Dead at First Sight by Peter James

24th December 2019.   4 stars.

You know you’re always going to get an original and topical plot with Peter James. With the fifteenth and latest outing in the Roy Grace series, it’s internet romance fraud and the havoc it wreaks on lonely people. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a subject made for thrills, but when victims begin to fight back against the fraudsters the body count starts to rise.

And then there’s the welcome return of assassin, Tooth. He returns to Brighton, tasked with eliminating a couple of the bad guys by their former employer. Only Tooth’s not at his best.

Even though it lacked the pace and suspense of many of the Roy Grace novels, I enjoyed the story and the continuing struggles he has with his slimy boss, Cassian Pewe. The story’s easy to read and follow as the various characters head for the final showdown in the countryside. It looks like it could be mayhem, but Peter James always has a couple of welcome twists up his sleeve to make you gasp and smile.

While not the best of the series, Dead at First Sight remains an entertaining read with a serious message, highlighting the dangers of internet romance. There is humour, great writing and plenty of twists and turns from an author at the top of his game. He even leaves some unanswered questions from Grace’s private and work lives, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes from here.

Thoroughly recommended.

Description

You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you . . .

A man waits at a London airport for Ingrid Ostermann, the love of his life, to arrive. Across the Atlantic, a retired NYPD cop waits in a bar in Florida’s Key West for his first date with the lady who is, without question, his soulmate. The two men are about to discover they’ve been scammed out of almost every penny they have in the world – and that neither women exist.

Meanwhile, a wealthy divorcée plunges, in suspicious circumstances, from an apartment block in Munich. In the same week, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to investigate the suicide of a woman in Brighton, that is clearly not what it seems. As his investigations continue, a handsome Brighton motivational speaker comes forward. He’s discovered his identity is being used to scam eleven different women, online. The first he knew of it was a phone call from one of them, out of the blue, saying, ‘You don’t know me, but I thought I knew you’.

That woman is now dead.

Roy Grace realizes he is looking at the tip of an iceberg. A global empire built on clever, cruel internet scams and the murder of anyone who threatens to expose them.

Dead at First Sight

Dead If You Don’t by Peter James

9th October 2019.   4 stars.

When you read a Roy Grace novel, you’re guaranteed an intriguing plot with many strands and some neat twists to wrong foot you. This one also incorporates a change of pace as the kidnap of a boy brings time pressures that crank up the tension and work rate of the police.

I enjoy the detail of the police procedures and the way the author brings mundane, but essential legwork to life. The characters too are carefully crafted and believable, especially the bad guys who are particularly menacing. The story moved between the various bad guys, the victims and the police, keeping the tension high as time began to run out for the kidnap victim, leading to an exciting climax with Grace risking his life once more.

While all the author’s trademarks are present in the story, the change of pace affected the balance between the investigation and the backstory. The short time span meant there was little room for the running backstory of Grace’s family life, which was a bit of a shame. However, his ongoing battle with his boss, Cassian Pewe, reached new and enjoyable heights.

Highly recommended.

Description

Kipp Brown, successful businessman and compulsive gambler, is having the worst run of luck of his life. He’s beginning to lose big style. However, taking his teenage son, Mungo, to their club’s big Saturday afternoon football match should have given him a welcome respite, if only for a few hours. But it’s at the stadium where his nightmare begins.

Within minutes of arriving at the game, Kipp bumps into a client. He takes his eye of Mungo for a few moments, and in that time, the boy is gone. Then he gets the terrifying message that someone has his child, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay.

Defying instruction not to contact the police, Kipp reluctantly does just that, and Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is brought into investigate. At first it seems a straightforward case of kidnap. But rapidly Grace finds himself entering a dark, criminal underbelly of the city, where the rules are different and nothing is what it seems . . .

Dead if you Don't

Need You Dead by Peter James

26th September 2019.  5 stars.

I’ve enjoyed every novel in the Roy Grace series. With an imaginative and complex plot, fascinating insights into police procedure and a few surprises as the story hurtles towards the climax, Need You Dead continues the consistent high standard of stroytelling I’ve come to expect from Peter James.

So, who killed Lorna Belling?

With suspects starting to form an orderly queue, this is not going to be a simple case for Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who has problems of his own to overcome. While Grace finally puts the mystery of his ex-wife, Sandy, to bed, it’s only the start of more demanding challenges. With Assistant Chief Constable Pewe watching his every move, the pressure on Grace leads to more than a few sleepless nights.

With several suspects and an intricate plot that makes them all potential killers, the story kept me guessing right up to the breathtaking climax, delivering an unexpected, but satisfying twist I didn’t see coming.

This is quality writing, populated with strong, believable characters, delivered with pace and panache to provide yet another exciting instalment in the Roy Grace series. While all the novels work as standalones, reading the series from the start means each book delivers much more.

I would recommend this series to anyone as Peter James always delivers memorable, top quality crime fiction.

 

Description

Lorna Belling, desperate to escape the marriage from hell, falls for the charms of another man who promises her the earth. But, as Lorna finds, life seldom follows the plans you’ve made. A chance photograph on a client’s mobile phone changes everything for her.

When the body of a woman is found in a bath in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to the scene. At first it looks an open and shut case with a clear prime suspect. Then other scenarios begin to present themselves, each of them tantalizingly plausible, until, in a sudden turn of events, and to his utter disbelief, the case turns more sinister than Grace could ever have imagined.

Need You Dead

Love You Dead by Peter James

26th June 2019    5 stars.

My thoughts

This is one of the best, most enjoyable and original of the Roy Grace series so far. Faultless and accomplished, this is an author at the peak of his abilities, thoroughly enjoying the story he’s written. The joy shines through every chapter, every page and paragraph as Jodie Bentley works her way through rich husbands with consummate skill and conviction.

Then there’s the return of Tooth, one of my favourite hitmen with deadpan humour, a no nonsense approach to business and a complete lack of empathy. Tooth doesn’t do pity. Neither does Jodie, who’s more than a match for him.

At times, it seems like Roy Grace is on the sideline, still trying to resolve his last case with a serial killer still on the run and pressure from management. But Jodie’s no ordinary killer and seems quite capable of eluding Tooth and Grace, helping to crank up the tension for a fantastic finale with some heart-stopping moments.

And finally there’s the master stroke – the sign of a great author, showing his mastery of characterisation and story. I won’t spoil it by revealing what it is, but it’s inspired. To fully appreciate it, you need to have read the series from the beginning, though this book still works as a standalone.

This is a brilliant series, strong on police procedure, authenticity and original plots. The characters are beautifully drawn, whether friend or foe, and there’s always so much more going on than the murders.

Love You Dead is my favourite so far and highly recommended.

Description

An ugly duckling as a child, Jodie Bentley had two dreams in life – to be beautiful and rich. She’s achieved the first, with a little help from a plastic surgeon, and now she’s working hard on the second. Her philosophy on money is simple: you can either earn it or marry it. Marrying is easy, it’s getting rid of the husband afterwards that’s harder, that takes real skill. But hey, practice makes perfect . . .

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is feeling the pressure from his superiors, his previous case is still giving him sleepless nights, there have been major developments with his missing wife Sandy, and an old adversary is back. But worse than all of this, he now believes a Black Widow is operating in his city. One with a venomous mind . . . and venomous skills. Soon Grace comes to the frightening realization that he may have underestimated just how dangerous this lady is.

Love You Dead is the gripping twelfth book in Peter James’ Roy Grace series.

Love You Dead Peter James

Dead Man’s Time by Peter James

25th February 2019 – 5 stars.

I love the Roy Grace series because you can rely on Peter James to deliver a classy crime thriller with an intriguing, well-researched plot, interesting characters and plenty of tension and thrills. Every novel is different, but with the familiar threads of the backstory developing and changing with each entry in the series.

This novel has revenge and greed at its heart as the theft of valuable of antiques leads to a brutal murder that kicks off a chase to recover the most valuable and personal possession of all. The resultant mayhem and murders of those involved in the theft leads to New York for the exciting climax.

Meanwhile, back home in Brighton, a far more sinister threat lurks as a hardened villain seeks revenge on Roy Grace, his girlfriend Cleo and their baby. The tension is relentless and kept me on edge throughout the story.

This is one of many fine threads in another complex, beautifully constructed crime thriller from an author who delivers on every level.

While you can read this as a standalone, to get the maximum benefit of the characters and relationships, you should start with Dead Simple, the first in the series.

Description

Some will wait a lifetime to take their revenge. . .

A vicious robbery at a secluded Brighton mansion leaves its elderly occupant dying. Millions of pounds’ worth of valuables have been stolen.

But as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, heading the enquiry, rapidly learns, there is one priceless item of sentimental value that her powerful family cherish above all else. And they are fully prepared to take the law into their own hands, and will do anything – absolutely anything – to get it back.

Within days, Grace is racing against the clock, following a murderous trail that leads him from the shady antiques world of Brighton, across Europe, and all the way back to the New York waterfront gang struggles of 1922, chasing a killer driven by the force of one man’s greed and another man’s fury.

Dead Man’s Time is the ninth novel in the multi-million copy bestselling Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, from the number one chart topper, Peter James.

Dead Mans Time

My favourite crime novels of 2018

21st December 2018

It may be the shortest day of the year, but here at Crouch Corner, there’s a long list of crime novels to wade through if I’m to select my favourites of the year.

Without doubt, crime’s the most diverse genre and possibly the best-selling. You can read everything from little old ladies solving murders between cream teas to full blown serial killer thrillers that leave little to the imagination. We’re all interested and intrigued by murder, and many readers like to solve the mystery before they reach the solution.

I started over 50 crime novels this year, though some of them fell by the wayside and didn’t capture my interest. I finished reading 42 and enjoyed most of them. This included a number of existing favourites and many new authors, who I read for the first time.

I’ve reviewed all of the novels mentioned here, along with many more that didn’t make this post. I think of it as a way of saying thank you to the authors for entertaining me, and I hope it helps others to discover some of the great novels out there.

All my review are posted on my website and can be viewed by clicking here.

If you’ve any favourite crimes novels for 2018, please comment below and tell me about them.

Series characters

Like many readers, I love a good series, and they don’t come much better than Peter James and his hero, Roy Grace, who fights crime in Brighton and Hove, just along the East Sussex coast from me. As well as beautifully crafted plots, the author provides a detailed insight into the way the police work and operate, including the issues they face with public spending cuts, the media, and senior management. This gives the stories a credible and authentic feel that makes them come alive.

Not Dead Enough

I’ve only read the first eight novels in the series, but the one that gave me the most pleasure, was the third, Not Dead Enough, which finished with a series of exquisite twists.

The DCI Ryan series by LJ Ross, set in Northumberland, has become a firm favourite since the first in the series, Holy Island, based in Lindisfarne. The author’s easy style and cast of likable characters, facing internal and external threats, some of them personal, make for entertaining reading.

While every novel is terrific, my favourite is High Force, which deals with a personal vendetta that cranks up the tension to an almost unbearable level before the finale, which gives more than a passing nod to Sherlock Holmes.

High Force

Finally, my other favourite series this year involves DS Kay Hunter, created by Rachel Amphlett. Set in and around Maidstone in Kent, these novels have a straightforward, no-nonsense style and another team of likable detectives, who fight for each other as much as they fight criminals. There is also a personal element to many of the stories to add to the tension.

Hell to Pay was my favourite as Kay Hunter finally discovers who’s trying to destroy her career and why.

Hell to Pay

New authors

One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors and books that hit all the right spots. Sometimes, they come by recommendation from other readers. Sometimes a publisher offers a book for a reduced price or for free to tempt new readers. Whatever the reason, I’ve broadened my choices in 2018 and these are my favourites.

Michael Wood

His books feature DCI Matilda Darke, a detective returning to work after sickness caused by stress. In For Reasons Unknown, as well as proving she’s physically and emotionally fit to return to work, she has competition, no guarantee of getting her old job back, and a cold case that bites back. Her personal battles add that extra layer of tension and engagement to lift the story.

For Reasons Unknown

Outside Looking In continues Darke’s return to her old job. But with a vendetta threatening to derail her recovery, the tension builds to a superb climax that kept me reading well into the afternoon to reach the climax.

Harlan Coben

A friend of mine commented on Facebook about Caught, describing Coben as a favourite author. I took a quick look on Amazon and loved his distinctive voice and style of writing. The story drew me in effortlessly with a TV sting snaring a child abuser. Only it was never going to be that simple. And the complications and twists kept coming, leaving me quite drained by the end.

I’ll definitely be reading more Harlan Coben in 2019.

Harlan Coben Caught

Cheryl Bradshaw

Another American author with a voice and style I immediately connected with. While it’s always best to start a series with the first book, I began with Hush Now Baby, the sixth in the Sloane Monroe private detective series. I loved the characters, plot and tone of the book, which was reminiscent of a grittier Kinsey Millhone.

Hush Now Baby

A special thank you to Sue Grafton

My reading year was tinged with sadness when Sue Grafton died. The creator of Kinsey Millhone had completed 25 novels featuring her wonderful private eye. While Y is for Yesterday wasn’t the best of the novels, in my opinion, it was a fitting end and tribute to a wonderful author, who inspired me to create Kent Fisher and write my own crime novels.

Y is for Yesterday

I also revisited A is for Alibi, this year and loved it as much as the first time I read it back in the late 1980s.

That only leaves me to tell you my favourite crime novel of 2108.

It wasn’t an easy choice by any means, and there were quite a few contenders, but the decision was based on my emotional reaction when I finished the book.

You should always feel sadness when you reach the end. For hours, days, maybe weeks, you’ve lived with the characters, following them through the twists and turns as they battle to overcome the challenges that face them. Now it’s over, but the book lives on in your memory. You think about it, relive some of the moments and reflect on a story that moved you, maybe even changed the way you look at life.

That’s the mark of a great book and the crime novel that moved me more than any other this year was Outside Looking In, by Michael Wood. I think it was Matilda Darke’s determination to face her demons and battle through that left the biggest impression.

If you haven’t read this series, give it a go.

And my overall favourite book for 2018

Outside Looking In

Well, that’s almost it for 2018, a year that gave me lots of reading pleasure. I hope to read more crime novels from my favourite authors and discover a few more new to me. I already have quite a few loaded onto my Kindle.

Next week, I may well reflect on 2018, when I published my third and favourite Kent Fisher mystery, No Remorse. It could also be a good time to share my hopes for 2019.


You can keep track of developments and news by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Simply add your details in the form on the right of the page and you’ll receive a free copy of my Case Files.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog. By clicking on the social media icons below you should share this blog to your Facebook or Twitter account. Thank you.

 

Why crime novels grip me, or often don’t

9th December 2018

Like every other reader on the planet I love a good story.

I want to be taken on an exciting journey to meet new people, see new places and learn new things. Sometimes, I learn something about myself I didn’t know. Occasionally, I’m moved to tears, usually by injustice or dashed dreams.

Miss Marple photoTop of my reading list are crime novels. They come in so many shapes and sizes, with no end of new authors and styles to choose from. That in itself poses a problem of how to get a book noticed, which I’ll come to in a moment.

The whodunit sits proud at the top of my reading pile because I love puzzles and mysteries. Whether it’s Miss Marple, Inspector Morse or Kinsey Millhone, there’s something immensely satisfying about picking through clues, trying to piece together the evidence to find the key to solving the mystery.

That said, I should let you in on a secret. As I read for pleasure and entertainment, I rarely solve a whodunit while I’m reading. I want to enjoy the story, not step out of it to make a list of clues and suspects. Sometimes, the identity of the murderer comes to me as I read, but it’s not essential to my enjoyment.

Beyond murder mystery novels, my interests spread mainly across police procedurals, dipping into the occasional psychological thriller. While I loved the millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, I don’t tend to read Scandinavian noir, or any noir, come to think of it. If I want bleak I’ll watch the news.

Gritty and violent are okay if handled well and with restraint. Swearing doesn’t bother me. I know people swear, and a spot of DIY never fails to release the Anglo Saxon in me. But I wonder why some authors scatter profanities across the pages when a more selective use can create much greater impact.

And when it comes to sex scenes, my imagination can do it so much better.

I also realise there’s a lot of cruel and vicious crime out there in the world, but I don’t need to fill my head with it. I want to be entertained when I read, not depressed. That makes me selective.

While I appreciate a stylish cover, it’s the words inside that matter.

But, in such a crowded market, publishers and independent authors seem to be in the grip of an epidemic that’s infecting the straplines of crime novels.

The case of the gripping serial killer thriller’s unexpected twist of the year

Peter JamesOnce upon a time, endorsements by the likes of Val McDermid, Lee Child or Peter James were enough to create interest in a new book or author. Comparisons to Agatha Christie or another luminary of crime fiction often helped to lift a book a little higher up the list.

The message was simple – if you like these well-known authors, you’ll like this one.

But like any good idea, it’s usually overdone. The guys in the marketing department need to up their game and come up with another way to promote these books.

Cue the strapline.

This does for a book title what a mission statement does for a business.

Take a look around as you walk the streets. Traders have straplines on their vans. ‘We use copper because we do it proper’ caught my eye on a plumber’s van last week. Businesses like hairdressers and bakers have been using puns and catchy phrases for decades.

But once the publishing industry caught the bug, the disease began to infect covers like a rash.

Earlier this year, I read a crime novel that claimed it had a killer twist I wouldn’t see coming. Okay, that’s a challenge in anyone’s language. And while I’ve no wish to be smug, I saw it coming sometime before it arrived. And it wasn’t that big a deal either.

But the publisher didn’t care – I’d bought the book, hadn’t I? Well I would have, but they offered it for free for a limited period. Maybe their strapline didn’t quite have the desired effect?

Some make me smile. A serial killer thriller like no other.  All books are unique – otherwise the courts would be inundated with claims for plagiarism, surely. ‘Gripping’ has become one of the most overused words in the English language, it seems.

But the publishers cling onto it.

At the moment, there seems to be no respite for this infection, though some publishers and books appear to have discovered an antidote – a strapline that reflects the theme or issues in the novel. Whether it will help to reduce the sensational strapline claims is anyone’s guess.

I prefer accuracy over hyperbole.

No RemorseI would never make a claim I couldn’t substantiate. I could have described my last novel, No Remorse, as Kinsey Millhone meets Agatha Christie in a modern twist on the traditional whodunit. Actually, I couldn’t have done that as I’ve only just made it up, but you get the gist.

I went with Old sins cast long shadows, which was entirely in keeping with the novel. Hopefully, readers found the strapline interesting enough to look a little closer.

Maybe you could tell me.

 

Meanwhile, back in Crouch Corner, while wrestling with the first draft of No Stone – as in no stone unturned – I may have turned a corner.

Like all authors, when I approach the end of a chapter, a hook adds a note of intrigue, designed to make the reader want to carry on. This week, an unexpected twist came out of nowhere and gripped me so tight, you might have thought I’d won the lottery.

Okay, let’s stick to accuracy. This twist flowed from my fingers onto the screen. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s turned my plans upside down. I’ve uncovered the true direction of my crime novel. My subconscious has seen what I couldn’t see. This unexpected twist not only raises the stakes, it makes the investigation more personal, adding to the dangers and threats facing my protagonist, Kent Fisher. The road ahead seems much clearer now.

On the flipside, I’m not sure No Stone is the best title. I suppose I could take a leaf out of the publishers’ manual and spice it up with a killer strapline …

No Stone
A gripping murder mystery with a killer twist about a missing pebble.

No Stone
A gripping cold case that’ll freeze your rocks off.

No Stone
The gripping murder mystery of the year with more atmosphere than a disused quarry.

Okay, I’ll choose a new title.


You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Simply add your details in the form on the right of the page and you’ll receive a free copy of my Case Files.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

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Not Dead Yet by Peter James

4th December 2018 – 5/5 stars.

Peter James always comes up with original plots that entertain, intrigue and delight. This time, it’s the world of the superstar singer/actor that gets the Roy Grace treatment as Brighton born Gaia returns to her home town to make a film.

Little does she know that there’s an embittered writer who believes his script was stolen and an obsessive fan that will go to any lengths to be number one and meet Gaia. And with a dismembered body discovered on a poultry farm, the stage is set for another exciting crime story that twists and turns as it builds to an action-packed climax.

Apart from the superlative detail the author puts into his novels, he creates some brilliant and memorable characters, getting into their minds to bring them to life with great skill. Whether it’s an obsessive fan, an obnoxious film producer or a coke-snorting actor, these characters are so vivid and believable. And then there’s Roy Grace’s team with its camaraderie, tensions and odd but likeable characters, like the anachronistic Norman Potting.

The detailed descriptions of Brighton Pavilion, the film sets and trailers and the lives of the main characters add to the enjoyment of a story that offers a couple of intriguing subplots to threaten the cosy life Roy Grace is building for himself with Cleo. I look forward to following the backstory in the next novel, alongside another intriguing investigation.

If you haven’t read Peter James, where have you been? I’d urge you to start at the beginning of the series with Dead Simple so you can follow the development of the characters through the series. It will improve your enjoyment of all the books.

(And I resisted the temptation to mention fowl play.)

Description

For LA producer Larry Brooker, this is the movie that could bring the fortune that has so long eluded him . . .

For rock superstar, Gaia, desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, this is the role that could get her an Oscar nomination. . .

For the City of Brighton and Hove, the publicity value of a major Hollywood movie being filmed on location, about the city’s greatest love story – between King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert – is incalculable.

For Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID, it is a nightmare unfolding in front of his eyes. An obsessed stalker is after Gaia. One attempt on her life is made days before she leaves her Bel Air home to fly to Brighton. Now, he has been warned, the stalker may be at large in his city, waiting, watching, planning.

Not Dead Yet is the eighth novel featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, from the number one bestselling author Peter James.

Not Dead Yet

Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James

21st October 2018. 5/5 stars for another inventive plot and stylish addition to the Roy Grace series.

The story starts with a road accident that spirals out of control when the police discover the victim belongs to a New York Mafia family. His mother decrees that everyone involved in the accident should suffer. Tooth, a pragmatic, no nonsense hitman sets off for Brighton to deliver the contract.

This was the first Peter James novel I ever read several years ago. I enjoyed it on that occasion, but the book made a much greater impact this time around. Having read the previous six Roy Grace novels, I had a better appreciation of the characters, the setting and the backstories, which made for a more fulfilling read..

I love the detail Peter James incorporates into his stories, whether it’s police procedure, the description of the various settings or the little things that bring the characters to life. Of course, the main characters have personal issues and problems that test them as they struggle to keep pace with Tooth, who must be one the best hitmen I’ve come across in crime fiction. While he’s a ruthless assassin, this is offset by a dry, dark humour that underpins every appearance he makes.

The pace and action accelerated towards a nail biting climax in Shoreham Harbour that left me breathless. And like most of the Roy Grace novels, there was still time for a final sting in the tail at the end.

Simply brilliant.

Description

I want them to suffer, and I want them dead. . .

Carly Chase is still traumatised after being in a fatal traffic accident which kills a teenage student from Brighton University. Then she receives news that turns her entire world into a living nightmare.

The drivers of the other two vehicles involved have been found tortured and murdered. Now Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police force issues a stark and urgent warning to Carly: She could be next.

The police advise Carly her only option is to go into hiding and change her identity. The terrified woman disagrees – she knows these people have ways of hunting you down anywhere. If the police are unable to stop them, she has to find a way to do it herself. But already the killer is one step ahead of her, watching, waiting, and ready …

Dead Man's Grip

Who’d have thought?

What went wrong?

Why did the fire for No Smoke go out before it really caught light?

If you read my previous post, All that glitters is not told, you’ll know I had some great ideas and plenty of enthusiasm for No Smoke, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. (Click here to read the post).

Yet when I sat in front of the computer, notes on the desk, the story didn’t catch fire. I wrote, sure, but it didn’t come alive, barely smouldering as I edited and revised. After a frustrating couple of weeks and many rewrites of the first few chapters, I stopped.

Did I get carried away?

I don’t mean literally, though a few days of rest in hospital might have eased the frustration and tension. Maybe the idea wasn’t as good as I thought. Maybe I’d enjoyed writing No Remorse so much, the prospect of repeating the process put doubt into my mind.

Writers are often plagued by self-doubt. It can be healthy if it makes you stop and check what you’ve done, to be more careful and meticulous. And it can be a sod, undermining your confidence and beliefs, making you question your abilities, eroding your chances of successfully completing your story.

After reading back through my notes, I knew the story had legs.

So why was it on its knees?

Was I trying too hard?

You know that feeling, when you want to shine and excel. You’ve got something good and you have to give it your best. Half measures won’t do. This is your moment to shine – and trot our more clichés than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

HemingwayOnce the platitudes reached a plateau, I shook my head. No, I wasn’t trying too hard. This was a first draft. Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

You can always improve the writing and flow when you revise the completed first draft. Armed with Hemingway’s advice, I returned to write more – but my doubts multiplied.

Was I heading for the dreaded writer’s block?

Or had I simply lost interest in the idea?

Maybe I could write a different novel. I have a stock of ideas for future stories. They’re only summaries and outlines, issues I’d like to explore, but they’re tied up with the developments in the backstory.

Maybe the backstory was to blame

Six months had elapsed and quite a few issues from No Remorse needed attention. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices for the backstory. Maybe a little doubt held me back.

I checked the main issues and the actions taken to solve the problems. I toyed with some alternative solutions to see if they would inspire me.

They didn’t.

If anything, I felt more confident with the original plot. Yet my inner voice, the little devil that picks at the details to cause doubt and confusion, wouldn’t let me move on. It kept reminding me I wasn’t as smart as I thought.

Kill your babies

This advice is often given to writers. Great ideas, sudden moments of inspiration, one-liners that can’t be equalled, all come with a health warning. Don’t get smug. Don’t think this is the best thing since sliced bread.

But it’s your idea, your baby, the one you created in a moment of inspired magic. Okay, the story needs a little tweaking to make the idea work. There may be a couple of lines of stilted dialogue to set the idea up, but it’s a killer, right?

Wrong.

If it doesn’t fit, flow or take the story forward, it’s no use – no matter how inspired or clever it is. I’ve killed many such ideas, deleting them from the story. It’s a shame, but the story’s better without them.

There’s no need to ask who had a killer idea as he wrote the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter on the first day.

Guilty as charged.

In my defence, I have to say it was a terrific idea that I fought hard to keep. I did my best to make it work, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t right. I simply didn’t want to admit it.

Smouldering, not smoking

Having identified the problem, I settled down at the computer, full of renewed enthusiasm, focused on what really mattered in the story. No Smoke came alive, but a lingering doubt continued to nag me, pursuing me through each chapter I wrote.

The title was wrong. Or, should I say it wasn’t quite right?

With no alternative springing to mind, I wrote on. A better title would come to me sooner or later. Yet like a mound of files on the desk or a long list of To Do items, the issue wouldn’t let me rest. I went to bed, contemplating alternative titles. I woke, having dreamt up a few more.

This nagging doubt was taking over my writing life. It was telling me I couldn’t manage something as simple as a two word title. I already had the first word – No. All I needed was a second.

How difficult could it be?

The right frame of mind

I always tell people to let the subconscious find the answers. If you try to force your mind to provide the answer, it protests. And, as someone with a black belt in pig-headedness, I should have known better.

The moment I forgot about the problem, my subconscious gave me the new title.

No Stone.

And the strapline.

Who is Peter Stone?

And if you’ll forgive the pun, it looks like this is the cornerstone of the whole plot.

Who’d have thought?


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