Sunday 30 December 2018


New Zealand author, Finn Bell kindly answers a few questions about his reading and writing. His third novel, The Easter Make Believers featured on the blog yesterday - my thoughts here.

Is the writing full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

Yes, I write full time and have been doing so since the release of my first book 'Dead Lemons' back in 2016. Before that I used to have a day job working in prisons, hospitals and other institutions, mainly in forensic psych, but writing's more fun.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I write pretty much where and when ever I can really. But mostly, when life allows it, I try to get started in the very early mornings - most often getting up at around 5 am before the distractions of the day take over. 

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I'm a plotter (probably-ish). All of my books are based on a scaffold of true crimes and actual events from my past drawn from old case files, prison interviews, court reports, cold investigations and so on. I do all my research and thinking first, building everything in my head until I can see it clearly then I just sit and write it down. There's probably better ways to do it but this is mine. 

Are there any subjects off limits?

Not for me. My writing started (before it became a career) as a way of dealing with some of the things I came across at work that ended up following me home. Things I couldn't understand or sometimes understood but wish I didn't. Writing became a way of dealing with it all. My books are definitely on the darker side of the crime fiction spectrum because of it though - so reader beware - it's not for everyone.

I’m currently reading The Easter Make Believers, your third novel, how long from conception to completion did it take?

About 8 months.

Did the end result mirror the book you were striving for at the start of the journey?

Yes (for better or worse). As mentioned above I have it all worked out in my head before I start (which is why for weeks or months before I actually write the first word I'm probably one of the most distracted, absent minded people you'll meet) the actual writing of it is the simple part.

In addition to The Easter Make Believers, you have a couple of other books under your belt - Pancake Money and Dead Lemons, which I believe won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. Please can you tell us a bit about each one? 

Yes, I've been very lucky in having won a few awards (still find it surprising whenever I think of it actually). I wrote Dead Lemons and Pancake Money at the same time as one story. It took longer to untangle them into two separate books than it did to write it all in the first place but I realized I had to do it because the core of the two stories were about different questions.

Everything I write is dark crime fiction and all of my books (for me at least) center around a specific idea or concept which is summarized in the title of the book and then explored in the story (hence the odd sounding titles). The same is true of The Easter Make Believers. The title is the question and the story is the answer. No guarantees that it's the right question or answer but it's the ones that bother me enough that I can't stop thinking about them. Some of it is obvious and some of it is not, which you can (depending on your opinion) ascribe to my limited skill as a writer or my subtle literary artistry (your choice). I often get messages from readers (both happy and unhappy) and sometimes they take things away from the story I didn't put in (which is good) and other times they get it exactly right (which is also good). If you want to know more go read the books.

Your main character in Dead Lemons is called Finn Bell, are you the hero of your own first book? 

If anything it's the opposite of hero. The short version is that I lost a bet involving Alfonso Cuaron's film adaptation of 'Great Expectations' in which the main character is also named Finn Bell at which point both author and main character became same named. That piece of folly achieved things then started taking on a life of its own. All the bad parts of the main character (and there’s many) are based on my own flaws (of which, trust me, I have more than enough) and the good parts on people I’ve met who I wish I was more like. What made me want to write him was the idea of luck. I kept thinking how fortunate we all are (and I was binge listening Counting Crows songs and got this lyric 'I am an idiot walking a tight rope of fortunate things' stuck in my head). Luck, providence, define it as you wish but this idea of unnoticed fortune that surrounds most of us.

How many dumb, stupid (and typically impatiently selfish) things we all do (too often) and how unusually common it is to keep getting away with it. How many risks do we knowingly take? With the big things and the small things – like our health, our conscience, the people we care about, or even just driving to work too fast. Then I thought what would happen if all that luck we don’t even know is there suddenly ran out? What if we didn’t get away with anything. At all. What if we paid for every bad choice? What if there was always a consequence? That’s Finn (the main character) – someone whose living beyond his luck. Someone who is made to pay for every bad thing he’s done.

I also see a reference on your website to your next book – A Pearl For Every Child. Please can you offer some hints as to what it’s about and when is it due out?

It's due for release early next year and it's probably the most unusual book I've written yet. It's dark, even for me, and the characters and plot fall well beyond the norm for the genre. It's certainly nowhere near main stream. I'm quite curious to see what people will think.

Four books (almost) under your belt, does the journey get easier each time?

Hard to say. Some things get easier and others get harder. I think when you like doing something this much it turns into something somewhere between an addiction and a job. It makes the world simpler but simple isn't always easy.

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

To be perfectly honest probably the almost daily realization of how much more time I now get to spend with my cats.

Do you have any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

Yes. I have a bunch of books in my head already all worked out that are just waiting to be written down (but then that's probably true of most people).

What’s the best thing about writing?

The amount of time I get to spend in my own head without adult supervision.

The worst?

The same answer as above.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Almost anything written by Neal Asher in the early years.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

I like to perpetrate random acts of woodwork that I then foist (involuntarily) on unsuspecting friends and family. Currently renovating an old piano (the filigree is turning out the be a real bastard).

What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

That would have to be a tie between 'Blade Runner 2049' and 'Wind River.' They're very different movies that managed to make me feel exactly the same way.

TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Bell household? 

Not a TV addict no. But I get hooked on certain kinds of stories (the format of the story - book, film, music etc. is irrelevant to me). So to answer I'll echo my statements from the glossary of Dead Lemons from under the heading 'Slightly Biased Mostly True Things' it's always going to be the iconic 'Firefly' tv series (it remains - in my opinion - Joss Whedon's best work to date).

Many thanks to Finn for his time.

You can catch up with him at the following haunts.....

Website     Finn Bell Books
Twitter      @finnbellsays
Facebook  Finn Bell

Saturday 29 December 2018




When an innocent family is taken hostage in their home no one is prepared for how fast it all goes terribly wrong.

With the small community of Lawrence still reeling from shock, detectives Nick Cooper and Tobe White stand among the dead bodies knowing it's not over. Relief that the two young daughters have survived quickly turns to fear for their missing father, somehow impossibly vanishing from a house surrounded by police.

The mystery deepens as Nick and Tobe realize they know every gunman lying dead here - up to last night they were the leaders of the biggest criminal gang in the country. The desperate search and rescue efforts soon collide with their own challenging investigation into a deeper, older tragedy.

Where they begin to learn just how far someone will go for those he truly, dearly hates.

A hostage situation, a stand-off, an escalation, gunfire, an explosion, four dead, one wounded and inexplicably two disappeared - the innocent father, James Chen and the leader of the criminal gang.

Thereafter an investigation into the why and an urgent manhunt launched to try and intercept the pair of missing men and save the father of the family; a family that has already suffered tragedy in the past.

Our manhunt primarily concerns two cops - partners and friends, Nick Cooper and the older Tobe White. We have alternate chapters featuring the two missing men, James Chen and gang leader, Remu Black and interspersed in the narrative, weather updates. A fierce snow storm is descending on the area, bringing with it unseasonal weather, which will impact on our outcome.

Bell packs a lot into a short novel of only 220-odd pages. We have a puzzle as to the why of the hostage situation, some investigation into the background of both victim and villains, a prison visit to try and unsettle and shape our captors intentions, a thrilling pursuit, some time for a bit of family background for our two detectives, a dramatic landscape with forest and fauna and old gold mines and a real sense of isolation and peace, temporarily shattered by the events unfolding and a stunning conclusion where all the answers to the puzzle are revealed, not without a bit of a twist and a lot more drama.

Enjoyable, gripping, intense, thoughtful, surprising and satisfying. Hard to do it justice in a rushed review. My advice - read it yourself.

My first taste of New Zealand author, Finn Bell's work but not my last after this experience. There's an interesting afterword from the author with some reflections, history and information on the deep south of New Zealand..... daffodils, immigration, mining, leprosy and incarceration.

4.5 from 5

Finn Bell has two earlier novels published - Dead Lemons and Pancake Money - which I hope to get to in 2019. Dead Lemons won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel in 2017.

Read in December, 2018
Published - 2018
Page count - 216
Source - copy received from author
Format - kindle

Friday 28 December 2018


Haha - reading plans for a whole year, when I can't stay on track for more than a book, maybe two before getting my head turned by something else. Oh well..

1. Finish an intended TBR Mountain reading challenge that's been on the sidebar since 2014

2. Ditto a USA State reading challenge. I've probably read more than half the states in the country but am too idle to keep things up to date. I would like to finish it in 2019.

3. Complete a Canadian reading challenge that I started with the best of intentions earlier this year.

4. Catch up with my wife and son - I'm a list of books behind on the sidebar.

5. Ditto - an author catch up list.... Charlie Stella, Anthony Neil Smith, Michael Connelly to mention a few

6. Try and complete several book series I started running through some years ago, at a pace of one a month before getting distracted - Matt Scudder by Lawrence Block, Travis McGee by John D. MacDonald, Elvis Cole by Robert Crais, Quarry by Max Allan Collins and Nameless by Bill Pronzini.

7. Do the Aussie Author Challenge over at Booklover Book Reviews site

8. Participate in the 2019 European Reading Challenge run by Rose City Reader, aiming for at least 12 countries in the year.

9. More blog related than reading - finish cataloguing my books - the physical ones at least. I've taken a two year breather since logging TUB EIGHTY-FIVE in October 2016. I think there's about another 14 to go!

The library in the old house

I might try and log the books on the kindle as well for a sense of completism. Plus I have another programme that stores books on the laptop.

10. Try and keep on top of any freebies/review copies that might come my way.

11. Stop browsing Net Galley and Edelweiss early reviewer sites. The world won't end if I don't get my hands on every new crime fiction book published!

12. Stop buying books

13. Stop buying books

14. Stop buying books

15. Try and catch up on the TV and Film backlog listed.

16. Oh and lose some weight you porky git.


17. 120 yearly reading target as per usual

18. Read more female authors than in 2018


At some point I'll have to give serious consideration to closing the doors on the library, and start concentrating on reading some of the books I already own. However, I shall defer it for a while longer.

Here's six pre-ordered books I'm excited about getting my teeth into during 2019. Knowing me they will probably get benched for about ten years when I do eventually get my hands on them.

TR Pearson - Serpent of Old (2019)

I loved Pearson's East Jesus South, a year or two ago and really ought to try his Ray Tatum series. This one drops mid-January

When a decent, regular guy in Virginia does his thieving neighbor a favor by driving him out to a seemingly abandoned farm to steal an old panel truck, the two spark the ire of the hidden, quasi-occult residents of the place who prove eager to inflict Old Testament vengeance on just about everybody in a story of moral anxiety, misguided romance, and the age-old wages of sin.

Rachel Kushner - The Mars Room (2018)

If I was in a rush, I could buy the kindle copy or the hardback, but I've stuffed my kindle up and I can wait until March.


'An unforgettable novel.' DAILY TELEGRAPH
'More knowing about prison life [than Orange Is The New Black]... so powerful.' NEW YORK TIMES
'One of America's finest writers.' VOGUE

Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.

Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner details with humour and precision. Daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike. Allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks, and stories shared through sewage pipes.

Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny and culminating in a climax of almost unbearable intensity. Through Romy – and through a cast of astonishing characters populating The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.

Dave Warner - River of Salt (2019)
I've enjoyed Dave Warner's work before - City of Light was read a year or two back. Since then this Australian author has scooped the Ned Kelly Prize for Before it Breaks (2015)

In 1963, former hitman Blake Saunders flees the Philadelphia Mob for a quieter existence in a tiny coastal Australian town. Life in Coral Shoals is perfect and Blake is a new man – running a club called the Surf Shack, and playing nights there with his surf music band, The Twang.

But then a young woman’s body is found at a local motel, a matchbook from the Surf Shack on her bedside table. When Blake’s friend is arrested for her murder and the local sergeant doesn’t want to know, it becomes clear that it is up to Blake – a man who knows about cold-blooded killing – to protect his corner of paradise.

Max Allan Collins - Girl Most Likely (2019)

I've enjoyed Max Allan Collins' work before. I've read all of his Nolan series and got stalled a few books into his Quarry books, a series I'm hoping to get back to in 2019. I'm not so drawn to his historical series ie Nathan Heller - though I'd probably enjoy them if I gave them a shot. This standalone looks good.

It’s never too late for revenge in this thrilling novel by New York Times bestselling and award-winning crime master Max Allan Collins.

In a small Midwest town, twenty-eight-year-old Krista Larson has made her mark as the youngest female police chief in the country. She’s learned from the best: her father, Keith, a decorated former detective. But as accustomed as they are to the relative quiet of their idyllic tourist town, things quickly turn with Krista’s ten-year high school reunion.

With the out-of-towners holed up in a lakefront lodge, it doesn’t take long to stir up old grudges and resentments. Now a successful TV host, Astrid Lund, voted the “Girl Most Likely to Succeed”—and then some—is back in town. Her reputation as a dogged reporter has made the stunning blonde famous. Her reputation among her former classmates and rivals has made her infamous. Astrid’s list of enemies is a long one. And as the reunion begins, so does a triple murder investigation.

Krista and her father are following leads and opening long-locked doors from their hometown to the Florida suburbs to Chicago’s underworld. They just never imagined what would be revealed: the secrets and scandals of Krista’s own past.

Mick Herron - ???? (2019)
Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it's the sixth entry in Herron's Slough House series and it drops June, 2019. No title, no cover, no worries. I'd read his shopping list and be entertained. And it gives me time to catch up on the three I haven't yet read.

Thoughts on the ones I have read - Slow Horses, Dead Lions, and the shorties - The List, The Marylebone Drop,

'We're spies,' said Lamb. 'All kinds of outlandish shit goes on.'

Like the ringing of a dead man's phone, or an unwelcome guest at a funeral . . .

In Slough House memories are stirring, all of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process.

Meanwhile, in Regent's Park, Diana Taverner's tenure as First Desk is running into difficulties. If she's going to make the Service fit for purpose, she might have to make deals with a familiar old devil . . .

And with winter taking its grip Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can't ignore the dried blood on his carpets. So when the man responsible breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score.

This time, they're heading into joe country.

And they're not all coming home.

Malcolm Mackay - A Line of Forgotten Blood (2019)

My favourite Scottish author bar none - I adored his Glasgow Trilogy
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (2013), How a Gunman Says Goodbye (2013), The Sudden Arrival of Violence (2014) and the short Anatomy of a Hit (2013)

I still have four of his standalone books oin the TBR pile, a couple of which have crossover characters from the Glasgow series. Maybe I'll pull my finger out and catch up before this one drops in June. Unlikely.

Scotland has been a proudly independent country for centuries. But success has now turned sour. Malcolm Mackay's remarkable novel of crime and corruption is set in a brooding, rain-swept Scottish city that is compellingly different from the one we think we know.

The Scottish city of Challaid is corruption-riddled place where people frequently go off the radar. So when PC Vinny Reno discovers his ex-wife, Freya, has disappeared, he turns to private detectives Darian Ross and Sholto Douglas. 

Their search will lead them to a collision between Freya and a wealthy banking family. But it also leads to more quesitions. What does Freya's dissappearance have to do with a year-old murder case? What is the involvement of a young man who never leaves his house? As they dig deeper into the past, Darian and Sholto realise they must stand against the most powerful people in the city if they are to unearth the truth...

Wednesday 26 December 2018


A couple from British author Tess Makovesky this week.

Makovesky's two books are set in Birmingham, somewhere I'd like to read about a bit more in my crime fiction.

To date I've only enjoyed her shorter work with has appeared over the web at various haunts and in more than a few anthologies.

A few links below - check them out.....

Enjoy the Trip at Shotgun Honey
Troubled Waters at Pulp Metal Magazine
The Red Umbrella at Spelk Fiction
The Drop at Out of the Gutter online
Art Attack at Near to the Knuckle

Tess Makovesky's website is here

Raise the Blade (2016)

Like a spider wrapping flies...
When psychopath Duncan leaves a trail of duct-tape-wrapped bodies scattered across the suburbs of Birmingham, there’s nothing to link the victims except his own name and address, carefully placed on each new corpse.Six very different people follow his clues, each convinced they can use Duncan to further their own selfish or naïve ends. Is there a reason Duncan’s driven to target these particular individuals, or does their very nature contribute to their fate?Will any of them be strong enough to break the cycle and escape a painful death? Or will Duncan reel them in and rearrange them to his own insane ideal?

"Raise the Blade is a gloriously gruesome read, riven with the very blackest of humour. And I loved it.”Ian Ayris, author of ‘Abide With Me’ and ‘April Skies’.

Gravy Train (2018)

Crime pays. So barmaid Sandra thinks when she overhears details of a betting scam and wins herself and fat husband Mike eighty thousand pounds. But they’ve reckoned without mugger Lenny, lying in wait outside the betting shop door. And he’s reckoned without a top-notch car thief, his own devious boss, a fellow gang-member with a grudge, and Sandra’s unpleasant almost-Uncle George.

Chaos ensues as a whole bunch of disparate—and desperate—characters chase the bag of money around Birmingham’s back streets. Plenty of them help themselves to the cash, but none of them are good at hanging onto it. As they hurtle towards a frantic showdown on the banks of the local canal, will any of them see their ill-gotten gains again? Or will their precious gravy train come shuddering to a halt?

Praise for GRAVY TRAIN:

“Tess Makovesky’s Gravy Train is a terrifically entertaining, raucous and rough ’n’ tumble Brit Grit crime caper that will leave you breathless.” —Paul D. Brazill, author of Last Year’s Man, A Case of Noir, and Guns of Brixton

Sunday 23 December 2018



Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo in this violent crime-family saga.

Meet the McGraws. They're not criminals. They're outlaws. They have made a living by driving anything and everything for the Stanleys, the criminal family who has been employing them for decades. It's ended with Tucker. He's gone straight, much to the disappointment of his father, Webb.

When Webb vanishes after a job, and with him a truck load of drugs, the Stanleys want their drugs back or their money. With the help from his grandfather, Calvin-the original lead foot-Tucker is about to learn a whole lot about the family business in a crash course that might just get him killed.

Best book ever? No, but one I really enjoyed. Fast-paced, funny, plenty of action and enough story and characters to carry it through.

We have two families - the Stanleys and the McGraws. The Stanley's are the bosses and the McGraw's are the grunts, doing the heavy lifting, in this case collecting and delivering loads of contraband of whatever description, no questions asked, no interference with the cargo, delivery guaranteed.

Webb McGraw has taken on a job, which in hindsight he should have turned down, picking up a lorry load of pharmaceuticals. A driver he brought in to help with the run has ripped him off and disappeared with the vehicle. Webb himself is scarce. The Stanleys are furious and straight-laced, Tucker McGraw, the man who broke with tradition and his family heritage has just been given an ultimatum - the load back or $10 million in compensation. Tucker, a failed husband and unsuccessful insurance salesman doesn't have a spare 10 mil. Time to call on Grandpa Calvin for a bit of advice.

Calvin, a spunky octogenarian and the original McGraw outlaw driver comes to the rescue. In between consuming copious amounts of beer and dispensing unwelcome marital advice, Calvin and Tucker team up to drive for the Stanleys in an effort to work off the debt while trying to find out what happened to Webb and his load.

Webb's fate soon becomes clear and it's then a case of finding out who was responsible and getting some form of justice for Webb. Our two families are on a collision course.

Family, loyalty, criminality, death, beer, an angry ex-wife, an unhappy teenage son, more beer, an investigation of sorts, a repossessed car with consequences, a late addition to the family business, more than a few close shaves, and an eventual resolution.

Great driving scenes, great humour and dialogue particularly when the bullish Calvin is feeling confrontational, decent characters who bond and grow closer as the book unfolds.
My kind of reading.

4 from 5

I've enjoyed a few from Eric Beetner in the past - White Hot Pistol, The Year I died Seven Times and the co-written Over Their Heads with J.B. Kohl.

I'm looking forward to reading more from him in the future, including the Rumrunners prequel - Leadfoot.

Read in December, 2018
Published - 2015 originally by now defunct 280 Steps, republished by Down and Out Books
Page count - 282
Source - Edelweiss early reviewers site
Format - kindle


Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas - more in hope than expectation, I pinged a cheeky request off to Lawrence Block with a few random questions.

Why bore the man getting him to talk about his writing or his books, when he's probably answered these questions a million times?

Mr Block, for anyone who has been living in a cave for the past 50 years is the author of over 100 books, in a career that has spanned nearly 60 years.

Matthew Scudder, Bernie the Burglar, Evan Tanner, Keller the Hitman, Chip Harrison and loads more......

What’s your favourite vegetable? 

Brussels spouts, zucchini,okra, kale—a long list.

When did you last have a fist fight? 

51 years ago this month.

Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club? 


Do you have any tattoos? 


What was your first pet’s name? 


What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten? 

I got a bad sea urchin once. As I'd never eaten one before, I thought that was how it was supposed to taste, and wondered why anyone would voluntarily consume it. It didn't make me ill, but for years I never tried the dish again.

Do you have any irrational fears? 

They seem rational enough to me.

What’s your favourite holiday destination? 

Used to be Ireland. Now seems to be Iceland. Just one letter off.

Have you ever appeared in a film or TV adaptation of your own work? (Stephen King used to do cameos in some of his early screen adaptations.) 

I was in a scene filmed for A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, but it was cut. Ruth Wilson was in it, and when her part was dropped, so was mine.

When did you last tell a lie? 

The last time someone asked me how I liked his book.

Many thanks to Lawrence Block for his time.

His next book, out January 2019, sees the return of Matthew Scudder in A Time to Scatter Stones

MATT SCUDDER RETURNS. More than 40 years after his debut and nearly a decade since his last appearance, one of the most renowned characters in all of crime fiction is back on the case in this major new novella by Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Lawrence Block. Well past retirement age and feeling his years - but still staying sober one day at a time - Matthew Scudder learns that alcoholics aren't the only ones who count the days since their last slip. Matt's longtime partner, Elaine, tells him of a group of former sex workers who do something similar, helping each other stay out of the life. But when one young woman describes an abusive client who's refusing to let her quit, Elaine encourages her to get help of a different sort. The sort only Scudder can deliver. A Time to Scatter Stones offers not just a gripping crime story but also a richly drawn portrait of Block's most famous character as he grapples with his own mortality while proving to the younger generation that he's still got what it takes. For Scudder's millions of fans around the world (including the many who met the character through Liam Neeson's portrayal in the film version of A Walk Among the Tombstones), A Time to Scatter Stones is an unexpected gift - a valedictory appearance that will remind readers why Scudder is simply the best there is.

This ebook edition of A Time to Scatter Stones also includes as a bonus Lawrence Block's introduction to his new Subterranean Press anthology, At Home in the Dark.

Followed by the edited anthology At Home in the Dark in April, 2019

The crime fiction canopy's a broad one, with room to give shelter to writing of all sorts, as editor Lawrence Block shows with At Home in the Dark: "Some of these stories have one or both feet planted in another genre. James Reasoner's story is a period western, Joe Lansdale's is bleakly dystopian, and Joe Hill's novelette slithers through a little doorway into another world. "And now that I've singled out those three, I suppose I should go ahead and list the rest of the gang: N. J. Ayres, Laura Benedict, Jill D. Block, Richard Chizmar, Hilary Davidson, Jim Fusilli, Elaine Kagan, Warren Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Ed Park, Nancy Pickard, Thomas Pluck, Wallace Stroby, and Duane Swierczynski. "If you're looking for a common denominator, two come to mind. They're all dark stories, with nothing cozy or comforting about them. And every last one of them packs a punch. "Which is to say that they're all very much At Home in the Dark - and we can thank O. Henry, master of the surprise ending, for our title. 'Turn up the lights,' he said on his deathbed. 'I don't want to go home in the dark.'"

Thursday 20 December 2018


Tom Vater is the latest author to undergo some gentle questioning. 

Tom's latest book - The Monsoon Ghost Image was featured on the blog yesterday - here.

Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

From what I little I know, you’re a German national, with a strong connection to Asia. You run a well-respected indie publishing house – Crime Wave Press – you write fiction and non-fiction in the form of travel guides and more. What don’t you do?

Ah, yes, that is my quick bio, thanks, Col. You saved me all the heavy lifting. To add to that briefly… I have walked across the Himalayas, had the opportunity to dive with hundreds of sharks in the Philippines, and witnessed the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of people in the world. I have travelled with sea gypsies and nomads, pilgrims, sex workers, serial killers, rebels and soldiers, politicians and secret agents, artists, pirates, hippies, gangsters, policemen and prophets. Some of them have become close friends. Others appear in the articles and books I write.

I am a journalist specialising in South and Southeast Asia. I’ve also written a bunch of non-fiction books including bestsellers like Sacred Skin ( and several feature documentaries. That’s the day job which I love. But I got into all this because I wanted to write fiction. I wrote my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, just as I was starting off in journalism.

I don’t jump out of planes, I don’t eat sea food. I don’t take my hat off.

With your author hat on….
What’s your typical writing schedule?

I generally get up late morning, do some sports, go shopping, get home before 3pm and start working. I tend to work through to 2am with a dinner break when needed. Then I wind down for an hour or two before crashing out. I can go for weeks like this. But I also often go on assignments – this year I have worked in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India and Nepal – when I am on the road I tend to get up earlier – the world does not wait on mid-day writers.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

Both. I write an outline, some character details of the main protagonists. I rewrite the outline, refine it, etc. Then, when I start writing the text I do everything possible to stick as close to the outline as I can but the characters often revolt, the story changes direction and once it does it’s like a set of falling dominoes, a journey to another place.
Maybe writing is a bit like war. As soon as the first shot is fired, carefully made plans go to shit – savagery and survival are everything.

Are there any subjects off limits? (From reading your latest, I guess not.)

The Detective Maier series looks at our recent history through the eyes of a German detective and former conflict journalist in Asia. That’s not nearly as obscure as it sounds. Asia has been repeatedly destroyed by European and American diplomacy and politics – from the British and French colonial occupations to the Americans’ absurd mass slaughter in Vietnam and Maier gets to dissect our collective deeds out East. Asia provides an opportunity to put the western claim to humane exceptionalism to the test. So obviously history and geopolitics is what I have been interested in. The white man in Asia thing. I also try increasingly to take the gap between the rich and the poor on board in my novels as it determines so much of our behaviour. My characters come from diverse countries and sexual orientations. Seems normal to me. I use swear words, not too much, just a little. I suppose outright comedy has been off limits so far… you know Germans go to the basement to laugh…

I’ve enjoyed your latest The Monsoon Ghost Image recently. How long from conception to completion did it take?

The Monsoon Ghost Image took a couple of years to put together.

Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

I wanted to bring Maier forward into our most recent history. The first book in the series, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, dealt with the Cambodian genocide, through the eyes of a German (as I recently read that a significant number of Europeans and Americans don’t know what the Germans did in WWII, I emphasize here that the latter is significant). The second book, The Man with the Golden Mind, looked at the CIA’s largest operation to date, the secret war in Laos, which the Americans lost, along with every other war they have started and fought since WWII. Kissinger makes an appearance in that one. Both those books were first published by Exhibit A and sold pretty well. When Exhibit A went under, I went into a depressive funk and concentrated on my day job for a couple of years before tackling The Monsoon Ghost Image properly.

What was the spark of imagination that got you started on TMGI?

I am based in Thailand. In the early 2000s, the US tortured several Muslim terror suspects here. Water boarding, rectal feeding tubes, the whole works. For me, that was and is the end of the end of the end of America’s foreign policy. It is time the US went home and cleaned up its own house, stop killing innocents abroad, starving millions of kids to death as they do in Yemen right now. So that provided a great hook. I also felt the need to finally write a novel set in Thailand, to kind of make peace with my home, to take the opportunity to reflect on how some foreigners live in this country.

Did the final result mirror the book you were striving for at the start of the journey?

Yes, it is bleak and reflects my political philosophy quite well – that we are completely screwed by corporations and rich people, that the poor always get fucked and killed and that democracy and human rights are fig leaves to hide our moral turpitude.

In the book we have dual locations of Thailand and Germany. Is it important for you to have a connection to the settings that you write about?

Incredibly important. I used to refuse on principle to write any scene set somewhere I have not been. I am not that dogmatic anymore. I recently published my first crime fiction story in French, with French co-author Laure Siegel, in the magazine Ecoute. Troubled Waters is a story about shark attacks killing the tourist business in La Reunion, a French island near Madagascar. I have never been to La Reunion. But I do know how to put a story together, know a little bit about sharks, and Laure had been to the location and made sure we got the local colour just right. But generally I have been to all the locations featured in my fiction at some point in my life.

At the end of TMGI you seem to indicate that Detective Maier’s race is run. I felt a certain ambiguity about the ending. Are you sure you can’t tempt him out of retirement for a 4th outing?

Well, well. I did start writing the beginning of a short story which had Maier waking up in some remote Asian location, not knowing how he got there or even why he was still alive…

Can you tell us a bit about your two earlier books in the series – The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with The Golden Mind?

The Cambodian Book of the Dead:

I’ve spent a lot of time in Cambodia, especially in the early 2000s, observing a country re-emerging from a half century of war, genocide, famine and cultural collapse.

In the novel, German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital, to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. As soon as the private eye and former war reporter arrives in Cambodia, his search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier, captured and imprisoned, is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider, a tale of mass murder that reaches from the Cambodian Killing Fields back to Europe’s concentration camps – or die.

By looking at the tragedy and cruelty of 70s Cambodia, I also was able to look at my own country’s past crimes against humanity, to put the history of my country in some sort of focus. This idea is quite controversial in Germany but because I left more than thirty years ago, I like to think that I have freed myself from some opinions or attitudes that Germans who live in Germany today might not be able to question. In any case, with the Internet, time is moving so fast and the meaning of history and the past is changing so quickly, that the opinions of a German of my generation who left his country a long time ago, may not be easily understandable for my country women and men.

The Man with the Golden Mind:

The second book came about because I co-wrote a documentary called The Most Secret Place on Earth, about the CIA’s covert campaign in Laos in the 60s and 70s, the largest CIA campaign to date as far as we know. The agency tried to contain communist forces by supporting opposing reactionary forces in Laos, by recruiting a secret army of illiterate ethnic minority people, including many children, most of whom got killed, by carpet bombing the country for nine years and finally by losing it all to the communists who were better motivated, more intelligent and who were fighting for their homeland, not some place 8000 miles away. America has this amazing knack to go to poor countries, kill everyone, still lose the conflict they started, cease to remember why they started it, and then go home and sell it as a victory to its people. And all of us in the West grew up with this.

In The Man with the Golden Mind, Julia Rendel asks Detective Maier to investigate the twenty-five year old murder of her father, an East German cultural attaché who was killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976.

But before the detective can set off, his client is kidnapped right out of his arms.
Maier follows Julia’s trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties, including his missing client, are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets.

But the real prize is the file’s author, a man codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy and assassin no one has seen for a quarter century.

And as I mentioned earlier, the novel features a cameo by Henry Kissinger, one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century.

And your non-series fiction novel  – The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu?

I’ve just been back to Kathmandu. Time waits for no one and the city, post-earthquake and civil war, is barely recognizable. But the novel is still in print, in English and in Spanish, and I occasionally get readers’ letters about how much they loved it. It lacks the heavy historical dimension of the Maier novels. It is, for the most part, a boys’ adventure romp set in exotic locales, which, I am told, are brought to life in expert fashion.

The plot is straightforward enough. In 1976, four friends, Dan, Fred, Tim and Thierry, drive a bus along the hippie trail from London to Kathmandu. En Route in Pakistan, a drug deal goes badly wrong, yet the boys escape with their lives and the narcotics. Thousands of kilometers, numerous acid trips, accidents, nightclubs and a pair of beautiful Siamese twins later, as they finally reach the counter-culture capital of the world, Kathmandu, Fred disappears with the drug money. A quarter century later, after receiving mysterious emails inviting them to pick up their share of the money, Dan, Tim and Thierry are back in Kathmandu. The Nepalese capital is not the blissful mountain backwater they remember. Soon a trail of kidnapping and murder leads across the Roof of the World. With the help of Dan’s backpacking son, a tattooed lady and a Buddhist angel, the ageing hippies try to solve a 25-year old mystery that leads them amongst Himalayan peaks for a dramatic showdown with their past. The Bangkok Post called it “a better backpacker read than The Beach.” Ahem.

Do you favour one of your books over the other? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader?

I am pretty happy to have written all four of the novels. When I meet new potential readers I always recommend my most recent book. If I think they might not be able to stomach that, then it is The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, I suppose, though the commissioning editor at Harper Collins India told me many years ago when I tried to pitch the book to them, that my story was too immoral to be considered for publication. I guess some folks might say that about The Monsoon Ghost Image, as well.

What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

Waking up this morning, with a roof over my head, the bills paid, and time to fill this here page. It’s been a great, infuriating, frustrating, illuminating, wonderful ride so far.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I’ve just finished a short story called To Kill an Arab which will be out in February in a crime/horror fiction anthology edited by Chris Roy and Andy Rausch in the US, which will also feature several well-known American authors. And I am working on a second French language novella with Laure Siegel, set in 1940s French-occupied Cambodia.

Any advice for prospective authors out there?

The fiction market is declining, it’s hard to sell a book. Only old people still read. If you have a story to tell, then don’t be discouraged, but do look which platform suits your idea the best. If there is another way to put it out there, to find an audience for it, then that might be worth considering – perhaps as a movie, TV series, a youtube channel, a play or a radio show, who knows?

What’s the best thing about writing?

It’s my job but often it doesn’t feel like a job, more like something that gives meaning to my life and the world. It’s both so very serious and so totally ridiculous. I mean, sitting in a room alone for months on end. Who does that?

The worst?

Not having a regular income as a professional and lifestyle choice has been a challenge from time to time, especially when I first started writing.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

Just finished Megan Abbot’s You Will Know Me which I found intriguing but also curiously devoid of relevance beyond its immediate narrative. Before that I raced through A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, a comedic novel about the absurdities of Pakistani military life. I’ve read several Lee Child novels this year while on the road, can’t remember the titles to any of them, they were all pretty similar, great distractions from airport dead time. Right now I am reading a novella by Joseph Conrad set in The Philippines called Freya of the Seven Isles.

Who do you read and enjoy?

For style, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, George Orwell, Joseph Conrad, Henry Miller, Peter Matthiessen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Andy Rausch.

For plot, Katherine Dunn, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, Elka Ray, Patricia Highsmith.

For message, David Goodis, Chester Himes, Charles Bukowski, Katherine Dunn, Massimo Carlotto, Ross MacDonald, Graham Greene, Peter Matthiessen, Thomas McGuane, Mikhail Bulgakov, Brian Stoddart.

For being ‘out there’, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson, Jim Thompson, Michel Houellebecq.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?

I guess I wish I had written or will write a book like The Quiet American by Graham Greene – it knows its location, tells a universal story and is prophetic at the same time. And it’s bloody well written.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Travel to the four corners of the world, swimming, walking, playing guitar, silence, cleaning the house (the latter three largely for therapeutic reasons).

With your publishing hat on…..

Is it difficult juggling your time between the publishing and your own writing?

Given that I am on the road a lot and that my schedule can be hectic, my ability to focus on CWP is not regular as clockwork, but it is consistent. I read a lot of manuscripts (mostly parts thereof), answer mails, talk about design, submissions and promotions with my partner Hans Kemp and about PR with our PR manager extraordinaire Chris Roy.

Crime Wave Press has been around for about six years now. Are you still as busy as ever?

We have published 32 titles to date. We publish in ebook and POD format and have noticed that despite our authors getting more publicity than ever, that ebook sales are not increasing. That is kind of frustrating. There are just too many books out there, especially self-published ones that no one buys but that sort of clog up the system. CWP was started to offer writers who were unlikely to be signed by the big six publishing conglomerates a modest alternative to obscurity and self-publishing.

We now publish an average of two books a year. That way we can promote them to the best of our abilities while still giving some attention to our signed authors.

What were your aims when you started the venture?

To publish great crime fiction on a new platform. Turns out the new platform, as mentioned above, is problematic. Amazon, which sells most of our books, is a monolithic greedy business empire that abuses its workers and doesn’t pay enough tax. Ironically, we pay inordinate amounts of tax in the US. It’s not a happy situation. But it is the world we live in and the only practical way we can get our books to readers.

Do you feel satisfied that you have achieved those goals?

Given the aforementioned challenges, the fact that we have published 32 really diverse novels feels pretty cool. We have a happy and constructive relationship with many of our writers, readers and reviewers, we attend literary festivals and the company pays for itself.

Any hints on what CWP has lined up for 2019?

A new and gritty novel by British Noir writer Ben Jones in the spring. Currently juggling two titles and a bunch of unread manuscripts for the fall release.

Do you anticipate CWP still being around in another five or six years’ time?

Bloody hope so. Be great to publish 50 crime fiction novels from around the world. As long as Hans is game and we break even, the next thriller from Crime Wave Press is just a few months away! Incidentally, we would like to publish more female authors. Submissions guidelines on the website –

Thanks Col, for giving me the opportunity to answer a great, incisive set of questions.
Many thanks to Tom for his time and Henry Roi for connecting us.

Tom Vater has written non-fiction and fiction books, travel guides, documentary screenplays, and countless feature articles investigating cultural and political trends and oddities in Asia.

His stories have appeared in publications such as The Asia Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Times, Marie Claire, Penthouse and The Daily Telegraph.

He co-wrote The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature documentary on the CIA’s secret war in Laos which has been broadcast in 25 countries. His bestselling book Sacred Skin (, the first English language title on Thailand’s sacred tattoos, has received more than 30 reviews.

You can find Tom on Twitter @tomvater

His website: Tom Vater 

Books: The Devil's Road to Kathmandu, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, The Man with the Golden Mind, The Monsoon Ghost Image

Crime Wave Press can be found here.