Brass in Pocket – a review

Amid my factual research for my North Wales mysteries, I’m trying to read the few Wales-based crime novels that have been written in the last decade. However, the first fictional Welsh policeman that I encountered was Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans in Evan’s Gate the eighth in her series set in Wales. I need to read the other nine, having found this one on a market stall in Porthmadog, North Wales.

For the less-cosy and the grittier tales, I have turned to Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series and Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, the latter set in the familiar location of North Wales. Time to review Book 1 then.

Brass in Pocket (Inspector Drake #1)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

Two traffic officers are killed on an isolated mountain pass in North Wales. Inspector Drake is called to the scene and quickly discovers a message left by the killer – traffic cones in the shape of a No 4.

The killer starts sending the Wales Police Service lyrics from famous rock songs. Are they messages or is there some hidden meaning in them?

Does it all mean more killings are likely? When a politician is killed Drake has his answer. And then the killer sends more song lyrics. Now Drake has to face the possibility of more deaths but with numbers dominating the case Drake has to face his own rituals and obsessions.

Finally when the killer threatens Drake and his family he faces his greatest challenge in finding the killer before he strikes again.


Review 4.3 stars

From the moment that two traffic officers are killed on the Crimea Pass, I felt that I was back in Snowdonia and I was drawn in. The setting of North Wales was always the hook for me and it felt real. Having lived there for a few years, I know some of the places. I could visualise the locations, even when I hadn’t been everywhere mentioned. A seamless blend of the familiar with the unknown. I want to return to Puleston’s world even if I can’t return to Snowdonia.

It was hard to like Inspector Drake with his odd habits, like his obsession with tidiness and routines, but I felt drawn to his determination and his team’s dogged work to decipher the significance of the killer’s clues from numbers to song lyrics.

As the killings continued, I set myself the challenge of discovering the killer ahead of the police team. At one point, I believed that I was almost there, but the plot alluded me. The killer seemed to think the numbers and lyrics meant something – unless he was toying with us. There were moments where I wondered if everything was a red-herring. The press played a key role in that, and as an ex-journalist, I have seen what some of them can do.

I was interested in the ways that the novel’s police operated, knowing that the author was a retired lawyer so knew his facts. The details rang true in the telling. I realise that the UK police underwent changes in 2015 so that means Inspector Drake might be facing some frustrating times in future books.

As the threats got more personal in this first book, the life that Drake had created was thrown into the spotlight, including the fallout from his obsessions that kept distracting him from what was important. The characterisation of Drake felt, at times, repetitive but then that was what he had become. Those habits can grate, but he rang true. I had an OCD neighbour once and Drake fits those patterns.

However, the supporting characters never quite earned so much space. His Detective Sergeant, Caren Waits had some scenes in her POV, but they felt like side-tracks and I never felt that we got to know her enough – except through Drake’s viewpoint. As for the other characters, they all had distinct personalities but there were moments when I felt there were too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. Maybe that’s the problem when searching for a serial killer.

However, having a POV for the killer worked much better than the POV for Caren. Seeing the plot unfold from the mind of the ‘game-master’ worked as he drove the plot more than Drake at times.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #2.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars




Season’s Greetings to all my followers and visitors – or should I say Nadolig Llawen.

May 2018 bring us all inspiration, great reading, good health, hope and peace.

#AuthorInterview: Idaho Welcome

In a few weeks, I will have been resident in Boise, Idaho for fifteen months. It seems that classes me as an Idaho author and I may follow Ernest Hemingway‘s example and spend the rest of my life here, exploring this beautiful area.

Anyway, the reason for this post is to highlight another Idaho author’s website – Jeri Walker’s Word Bank – where I was honoured to be the final author in her series of interviews with Idaho authors.

Jeri opens by saying, “Turns out Roland Clarke and I have being lackluster riders who love horses dearly in common…”

[Now read on for more on writing and Idaho.]

NaNoWriMo Musings


November has gone and another NaNoWriMo is over. Time to think about what I discovered.

First some basic stats. This was my sixth year of NaNo and my fourth win, writing at least 50,000 words. Other wins were: 2012 – Wyrm Blood; 2015 – Fates Maelstrom; 2016 – Eagle Passage. I did write over 50k in 2011 but failed to validate that total in time. Although I fell short some years and didn’t start in 2014, I have completed the first draft of every ‘novel’ by the end of the year. My ‘lifetime achievement’ – NaNo writing – is 354,334 words.

My daily average for this November was 2,008 words and as a result, I reached the 50k target on November 22nd, in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my US family – without feeling that I ought to be writing. By the end of November, I had written 60,264 words of Ruined Retreat.

On reflection, I realise that with perseverance I can write 2,000 words per day – if I know roughly where I am going. I did have to minimise the time working on emails, checking Facebook, getting distracted but I wasn’t a total bore, I hope.

Back to that outline: a rough one, sketchier than with previous ‘novels’ but with the advantage of being Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series, so I knew some of the characters. Now, as I return to the fifth draft of Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of the series, I know even more about the characters and where they are going.

Previously, I had plotted my novels with intricate detail, almost scene by scene. The problem was that diversions were difficult even if the characters demanded them. The danger of a too-rough outline is having too many wild plot horses to tame – as with Spiral of Hooves which took thirteen years to complete.


Dolbadarn Castle

Photo of Dolbadarn Castle, Snowdonia by Etrusia UK on Flickr


This time, I used a mystery plot template from The Novel Factory at and the three-act structure proved ideal, especially when I discovered that Scrivener had a similar three-act fiction template when I created the Ruined Retreat file. Having merged the two ‘guides’ to create, my novel flowed out more easily and logically. On November 26th, I completed the first draft and spent the next four days reading through what I had written, changing the glaring errors and marking the phrases that needed to be worked on and developed.

An interesting side-note is the research for this novel. Some research was done while I roughed out the plot, although that was more like compiling links for later use. I also marked up keywords in the text with Scrivener – yellow highlights and red text – to remind me where research was still needed. However, I must confess that my research brain doesn’t always switch off and niggles me until I check a fact. But I do ‘favourite’ the site if there’s too much to check, then knuckle down to writing more words.

Okay, 60,264 words are not going to be the final total for Ruined Retreat, but it’s the first draft so something to build on. I have finished a first draft during NaNo before but in most cases that was the furthest stage reached, even if they can be developed. This time, I won’t get to draft two for a while, but writing Ruined Retreat makes the earlier books in the series more achievable in 2018.

So, once I’ve cleared some non-writing priorities – like getting a good US health insurance policy and my UK tax return –  will make finishing Fates Maelstrom top of my agenda. But I suspect I’m facing a tough task deciphering the copious notes that were meant to bring order to a writhing plot some months ago.

Or do I just ignore the stray sheep and write knowing where I’m heading – towards a ruined retreat in Snowdonia?


#IWSG – Backtrack 2017

Today, I’m answering the December 6th IWSG question – As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeMy first thought for this monthly post for the Insecure Writer’s Group is to say – or sing:

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do, I saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

I’m not sure if the ‘charted course’ was always planned and that might have been for lack of a GPS signal or the right map. I tried working with a few outlines as I am a plotter, but life is never as simple as planned. The answer for me is five-fold and some were successes, some failures, and most were near misses:

  1. When I started 2017, I thought Gossamer Flames, my post-apocalyptic saga, was my next target book for release. But for various reasons, that intention ended and the ‘novel’ was shelved. Looking back, I might have invested less effort into that – but at least, I have a draft v4 to work with when I return.
  1. However, the first major derailment of my writing has been my health issues – from being rushed to hospital with Aspiration pneumonia to being diagnosed with blood cancer on top of having multiple sclerosis. While my health has stalled the writing at moments, I can look back and think positive: the pneumonia was treated, my cancer is at stage zero, and the MS is not getting worse. Should I have changed my diet earlier?
  1. I had planned to re-release Spiral of Hooves for some time, so the re-release in a newly revised edition on August 7th, was timely and on many levels, I have no regrets. People that never read Kindle books got to hold paperback copies. However, looking back I might have spent less on the re-launch – yet, I now have a back-catalogue that only I can make unavailable.
  1. After the 2017 A to Z Challenge and my re-launch, I ran an interesting poll, asking friends on Facebook what I should be focusing on – including Eagle Crossing, the novel linked to my A to Z theme. As a result – and with overwhelming support – I turned my attention onto Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of my Snowdon Shadows However, looking back, I fear that too many restarts might have added too many side-plots. Whether the current draft becomes an unwieldy beast continues to haunt me.
  1. Finally, there was NaNoWriMo. I achieved the ‘Winner’ certificate and I even finished draft 1 of yet another novel. That will be next post – my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo win. But looking back, I worry that I chose the wrong novel to write – Ruined Retreat, Book 3 of the Snowdon Shadows Book 3? What about Book 2? Well, Seeking a Knife was written – or rather started in 2015. The main plotline was my first encounter with Welsh detective Sparkle Anwyl, around whom I created the series. Yes, I should have used NaNoWriMo 2017 to finish Book 2. But…I have Book 3 finished and I know a lot more, so ‘regrets…too few to mention’.

But that’s another post.


Have you got any backtrack thoughts looking back through 2017?


The awesome co-hosts for the December 6 posting of the IWSG are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting:  The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.