Adult Fiction, Crime, Liz Robinson Reviews, Series, Spy, Thriller

Matt Johnson – A Liz Robinson Author of the Month

Liz Robinson knows a good book when she reads one and this month she has picked Matt Johnson, as the author who has stood out and grabbed her attention with his final instalment of the critically acclaimed ‘Robert Finlay’ trilogy.  Read on for her review of this fast-paced, gripping finale and also a fascinating Q&A with the author himself.

End Game by Matt Johnson

End GameA fiery, fast-paced, bullet of a read, and the last in the Robert Finlay trilogy. Continuing on from ‘Deadly Game’, Robert Finlay and Kevin Jones find themselves in the middle of a whole heap of trouble. A Superintendent from the Complaints Investigation Branch is on the warpath, and then quite separately, a document from the past puts the two men directly in the firing line, and things turn very, very personal. Matt Johnson has the most credible and authentic voice, he blends his knowledge as a soldier and police officer into an absolutely cracking storyline. Finlay’s post traumatic stress disorder can clearly be felt in the small but biting descriptions of PTSD, it is a part of him, but not the whole of him, and he is an incredibly engaging character. A suitably dramatic end ensured I was kept on the edge of my seat. ‘The Robert Finlay’ trilogy has been a thunderingly good read, and ‘End Game’ is a wonderfully thrilling, gripping, and fitting conclusion. – Liz Robinson

Synopsis

Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it’s clear that Finlay’s troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he’s being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who’s behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK’s security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who’d sooner have him dead than be exposed.

Matt Johnson

Matt JohnsonMatt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for twenty-five years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game once again draws on Matt’s experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor. – Orenda Books

Liz in conversation with Matt

Liz – ‘In End Game (book three), Robert Finlay is called in to act as a negotiator, the whole scenario, including Robert’s thoughts and how he speaks to hostage-taker Doug has such a ring of truth about it. How did you draw on your own experiences as a negotiator to write about Robert’s handling of the situation?’

Matt – ‘Police negotiators are all volunteers. I can’t speak for how things are today as policy may well have changed, but when I first applied to be considered I went through a selection process that included a realistic portrayal where each candidate assumed the role as negotiator. That set the basis for quite a bit of the subsequent training where theory and good practice, initiative and operational procedure were repeatedly rehearsed and tested in realistic make-believe scenarios.

Writing about such a situation is, in some ways, much easier than doing it live. In the hot-seat, you have to think on your feet, you don’t have time to fully think through the implications of every question, every response and every statement. If you get it wrong you can go back and start again, not a privilege granted in the real world, unfortunately.

Aware that I wanted to get around the luxury of that privilege, I decided to enact the scenario with a serving negotiator with me playing the role of the hostage taker. I recorded the resulting conversation and then edited it to an acceptable length for the book, added in the thoughts of the character and the descriptions of the scene. I was pleased with the result which, I believe, is as realistic as I could have made it.

Liz – ‘All three books have characters who have formed incredibly close bonds during their working careers. How important has camaraderie been to you, particularly when in high pressured and dangerous situations, and how difficult or easy was it to portray in your books?’

Matt – ‘One thing that has always struck me when reading books that enter my former working world is how many of them focus on a maverick, a character who bucks the system, who works on his (or her) own and achieves results despite the resources available rather than as a result of them. The truth is that the military and police services are very much about achieving success through team-work and good leadership. In creating the character of Finlay I wanted to show him make use of this aspect of policing and, whilst I accept that individuals do have a place, it is often through the pooling of ideas, skills and expertise that solutions are found and cases solved.

In both the police and military worlds, loyalty is immensely important. It is being part of that team – being a member – that can bring out the best in people, the heroism, the bravery, the willingness to go out on a limb for a comrade. Sometimes, of course, that sense of camaraderie can be mis-guided and loyalty can overcome good sense. But, generally speaking, soldiers and coppers need it to get their job done.

It’s difficult to answer the question as to whether that camaraderie was easy to portray or not. What I would say is that it is probably that part of the job I miss the most. There are times when I meet up with both old and new friends from that world and I’m aware that we soon become quickly comfortable in each others company. Writing about that side of my old world – describing it in a way that appeals to a reader – is something that I do my best to achieve.’

Liz – ‘Were you an avid reader before you started writing?’

Matt – ‘As a child, yes. I can still recall the excitement I felt as I rushed home from the local library with a clutch of books selected from the shelves. I used to particularly enjoy science-fiction in those days, possibly inspired by the TV coverage of the moon landings.

As an adult, work and other demands got in the way and I got out of the habit of reading. I became a holiday reader of novels and tended to focus on reading more non-fiction in the small amount of free time I had available.

I had some favourites, of course. Joseph Wambaugh’s ‘The Choirboys’ was one, as was ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. Even now that I’m writing myself, I wouldn’t describe myself as an avid reader. I always have one or two books on the go but they can take me upwards of a month to finish. At the moment I’m reading the ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ story. It’s a breath of fresh air, really good. To have found Gail Honeyman’s debut – a birthday present, I’d add – was a real delight.

Liz – How different is the book world to your expectations?

Matt – Now that’s a tough one to answer as I’m not sure what I really expected. I can say with some certainty that it is very, very different from my previous professional worlds. Policing, for example, can be a very fast moving and reactive world, publishing is more nuanced and considered. But, with time, I’m learning to understand not only the fact that publishing is different but why that is so. There are good reasons why this industry operates in the way it does and, let’s face it, it’s an industry that has been around for a very long time – longer than policing, I might add!

Liz – What are you planning next?

Matt – To take a break, to refresh and rejuvenate my thoughts before starting on my next writing project. I have a few ideas – too many, to be honest – that I need to research and then make a decision on where to focus my efforts.

And I want to spend time meeting readers. I’ve very much enjoyed the interaction of social media and the opportunities I’ve had to talk on national radio but what I really appreciate most is sitting down with people who love reading, who know their books, and who have read my work. I’m humbled by complimentary remarks and I hope that never changes. I also welcome constructive criticism as I want to know if people like what I write and why they like it, so I can learn from that feedback and improve.

One day, who knows, I might get it right.

You can find out more about Matt here.

End Game is published by Orenda Books in paperback on the 31st March 2018.

 

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Adult Fiction, Crime, Family Drama, Literary, Liz Robinson Reviews, Relationship Tales

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard – reviewed by Liz Robinson

We were the salt of the seaWhat a beautifully written, captivating, and soulful read this is. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly transferred, begins to investigate the death of a women found in fishing nets out at sea. Catherine Day leaves Montreal for a remote fishing village, looking for answers about her birth mother. The Gaspe Peninsula sits centre stage in the story, remote, set apart, and yet intimately connected to the sea. I immediately fell headlong into the story, the seamless translation encourages the words to join together, creating a vividly stunning picture. Catherine tells her own tale, having such personal access allows a connection, yet she still feels hidden from view. Other peoples thoughts tumble freely over the pages, yet they belong, they anchor the story. I felt that the author Roxanne Bouchard has a profound connection to the sea, she loves it, respects it, yet the immense power simmers, occasionally rages in the background.

I quite simply adored We Were The Salt Of The Sea, refreshingly different, unpredictable, yet deeply rich and touching, it became a part of me.

Genres: Lit, crime, family drama, relationship tale.

We Were The Salt of the Sea will be published by Orenda Books on the 30 March 2018.

 

 

Adult Fiction, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Liz Robinson Reviews, Relationship Stories

Last Letter from Istanbul by Lucy Foley – a guest review by Liz Robinson

Last Letter from Istanbul is the latest offering from Sunday Times bestselling author, Lucy Foley.

Last letter from IstanbulJust gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair.

Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps it’s impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes.

As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read – highly recommended.

Synopsis:

Constantinople, 1921

Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.

The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen.

The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.

As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.

Last Letter From Istanbul will be published by HarperCollins on the 5th of April 2018.

 

Adult Fiction, Fiction, Literary, Relationship Stories

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Published in hardback 2016 with the paperback version following in 2017, I was delighted to review this novel for Lovereading.  I’d now love to share my thoughts with you .

A smart and sassy take on a 21st century mum making her way in the world, trying not to cause too much damage but also hoping that maybe, just maybe she may be able to find the contentment within herself that she so badly craves.

For one day we enter the life of Eleanor and she’s determined that today will be different and if nothing else she’s determined to leave the world a better place than she found it. Then her day takes an unexpected turn as the past creeps into her present. Suddenly there are questions demanding to be answered. Why is her husband on a ‘vacation’ she knows nothing about? Where is he disappearing to each day? How will she explain to Timby about the sister she never talks about? And what will happen to The Flood Girls? Long since consigned to the back of the closet.

Maria Semple’s fresh, unique voice is full of humour and yet also captures the same complexities we all experience trying to find our place in the world. Through this novel we have a snapshot of Eleanor’s life, her fears, her pain and the thing that makes it complete in so many ways. We also experience the crazy thoughts that often flit in and out of her head. Thoughts we can all relate to and the unexplained conclusions we leap to and in turn the consequences they have on our happiness. Semple expertly weaves past experiences into Eleanor’s day as we see her trying to track down her husband whilst also being confronted by a sister that she no longer acknowledges.

Today Will Be Different shares the hope that we can learn to be more accepting of who we are and allow ourselves to be happier. Semple’s writing style is sharp and one that you may either love or hate but it’s bold and distinctive and personally I loved it.

Synopsis

Eleanor Flood knows she’s a mess. But today will be different. Today she will shower and put on real clothes. She will attend her yoga class after dropping her son, Timby, off at school. She’ll see an old friend for lunch. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action – life happens.

For today is the day Timby has decided to pretend to be ill to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day surgeon Joe has chosen to tell his receptionist – but not Eleanor – that he’s on vacation. And just when it seems that things can’t go more awry, a former colleague produces a relic from the past – a graphic memoir with pages telling of family secrets long buried and a sister to whom Eleanor never speaks.

Today Will Be Different is pubished by W&N an imprint of Orion Publishing Co

Adult Fiction, Crime, Liz Robinson Reviews, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary – a guest review by Liz Robinson

A big fan of Sarah Hilary, Liz feels ‘Come and Find me’ is her best novel yet.

Come and Find MeSimply superb, ‘Come and Find Me’ is one hell of a clever, twisting, powerful story.

This series is one of my favourites and DI Marnie Rome returns here in splendid style. Taking place a short time after ‘Quieter Than Killing’, Marnie and Noah find themselves hunting an escaped prisoner, for both, work overspills into their private lives. A strikingly distinctive voice greets you as you start reading, setting the scene so completely and clearly I could feel the presence, feel the confines of the prison. Sarah Hilary has the ability to take you into the words, to actually feel, to experience, and she sent my thoughts worming and writhing. At one point I found myself so exasperated and frustrated with one of the characters, it came as a shock when I came up for air and realised where I was. The ending buffeted me, surprised me, emotionally affected me, and a certain someone is still creeping around inside my mind. I already know that ‘Come and Find Me’ will be one of my favourite reads of the year, and I think this is Sarah Hilary’s best yet, I simply can’t recommend this series highly enough.

Synopsis:

On the surface, Lara Chorley and Ruth Hull have nothing in common, other than their infatuation with Michael Vokey. Each is writing to a sadistic inmate, sharing her secrets, whispering her worst fears, craving his attention.

DI Marnie Rome understands obsession. She’s finding it hard to give up her own addiction to a dangerous man: her foster brother, Stephen Keele. She wasn’t able to save her parents from Stephen. She lives with that guilt every day.

As the hunt for Vokey gathers pace, Marnie fears one of the women may have found him – and is about to pay the ultimate price.

Come And Find Me will be published by Headline on the 22nd of March 2018.

Adult Fiction, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Liz Robinson Reviews

The Pharmacist’s Wife by Vanessa Tait – Reviewed by Liz Robinson

Pharma Wife

Oh my, this is a fascinating, darkly powerful novel with biting attitude, set in Victorian Edinburgh. In the laboratory above a newly opened pharmacy, a wonder-drug is created, as the pharmacist experiments, his wife of six months discovers a world she couldn’t have imagined. Kindness and love sit at the very heart of this novel, however light can be so easily doused, and a bleak and twisted shadow menaces the pages. This may be a blistering Victorian drama, yet the characters feel so very real, their thoughts and feelings could easily be exposed today. Vanessa Tait writes with a provocative, combative pen, my mind flinched, my heart ached, and yet hope existed within the very centre of my being. Raw, elemental and disturbing, The Pharmacist’s Wife is an entirely captivating and enthralling read – highly recommended.

The Pharmacist’s Wife will be published by Atlantic Books on the 5th April 2018.

Time to talk

Tales Before Bedtime for Children becomes Story Makers…

For some time now I have been posting articles and book reviews for both children’s  and adult books on this blog but in an effort to make both sites easier to navigate for you, my reader, I have decided to move all my children’s activity to my Story Makers blog.   This will be the home for all my reviews for children’s, teen and young adult books plus information on my Story Makers Creative Writing and Storytelling Workshops.  I do hope you’ll follow my journey – literally, please click the link above and hit the follow button to the right 🙂

My aim is simply to share my love of books and stories that I hope inspire both children and adults to read.  Along the way I plan to introduce you and celebrate many wonderful authors and their stories.  And maybe even share one or two of my own.