Death in Iceland

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson 

I have been hearing for some time that I need to give Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction a try, so I finally took the plunge and read Snow Blind, Book 1 in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

Let me paraphrase what’s coming for the #TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) folks here: I will be reading more Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction, beginning with book 2 in the Dark Iceland series, Night Blind.

Snow Blind is the story of Ari Thór, a theology-student-turned-police-officer who moves from Reykjavik (starting here, I’m not putting the accents over the words because WordPress isn’t allowing it and I. Just. Can’t.) to Siglufjordur, a small town in the remote north of Iceland where the winters are long and dark and the residents seem to know everything about everyone.

Note my use of the word “seem.” Because when a well-known elderly writer in town dies under suspicious circumstances and his death is closely followed by another bizarre and violent occurrence, the residents are suddenly afraid and it quickly becomes clear they don’t know everything about everyone.

As the newcomer to a town where families go back generations and new faces are greeted with guarded suspicion, Ari Thor has his work cut out for him. He’s the rookie cop on the town’s very small police force and he needs to prove to his boss and the residents of Siglufjordur that he is smart and capable. It isn’t easy—he suffers from claustrophobia and now he’s stuck in a town where winter consists of constant darkness and tons and tons (and tons, and tons…) of snow with only one very treacherous road in or out. He’s left behind a serious girlfriend in Reykjavik and she’s unhappy with his decision to take the job. His new boss shifts on a dime from being fatherlike and kind to gruff and angry when Ari Thor suggests the old writer’s death wasn’t an accident.

This book says “Thriller” right on the cover, but I wouldn’t call it a thriller. I would call it a suspense novel. Here’s why: the reader knows certain things that Ari Thor doesn’t know; the story starts with a crime and circles back to it toward the end of the book; and the killer isn’t known until the final reveal near the conclusion of the story.

But with that being said, it’s a thrilling book. Ari Thor puts himself in harm’s way more than once to prove that he’s the right man for the job, and there are times when he’s in danger and the reader wonders how he’s going to fare. There are red herrings aplenty (pun intended—herring? Iceland? Get it?), and I was kept just off-balance enough to keep reading until way past my bedtime because I needed to know whodunit.

The characters in the book are complex and three-dimensional and the plot moves at a nice clip. I am already looking forward to book 2 in the series and I’ll be checking out other Icelandic and Scandinavian authors, too.

I would highly recommend Snow Blind to anyone who loves dark fiction and a clever mystery set in a desolate but beautiful place with plenty of atmosphere and tension.

And Now for Something a Little Different

I can’t read fast enough!

I have been busy lately with writing and research (including an overseas trip! More about that in an upcoming newsletter) and that’s left less time than usual for reading anything but nonfiction—and listening to audiobooks by Agatha Christie, but I figured I’d let up on the Agatha Christie reviews for a while.

So rather than skipping a week, I decided to share with you someone else’s review of a book I’d like to read. This one is on my TBR (To-Be-Read) list and I’m very eager to get to it.

My hope is that you’ll share the title of a book on your own TBR (and maybe even a review of it) in the comments below, because if there’s one thing we all need, it’s more books to read. *waves frantically from underneath a pile of books*

I don’t even remember where I heard about the Detective Hiroshi series by Michael Pronko, but they sounded interesting and a switch from the mysteries I usually read, which are set in the US and UK. This series is set in Japan. Pronko, who was born in Kansas, has lived in Japan for two decades and is a professor of American Literature. I’m guessing his experiences lend a unique perspective to his books.

I had a look on Amazon and the fifth book in the Detective Hiroshi series was released earlier this month.

So here’s one of the reviews I found of The Last Train, Book 1 in the Detective Hiroshi series. It appeared in Blue Ink Review in May, 2017.

The Last Train wastes no time grabbing the reader’s attention: It opens with a mysterious Japanese woman who leads her hapless American victim to a Tokyo subway station, then pushes him into the oncoming last train of the night.

After this breathtaking start, we meet police detective Hiroshi Shimizu, still recovering from a breakup with his American girlfriend. He’s assigned to financial crimes because he speaks fluent English, but a friend and mentor keeps pulling him into homicides. He’s placed on this murder because the victim was American and his English skills might be helpful.

From there, author Michael Pronko deftly weaves together a plot that flashes back and forth between the killer, who we learn is named Michiko Suzuki; her dark, tragic past, and Shimizu’s determination to track her down. Along the way, Pronko introduces a cast of fascinating characters, including Shimizu’s gruff mentor Takamatsu; sumo-wrestler-turned-cop Sakaguchi; an accountant and photographer who have been helping Suzuki with her killing spree, and the Tokyo yakuza (organized crime syndicate).As the plot unfoldsPronko takes readers through Tokyo’s sexually explicit “hostess bar” underground scene in the city’s lively Roppongi nightclub district, authentically rendered by the author.

For anyone who loves crime and cop novels, or Japanophiles in general, this is a terrific thriller. And fans of author Barry Eisler’s early novels featuring John Rain, a Tokyo-based half-Japanese assassin, will find the same satisfactions here. Pronko lives in Japan, and his knowledge of the culture and settings are obvious and impressive. The characters are believable and never condescending. Japan isn’t a mere exotic locale for the narrative; the story closely follows Japanese cultural values such as loyalty, honor and reciprocation.

In all, this is one you won’t want to miss. The Last Train will leave you scrambling for Pronko’s two other books featuring detective Shimizu: Thai Girl in Tokyo and Japan Hand.

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What do you think? I’m not a fan of sexually explicit scenes, so I wonder how the author handles the hostess club angle, but I’m interested enough in the plot of this book to keep an open mind.

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Author Spotlight: DB Corey

Today I welcome DB Corey to Reade and Write. I had the pleasure of meeting DB and his wife, Maggie, at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival in August and they are both charming and fun. DB is here to talk (with his characteristic razor-sharp sense of humor) about his newest release, The Lesser Sin. His first novel, Chain of Evidence, has garnered some incredible reviews on Amazon and I need to add both his books to my TBR.

Tell us about your new book.

Law Abiding Citizen meets Femme Fatale. The Lesser Sin is the first in a two-part series—a dark thriller, it’s the tale of Hanna Braver, a CIA sniper that leaves Afghanistan to hunt down the man that got away with the brutal murder of her sister. A devout Catholic, Hanna struggles with the concepts of her faith as love of family compels her to seek justice by committing the most grievous of Mortal sins, jeopardizing her Immortal Soul in the process.

Who is the audience for the book?

Anyone compelled by the anti-hero plotline. Anyone who cheers a progressively gritty protagonist that does the wrong thing, for the right reason … and begins to like it.

Tell us about the setting of your book—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

Choice – The book is set in the tristate area of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Virginia was easy because Hanna works for the CIA, and headquarters (Langley) is in Virginia. Maryland because I am so familiar with the area, and Delaware because of its rural characteristics and summer resort action.

Research – I did Google Earth searches on the eastern shore area of Delaware, and several on Virginia—primarily the Langley compound. After the late-night knock on my door, I explained to the Feds that I was writing a book and that was the reason for my surveillance of Spook Central. After reading the manuscript, they decided not to put me in jail, but only because they liked the book. Said it made the agency look good. (OK, I’m only kidding, but one must be careful of what one Googles). Additionally, I spoke with local police agencies in all three states and a couple former CIA types (Retired), one of which happens to be a fellow author, and one a Beta reader and fan. A Roman Catholic priest rounds out the research pool. I was very careful as to what I asked. I don’t want to be looking up, after I’m gone.

Choice – I chose these three states because of their proximity to each other. Hanna is hunting Daemon Goode. I didn’t want it to be too easy for her.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

As suggested by the title, a religious thread runs through this story: confessions, Bible passages, prayers and the like. There’s even a little Latin for those linguists and priests out there. I maintain religion in this tale as barrier, an obstacle that forces Hanna to come to terms with it, but I didn’t want the Faith component to hijack the story or have it come off as “preachy.” One reviewer pointed out that it wasn’t, so I must have succeeded. I wanted to weave it in as a character in the book, much like The DaVinci Code or The Exorcist. Not as an entity unto itself.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

Ah, dreams. Hanna Braver – Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Cole – I lean toward Lance Reddick (The Fringe, Bosch), but he’s a bit tall for the character. Hanna is taller than Cole, but so was Jack Reacher vs. Tom Cruise, so I’ll leave that open for now.

Have you written any other books?

Sure. One really bad one (sitting on the shelf at home), and Chain of Evidence, my first novel published to rave reviews (Amazon).

Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

I was when I started writing, stayed with a critique group for a year or so, but dropped out after that. I found that some of the folks in the group had a thin skin, and served up more resentment than constructive criticism. But, http://www.writing.com is a writer’s community, and that worked out well for me.

Do you write every day?

I try, but holding a day job makes it difficult to stick with it (sadly, writing has not provided a living wage. Yet. But I am hopeful).

Who are your favorite authors? Favorite genres?

I like thrillers, mystery, crime, humor, horror, and sci-fi. Writers? Same as most, I suppose: Patterson, King, Clancy, Cornwell, Flynn and the like. But those are easy, they’re so well known. I really enjoy reading books from writers that I know personally; colleagues I meet at festivals and conferences. The last one I read was Sand and Fire by Tom Young—an excellent military yarn by a great writer, fellow flier, and personal friend-o-mine.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

Singapore and Ireland. Maybe Hawaii if my wife would let me. All those grass skirts….

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t let frustration deter you. READ the writers you admire—their first books. Learn from what they did. How they did it. Especially their first chapter.

Learn how to grab your reader early. That is paramount!

Oh … and don’t quit your day job.

And while you’re at it, read:

The First Five Chapters – Noah Lukeman

Hooked – Les Edgerton – another personal friend-o-mine

What is your favorite movie and why?

God, so many. Scent of a Woman, The Sandlot, The Green Mile, A Christmas Story … more.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Stay 30.

Describe yourself in three words.

Generous, Considerate, Optimistic … so optimistic.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you wanted me to?

“What are you working on now?”

Well, since you asked, Amy, I’m writing the follow up to The Lesser Sin. No title yet, but the obvious choice is The Greater Sin. And I have another series on the backburner I really want to write: a near-future thriller revolving around a young girl and the grandmother that raised her, taken against her will by a desperate government. And then there’s a second in The Moby Truax (Chain of Evidence) series. So much to write, so little time.

Where can readers connect with you?

Facebook

Website (has my email link)

Twitter 

Where can readers find your books?

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iTunes

Pronoun

Google Play

Thanks so much for stopping by, DB! Best wishes with The Lesser Sin.

Until next time,

Amy

 

Author Spotlight: Linda Berry

Today’s guest author is Linda Berry, whose new book, Pretty Corpse, was recently released. It’s getting fantastic reviews on Amazon and I’m honored to have Linda here today to talk about the book. The subject matter of the story is a little out of my comfort zone, but in Linda’s capable hands I think I’m going to enjoy it. I invite you to share your comments at the end of the post, but please note that Linda is very busy this week with promotion and other activities and may not be able to respond right away.

Tell us about Pretty Corpse.

The year is 1999. A serial rapist is targeting teen girls in San Francisco. While on patrol, Officer Lauren Starkley discovers one of the victims, and she’s shocked to find out the girl is a close friend of her daughter. The case instantly becomes intensely personal. Because she isn’t a detective, Lauren is restricted from investigating, but she does so nonetheless on her own time. Lauren has an uncanny ability to find obscure clues and link them together. Her relentless pursuit of the rapist draws her deeper into his world. He in turn, starts getting closer to Lauren and her daughter. Lauren needs to lure him out of hiding, fast, before her daughter becomes his next victim.

Your novels are filled with an interesting mix of characters. Tell us about that. 

My stories reflect the range of characters each of us knows in real life. We all have people we admire, people who threaten us or are just plain loony. I like to keep readers alert and surprised by creating several interrelated stories that and ebb and flow through the main story. We are all multi-dimensional, and have many stories happening simultaneously in our lives, and sometimes conflict erupts on many fronts. I like to get into those emotional tsunamis and explore a person’s breaking point, and how they deal with the challenge. Complex characters that are bitterly wounded or pathologically twisted are interesting to me. I like to contrast the most vile and repugnant aspects of human nature to the most heroic and noble, and throw some quirky characters in for good measure.

How did you research this police thriller?

To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. I have to give a big thank you to the police officers at Mission Station in San Francisco in 2001, when I wrote this first draft. My research for Pretty Corpse came in the form of dozens of ride-alongs I did with various female patrol officers. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know, and also by the captain of the station, who gave generously of his time to help me authenticate my writing. Many of the side stories in Pretty Corpse are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers from Mission Station. 

Where do you write?

I write in a sunny office in my home overlooking a canal and peaceful wooded area. I live in Central Oregon, a resort town in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains.

You were an award-winning copywriter and art director for twenty-five years, and worked part of that time for the film industry. How did that experience shape your decision to become a novelist?

I had the privilege of collaborating with talented writers and some of the best editors in the business. I love books and have been an avid reader my entire life. I wrote novels as a passionate hobby. In fact, my three novels released this year by Winter Goose Publishing are the result of my efforts spanning a decade. Now that I’m retired, I write every day. It’s so much easier to produce good work when you can keep your train of thought moving forward, and are not constantly interrupted. 

What do you love most about your work?

I love the creative process itself—the challenge of developing and constructing plots that continually surprise the reader and hold them in a state of suspense. Writing is both a passion and a compulsion—a truly satisfying form of escape. My reward comes when a reader tells me they couldn’t put my book down and they talk about my characters as though they’re real people. Then I know I did my job well.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness comes to me in many forms. Appreciation of life itself is the foundation of happiness. I find this planet miraculous, from subatomic matter to the galaxies in space. I enjoy the beauty of ecosystems, how so many forms of life—plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects—the smallest creature to the largest, are dependent on each other for survival. My idea of perfect happiness is living on a healthy planet where people live together in peace and are trusted guardians of nature.

What is your greatest fear?

Being impoverished, homeless, or mentally or physically impaired and dependent on others. I did undergo some terrible threats to my health six years ago. I had a bout of debilitating pain for about 8 months, which diminished my ability to enjoy life. I’m now completely recovered, and feel I’ve been given a second chance at life. The experience sharpened my awareness of how fragile life is, how it can be taken away in an instant, and how one might be forced to languish in pain for a period of time. It heightened my appreciation for the quality of life I have now, for every precious moment I’m healthy and independent.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Lack of patience. Sometimes I get caught up in the everyday demands of life, and the illusion that I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do.  I have to remind myself at times to live in the moment, address what is happening right in front of me, and listen to people, even when I feel I’m short on time. Giving another human being a few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference in that person’s life. Kindness goes a long way.

Who in your profession do you most admire?

I read everything, and admire countless writers, from journalists to screen writers to poets to authors. I especially love mysteries, and I read an average of two books a week. If the writing is solid, and the story is well-constructed, I’ll read it regardless of genre.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Disconnecting from the world. Getting out in nature with my husband and our dog in our motorhome. I love being on a lazy schedule and disconnecting from social media, where the only decision I have to make is when to eat and what hikes to take. I can write in uninterrupted peace for hours at a time, surrounded by nature, sometimes listening to the gentle patter of rain, watching water drip off leaves. I love going to national parks, off season. We went to Bryce and Zion and Arches and the Grand Canyon two years ago. Last year we went to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and this year we may be going to Yosemite.

On what occasion would you lie?

I don’t tell big extravagant lies, but I do tell baby lies frequently, mostly when complimenting people. For example: “no, your ass doesn’t look big in those jeans” or “you look marvelous” when in actuality, you look hungover, and you have stains on your shirt.

What do you dislike most in your work?

When I hit a brick wall and I have to stop writing, sometimes for days, while I process my story and play out different scenarios in my head. I never force the creative process. What generally helps me break through the logjam is reading. I’ll bury my nose in a good book, and before long, ideas start percolating to the surface. I also have a muse, my nail goddess, who’s held captive doing my mani/pedi for 2 hours, and I bounce ideas off her. She has a creative mind and has been a wonderful contributor to my stories for years.

When and where were you happiest in your work?

This current period in my life is the happiest. Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of writing every day. I wake up eager to get to work. I take my coffee up to my sunny office and dig in. I believe I’m at my most happiest when my husband and I are traveling and we’re parked in a beautiful wilderness area and the peace of the place seeps into my bones. I can write with no interruption.

If you could, what would you change about myself?

I would take twenty years of physical wear and tear off my body. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I would change nothing. If I had to lose twenty years of life experience to be in a younger body, I would say no. I’m more at peace with myself at this stage of life than I have ever been.

What is your greatest achievement in work?

Having three novels completed and coming out this year, 2017. It’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment to see the culmination of years of work and endless rewrites in a physical book. Hidden Part One and Pretty Corpse are out, and Hidden Part Two comes out in September. I’m expecting my fourth mystery, Quiet Scream, to be out in December or January.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My friendliness, and my sense of humor. I have always had a keen interest in people and I’m a good observer, passionately interested in humans and the world around me. I’m an optimist at heart, and I’ve been blessed with a jolly spirit. I enjoy socializing but the greater part of my waking life is spent in solitude, writing, reading, and doing projects.

What is your most inspirational location in your city?

I like to get out on the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. We have a beautiful river, the Deschutes, that meanders through town and its character changes every foot of the way. There are many meadows, sagebrush flats, waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the Cascade Range. The look of a wild river, the various sounds of water rushing, falling, cascading over boulders, is invigorating and soothing. Hiking clears my head of thoughts and worries and puts me in a state of peacefulness.

What is your best advice for beginning writers?

Write about something you love and then your passion will come out in your words. Write often, everyday, if possible. Read, read, read. I read one or two books a week, and I also watch movies and TV productions that tell good stories. I take notes. I have volumes of notes, and refer to them daily.

 

Watch Linda’s Youtube trailers:

Hidden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-bNoFgaD9U&t=7s

Pretty Corpse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QHSvirTYdw&feature=youtu.be

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/linda.berry.94617 

Website: www.lindaberry.net

Twitter:@LindaBerry7272

Contact: lindaberrywriter@gmail.com

Best of luck with the new book, Linda!

Until next time,

Amy