Interview with T.A. WILLBERG

WillbergTA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is T.A. Willberg?

I suppose I should call myself an author now but until four years ago, I was a full-time Chiropractor specialising in spinal deformities. Writing, other than for scientific papers and essays, just wasn’t a part of my life until I moved from my home country (South Africa) to live and work in Malta.

What else? I’m an outdoorsy, animal-loving introvert. I enjoy reading as much as writing, travelling as much as staying at home and chocolate as much as exercise.

Your new novel, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, will be published by Trapeze in May. It looks really intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader. Is it part of a series?

Thanks! There’s a lot of genre-mixing going on in my novel so it’s always hard to describe, but I’ll give it a go: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a quirky locked-room murder mystery set in an alternative 1950’s London with elements of grounded fantasy and loads of steampunk gadgetry. Continue reading

Quick Review: RED WIDOW by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

When you work in a building of smoke & mirrors, everyone and everything should be questioned…

The story of two women CIA agents whose paths become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division – one that’s coming from inside the agency.

Lyndsey Duncan worries her career with the CIA might be over. After lines are crossed with another intelligence agent during an assignment, she is sent home to Washington on administrative leave. So when a former colleague — now Chief of the Russia Division — recruits her for an internal investigation, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Lyndsey was once a top handler in the Moscow Field Station, where she was known as the “human lie detector” and praised for recruiting some of the most senior Russian officials. But now, three Russian assets have been exposed — including one of her own — and the CIA is convinced there’s a mole in the department. With years of work in question and lives on the line, Lyndsey is thrown back into life at the agency, this time tracing the steps of those closest to her.

Meanwhile, fellow agent Theresa Warner can’t avoid the spotlight. She is the infamous “Red Widow,” the wife of a former director killed in the field under mysterious circumstances. With her husband’s legacy shadowing her every move, Theresa is a fixture of the Russia Division, and as she and Lyndsey strike up an unusual friendship, her knowledge proves invaluable. But as Lyndsey uncovers a surprising connection to Theresa that could answer all of her questions, she unearths a terrifying web of secrets within the department, if only she is willing to unravel it…

I haven’t read all of Katsu’s previous works, but as a long-time lover for espionage fiction, I knew I had to read this as soon as I could. I’m very glad to report that it is an engaging, twisty espionage novel set in the halls of Langley and D.C. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Genre Mashups” by Tim Major

Perhaps all novels are genre mashups, in some sense. Or at least, any novel has several key influences circulating within it, informing its tone, the tendencies of its characters and the directions of its plot. Few romantic novels are exclusively about the mechanisms of two people becoming a couple. Few SF novels concern solely scientific concepts.

But the pitch for my novella Universal Language is more overt than most. It’s an SF murder mystery. I’ll be honest: it’s refreshing to be able to pitch one of my books in such simple terms. You like SF? You like murder mysteries? Come over and take a look! Continue reading

Upcoming: THIEF OF SOULS/CITY OF ICE by Brian Klingborg (Minotaur/Headline)

KlingborgB-LF1-ThiefOfSoulsUSI spotted Brian Klingborg‘s upcoming novel in a catalogue a little while ago, and have been looking forward to reading it ever since. Earlier this week, I found the UK cover, so I decided to share the details here. Published in North America as Thief of Souls, and in the UK as City of Ice, it looks like an intriguing start to a new Chinese crime/mystery series. Here’s the synopsis:

The brutal murder of a young woman in a rural village in Northern China sends shockwaves all the way to Beijing — but seemingly only Inspector Lu Fei, living in exile in the small town, is interested in justice for the victim.

KlingborgB-LF1-CityOfIceUKLu Fei is a graduate of China’s top police college but he’s been assigned to a sleepy backwater town in northern China, where almost nothing happens and the theft of a few chickens represents a major crime wave. That is until a young woman is found dead, her organs removed, and joss paper stuffed in her mouth. The CID in Beijing — headed by a rising political star — is on the case but in an increasingly authoritarian China, prosperity and political stability are far more important than solving the murder of an insignificant village girl. As such, the CID head is interested in pinning the crime on the first available suspect rather than wading into uncomfortable truths, leaving Lu Fei on his own.

As Lu digs deeper into the gruesome murder, he finds himself facing old enemies and creating new ones in the form of local Communist Party bosses and corrupt business interests. Despite these rising obstacles, Lu remains determined to find the real killer, especially after he links the murder to other unsolved homicides. But the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he puts himself and his loved ones in danger.

Brian Klingborg’s first Inspector Lu Fei novel is due to be published on May 4th, 2021, in North America by Minotaur Books, as Thief of Souls; and in the UK by Headline as City of Ice.

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Quick Review: WINDHALL by Ava Barry (Pegasus Books)

BarryA-WindhallUSAn intriguing, well-written mystery about the long tail of a Golden Age Hollywood murder

An investigative journalist in modern Los Angeles attempts to solve the Golden Age murder of a Hollywood starlet.

1940s Hollywood was an era of decadence and director Theodore Langley was its king. Paired with Eleanor Hayes as his lead actress, Theo ruled the Golden Age of Hollywood. That ended when Eleanor’s mangled body was discovered in Theo’s rose garden and he was charged with her murder. The case was thrown out before it went to trial and Theo fled L.A., leaving his crawling estate, Windhall, to fall into ruin. He hasn’t been seen since.

Decades later, investigative journalist Max Hailey, raised by his gran on stories of old Hollywood, is sure that if he could meet Theo, he could prove once and for all that the famed director killed his leading lady. When a copycat murder takes place near Windhall, the long reclusive Theo returns to L.A., and it seems Hailey finally has his chance.

When Hailey gets his hands on Theo’s long-missing journals, he reads about Eleanor’s stalkers and her role in Theo’s final film, The Last Train to Avalon, a film so controversial it was never released to the public. In the months leading up to her death, something had left her so terrified she stopped coming to work. The more Hailey learns about Avalon, the more convinced he becomes that the film could tell him who killed Eleanor and why she had to die. But the implications of Avalon reach far beyond Eleanor’s murder, and Hailey must race to piece together the murders of the past and present before it’s too late.

What really happened to Eleanor Hayes, all those years ago at Theodore Langley’s party? Was she murdered? And by whom? Has Langley got away with murder for all these years? When the case is thrust back into the spotlight, journalist Max Hailey dig deeper than anyone else ever has to get to the truth. Windhall is an interesting, engaging, and enjoyable mystery novel set in old and contemporary Los Angeles. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: A MAN LIES DREAMING by Lavie Tidhar (Head of Zeus)

Tidhar-AManLiesDreamingUK2021smOk, this is actually a re-issue, but look at that stunning new cover! Next month, Head of Zeus are due to re-issue Lavie Tidhar‘s provocative award-winning novel A Man Lies Dreaming. This is a great opportunity for people to give this a read if they missed it the first time. Here’s the synopsis:

1939: Adolf Hitler, fallen from power, seeks refuge in a London engulfed in the throes of a very British Fascism. Now eking a miserable living as a down-at-heels private eye and calling himself Wolf, he has no choice but to take on the case of a glamorous Jewish heiress whose sister went missing.

It’s a decision Wolf will very shortly regret.

For in another time and place a man lies dreaming: Shomer, once a Yiddish pulp writer, who dreams lurid tales of revenge in the hell that is Auschwitz.

Prescient, darkly funny and wholly original, the award-winning A Man Lies Dreaming is a modern fable for our time.

Lavie Tidhar’s A Man Lies Dreaming is due to be published by Head of Zeus in the UK, on April 15th, 2021. A Man Lies Dreaming is published in North America by Melville House and JABberwocky.) Head of Zeus also publishes Lavie’s superb re-imagining of the King Arthur mythology, By Force Alone (check out my review, here.)

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Upcoming: THE DISAPPEARING ACT by Catherine Steadman (Ballantine/Simon & Schuster)

SteadmanC-DisappearingActUSA little while ago, I spotted The Disappearing Act in a catalogue: the latest novel by best-selling author and actress Catherine Steadman, it’s about a British actress who heads to Los Angeles to try to find her big break. But, of course, things go quite wrong after a chance encounter. Given my fondness for novels (especially crime/mystery) set in Los Angeles, this one caught my attention. Here’s the synopsis:

A British actress discovers the dark side of Hollywood when she is the only witness to the sudden disappearance of a woman she meets at an audition…

Once a year, actors from across the globe descend on the smog and sunshine of Los Angeles for pilot season. Every cable network and studio looking to fill the rosters of their new shows enticing a fresh batch of young hopefuls, anxious, desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to make it. Careers will be made, dreams will be realized, stars will be born. And some will be snuffed out.

SteadmanC-DisappearingActUKBritish star Mia Eliot has landed leading roles in costume dramas in her native country, but now it’s time for Hollywood to take her to the next level. Mia flies across the Atlantic to join the hoard of talent scrambling for their big breaks. She’s a fish out of water in the ruthlessly competitive and faceless world of back-to-back auditioning. Then one day she meets Emily, another actress from out of town and a kindred spirit. Emily is friendly and genuine and reassuringly doesn’t seem to be taking any of it too seriously. She stands out in a conveyor-belt world of fellow auditionees. But a simple favor turns dark when Emily disappears and Mia realizes she was the last person to see her, and the woman who knocks on Mia’s door the following day claiming to be her new friend isn’t the woman Mia remembers at all.

All Mia has to go on is the memory of a girl she met only once… and the suffocating feeling that something terrible has happened. Worse still, the police don’t believe her when she claims the real Emily has gone missing. So Mia is forced to risk the role of a lifetime to try to uncover the truth about Emily, a gamble that will force her to question her own sanity as the truth goes beyond anything she could ever have imagined.

The Disappearing Act is due to be published by Ballantine in North America (June 8th) and Simon & Schuster in the UK (June 24th). Really looking forward to reading this.

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Quick Review: A MAN NAMED DOLL by Jonathan Ames (Mulholland/Pushkin Vertigo)

AmesJ-AManNamedDollUSIntroducing Happy “Hank” Doll, P.I.

Happy Doll is a charming, if occasionally inexpert, private detective living just one sheer cliff drop beneath the Hollywood sign with his beloved half-Chihuahua half-Terrier, George. A veteran of both the Navy and LAPD, Doll supplements his meager income as a P.I. by working through the night at a local Thai spa that offers its clients a number of special services. Armed with his sixteen-inch steel telescopic baton, biting dry humor, and just a bit of a hero complex, the ex-cop sets out to protect the women who work there from clients who have trouble understanding the word “no.”

Doll gets by just fine following his two basic rules: bark loudly and act first. But when things get out-of-hand with one particularly violent patron, even he finds himself wildly out of his depth, and then things take an even more dangerous twist when an old friend from his days as a cop shows up at his door with a bullet in his gut.

A Man Named Doll is more than just a fascinating introduction to one truly singular character, it is a highly addictive and completely unpredictable joyride through the sensuous and violent streets of LA.

This is the first novel by Jonathan Ames that I’ve read. It will not be the last. A noir-esque crime novel set in Los Angeles, it introduces readers to Happy “Hank” Doll: former veteran and LAPD officer, now a struggling private investigator. Over the course of a few days, Happy’s life is upended by a series of escalating, deadly encounters that threaten not only his own life, but those closest to him. A quickly-paced, enjoyable read. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE MAIDENS by Alex Michaelides (Celadon/W&N)

MichaelidesA-MaidensUSThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides has been getting a fair amount of pre-publication buzz. It’s the author’s second novel (his debut was The Silent Patient). The synopsis suggests an intriguing campus thriller, and certainly piqued my interest:

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike-particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

MichaelidesA-MaidensUKMariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything-including her own life.

Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens is due to be published by Celadon Books in North America (June 15th) and W&N in the UK (June 10th). Looking forward to reading this.

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Upcoming: HELL OF A BOOK by Jason Mott (Dutton/Trapeze)

MottJ-HellOfABookUSHell of a Book, the upcoming novel by Jason Mott, has been getting some pretty good pre-publication buzz online recently (UK review copies must have just gone out). I haven’t read anything else by Mott, but this sounds really interesting. Pitched as “both incredibly funny and heartfelt”, it’s a novel that “goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans, and America as a whole.” Really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

In Hell of a Book, an African-American author sets out on a cross-country book tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives the novel and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since the novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

MottJ-HellOfABookUKThroughout, these characters’ stories build and build and as they converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art, and money, there always is the tragic story of a police shooting playing over and over on the news.

Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind? Unforgettably powerful, an electrifying high-wire act, ideal for book clubs and the book Mott says he has been writing in his head for ten years, Hell of a Book in its final twists truly becomes its title.

Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book is due to be published by Dutton in North America and Trapeze in the UK, on August 10th, 2021.

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