Audible Review – Animal Instinct Human Zoo by Simon Booker

I listened to this book because that’s the only to get it, it’s only available on Audible. I have to say that I found it really enjoyable.

Joe Cassedy isn’t a policeman anymore, but that doesn’t stop him investigating when an old friend in trouble comes to him. What starts out looking like a fairly straightforward murder mystery soon descends into something unexpectedly darker. Making reference to animal behaviour, it reminds the reader that we’re all just beasts in the end and what is done to the victim family is certainly beastly.

There’s an interesting side story about Joe and his marriage that keeps the reader interested too.

Kent is my home county, so I recognised many of the places named, which made it feel like visiting an old friend. Though the territory of the themes in the book was a whole new world to me, there was clearly a lot of research that went into writing this story, and the author did the most wonderful job of only using what was necessary to get the message across.

There’s a great cast and high production values to this presentation. Who wouldn’t enjoy listening to Brendan Coyle, he’s got a lovely voice, my only issue was that every time Joseph Marcell spoke – he did a good job of this in fairness – but every time I inevitably got an image of Geoffrey the Butler from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, this is doubtless a function of my age more than the production.

Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely.

Blog Tour – Meal of Fortune by Phil Brady

I was very happy to be asked to be part of the Meal of Fortune blog tour.

The Blurb

Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch approaches him with an irresistible proposition – help launch the pop career of the man’s beautiful daughter.

Meanwhile, Dermot’s former girlfriend Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own rather specialised career.

Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again – thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure the Russian, in reality a vicious arms dealer, into a highly unusual trap.

That’s going to be hard enough without having to deal with a lecherous celebrity chef, a diminutive mafia enforcer with his own agenda or one very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’. And then there’s Anna’s boss, who isn’t exactly playing it straight.

If she and Dermot are going to come out of this alive, they’ll have to learn to trust each other again, and push themselves well out of their comfort zones.

But one thing’s non negotiable. They’re absolutely not going to fall in love again. That’s never going to happen, OK?

My Review

I wasn’t at all sure what I was going to get when I agreed to be on the blog tour for this book, but I can tell you I wasn’t disappointed.

Dermot is a hapless chump caught up in something he can’t possibly deal with alone, it’s that far out of his experience. Anna is a strong and archetypal hero, but she’s suffering the glass ceiling. Koslov appears on the page like thug, but the thing he’s hiding is a brain. Bukin is an oligarch with little to recommend him – except perhaps a penchant for daytime cookery quizzes and an apparently great love for his daughter.

Meal of Fortune feels like The Avengers, the original 1960s version with Patrick Macnee. It’s full of action, adventure, a little romance, and comedy. Now don’t get me wrong, this book won’t have you laughing out loud, but it has a real tongue in cheek tone and an intelligent sense of humour that doesn’t take anything too seriously and still elevates the story.

Dermot might not be the best Steed ever, but Anna is a hell of an Emma Peel.

I have two very minor criticisms of the book. The first chapter describes an attack, and by the time the next reference is make to that attack, I’d almost forgotten about it. That said, it wouldn’t have worked if it had been put in the book in chronological order, so it’s best where it is and for someone who reads faster than I do, it won’t be a problem at all. The second point is that there are a few typos that jumped out at me, such as Belgian being used where Belgium should have been, as you can see, I am talking minor errors only. And I report these just to give full disclosure.

I have a tendency to read quite gritty crime, and this was much lighter and easier to read, a very welcome break. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I am intending to read more from this author, so I really would recommend this book. I’m giving it a four not a five because it didn’t completely dazzle me, that je ne se pas was missing. That said, am sitting here wondering if should this be a five star, definitley 4.5 then.

The Author

Phil lives in west London with his wife two children and some animals, which also like to call the house home.

He is somewhat obsessed and bemused with the public and media’s fixation with celebrities of every stripe. This forms the backdrop of his books, which also tend to feature spies, gangsters, hit men and TV chefs.

His first novel, The Meal of Fortune, was published in 2017, with a second edition following in 2021.  The follow up. Tinker Tailor Soldier Chef will be published in 2022.

Phil’s main rule in life is never to let tomato ketchup touch any food that is green.  This may not have any deep meaning, nor may it be the soundest of principles to live by – but it’s better than many he’s come across down the years.  Best not to go there though.

Thanks to Phil and Heather Fitt for inviting me on this blog tour.

Blog Tour – The Commandments by Óskar Guðmundsson

I was very happy to be invited to join this blog tour, and am very pleased to be able to say that it has added to my aim this year of reading more non-UK based crime.

The Commandments – The Blurb

Former police officer Salka Steinsdóttir finds herself pitched into the toughest investigation of her life, just as she is back in the tranquil north of Iceland to recover from a personal trauma.

The victim is someone she had pursued earlier in her career – and had never been able to pin down. Now a killer has taken the law into their own hands and meted out brutal retribution for ancient crimes. Salka is faced with tracking down the murderer of a stalwart of the church and the community, a man whose dark reputation stretches deep into the past, and even into the police team tasked with solving the case.

As the killer prepares to strike again, Salka and her team search for the band of old friends who could be either killers or victims – or both.

A bestseller in Iceland, The Commandments asks many challenging questions as it takes on highly emotive and controversial issues.

My Review

Written by Óskar Guðmundsson and translated by Quentin Bates, this is a story that draws the reader in from the start. We first see the setup of the situation in 1995, it is not pleasant, and the indications are clear from the off. Then we jump to 2014 and then the real action begins. Headlines in the paper that state: “Church covers up child abuse victims tell all” really sets the scene for what’s going to happen through the book. This story deals with grooming and corruption on many levels and how powerful men will cover up for others, until the victims are left powerless and unbelieved.

The writing in this book, the plot and subplots, flow naturally and well, there isn’t a wasted scene. There is plenty of misdirection and hints at a great many things, some of which turn out to be real and some don’t. As a reader you don’t really know which are which until the end, which is great because it keeps you guessing and reading.

All the characters are really well-drawn, they feel like real people with real lives, another huge positive. The investigator, Salka is an interesting character, a lost and lonely woman with a past, and real potential for the future – assuming she doesn’t blow it. Her reality only truly reveals itself on the very last page and it is a surprise, but it also explains so much about the way she is as a woman and as a police officer.

The final resolution is two-fold, the first revelation surprised me, which it probably shouldn’t have done. The second didn’t, though it probably should have. I like that I was surprised, it means I was kept guessing till the end and a good crime novel should do that.

The thing that tripped me up through the book was the names. Obviously, they are Icelandic and most of them were no problem at all, the people (except one) were easily nameable, and I think I’d make a good attempt at pronunciation – but I’ve no idea how to say many of the mentioned places. Reykjavik, Grenvik, those were fine, but in my head, the others slowed me right down and I had to really think to read them syllable but syllable, which in turn threw me out of the rhythm of the story. This is most definitely an issue with me and not with the book, I’m reporting this as my reader experience not criticising the book.

The subject matter of this book is a tough one and I think that it was handled with care and sensitivity. However, the nature of the subject did make for a tough emotional read at times. It makes the reader stop and think, which again a good book should.

I can easily see why this book will get a great many 5* reviews however, I’m giving it 4*. The reason for this is that it didn’t have that undefinable quality that meant I just had to keep reading – don’t get me wrong once I was reading it, I loved it, it really is well written/translated. But there were several times when I thought, oh I could sit and read now, that the idea of reading this particular book meant I didn’t. This is clearly much more of a me issue than an issue with the book, so other readers shouldn’t necessarily be put off by my assessment. In reviewing I have to be totally honest, and the stop-the-world-I-have-to-read-this-now factor was missing for me.

I really do think that a great many crime readers will absolutely love this book, and I would highly recommend it.

About the Author and Translator

Óskar Guðmundsson

One of the rising stars of Icelandic crime fiction, Óskar Guðmundsson has been writing since he was a youngster, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that his novel Hilma was published – and was an immediate success, winning the Drop of Blood award for the best Icelandic crime novel of 2015. This was followed by a sequel, Blood Angels, in 2018.

The first of his books to be published in an English translation, The Commandments is a standalone novel which appeared in Iceland in 2019. All of Óskar’s books have been bestsellers and rewarded with outstanding reviews. The TV rights to Hilma have been acquired by Sagafilm.

His latest book is The Dancer, which has been published simultaneously as an ebook, audiobook and paperback – accompanied by an original song in which Óskar’s words have been put to music featuring some of Iceland’s leading musicians.

Óskar’s talents don’t end there, as he’s also an artist and has held a number of exhibitions of his work.

Óskar Guðmundsson is the kick-ass breath of fresh air that Icelandic crime fiction has been waiting for

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Quentin Bates

Quentin’s roots in Iceland go very deep. In addition to writing fiction of his own, he has translated into English books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, Guðlaugur Arason, Einar Kárason, Ragnar Jónasson and others. One of the original founders of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival in Reykjavik.

Blog Tour – A Shetland Winter Mystery by Marsali Taylor

Today I’m pleased to be part of The Sheltand Winter Mystery for Marsail Taylor and Reading Between the Lines blog tours

I understand you live and work on Sheltand, what drew you to the island and what’s your favourite place there?

Well, the answer’s rather prosaic: we were advised, at teacher training college, to apply to every region in Scotland with fingers crossed, as jobs were scarce. My first offer of a job was a letter from the Shetland Director of Education, saying there were two vacancies for a French/English teacher in Shetland. I knew I wanted to be in the country and near the sea, and I liked the idea of a small school, so I chose Aith (school roll 180 pupils aged 5-16). My first view of Shetland was the drive to my interview there, on the most gorgeous summer day, along quiet roads with green, green hills on one side and the sea dancing on the other. I fell in love straight away. That was forty years ago in August … 

My favourite place is what’s called “the Minn” locally – Swarback’s Minn, the hand-shaped piece of water between Aith, Brae and the wild Atlantic – my sailing territory. There are headlands with a variety of birds, beaches with seals basking and otters ducking under, porpoises and I’ve even seen a humpbacked whale, all within sailing distance of the marina, which is only 400m from my front doorstep. On a good day I can get from doorstep to the middle of the voe with the sails up and engine off in 17 minutes! Yes, of course Cass’ beloved yacht Khalida bears more than a passing resemblance to my own Karima…

Shetland has its own unique dialect and I understand that you have written plays in the dialect. Will any of that dialect be seen in your novel?

The Shetland dialect is just beautiful to listen to – to hear it, have a look on BBC Sounds for Mary Blance’s Radio Shetland Books programme. The dialect’s a mixture of old Scots and Norn, the old form of Norwegian, with many words of Norse origin still in common use – the islands were Norwegian territory until 1469, and some Norn was still spoken by older folk in Victorian times. Many of my pupils speak in dialect, and I wrote the plays for them to perform at our local Drama Festival. In the novels I’ve tried to give a feel of the rhythm of the speech without putting readers off by phonetic spelling, and I’ve used dialect words where the meaning can be guessed from the context (though there’s also a glossary at the back). The grammar’s also different; for example, a Shetlander would say ‘I’m been’ to the shop, instead of ‘I have been.’ For example, if Cass’s friend Magnie was to greet her with, ‘Now then, Cass, where have you been since I last saw you?’, I’d write it as, ‘Now then, lass, where’re you been fae I saw you last?’ but it would actually sound like ‘Noo dan, Cass, whaur’s du been fae I saa dee last?’

When did you start writing, and why?

I’ve always written, since I was a child. I love telling stories. I began on my first adult novel as soon as I left University, and wrote five before I finally got a publisher for Death on a Longship – two historical romances, and three Shetland detective stories, all still unpublished. My first published works, apart from articles in the local magazine Shetland Life, were Shetland Plays and my self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland. It was meant to be a pamphlet, but so much was involved in the suffrage fight – education, working conditions, divorce, and custody laws and property ownership – and it went on for so long, from the first House of Commons bill in 1860 to partial women’s suffrage in 1919, that it ended up 320 pages.

What motivates you to write?

I write because I love doing it. Every morning after breakfast, I take a quick walk round the village, then head for my desk and get on with Cass’s latest adventure … or my Practical Boat Owner column … or a short story for our monthly local writers’ group meeting. I’m always writing something.

A Shetland Winter Mystery (The Shetland Sailing Mysteries Book 14) Kindle Edition

Who is your favourite of your characters and why?

My favourite character … hard question. I’ve got fond of them all! Cass is like a sometimes-exasperating little sister but I love her determination and fearlessness (I wish I had her head for heights!), and her cool head in a crisis. I love Gavin’s quiet sense of humour, his passion for wildlife, his unflappability. Maman is great fun when she swans on in her best dramatic fashion with a mixture of opera theatricality and French common-sense, and I enjoy Dad’s belief that his Cassie will only be truly happy when she finds a good Catholic man and has six children. Dream on, Dad! I genuinely don’t use real people in my stories, with one exception: some day my fifteen-year-old grandson is going to be asking searching questions about who inspired the engaging but naughty Peerie Charlie.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, and why?

Least favourite characters … I’ve created a few very unpleasant people. I won’t name them because of spoilers, but I think the worst are in The Shetland Sea Murders…. which just happens to be my last book. In it, Cass is on board our own tall ship, Swan, for a birthday weekend when a fishing boat goes on the rocks. The book is structured on the history of women’s suffrage and this is reflecting in the characters – so, for example, the first section links to the fight for women to get custody of their children, and involves possible child abuse; the second section links to women officials, and one character has the ambition of being Shetland’s first woman Convenor of the Council, and so on; I hope in the final chapters you’ll see Cass as a modern descendant of those determined women who drove ambulances under fire in World War I.

Tell us about your last book…

My newest book, A Shetland Winter Mystery, is set during ‘the Yules’, the old Norse word for Christmas, which has a number of traditions associated with it. One of them is that during the dark days before Christmas the ‘trows’, Shetland’s little people, are set free to roam round the houses. The book opens with Cass and Gavin waking to find little footprints in the snow around the house – and they’re not the only house to be visited. Naturally Cass begins investigating, and then a teenager disappears from the middle of a snowy field …

What’s coming next…

Well, the next Cass is half-planned and 11,000 words long – a tenth of the way! I don’t do a complete plan because it changes so much during writing, and because it’s more fun for me if I don’t know what’s going to happen next either. However, I do know it will involve the Book of the Black Arts, a book of spells stolen from the Devil himself, last seen in Cullivoe, on the north island of Yell, in Victorian times …

Thank you very much for letting me feature on your blog, and I hope you enjoy A Shetland Winter Mystery.

Author Marsali Taylor photographed onboard her yacht in Aith Marina, Shetland, Sep 2005

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women’s suffrage in Shetland. She’s also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.

Bio copied from Amazon.

Thanks to Marsali for answering my questions, and don’t forget to see what everyone else has to say on the rest of the blog tour.

Get Covered – the Business of Writing

We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it, we all do.

The reason I’m talking about this is because I’ve recently gone through the process of getting the Locked Series recovered and reissued. 

Now I love these books, I always have, and I have no problems with the original covers, but as I was reissuing them under the HanWill Publishing banner, they needed new covers and covers which are consistent so they look like a set.

To get these designed, I had to get someone else to put them together for me. I know what I want from a cover, but I simply don’t have the skills to create it. And one thing that really bugs me, is seeing a really naff cover that lacks a professional finish. You see when I see that I really do judge the book by its cover. That indicates to me that the author couldn’t be bothered to invest in good design, so they probably didn’t invest in a good editor either, so I won’t invest my time in reading them.

I don’t want my books to be viewed that way. So I found a good designer.

Mark Thomas of Coverness design was a joy to work with. We chatted about what I wanted and agreed a budget. I gave him the brief, and he very quickly turned around what I needed.

We had a small cross communication as I initially received the draft designs on my phone and everything looked blue though it wasn’t, hopefully, you’ll see the difference from the picture.  So, if you go through this process yourself, always check the imagery on more than one device.

There were, of course, tweaks that needed doing and Mark was great for turning everything around quickly and I was really happy with the brief.

Top tips I can give for working with any designer, is be prepared.  Think about what you need before you contact the designer and when you do, have as tight a brief ready as you can. As clear a guide as you can get to what you want to see. Also have the following in place:

  • The title
  • The byline
  • The blurb
  • Any strap line or other you want on the cover
  • What format you need – hardback, paperback, ebook, audiobook (or any combination thereof)
  • The size of the physical format

If you have them the number of pages and the ISBN might be useful to give too.

Would also suggest that you do your due diligence, check websites, read testimonials, make sure that you are dealing with a reputable designer. And if you need a recommendation – I highly recommend Coverness, easy to work with, and a great final product.

Name Check

Reasons to do your research

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t recognise this, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, it’s an American initiative to get people writing. I’ve been taking part most years since I heard about it in 2013.

I’m writing ‘Scenes in My Head’, in other words, any scene from any of the books currently jostling for a place in my brain. The particular scene I’m writing today is from a police procedural. And in this scene, the lead investigator gets a call from another force.

The force in question covers Kent. As I grew up in Kent, I know that it was always called the KCC, the Kent County Constabulary. So that’s what I wrote. I also know that their headquarters is in the center of Maidstone.

Turns out, I don’t know much.

Kent County Constabulary did have its headquarters in the centre of Maidstone, but now they’ve moved to the North Kent Police Station, which is actually in Gravesend.

They also aren’t called Kent County Constabulary anymore either. Although they do hold the distinction of having been the last force to have kept the word ‘county’ in their name, in 2002, they changed their name to Kent Police.

It’s also interesting to note that Kent Police are, as far as I can tell, the only ones with a station on foreign soil, as they have a station in Coquelles, France

They were also the first force to have a black chief constable, Michael Fuller – 5 January 2004 to 16 February 2010, who also happens to have written a book, “Kill the Black One Fist“, which might interest some of you.

So, the moral of the story is – do your research, and check your facts, even the facts you absolutely KNOW you know.

Author Interview – Ann Bloxwich

I first met Ann at the Bloody Scotland crime festival a number of years ago. A bubbly, popular, confident woman with a dream to chase, and now she’s gaining momentum.

When did you start writing, and why?

It’s a strong desire to prove myself, and to make my family proud of me. I was always told I’d never amount to anything, and for years I believed it. My dream is to see my books in bookshops and on the bestsellers lists, knowing how hard I worked to get there and so I can say ‘I did it. I chased my dreams and made them happen.’

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I find a series easier in that I can develop my characters more fully. I do have a standalone outlined but have a feeling that it may turn into a series if I fall in love with the characters.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

I’d like to think I could tackle almost anything, as long as it is done with the utmost respect for the victims. Having said that, I don’t think I could ever write about animal abuse.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I have a couple of favourites. My favourite is Alex Peachey, he’s the kind of policeman I would want to help me if I was in trouble. When I’m writing a scene with him, I ask myself what I would do if I were in his shoes, then he reacts the same way I would. My second favourite is Matt Farrow, aka Faz. He’s based on my old sports physio – and has the same name – and has a similar sick sense of humour. I’m enjoying developing his character, and you’ll be seeing more of him in future books.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Vicky Wilson was my least favourite in the first book,. She was exactly like the kind of person I used to see hanging around at ladies’ nights, hoping to pull one of the guys and being rude to the staff or other performers because they thought they were something special. I’m still writing the second book, so haven’t decided yet who’s my least favourite.

Tell us about your last book…

What Goes Around’ is the first in the DI Alex Peachey series and sees Alex being called back to work from leave to find the killer of a young woman after a ladies’ night. With a house move imminent and issues with his disabled son, it’s the last thing Alex needs but he has no choice when his colleague is rushed to hospital. Vicky Wilson had been dating one of the male strippers, an unpleasant, self-centred man named Ray Diamond, and had last been seen heading to join him backstage during the show. Alex has to figure out whether Ray is telling the truth when he says he didn’t kill Vicky or whether he’s so arrogant he thinks he can get away with murder.

What’s coming next…

‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ (provisional title).
‘Survivors’ is a counselling and therapy group for women who were abused as children. They meet up each week, safe in the knowledge that everything they discuss is confidential. Souls are bared and fears are expressed without judgement or ridicule. They can talk openly in a place where they feel safe, in the hope they can work through their terrible experiences and start to move forward. Then their abusers start turning up dead, each body bearing a gift card that reads ‘Goodnight, God Bless.’
Specific methods of torture suggests that the killer knows the women very well indeed, with knowledge of privileged information. Information that could only have come from inside that room.
DI Alex Peachey and his team have to tread carefully to find out if the killer is a mere vigilante, determined to free these women from their nightmares, or if there is more to this case than meets the eye.

Link to Buy: What Goes Around

I’m a short, tattooed crime writer, with a profound love of cats and rock music. I’ve worked as an Oompa Loompa in a chocolate factory, a carer in a residential home, and had my own promotions company before I became an author.

‘What Goes Around’ is the first book in the DI Alex Peachy Series. I’ve also had short stories published in two charity anthologies produced by ‘Crime & Publishment’, a crime writing workshop run by Graham Smith at The Mill Forge hotel in Gretna Green. When I’m not writing, I’m usually attending book festivals.

Thank you Ann, I’m looking forward to seeing you again at the next festival.


I have secured the rights back for Locked Up and Locked In, so at last the Locked Trilogy is reunited, re-edited, re-covered, and now re-released.

So come met Charlie Bell, the ex-dectective sergeant who crosses a line or two. Prison Officer Ariadne Teddington walks a dangerous line, and never expected to be attracted to a convict. DCI Matthew Piper never thought a friend ofhis would end up behind bars, so why is the guilty man the one he trusts more than any other.

Book Review – Feral Snow by Mark Lowes

Feral Snow is Mark’s debut novel – and what a debut!

Feral Snow: 'A simply stunning debut' Kindle Edition

Terrified of fatherhood, Paul runs away from his pregnant wife to join an Artic documentary filming crew, for the money of course. He’s really not suited to the climate and on his first trip into the white, he falls into a crevasse. From there it is a gripping tale of his fight for survival against the cold, loneliness, and his own bitter self-loathing. Then a native girl falls in to the crevasse with him, and he learns what he would do to save a child and be a man, be a father.

This book delves into the fierce and often surprising nature of humanity. Contrasting the man’s lack of self-belief with the indomitable spirit of a child. It examines the nature of father-child relationships with examples of the best and worst of what that can mean. And by the end you are left wondering which is the child, which the adult and if indeed there is a difference.

I found that the solution was just a bit too neat for my personal taste, I simply didn’t click with the resolution – that is – I didn’t until the very last paragraph. Then the all too happy ending made so much more sense.

This only gets a four-star from me because I really struggled to slog through the first 60 pages – but that said – from there on I read in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down, I had to know what happened next. This book will keep you reading and it moved me to tears in parts.

Also note that I can totally see why so many others rightfully give it 5*.

This is an excellent debut novel and I would recommend it to readers.

Buy Link: Feral Snow

An image posted by the author.

Mark Lowes is a former teacher, current early childhood educator, and a dad. He lives in Cardiff, Wales, UK, and is sometimes found lamenting over how awful his football team is. While he’s not working with deaf children and their families, he’s writing dark and twisty fiction.

Mark is the winner of Litopia’s Pop-Up Submissions and of a pitch contest at the Cardiff Book Festival.

(This bio and the image are copied from Mark’s Amazon page)

Blog Tour – Devil’s Cauldron by Alasdair Wham

Alasdair Wham is another new to me writer, so I wanted to find out a bit more about him and his work. 

Alasdair’s latest books is “Devil’s Cauldron”, here’s the blurb:

What would you do if you saw your father murdered and no one believed you? When he was twelve Finn McAdam, saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth. Wherever it leads him. Whatever it costs. But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.

Here’s what Alasdair had to tell me about him and his work.

One of my earliest memories is attempting to write a story. It was two lines and I wanted to add if it was true or false. I had probably just started primary school. During primary my compositions were noted for imagination and being somewhat gory. By the time of secondary school, I was writing science fiction but with little success or sense of progress. So, in a sense I have always wanted to write stories.

After university, where I studied Chemistry, I wrote two novels. The first ‘Shadow of the Cloud’ was about a gold heist during a nuclear attack, written in the eighties it was partly to highlight the madness of nuclear weapons. The next novel was ‘Second Chance’ a spy thriller based in Scotland. I sent both books away to agents and publishing houses and got a fairly positive response, one agent seeing potential!

A growing family and a busy teaching career meant that I had no time to write. What kick-started my writing again and took it in a different direction was a weekend trip away when I had the chance to abseil from a disused railway viaduct in Galloway – the iconic Big Water of Fleet viaduct. Along with my sons I became interested in exploring disused railways, discovering their history and what remained. Articles in newspapers and magazines followed and then my first book – Lost Railways of Galloway – a series of explorations of the disused railways in that area. It proved very popular, and I subsequently wrote another seven books on the same theme. The explorations took me all over Scotland and sales of the books totalled about 12,000. I spoke on the radio on disused railways and gave a talk at the Wigtown Book Festival. I have always had a publisher for the railway books.

However, time catches up with you and your knees so in retirement with the encouragement of friends I decided to write another novel. I mulled over the plot in my head for months writing little down and set in the Scottish island of Islay. Machir Bay was the result. The consequence of a wartime tragedy, a mysterious plane crash, missing gold (spot a link to my first novel) and the story of two families. A youthful romance between Peter and Catherine, which ended abruptly and then the return of Catherine to the island years later. Accusations of attempted rape by Catherine which Peter, who was drugged has no recollection. Complicating matters is that in the intervening years Peter had married Jenny, an artist. Peter’s problems lead him into danger as he exposes a drug run between Northern Ireland and Islay operated by Desmond McGrory, an Irish drug baron.

I started, as you do, with the first chapter, rewritten innumerable times, and then the daily discipline of a chapter a day, with weekends off to plot the next section and to my surprise I finished it. I employed a copy editor and decided to publish myself.

To my surprise the book proved popular and sold 1100 copies in paperback and is now on Kindle. Machir Bay was reviewed positively in magazines and newspapers and through Amazon sold all over the United Kingdom. In Islay it was particularly successful. Waterstones and other bookshops had healthy sales and there was a successful launch at Waterstones in Ayr. The sequel Bac Mor continuing the story of Peter and Jenny and their final showdown with Desmond McGrory and takes the story to Mull and Iona. A publisher showed interest in my work, but COVID killed that dream.

I have a plot to complete the Peter and Jenny trilogy but decided to give them a rest, a period of recovery. Still learning my craft, I wanted to try different characters set in a different area.

My writing has been influenced by my railway explorations and the need to describe scenes accurately. I set my stories in places that I know and hope that people would recognise the places that I write about. A major influence is Desmond Bagley, a popular thriller writer from the 1970s. His novel, Running Blind set in Iceland was one of my favourite books and his descriptions of the dramatic Icelandic landscape was remarkable. When the BBC filmed the book, I could recognise where most of the scenes were set. He could also write thrilling chase sequences. I wanted to emulate him, and all my fiction contain chase sequences. 

The latest book Devil’s Cauldron is set in Galloway, and I am proud that I could use my knowledge of the disused railways as part of the plot. When he was twelve Finn McAdam saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth.

But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.

During the First World War, a large munitions factory was set up in south-west Scotland to meet the crippling shortage of cordite for shells on the Western Front. On a visit, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle labelled the cordite paste as the Devil’s Porridge. After the world wars, the area was used mainly for storing munitions until a new unit nicknamed the Devil’s Cauldron was set up.

Mainly set in Galloway, the story should appeal to those who enjoyed John Buchan’s classic novel ‘The 39 Steps’ or Dorothy L Sayers’ Five Red Herrings’.

A fourth novel, Delivery Boy, written during lockdown, is completed in draft. Billy Baxter’s life was ruined when he lost his parents in a car crash as a boy. His Uncle Dean’s offers of help came at a price and Billy was drawn into a nightmare from which he can’t escape unless…. Now everyone is out to murder Billy, but murder is the least of his fears.

So far, all my novels have been told through the eyes of the narrator which I have found a useful approach, allowing me to show the vulnerability of the character and conceal information about him. Peter, Jenny and Finn are all very human faced with great danger they survive. They are not heroes in the classical sense, but ordinary people face with challenging situations, reacting as I think we might if faced with the same circumstances. I also like telling a story partly in flashback gradually revealing more of their background. Peter’s earlier life is important and is told between chapters set in the present. The two stories gradually merge and then the pace picks up.

Basically, I love writing and plotting and become very absorbed in my tales.  Once I start, I try to write a chapter each day, then take the dog for a walk, come back and edit my efforts. Some days there are few changes, other days there can be a rewrite but the momentum to keep up the pace means that it only takes a few months to complete a novel. Often the choice phrases that I thought I would use in the initial draft are edited out.

My favourite character is Finn McAdam, the main character in the Devil’s Cauldron. Not just because he is a Chemistry teacher! He faces challenges, the opposition of his family and the people involved in the conspiracy and doesn’t give up. Finn is vulnerable, has too high an opinion of his dad, suffers from PTSD but is determined to expose the wrongdoing that killed his father.

Alasdair Wham


I worked as a deputy head teacher, at a large comprehensive secondary school in Ayrshire, for many years and live in Ayr with my wife and a lively Border Collie and enjoy retirement. Since the age of five I have wanted to write a novel. It only took 60 years for me to fulfil my ambition.

I have previously written a series of popular books exploring Scotland’s disused railways, recording the history of the lines and incidents and personalities associated with the routes.  The first explorations took place in Galloway over twenty-five years ago and now cover ‘lost railways’ from Galloway to the Borders and the Trossachs. The explorations were a family affair with the help of my four sons.

I love writing, exploring different parts of Scotland and using my imagination.

Alasdair on Amazon
Devil’s Cauldron

Interesting to see the reference to Desmond Bagley – I used to love his work too.  Thanks to Alasdair and Reading Between the Lines for including me on this blog tour.  Best luck with the book.