Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review of 309 by Michael Shotter

Meet Lisa Hudson, a dedicated journalism student, on a beautiful, spring morning in Pittsburgh that proves to be the last ordinary day of her life.

As she struggles to survive in a new reality, forged from catastrophe, Lisa confronts its mysteries and dangers with the aid of intriguing and unlikely companions.

For her, the world will never be the same. For you, the journey is just beginning.

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

"309" represents his most ambitious effort to date and is sure to thrill fans of both science fiction and high adventure.

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

309 was an intense sci-fi thriller with lots of great action scenes and excellent characters. I love how Michael Shotter spirals his reader further into the world he created, making this story a hard one to put down once you get started.

Lisa is the main character. Her life starts out interesting, but very normal day to day until one day, something very not normal happens to her and to the entire world. Lisa must face many challenges and even some near-death experiences to beat the odds and save humanity.

I’d recommend this story to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, superheroes, action, and adventure. I’m really looking forward to picking up another book written by Michael Shotter in the future.

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This review was done by Brandie. You can connect with Brandie on Twitter and her blog

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Choosing the Time of Death

When drafting a murder mystery, choosing the timing of the murder is critical to the pacing of your story. There are several methodologies for selecting the chapter where your victim will be found. Regardless of which chapter you choose, the murder should always happen somewhere in the first act; whether it’s in the beginning, middle, or end depends on your story. Each time has its advantages, so in this Mystery Monday post let’s take a closer look at why you would select one over the others.

Starting off with a bang.

This is the traditional mystery approach. You’ll find it in Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series. You’ll see it in modern mysteries like Karin Slaughter’s Triptych. You must start your novel with the crime itself; which means you have about five thousand words to set it up, paint the scene and leave your victim in a bloody heap.

The advantage of this approach is that you can get to the mystery solving right away. The general rule of thumb is that the more complex your mystery is, the earlier the crime needs to be committed. Killing off your victim this early can be especially useful if you have a lot of potential suspects to wade through or as a literary device to introduce your detective. For example, it’s a crime so ghastly that a specialist must be called in and your detective is the specialist in question. I’m looking at you, Patricia Cornwell.

You might have noticed that I’ve name dropped three of the most important names in mystery writing. There’s a reason for that: it works, really well. It sets up your story immediately by adding a sense of urgency in solving the crime. It also makes the story all about the crime, which allows you to explore the violence of human nature and the nitty-gritty details of how a crime is solved.

In Until the Devil Weeps, I sucker punch the reader with the crime right at the end of a very short first chapter. This gave me an entire novel to explore the effects of the murder on the victim’s family as well as providing a long ramp to build up to a big ending with a shocking conclusion. This approach does lend itself to a certain kind of story, one that revolves around the crime itself and the aftermath, making it very effective if that’s the kind of story you’d like to tell.

The slow burn.

With this approach, your victim’s fate is sealed smack dab in the middle of the first act and it’s one of my favorites. It has almost the same advantage of killing off the victim right away - in that you still have plenty of time to build a complex case to solve - but it has the added benefit of giving you some time beforehand to build suspense and establish your story.

This is also a great way to use the false flag mystery. You put one mystery at the beginning of the first act and then put the real mystery a little further on when you get to the middle. Dennis Lehane does this masterfully in A Drink Before the War. The detective is sent to look for a missing woman in the very first chapter, but the real mystery happens after she’s found.

Not only does this build some suspense and throw some red herrings around, it also allows Lehane to establish Patrick Kenzie as a detective and introduce the reader to the supporting cast of associates. This is a classic detective novel maneuver. Think Dashiell Hammett with The Thin Man. Or James Ellroy with LA Confidential.

I’ve used it myself in Devil Take Me Down, Chasing Those Devil Bones, and The Devil’s Luck. Like I said, it’s my favorite. It’s a great device if you have a bigger story to tell; one in which the crime is the vehicle for the events, but not the focus of the story. It also works well for a thriller crossover mystery like Devil Take Me Down. The book opens with a serial killer watching our main character; then focuses on our main character’s life, establishing her story; then BLAMMO!: someone dies.

By moving the crime a little further into the first act, you give yourself time for character development and to build up the suspense. The natural tendency for the reader will be to think that one of these characters they’re growing to like is going to be the victim of a horrible crime. It builds tension and adds a little drama to finding the victim, which is what makes it work so well.

The Big Build Up

This, my friends, is the trickiest of the three approaches because you run the risk of the reader shouting, ‘get to the point, already.’ I’ve only used it once in That Old Devil Sin and I honestly think the only reason it works is because I set up a minor threat of a mystery in the second chapter. 

With this approach, your first act is your playground. You can tell a story that has very little to do with a mystery and everything to do with the mystery you know is coming. This gives you all the time you need to introduce your detective, your victim, and your murderer, if you like. 

The best example of this by far is Murder on the Orient Express. Poirot is sent on a wandering journey before we finally get to the point and I have to admit that the first time I read it, I did have a couple of ‘get to the point, already’ moments. But once the murder happens, wowza.

The thing that makes it work is that Christie introduces you to every single suspect before we ever meet the victim. 

Umberto Eco does this equally well in The Name of the Rose. By taking his time with the murder, he transports the reader back in time and has most of the first act to establish the historical context of his novel. 

With this approach, you must have either an enormous cast of characters, a secondary story that is equally important to the mystery itself, or a vast world that needs definition for the reader to understand the context of the mystery itself. 

Picking the timing of your murder is as vital to your story as the crime itself. But with a little careful planning and forethought, it can drive your story forward and provide you with the space you need to craft the perfect mystery.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review of Addict by Matt Doyle

New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options …

For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.

When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.

Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.

*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

I really loved this book. There is something about a dark tech-driven future that always intrigues me. Matt gets you hooked right away with a setup surrounding a mysterious death and a tough PI, Cassie Tam. He does a great job world building so the reader has a good idea where technology has progressed to and different ways that it is used in society. The characters are great - flawed, but likable - and make you want to root for them. Both Cassie and Lori are strong female characters, that are tough and smart, but not over the top caricatures. It's not a long book, but it does a good job of touching on the characters backstories and motivations

It's always great going into a book and just wanting to hear more about the world that the characters live in, in the case of Addict, learning more about the population of pros, addicts, tech-shifters, drug dealers, crazy religious zealots, and assassins and how they are all treated in society. There is also a good picture of what the world, aesthetically, looks like.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone that like a good cop drama mystery, but with an added sci-fi element. I definitely could not have predicted how the crime unfolded... and the main character is a kick-ass lesbian PI, so that's awesome. I look forward to reading the rest of the Cassie Tam Files book series!

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This review was done by MJ. You can follow MJ on Twitter and Instagram

Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England. His house is inhabited by a wide variety of people and animals including (at time of typing) his partner, his three kids, two dogs, a cat, a snake, and a rabbit. Oh and a lot of tea.

He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain varying degrees of success in a great number of fields. This has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler (both working shows under the ring name Tad, and working backstage booking and running several successful shows in his local area), completing a range of cosplay projects and scripting the webcomic ‘Tales of the Winterborn’.

His latest venture involves diving headlong into another world he has wanted to be a part of since childhood: that of an author.

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