The Blood Road is the twelfth book in the Logan McRae detective series set in Aberdeenshire by Stuart MacBride, but it is the first book that have read by this author. I did see him make an appearance with Caro Ramsey at an event at Bloody Scotland in Stirling a few years ago. But he was very drunk and his language and actions made the whole thing embarrassing to watch. It must have been even worse for Caro Ramsey being on stage with Stuart MacBride on that occasion. I have not been back to Bloody Scotland since then and I probably would not have picked up MacBride’s book, had it not been on sale for £2.00.
The subject matter of The Blood Road , kidnapping and sale of children for purposes of abuse to paedophiles, is incredibly dark. However, for the most part, it is dealt with sensitively. The dialogue is fast, pacy, darkly humorous and extraordinarily engaging, you just get swept along with them all in a kind of hypnotic reading trance.
The Blood Road starts when the murdered body of a retired policeman, Bell, is discovered. McRae becomes involved because this policeman had, apparnetly died and been buried two years earlier. As if that were not odd enough, a connection is discovered between Bell and an ongoing investigation into the missing children. Wee ones are being snatched and Logan finds himself with no choice but to wade in, dragging newbie DS Simon Rennie along for the ride.
The one thing I really did not understand was how McRae, who is allegedly in the Police Standards department, and therefore investigates corrupt police officers, ended up working to solve an serious criminal case promoted by an organised criminal gang with so little police support. I do not want to issue a spoiler, so suffice to say, I found that incredible.
I have been told The Blood Road is not the strongest of MacBride’s books and that I should have started with something else – a bit late to tell me that now! I did enjoy humour in the novel and the banter between the characters was believable. However, on the basis of this book, I would not seek out another book by Stuart MacBride any time soon.
Every now and again, I go on a book buying spree. Recently I did an Amazon Search and found books by favourite authors and authors I feel I should have read that were being offered for bargain prices. One of the books I bought was the stand-alone by Karin Slaughter, Pieces of Her.
It had been too long since I had read a novel by Karin Slaughter. She is one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed storytellers. Published in 120 countries with more than 35 million copies sold across the globe, her nineteen novels include the Grant County and Will Trent books, as well as the Edgar-nominated COP TOWN and the instant NEW YORK TIMES bestselling novels PRETTY GIRLS, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, and PIECES OF HER. Slaughter is the founder of the Save the Libraries project—a nonprofit organization established to support libraries and library programming. A native of Georgia, Karin Slaughter lives in Atlanta. Her standalone novels PIECES OF HER, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, and COP TOWN are in development for film and television.
Pieces of Her tells the story of Laura and her daughter, Andrea. They live in the quiet seaside town of Belle Isle where Andrea is struggling with her return from New York and Laura works as a speech therapist, business owner. Andrea sees her mother as a pillar of the community and a friend to all around her. However, when Andrea is caught in a random violent attack at a shopping mall, Laura intervenes and acts in a way that is unrecognisable to her daughter. It’s like Laura is a completely different person – and that’s because she was.
Laura is hailed as a hero because of what happened at the mall but only a few hours later she is in hospital, shot by an intruder. An intruder t her home who has spent decades trying to track her down, because Laurs has a past that pre-dates Andrea and her life in Belle Isle. Laura sends Andrea away to try to protect her and Andrea is left to piece together her mother’s former identity and discover the truth about Laura whom she has always thought of just as her gentle, loving Mother.
I do not generally like books that flip between the past and the present. However, this is a book by Karin Slaughter and Karin Slaughter at her best, at that. I did work out Laura’s real identity fairly quickly. But that did not detract from the excitement inherent in Pieces of Her.
The story weaves between the present and thirty years ago when a family story is told. The novel is, perhaps just a little too long with perhaps, just one or two too many twists. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Pieces of Her and hope your would too.
I am pleased to be joined today by my friend, the British author, Harry Hunter. Harry Hunter is the pen name of a retired academic who lives with his wife (and cat) at West Kilbride on the Ayrshire coast. His ‘signature’ writing style is the rhyming acrostic, and you can read many of these on his website Holy Acrostics! https://harryhunteronline.com/ . The action in his two novellas takes place in the fictional town of Kilfinan on the west coast of Scotland. All Harry’s writings have a broadly Christian theme. His new book, The Kilfinan Treasure is out now.
When do you write?
Often, just in short bursts. Before I retired, I was an academic. Writing scientific papers and books went with the territory. I learned to write in spare moments, even just for five minutes. Broadly, I divided my writing into ‘creative’ work for which I needed sustained peace and quiet, and mechanical work such as improving drafts and adding references. I could parachute into the latter whenever there was a lull. This was helpful because I always felt I was making progress, however small.
During retirement, I have begun to write fiction for pleasure, but the principles are surprisingly similar. Some of the work is creative and I need to be undisturbed for at least an hour. As an early riser, it’s relatively easy to earmark odd hours here and there, anywhere between 6a.m. and 10p.m. Equally, I often find myself with ten minutes to spare – I’m not very good at ‘doing nothing’ – and will use these impromptu gaps to hone and refine a current piece of writing.
More importantly for me, is to set aside time for reading. I don’t read nearly enough. I want to be around the house or garden doing something active and it rarely occurs to me that I could just sit on the sofa for half an hour and read a novel.
How do you write?
I have been writing academic stuff – and occasional creative pieces – since the 1970s, so long before the digital revolution. Of necessity, writing was longhand, with lots of scribbling, crossing out, insertion marks, etc. Finally, I would type the manuscript on a simple electric typewriter. I was quite slow to adapt to IT, mainly because I like to synthesise ideas and have bits of paper spread around the table in front of me.
I have never completely got away from this habit and will almost always write out a fairly thorough longhand draft to begin with. Creating a computer file will happen at a fairly late stage. I was never a technophobe – indeed I was a competent scientific user of mainframe computers – but I’m also a great believer in working through manuscripts and even datasets longhand. It guarantees a slower and more reflective pace allowing better engagement.
The more I adapted to writing at the computer, the more my literary style changed, even in scientific work. When you are looking at a few inches of computer screen it is difficult to make the same cross-connections as when you are looking at drafts scattered across a table. I started to write in shorter sentences with more focused structure and meaning, in more compact paragraphs. In general, I think this was an improvement, certainly for the reader. It was an example of technology influencing style, by limiting my gaze to the frame of a screen. Increasingly, I write in short simple sentences. It aids clarity and minimises extraneous detail, even if there’s a loss of literary elegance.
What do you write?
At the outset, I concentrated on short stories, on any topic. Often, short stories are written to a particular brief which constrains the subject matter and length.
This has evolved over the past few years. To cut to the chase, as a ‘person of faith’ I now concentrate almost exclusively on faith-based material. However, I prefer to write in a way that will be accessible to people of all faiths and none. I want the content to be enjoyable, credible and pertinent.
Writing has been a voyage of discovery, strongly influenced by feedback from readers – either direct (face to face or written comments) or indirect (inferred preferences through visitors to my website). It is a privilege when people take time to read what you have written and I don’t want to spend ages crafting the perfect short story, only for it to languish unvisited in my website. The surprise ‘hit’, which has effectively become my signature style, is the rhyming acrostic, and this receives a disproportionate amount of my time. My original intention was to focus on short stories but, even when I kept these very short, they generated little traffic, even though I felt they were genuinely good.
I have been fortunate to find publishers for two novellas. Both experiences have both proved steep learning curves. The feedback I received from editorial staff, reviewers and readers has been utterly invaluable in developing my style and themes. Even if you are intending to self-publish, I would strongly recommend paying for editorial advice from someone with expertise in fiction.
Why do you write?
I had always been interested in writing from an early age, but life got in the way and other interests crowded in. Fortuitously, as I approached my agreed date for early retirement, I got involved in a research project which involved setting up creative writing groups in a post-industrial area in South Yorkshire. To make up numbers I actively engaged in one of the groups and found it enjoyable. I moved up to West Kilbride on retirement and enrolled in Val’s creative writing class. Previously I had considered ‘teaching creative writing’ to be a contradiction in terms, but I quickly discovered how one’s creative skills can be nurtured through lessons and structured exercises.
To begin with, I had anticipated being able to supplement my pension by penning short stories but soon realised that the very few outlets were more than offset by the large numbers of talented writers. At that point I realised the importance of Val’s inaugural question to her class: “why do you want to write?” I had to reappraise this and, after much trial and error, came to the conclusion that perhaps I could help people on their faith journeys. I didn’t want to add to the vast stock of what might loosely be called ‘religious’ texts and novels. I wanted to write short, accessible pieces which gave insights into practical applications of faith in day-to-day settings.
So, it has been a journey of discovery. I have completely revised my original aims in writing. I intended to make money but now any royalties are a pleasant but unexpected bonus. I intended to write short stories and even a novel, and now focus on rhyming acrostics and novellas. I expected to reach people in conventional published format, and now connect with readers mainly through my website. I’m sure it would be different if I were a twenty-something setting out with the intention of becoming a successful novelist. Now, with a decent occupational pension, my objectives can be less materialistic.
Where do you write?
Anywhere, but usually writing an early draft at a table and refining the later draft at a computer. However, decades of trying to complete scholarly articles has cultivated the ability to scribble down useful jottings anywhere – trains, boats, planes, cafes, buses. Preferably not whilst I’m driving, but it’s a close call.
The Twenty-Three is the last book in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls Trilogy and I really wanted to like it. I wanted to like it because the author is a great guy and I have enjoyed his books previously. Also I wanted to like it, because it always makes the review easier – and I enjoyed most of this novel.
The Twenty-Three starts with a normal morning in Promise Falls: predictably things start to go wrong rapidly. Vast numbers of people fall ill with no explanation, people are found dead or dying in or near their homes and the hospital and emergency services are stretched to their limits.
Detective Barry Duckworth is already investigating two murders when another young woman is found dead on the campus of Thackery College too. A strange car is noticed near the student halls at a critical time and a local jogger may be able to help identify the driver. Barry starts to wonder if the cause of the sickness and deaths of the townsfolk and the new attack on the campus are connected to the mysterious incidents in Promise Falls involving the number twenty-three.
This book cleverly weaves the various strands of the stories started in Broken Promise and Far from True. The twists that lead to the conclusion are marvellous. however, what I did not like was the rather clumsy way the reader is reminded of some of the back stories. I found that disappointing.
As with any trilogy, I strongly recommend you start at the beginning! Is it Linwood Barclay’s best book? Not by a country mile.
Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of seventeen novels for adults, including No Time for Goodbye, Trust Your Eyes and, most recently, A Noise Downstairs. He has also written two novels for children and screenplays.
Three of those seventeen novels comprise the epic Promise Falls trilogy: Broken Promise, Far From True, and The Twenty-Three. His two novels for children – Chase and Escape – star a computer-enhanced dog named Chipper who’s on the run from the evil organization that turned him into a super-pup.
Barclay’s 2011 thriller, The Accident, has been turned into the six-part television series L’Accident in France, and he adapted his novel Never Saw it Coming for the movie, directed by Gail Harvey and starring Eric Roberts and Emily Hampshire. Several of his other books either have been, or still are, in development for TV and film.