I Did It For Us by Alison Bruce

An easy 5 stars from me!

I Did It For Us is a standalone psychological thriller and I raced through the pages eager to find out what happened next. I bought my copy of this book from Toppings book shop in Ely and it has waited patiently for me to read it; I adored the Cambridge Blue series by Alison Bruce and I didn’t want to rush straight into reading it – partly in the manner of saving a particularly pleasing cake for a later date and partly because I so loved the Goodhew series.

Well, even without Goodhew, I Did It For Us is a huge hit with me. Emily, our main character, doesn’t walk the easiest of paths and life certainly doesn’t shy away from dealing her some rough hands, but is she a victim or is she the cause? Alison Bruce demonstrates clearly her mastery of the craft here with the impressive level of skill which must have been involved in creating this twisty tale.

The only similarity to the Goodhew books was the way the story wove its way around Cambridge, I loved reading place names and locations that I could easily picture in my head.

No spoilers from me, as ever, but suffice it to say this clever, psychological thriller will keep you guessing!

 

Synopsis: “From the first time I saw them together I knew it felt wrong. I didn’t like the way he touched her or the self-conscious way he played with Molly and Luke. Joanne saw none of it of course. So I did it to prove to her that she was wrong. I did it for us.”

Emily’s instincts tell her that best friend Joanne’s new boyfriend is bad news. Emily fears for Joanne. Fears for Joanne’s children. But Joanne won’t listen because she’s in love. So Emily watches, and waits . . . and then she makes a choice.

But Emily has a past, and secrets too. And is she really as good a friend to Joanne as she claims?

 

 

 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

4 stars from me!

Cracking debut, I love the DS Manon Bradshaw character and as someone else has said on a review – I didn’t want it to end.

Missing, Presumed is set in Cambridgeshire which made it all the more appealing to me as I am familiar with a lot of the place names and can picture them very clearly as I read.

Manon is just fabulous, she reminded me of a mix of DCI Matilda Darke, Vera Stanhope and Olivia Coleman – yes I know that is a meld of the living and the fictional! The rest of her team are also good solid players – I completely love Davy.

This is a brilliantly creative storyline, essentially focusing on a missing person yet with a whole host of side stories and sub-plots ensuring that the narrative stays alive, busy and engaging. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by Susie Steiner.

Synopsis: Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

The Promise by Alison Bruce

The Promise5 stars from me

Ahhhh it was so good to open and read the first few pages of The Promise and find myself back in the world of Gary Goodhew – I’d missed him!

If you are reading this review and haven’t read the rest of the series, although The Promise is great I urge you to read Cambridge Blue first and work your way through from the beginning. Although I’m sure each book can be enjoyed in its own right I think there are definite advantages to be had from understanding Goodhew’s personality. This can only really be achieved by reading each book in turn as layer upon layer of his psyche is revealed.

Having said that, I felt The Promise focused much more around Gary and the reasons behind his aloof persona. It was great to uncover a deeper understanding of who he is and why he acts the way he does sometimes, his tenacity, determination and compulsion to not only solve but understand a case are traits that all detectives should have. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were real detectives out there who operate in his way, ok so a few rules are bent here and there but we could certainly all sleep safe at night in the knowledge that a Goodhewesque police force was on patrol.

I loved the references to Cambridge throughout the book – whenever I go to Cambridge I tend to park in the Queen Anne carpark, for years I’d been doing so without really noticing the buildings around me but now having read the Cambridge Blue series I’ve learnt so much more about Cambridge too and I can’t help walking across Parker’s Piece with a wry smile as I spot the police station, the swimming pool and even Goodhew’s house! As ever, the author’s knowledge of the area shines through.

The Promise has an original storyline with some fascinating insights into a world just below the surface of normal society, a world that we are all aware of and yet mostly fail to notice on a daily basis. The victims in this book by and large are seen to be invisible which gave me pause for thought.

The concepts regarding the garages (without wishing to give anything away) were a real eye opener. I wonder if the Bruce has any fans in the police force who will have read The Promise and added ‘garages’ to their to do list? I like to think so.

A tiny hint of a love interest. No no no, the lovely Alison Bruce knows I object to this but no matter how much I prefer him to be strong and single, I guess we can’t have poor old Gary being alone and unloved…can we.

I was sad to reach the end of the book. I knew the story was over, it had be cleverly and succinctly wrapped up, but I so enjoy reading about Gary Goodhew that I wanted it to continue. Most books you reach the end and look forward to reading something different, no matter how book the one you’ve just finished was, but there is something about the Goodhew character that just makes you want to read more.

The Backs by Alison Bruce

The Backs

An easy 5 stars from me!

Alison Bruce has excelled herself with The Backs, it knocks its predecessors into a cocked hat as far as I’m concerned.

As a fan of the Cambridge Blue series I have always tried to view each one with impartial eyes and review it honestly on its own merits and not because I think Alison is a cool lady; I think my previous reviews have been critical when needed which hopefully reflects that my opinion is unbiased.

The Backs focuses less on building the reader’s relationship with Goodhew (which is fine as we know and love him enough already) and more on building a really engrossing story with excellent characterisation of the main protagonist and all ‘bit players’.

I really enjoyed the scene setting and descriptive writing which also seemed to have upped its game in this book, so as well as getting a really good detective story you also get a beautifully written and engaging tale that leads you through the streets of Cambridge in glorious detail.

As I live near Cambridge and visit often, this was an added delight for me and I really enjoyed spotting Gary’s row of houses view it’s view across Parker’s Piece to the Police Station and catching a glimpse of CB2 which is now on my list of must visit places.

All in all an absolute success and genuine pleasure to read. I love that it ends with a big fat question mark over something and particularly enjoyed the italic line on page 243 although maybe not quite so much as I enjoyed and appreciated the name check I got on the acknowledgements page 🙂 featured here with the glamorous hand of Ms Bruce!

The Backs acknowledgement page

An Interview With An Author: Alison Bruce

Wordpress-The_Calling_Publicity-01_copy-300x153

Q1. When did you write Cambridge Blue?

Cambridge Blue was the second detective novel I wrote, I started it in 2001, was unhappy with what I first wrote, so I threw it away and started again.  I’m guessing it was somewhere around 2005 when I finished it properly, and it was 2006 when I signed my first fiction book deal.  The hardback of Cambridge Blue was published in 2008 and then the paperback in 2010.

Q2. What are the best and worst things about being an author?

When you are writing a book and you’ll never completely sure that you will get it published, that can be a bit depressing.  Once you have a book published in the next worry is whether you can do it again.  Most of the downsides to writing go on in my own head!  The most exciting thing for me has been the number of people who are getting in touch asking me when book will be out, I find it amazing to hear from people on the other side of the world who are reading and enjoying the Goodhew series.

Q3. There is a theory that every writer has an uncompleted novel tucked away in a drawer – do you? If so, why did you abandon it and do you think it will ever see the light of day?

I think that theory is especially true when you consider that if is said that most authors’ first books are largely autobiographical.  Writing can be a fantastic way of giving ourselves therapy after we’ve been through personal traumas, but I reckon it would be hard to get a novel published that read like a thinly veiled true story.  Of course that does happen, but I think the odds are more in your favour with the book that includes original characters, concepts, plotlines etc.

When I started my first book I had obviously read quite a few books and took the naive view that writing one probably wouldn’t be that tricky.  It was a much, much tougher than I expected and yes, I did start with a semiautobiographical plot.  Luckily I have a big fan of crime fiction and chose to embed my experiences within a much darker murder story.  And finally, in answer to your question, no it is not tucked away in a drawer, but was published in 2011 as The Calling, the third DC Goodhew novel.

Q4. Who would you say is your biggest literary influence?

I’m not sure I have just one, I’m definitely as influenced by films and music as by books, as far as I’m concerned they are all means of communicating stories.  I grew up on the classics, Christie, Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh and Patricia Wentworth.  This was at the same time as listening to doo-wop and Rob Orbison and watching TV imports like Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and every classic movie I could.  I have a long standing affection for Jane Eyre which I read every couple of years.  I love Harlan Coben’s, Linda Barnes’ and Lisa Gardner’s books, and British writers including Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Mo Hader, Stephen Booth and RJ Ellory, whose book A Quiet Belief in Angels is one of the most stunning I have ever read.

Q5. I love DC Goodhew, did his character come to you all at once or did it change as you wrote?

When I started writing my first book I had an idea but no plans to write a series.  The protagonist was a young woman who is stalking her ex-boyfriend and anonymously reporting him to the police. I needed a detective to follow up on this thread of the story and included a young DC named Gary Goodhew, when I needed the police to be involved again I wrote him into that chapter too.  Goodhew’s role grew rapidly and along the way the book developed into The Calling as it is now.  I was crying as I wrote the last couple of pages and the only character I couldn’t bear to leave behind was Gary.  That was the moment I realised I was writing a series!

Q6. His grandmother is wonderful, I wish I had a grandmother like her! Was she based on anyone you know?

Visually I imagine her as a younger Honor Blackman.  She’s a sharp thinker and glamorous in a assured way.  She’s obviously a strong woman and supportive of Gary but I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if it turned out she’d had a few wild years in her youth.

Q7. You are fantastic at crime fiction, do you see yourself sticking to this genre or is there a different style that you fancy taking on?

Thank you.  I write the occasional short story that’s not totally crime, but 3000 words seems to be the maximum I can write without feeling like it’s time for a murder.  On top of that I have so many crime novels in my head that I doubt I’ll ever run out of crime books I’d like to write.  I have worked on a couple of screenplays and I’d love a project like that.

Q8. Which do you prefer:

– Wine or beer.  I’m not a big drinker but maybe the odd glass of white or rose, and once in a while a bottle of Sailor Jerry!

– Cats or dogs.  Was dogs, now cats.  I grew up with dogs but have ended up with three cats and I love them.

– Mac or pc.  I know how to use a PC better than a Mac, but I have a Mac and love it, I just need to get to grips with the hotkeys to get faster!

– Tea or coffee.  Tea, tea, tea!  Love it, can’t write without it.  I’ve never actually had a cup of coffee…

– Morning or evening.  Night time, from 9pm until whenever.  I have written through the night many times and often come backs from gigs in the small hours (my husband’s a musician).

– Harry Potter or Northern Lights.  Harry Potter, the films though because (shock, horror, am I the only one) I haven’t read the books.

Q9. Who is your favourite author?

I don’t think I have one, some individual books are fantastic and I love Ed McBain and Dashiell Hammett, but if pushed I have to point out there’s only been four times when I’ve read every crime novel an author has written and the culprits are : Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, Conan Doyle and Sue Grafton.

Q10. There are lots of aspiring authors out there and it’s well known that being ‘spotted’ by an agent or publisher is difficult; how did you get your big break?

When I finished my first book I went to a writing event where the guest speaker was a top agent for crime fiction, I approached him afterwards and he agreed to read my book.  He was very keen and gave me excellent advice on developing the series. If you can get good professional advice then take it, he wasn’t the agent I ultimately signed with, but his observations were hugely helpful and came with the benefit of years of experience in an industry where I was just trying to get my first opening.

It was a couple of years later before Cambridge Blue was completed and by then the first agent I had approached had gone off the boil, in addition I also realised the importance of having an agent who helped like somebody you would still want to work with in 20 years’ time and I decided that it would be a good idea get out to events where I could meet publishers and agents face-to-face.

I made the shortlist of 8 agents and approached them all.  Many agents will be getting a huge number of proposals sent to them each year, in my personal opinion it is a really good idea if they can put a face to a name.  What’s even better is if they know from meeting you that you will be an author that will enjoy going to events and promoting their work.  When you do approaching agent it’s also good to know who you think your readership will be and how you would describe your work in terms of genre and sub-genre.  Sometimes I hear people say “but it’s not really like anyone else’s book”, fact is though that every book need to have something different in order to get published, but can’t be sold if the bookseller doesn’t know where to put it on the bookshelves.  Ultimately it may be marketed in a way that is not what you expected, that doesn’t matter, it’s just really good to show that you have a market in mind and you understand that publishing is a business about selling books not just producing art.

Q11. Where and how do you prefer to write?

I started answering these questions sitting at a table in a holiday camp in rain swept Hemsby as my husband’s band was doing a gig.  I’m finishing it in Carrington’s Cafe in Ely.  I’ve written on a train, a tube, a boat, in the car, under a table, lying on floor, the trampoline, the bed.  Sometimes I even sit on a chair and write at a desk.  I’m not a hugely fast writer and I have a lot of other time constraints so when it comes to the crunch I just do it wherever and whenever I can in order to get the story down.

Q12. How long did each book take you to write?

I had the idea for The Calling in 1989 and it finally came out in 2011.  I’m hoping that’s the last time I spend 22 years between having an idea and seeing it published!  It took me a long time to work out exactly the right way to do it and in the end I had piles and piles of notes, then when my daughter was a month old I made the decision to finally finish it, that was in 2000 and I finished at the start of 2001.

I started Cambridge Blue in 2001 and I suffered from the notorious Second Book Syndrome.  I wrote, threw away, re-wrote, threw more away and carried on like this until I think I threw away about quarter of 1 million words to get the final 95,000.  By then it was the start of 2006.  Book 2, The Siren, and book 4, The Silence, were both written comfortably within a year.

Q 13. What is your best cure for writers’ block?

Just like writing itself I suspect everyone has their own triggers the writer’s block and equally their own solutions.  For me I have discovered that nearly every case of writer’s block is when my subconscious if telling me that what am about write won’t work for one reason or another.  Sometimes that means revisiting the scene and tried to tell it from another character’s point of view, or maybe starting the scene from a different point or even scrapping it entirely.  Usually when I have identified my underlying concern the writer’s block just disappears.

Q 14. What sort of child were you at school and did your English teacher have you pegged as a future author?

Mostly I was quite quiet at school, I lacked the confidence to speak out in class and was frequently told off for daydreaming.  By far my best subject was maths and although I liked English I certainly didn’t excel at it.  I remember I had an English teacher called Mr. Howe and when we were about 15 years old we had to sit our mock exams.  The long question was right about the journey and I imagined I was held up in a traffic jam on the way to work and described the fascination of the drivers in the queue as they approached and started rubbernecking the scene of the accident.  Mr. Howe held back my paper until last then announced to the class that there was one paper he refused to mark, he handed it back with the words, ‘I don’t know what you think you’ve written here, but I was disgusted.’

That’s probably the only time when a schoolteacher has convey to me that I  have the ability to write with the impact!

Q15. When I finish reading a book that I’ve loved I almost feel a bit bereft as I miss the characters in my life. How do you feel when you’ve finished writing one?

As I reach the end of writing a book I always find that my writing speed and hours both increase dramatically.  It’s quite typical to have at least 2 overnight writing sessions in the last week.  With the last book I was at my desk almost 40 hours the last 48.  I finished, went to bed, woke up with a headache, went down with a cold a few days later and all in all felt completely burnt out for about a week.  I seem to do this to myself at the end of every book and it’s not because I’m cramming, it’s just that when the end is so close the words just flow into my head… If only they would do that at the very start of the book.

Emotionally the feeling is very similar, I have a huge high that lasts a couple of days then a more subdued feeling for the next couple of weeks as I realise that I have to say goodbye to that set of characters in order to work on something else. For an author writing a series they have the opportunity keep all the characters they care about the most, even if the character is initially intended for only one book it is always possible to write about them again if you really want to.  Readers of the series will notice a character who appears briefly in Cambridge Blue making another brief appearance in The Silence.

Q 16. Where do you get the ideas from for your crimes?

I don’t know, I’m not saying that lightly, I’ll have a thought then find my brain jumping around between a whole series unconnected ideas and drawing them together into one story.  Lying in the bath helps.

Q17. I’ve only lived in Cambridgeshire for 5 months and am still finding my way around, if I go into Cambridge and look for the places mentioned in your book will I find them (are they real)? A kind of ‘Cambridge Blue Murder Tour’ if you will!

In 2010 I spoke at the library in Downham Market and one of the ladies in the audience particularly liked Cambridge Blue, she belongs to a U3A reading group and suggested that it should be their reading choice.  She has now organised a Cambridge Blue Book Walk and this week I will be joining them as they follow the route of the crimes and investigations featured in the book. I use fictitious addresses for murders (I figure that no one wants to read a novel and find out that the murder victim was found slumped across their own kitchen table), but apart from that I aim to give the reader a Goodhew’s eye view of the real city, it is his favourite place in the world and as a boy growing up there he would have experienced it totally differently to most.

Q18. What is the best/worst job you’ve had?

I’ve had a crazy number of jobs, plenty of admin jobs, taxi driver, IT manager, DJ, electroplater, project manager, dress-maker, film extra, (useless) bar worker etc, etc and every Monday I used to dress as Andy Pandy to run promotions at the local bowling alley.  I stopped after 3 months when I was finally told that the outfit was see-through when I stood in front of the fluorescent lighting on any of the lanes.  Hmmm.  Probably not my best job, but not my worst either.  Being a mum is fab but I never feel as though that counts as a job.  I love working in a creative field, love mental challenges, love working under pressure.  I hate being bored.

Q19. What is your favourite TV show?

The Mentalist.  I love the scripts, characters and neat one liners… oh, and that Simon Baker’s OK too.

Q20. You know yourself better than I do (obviously!) what question should I have asked you?

Turning the tables on me?  You crafty woman, this question asking lark is tricky!

Here are a three quickies about writing…

Any favourite books on writing you’d like to recommend?

Story by Roger McKee,

How to Write a Blockbuster (Teach Yourself Creative Writing) by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly,

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande and

Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall.

What favourite tips have you been given?

Just don’t give up is probably the best but I also like When you write let your heart lead your head, but when you edit let your head take charge.

What advice do you have for debut authors?

Ask questions and talk to other authors.  After slogging away for what feels like forever you secure you first book deal, but that doesn’t mean you instantly feel confident at events or with the writing of the next.  Virtually every author has been in the same boat and I think you will find plenty happy to share tips, give encouragement and almost certainly learn from your writing experiences too.  If you can get to know other authors with the same agent, publisher or local to you.

The Gary Goodhew Series

Cambridge Blue

The Siren

The Calling (paperback July 2012)

The Silence (hardback July 2012)

All published by Constable (UK) and SOHO Constable (US)

Her true crime books Cambridgeshire Murders and Billington, Victorian Executioner are both published by the History Press.

www.alisonbruce.com

or alison_bruce on Twitter

Wordpress-The_Calling_Publicity-01_copy-300x153