Book review: A Death in Valencia

a death in valencia by jason webster 16-7-14This is a book about more than a singular death, it is an exploration of the nature of death and what constitutes murder. Max Cámara, the Valencia detective introduced in Or the Bull Kills You, cannot sleep: his street is being dug up as the new Metro line is being built, the summer heat pulsates, and Valencia is crazy as it prepares for the arrival of the Pope.

The city buzzes with pro- and anti-Catholic emotions, with pro-life and pro-choice campaigners lining up their arguments for the Pope. Meanwhile the police force prepares security for the visit, as a developer is ripping up the old fisherman’s quarter El Cabanyal [below] to build new apartment blocks. On the first page, a dead body is washed up on the shore. A well-known paella chef.



Max has eaten the chef’s paella but is taken off the case to help hunt for a kidnapped woman, a gynaecologist who performs abortions. The eve of the Pope’s visit is the worst possible time for this to happen. As always seems to happen in crime novels, two seemingly separate incidents are linked. The link, in this case, is carefully plotted so I didn’t spot it until the end. For me, this is a deeper more intelligent novel than the first in the Max Cámara series [there are now four], perhaps because the author is settling into the genre and the character.

I must add that Valencia simply rocks in this book, it comes alive off the page, the heat, the tension, the grief. I can smell the summer dust.

To read my review of Or the Bull Kills You, Jason Webster’s first book about Max Cámara, click here.



To watch a video where Jason Webster [above] explains how he wrote A Death in Valencia and how real life influenced the plot, click here.
To watch a film about El Cabanyal, and the threat it still faces from developers, click here. The film is directed by Tristan Martin and narrated by Nigel Planer.
Click here for Jason Webster’s website for more about Max Cámara, Webster’s travel writing about Spain and a new history book, The Spy with 29 Names.

‘A Death in Valencia’ by Jason Webster [Vintage]

Famous people, reading: Gregory Peck



“Inside of all the makeup and the character and the makeup, it’s you, and I think that’s what the audience is really interested in… you, how you’re going to cope with the situation, the obstacles, the troubles that the writer puts in front of you.”
Actor Gregory Peck [above]

Is he reading To Kill a Mockingbird do you think? I’m not sure about the pipe, but Atticus Finch regularly appears in those ‘Most Popular Father’ lists which appear around Father’s Day.

Peck seems to have been a thoughtful man, here’s another quote: “I’ve had my ups and downs. There have been times when I wanted to quit. Times when I hit the bottle. Girls. Marital problems. I’ve touched most of the bases.”

Seems to make him well-qualified to be an actor, or a writer.

Gregory Peck by Gary Fishgall 18-6-14


‘Gregory Peck’ by Gary Fishgall [pub’d by Scribner]

Writer, dearest

I love blog awards, everyone likes to be appreciated and blog awards are a nice way of spreading love around amongst bloggers and readers. The Liebster, for me, means love. Not sure why, perhaps because it sounds like ‘liebe’ which takes me back to my German classes at school: ‘Ich liebe dich’. So I’ve always assumed the ‘Liebster Award’ meant roughly the ‘We Love You Award’. Wrong… a quick check with Google Translate tells me that Liebster means ‘Dearest’. liebster award logo 22-9-14So, thanks to April at April4June6, for nominating me for the Dearest Award! April has asked me 11 questions:-
Do you think we should adapt our demands to our means, or the other way around?
If we don’t adapt our demands to our means, the planet will be bankrupt.
What does writing mean to you?
Everything. It is who I am, I cannot imagine ever not writing.
What are you doing on a sunny day?
Ideally, sitting in the sun, reading. Really, sitting inside, writing.



What future memory would you like to create?
Looking back to the day my first novel, Ignoring Gravity, was published. The first of a successful eries.
Would you date yourself were you a person of the opposite sex?
Probably not.
What is success to you?
Being satisfied with what I’ve achieved in life, working hard to meet my goals.
What does this award mean to you?
It made me smile, and feel proud of my little blog. Thanks, April!



Make a wish
I wish Andy Murray [above, winning Wimbledon 2013] would win the Grand Slam in 2015.
Fulfil someone’s wish
Not sure how to do this… it could get into quite dangerous territory.
What is your favourite place?
Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire, England. Below is a view of Filey Brigg, from Bempton Cliffs. Bempton - view of Brigg1 29-10-13The award rules are:
– Thank your nominator and post a link to his/her blog.
– Display the award on your blog.
– Answer the 11 questions provided by the nominator.
– Nominate 5-11 blogs which have less than 1000 followers, and let them know they’ve been nominated.
– Make up and post 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
– Post these rules on your blog.

My nominations, all writers, are:-
Garrulous Gwendoline
Cindy Bruchman For my review of Cindy’s novel, The Knife with the Ivory Handle, click here.
Andrea Stephenson
Bryan Hemming
Jacke Wilson

My 11 questions to my five nominees all require quickfire, short answers:-
Which book do you love the most?
Who is the fictional character you most resemble – be honest!
Which book would you love to have written?
What are you reading now?
And what’s next on your To-Read pile?
Paperback/hardback, or e-book? Why?
Where is your favourite place to read?
Best film from the book?
What are you writing today?
Do you plan your story, or let it flow?
Who is your key character, and what makes him/her tick?

Book review: The Soul of Discretion

the soul of discretion by susan hill 10-9-14Lafferton, England. A naked child wanders down a street. A woman is raped at a black tie Freemansons’ Dinner. Detective Simon Serrailler is coming to terms with his girlfriend moving into his flat which now seems very small and confined, no longer his own private space. His widowed sister is struggling for money and must decide what to do about it. His stepmother is struggling to deal with the detective’s increasingly irritable and irascible father. Serrailler’s girlfriend feels like the lodger in her boyfriend’s flat. And then Serrailler is posted undercover.

This is the eighth novel about detective Simon Serrailler and as far as I’m concerned, Susan Hill can continue writing them until kingdom comes. I have read them all over the years, but this is the first I have reviewed [something I will remedy over the coming year]. Serrailler is a thoughtful, solitary-minded detective, surrounded by a family which, in The Soul of Discretion, has its own crises. But the central thread of the book, which kept me reading late into the night, was Serrailler going undercover. In this book, you wonder if he will live or die. I read this book in 24 hours, including a night’s sleep. The subject matter is difficult, the nastiest child abuse, and to go undercover Serrailler must know his subject, be able to act the part of a ‘nonce’, he must look as if he likes the nasty stuff.



Susan Hill [above] doesn’t show us the unpleasantness, she lets us imagine it by showing us Serrailler’s reaction. He becomes Johnno Miles and we take every step with him as he goes to prison, the aim to get close to a prisoner who it is hoped holds the key to unlocking a prolific child abuse ring. With him is a James Bond-style watch with coded buttons to send messages to HQ, except it is a cheap black plastic watch, not a Rolex. There are a lot of heart-in-mouth passages, Hill’s writing makes you turn page after page. And just when you get to a key bit, the chapter ends and the attention switches – to Cat who is trying to decide whether to work for a hospice or a GP practice, or his stepmother Judith on holiday in France with his father, or Serrailler’s girlfriend Rachel who is opening a bookshop – and you get an emotional breather from the tension. But all the stories are linked, in the end.

Click here for Susan Hill’s website and more information about her books.
‘The Soul of Discretion’ by Susan Hill [UK: Chatto & Windus, published October 2, 2014]

New books coming soon

Sarah Hall
The Wolf Border, the latest novel from Sarah Hall, one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013, will be published by Faber in April 2015 and by Harper Press in the US.

Set against a background of political tumult – Scottish independence, land reform, and power struggles – The Wolf Border investigates the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, both animal and human. It explores our concepts of ecology and evolution, re-wilding projects and the challenges faced by modern rural landscapes.

[sarah hall - photo]

[sarah hall - photo]

Faber Social’s creative director, Lee Brackstone, said: “Sarah Hall [above] is rightly thought to be one of the most original literary talents of her generation and each new book confirms and builds on the promise of her great early novels. The Wolf Border is a novel with enormous narrative and contemporary urgency. In some ways it marks a return to the world of her first novel, Haweswater, but here is a writer in full maturity, at the top of her game.”

For Sarah Hall’s website, click here.

Renee Knight
Disclaimer, the debut psychological thriller by Faber Academy alumnus Knight, is to be published by Transworld in Spring 2015 as hardback and paperback a year later.



How would it feel if you came across yourself in a novel? It is unmistakably you. Worse, it is about something you have never told anyone – anyone living that is. Transworld describes the novel by film writer and TV producer Renee Knight [above] as a ‘one-sit read’.

Matthew Funk 
The City of NO is a crime novel set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina by Matthew Funk, to be published in the UK by Exhibit A. Released in March 2015, the story follows detective Jari Jurgis as she tries to save women from human traffickers in the aftermath of the hurricane.

For Matthew Funk’s website, click here.

Rebecca Chance 
Chasing Midnight is the first of three novels new books from Rebecca Chance to be published by Macmillan. Chance, the pseudonym of Lauren Henderson, is a prolific author of detective novels, YA, and non-fiction. Previous novels by Chance include glamour thrillers  Divas, Bad Girls and Killer Heels, all published by Simon & Schuster. divas by rebecca chance 5-8-14For Rebecca Chance’s website, click here.

Tom Callaghan 
Two thrillers set in Kyrgyzstan by debut novelist Tom Callaghan are to be published by Quercus. The first, A Killing Winter, follows detective Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad as he investigates the brutal murders of several women. Callaghan currently divides his time between London, Prague, Dubai and Bishkek. A Killing Winter will be publish in early 2015, no release date yet for its sequel A Spring Betrayal.

Judy Chicurel
If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go, the debut novel by Judy Chicurel [below] is to be published in the UK by Tinder Press in October 2014 and in the US by Amy Einhorn. This is a two-book deal for Chicurel, whose short stories have been published in Granta.

[photo: Amyrah Arroyo ]

[photo: Amyrah Arroyo ]

The setting is Long Island, summer of 1972, where the young men face life after the horrors of the Vietnam War and the story of the young women is told by narrator Katie.

For Judy Chicurel’s website, click here.

Book review: The Sunrise

the sunrise by victoria hislop 21-8-14I’m a big fan of Victoria Hislop’s previous three novels, The Thread, The Return, and The Island so was expecting a lot from the new one, The Sunrise. I was a little disappointed and it’s difficult to pin down why. The Cyprus setting is great, the historical setting is stirring, the characters… I didn’t connect as well with them as I did with Alexis and Eleni in The Island. Finally, I decided that the difference between The Sunrise and the Hislop’s earlier books is that it wears its history a little too heavily. That said, it is a fascinating period and one I knew little about, except a memory of a distant cousin who lived near Kyrenia at the time. He and his family were forced to flee their house, empty-handed, running across open countryside towards a cave, dodging bullets being fired from an airplane

The Sunrise tells the story of three families in Famagusta from the sunny days of 1972 when tourism brings riches to Cyprus, to 1974 when a Greek coup forces the island into chaos. Greek Cypriots flee in one direction, Turkish Cypriots flee in the other, and the Turkish army invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. The city of Famagusta empties as people run for their lives. Today, 40 years later, the city is still empty. This is the setting for Hislop’s novel.

Two of the families in The Sunrise – the Georgious and the Ozkans – remain behind in Famagusta, hiding, scavenging for food, keeping silent to avoid capture. One is Greek Cypriot, the other Turkish Cypriot. Initially suspicious of everyone, the families are brought together by the two mothers and encouraged to support each other. This is a story of survival on the edge of war, of starvation, ingenuity, bravery and fear. Sons disappear, the city is bombed, soldiers patrol the streets, and a baby is born. The third family – the Papacostas, owners of the sparkling new hotel The Sunrise – flee to their apartment in Nicosia, locking up their stronghold hotel and leaving valuables in its safe, but taking the danger and emotional attachments with them.

Though the book at times drifts towards impersonal reportage and can feel a little like reading a history book or newspaper report, the accuracy of the complicated political and social situation is clearly explained. The island is heft in two and its population uprooted with possessions, without warning. They are attacked, raped, killed, simply for being ‘the other kind’. Finally they settle into North and South, either side of the east-west dividing line.

[photo: Angus Muir]

[photo: Angus Muir]

Victoria Hislop [above] always writes about places she knows well and that knowledge shines off the page in every sound, smell and touch she conjures up. She was not able to go to Famagusta, the city is still closed off, and had to be content with looking through the wire fence. In The Sunrise she has tackled a hugely complex political and emotional subject. For me, the story took off in 1974 once the Georgious and Ozkans were trapped in the city and fighting to survive. I found Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta less sympathetic, I’m afraid, perhaps because the story starts in 1972 when they develop their luxury hotel, two years before the Cypriot coup takes place. Perhaps that’s just me, impatient for the action to start.

For Victoria Hislop’s website, click here.
Watch this TED talk on You Tube in which Victoria Hislop talks about how courage inspires her writing. The Sunrise is set in Famagusta during the Cypriot coup.
Victoria Hislop re-visits Famagusta, in this article for the Daily Telegraph.
‘The Sunrise’ by Victoria Hislop [UK: Headline Review, from September 25, 2014]

My favourite paperweights

Like most writers I know, my desk is covered in piles of paper. I have seven paperweights on my desk; all in use, all hold some particular memory for me.

Newest is the SFMOMA ball-storm [below]: a rubber balled filled with liquid and coloured bits of plastic which swirl like a snowstorm when shaken. SFMOMA 16-6-14Bought at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art two years ago, it reminds me of a wonderful museum in a wonderful city. Click here for the SFMOMA website.

I love stones and two large ones sit on my desk as constant reminders of my second novel, Connectedness. grey stone 16-6-14white stone 16-6-14Both stones [above] were selected off the beach at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire, a few miles from where I grew up, on a beach where I imagine my protagonist Justine Tree walking. For artist Justine, who as a child lived in an isolated house on top of these cliffs, the sea and the wildness of the Yorkshire coast are a constant presence in her art.

Minty is an old name from the UK furniture trade and this wooden foot [below] was given to me many years ago by the company as a gift when I was editor of the UK’s furniture business magazine Cabinet Maker. It has a substantial presence on my desk and is immensely useful at the height of summer when my attic study is like a sauna and the large floor fan blows the warm air, and all my papers, around. wooden foot 16-6-14The beautiful cream glass paperweight [below] is by Isle of Wight Glass and was given to me by the company when I visited as a journalist in The Eighties. Isle of Wight glass 16-6-14It is a beautiful creation of clear glass marbled with white and flecks of gold.

Click here for Isle of Wight Glass’s website.

The oldest paperweight on my desk is, without doubt, the 1985 metal medal [below] presented to journalists attending the Salon du Meuble [The Furniture Show] in Paris. Paris medal 16-6-14I visited every year for more than 20 years, but it was the only time the ‘official memento’ given to journalists [what can I say? It was The Eighties, PR budgets were big] which set off the alarms at Charles du Gaulle airport as hundreds of journalists had to unpack their suitcases to extract the offending souvenir medal. The exhibition still exists, now called Meuble Paris. If you’ve ever wondered what a furniture exhibition is all about, you can read more at the website here.

The last paperweight is a very English joke, from a very English television comedy show called The League of Gentlemen. A Precious Thing 16-6-14Looking back, the humour is adult, peculiar and very dark, but it was a huge hit at its time spawning lots of odd catchlines such as “You’re my wife now”, “Justin, my Justin” and “This is a local shop, for local people”. The four cast members went onto greater individual things but the team did tour the UK with a stage show, which is where I bought this snowstorm: A Precious Thing. It’s an in-joke: the local shop for local people sells ‘precious things’. Confused? Want to know more? Watch episode 1/series 1 on You Tube here.

What do you use as a paperweight? Anything that hold memories for you, or has an interesting prior usage?