Tag Archives: whodunnit

Murder by the Book by Eric Brown: a review

Murder by the Book by Eric Brown

I was lucky enough to be given a free copy of this lovely hardback, and still it cost me twenty quid. That Eric Brown can be a bastard like that.

Murder by the Book, a debut crime novel from a writer who has been publishing book-length fiction for nearly 25 years, winner and shortlistee of many awards, his books and short stories have mainly stuck to his science-fiction roots, straying occasionally into fantasy and horror (of the gentle, psychological variety), and a wide variety of fiction for teenagers and younger.

Murder by the Book is the first Langham and Dupre mystery. Don Langham is a middlingly successful 1950s crime novelist, Maria Dupre is the assistant to Langham’s delightfully over the top literary agent Charles Elder. The two are drawn together when Elder becomes the subject of a blackmail plot, with an extortionist demanding payment for some dodgy photos of Elder’s dalliance with a young man at a local swimming pool.

Before long blackmail turns to something far more sinister as it becomes clear that a recent flurry of deaths among London’s crime-writing fraternity are not the accidents they had first appeared. Murder by the Book is a cracking crime novel, with satisfying twists and turns along the way, but what is most striking – and engaging – about the book is the affectionate portrayal of 1950s London and the crime-writing community of the time. Much like Midsomer Murders, Brown has turned in a highly enjoyable crime romp that never takes itself too seriously, but always with a straight face; and also much like Midsomer Murders victims are soon dropping like flies.

Occasionally rushed, where a little more delay might have heightened the tension, Murder by the Book is the most fun I’ve had within the pages of a book in a long time, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.

That twenty quid? About a third of the way into reading the book I lost my copy, and I was enjoying it so much I had to buy a replacement. It’s very frustrating that such a good book is priced so highly (in both its hardback and ebook editions), but I still blame Eric for writing such a good book that I just had to cough up at Amazon. That Eric Brown: he’s wasted on science fiction.

Murder by the Book is published by Severn House (the price of the hardback has since dropped to £14.99) and is available at Amazon, etc.


Guest blog, Iain Rowan: Police and thieves

Often, when people think about crime fiction, they think of stories in which the hero is a detective.

When I put together Nowhere To Go, a collection of my short crime fiction that’s been published over the last few years, it occurred to me that none of my crime stories was like that. Closest it gets is one story where a character claims to be a detective, but turns out to be something rather different. It was never a conscious decision to avoid police protagonists, just the way that it turned out, story after story, so I’ve given some thought as to why this happens to be this way in the stories that I want to tell.

Some of the protagonists in the stories in Nowhere To Go are criminals themselves. Some of them are victims. Most are people caught in the middle, involved in something beyond their control – sometimes by the choices they have made, sometimes just by the random, uncaring malicious lottery of fate.

I read something once by a photographer which said the most interesting things are always at the margins: where day starts to turn to night; where land meets water; where cities meet nature. That littoral zone is what I’ve always been most interested in exploring in my stories: the edges of society and the people that live there, the blurry margin between good and bad, right and wrong, between what the law says, and what people do to survive. Sure, plenty of detectives swim those murky waters, but they are not of them.

No matter how maverick, no matter the disbelieving boss, or the rival colleague, the detectives represent the state, and the power of the state, and all of the resources of the state. Although constrained at times, they can call on that power, and those resources. The characters I enjoy writing about the most are people who have no power, have no resources, but must still find a way to survive or escape. Those drawn into crime, those who find themselves caught up in crime, the victims of crime, they’re all more fertile territory for me than those who are paid to solve it.

And sometimes, it’s the police that they are escaping.

This focus shapes the kind of stories that I write. There’s less scope for them to be whodunnits, and it’s much more likely that they turn out to be to be howthehelldoIgetoutofits. It’s not that one’s better than the other. It’s just that I enjoy writing one more than I do the other.

I like having a wide choice of protagonists, of backgrounds, struggles, conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read many excellent novels where the hero is a fictional police officer, interesting and rounded and believable. But I worry about falling into cliche were I to try, the terrible tightrope of making a character distinctive, without resorting to the cop-o-tron, where the lead is:

One Step Closer - a free ebook short story by Iain Rowanone of:

  • divorced
  • bereaved
  • long-term bachelor

has one of:

  • drink problem
  • psychological disorder du jour
  • implacable guilt

always plays one of:

  • bebop jazz
  • rare northern soul singles
  • scouse house

especially while drinking one of:

  • espressos, homemade in a lavishly detailed description
  • Wray and Nelson rum, neat
  • WKD. With a straw.

comes into conflict with one of:

  • ambitious, ruthless boss with executive haircut
  • cynical, jaded boss with wonky tie
  • Lieutenant Dobie

and doesn’t:

  • like authority
  • like authority
  • like authority

And anyway, everything I’ve said aside, the power and the politics and all of it, I’ve been re-watching Police Squad recently, and that alone ruins my chances of ever writing a detective lead.

“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”

Iain Rowan’s short story collection, Nowhere To Go, is available in the following formats:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.12)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

Iain’s Derringer Award-winning story “One Step Closer” is available as a free self-contained ebook:
.prc format (suitable for Kindle)
…other formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, available from Smashwords


Last day for crime novel offer

One More UnfortunateIt’s the last day of our 99c/86p offer on Kaitlin Queen’s murder mystery One More Unfortunate, and it’s back up the charts at Amazon UK:

#1,426 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Ordering:

amazon.com ($0.99 until end of March)
amazon.co.uk (£0.86 until end of March)

5* Amazon review: “There are twists and turns galore before finally the murder is solved… The characterizations are vivid, and in a couple of cases really quite affecting; the taut tale-telling rattles along at good speed; and the solution to the mystery is both startling and satisfying. Recommended.”


Guest blog: Kaitlin Queen on her first e-original

One More Unfortunate - crime fiction for Kindle

First things first: “Kaitlin Queen” is a pen-name. In real life I write for children aged six or so through to teens, and I write journalistic pieces for national and local newspapers, websites and radio (more feature-writing than reporting, although my experience of court-reporting contributed greatly to my first venture into adult crime fiction, One More Unfortunate).

You may be wondering why I felt the need to adopt a pen-name. I did seriously consider publishing One More Unfortunate under my own name, but ultimately opted to keep it distinct.

Increasingly publishing is about brand: the author as brand, the publishing imprint as brand, the series or protagonist as brand. It makes a lot of marketing sense to keep my adult fiction brand separate, confirmed by discussion with my agent and others in the business.

Once that decision was taken I was soon to discover a number of consequences, mostly positive. Taking on a new persona was surprisingly fun, freeing me up to write a very different kind of story: a love story with grown-up complications, a crime puzzle, and a novel deeply embedded in the history of a place I love dearly.

It also made me start thinking about approaching the publishing of the novel in new and different ways. While I hope the novel is a success, it’s not likely to be my main source of income, so I felt free to explore alternatives. The indie publishing phenomenon, where writers such as current indie darling of the press Amanda Hocking are major news due to the way they have found publishing success by going straight to the reader (well, via the good offices of Amazon). By dipping my toe in the water, I might learn valuable lessons, and I didn’t feel I had much to lose.

The technical side of it all was another matter. Friends assure me that electronic publishing is easy, but they are saying this to someone who still writes in longhand, who has just about overcome her fear of email but has yet to brave the world of websites and Facebook and blogs. This is my first ever blog entry; and I wrote it in longhand.

It just so happened that my old school friend Keith Brooke was in the process of launching an ebook imprint, infinity plus. We got talking, and I learnt of his plans to publish a first short story collection by Iain Rowan (a writer I know and admire from the pages of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Postscripts [Editor: IainRowan’s Nowhere To Go was published on 25 March]) and a revised, definitive version of Molly Brown’s marvellous Restoration mystery An Invitation to a Funeral. Now, I have occasionally been known to be slow on the uptake, but really this seemed just too perfect a set of circumstances to ignore.

So here we are: my first novel for adults is an ebook original. It’s gathering some nice responses from readers and sales look good, although it’s very early days. I’m happy to let my publisher experiment with special offers and extracts. I did enter into this in the spirit of discovery, after all! So my novel is on special offer for the rest of this month at a mere 99 cents. Silly prices, but I still earn as much per sale from this as I do from a mass market paperback, and I hope it helps my Kaitlin persona a new audience.

Let’s see how it goes. Success for me would be if One More Unfortunate gathered a large enough audience for me to justify writing the next in the series. These are certainly very interesting times in publishing!

Kaitlin Queen, March 2011

Read an extract from One More Unfortunate on the infinity plus website.

Purchasing:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $3.45 cut to $0.99 until end of March)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.47 cut to £0.86 until end of March)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $3.45)
Barnes and Noble (Nook format, $3.45)

“There are twists and turns galore before finally the murder is solved… The characterizations are vivid, and in a couple of cases really quite affecting; the taut tale-telling rattles along at good speed; and the solution to the mystery is both startling and satisfying. Recommended.” — 5* Amazon review


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