a ghostly locomotive, journey to Dartmoor in search of a gigantic hound, and team up with bloodthirsty psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in the hunt for a murderer.

Adult humour throughout.

Curse of the Baskervilles is book #3 in this Victorian comedy adventure series.

If you love historical mysteries, buy something else instead, but if you’re into fart-gags and innuendo this’ll be right up your Victorian street.

My thoughts

I love something different, especially if it makes me chuckle and this had me laughing from start to finish. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

This is the basis for an irreverent comedic romp at the expense of crime literature’s most famous double act. Watson, determined to show his friend he can solve baffling cases, gives a slightly offbeat version of events that’s a delight to read. Better still, I loved Watson’s feisty and amorous wife, Mary, who showed a flair for kicking ass and putting the men in their places.

Inventive, irreverent and hugely entertaining, the Watson Letters will leave you laughing, and occasionally gasping in disbelief as the detective duo trample over convention and good taste to solve some of the most baffling (and curious) cases imaginable. Even an appearance by Hannibal Lecter seems perfectly in keeping as modern characters and events are thrown into the Victorian melting pot of Holmes and Watson.

Once I tuned into the humour and went with the flow, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, which got better as I progressed, reaching an epic climax in the Silence of the Lambtons.

Colin Garrow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I would thoroughly recommend his books to anyone who enjoys a good and irreverent laugh.

5/5 stars

Series Killers

Sometimes, I wish there were fewer books out there.

It’s not because I’m a slow reader. Far from it. I can zip through the pages like Mo Farah on his final lap of a race. It’s more a question of the amount of time available for reading. I read while I eat – breakfast and lunch each day.

If a book’s good, I can be tempted to extend lunch, but even then I only manage to read a couple of books a month, sometimes three.

Even if I extended lunch to five or seven courses, the temptation posed by the bewildering choice of authors and books would defeat me. Like many readers, I love discovering new authors, and often a series that gives me that extra magic in a story.

That extra magic

It’s usually a subject close to my heart, a plot that resonates at a deeper level, or a character that embodies similar values and beliefs to me. There’s usually a good sprinkling of humour and a distinct voice that makes the author stand out from the rest.

Must reads

I can only think of two authors whose books I have bought and read without hesitation.

Wilt Tom SharpeThe peerless Tom Sharpe had me laughing well into the night, forcing me to retreat under the covers so I didn’t wake everyone in the house. His ability to take a simple problem and escalate it to the scale of a nuclear war was unsurpassed. I wanted to write like him and make people cry with laughter.

Kinsey Millhone and I have an enduring relationship of over 30 years. It started the moment I opened A is for Alibi, the first of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Apart from Kinsey’s feisty attitude, her sense of humour shines through as she passes judgement on all kinds of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. There’s an intriguing backstory too.

New must reads

In recent years, I’ve discovered a few more crime authors who tick the boxes.

While I enjoyed Dead Simple by Peter James, the second in the Roy Grace series, Looking Good Dead, has captured my imagination and shown the great writing that led to him being voted top crime writer recently.

Robin Roughley, who writes the DS Lasser series, grabbed my attention in The Needle House, because of the great characterisation and realism that ran through the story. The second in the series, The Way that it Falls, confirmed what a terrific storyteller Robin is.

LJ Ross wowed me with the charismatic DCI Ryan in Holy Island, set on beautiful Lindisfarne, which still tingles in my memory from a visit there nearly ten years ago. The second story, Sycamore Gap, sits on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

And most recent of all, Rachel Amphlett grabbed me with Scared to Death and DS Kay Hunter, another strong, determined believable character with a no nonsense style. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Will to Live.

Eat more

platterBut with all those books out there, intriguing reviews from the many bloggers I follow, and authors I’ve met through social media, I‘m constantly tempted away from the series I’d like to follow.

Maybe I’ll have to read while I’m eating my tea, or take a few more snacks during the day, maybe indulge in the occasional midnight feast …

It will mean more running to burn off the calories, but that’s a story for next time.

You can read my thoughts on most of the books mentioned in this blog on my Reviews page

Talking Crows

One of the more humiliating experiences of my childhood was reading aloud in class.

I’ve nothing against Shakespeare or Henry IV Part One, but at 15 I didn’t understand it. It was difficult enough, getting my head, let alone my tongue, around his rich prose, without the teacher bursting into fits of laughter.

‘Didn’t you get the joke, Crouch?’ He stared at me as if I was an imbecile. ‘Falstaff is the comic relief, the joker, and you’ve ruined most of his punchlines.’

I don’t remember any jokes. But then I didn’t get Shakespeare at the time, but that’s another story.

Since those long lost days of school, I haven’t read a story aloud in front of an audience.

Swearing an oath photoI’m not including my appearances in the witness box at the Magistrates Court when I had to swear that my evidence would be the truth etc. I should add before you wonder what offences I might have committed, that this was in connection with my enforcement work as an environmental health officer.

And I should also discount the Christmas cracker jokes I read out each year as I don’t class them as prose.

So, when I was asked to read at Eastbourne Book Festival last Saturday, memories of Henry IV Part 1 flashed through my mind.

No Accident coverFortunately, I was allowed to read from one of my novels. As I’m writing a murder mystery series, I chose to read the opening from Chapter One of my first novel, No Accident.  I wanted to show my audience how an environmental health officer could investigate murder.

Like most things in life, preparation is the key. So, a couple of days before, armed with a cup of tea, and my reading glasses, I settle into my chair and began to read. Within seconds, I stopped, realising I could have written a better first sentence. A few seconds later, I’d rewritten the first paragraph in my head.

Aware that I might end up rewriting large parts of the chapter, I ignored the revisions in my head and focused on the original script. With a steady pace and clear voice, I read aloud, warming to the task with each page turned.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled over my words.

When I wrote the ‘coarse cries of crows’, I thought it was a neat piece of alliteration. Not once did I realise what a tongue twister it could be.

I also found the occasional line that would improve the rhythm and flow if removed.  But they were nothing compared to the two long sentences that would have tested the stamina of a marathon runner.

harvey sleepingAt one point, Harvey, my West Highland White Terrier, came to listen. I don’t know whether he thought I might reward his interest with a treat, but within minutes he returned to his favourite position on the sofa and went back to sleep.

Not that he can complain.

I rarely read my work aloud, though I’m beginning to think it has some merit. On occasions, I will read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds realistic. And I’m sure some writers like to shout that reading aloud is the best way to edit. They may well be right, of course.

After Harvey turned his back, I stopped reading and Googled breathing apparatus in case I needed help with the long sentences.

On the day, I took my copy of No Accident, my reading glasses, and headed for the reading room, hoping someone would want to listen to me. To my relief – sorry, delight – several people were already waiting.

I didn’t stumble over any words or crows. I managed to finish the long sentences without going purple and fainting. And no one interrupted me by laughing. Pity, because there were some funny one-liners in that opening.

Flushed with success, I’m now tempted to audition for voiceovers or programme announcement, citing Shakespeare in my CV. I could audition for audio book readings, cutting my teeth on my own novels. Trouble is, I’d probably have to revise some of those sentences.

No Bodies coverSo, I’ll settle for the occasional reading at a talk or event, as long as they don’t involve crows or marathons.

Reading aloud can bring your story to life and hopefully interest people in your writing. Maybe next time I’ll read from the second novel, No Bodies, which from memory doesn’t reference any crows.

There could be a ponderous procession of platitudes though.

But that’s another story …


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