Saturday, 10 November 2018

Next year's book: What She Saw Last Night



And now for something completely different.

Okay, not that different. It seems like yesterday when my first book was being published, and all of a sudden it's 2018 and my sixth book is going to be published next year. It's still a thriller, but it's set in the UK. And for the first time, it doesn't star Carter Blake.

I was quite keen to write a standalone book this time around, and lucky for me, my publisher thought this was a good idea too. I've come up with a few story ideas over the past few years that I liked, but weren't quite the right fit for Blake, and this was one of them.

It starts with a normal person, in a normal situation, and then something abnormal happens.


Jenny Bowen is your standard thirtysomething workaholic Londoner. Always busy, always rushing around, not taking time to notice the time pass, until her personal life takes a couple of major hits. First, her marriage breaks down. Second, her father dies unexpectedly.

Her dad's house is in the Scottish Highlands, where Jenny spent part of her teenage years, so she's heading north to take care of the usual duties that follow the death of a parent.

She decides life is moving a little too fast for her, so it might be healthy to decompress, take the long way home. She's always been curious about the sleeper train that runs overnight from London to Scotland, and decides to book a berth on a whim.

She boards at the last minute. As she's finding her way to her room, she sees a harassed-looking woman with a young child in tow: a little girl, maybe seven or eight years old. She's carrying a grey stuffed rabbit.


Jenny awakens the next morning. The train has stopped between stations, and the sky is beginning to lighten.

She ventures out of her room and stumbles on the body of the woman she saw the previous evening. It looks like an overdose. She finds a guard, they take her to the staff quarters and offer her water, try to calm her nerves. All of a sudden she remembers the little girl, realising she's an orphan now. Is she okay? Somebody is with her, right?

The guard looks back at her, confused.

"What little girl?"

~~~

It was a fun experience writing something a little different from the previous books, and getting to play with a new protagonist and a whole new cast of characters.

I particularly enjoyed getting to travel on and do a lot of research about the Caledonian Sleeper, which I'll be blogging about soon. One of the coolest things was that I serendipitiously picked the exact right time to set a book on board the train.

Next year, they're going to be introducing luxurious new 21st century carriages, but right now, the sleeper uses the oldest rolling stock in Britain, dating from the early 1980s. That's great for building atmosphere, of course, but as a mystery writer, it means the technology is a little behind the times: no air conditioning, no wifi, and most importantly, no CCTV cameras.

I'm hoping to have a cover to show you soon, and members of my Readers Club will get the first peek, so if you're not already signed up, go do it.

Because it's a departure from the Blake books, we're going with a slightly different branding. I'll be M.J. Cross on the cover of this book, for starters. What does the J stand for? I'm open to suggestions, but I'm currently leaning toward 'Jedbediah'.

What She Saw Last Night is published in the UK on 18 April 2019, and you can preorder it now:

Trade paperback (large format)



ebook



Sunday, 28 October 2018

My episode of Written in Blood - this Tuesday on CBS Reality



My episode of Simon Toyne's true crime series Written in Blood airs this Tuesday night on CBS Reality in the UK.

I was intrigued when Simon asked me to be part of the show, as I'm a big fan of his Solomon Creed books, and it sounded like an interesting thing to be part of. Plus, I got to create a folder in my emails called 'Television', which was nice.


I had previously spoken to the team about being part of season one, when the brief was that crime writers would talk about a case that influenced one of their books. Back then we looked at covering the Washington Sniper case, which was in my mind when I was writing Killing Season, but the idea was nixed as the focus was on UK crimes.

For season two, the remit was broader: crime writers talking about a case that was local to them. When they asked if I knew of any suitable cases, one came to mind immediately.

I grew up in Cambuslang, a suburb on the south-east side of Glasgow. I remembered people used to talk about a pair of murders that happened when I was very young. In fact I was sure I remembered that one of them had taken place very close to my childhood home. I mentioned the case to the researcher from CBS Reality and she agreed it sounded like a potential case to cover. I had a look online, and found surprisingly little about the case; just a couple of retrospective articles.

Those confirmed I had been right, though. The killings - vicious, apparently motiveless murders of lone women - took place in the autumn of 1982, when I was three years old. The first of the two victims, a female taxi driver, was found in her car in Braeside Place, the street behind the back garden of the house where my family lived. I remembered there was a gap in the fence where I used to cut through on my way to the shop.

The articles referenced other developments in the case, including the discovery of a second victim, found on the railway embankment beside my old primary school.

I asked my dad about the night the taxi driver had been murdered, and he told me about being awoken in the middle of the night by the blue lights as the police investigated the scene. They had come around our street to canvas for witnesses the following day.

Surprised there wasn't more online, I decided to go old-school. I went to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where they store a vast archive of old newspapers on microfiche.



I spent a couple of evenings scrolling through issues of the Glasgow Herald and the Evening Times from 1982 and early '83. It was fascinating seeing the case unfold against the backdrop of the time: turmoil in the Middle East, a Thatcher landslide in the '83 general election, the USSR sabre-rattling, the Troubles still simmering away in Northern Ireland. Some familiar trends, some that seem further away than a mere four decades.

The murder case was covered sporadically over the weeks and months, in brief updates as the police closed in on a suspect. Only the occasional front page. It was unsettling to discover how many of the locations relevant to the case were places I had frequented growing up, and still pass by on a regular basis today. The killer and one of his victims both lived on the street my family later moved to.

The media was different in those days. Murders were out of the ordinary, of course, even though the crime rate was far higher in the early eighties than it is now, but absent the 24-hour news cycle, it didn't have the sort of blanket coverage that a similar case would have now. The term "serial killer" didn't have the currency it does today. And, of course, there was no internet, no social media. The crimes were reported, updates would surface every couple of weeks, and eventually a suspect was arrested, tried and convicted.

The case wasn't a constant topic of conversation when I was growing up, or anything like that, but it was there in the background. Reading the coverage of the case made me think about growing up, not exactly in the shadow of these vicious crimes, but knowing from an early age that bad things could happen where you lived. Almost literally in your back yard, in my case.

Do I write crime fiction because I grew up with that awareness that evil can lurk in the most innocuous settings? It's impossible to say.

Perhaps it's one of the reasons I've always been fascinated by the way psychopaths can blend in, hide their true nature from the everyday world. The way relatives and friends and neighbours always express disbelief and confusion when they find out there was a monster in their midst. The shattering of the easy, comforting illusion that "this kind of thing doesn't happen here."

You can see the whole story this Tuesday night.


Sky 146 | Freeview 66 | Virgin Media 148 | Freesat 135


Friday, 26 October 2018

Readers Club competition winners



A big thanks to everyone who entered both the Facebook and the Readers Club competitions to win Written in Blood bookmarks and other goodies.

Winners came from as far afield as Singapore and the Netherlands - one of the best things about this gig is finding out you have readers in places you've never been.

The Facebook winners were posted earlier this week on my page - incidentally, go like the page, if you haven't already.

Members of my Readers Club who won a signed deleted scene from Presumed Dead and a set of snazzy Written in Blood bookmarks were:

Alec Hooke
Gina Rae
Lisa Gray
Malcolm Gillies
Tasha Tay
Tim Windram
Amy Beth Marantino
Anne Carlin
Esmie Langston
Mariandel Vlemmix

...and the winner of the special, Readers Club-only grand prize of the bookmarks, deleted scene and a signed US hardcover edition of The Samaritan was Michael Chapleo.



Congrats to the winners, thanks to all who entered, and if you'd like to know about my next Readers Club exclusive, you can sign up for free right here.

If you're in the UK, my Written in Blood episode airs on CBS Reality on Tuesday evening - I'll be doing a live Twitter Q&A during the show, so feel free to tweet a question.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Presumed Dead mass-market paperback cover

My publisher has finalised the mass-market paperback cover of Presumed Dead, complete with a fantastic quote from the excellent Jenny Blackhurst. Check it out:



You can preorder the UK paperback in the usual places like Waterstones and Amazon now, and it will be in the stores from 29th November. 

If you absolutely can't wait, you can get the slightly more expensive trade paperback or ebook right now. I won't stand in your way.

Back soon with some information on a slightly different sort of book for 2019...

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Bloody Scotland 2018

So Presumed Dead didn't make the shortlist for the McIlvanney Prize, which was fine because several other authors I admire didn't make it either, which is testament to the strength of the list. On the night, the very worthy winner was Liam McIlvanney for The Quaker.

Some diary conflicts made it a flying visit for me this year, but even though I arrived late Friday and left late Saturday, I was able to pack a surprising amount into twenty-four hours. It was as wonderful as always to catch up with the usual suspects and meet some new faces. I even got to be defeated by Val McDermid's team for the second time this year in the quiz.

As always, it was a fantastic operation ably run by Bob McDevitt and team. Anyway, here's some of my pictorial highlights...









Thursday, 20 September 2018

Bouchercon

I made my first trip to Bouchercon this month.

For the uninitiated, this is basically the biggest crime fiction festival in the world. It's held every year in the USA (with occasional excursions to Canada), and this year it was in the beautiful St Petersburg, Florida.



It's a tough life, but sometimes you just have to knuckle down and do the author events.

I flew in via Philadelphia on the Wednesday evening, and had to spend an extra hour waiting on tarmac until the lightning went away. Having been travelling all day, I hit the sack early in order to be up in good time for day one of the festival. Luckily, those of us from across the pond have the advantage of being five hours ahead, so an eight o'clock start wasn't as painful as it usually would be.



I headed down to the con hotel (the Vinoy Renaissance) and registered. They gave me the biggest damn bag of books I've ever seen, and then free pastries. Good start.


I was pleased to get fellow-Glaswegian Abir Mukherjee's second novel in the bag, and doubly pleased to run into the man himself at the refreshments area.

After lunch at a British pub (I know) with some fellow authors, I headed into my first panel: Martini with a Twist of Plot. It was a great lineup: Alafair Burke, Meg Gardiner, Jennifer Hillier and Neil S Plakcy, ably hosted by Kristopher Zgorski. We discussed serial killers, techniques for building tension and lots more. We also got leis (the flowery necklace things) and coconuts, making this easily the best-accessorised panel I've ever done.



It was great company to be in and the forty-five minutes flew by.

My publisher was attending in force, so I got to catch up at the bar and then dinner with my editor Francesca and Katie, Sarah and Sam from Orion.

On Friday I went to a couple of panels then got lunch at a waterfront place, which somehow involved pina coladas. I went to see Michael Connelly interview Mark Billingham and finally got to meet one of my biggest writing heroes afterwards. He was very understanding about me being a fawning fanboy. No restraining order yet.


We took some time out for a quintessentially American trip to the Friday night ball game - the Tampa Bay Rays playing the Baltimore Orioles. The game was a blowout and the hot dogs were disappointingly small for America, but it was a fun evening.


Saturday morning kicked off with the Drawing Inspiration from Our Kids panel, moderated by Joe Clifford with Shannon Kirk, LynDee Walker, Tom Pitts, Emily Carpenter and yours truly. No prizes for guessing why I made it onto this panel.

This one was quite different from the standard book discussion, since we were talking about our kids. The other authors were all Americans, but I wasn't surprised to learn that most aspects of balancing child-rearing and crime writing are universal.

After that, I signed some books for a very friendly bookseller from Mystery Mike's in Indianapolis (yep, an indie from Indy).


The rest of Saturday was spent pleasantly socialising, hanging out with old friends, meeting new ones and generally sitting in the sun with a few of these.



Sunday at book festivals is always the Long Goodbye, with everyone going their separate ways and promising to catch up at the next thing. In this case that's Bloody Scotland, this very weekend.

I sat at the bar and had a beer with Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham. The beer turned into three or four, and then a few more after Mark had to catch his taxi to the airport. Very cool just hanging out with nothing to do, downing a few cold ones with a couple of crime writing masters.



And on Monday before flying home, I had a solo breakfast with a good book, which turned out to be exactly the right way to relax after a full-on weekend.




Sunday, 2 September 2018

Labor Day Weekend special offer

It's Labor Day Weekend in the USA, which I have no real clue about other than... something about wearing white?

However, it does mean that PRESUMED DEAD has been selected for a 99¢ Kindle deal, so if you don't have it yet, go get it. If you do have it, tell your friends. If you've already done both of those things and you're feeling generous, write a review!

As usual, the other ebook emporia are matching the deal, so you should be able to get it from your preferred source: