The Little Book of Chocolat

The Little Book of Chocolat

Over the last year and a half – of teaching myself to bake – I have discovered one thing – people will never ever turn down chocolate! In scenes reminiscent to a hoard of migrating wildebeest purposely making their way across the Masai Mara in Africa, my work colleagues leave very little evidence that any of my chocolate experiments existed at all. In fact had a crime been committed then any CSI team would struggle to find a morsel and I’d be sent to the looney bin for making something up! This of course has no bearing on my skills as a chef, a baker or a chocolatier, it simply means they’re hungry and desperate for an endorphin hit! I happily oblige as often as I can! They have proven to be a captive audience, an audience I will continue to use as guinea pigs, death by chocolate has a rather delicious ring about it!

All this leads me nicely to the latest book to land on my desk, Joanne Harris – Author of Chocolat – and Fran Warde’s The Little Book of Chocolat. If you’re looking for an afternoon treat or perhaps something a little more substantial, ideas for a dinner party or a special homemade gift for your nearest and dearest then this small but perfectly formed book would be a great addition to your collection.

I decided to attempt two recipes initially, more will surely follow as I devour this cute book, Chocolate Fudge Squares (page 27) and P’tite Mère’s Chocolate Chestnut Truffles (page 30). The fudge peaces couldn’t be easier to make and they came out looking great and believe me, they won’t last long even though the recipe makes 50 pieces. I made two batches, the first following the recipe and the second I added a little flavour using Valencian Orange flavouring and the result was a cross between a chocolate orange (that breaks into segments and everyone has at Christmas) and dark chocolate fudge. As the recipe says there’s no cooking involved save for a little melting in the pan and before you know it the fudge is cooling in the fridge. Definitely child friendly, with the help of a supervising adult, in fact both recipes covered here fall into that category.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

Dark Chocolate Fudge

The second recipe reminds me of my dad, he loved hot chestnuts. I remember shopping with him on many occasions as a teenager, my dad buying a packet of warm chestnuts – amazing in winter – and we could never get enough of them! I digress! This recipe takes a little longer than the aforementioned fudge but the results are definitely worth it as you can see from the picture. My only disappointment with the outcome – the truffles were a little softer than I had hoped for. I used 51% dark chocolate and followed the recipe religiously so I’m not sure what happened. The guys in work didn’t seem to mind and all that was left in the tin after 15 minutes was a dusting of cocoa powder! Despite their soft appearance they didn’t have time to collapse!

An attempt at Chestnut Truffle

An attempt at Chestnut Truffles

I will definitely be making both again, especially the truffles but I do want to get them firmer next time and when I do they’ll make great birthday presents.

The book itself is full of exciting recipes and comes complete with end product pictures to help guide you to what they should look like – always a help! I’ll be attempting the famous Sacher Torte and the Pistachio and Chocolate Shortbread next, both very different but both equally chocolatey – should keep the hunger at bay in work! Now on to the two recipes featured in this article.

Chestnut Truffles

Takes 2 hours – Makes 50

200g (7oz) dark chocolate, broken into small, even-sized pieces
100g (3½oz) chestnut purée
200g (7oz) double cream
75g (2¾oz) unrefined light brown sugar
25g (1oz) cocoa powder

Chestnut truffles by Joanne & Fran!

Chestnut truffles by Joanne & Fran!

Line a baking tray approximately 20cm x 16cm (8in x 6¼in) with parchment. Melt the chocolate, chestnut purée, cream and sugar in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and mix until evenly blended. Place in the fridge until firmly set (at least 1 hour).

When set, use a teaspoon to scoop out evenly sized balls and roll them between your palms one at a time. Put the cocoa in a shallow bowl and toss each truffle in the powder. Repeat until all are coated. Store in an airtight container  in the fridge for up to 1 week (assuming that you can resist them for that long).

Dark Chocolate Fudge Squares

Takes 1 1/2 hours – Makes 50

400g dark or milk chocolate, broken into small, even-sized pieces
25g butter
397g condensed milk
100g icing sugar
30g cocoa powder, sifted

Dark Chocolate Fudge by Joanne & Fran

Dark Chocolate Fudge by Joanne & Fran

Line a 20cm square, shallow tin with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie. In a non stick saucepan, melt the butter and gently warm the condensed milk, then add the melted chocolate and mix until smooth. Beat the icing sugar until blended and smooth.

[It’s at this point you can add chopped nuts or any flavouring you want to add – I suggest 55g of mixed nuts or 1tsp of flavouring. Orange and Peppermint work very well with the dark chocolate]

Put the mixture into the prepared tin, spread evenly into the corners, smooth over the top and place in the fridge to set for at least an hour. Remove and cut into small squares and dust with cocoa.

Happy Baking

Both recipes taken from The Little Book of Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde. The book is priced at £12.99 at published by Transworld Books. Both Joanne and Fran are on twitter so go ahead and follow them both! Magnifique!!

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Killing for Keeps

Killing for Keeps

Two brothers from the same criminal family die within hours of each other, five miles apart, one on the edge of a Newcastle industrial estate, the other in a busy A & E department of a local hospital, unseen by the triage team. Both victims have suffered horrific injuries. Who wanted them dead? Will they kill again? Investigating these brutal and bloody killings leads DCI Kate Daniels to break some rules, putting her career as well as her life on the line.

As the body count rises in the worst torture case Northumbria Police has ever seen, the focus of the enquiry switches, first to Glasgow and then to Europe ending in a confrontation with a dangerous offender hell-bent on revenge. 

I’d intended reading Mari Hannah’s latest book – Killing for Keeps – in November last year and despite all the very best intentions from yours truly it has remained gathering dust on the bookshelf. I was reminded subliminally to pick it up in December when the Geordie penguin – John Lewis spoof – video was doing the rounds “I’m blind Dec, I’m blind” but it wasn’t until I had a few moments peace this week that I succeeded in not only wiping off said dust but actually reading it! It’s hard to believe that this is the fifth instalment in the DCI Kate Daniels series, where has the time gone?

I read – and loved – Mari’s debut thriller The Murder Wall but haven’t had the opportunity to read any since her explosive introduction to the literary world of gritty crime writing and police procedurals. Having read this latest adventure I wish I had, it appears I’ve missed a lot of water under the bridge!

The beginning to this story is incredibly dark and bloody, it took my breath away in parts and I guarantee you’ll be counting your digits after the opening salvos. This is what Mari does best, she sucks the reader in and allows your imagination to run riot. Graphic in parts, brutal in others, the narrative affords an expeditious read, one that is both swift and intelligent. There’s never a dull moment and one chapter seamlessly morphs into the next.

Both characterisation and plot are well thought out as are the policing aspects of the story as you would expect, written with confidence and strength this transfers to the reader effortlessly and you are left with a bloody good and entertaining read.

Talking of characterisation, for me Kate isn’t in a particularly confident place, she questions herself, is uncertain on numerous occasions and is definitely fallible but it’s this fallibility and hesitation that makes her so realistic and likeable. Another assured book by crime’s Queen of the North.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Macmillan (4 Dec. 2014)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:144724611X
  • ISBN-13:978-1447246114
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The Boy Who BakesNow who doesn’t enjoy a good apple crumble, especially with the wind howling outside and the rain lashing down against the window frame, the cold nipping at the toes – wait that sounds far too much like Christmas, we’re in January now, Christmas is but a distant memory! I digress! Continuing my series of recipes and cookery reviews I decided to take a look at a book that was first published in 2011 – The Boy Who Bakes – by Edd Kimber, winner of the very first series of The Great British Bake Off on BBC Two and now on BBC One.

There are so many delicious recipes in the book- Red Velvet Cakes, Rose and Raspberry Macarons, Nutella and Banana bites to name but three – but I fancied something that had a hint of Christmas (the cinnamon) and the warmth of winter, there could only be one dish for me – apple crumble with a little vanilla custard, roper custard not the powdered stuff!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Incredibly easy to make and even more satisfying to eat, the instructions are easy to follow accompanied by a helpful image depicting how the dish should look like when finished. There’s nothing more annoying than sifting – apologies for the pun – through a cookery book, coming across a recipe you’d love to try and no picture. For most people this is the first thing they look at, it’s what engages the brain, fortunately this book includes a picture with every dish. That said it’s not required in this instance as most of us know what an apple crumble should vaguely resemble if all goes to plan!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

There were a couple of things that I noticed with the recipe, and this could be oven based but baking at 180C Fan I had to cook for close on 30 minutes not the 20-25. Every oven will be different so just keep an eye on it while it’s cooking. The recipe also calls for cinnamon and sugar to be evenly distributed on the apple chunks, I combined the sugar and cinnamon in a regular drinking glass, mixed the contents with a spoon and once satisfied sprinkled over the apples, shaking and mixing the bowl as I went.  I actually used a large baking bowl for the mix to make it more manageable but combining the cinnamon and sugar beforehand certainly made it easier to spread evenly.

Full of personality, gorgeous pictures and moreish recipes, the book is a great addition to the bookshelf.

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble  -This is how it should look!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble – This is how it should look!

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble

Instructions

Put the flour in a medium bowl with the sugar, oats and salt and mix to combine. Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips or a pastry blender until evenly distributed. Gather the crumble mixture into one solid mass and wrap in Clingfilm. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C (180c Fan oven) or gas mark 6. Peel, core and chop the apples into chunks. Toss together with the sugar and cinnamon, coating evenly, and divide equally among four individual ovenproof dishes.

Remove the crumble from the fridge and break it up into irregular chunks with your fingers. Divide it among the four dishes. Bake the crumbles for 20-25 minutes or until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Ingredients

 

For The Crumble

200 grams plain flour

150 grams caster sugar

90 grams porridge oats

Pinch of salt

175 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

 

For The Filling

1kg bramley apples

50 grams caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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I was sitting around the house just before Christmas trying to come up with a plan of action for all the baking that had to be done both for the house and for presents. I decided to make something a little festive for some friends, something I hadn’t attempted before – what I call my seasonal Christmas & winter flapjacks!

Incredibly simple to make, something the kids can do with parental supervision, they are incredibly tasty and as soon as you smell the flapjacks it’s impossible not to think of Christmas! Be careful not to over bake the flapjacks or they’ll turn out rock hard – unless you like them that way – but these will last a good number of days and you may find that they taste even better two days down the road! Great with a cuppa or a hot chocolate!

Seasonal Christmas & Winter Flapjacks

Seasonal Christmas & Winter Flapjacks

Spices – I did experiment here, they are incredibly powerful so you may want to cut down on the volume, perhaps cutting down to ¼ tsp each – depends how Christmassy you want them!

Chocolate – experiment by drizzling white and dark chocolate and if you want to coat the flapjacks entirely with chocolate then you’ll need at least 300-400 grams of chocolate to do that. Happy baking!

 

Ingredients

6oz Butter

8oz Soft Light Brown Sugar

3tbsp Golden Syrup

8oz Rolled Oats (Porridge)

1 ½ oz Desiccated Coconut

100grams Dark Chocolate

½ tsp Cloves

½ tsp Mixed Spice

 

Preheat the oven to 180C -160C Fan – 350F – Gas Mark 4

Lightly oil or cover a baking sheet, one with a loose bottom works well but not important.

Place butter, syrup and sugar in a pan over low heat until the butter melts.

Remove from heat and add the oats and coconut, mix well until the ingredients have combined.

Spoon evenly into the prepared tin and press down well.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes, watch so that it doesn’t overcook and it has a nice golden brown colour.

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Happy New Year one and all, hope 2015 brings you peace, happiness and prosperity and if it doesn’t, I hope it brings you an enormous amount of cakes and good books to read! Over the last year or so I’ve been experimenting with cooking, that’s baking and regular cooking, trying out new recipes and attempting not to poison anyone in the process – well, not unless it was intentional! 

This is how it turned out!

This is how it turned out!

I’ve started collecting recipe books and kitchen utensils and thoroughly enjoying the process, even if my pocket is screaming out to me to stop with the purchases! I came across the following recipe by Mary Berry just before Christmas and as I’m not a great lover of Christmas pudding I decided to make this for the family to enjoy Christmas Day – no pressure then!

Pleased with how it turned out, quite festive!

Pleased with how it turned out, quite festive!

Following the recipe religiously everything went smoothly and the cake turned out much better than expected. One issue I did have with the instructions however was with the boiling water and cocoa powder at the beginning. Try as I might I just couldn’t get a smooth paste but despite this the overall effect was the same. I just like things to be just so and do my best. I added the 3 tbsp of boiling water to the cocoa powder all at once and maybe that’s where I went wrong – maybe it would be better to add 1 tbsp at a time and mix?

This is how the Queen of cakes did it!

This is how the Queen of cakes did it!

The only deviation from the recipe for me was the brandy stage. I didn’t have any to hand as I’m not a big drinker so it was a “plain” chocolate cake! I’ve made the cake twice now, both huge successes, the second for a friend for her birthday and again it was a plain chocolate cake.

The cake has become a firm favourite in the Rambles household and next time I bake it I will experiment with Valencian oranges adding a touch of Spain to the chocolate cake. One thing I will mention when making the mousse, be careful not to rush it and fold the whipped cream into the melted chocolate ensuring all the chocolate has been introduced. I rushed the first cake!

Over the coming months I’m going to delve into the cooking books – old and new – and see how easy the recipes are to follow – especially for a novice chef! Any questions please ask!

 

Ingredients

For the chocolate cake

  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 100g/3½oz caster sugar
  • 100g/3½oz self-raising flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 100g/3½oz margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 tbsp brandy

For the mousse

  • 300g/11oz plain chocolate (no more than 40-50 per cent cocoa solids), broken into squares
  • 450ml/16fl oz whipping cream

To serve

  • 225g/8oz fresh raspberries and blueberries
  • double cream
  • icing sugar, for dusting

 

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease the tin with margarine and line the base and sides with baking paper. You need to line the tin right to the top even though the sponge will not fill it.
  2. For the chocolate cake, measure the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Pour over the boiling water and mix to a paste with a spatula. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and the eggs and margarine and beat until smooth using a hand-held mixer.
  3. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface with a palette knife. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake feels springy to the touch.
  4. While the cake is still hot, brush the brandy over the top of the cake. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
  5. Meanwhile, for the mousse, place the chocolate in a bowl and melt over a pan of gently simmering water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Stir continuously, taking care not to let the chocolate get too hot. Set aside to cool a little.
  6. Whip the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Carefully fold in the melted chocolate until smooth and not streaky.
  7. When the cake has cooled, and while it is still in the tin, spoon the chocolate mousse on top and level with a palette knife. Cover the cake tin with cling film and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours, and preferably overnight, until the mousse is firm.
  8. To serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and transfer it to a flat plate. Dust the top with cocoa powder, then pile the raspberries and blueberries into the centre. Finish with a light dusting of icing sugar. Cut into wedges and serve with pouring cream.
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The Escape - John Puller Series 3

The Escape – John Puller Series 3

Military CID investigator John Puller has returned from his latest case to learn that his brother, Robert, once a major in the United States Air Force and an expert in nuclear weaponry and cyber-security, has escaped from the Army’s most secure prison. Preliminary investigations show that Robert – convicted of treason – may have had help in his breakout. Now he’s on the run, and he’s the military’s number one target.

John Puller has a dilemma. Which comes first: loyalty to his country, or to his brother? Blood is thicker than water, but Robert has state secrets which certain people will kill for. John does not know for sure the true nature of Robert’s crimes, nor if he’s even guilty. It quickly becomes clear, however, that his brother’s responsibilities were powerful and far-reaching.

With the help of US intelligence officer Veronica Knox, both brothers move closer to the truth from their opposing directions. As the case begins to force John Puller into a place he thought he’d never be – on the other side of the law – even his skills as an investigator, and his strength as a warrior, might not be enough to save him. Or his brother.

I’ve always enjoyed reading David Baldacci’s novels holding both the author and the books in high regard but with The Escape, I think the author has cranked up the gears and delivered a highly polished and energetic thriller. It’s probably my favourite of his books and even though it serves as my introduction to John Puller not once did I feel a distance with him after missing his previous adventures. What it did do was peak my interest and I now want to read the two earlier Puller novels.

Sure there’s a backstory and history involved and although it would have probably made this book a more enjoyable one had I known more about Puller’s history it never detracted from what is a brilliant thriller.

With spellbinding characters – I didn’t want to put the book down once – and a narrative that is so typically Baldacci the book flows effortlessly from start to finish. Puller is a wonderful character and Baldacci really gives his protagonist the air time to suck the reader into his world. I felt for him, his brother and his father, something I hadn’t anticipated when I picked up the book. His nemesis is highly intelligent and is a very worthy opponent, the author doing a splendid job of making me dislike the character immensely!

With enough twists and turns to satisfy the most ardent of critic – seriously you never know what’s coming around the corner – and an emotionally charged ending, I admit to having a lump or two in my throat, this books satisfies on so many levels. Give it a go, you won’t be sorry and if this is the first time you’ve picked up a David Baldacci novel then one thing I can assure you, you’re in for a treat.

Wonderful writing, superb characters and  a plot that keeps on giving, The Escape is one book not to be missed in this or any other year! I can’t recommend this highly enough.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Macmillan (20 Nov 2014)
  • Language:Unknown
  • ISBN-10:1447225317
  • ISBN-13:978-1447225317
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 3.9 x 23.4 cm
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The Burning Room

The Burning Room

In the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit, not many murder victims die almost a decade after the crime. So when a man succumbs to complications from being shot by a stray bullet ten years earlier, Bosch catches a case in which the body is still fresh, but any other evidence is virtually non-existent.

Now Bosch and his new partner, rookie Detective Lucia Soto, are tasked with solving what turns out to be a highly charged, politically sensitive case. Starting with the bullet that’s been lodged for years in the victim’s spine, they must pull new leads from years-old information, which soon reveals that this shooting may have been anything but random.

There’s very little to say about Michael Connelly or his protagonist Harry Bosch. Both are at the top of their game, however, in The Burning Room we are faced with a protagonist who is nearing the end of his career.

Teamed with a new partner in “Lucky” Lucy Soto, Harry has to tread carefully and avoid confrontation or risk his end of career pension. It’s a delicate balancing act but this doesn’t appear to stop our hero and slowly but surely Harry takes Soto under his wing and teaches her how to best approach cases, old and new.

One cold case blends into another and before they know it the two detectives are investigating two high profile cases, one of which has a personal and deeply emotional tie to Lucy Soto and one which will have political ramifications if solved.

The narrative is strong, compact and highly engaging and the characters are colourful and well thought out and with a multi layered plot the book is incredibly easy to read allowing for a rapid development throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and certainly hope that this isn’t the end of the Bosch series, he certainly deserves another outing!

With a final chapter that allows the reader to experience a range of emotions The Burning Room is a must read and deserves all the plaudits the book will inevitably receive.

  • Hardcover:400 pages
  • Publisher:Orion (6 Nov 2014)
  • ISBN-10:1409145514
  • ISBN-13:978-1409145516
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 3.6 x 24 cm
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Pop Goes the Weasel: Di Helen Grace 2

Pop Goes the Weasel: Di Helen Grace 2

A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Inspector Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…

A stimulating read, Pop Goes the Weasel allows the reader to immerse themselves in a high octane and thrilling game of cat and mouse as they experience DI Helen Grace’s efforts to catch a serial killer on the loose. Only time will tell if she can capture the perpetrator and keep her job as her boss, Detective Superintendent Ceri Harwood, exerts increasing pressure to solve the case and as the two ladies clash, all rules fly out the window.

I didn’t experience the immense publicity surrounding Arlidge’s first book, Eeny Meeny, and as such I felt slightly out of kilter with the back story but the author did a decent job of filling the gaps at the beginning of the book so as not to alienate new readers. I would have liked a little more information on Helen’s background and what she had experienced in her first adventure but it didn’t stop me from either making sense of the past or enjoy the present.

The narrative is told at break net speeds and the story is over before you know it, this is without doubt a very quick read. A complex plot full of the usual twists and turns you’d expect from a book in the crime genre, it did throw up a few red herrings that surprised me, I really enjoyed being taken for a ride! Brutal and horrific at times, the crimes will leave little to the imagination.

Characterisation is also good and I felt an affinity with DI Helen Grace from the outset, one that never wavered. A troubled woman who clearly has secrets and a dark past, Grace is not always in control of her emotions and is at times reckless but it’s this recklessness that make her so unpredictable and exciting. Her work colleagues add depth to the story but it’s her nemesis, Chief Crime reporter Emilia Garanita, that truly allowed me to experience a range of emotions I never anticipated. I can’t wait to see where this relationship takes us in the future!

Tense, explosive and thrilling Pop Goes to Weasel is a fantastic read.

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (11 Sep 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405914955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405914956
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Malice

Malice

Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he’s planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, in a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka’s best friend. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same high school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Osamu Nonoguchi left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka. But Kaga thinks something is a little bit off with Nonoguchi’s statement and investigates further, ultimately executing a search warrant on Nonoguchi’s apartment. There he finds evidence that shows that the two writers’ relationship was very different than the two claimed. Nonoguchi confesses to the murder, but that’s only the beginning of the story. In a brilliantly realized tale of cat and mouse, the detective and the writer battle over the truth of the past and how events that led to the murder really unfolded. Which one of the two writers was ultimately guilty of malice?

Malice by Japanese author Keigo Higashino represents not only the first book that I’ve read by the author but also just happens to be one of my favourite books of the year. It’s an evocative read that puts the reader at ease from the opening pages until its dénouement where everything is tied up in a neat, unexpected and satisfying package.

Wonderfully translated from Japanese by Alexander O Smith and Elye Alexander the book is an effortless read. It’s as if the author sat down to write and in an hour had finished one of the most captivating reads I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. It’s such a comfortable read that I found it hard to imagine that this wasn’t originally written in English!

As you delve into the story you begin to take things at face value and then, slowly but surely, Keigo Higashino moves the goalposts and takes you, the reader, on a different path and you begin to question everything you thought was true in the beginning. The pace is spot on and as comfort begins to set in, the author starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the crimes both in present and in the past.

The story is narrated by Osamu Nonoguchi, friend of the deceased and fellow author and a detective and former teacher Kyochiro Kyaga, two very different approaches but both allowing the story to unfold and develop in their own unique way. I enjoyed both viewpoints but found Kaga’s reasoning and deductive skills superior to that of Nonoguchi’s storytelling. There was just something about Kaga that I found compelling but the way he discovered the hidden secrets and his dogged determination in solving the mystery was nothing short of superb.

If you are looking for crime fiction that is slightly unusual with wonderful storytelling, engaging characters and a simple crime that is anything but, then Malice is without question a must read. A game of cat and mouse from beginning to end, the book satisfies on multiple levels.

  • Format:Kindle Edition
  • File Size:645 KB
  • Print Length:288 pages
  • Publisher:Little, Brown Book Group (9 Oct 2014)
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Ethelred Tressider, mid-list crime writer, is surprised when fellow author Henry Holiday unexpectedly turns up on his doorstep. He’s even more surprised when Henry confesses that he may have committed murder while drunk on New Year’s Eve. Though he has little recollection of the night, Henry fears he may have killed drinking companion and fellow crime writer Crispin Vynall, and asks Ethelred to discreetly make enquiries in order to discover the truth. As Ethelred and his trusty agent Elsie begin to investigate, they discover that Henry has been set up, and now all that remains is for them to find out why and, more importantly …whodunnit?

If you’re looking for an entertaining read, a book that is as near as unputdownable as is physically and emotionally possible and a book that is not only infectious but humorous to boot then Crooked Herring will do you just fine …thank you very much.

Crooked Herring by LC TylerLen Tyler continues his Ethelred Tressider series with a heart pounding and jaw aching book that belies his mediocre status as a crime novelist – that’s Ethelred not Len Tyler! Ethelred is a wondrous character who has so much to endure on a daily basis – a failure in literary circles and a laughing stock to all other crime writers – but there’s something special and endearing about this true English gent that makes me smile. I guess you can’t ask for much more than that.

He lives in the rather hefty shadow of his biscuit and food loving agent Elsie and it’s this union that allows the book to rapidly tell a rather special story that will leave you with a warm feeling that you don’t often experience reading crime fiction. To be fair however, Len Tyler doesn’t write your usual crime fiction. Part whodunit and part comedic genius the book flows incredibly well and before you know it you’ve eaten a full packet of chocolate digestives and begun to make steady but satisfying inroads into a large pack of kit kat’s – just like Elsie!

As you may have gathered there’s a long running theme of biscuits and food in Crooked Herring and Elsie devours the lot – no biscuit, chocolate or plate of chips is safe. In fact the safest thing in the entire book – forget dead bodies – is a cold salad. Elsie wouldn’t be seen dead eating healthily! I wouldn’t have it any other way. An agent who will never appear in the vogue magazine she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Elsie isn’t backwards in coming forwards and at every opportunity she tells everyone just how bad Ethelred is at writing, not your average agent/author relationship but one that works incredibly well for Tyler!

This time around Elsie does appear to be a little more manipulative and she wastes little time in attracting new authors to her stable and even though Ethelred finds himself in a rather precarious situation she always appears to have enough time to strike a deal and to make sure she comes out on top – mostly at Ethelred’s cost!

With a narrative that is well written and an ending that will leave you wanting more, Crooked Herring will satisfy on so many levels but most of all it’ll make you smile.

  • Hardcover:320 pages
  • Publisher:ALLISON & BUSBY (18 Sep 2014)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:074901668X
  • ISBN-13:978-0749016685
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Year One. Serial killings by PD Viner

On September 29, 2014, in Article, Author, Books, by Milo

PD Viner, Crime writer: Year One. Serial killings.

In a few days my second novel (Summer of Ghosts, pub August 14th 2014) will be released and I am nervous. Is this going to be my Godfather II or Exorcist II?  (If you don’t know them – let me just tell you that Godfather II is arguably the best sequel ever. Exorcist II: the Heretic is not. It is so NOT).

Summer of Ghosts

Summer of Ghosts

Now a part of my nerves is the fact that the step-up from part-time writer, taking three years to finish a novel while I juggled work, childcare and the procrastination Olympics, to being a full-time writer (nine months writing time for a novel from scratch) is immense. But bigger than that is the question – have I pulled it off? You see Summer of Ghosts is the middle part of a trilogy (okay a trilogy of three novels, four novellas and a short story that may or may not turn into a graphic novel) and I have always thought that the second novel of a series was the tough one. It separates the wheat from the chaff – or at least the Pass the Dutchie one hit wonder (Musical Youth) from the multi-hit makers, with the goal being to have as many number ones as the The Beatles (John being Ian Rankin and Paul is PD James. I will leave you to debate your ideas for George and Ringo). A main character can hold one book. To hold a series – that is much tougher. Many writers work this trick by making each book a different case and eeking out details about their main detective. I haven’t gone down this path though – there is one case, the death of Dani Lancing, that stretches across all three books even though Summer of Ghosts is predominantly about two other crimes; the beautiful skin murders and the abduction and murder of Pia Light.

My first novel dealt with a single act of violence and how that causes a ripple that destroys many other lives around it. As Mark Billingham said, it was not about violence but what violence does to people. Well, with book two I wanted to look more closely at violence and the book is violent in an often distressingly casual way. It deals with characters who trade in violence and one character, Gulliver, who enjoys causing violence and pain. The book looks at violence in war too as some scenes occur in the bushwars and later civil wars of Zimbabwe. Into this world where life is cheap I parachute Tom Bevans (AKA The Sad Man) and the parents of the murdered girl, Patty and Jim Lancing to test their mettle. I also attempt, with Franco – a minor character in the opening novel, but now at the forefront of the narrative, to show a man who most see as black and white – but who is as subtle and nuanced as any man can be. The book is once again about moral ambiguities and moral imperatives and that is like walking a tightrope over Niagara falls. Have I got the balance right?

That has been difficult to judge as the pressure of writing two novellas and a novel in nine months (plus editors comments and copy edits etc) meant that I was working more in isolation than ever before. With my first novel I had been enrolled on a writing course and my fellow classmates and tutor gave me feedback every week. As a professional writer it is just me and a vat of espresso reflecting my dark, dark soul.

So I am nervous about the balance and tone but also for my new readers – have I given you enough overview (or worse, too much)? For my series I have attempted to write for an ensemble cast, and I did not want to start the second novel as if the catastrophic events of the first had not affected them all deeply.  But – and here is the tricky part – each book needs to stand alone, and be read without any pre-knowledge of what has gone before. So I have tried to set the scene with events from the first book being revealed in a therapy session. The idea is that if you have read the first one then it will remind the reader what happened and give them a nice thrill of association – but new readers get all they need without feeling like they have missed something (though of course I hope they will go back and want to read The Last Winter of Dani Lancing). Within the crime genre there are so many styles and sub cultures that I wanted, within one series, to look at many different forms of writing. The idea is that the landscape can shift under the feet of the characters and they can be thrown into really different experiences – but if I write true to those protagonists I can make each story different and exciting while remaining true to the series. The novellas also segue in style (and I urge you to check them out, especially as they are FREE to download from all good ebook stockists). The Sad Man is set in 1999 and is the case that makes Tom Bevans career and allows him to set up Operation Ares to investigate multiple victim sex/murder cases. The novella is a serial killer piece with a little Thomas-Harris-like-action. The second novella, The Ugly Man is set in the heatwave of 1976 and involves Patty Lancing on the track of a killer. It is the case that makes her reputation and is a big city journalist trying to crack a case in a close knit rural community. Next year there will be two more novellas – one a supernatural thriller and the other a deliverance-style cat and mouse chase as well as the final novel – a prison break. All feature Tom, Patty, Jim and Dani. So on September 1st I get to follow in the footsteps of the Krays and go to Lewes prison. I am looking forward to it. I am nervous – and I am proud – and I just need to keep writing.

PD Viner August 2014. For more information please follow Phil on Twitter (@philviner) or visit his website pdviner.com.

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The Samurai InheritanceApril 1943 – A Mitsubishi transport plane plunges from the sky over the island of Bougainville. On board is Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In a document case chained to his wrist is the greatest secret of the Second World War – a revelation with the potential to change the world if it is ever revealed.

December 2011 – Art recovery expert Jamie Saintclair celebrates the return of a Vermeer painting to its rightful owner, and the day turns even better when he’s offered a lucrative commission. Not much can surprise Jamie, but he blinks when mining tycoon Keith Devlin reveals the object he wants him to find. How did the preserved head of a Solomon Island warrior end up in a German museum? And how is he supposed to discover what happened to it in 1945?

The search takes Jamie from Berlin to Tokyo and with every turn the significance of the Bougainville skull becomes ever greater. Soon he realizes he’s become involved in something much more important than finding a lost piece of history. Three thousand miles away, the answer lies in airless jungles that have already swallowed up one terrible conflict and are now being torn by a war the world isn’t meant to know about . . .

Konnichiwa readers! I absolutely loved this book, loved it! Great characters, wonderful locations and a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, if you’re like me then you’ll struggle to put this down even for a nanosecond.

I’ve always been a sucker for Japanese history, especially in the 1940’s, and although we only get a snippet of the historic events that occurred, James Douglas has blended fact and fiction incredibly well in the latest Jamie Saintclair adventure. I’ve not had chance to read any of his other books but on the strength of this one alone I have no doubt I will read his back catalogue.

The Island of Bougainville comes alive in so many ways and if you’re looking for a holiday destination that includes dense jungles, shark infested coastlines and idyllic beaches then look no further. I should also add that there are a number of armed men waiting to kill at a moment’s notice and an island full of snakes – surely that’s enough to make you want to go? If not, you can read about the island and her inhabitants from the safety of an armchair and avoid the pitfalls the island offers!

Saintclair is a terrific character and a protagonist you’d happily spend countless hours down the pub listening to his adventures and his knowledge. There’s nothing better than a protagonist that knows who he is and what’s important to him and his family. He’s strong, opinionated and his determination to succeed unrivalled. Add to the mix a vivacious and attractive partner and you have all the bases covered.

That’s about all I’m going to say about The Samurai Inheritance, an adventure this good really doesn’t need any publicity! Brilliant. 鮮やかな

A review can also be found on For Winter Nights Blog.

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Corgi (28 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552167932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552167932
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Created, the Destroyer (eBook): Number 1 in Series

Created, the Destroyer (eBook): Number 1 in Series

Sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, ex-cop Remo Williams is rescued from the electric chair at the eleventh hour and recruited by a secret government organisation named CURE. From this moment, he ceases to officially exist.

From now on, he will be an assassin, targeting criminals who are beyond the law. Remo’s trainer is a grouchy old Korean named Chiun, whose mastery of the terrifyingly powerful martial art of Sinanju makes him the deadliest man alive.

Together Remo and Chiun set forth on their epic, impossible mission to vanquish every enemy of democracy – every bad guy who thinks they can escape justice.

This is a new era in man’s fight against the forces of evil.

This is the time of the Destroyer.

Originally written in the early 70’s Created, The Destroyer – #1 in the Remo Williams series – is a timeless classic and a book that will take you to the past without you actually realising it! Although bereft of mobiles phones, tablets and home computers the book effortlessly stands the test of time and is incredibly easy to devour. In a way it’s rather comforting to know that such a place existed, we are far too attached to smart phones these days and anything that allows a little escapism to decades gone by and flared trousers I’m all for it!

As a protagonist Remo Williams stands tall and proud, a man about to die in an electric chair, he has an air about him that for someone who is about to pay with his life for a crime he didn’t commit, is quite remarkable. Little does he know the entire episode is an ingenious ploy by CURE to allow him to disappear and become an assassin.  In fact the faux execution and the elaborate plan to help him escape was one of my favourite parts of the book. Well thought out, simple yet effective, he disappears into the night and a new adventure beckons.

Clearly the protagonist Remo Williams is joined by Chuin, an old Korean who has seen it all. A Sinanju master, Chiun can deftly avoid bullets and attack with an explosive speed that few can handle, not even Remo. The relationship is timeless and one I hope will develop as the series matures. I certainly want more scenes with Chuin and although an old man I want to see his character develop!

The whole book, perhaps given the era it was written, reminds me of a typical B movie. I can’t quite put my hand on it but that’s the overwhelming feeling I had when reading the book. Sure the plot is a little farfetched in some parts but entertaining it certainly is and is without question worth reading the first few adventures to see where it leads.

Great fun and a quick read, Created, The Destroyer offers a great insight into a well established series that is now available on Kindle for the first time since its inception.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 699 KB
  • Print Length: 187 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (21 Aug 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00M0KIR3U

Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy is the first title in The Destroyer series, published by Sphere. If you want to know more about the series please go to www.thecrimevault.com/book-series/the-destroyer . You can also sign up to the Destroyer newsletter here: www.thecrimevault.com/exclusives/the-destroyer

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The Lawless Kind: The Ninth Joe Hunter Thriller

The Lawless Kind: The Ninth Joe Hunter Thriller

Ex-counterterrorist soldier Joe Hunter has been called to Mexico to bring an end to a cartel that preys on the people they smuggle across the US border. Once the mission’s ended, however, Joe’s mission leader and mentor, CIA Black Ops director Walter Hayes Conrad, confesses that the bloody mission is not the real reason Joe has been summoned south of the border.

For years, Walter has kept the details of his private life – especially his family – secret from everyone, even his closest friends. But disaster has struck: his great-grandson Benjamin has been abducted, kidnapped by Walter’s sworn enemy, the leader of one of Mexico’s largest drug cartels. Walter will do whatever it takes to get the boy back. And he knows Hunter is the man for the job.

But there’s one complication — the drug boss just happens to be Benjamin’s father.

The great thing about Matt Hilton’s incarnation – Joe Hunter – is that you know exactly what to expect, to coin a well-used phrase – it does what it says on the tin. Joe Hunter is back for his ninth adventure and he’s as determined and stubborn as ever and although he’s starting to creak a little, the bones aren’t as young as they used to be, he can still dance with the best of them.

Interestingly for me, although I’ve read the majority of Matt’s books, on reading the book jacket I struggled to pick this one up and it remained on my to be read shelf for quite some time. You see I’m not a lover of – and this is totally a personal taste issue – Mexican dramas or books based on crossing the border, coyotes and cartels. I have absolutely no idea why, I’ve just never taken to that part of the genre. In the end of course I went for it, purely on the strength and enjoyment I’ve experienced with his previous novels, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this review and I wouldn’t be writing it!

Although not my favourite Joe Hunter adventure, partly due to where the book is set as I’ve explained previously, this is a fun read. The Lawless Kind is one of those books you can pick up and be thoroughly entertained. Like I’ve said, the books follow a similar pattern where we see Hunter  called to help Walter Conrad, a father figure, and dispatch a few baddies into the never never. That part never gets old!

Comparisons between Joe Hunter and Jack Reacher will always be there and I’d be interested to see which protagonist would come out smiling, I daresay both would appreciate each other’s skills but for me Reacher would come out on top! Just!

A very quick read, the action remains at the forefront of the novel and doesn’t let up until the dramatic conclusion. It’s the high octane page turning and explosive confrontations that gives Hunter his longevity. A likeable character who is both moralistic and deadly, a heady combination, Hunter takes no prisoners as he sets about handing out his own brand of justice.

Another entertaining and enjoyable read, I’m glad I pushed my own misgivings to one side to read Hilton’s latest adventure and long may he continue!

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (30 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1444784773
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444784770
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 3.6 cm
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