The Cinderella Murder – Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any crime fiction. If truth be told, I’ve been struggling a lot for time and I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get into any of the stories I’ve been reading (since my last review I’ve tried reading four different stories and failed to complete three of them – although I will be going back to try again).

So, The Cinderella Murder represents a big step for me as this is the book that broke the trend. And what a book to do that with.

The premise of the story is simple.

A television producer who created a pilot documentary show called Under Suspicion, decides to investigate the cold, Cinderella Murder case as part of her next show. During the course of the story, we follow the producer as she attempts to convince all the key witnesses and suspects of the murder to take part in the show before finally rounding revealing who the mysterious killer was in a breathtaking and thrilling finale.

Now, for those who are interested in intricate murders, I’m afraid this may not be the story for you. The murder is quite a simple affair – we don’t have the overwhelming amount of evidence that you would usually find in a classic whodunnit story, and the crime itself is actually fairly run-of-the-mill, with nothing about it that really stands out.

But, in all other aspects, this story hits the nail on the head. The characterisation is brilliant: every character from the main lead to those with minor parts to play, are bursting with realism and good character traits – although, on occasion, some of the characters do appear rather cliched.

The pace is well judged – it doesn’t seem too rushed or drawn out.

But the thing that really makes this story is the concept itself. For the vast majority of the story, the reader isn’t subjected to the witness stories and the usual run around of who is lying about whom. In fact, the vast majority of the story is about how the producer tries to convince each person to participate in the show and their reasonings for doing so.

In my eyes, at least, this makes this story something a little bit different. Whilst the main characters are trying to solve the murder, we are also thrilled with a story of how they are attempting to make the suspects co-operate with them – something that you don’t tend to see in most whodunnit stories, at least not on this scale.

Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke have really done a great job with this story and I am certainly looking forwards to tucking into the next of the series…

But first, I think I should give those other stories a second try…

Great stuff – 5/5

The Book Review Rankings

The Cinderella Murder is not only different, but it brings something completely new to the table. It addresses an aspect of crime solving that rarely gets looked at in so much detail and the great mix of crime fiction and media drama really add to the story.

For that reason, it jumps straight in at number 3, knocking And Then There Were None out of the top 3 spot and shoving The House of Silk out of the top ten.

Here are the latest rankings:

  1. The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth
  2. Time and Time Again – Ben Elton
  3. The Cinderella Murder – Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
  4. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
  5. The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons
  6. The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
  7. The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
  8. The Slaughter Man – Tony Parsons
  9. You – Caroline Kepnes
  10. Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie

If you have a suggestion for books that might make my Top Ten Mystery/Crime reads, please feel free to comment below and I will see what takes my fancy…

@NickRBTingley

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Five Tips for Writing A Serialised Novel

In 1836-7, Charles Dickens’ novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in 19 issues over the course of 20 months. It was his first novel, but the success of it enabled him to continue his work as an author and create dozens of classic stories that are still enjoyed to this day.

And now, nearly two hundred years later, the idea of the serialised novel is beginning to come back into fashion.

In a big way.

It is becoming a real publishing trend now with many authors choosing to write their stories to suit publication in small, bite-sized chunks.

And I am one of them.

Unlike my DS Giles series, my latest project, Murder Under My Nose, has been commissioned by an online publishing company that deals exclusively with serialised stories, Senserial Publishing. As a result, I have had to completely rework how I approach my story writing and, as the ink begins to dry on the last few chapters of the series, I think I’m finally in a position to pass on a few hints and tips for any author thinking of exploring this new trend.

So, here is my advice for writing a serialised novel.

1. Plan ahead

It seems like a stupid thing to say, I know, but there are some authors out there who just plan out the beginning and the end and then muddle through the middle as they go along. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact I’ve done it several times myself – but it does present a small problem if you are trying to write a serialised story.

From the outset you will probably be faced with two options: writing each chapter (or episode if you will) and then publishing as you go, or writing the whole story and then setting a publishing date for each chapter afterwards.

Personally, I go for the latter. There is nothing more frustrating than getting to the end of a story and realising that you haven’t put in a key bit of information at the beginning, particularly when its already published.

But, if you are one of those people who like the challenge of writing each episode to a publishing deadline, then make sure everything is planned out ahead of time. You don’t want any nasty surprises when you find out you’ve left a massive plot hole by the time you get to your last chapter.

Which leads me smoothly to my next hint…

2. Stick to your deadlines

If you are writing each chapter and publishing as you go, make sure you are publishing regularly and to strict deadlines. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do to miss a deadline – hey, even Dickens did it with The Pickwick Papers (but then again that was due to the death of his sister-in-law so we can let him off on that one) – but you don’t want your audience to lose faith in you.

If they detect for a moment that you might not be able to deliver the whole story, they may well drop you in an instant so, basically, don’t give them the excuse…

3. Think of your novel like a television series

By this I mean that, even though you are writing an entire novel, you must make sure the bitesized episodes are still engaging in their own right. There is no point releasing a few chapters packed full of useful stuff that is integral to the plot, but where absolutely nothing happens.

I guarantee your reader will switch off and won’t stick around for the next instalment.

Every episode has to have it’s own story arc – it’s reason for existing or theme, if you will. With Murder Under My Nose, each episode reveals a little bit more about MJ’s attempt to track down her sister’s killer whilst also treating the reader to a little bit about her past at the same time. That way, I’m keeping the tension building throughout the story, but I’m also allowing keeping the background information flowing smoothly as well – allowing my readers to discover who this woman really is and where her priorities lie…

4. Keep the reader wanting more

And by this I mean cliffhangers.

Make sure there is something at the end of each instalment that makes the reader excited for the next chapter. Maybe someone has an accident or is found dead, or maybe someone discovers their spouse is cheating on them, or maybe a character meets up with a shadowy figure at the dead of night…

It doesn’t really matter what it is, just as long as it is a) relevant to the story and b) will get the reader intrigued for the next chapter.

And then, most important of all, make sure there is a pay-off in the next instalment.

Don’t be that writer who leaves an episode on a cliffhanger and then turns around in the next part and says ‘Oh, yeh, and then the wizard saved them’ or ‘and the wild wolves decided not to eat the main character and just went off for a sleep’ before moving on with the story.

Nothing will annoy a reader more…

 

5. Check out some serialised novels

There are plenty out there.

If you want something classical in nature, most of Dicken’s novels were published over periods of weeks or months, as were the Sherlock Holmes stories and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

If you want to check out some more modern novelists playing with the form, you have the likes of Stephen King (The Green Mile was serialised), Harriet Evans or Ray Connolly.

You can even check out specific publishing sites that specialise in serialised fiction, such as Senserial, and see what other authors are doing – small hint: Senserial even lets you read some of the first episodes of the stories they publish for free so you can get an idea of it.

It doesn’t matter where you read them, just read some to get an idea of what others are doing. It doesn’t matter if you then go another way with it – writing is an art as much as a craft, so don’t feel you need to play by others’ rules – but it may help you to see the potential in the serialised form.

Check out this new trend now – you never know, it might be something that interests you.

Murder Under My Nose is due for release later this year.

The Return of the Serialised Novel: Why This is Good For Authors

‘Serialisation is a thing of the past!’

Alright, I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard someone say it so explicitly, but I have been involved in a couple of conversations where this has been the general gist.

For some reason, a lot of authors seem to think that serialised novels can never be a thing.

‘Oh sure,’ they say, ‘it works well enough for TV like Game of Thrones or the Walking Dead, but it will never work with novels…’

Now, this annoys me for two fundamental reasons.

  1. It can work.

It has worked in the past. In the days where a large amount of the population couldn’t read or write, people would gather in rooms with the neighbours to hear the latest instalment of whatever novel was being printed in the newspapers at the time, much like we do with television nowadays. In fact, some of our greatest stories from that era were serialised: the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Woman in WhitePickwick PapersPride and Prejudice – I could go on…

What ever can be applied to television popularity, can also be applied to the written word.

       2. It does work

Serialised stories are all around us. And, more to the point, I can guarantee that most of you reading this post have read a serialised story at some point.

Who wasn’t anxiously awaiting the next instalment of Harry Potter for years on end? Who wasn’t eagerly awaiting the next Hunger Games or (and this pains me even to bring it up) Twilight story?

A Song of Ice and FireRebus. Divergent. Jack Reacher.

The list goes on.

And on.

All of these are examples of serialised stories – novels that have millions of people excitedly waiting for the next instalment.

It is impossible to deny the existence of serialised stories.

Today I read an article from The Washington Post, written a few years ago. In that article, the writer suggested that publishers could release novels in a bit-by-bit fashion online or through regular periodicals instead of just going with the standard all-or-nothing, do-or-die advertising push that has marred the publishing world somewhat in recent years.

Word-of-mouth would spread, people will talk about the latest editions of novels as much as they would the most recent instalment of television programmes, and more stories will get the recognition they deserve without publishers having to throw money at them.

It’s brilliant, right?

‘But why aren’t there publishers out there doing this if it’s such a good idea, Nick?’ you may ask.

Well, funnily enough, one or two are.

I spoke recently about my most recent project, Murder Under My Nose and about how this was a completely different way of writing for me.

One of the main reasons that this story was different was because I was writing it in serialised form.

And the reason I was doing that was for one such company that is taking serialised novels by the scruff of the neck and doing something amazing with them.

Senserial is a publishing company with a difference. Not only are they specialising in novel-length stories that are published in instalments (usually twelve) over a period of time, but they are also giving writers a unique experience to collaborate in a way not really seen on the publishing stage.

With Senserial, unknown writers can sign up and create their own channels where they can release their own work. But they can also collaborate with editors (to get their work polished and ready for release) musicians (to create accompanying music that can be used for book trailers) and even, if they want, producers (to co-ordinate the release strategy).

It’s like the novel version of YouTube, only with the added ability of being able to connect with the people who can help your story truly take off.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out I have a vested interest in this company as I was recently hired to run their blog and video blog campaign – but my point very much still stands.

Serialised stories are making a comeback in a big way and publishers like Senserial are paving the way for unknown authors to be recognised in a big way. It’s early days yet, but I think we are witnessing the start of a new era in publishing.

And, as with a lot of things in life, the way back appears to be the way forward.

And I, for one, am very excited…

 

The Character of Crime Fiction

To explore crime fiction, we have to take several things into account.

On one hand crime fiction is by far and away the most popular genre due to it’s ease to get involved with. When you’ve had a hard day at work, you are far more likely to want to tuck into a tasty adrenalin rush than to sink into a literary classic where you will more than likely fall asleep within two or three pages.

On the other hand, people love a good challenge. Readers like to put their wits up against the story’s protagonist and – whilst it come sometimes frustrating to work out the identity of a mystery killer within the first few chapters – there is usually a pay off for the reader when they get that ‘I knew it was them’ moment.

But – for me at least – crime fiction is about character more than anything else…

And with that the whole room goes silent. 

Bear with me on this one.

Crime fiction – plot wise at any rate  – is pretty darn simple. Some crime is committed. Might be terrible, might be quite small. Either way the story goes in one of two directions.

1) It follows a detective, investigator, private eye or meddling civilian as they try to solve the mystery, usually reaching a successful conclusion in the last couple of chapters.

2) It follows the criminal in their attempt to complete their crime or otherwise escape justice.

If I had to chose my favourite type of crime fiction, I’d go with the latter. One of my favourite reads is Perfume: A Story of A Murderer by Patrick Suskind – a tale of an apprentice perfumer who kills women in an attempt to bottle a perfect smell. One of my favourite films is Kind Hearts and Coronets, an Ealing comedy about a man who bumps off a long list of his relatives so that he can inherit the family title. However, my favourite film by far is Secret Window – a film (adapted from a Stephen King novella) about a writer who is staked by a dangerous stranger, but later turns out ***SPOILERS**** to be a vengeful murderer in his own right.

But the storyline isn’t everything. There has to be a certain wow factor that comes into it. With some stories, there is a comedic element that keeps the story bouncing through nicely, for others the premise is quite dark and ghoulish, which keeps the reader turning those pages.

But even then that’s not enough.

Some point out that most crime fiction – particularly whodunnits – are successful due to their complexity and attention to detail. And yes that is true to a certain extent.

However. That is still not enough. Any writer can sit down and come up with a convoluted mystery and plan it out so accurately that it is flawless – but it won’t necessarily make a good story.

Which brings us neatly to the characterisation.

For me, character is everything in crime fiction. I have read some great crime stories. And I have read some shocking ones. And what separates the good from the bad isn’t the crime itself or the attention to detail (although failing on these points is a guaranteed coffin maker for any writer).

It’s the characterisation.

And I’m not just talking about the characters either. I’m talking about the character of the landscape as well.

Take Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – A total classic, by the way. Definitely worth the read.

Here we have a group of characters being picked off one by one. Each character is a stereotype, yes that’s true, but each one is just as believable as the next. The story is set on a desolate island off the British coast, with high crashing waves, fast winds and wet weather. Even the house has secret compartments and rooms.

It ticks every box.

Now, let’s take out the characterisation and leave ourselves with just the plot:

A group of people are murdered one by one.

Great. Nice and original. Not at all like every other crime story written… *cough*

So, you see my point. Crime fiction is as much about character as it is about anything else. I love reading Perfume: A Story of Murderer, not because of a load of women being killed for their scent (although admittedly that premise is awesome on it’s own). I love it for the characterisation of the killer, Grenouille. I love it for the character of the landscapes that he travels through.

I don’t love Kind Hearts and Coronets for the story of a man bumping off his relatives. I love it for the characterisation of the man himself – his reasons for committing the crimes, the way he thinks about each murder, the humour that he recounts his story with.

I don’t love Secret Window because it’s basically about a writer losing the plot. I love it for the character of Mort Rainey and the emotional turmoil that he has been through with his divorce.

Crime fiction is as much about character as any other genre. The only difference is that crime fiction consistently allows us to explore the the very darkest parts of our minds. We get to witness the horrific things that people are capable of doing to each other, we get to test the morals of different characters and watch as they squirm and try to lie their way out of things.

We can be judgmental when we read crime fiction. But we are also capable of compassion and forgiveness with it as well.

Perfume, Kind Hearts and Coronets and Secret Window work because we can feel compassion for our killer. We sympathise with their plights and, as such, we almost feel like cheering them on, even when they are doing the most utterly cruel things imaginable…

I think what I’m trying to say is:

Crime fiction is about good characterisation. End of story.

And I challenge anyone to disagree…

Murder Under My Nose: A Brief Run Down

Imagine waking up in a police cell.

Your head is throbbing, your mind is wandering.

And all you can hear is the relentless drumming of droplets of water falling from a leaky tap into a cold basin.

This is how I start my latest project, Murder Under My Nose.

I have already spoken about this project in previous posts, but I am very aware that I haven’t actually said very much on what it’s all about.

Well today is the day when I reveal a little bit about what to expect…

MJ’s life is a sad tale.

Her life was set. She was due to head off to university and finally start sculpting her place in the world when her mother was stabbed to death by her father and MJ was left to bring up her younger sister, Grace.

Forced into a life of prostitution and back-alley dealings, MJ has struggled through life to make sure that Grace had the opportunities that their mother’s death took from them.

But when Grace herself is found dead, MJ is made the chief suspect and her life begins to unravel…

But the circumstances of Grace’s death are far too curious for MJ to give up so easily and she must look to her past to find the answers she needs.

Is her father back to finish what he started?

Is someone trying to replicate her mother’s murder?

Or is Grace’s killer hiding in plain sight…?

… Right under her nose…

 

Breaking Some Rules with Murder Under My Nose

‘Shall we begin?’

He isn’t speaking to me.

He is addressing Detective Constable Elizabeth Hunter who has so far stood quietly in the corner of the room, scrutinising my every move. With a clip of her heel, she steps out, gives a grateful nod to Drake and, after she has left, takes her seat next Benson. With professional distance, she stares coldly at me across the table.

I feel uncomfortable and force myself to look away.

I stare at anything. At the indistinct, wooden-panelled walls. At the mottled green carpet. At the prepared tape recorder sat on the table in front of me. At the light above us…

No. I don’t look at the light. That will only make things worse.

Benson clears his throat again.

‘I’ve read the reports,’ he says slowly, gesturing to his notes. ‘They tell quite a story.’ He forces a smile across the table. ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’

I nod my understanding.

He isn’t sincere.

We both know it.

‘Thank you,’ I whisper.

Hunter winces. The skin in her neck flickers as she tenses her muscles and she slowly exhales as she tries to control her feelings.

She can’t have been doing this for long to be so affected by it. She can’t have seen a dead body before, particularly not one left in that state. She is angry – she can’t understand how someone can be so cruel as to do that to another human being. Her anger is clouding her judgement; but her judgement is the best weapon she has…

I can understand it. I spend my life with people without morals and I understand that no guilt tripping or pleading to their better judgement will ever change the way they are.

People without feeling can’t be corrupted. That’s what Brosco says.

Benson drops his smile.

‘So, why don’t you tell me what happened?’

I shrug. ‘I already told the other officer.’

‘You need to tell me…’

‘Why?’

‘For the record.’

I laugh. ‘So you can hang me out to dry, you mean?’

Benson’s eyes narrow on me. ‘Have you done something that warrants me doing that?’

In my last post, I announced the latest project that I have been working on, a serialised novel called Murder Under My Nose. Since then, I have had a fair amount of interest from some of my regular readers who want to know what kind of story is it, what they can expect from reading it etc.

So, to start with, I thought I would talk a little bit about my writing style for this project.

Every so often, you get given a project (or maybe you create one for yourself) where you find yourself in the great situation of being able to test out a few things, try some new techniques or generally explore your abilities as a writer.

Now, by and large, these opportunities normally present themselves in short fiction stories or in works that you start writing but never really finish or never get published but, for me, I decided to adopt a new technique for a full length novel and have a play around with how I do things.

I should mention quite early on that this was not entirely a decision that came about out of the blue – I would never naturally be so courageous with a project that I have been hired to write – but the nature of the project itself did lend itself to a little bit of experimentation.

The aim is, and always has been, to publish this story on a new publishing website called Senserial. Now, unlike many of the publishing sites out there, Senserial harks back to good old, traditional days when stories were published in serialised form in newspapers and magazines. As such, the rules that I had to write this novel with were already slightly different to those that I would normally use.

In the first instance, the novel was to be divided into twelve parts – each part representing an episode of the novel. One by one, these episodes will be uploaded on the Sensorial site until finally the complete story is available to read.

It’s a great idea and one that got me very excited when I was offered the job of writing Murder Under My Nose. But it did mean I had to adapt a little bit. I wasn’t now writing novels of thirty odd chapters that were between two and three thousand words in length, I was writing twelve chapters of between five and six thousand words in length.

What’s more, in order to keep people wanting to wait for the next episode, I was given the instructions to end each of those chapters with some sort of cliff hanger or unanswered question.

Needless to say, I relished the challenge this presented but it also gave me a little more licence to do things that I would normally do.

If you’ve read the passage above, you will already have noticed that I decided to dispense with my usual go-to style of writing in the third person past and, instead, opted to write in the first person present. Whilst this might seem a little bizarre to some readers (and writers in fact) the result is actually very pleasing for the story I want to tell.

Better yet, the moment I started writing in this way, I suddenly had a clear idea of precisely what story I wanted to tell. The decision to write in the first person present actually allowed me to develop my main character, MJ – or Mary Jane, in ways that I would never have dreamed to had I written it in third person. In fact, without giving too much away, the fact the story is written in first person is, in many ways, instrumental to the plot.

But what is the plot Nick?

What is it all about?

Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for next the post for that one. In the mean time, check out the Senserial website. You never know, you might something that interests you somewhere in there.

What I’ve been listening to this week…

After my wedding back in May, my wife and I decided to take a short honeymoon to Disneyland, Paris. Now, for those of you who’ve read my work, you may think this a little odd in the light of the tone of most of my work but, in actual fact, my work is probably the only real outlet I have for any dark and gloomy thoughts. The rest of time I’m as bubbly and good humoured as anyone else…

But I digress.

During this trip to Disneyland, my wife became enamoured with one particular ride – a slow boat ride called Le Pay des Contes de Fees – or The Land of Fairy Tales in English. On this ride, the boat travels through a narrow channel, flanked on either side by miniature landscapes from several Disney films – Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and such like.

For the most part, I recognised most of these scenes and what films they came from…

Except one.

The miniature I have in mind was not too dissimilar from the others. There was a collection of houses that formed a traditional Bavarian-type village (at least that’s what it reminded me of at any rate) and a large tower in the centre. But what struck me most of all was a dark-blue/purple winged beast that stood on the topmost tower, positioned in such a way that it looked ready to hurl something down to the ground.

And I didn’t recognise it at all. For the life of me, I just couldn’t place it.

It was only when I asked my wife what it was that everything suddenly became clear.

It had come from Fantasia – a film that, to my shame, I have not seen since I was very young. And the scene was from Night on Bald Mountain.

Apart from being included in FantasiaNight on Bald Mountain is a well known piece of music in its own right. Composed by Modest Mussorgsky, it is a fantastically dark piece of music that really lends itself to producing equally dark material.

So it probably will not surprise many of you that, having rediscovered this piece of music, it has been a top feature on my writing playlist in the last few weeks and is therefore this week’s honourable mention.

And, as with all the music I share that has some sort of film link, I have even found the actual clip from Fantasia for you all.

Enjoy