Book Review

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The Roots of Evil, by Quintin Jardine

The final quote on the back cover about this book, from the Glasgow Herald, tells us: “If Ian Rankin is the Robert Carlyle of Scottish crime writers, then Jardine is surely its Sean Connery”; notwithstanding that I’m not sure how complimentary (if at all) this is to the excellent Robert Carlyle, I think the comparison of Jardine’s writing to an actor, someone whose modus operandi is to believably become different people on a regular basis (although in Connery’s case, he could never quite relinquish his ‘shtrong’ Scottish accent, even when playing his best-known character, Bond), perhaps doesn’t convey the message that it was supposed to? In addition, whilst I endeavour to eschew judging a person by his appearance, I think it’s fair to say that one could be forgiven for thinking that the upper body photograph of this author, accompanying the short bio on the inside rear cover, especially by the way he is scowling straight down the lens, could easily be that of one of the ‘villains’ he is accustomed to writing about (although that is undoubtedly presumptuous, on the basis of only reading one of “more than forty published novels”), rather than a man in any way resembling the estimable Mr. Connery. Still, all that said, in Jardine’s defence, his Bob Skinner character (aka Sir Robert Skinner) is a horse of a different feather than Rankin’s Rebus, notwithstanding his predilection for copious use of the f-word; so, this is definitely ’grown-up’ fiction.

This was another book that felt, at first, like it might be ‘hard going’ (although that is probably more a reflection of my capacity to absorb new information than it is of the beginning of this story); and, be warned: there is no shortage of characters whose names must be memorised if the narrative is to be followed, especially given the size of Skinner’s family, as a result of a few different relationships/liaisons. However, it only took me a few chapters to start enjoying the story (and the layout, a very important factor in my enjoyment, of the hardback edition I read, was conducive to easy reading). There is a whiff of nepotism about the relationships between some of the characters, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when some of these relationships are with currently serving or ex-police officers, surely corruption can only be a half-step away (Line of Duty anyone?). The thread which holds the story together, and which provides the strands that have to be unravelled, is the murder of two police officers; one serving and the other now a civilian; whose bodies are left in a car which is dumped outside one of Edinburgh’s main police stations in the first hour of the first day of 2020 (so it is bang up to date, including a reference to concerns about a new respiratory infection that has surfaced in China at the end of the previous year, and Zoom calls; although I’m not sure how prevalent they were before the pandemic affected Britain): both have been shot, in similar, but crucially different ways.

The clues are revealed slowly, to enable the reader to piece the motivation of the killer or killers together; but of course, they are not revealed in a linear fashion, so a certain amount of mental dexterity is required to put each new nugget in its appropriate pigeonhole. There are international connections as well, so although the action might be confined to dour Edinburgh & its environs, the tentacles of the criminality behind the murders stretch far beyond it. Skinner is in an unusual position, in that he is now Chair of the UK division of an international media company, which among its many activities publishes one of Scotland’s top newspapers, The Saltire, so this can be useful to prevent, or at least mitigate unsavoury scrutiny of police actions and scurrilous speculation thereon; however, he hasn’t completely severed his police connections, because he mentors rising CID officers, and if it aids his investigations as & when required, he can produce a Special Constable’s warrant card. The investigation is brought to a successful conclusion, thereby also solving an outstanding case in another, distant, country, although this is not necessarily satisfactory for all parties involved. I can recommend this book, and I will certainly keep my eyes open for other books by Quintin Jardine. The Roots of Evil is published in hardback by Headline Publishing Group, London, ISBN 978-1-4722-5591-4; trade paperback is also available.

New Release: Copywriting with Rayne Hall

How to get paid for writing!

Nicholas C. Rossis

You may recall my mentioning early this year a new release by Rayne Hall and yours truly titledCopywriting: Get Paid to Write Promotional Texts. This is Rayne’s Writer’s Craft Book number 34 (!) and, obviously, one of her best 😉

Seriously, though, working with Rayne was one of my best writing experiences. She’s a seasoned pro and a wonderfully supportive writer who’s often helped me with her tips and advice. I believe that the book will be an extremely helpful tool for anyone interested in freelance writing, distilling everything I’ve learned so far about SEO copywriting.

You can use this guide as a self-study course in copywriting. Each chapter contains information, professional tips, cautions about novice mistakes to avoid, and even assignments. If you do read it and enjoy it, please consider leaving a review.

Copywriting: Get Paid to Write Promotional Texts

Copywriting by Rayne Hall and Nicholas C. Rossis | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

Do you want to earn…

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Book Review

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This is What Happened, by Mick Herron

Notwithstanding the inaccuracy of the strapline for this story, displayed at the bottom of the front cover; I appreciate that it is a common figure of speech: “some stories you can’t make up” – but unless this story purports to be true reportage, it obviously IS made up!; on the basis of the two previous books by this author which I have read in the Jackson Lamb [aka Slow Horses] series (you can read my review here), despite it not being one of those, I set out to read it with high hopes. It could probably more accurately be described as a novella, because at 241 pages, set in 13.75pt Bembo [a generous font anyway], it doesn’t take very long to power through.

It starts off in relatively familiar spy-trope territory, with the protagonist, “[t]wenty-six-year-old Maggie Barnes … someone you would never look at twice”, ostensibly undertaking a mission for her MI5 handler, Harvey Wells (I could suggest an attribution for this name, but that could easily spoil the plot!), in which she is required to surreptitiously insert a monitoring program outside office hours into the computer system of the London-based company, which is Chinese-owned, for which she works as a lowly post-room clerk: Harvey assures her that this action will be vital for the ongoing security of their country, to thwart what could be a disastrous potential cyber-attack by the Chinese government. The mission is successfully accomplished, albeit not without a hitch, being discovered by one of the company’s security guards, her evasion of which she is subsequently informed has resulted in the death of said employee.

Harvey handles this unfortunate dénouement by installing her in a safe house or, to be more precise, a safe basement flatlet with only small and obscured high-level living room windows, in an anonymous London terrace. Apparently, the other flats in the building are occupied, so she must not leave the accommodation for the foreseeable future, until Harvey deems it safe for her to return to some sort of normal life. Unfortunately, as the weeks turn into months, Harvey tells her that society is breaking down, despite her heroic action, thanks to the cunning intervention of the Chinese, which the British appear to have been powerless to resist. Naturally enough, she becomes increasingly institutionalised by this incarceration but, given that she has always been quite reserved and undemonstrative, she learns to accept her isolation, albeit not without occasional depression. Two years pass, and still there is no sign of an improvement in the world outside her obscured windows; eventually, she persuades Harvey to let her venture outside, albeit during the night, when there is little likelihood of encountering anyone threatening; nevertheless, she very quickly finds the experience frightening, and is mightily relieved once Harvey has hustled her back to her safe haven.

That is parts one & two of the book. Part three introduces us to Dickon Broom, whose library card Maggie discovered at the back of the wardrobe in her tiny bedroom: in her highly susceptible mental state, she fantasises that he was an agent who also had the need of the safe house at some previous time; she doesn’t share this with Harvey, though. In fact, he’s a freelance English teacher, although he is also able to teach politics (“Not to a very high level”) and GCSE Italian. He is looking for new challenges, after leaving his previous employment at a school for foreign students who want to learn English as a second language. Although he knows that his prowess with the opposite sex leaves a lot to be desired, he has recently met a woman called Sue, who is looking for her younger sister, who went missing two years ago. Coincidentally, Maggie is also estranged from her older sister, Meredith, but this she has also neglected to mention to Harvey.

This is as far as I can go without completely spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that the story doesn’t develop the way the initial setup would suggest. The ending is satisfying, without being easily predictable so, although it might not fit neatly into one of the standard fiction compartments, if you are happy to approach it without preconceptions, it is an enjoyable read or, at least, I found it so. It was published in Great Britain, 2018, by John Murray (Publishers), ISBN 978-1-47365-732-8 [hardback; other formats are available].

Free Book Just for Today

Would you like a new book by Stevie Turner? It’s FREE, just for today! 09/04/21 (British notation)

Stevie Turner

My family drama ‘Barren‘ is free just for today. It was published in October 2020 and so far has one 5 star rating:

Esme Jones and husband Aron have completed their family and have twin sons Jared and James. Esme’s older sister Eden Reece is desperate for a child, but a hysterectomy has put paid to any chance of her becoming a parent. When Esme offers herself as a surrogate, Eden and husband Billy are delighted. However, when Esme notices the first fluttering of life inside her and a scan reveals that she is carrying a girl, both sisters are not prepared for the outcome which threatens to tear the fabric of the whole extended family apart.

As always, if you enjoy reading it, please consider leaving a review.

Apart from the usual blog hop on Monday, I’ll be winding down on writing blogs next week. We’ll be…

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Audio Marketing: From Radio to Clubhouse

Are you interested in audio? It’s all the rage, apparently!

Nicholas C. Rossis

With audiobooks gaining in popularity, it makes sense that audio marketing is seeing a surprising resurgence as a means of promoting one’s books. This is a general trend, as Transcription Outsourcing reports. In its article, they explain thataudio still has the ability to emotionally connect with listeners and leave a lasting impression.

Accordingly, audio markets have been steadily increasing over the last decade. Podcasts, audiobooks, and streaming services are becoming increasingly popular as customers explore ways to multitask or access content on the go.

With the advent of fashionable Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio-chat iPhone app, and Twitter’s own voice-focused social, Environments, a flood of social audio quickly took over in the last year.

As both authors and companies become more aware of the power of audio, they can begin to incorporate it into their marketing campaigns, giving their books a voice and allowing them to communicate with consumers…

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How To Store and Display Your Books When You Live in a Small Apartment

Do you have a lot of books? Here are some creative suggestions for storing & displaying them.

Nicholas C. Rossis

Owning various copies of all your favorite books is great, but it’s easy for an extensive collection to clutter a small home or apartment. Finding ways to store books in a small apartment is important as it not only keeps your home organized and clutter-free, but also keeps your books fresh and longer-lasting. Check out these tips to properly store your books and keep them fresh while in storage or on display.

Keep Your Books Fresh in Storage

To keep your books fresh in storage, you’ll want to try your best to keep them away from any harsh conditions that could cause your books to deteriorate over time. Follow these tips below.

Creative book displays | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

Book arrangement and shelving

Make sure that you arrange your books either upright in a vertical position or laying down horizontally — never tilted. Keep them snuggled up against each other, but not too tight as you want…

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Book Review

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The Sleepwalker, by Joseph Knox

Although this is pure happenstance, it is unfortunate that I have read this book, published by Doubleday in 2019, ISBN 978-1-784-16218-4 [paperback] out of order, because the main character, Detective Sergeant Aidan Waits, might have made more sense, and been somewhat easier to like (possibly still a stretch, though) than he is in this third book. The stories are set in Manchester, England, although I think this is truly only of any significant interest to people who know the city well: from my own limited knowledge of it, I would say, no disrespect intended, that it has just as many scuzzy areas as most other major cities in Britain, and the criminals are probably no more or less unpleasant than those in any other city, so the stories could have been set anywhere; still, they have to be set somewhere, so Manchester it is. I don’t know if the author was deliberately trying to make Waits similar to Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, with all the latter’s clearly visible character flaws, but I think there is a definite similarity; neither of the two quotes from Rankin about this or another book in the series mentions Waits, but a quote from The Guardian does mention the setting: “Knox presents the city as pungently and uncompromisingly as Ian Rankin does Edinburgh.”

The story is partly narrated by Waits, so we are treated to a lot of his stream of consciousness, which can become slightly wearing, but it is leavened with third-person reportage of the actions of other characters. Waits appears to be in a precarious position in his job, being almost universally disliked which, given his apparent incompatibility with the requirements for the job, are hardly surprising, but again, this is where some knowledge of his development as a police officer from the earlier stories would have helped: there are a few flashbacks which throw some light on this, however. The main thread of the story concerns the death of a serial killer, and its consequences, but there is also the thread of Waits’s relationship with one of the ‘top’ Manchester gangsters. Some sort of obligation to him is implied: “in a sense, I’d belonged to Zain Carver once”; but there is also the threat & consequent jeopardy that this would involve. Against his wishes, Waits is assigned a partner, DC Naomi Black and, whilst she is clearly efficient at her work, it is obvious to Waits that this DC has been foisted on him to monitor his work, presumably (to him) to give his superior clear evidence of misconduct, enough to throw him out of the Police service.

Waits, only too well aware of the nature of his position, has already made provision for a hasty departure, but these plans are scuppered by a dangerous player in the story, a female firearms officer by the name of Louisa Jankowski, who was on duty when the serial killer, Martin Wick, was killed in the hospital where he was already dying from cancer; so Waits is convinced that she is somehow involved with the murder, but he has to tread very carefully. While all this is happening, he has to deal with the news that his mother, from whom he has been estranged for many years, is about to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act; he suffers from panic attacks, which might or might not be a direct result of the mental & physical abuse his younger sister suffered from their mother as children: “Our mother used to use her arms as ashtrays”. A young woman, possibly a drug addict, with a tattooed face, is under suspicion and being sought for the hospital murders, but Waits also has his doubts about Frank Moore, the man whose wife & children were apparently murdered by Wick: Moore has now remarried, and has, somewhat improbably (although not impossible, of course) the same number & gender of children as he had previously, and now runs self-help courses, including for prisoners, after finding that Christianity was a way out of the slough of despond in which he had found himself when his life collapsed.

This is a very complicated plot, and the dénouement is somewhat ambiguous, but the primary reason for that is likely to be to allow for another book in the series, which is hardly surprising: it certainly isn’t a murder mystery in the Hercule Poirot or DCI Banks mould, notwithstanding that their plots can also be similarly tortuous. That said, it is worth sticking with, and I will be happy to read either or both of the earlier stories if I can encounter them; if only, as stated above, to provide some background to this highly flawed character.

Reading in lockdown 2.0

More lockdown reading recommendations from The Learning Professor.

thelearningprofessor

26 February– 25 March

Fiction

Edna O’Brien, Girl

Klaus-Peter Wolf, Ostfriesenzorn

Lucy Foley, The Hunting Party

Daniel Kehlmann, Tyll

Ella Danz, Osterfeuer

Non-fiction

Jill Lepore, These Truths: A history of the United States

Rob White, BFI Film Classics: The Third Man

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Historical Thrillers/Mysteries and Paranormal Stories – FREE Books & Samples

Here’s Stevie Turner with another selection of free books, and a free sample from one of her own.

Stevie Turner

For those of you who are fans of Historical Thrillers/Mysteries, there are 31 FREE books and samples to give away in this Book Funnel promotion which runs until March 31st.

https://books.bookfunnel.com/historicalthrillerandmystery/nibde5h5ie

I have added a free sample of ‘Lily: A Short Story‘ to the promotion…

Lily is 92 and failing in health. Her family told her she was going on a little holiday, and although she finds herself still on her beloved Isle of Wight, to her horror she is now living permanently in a residential home at the mercy of Bridie, the ‘horrible’ one. To make what is left of her life happier she thinks about years gone by, and once again wonders about the strange disappearance of her 14 year old sister Violet in 1897. Her depression lifts when another new resident manages to shed some light on the 76 year old mystery…

Lily: A…

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Book Review

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Our Kind of Traitor, by John le Carré

Many people hold le Carré’s work in very high regard; I consider myself to be one of those; so I was rather unsure, as I started reading this book, first published in 2010 and again in 2011 by Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-241-96785-0 (2014), whether this might be one of his less successful books. It starts in Antigua with Peregrine (Perry) Makepiece and “Gail, his long-standing girlfriend” on holiday, booked after his father had died from “the same cancer that had carried of his mother two years earlier, leaving Perry in a state of modest affluence.” In the meantime, he had begun to question his direction in life, deciding to leave academia in Oxford and “qualify as a secondary-school teacher in one of his country’s most deprived areas.” Gail was also undecided as to whether her future should consist of marriage & babies and “give up the Bar…or should she continue to pursue her meteoric career in London?” So, “a holiday in Antigua looked like providing the ideal setting in which to do it.” Unfortunately, Perry, who is an excellent tennis player, makes the mistake of allowing himself to be cajoled into a match with “a muscular, stiff-backed, bald, brown-eyed Russian man of dignified bearing in his middle fifties called Dima.” Almost inevitably, given the author, his nationality means that he will have a story to tell that will be of interest to the security services back at (Perry’s) home.

The narrative develops quite slowly, hence my initial concern, but le Carré’s skill is in giving the characters space, in the combination of present-day & flashback, rather than rushing into a bullet-point checklist of narrative stages. Perry’s contacts are suitably interested in what he has to tell them about Dima and, perhaps somewhat predictably, I regret to say, the man running the operation (although not at the top of his chain of command) is an eccentric nonconformist maverick, by the name of Hector Meredith (think John Hurt); perhaps there’s only room in spy fiction for one Smiley? Perry & Gail are not entirely unwilling participants in the operation to exfiltrate Dima to England, but the main complication for the planners is that Dima has a large extended family, which he refuses to leave behind. The bulk of the action takes place in Switzerland, where Dima and his family are currently based, and both Perry & Gail go beyond the call of duty to assist the operation. Overall, it goes reasonably smoothly, as a result of the meticulous planning undertaken by Hector’s department; in fact, the main threat to the operation comes from the ‘suits’ back in England. I can’t say I was particularly rooting for the protagonist, Dima, given that he is an unpleasant example of the new breed of Russian criminal, but if only as a result of my rather pale patriotism, I was hoping that neither Perry nor Gail would come to any harm. The dénouement is something of an anticlimax, leading to the death of one of the main characters, but I will say no more to avoid spoiling the plot. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to the consequences which are not spelled out at the very end, which I always find rather frustrating, as I am a completist when it comes to stories! I’m glad to be able to say that I have read another book in le Carré’s canon, but I wouldn’t describe it as one of his best.