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Kim Stone

CHILD’S PLAY . . . Between the covers

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The man whoI’m new to the Angela Marsons Kim Stone series, which is good a cue as any to adapt a cartoon by one of my favourite illustrators, HM Bateman. It is clear that the Kim Stone novels, which began in 2015 with Silent Scream are hugely popular and although her millions of existing readers will not give a hoot what I think, I can now see why.

The author hails from the Black Country, that wildly unfashionable area west of Birmingham, which takes its name from the prodigious amounts of soot generated by its heavy industries in times past. Geographically it includes parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Beyond place names, Marsons doesn’t make the region a dominant character in Child’s Play, at least not in the same way that, say Chris Nickson uses Leeds or Phil Rickman uses the Welsh Marches.

Kim Stone, like the great majority of popular fictional British police officers, has issues. Marsons is too good a writer to include Stone’s complete biography, but we learn that she had a wretched childhood. In both fiction and real life I am never really sure about people who relate better to dogs than they do to fellow humans, but such folk exist in both spheres. Kim Stone is one such, but her general misanthropy probably makes her a better copper. She is a fascinating and complex character who is at home the random chaos of modern life, perhaps because she can escape, maybe from herself:

“She drew comfort from the familarity of town noise, even the late-night noise of occasional sirens, doors slamming, loud music through open windows, drunks singing on the way home from the pub, wives giving them what for once they got there.”

CP coverUnsurprisingly, her chosen mode of transport is a powerful Kawasaki motorbike, the ultimate solo kick where all that exists is the rushing road, the wind and the scream of the engine:

“Her only interest in the countryside was tearing through it on the Ninja to blow the cobwebs from her mind.”

Child’s Play begins with the bizarre and apparently motiveless murder of a woman in her sixties. Belinda Evans is found in a children’s playground, bound to a swing with strips of barbed wire. Belinda – and apologies to people who have never watched Coronation Street – is no Emily Nugent, however, as Stone’s team soon discover that the late woman had a taste for rough sex and bondage.

As the title suggests, there is a theme of childhood running through this intriguing police procedural. All kinds of childhoods. The ones where youngsters are sufficiently traumatised by events that they become mute and withdrawn, living in their own personal hell. The ones where parents seek to live out their own inadequacies through desperate and damaging over-encouragement of a child’s talent. Not just those screaming abuse at the world from the touchlines of a junior football game, but those who believe their children are gifted and talented above the norm, and push, push, push for more certificates, more acclaim and more vicarious satisfaction.

In a fascinating parallel story, one of Stone’s team, Penn, has to absent himself for the hunt for the killer of Belinda vans as he is a key witness in the trial of a man accused of killing a convenience store server. Minutes away from the jury retiring to deliver a nailed-on guilty verdict, the wife of the accused man changes her story and the prosecution case unravels at a frightening pace.

AMMarsons (left) takes us down and dirty into the visceral world of police work:

“It was the pungent, unholy smell that could only be compared to a room full of rotting meat with the added smell of faeces. It was an odour that could live in a house for years despite deep cleaning, and was unmistakeable as anything else other than a dead body.”

The drama finally plays out in the intense, other-worldly – and distinctly disturbing – world of a weekend event for Gifted and Talented children and their parents. Bryant, one of Stone’s team comes face to face with the scary world of youngsters who are on the Aspergers Autism spectrum:

“ ‘This seat taken, buddy?’ he asked a boy sitting alone with a book.
‘Taken where?’ he asked, peering over his reading glasses. ‘Do you mean occupied?’
‘I’m gonna take that as a no,’ he said, pulling the chair towards him.
The boy regarded him seriously and Bryant guessed him to be ten or eleven years old with fair hair and clear hazel eyes, enlarged by the thick spectacles.”
‘Is it appropriate for a middle-aged man to seek the company of an unattended child?’ the boy asked, seriously.”

Gripping, unusual and fast-paced, Child’s Play is, by turns, unsettling and cleverly plotted. It is published by Bookouture and is out now.

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DAZZLING DEBUTS … Chosen by Rachel Amphlett

rachel-amphlettSome authors save the best for last. Others, like Joseph Heller with Catch 22, produce such a devastatingly good first novel that the rest of their lives are spent trying to better it. Rachel Amphlett has a new novel out – watch out for our review of Scared To Death – but she has taken time out of her hectic schedule to look at a few brilliant ‘first in series’ crime novels.

We’re getting ready to move house in the New Year, which means at some point I’m going to have to box up all eight bookshelves of crime and thriller books that are currently lining the walls of one of the rooms downstairs.

After sorting out which books would have to go to the charity shop – unless scientists work out a way to clone me in the next fifty years, there’s a very good chance I’ll never get to these a second time around – I was left with some of the crime series that have stayed with me for years, and that I’ll be hanging onto for a long time yet.

This got me thinking: what is it about these first in series novels that still capture my imagination after all this time? And what is it about these books that influence my own writing?

the-black-echoMichael Connelly – The Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)

Connelly captures so much about his famous detective Harry Bosch in this first novel in the series, but does so without making you feel bombarded by information.

Once a “tunnel rat” in the Vietnam jungle, and now a police detective with the LAPD, Harry Bosch isn’t what I’d call a dynamic character, but he is compelling. It’s his careful consideration of each case that crosses his desk, and the way in which he cares about every single victim no matter their background.

Equally as compelling as Harry Bosch is Connelly’s descriptions of the cityscape within which the stories are based; each location is described in such a way that, for example, by the time you read about Harry heading home of an evening in the latest book in the series, you almost know which CD track he’s going to put on to listen to. What have I learned from reading the Harry Bosch books? Setting is as important as character.

dead-simplePeter James – Dead Simple (Roy Grace #1)

Maybe not a book to give to your fiancée before his stag night…

The first chapter of this book has to be one of the most memorable introductions to a detective series I’ve ever come across, and I won’t spoil it here by telling if you if you haven’t yet read it. At the end of the first chapter, you’re left in total shock and dying to know what happens next. Told from several points of view, the whole story is turned on its head about two-thirds of the way through and then it’s a fast-paced page-turning read to the end.

What have I learned from reading the Roy Grace books? The books may be named after Roy Grace, but there’s a great ensemble cast, and this is something that felt natural to me as I wrote the first in the Kay Hunter series. I wanted those co-stars to be considered just as important as Kay. After all, no police detective works alone, and there are myriad experts on hand to help solve the case.

silent-screamAngela Marsons – Silent Scream (Kim Stone #1)

Angela’s Kim Stone books are modern twisty thrillers that bring the genre bang up to date into the twenty-first century and I’ve no doubt this series will endure for a long time yet.

I remember when the first in the series, Silent Scream, was published – everyone was utterly blown away by the story and I recall seeing the book cover everywhere online. In Silent Scream we meet Kim Stone for the first time and quickly realise that if she is to stop a sadistic killer, she’s going to have to confront some very dark memories of her own. Kim Stone is ruthless in her quest for justice for the victims in these novels, and her investigations lead her into dangerous physical and emotional places.

What have I learned from reading the Kim Stone series? The modern detective story has evolved for the twenty-first century, and so have female protagonists.

Lee Child – Killing Floor (Jack Reacher #1)

I remember picking up a second hand copy of Killing Floor about three years after it was first published, and it really was the first time I’d ever heard of this strange lone wolf character by the name of Jack Reacher.

What have I learned from reading the Jack Reacher books? Use short sentences to keep the action moving along. You don’t often see long sweeping sentences in Lee Child’s novels – they’re punchy, to the point, and don’t waste time. A bit like Jack Reacher, you might say…

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