Alex Grecian Gives us the Devil

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot! As the companion blog to the Daily Dose, we aim not only to promote great fiction and brilliant authors, but also the intersections between literature and science/medicine. Today, I am pleased to bring you both in the third installment of Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad series, THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP.

From my recent Huffington Post review of the novel:

indexI was twelve or so, I think, and my brother was eight. Something black and strange lived in the thicket, something with red eyes. Later years taught me to speculate: perhaps it was a bear, or a large dog, or a trick of the light. What remains quite clear, however, is the experience of fear in its purest form–a nameless horror that left a gaping hole of ragged terror behind. I’ve since come to expect the Devil to walk on human feet, and yet the worst of humanity’s offenders will undoubtedly vibrate with the same all-consuming dread. Now, thanks to Alex Grecian’s latest book, I know exactly what to call him. He answers to Jack.

Read more here–get the novel here–and, because we do more than tease, view the book trailer below!

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and Welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Series editor Tabatha here to add a little mystery to your life. As you may have noticed (from my two posts going on about the subject at length…) I am on Spring Break! And no, I’m not just bragging (this time) I bring that up because I have discovered one of the best perks of Spring Break. I love to read books that are not assigned for class, whose publication information I never have to check, and that keep me guessing; that is to say, I love mystery stories. So, this week, I thought I would share some intriguing mystery options both new releases hot off the presses and old favorites, biding their time on the library shelves.

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The Devil’s Workshop (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad) by Alex Grecian

Because we like to tease, first on the list is an upcoming release from an old author, Alex Grecian’s The Devil’s Workshopavailable on May 20th 2014. (Look out for a Huffington Post book review by Reboot Editor Brandy Schillace!)

Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad faces the most shocking case of its existence, in the extraordinary new historical thriller from the author of the acclaimed national bestseller The Yard.
London, 1890. Four vicious murderers have escaped from prison, part of a plan gone terribly wrong, and now it is up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt down the convicts before the men can resume their bloody spree. But they might already be too late. The killers have retribution in mind, and one of them is heading straight toward a member of the Murder Squad, and his family.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. During the escape, the killers have stumbled upon the location of another notorious murderer, one thought gone for good but now prepared to join forces with them. Jack the Ripper is loose in London once more.

Dead to the Max by Jasmine Haynes

In Dead to the Max Jasmine Haynes creates a mystery full of

psychics, ghosts, murderers and the thrilling world of accounting!

Dead to the Max (Max Starr, #1)

Thirty-something, down-on-her-luck accountant Max Starr has the unfortunate gift of being psychic, a newly-discovered wrinkle in her already messed-up life. Her husband, Cameron, is dead, killed in a botched 7-11 robbery two years ago. She’s cut herself off from friends, moved out of her San Francisco home in favor of a studio apartment, and dumped her flourishing career as a CPA to do temp work.

And now Max has developed an annoying penchant for attracting the spirits of murdered women. Okay, they possess her. And to exorcise them, Max must unmask their killers. But how?! By stepping into the void their deaths created, taking their jobs, befriending the loved ones they left behind. Max goes wherever she has to go and does whatever she has to do, with a lot of help from the ghost of her late husband Cameron and hunky and very enticing Detective Witt Long.

Max steps into the shoes of a murdered accountant and starts to learn that even supposedly boring accountants can have secret lives and secret desires. Max just has to hope the secrets she uncovers don’t get her killed, too.

The Invisible Code: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery Hardcover by Christopher Fowler

In The Invisible Code, Christopher Fowler continues our trend of supernatural mystery when London’s craftiest and boldest detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, are back in this deviously twisting mystery of black magic, madness, and secrets hidden in plain sight.

The Invisible Code

When a young woman is found dead in the pews of St. Bride’s Church—alone and showing no apparent signs of trauma—Arthur Bryant assumes this case will go to the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an eccentric team tasked with solving London’s most puzzling murders. Yet the city police take over the investigation, and the PCU is given an even more baffling and bewitching assignment.
Called into headquarters by Oskar Kasavian, the head of Home Office security, Bryant and May are shocked to hear that their longtime adversary now desperately needs their help. Oskar’s wife, Sabira, has been acting strangely for weeks—succumbing to violent mood swings, claiming an evil presence is bringing her harm—and Oskar wants the PCU to find out why. And if there’s any duo that can deduce the method behind her madness, it’s the indomitable Bryant and May.

When a second bizarre death reveals a surprising link between the two women’s cases, Bryant and May set off on a trail of clues from the notorious Bedlam hospital to historic Bletchley Park. And as they are drawn into a world of encrypted codes and symbols, concealed rooms and high-society clubs, they must work quickly to catch a killer who lurks even closer than they think.

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh

Now I know you will all be reading your way out of a pile of new releases as soon as you finish reading each week’s Fiction Feature, but as you wade through those electronic pages, don’t forget that the older editions can surprise you just as much.

Light Thickens (Roderick Alleyn, #32)With magic made of styrofoam props and fog machines surrounding the real mystery, Ngaio Marsh brings us Light Thickens.

“Is this a dagger which I see before me…”
Four murders. Three witches. A fiendish lady. A homicidal husband. A ghost. No wonder “Macbeth “is considered such bad luck by theatre people that they won’t mention its name out loud. But the new London production of “the Scottish play” promises to be a smash until gruesome pranks begin plaguing rehearsals. And when the last act ends in real-life tragedy, Chief Superintendent Alleyn takes center stage-uncovering a heartbreaking secret, murderous jealousy, and a dark, desperate reason for “murder for foul..”.

N or M? by Agatha Christie

Last and certainly not least, I can’t help but bring in one of my favorite authors, and the woman responsible for most of my lost hours this Spring Break: Dame Agatha Christie.

N or M?

In N or M? Agatha Christie proves that those middle-aged “Old fogies” aren’t quite down for the count. In the midst of World War II, turned down by every branch of the military and medical assistance, told they are too old to help in the war effort and would do better to stay at home knitting or taking over a nice quiet filing job, former spies Tuppence and Tommy Beresford come out of retirement to change the world in one more daring feat of espionage.  Though those young people in charge know better, Tommy Beresford (far too old for real war work, having reached the staggering age of 46) is called in for the quietest espionage job the British government can find: take a room at a quiet hotel and look for German spies. Not one to be left behind, Tuppence quickly follows her husband to the seaside and together they hunt for Hitler’s most trusted agents, code-named N and M who just might be hiding in plain sight. Filled with kidnapping, subterfuge, danger, murder, and flirting this whodunnit will have you guessing from the first introduction to the adorable toddler Betty to the final reveal of the murderous spy (or spies) as you try to outwit N or M.

With that final review, I shall bid you all good day- I hope you enjoy this week’s mysterious selection, I will be spending my afternoon catching up with a certain Miss Marple.

The Fiction Reboot Presents: Alex Grecian and Black Country

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot!

It was late. The snow was falling thick over Illinois in the heavy dark just before Christmas. I was staying in the apartment of my better half, an L-shaped box of a place and one of the less auspicious watering holes of our commuter marriage… Badly sealed windows barely kept out the gale, and I could hear it lashing the panes with vigor. My candles guttered. The lights flickered. In the burnt-wick smoke I swear even the shadows trembled… But I read on.

You see, I had the privilege of being an advance- or beta-reader for accomplished spinner of ghastly Victorian crime novels Alex Grecian. Having pleasantly devoured The Yard, I was settled into the horrors of a sequel: Black Country. It is rare, I think, that we encounter a sequel we like as well as the first fruits of an author’s oeuvre, but I was deeply impressedand I’m not just whistling Dixie.

–And Dixie, interestingly enough, has some bearing on this story. What’s that, you ask? What could the American South have to do with the grim story of a coal town under threat, under snow, and nearly under ground? You must come and see for yourself, but I’ll warn you, it’s no picnic in warm sunshine that awaits you. It’s a serious thriller that will keep you on the edge of your second-hand sofa at 3 am in an Illinois snow storm. Death, disease, fear, superstition and lies–plus a bogeyman limerick that will haunt you for days: “raw head and bloody bones” (and out of the mouths of babes!)

I’ve asked Alex to return for a second time to the Reboot, and he has kindly obliged to regale us with the finer points of plotting, of character, and of grim reality that makes up the core of Black Country. Thank you, Alex, for joining us!

Alex Grecian

After leaving a career in advertising, working on accounts that included Harley-Davidson and The Great American Smokeout, Alex returned to his first love: writing fiction. He created the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009. The series stars John “Proof” Prufock, a special-agent-sasquatch. One of the Proof storylines is set in the 1800′s and inspired Alex’s debut novel The Yard. It is the first in a projected series about the famous London Murder Squad. In the new novel, The Black Country, the Murder Squad returns–and we learn that the British Midlands are called “black country” for good reason.

When members of a prominent family disappear from a coal-mining village—and a human eyeball is discovered in a bird’s nest—the local constable sends for help from Scotland Yard’s new Murder Squad. Fresh off the grisly 1889 murders of The Yard, Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith respond, but they have no idea what they’re about to get into. The villagers have intense, intertwined histories. Everybody bears a secret. Superstitions abound. And the village itself is slowly sinking into the mines beneath it. The story sees the return of forensics pioneer Dr. Bernard Kingsley (probably my favorite character–which will surprise no one who knows me)–but will he and his colleagues be able to stop the rising darkness that threatens to engulf the town? We’ll see…

Author Interview

1. I confess, Alex, I grew up in a defunct mining town myself–and one of my own novels is set there. It’s a strange place of sink-holes and strip mines, soil too acidic to grow real trees and water too orange with disturbed sediment to drink. What encouraged you to choose this setting? And, particularly, what about the Midlands attracted you?

To be honest, I was first attracted by the name “Black Country.” It sounded ominous and I was already anxious to get my detectives away from London. I wanted to give Day and Hammersmith a chance to cement their relationship away from the rest of the Murder Squad. Cutting them off from their support structure and making them rely on each other for a whole book seemed like a good way to speed up the bonding process between them. When I started researching this area of England (again, entirely because of the name of the place) I read the diary of a Victorian-era Black Country woman. In it, she worried about the nearby houses that were sinking into the tunnels and she fretted about her children playing near the sinkholes. The setting just seemed tailor-made for my needs. And once I stumbled across the “Rawhead and Bloody Bones” rhyme, the novel really began to take shape for me.

2. I’m a historian at heart. One thing I love about your descriptions is the way they vividly capture the essence of this time period–and the picture you paint for us of the slow-sinking houses has the ring of authenticity. Could you speak to the research that goes into a novel like this one?

First of all, thank you.

The research was a little different for this book than it was for The Yard. I looked into various real-life Midlands villages, but quickly realized that I was going to have to make up my own village if I wanted the freedom to play around with the geography and destroy things without worrying about the actual history of a real place. I settled on a name for it and drew a map for Blackhampton. Then the research was essentially a matter of looking into the general flora and fauna of the area. And the speech patterns and superstitions. Superstition is a big theme in this book and I wanted to be as authentic as possible about its use.

3. I love Dr. Kingsley. I don’t want to give too much away about the story (no spoilers, I promise!), but there is so much about him that recalls certain other bold and ground-breaking doctors in this time of scientific discovery. What kind of influences go into the creation of this character? Can we expect to see more of him?

Oh, absolutely. At least, until the book in which he dies. He’s loosely based on the forensic pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury, but he pretty quickly became his own person as I wrote The Yard. He’s part of my Yard Trinity. Day’s sort of the decent guy at a crossroads, while Hammersmith represents emotion and action. And Kingsley represents intellect, logic. Something horrible happened to him. He lost his wife and was left to raise two daughters on his own, in a time when men didn’t really do that sort of thing. I think that speaks to a depth of character that makes him interesting to write.

4. “Evil” comes in many shapes and sizes–and you have once again woven a brilliant tapestry of inter-twined persons and events that encourage us to question the very definition. Again, in an attempt not to spoil the ending for my readers, I will ask only this: How do you conceive of the Murder Squad’s mission? Their ethos in an increasingly dark and disheveled world? What is the heart of their quest after “right”? (Certainly it seems quite different between the two detectives!)

Given what I knew was going to happen in the third Murder Squad novel, I needed Day and Hammersmith to be confronted by a crime that would shake them up and make them question their own moral decisions while also giving them the opportunity to begin relying on each other. I needed them to start wondering about things like evil and justice in ways outside the relatively simple scope of their job descriptions. The Black Country is about grey areas. It’s about responsibility. About how the choices you make (or don’t make) ripple outward and affect people you’ve never even met.

5. Much of my academic research of late has been into the concept of “moral insanity” and “partial insanity.”  It was the Victorian concept that certain behaviors could call an otherwise “sane” person into question–but also that sometimes “insanity” can be quite difficult to spot. Did you encounter these terms (or others like them) at all during your work?

I’ve read a bit about moral insanity, but I’ve always been fascinated by modern-day sociopaths and how they function in society. I think there’s a very fine line between simple self-interest and sociopathic behavior. Crossing that line makes for fine drama. And exploring that concept in an era that has few ways of expressing it makes it more interesting for me, a road less traveled.

6. One of the key villains of this text comes to us from an intersecting storyline. I was intrigued by the way this character both is and is not central–the way in which he circles the text like a malignant satellite, with his hideous deformity, but more hideous personality. At times, he seemed almost as organically destructive as the forces of nature. What inspired this unusual character?

I’m an American who writes stories about people in England and I thought it might be fun to somehow include an American in this book. The character who eventually became Calvin Campbell was going to be an American, but then I began the research for the book and discovered that there were roughly fourteen thousand British volunteers who served in the American Civil War. That suggested a connection to my little village of Blackhampton and the story came together around him in unexpected ways. The only American left in the book became a villain, a sort of trigger for some of the violence that had to happen and a symbol of evil. That was unexpected.

7. The marks of industrialization are clearly evident in this story. Coming from the land of mountain-top removal, I certainly felt great sympathy for the way you never let the reader too readily damn the mining industry (which feeds and clothes the villagers), and yet keep its carnage before us. Would you say this is a cautionary tale?

There are two sides to everything and people have to eat. But it’s so interesting (and troubling) to see people focus on immediate needs and desires while they avoid dealing with long-term consequences. We’re apparently among the only animals that can envision cause and effect, can predict future events based on past events and the patterns we perceive. Too bad we don’t seem to have much use for that ability.

8. Can you speak more to the relationship between our detectives? It has the warmth and intimacy we come to expect from crime-fighting duos (and influenced by Doyle himself), but with some interesting additions and departures. I am particularly interested in Hammersmith’s development (and weaknesses)–and that he is the younger and less experienced of the pair.

Hammersmith is a simple guy. There isn’t a lot of room in his philosophy for grey areas. But he comes from a very different background than Day does. Hammersmith had a rough childhood and had to struggle to get where he is. So he’s very action-oriented. (On the other hand, he’s much better read than Day is.) But Day had an easier childhood and sort of stumbled into his position as a detective. I think he’s still a little dazed by it all. He’s more likely to listen to people and think about what they say to him. Detective work is a puzzle for him to solve, whereas Hammersmith sees it more as a chase to catch the villain. I like to think he might eventually settle down and learn from Day’s example. For the moment, though, they balance each other well.

9. There are so many fascinating scenes and characters; I find I’m spoiled for choice as to favorites. Do you have favorites? What–and why?

The young horse and the old horse. And the little bird. The animals in this book meant a lot to me, without actually doing much at all.

I started getting feedback about The Yard as I was writing The Black Country and was surprised to find out that Henry, the dancing man, was a favorite of many readers. I hadn’t originally intended to include him in Black Country, but as I thought about why he was so beloved I decided to bring him to the Midlands with Kingsley to see what he’d do there. I was surprised by how much he added to the story in small subtle ways. He’s growing on me.

10. The last question is perhaps a bit unfair–but we must ask! Will there be more? When? How long must the eager wait?

There will be more and I’m very glad you’re eager to read them. The plan is to have a new Murder Squad book come out every spring or summer. Right now, I’m writing the third Murder Squad book, called The Devil’s Workshop. I’m dealing with a lot of the loose ends I left dangling at the end of the first book, bringing back Day’s old mentor, whom we barely saw in The Yard, and answering some scary questions about the most famous serial killer in history.