Before I wanted to be an editor, I thought about pursuing a career in the law. Funny, no? However, my poor memory and terror of public speaking put paid to that quite quickly. But, if you think about it, the jobs aren’t that different. Now apologies to my lawyer friends if this is totally reductive, but if you think about it, really, all lawyers are just story tellers. Both the defence and prosecution are given the same building blocks – the facts – but it is their job to weave these together to present their client’s side, their narrative, their story, to win the case.
This is what fascinates me about legal thrillers and why I love to read John Grisham and Steve Cavanagh. But also why I devoured the debut novel by barrister Alex Churchill, THE NIGHT LAWYER.
Now as a devotee of all things crime, suspense and thriller, it’s no small wonder that LOST SOULS is my first Jonathan Kellerman title. He’s best known for his Alex Delaware series set in Los Angeles, but Kellerman has recently started working together with his son Jesse Kellerman on the Clay Edison series. LOST SOULS is the latest installment and sees Clay Edison, deputy coroner, faced with uncovering the mystery behind skeleton of a baby found in the grounds of People’s Park in Berkeley, California.
Kellerman and Kellerman write with a confidence ease that makes reading their prose a delight. I wasn’t sure about starting in the middle of the series, but, you know, it happens. And admittedly there are some aspects of the novel that might be easier to understand with prior knowledge of the series – such as the long list of named characters – but the clear and entertaining style of the authors means that this is only a small obstacle and one I mostly ignored as I was too intrigued by the story (It’s easy to get the gist of who they are anyway as the characterisation is so spot-on!).
After reading the novel, I’ve been intrigued to find out more about Clay and pick up the earlier books in the series – because if they are as entertaing as LOST SOULS, I’ll know I’ll enjoy it! Perhaps start at the beginning of the series, but I’d recommend you purchase them all at the same time as you’ll devour this nuanced crime series very quickly. 📚
LOST SOULS by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman (Arrow Publishing), available now as a paperback and ebook (Published as HALF MOON BAY in the US)
Writing crime and thriller fiction is not an easy game; you always have to be aware of strategically building the tension and sense of the threats as your plot progresses, navigating the peaks and troughs of anticipation as your reader moves towards the final climax that has your readers on the edge of their seats.
But if that wasn’t hard enough, if your setting is based in eras past, you’ve got a whole host of elements to balance too. No fancy computer searches to aid the police, no high-speed getaway car and a whole lot more horse poo.
Therefore who better to talk about the sub-genre than my second author of Crime and Thriller Month: historical thriller pro Chris Nickson is in the chair!
Yesterday, I read a fascinating article by American novelist Ben Winters. I had the pleasure of working with Winters briefly whilst I was at Penguin Random House and found his unique predicament intriguing.
The article, published on Slate.com, is discussing how the global pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19 has basically screwed the plot of his new book, The Quiet Boy. It begins in January 2020 and hurtles towards a finale in July 2020 – in a music festival. Well, that’s not happening any more . . .
So it got me wondering how writers and namely the plots of fiction novels have been affected by the pandemic. It must be soul-destroying to have worked so hard, giving up months if not years of your life to curate the perfect plot line, create the characters that you need and finesse the timeline just so until you have a novel that you’re truly happy with . . . for a global pandemic to make it no longer relevant.
But my question is, does it matter? The role of fiction isn’t about facts. As the dictionary defines it, fiction is ‘the type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts’. Of course, the best inspiration comes from the world around us – and no doubt the market will be flooded with coronavirus diaries, novels, etc. (Although I question whether there will be a market for them after we emerge blinking in the sunlight post-lockdown – we don’t want to go through that again *shudders*.) But, what better excuse than the world going a bit bananas around us to make use of this fantastic tool that we have hidden deep in our brains: the imagination. There is no better time to let our minds wonder and think of what-if and how-about.
Winters has a point when he says that ‘Right now, we are in the middle of total and utter upheaval. What reader will accept that my characters blithely go about their business in Los Angeles in the spring and summer of this year we’re in?’ Perhaps we should have more faith in our readers. Every day, fiction asks us to suspend our disbelief and fall headlong into a world that isn’t real, not based on fact, the product of the workings of someone’s mind. Yes, it looks a little like the world we live in, but the fiction form is prism not a mirror, twisting the light of the real world into a kaleidoscope of colour – otherwise the sci-fi and fantasy genres would already be in deep water!
With this in mind, over the weekend, I had the delightful experience of kicking my heels up and devouring Rebecca Serle’s smash-hit novel In Five Years. The whole concept of the novel taking a classic interview question – ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ – and twisting it on its head. The novel is all about how no matter how much we try to plan our ideal lives and how we see ourselves in five, ten, even twenty years time, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. Serle’s characters begin in 2020 and happily work, live, love their way through to 2025 (when it starts getting a little pear-shaped), no mention of pandemic in sight. Of course, when Serle wrote her manuscript, COVID-19 hadn’t reared its ugly head, but the novel is no worse off for it. In fact, it might even be an added strength as it reminds us that although the world looks less than peachy at the moment, we’ll get through it, whatever happens.
Admittedly, there might be a new couple of new courses on the syllabus for future literature students – Pre, Post and COVID Literature – but I’m excited to see what new writing this situation brings us, and whether authors choose to engage or not – some already having voiced their claims of not touching the topic with a barge pole, Anne Tyler and Harlan Coben being among their number. I feel for Winters, who has decided to push the events of his novel back to 2019, but whether you choose to set your next writing project in a world affected by COVID or not, I think the readers are willing to welcome you with open arms. To be honest, we’re just thankful for something to read!
‘Death? Seen him. Loads of times. Death’s just a bloke.’
I’d already heard lots of good things about it by the time The Keeper by Jessica Moor dropped through my letterbox courtesy of Viking Books. But this is no ordinary thriller. As much as it is compelling to read, it’s also incredibly comfortable for the simple reason it’s so well written.
Moor has succeeded in writing both a gripping crime thriller – with one helluva sick twist! – but also raises awareness of the incredibly important issue of domestic violence. For this reason, although I appreciated the writing, The Keeper is also hard-going at times in that you read in sickening detail about the abuse, both physical and psychological, that the women in the narrative suffer. My God, it was tough reading at times. But in this case, this is no criticism but heartfelt praise as it forces the reader to exam the structure of the human psyche and psyche that allows such tragedies to occur in the first place.
Happy Publication Day to an important book about an issue all too often hidden behind closed doors and masked behind make-up. Congratulations to Jessica on her powerful debut!
As of today, Rebecca Millar Editorial has a Facebook presence. Come join the conversation and like the page for exclusive content, discounts (coming soon) as well as all the usual bookish goodness. I’ll be sharing writing tips and prompts to help get the creative juices flowing, as well as shout outs and author interviews. So come on down, and say hi via the link.
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Looking forward to chatting!
As always, if you have a writing project that you think needs some editorial advice, get in touch and I’d love to be able to discuss how we can work together. Just get in touch via the contact page.
So as well as a book editor, I also dabble in Bookstagram – Instagram book reviews and photography. And recently, I had the pleasure of collaborating with another bookstagrammer called @bookishkaren for her project I Am A Reader.
It’s a project that aims to showcase readers around the world, bringing cultures together over our love of reading. It was such fun to be part of it and I wanted to share the piece that I contributed – and also, let you know a little bit more about me.