In The Midst Of Life -a review

When I devised my point system, I wasn’t expecting a book to slip to the third star position. But I hope my review justifies this score.

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In The Midst Of Life (D.I. Angel Mystery #1)

by Roger Silverwood

Twenty years ago, a nurse in a hospital for the criminally insane was brutally and savagely murdered by a patient.

It later turned out that the patient had had his medication withheld by another nurse, who had been stealing and selling drugs for her own gain – and her subsequent disappearance triggers the beginning of a gruesome trail of enquiries.

Then the disgraced nurse’s sister arrives in Inspector Michael Angel’s office with news of a murder, and fears for her own safety.

With some mysterious clues – a dead woman wearing one stocking inside out, an American class ring, and two dead cats – and a lot of clever humour, Inspector Angel scrambles to find the killer in south Yorkshire.

Despite obstruction from the Chief Constable, the doggedly determined and charismatic Inspector Angel stubbornly ferrets out the suspects.

By relying on his eternally willing right hand man, and resorting to an unusual strategy, he manages to narrow the long list of suspects down.

But are his suspicions right?

And can he stop the killer before anyone else is cut down In the Midst of Life…?

‘In the Midst of Life’ is the first novel in the DI Michael Angel series.

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The blurb for “In The Midst of Life” intrigued me, and the opening chapter hooked me. But as I read more this novel proved a disappointment. Maybe it was because I had just read three excellent crime novels.

Or maybe it was Inspector Angel. I found him irritating, although some readers have called him a strong character. I disliked his attitude towards his colleagues, which was more than racist in places. Maybe he is based on real cops, but I hope he’s in the minority.

I felt uneasy about his approach to solving crimes, not least the way that he reacted to some video evidence. He also seemed to be more concerned about petrol station robbers than the murder. Or was that the writer? Was there a subtle clue here that I missed?

The plot had me guessing until the resolution, but too much was revealed at once, and it didn’t read right. This wasn’t an Agatha Christie reveal that has this captivated reader flicking back for clues. I felt cheated when Angel revealed things that were never set up earlier.

I came away wondering if that was his main reason for not worrying about the murder. Or was that because the victim was a woman? But then Angel’s not a misogynist just a stereotype. And what’s with a police force with no women?

However, Roger Silverwood still needs some credit for not only writing one book and getting it published, but also a whole series. That takes something. Shame the plot fell short.

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So did I learn anything from reading “In The Midst Of Life”? Well, I realised that I must avoid putting off readers with my protagonist’s attitude. Researching the modern police force is essential, so I’m glad to be in touch with two North Wales police officers – one of them female. Finally, the plot resolution must tie into previous events, even if there are red herrings and hidden clues.

 

 

 

 

Bad Moon Rising – a review

I’ve been sticking with the crime fiction for my reading, although my next review is of a darker offering. But I was engrossed once again, not least because the forensics in this was so well researched and described.

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Bad Moon Rising (D.I. Paolo Storey #1)

by Frances di Plino (Goodreads Author)

*** SEMI-FINALIST in the KINDLE BOOK REVIEW 2012 competition ***
*** FINALIST for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014***

One more soul is safe.

Brought up believing sex is the devil’s work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victims’ souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption.

Detective Inspector Paolo Storey is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo’s personal and professional lives.

For anyone that likes their crime fiction dark and gritty, then I recommend “Bad Moon Rising” by Frances di Plino. The killer is believably twisted by his religious calling, and his identity is cunningly hidden from Detective Inspector Paolo Storey, his colleagues and the reader.

Frances di Plino has crafted a memorable detective, complex and tragic like some of the finest flawed characters. When I finished the novel, I wanted to know more about him and where his life was going. I must read the next book in the series.

The depth of characterisation doesn’t end with the protagonist and antagonist. Even the minor characters are well portrayed, and stand out in their own right. There is also a strong sense of the complex workings of all aspects of the police, including forensics, but told believably.

The personal interactions weave around the investigation, especially with Paolo Storey, whose own attitudes often drive the action. This takes the story to another level, where all the elements are working seamlessly to create a relentless story…a dark tale that seeps into unexpected crannies.

The twist was unusual, but that is the sign of a clever author. Find a new angle and make it work. I’m intrigued what Someday Never Comes (D.I. Paolo Storey, #2)  will add to this excellent series opener.

What earns Stars?

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Writing book reviews makes me insecure when it comes to awarding stars. Hence this post on the official Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.

At one point, in the dim past, it seemed simple: if it was a book that I would re-read, then it earned five stars, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If it was a disappointment, then it earned three (or less). Nothing earned less, as one and two star books didn’t get past the initial blurb-opening-cover test – although I admit to a few mistakes.

Anyway, here’s my latest guide to the Stars based on reviewing as a fellow writer and as a reader.

One Star: The author managed the awesome feat of publishing a book.

Two Stars: Published and with almost no formatting/proof-reading/typo/spelling errors etcetera.

Three Stars: Published, error-free-ish, and with a logical, understandable plotline. Okay read.

Four Stars: As three, plus engaging story, characters, setting, and well-crafted sub-plots. Recommended read.

Five Stars: Not just a recommended read, but a book that demonstrates the craft of writing. Enjoyable and inspirational.

Although this star system avoids judging books against each other, which I hate doing, there is one major problem with this rating method. My review tomorrow demonstrates that failing. What score should I give a book that deserves five stars, is a ‘read-again’ book, and demands that I work through it looking for the clever techniques that the writer used. Do I need to have a Six Star grade?

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I remember doing that when I got to the end of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I needed to know how she had got away with Rule 1 of the 10 Rules of Golden Age Detective Fiction, producing a clever twist ending that worked. Of course, that rule is now broken in many instances, as are many others.

Anyway, I’m not sure how I will apply my Stars grading to non-fiction, but what are your measures of a fiction book’s qualities? Do you avoid giving five stars? Do you want to give five stars to most books that you choose to read? Have you ever given a book one star, even if it was mine?

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with my fellow writers.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the June 1st posting of the IWSG are  Murees Dupe, Alexia Chamberlynn, Chemist Ken, and Heather Gardner. 

 

A Day Late and Dollars Short

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This should have been posted yesterday, but I forgot what day it was. In fact, on Sunday I still thought it was Saturday. So, I lost a day somewhere.

If you find that missing day, please let me have it back. I’m missing it terribly. 😉

As for the mislaid dollars, well my brother did give me some money. However, his version of money is limited – by some camel with a needle aversion. I can’t really complain as I got enough to cover Christmas, or whatever holiday we choose to celebrate in wet and windy Wales.

As I warned my not-so-wise sibling, the price of everything is going up, and January will probably bring bigger price-hikes. Meridian, the place we are trying to move to, just got voted the Best Place to Live in America,  by 24/7 Wall St., an online financial news corporation. Already, suitable wheelchair-accessible houses are selling within 48 hours of going on the market. And the price will have a knock-on effect in the Treasure Valley area.

His excuses for not advancing the money to buy, are getting lamer every time we talk. The property to finance this has sold, for a considerable amount – millions – and my share covers my requests, and more. But he can always justify dragging his knuckles.

Maybe, after Christmas, there might be real news – or NOT.

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There are also things missing on the writing front. Not exactly days – although the timeline of the story is a challenge – nor dollars, or pounds; could do with the Royalties though. Instead, having been a 2015 NaNoWriMo winner, the wheels are spinning.

I was working to an outline, but then I killed off a second character. Now, my detectives are all over the place, searching for evidence and scenes. Which means that the outline has to be re-thought before the Chief Constable closes down the investigation, and I’m left with a cold case. Or should that be a cold novel?

So great is my stressed-out confusion, that I’ve even re-installed Scrivener, believing that I missed a trick or two by abandoning it. Well, it did lose another novel – but I had an RTF backup for that.

Rant over. Off to plot another brutal murder – MUAHAHAHAHA.

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http://epicpix.com/brutus-is-at-it-again/

 

 

 

How long was that novel?

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Which novel you ask? That bestseller? My novel? Well, in some ways that’s a general question, but today it’s personal, and my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group day – and my weekly post combined.

As November approached, I was wondering if reaching the NaNoWriMo winning tape was possible, and how I would managed to keep blogging. But now, 70,186 words later and a ‘Winner’, my worry/insecurity is different.

I haven’t finished this re-write of the first draft [Draft 1 Mark 2] of “Fates Maelstrom”, and, looking at where I am in relation to Draft 1 Mark I, there are another 32,000 words to write. Maybe more if I play out my new crazed idea and kill another character.

A crime novel with over 100,000 words, in a highly competitive market, felt wrong. Surely, Agatha Christie had been able to tackle far cleverer mysteries in less words.

It didn’t take me long to find truth in that fear. Agatha Christie’s novels range from 54,000 to 70,000. And looking at two more recent authors that I admire, Ellis Peters and Dick Francis, their books are shorter than some of the current writers that I read, like Linwood Barclay.

But then I looked at Famous Novels and saw the huge range, well-illustrated in word count order, from small gems to mammoth tomes, in this article, and in alphabetical order here.

However, my novel has to fit in with the norm, and current publishing requirements – even if I self-publish, somehow. I began to feel better when I found out that in the genre of ‘Mysteries and Crime Fiction’, the suggested figures are: Cozies 60,000-70,000; all others 80,000-100,000.

For those of you that want more detail, I found the following figures in posts by various people, including Jacqui Murray – Word Count by Genre. The posts also tackle all the key genres. For crime, the figures are:

  • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
  • mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

That gives me some leeway, at this stage, as I sense my mystery is veering away from a ‘cozy’, although it isn’t going to be an action-driven thriller.

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Last stop on the research bus was Writers Workshop, and a post by Harry Bingham, a crime novelist and founder of the WW. (I’m slightly apprehensive now, as Harry has written a successful crime series, featuring a strange young female Welsh detective, Fiona Griffiths. And my series features a strange young female Welsh detective, Sparkle Anwyl. Uffern gwaedlyd – the bar has been raised.)

Anyway, Harry Bingham says, “Crime novels usually run a bit longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is pretty standard. Don’t go below 75,000 though.”

His post, not only looks at other genres, but also has links on what to do if your novel is too long. I will be using those suggestions come revision time – even just to remove the weasel words and the padding.

By any of the above measures, my debut novel “Spiral of Hooves” fell just inside the lower limit, coming in at 75,400 words. “Fates Maelstrom” may be nearer the upper end, around 90,000.

Insecurity postponed.

**

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with other writers – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Purpose: 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!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Sandra Hoover,Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell! 

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Mal Sumnor: Bloodhound or Genius?

 

After learning something about Twyla Locke, Brogan Keyes, and about Sparkle Anwyl, one of the detectives, it’s time to meet the other key detective in “Fates Maelstrom”, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel.

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Tom Hiddleston would make a good Mal Sumnor.

Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor is with Bangor CID, part of the North Wales Police or Heddlu Gogledd Cymru, and he’s the senior officer investigating the suspected murder of Aubrey Locke.

Bangor is not exactly round the corner from Craig-o-Niwl. Weren’t there any closer officers?

Not ones that had the expertise to handle a murder investigation, and as you must be aware, the force is stretched at this time of austerity. Of course, the local uniform boys were first on the scene, but the case was passed to my team, as soon as the victim was identified. Aubrey Locke was a member of a wealthy and influential landed family.

So you must be concerned about the case. There must be a great deal riding on this, not least your reputation? What do you think is going to happen next?

The correct resolution is paramount, but I’m confident that I can attain that speedily. Restoring calm in the community, and demonstrating the abilities of the Heddlu Gogledd Cymru is essential.

I am pleased to say that the forensic team have gathered considerable evidence, and a key suspect was arrested. We have some reliable witnesses, so the case is straightforward, and I anticipate an early conclusion.

Straightforward? Why have you brought in an officer from another area?

A formality. My Detective Inspector suggested that we talk to the suspect, Twyla Locke, in her native language, although she speaks Welsh and English – as I do.

However, Detective Constable Meinwen Anwyl has been assigned as she is a Romani speaker, and as she knows the village. But I will show her how to run a flawless investigation. She has to realise that I’m the one with the Criminal Justice BA – with Honours – from Bangor University.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having a female partner, and I don’t mind that she’s a Goth, or even Welsh. But there has to be an understanding – a rapport.

So a University Education is essential to the police force? Not grassroots experience. Doesn’t policing start on the streets?

Both are needed, but, and I quote the College of Policing, the body responsible for setting the standards for police training – ‘all officers should have degrees’ as the job is now of ‘degree-level complexity.’ Times have changed, this is the 21st century and the world is now very hi-tech. We need a police force that can deal with anything – from tackling cyber-crime one day, dealing with child sexual exploitation the next. That demands something that only a degree can bring.

Won’t the cuts to services make that even harder?

At the moment, the situation might well get worse. Lesser crimes, like burglaries, will not be investigated, unless they are high-profile. Therefore, long-term the cuts will make the ability to detect crime more demanding. That is why we need more multi-skilled officers – trained to degree level. That might require more surveillance, but that might be preferable to more crime.

Is there something that makes you a good detective?

The ability to speedily separate evidence into obscure, circumstantial, misleading, and suspicious – and then knowing what to discard, starting with the obscure. It takes intelligence – and yes, that university degree. That education gives me access to invaluable techniques and experts. Despite what the media panics us into believing, the serious crimes don’t happen on the streets, but in that cyber world that we so readily accept. If a criminal runs from me, I can find him using those hi-tech tools – wherever he or she hides.

That is scary, and a reason to stay the right side of you. But why should we care about you?

Apologies, I’m coming over as the tough-no nonsense guy. I probably take my job too seriously, but then I aim to protect and serve the people. But off-duty, down the pub, or over a delicious meal, I can relax, smile, and tell a few jokes. Should I lie and say I have a dog? That’s not me. Give me a chance to prove that I am just a humble man with dreams.

Does that mean people misunderstand you? If so, what do they get wrong?

They see me as a humourless obsessive, who behaves like an authoritarian bully – even if I rarely wear a uniform. But fighting crime is serious work, and there is very little to laugh about. Once the crime is solved, the other side can come out to play – if you let me. Then I can drink with the best of you, and take off the suit and tie.

What about your parents? Do they support you in this dangerous line of work?

Very much so, since they are in the force. My mother is a Chief Constable in another Constabulary, and my father is a Detective Superintendent. Therefore, I was born to the force – yes, I realise that sounds like Star Wars, but isn’t that a plus point. Anyway, they have supported my career at every stage – and they have provided me with some invaluable contacts, as required.

Are you going to die in this story? Should you?

Is there a reason you ask? My intelligence has kept me alive this far. It helps to be able to detect things in advance of the criminals. Staying ahead of them is a challenge, and I don’t intend to be caught out in such a way that I get killed. Don’t forget, in Great Britain, the police rarely carry firearms, so gun crimes are far less than in other countries. And I wear a stab-proof vest.

What is your worst fear?

I try not to focus on fear as it impinges on my effectiveness. Nothing in my profession scares me to that degree. Yes, my adrenalin pumps when I have to deal with dangerous criminals – and some of my colleagues’ driving.

Perhaps, I have a fear of flying – or handing control to a pilot. But then, I know he’s trained so I ignore the sensation. Anyway, I never go abroad as there are so many great places in Great Britain, especially in North Wales. Next time you want to go somewhere special, come to Snowdonia.

Many thanks for your time, detective. I wish you success with the case and your career.

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