december reading

I’ve been a bit slack on the reviews front lately. I always try not to post about not posting, because it’s not what any readers signed up for, but, well, I never listen to my own advice. In the lead up to the ridiculousness that is Christmas in retail, I’ve been trying to read a little more broadly so that when customers come up and say, “What would you recommend for my aunt?” and refuses to listen when I take them excitedly to the wall of crime books, I’ve got some other advice. (This includes reading kids’ books, because I don’t think the new Robert Galbraith is really what I should be recommending for the under-8 market.) (Incidentally, one of my colleagues thinks The Vale Girl, by Nelika McDonald, is an excellent YA crime book, and I’m going to try and track it down.) Anyway, this all means my crime reading is a little thin on the ground at the moment, even though I have that enormous tower of crime in my house. You know the one. I originally said I’d only keep crime to this one bookshelf in the hall, but now it’s taken over the entirety of underneath the coffee table, a considerable space that was meant to be used for other things. But reading is more important. The new Sulari Gentill is more important. And the Aoife Clifford. And the aforementioned Galbraith, though, to be honest, I think she could do with a sound editing, and I’ve been putting it off. I also tried to read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, so I could offer a contribution from the Booker list, but jeez, have you seen the size of that thing? One of my friends declared it too “sappy”, and everyone else seemed quite traumatised, so I gave up. I never used to be a quitter, but between reading and other reviews and working and parenting (including the recent line, “I want a different mummy!”, so this job may soon be vacated apparently) and writing something new at a frantic pace, I am finding time this impossible thing to come by. I know, I know, everyone has to time-manage. This is one of the first times reading has become lower down on the list, but I’m trying to make writing a higher priority so that I can become ridiculously rich and spend all of my time reading books in a floating recliner on my giant pool filled with swans. Because if I’m going to have unrealistic expectations, I may as well take them all the way.

wordcount2Also, you can tell I’m making writing a priority because I’m doing this post, which is, of course, procrastination at its very best.

Here’s to some time on our collective horizons – all the better to read with.

author post: chris allen on helldiver

I love asking authors to write guest posts for Reading Kills. I don’t really give any instructions beyond “the story of your book”, because I like to hear what different authors make of it: whether they describe their desks, or the amount of time it takes, or the research – I like to hear whatever angle they want to bring to the discussion. And here, Chris Allen talks about his the Intrepid series, and why he makes things as tough for Alex Morgan as he does.

KEEP MOVING FORWARD

So, I was going to put together a few words about my writing process but then I started thinking about why I approach the books the way I do, particularly the central character – Alex Morgan. After all, before you work out how you’re going to write something – the process – you need to be clear about who or what you’re writing about. Writing in the Crime/Thriller/Espionage arena, I’m sometimes asked about why I don’t equip Morgan with all the latest high-tech gadgets and weaponry. The simple answer is – I don’t want to.

I guess the fundamental construct of my Alex Morgan character is based on the premise that I wanted to present a hero who – in each and every story – has to overcome overwhelming adversity and, ultimately, triumph over it. To achieve that I regularly put Morgan up against seemingly impossible situations without the ability to immediately resort to the use of the latest technology or hardware to get himself out of trouble. That’s quite deliberate on my part.

There are already a number of really great writers like Andy McNab, Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy who have very successfully created stories imbued with the latest tech and/or field craft. When I developed the Alex Morgan and Intrepid concept I made a conscious decision to strip back the resources available to the agents so that they were forced to rely mostly on themselves not weapons or tech. In fact, I spell this out very early in the first book DEFENDER when Arena Halls is commenting on Intrepid during a conversation with her boss, Abraham Johnson in Chapter 9:
“I understand the general’s known to run it old school, sir. Sends his agents out with the maxim ‘live by your wits’. He’s not keen on modern gadgets, or technology in the field… No fan of the modern ‘techno-spooks’, as he calls them.”

So, you see, this was a deliberate choice I made. The idea originally came from the Vietnam veterans who trained me as a young soldier and later as a young officer. They would regularly reinforce that all they had to rely on was their rifle and their mates. So, I simply wanted to honour that in the construct of the characters and stories I created.

Of course, in addition to all that, it is my job as an author first and foremost to entertain.
I set out to put the reader right there with the characters – embedded in the action – to, hopefully, feel as though they are living the experiences I am describing as they read. I set out to provide an escape from normal life, particularly for the majority of readers who have never had the experiences of ex-soldiers or law enforcement people. For example, if Alex Morgan simply emerges from out of nowhere and takes out all the villains with a silenced automatic then the action would be over and done with within the matter of a paragraph. There would be no confrontation. No odds to overcome. No contest to test the hero’s mettle. How do we know what he’s really capable of unless we take him to the brink of his own mortality? And if we don’t know the answer to that question, why would he be worth our effort and loyalty? Books are all about pace and excitement – to keep the story interesting and propel the reader through the pages. Our protagonist needs to be taken to the brink, allowing the reader to contemplate the very decisions the protagonist has to make that ultimately see them prevail or fail. All of the uncertainty and anxiety that the reader experiences in wondering whether or not the hero will survive an altercation, solve a crime or somehow beat the odds are fundamental to the readers enjoyment of the story.

I suppose there’s a bit of the Rocky Balboa approach to what I expose Alex Morgan to in my stories and I believe that’s why readers enjoy the stories: “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
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Helldiver, the fourth book in the Intrepid series, is out today – and you can find more info out here.

j m green, good money

Look, I was never not going to like a book about a Victorian protagonist with the same surname as me, especially after hearing all of my crime-book pals bang on about it. I had high hopes and they were met with aplomb by this fun/funny/gritty/alarming/everything-good read.

Social worker and the cynically good-natured Stella Hardy is called to a client’s house early one morning by a family in mourning over the death of teenager Adut Chol. She does all she can to ease their grief, until a discussion with the dead boy’s brother Mabor leads to a discovery that stops her in her tracks—her home address in Adut’s notebooks. Stella knows this can only mean he knows about the one thing she can’t forgive herself for, and one she never forgets. As she tries to find out how much Adut knew, her friendly new neighbour goes missing, her errant brother returns to insinuate himself in her life, a handsome artist asks for her number, Mabor makes some godawful friends and the next thing she knows she is being escorted by limousine to luxurious apartments to chat with high-profile business moguls with connections to shifty mining practices. All of this without her old pal, cop Phuong Nguyen, to help her out—unless they both decide to let go of the past and take hold of the future with a touch of make-up breaking-and-entering.

Stella is wonderfully likeable—determined but as easily sidetracked as the rest of us, be it by the internet (guilty) or handsome artists (also guilty). She is sometimes hopeful and sometimes bitter about the world, her friends, and her family; as an outsider everywhere, she is full of scathing remarks about people but willing to be called out on it. This is a powerhouse debut, full of excitement, jokes, brutality and scenic flights over Australia’s dangerous red centre, the bad use of good money, and the good use of bad money. In an unusual turn of events, I did figure out one villain really early on–usually I’m happy to be blissfully stupid about who’s who and leave my little grey cells to have a bit of a rest–but that absolutely did not stop the enjoyment of reading this. I can’t wait for a sequel.