Title: FATAL ACT: A Detective Geraldine Steel MysteryAuthor: Leigh RussellRelease Date: December 23, 2014Genre: Mystery/DetectivePublisher: Witness Impulse an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
After a glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash, all eyes are on the Detective Geraldine Steel to discover what caused the tragic accident. Another driver was involved in the collision yet seems to have miraculously walked away unscathed and has now vanished. The deceased had no obvious enemies and nothing to hide, so the investigation seems to be stalling. But when another young actress is found dead it becomes painfully clear that there is a murderer on the loose targeting beautiful, famous women. The only problem is that whoever is committing these crimes isn’t leaving any clues. With public pressure mounting, Geraldine Steel unwittingly risks her sergeant’s life in their search to track down a serial killer...
Excerpt“The victim was a twenty-two year old white fen=male called Anna Porter.”
He paused and the assembled officers looked appropriately subdued on hearing how young the victim was.
“Anna Porter?” one of the constables piped up suddenly, staring at the photo of the young woman’s bloody face. “I thought I recognized her. She’s Dorothy in Down and Out, isn’t she?”
“What’s Down and Out?”
“It’s a hit series on the TV. You must have heard of it.”
Reg gave a noncommittal grunt. Several of the younger officers muttered, recognizing the actress.
“The key task is to question the driver who parked the other vehicle involved in this accident,” Reg added.
“Bloody idiot,” someone muttered.
He nodded at a sergeant who had been researching the vehicles. Anna had been driving her own white Porsche when she had crashed into a black van registered to a man called Piers Trevelyan.
“Anna and Piers lived at the same address,” the sergeant added and a murmur of interest rippled around the room.
“It’s a crime of passion!” Sam whispered.
Geraldine smiled at her young colleague’s enthusiasm.
“So,” the sergeant resumed, “the victim was living with Piers. They’d been living together for about six months.”
“That seems to be fairly conclusive then,” Reg said complacently, “let’s go and pick up the boyfriend. See what he has to say for himself, and what his van was doing parked in Ashland Place just where Anna was driving.”
Geraldine scribbled down the address as the sergeant continued.
“Anna was an actress on the TV. Her boyfriend, Piers Trevelyan, is a big shot casting director, a well known figure in the film world by all accounts. He’s worked with quite a few well known film stars, according to his website anyway. And this year he won a lifetime award for services to the British film industry.”
Reg listened, one eyebrow raised, as though skeptical about the information.
“There’s one more thing. A business card was picked up from the floor of the car: Dinah Jedway, the victim’s agent.”
“I can’t believe that’s Anna Porter,” someone commented, and a faint murmur ran round the room.
“She was so beautiful,” another voice agreed.
“I wonder what they’re going to do on Down and Out now.”
“Come on then, let’s sort this out,” Reg said firmly.
He sounded slightly agitated. The significance of the victim’s identity wasn’t lost on anyone in the room. The media was bound to go into a frenzy at the tragic death of a glamorous young celebrity. The police investigation would be a target for critics if they didn’t wrap up the case quickly.
“We need to find out what Piers Trevelyan was doing, driving the wrong way along a one way street, and leaving his van parked there so dangerously,” Geraldine said.
Juyst look at that,’ a sergeant added, gesturing at a picture of the Porsche. “It looks like she drove into a tank!”
Reg interrupted. “The front of the van was smashed in. According to the traffic officers, there’s no way anyone could have survived that impact.” He paused, frowning. “But traffic can’t believe the damage was as severe as that, if the van was stationary and the Porsche was only traveling at about twenty. They reckon it must have been travelling at least three times as fast as the speedometer indicated. That’s what aroused their suspicion in the first place. They thought there might have been something odd about it, because the car had only just turned the corner.”
They all stared at the image of a smashed up black van displayed on the board, the front of the vehicle caved in.
“We need to find out what the hell happened,” Reg added.
It seemed he didn’t quite believe it was a simple accident either.
About the AuthorLEIGH RUSSELL is described as “a brilliant talent” by Jeffery Deaver. CUT SHORT (2009) was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award for Best First Novel. Road Closed (2010) was listed as a Top Read on Eurocrime. With Dead End (2011) Leigh’s detective Geraldine Steel was Number 1 on amazon kindle’s bestseller chart for female sleuths. Leigh Russell is the award-winning author of the Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson mysteries. She is an English teacher who lives in the UK with her family.
Connect with the Author
The appeal of mystery stories
I'm constantly surprised by something people tell me. From intellectual young men to kindly middle-aged grannies, professional young women to retired policemen, their eyes light up as they mention it. Even the wording they use is often the same. They are all keen to confide that they "love a good murder!" Bookshops and libraries, bastions of culture and civilisation, join in with posters announcing, "We love crime."
You might be forgiven for thinking that I live in some Orwellian society where words signify the opposite of their original meanings, or that I live in a penal colony inhabited by criminals. Neither is true. These ordinary members of the reading population are referring to crime fiction, or murder mysteries. Of course you knew that. So widespread is the appeal of the genre that no one can fail to be aware of it. In books and on television, mysteries remain one of the most popular genres of fiction.
How do we account for this? It's a strange phenomenon. I don't like reading about true crimes. It's too upsetting. Any real crime is one human being causing another human being to suffer, for their own selfish purposes. There is nothing redeeming about it. Yet somehow, in fiction, crime stories become transformed into a form of entertainment, usually focusing on "a good murder".
There could be several reasons why the genre is so popular. Firstly, crime fiction deals with the timeless conflict between good and evil. While detectives may not be without their flaws, they are fighting on the side of justice. The killers may not be totally evil characters, but they commit acts which are wholly evil. Crime fiction is, at heart, goodies and baddies.
Secondly, crime fiction is packed with suspense. Most of my reviewers describe my books a "page turners". The genre offers the excitement of the chase. Finally, the genre allows us to play out our own fears in a safe environment. A book may be scary, but it is just a book. We can look away, skim read, or close the book. We rarely have such control over the things that frighten us in real life.
There are other elements that may account for the popularity of the genre. Many readers like to follow a detective through a series. My own protagonist, Geraldine Steel, has a large following in the UK, which will hopefully be replicated in the US now my books are available there.
But it is impossible to really pin down why some kinds of books appeal to a mass market, while others don't. I am just thankful that the genre in which I write is so popular. Long may it last!
When I agreed to describe my latest mystery novel using adjectives that began with the letters of the book title, I forgot that the shortest pieces of writing can be the most difficult to compose. Now that I'm writing two series, my publishers need me to come up with not just two manuscripts - hard work but fun - but also two titles a year. As a writer, I feel I should be able to think of new wording, but when I check possible titles online, most of my ideas have been used before. It is a real challenge to come up with an original title.
Here is my attempt to describe my latest mystery novel using adjectives that began with the letters of the book title. As the title is only eight letters long, I included my detective. You can work out who she is from the description! I think the descriptions are surprisingly accurate, but it wasn't easy to think of the right words!
My detective is:
Generous, Efficient, Rational, Agreeable, Likeable, Driven, Intelligent, Noble, Energetic and Sensitive, Tenacious, Empathetic , Enterprising, Lonely
Her latest murder investigation is:
Frightening, Action-packed, Tense, Alarming, Lethal and Atmospheric, Creepy, Thrilling
All in the name of research...
Many of the details included in my books seem insignificant but they are important, because they help to create an illusion of reality. When my detective, Geraldine Steel, visits a market trader, she notices a stack of banana boxes in the front room. Only someone working in a market would know that banana boxes are favoured by stallholders, because these boxes are strong. Readers might not even notice that small detail in the description, yet the scene would seem authentic to any market trader reading the book. This is an example of a detail which I learned from talking to actual market traders.
As well as speaking to people, I also research on the internet. It never ceases to amaze me how much specific information is available online. In fifteen easy steps, with pictures, you can learn how to handle a gun. You can find out how to blow up a car, or rob a safe, or how to obtain fake documents.
Browsing the internet feels safe, but it is a two-way process. Recently a man was, quite rightly, prosecuted for posting a racist comment on twitter. If the comment had been made in a pub the speaker might well have been punched in the face, but he probably wouldn't have ended up in court. There is nothing private or discreet about online posts.
So what is the position with browsing histories on computers? What I do at home is my own affair. It's no one else's business. My browsing history is private, and hidden from other people. At least that's how it feels. But deleted information can be retrieved. Like leaving invisible traces of your DNA just by breathing when you enter a room, every search you make on a computer leaves a footprint, some of which might, potentially, land you in trouble.
Of course it's possible to click on an unsavoury website by mistake. But what about a browsing history that shows its user has regularly searched for questionable material? From poison to paedophilia, guns to gambling, torture to terror, my browsing history includes research into many illegal activities. Perhaps I should restrict my research to conversations with real people!
And now I'm off to delete my browsing history on my computer, as far as I can...
The buzz word for authors these days is 'discoverability.' With so many new books coming onto the market every day, authors are understandably concerned about maintaining or increasing sales. Successful books benefit everyone involved in their production: agent, publisher, production team, technical team, editor, proof readers, sales team, distributor, publicists, translators, bookseller, reader... it's a long list, starting with the writer who is the catalyst for the whole process.
The competition is fierce. This may explain why an astounding 98% of self-published fail to cover their costs. Someone may be profiting from the efforts of the self-published, but it's not always the authors. Writers on a tight budget may feel compelled to cut corners in order to see their work published. But publishing shoddily edited books doesn't benefit any writer, or enhance the reputation of the industry as a whole. There is a risk such books may put people off reading altogether.
So what can authors do to reach readers? Whether we like it or not, the stereotype of the author as remote and isolated in an ivory tower is largely defunct. Most authors nowadays accept that appearances at literary festivals, libraries and bookshops is part of the job, as is giving media interviews.
Promotion is essential to sales. But however much time an author spends encouraging sales, the best marketing comes from readers. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool, and it's one that is impossible to control, except by writing books that readers want to read and recommend to their friends. So the author's job is still to write the best book they can. Some things never change.
A Day in the Life of an Author
Earning enough money from writing fiction to give up my day job, I looked forward to having plenty of time for writing. How wrong I was! What I hadn't foreseen at the start of my writing career was how much promotional activity authors engage in. When I was working full-time I frequently turned down invitations to attend literary festivals and conventions. As a free agent, I wanted to make the most of every possible opportunity and accepted invitations to festivals and events all over Europe, as well as travelling around the UK. Being a successful author has its perks, flight tickets and accommodation overseas among them. But all this comes at a cost. The cost is time.
It's a familiar cliche that people who give up their jobs can't understand how they ever had time to work. That's certainly been my experience. Writing two series of books means delivering two manuscripts a year to my publisher. With literary festivals, visits to bookshops, talks in libraries and universities and colleges, in the physical world, plus time spent on social media in the virtual world, not to mention the extensive research that goes into writing a crime novel, finding time to write has become quite a challenge.
When I am at home - which hasn't been very often this year - my day follows a fairly relaxed routine. After a lazy breakfast I spend a couple of hours catching up with emails, attending to social media, and talking on the phone. After that I settle down to writing. Depending on where I am in a book I might spend the next four to six hours planning, or researching, or writing. Sitting at a desk typing might sound easy, but it can be mentally exhausting, so by the evening I'm ready to relax. If I'm not going out, I'll read, or sit in front of the television writing a blog post - like this one. As an author, there is always something to do. But would I change my life as a full-time author? No way!
Why we need stories
From an early age I've been an avid reader. I can still recall the thrill of reading the Narnia books as a child, going through the back of the wardrobe with Lucy into a magical world of talking animals. I remember what fun it was to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice into Wonderland. The characters, and the stories, were all make believe, yet in a curious way they seemed as real as anything I saw around me. That is the magic of books. Through the medium of imagination they can transport us into different worlds. Reading fiction is like taking a holiday from reality. We need that escape from life, just as we need weekends and holidays from our daily routine.
As a student I was lucky enough to spend four years at university studying English and American literature, which basically meant I was able to read for four years. After graduating I taught literature at high school for several decades, doing my best to inspire youngsters to feel excited about reading. So books have been a very important part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I didn't start writing until relatively late in life. It wasn't a lifetime ambition of mine to become a published author, but one day I started writing a story, and haven't been able to stop since. It was as if I had fallen in love with writing. Reading and writing are closely related. When you read a book you are taken on a journey into another world. When you write, you take your readers on a journey into a world you have created. Both experiences take us out of our everyday reality into worlds where the impossible can happen. Bad guys are justly punished, virtue is rewarded, and people really do live happily ever after.
I have graduated from avid reading to compulsive writing. For me, it is still about the story and the characters I meet along the way.
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