Margaret James Turns to Crime!

We recently celebrated the release of Margaret James’ first crime novel with Ruby Fiction, The Final Reckoning. Today on the blog Margaret is telling us a little bit about the crime fiction she enjoys and the inspiration for her first writing foray into the genre …

Why do authors write crime fiction? Surely real life can be terrifying enough? Who wants to read about imaginary crimes when there are plenty of factual horrors in the newspapers and on our screens every day?

Well, a quick glance at the bestseller charts will reveal that plenty of people want to read about fictional crimes. Romantic and crime fiction regularly top the genre charts both in bookshops and in libraries.

I’m a big fan of crime, thriller and mystery fiction. But, having said that, I’m not a fan of in-your-face cruelty and mayhem. As a mother of daughters, crime fiction in which a young and innocent woman is horribly killed is a big turn-off for me and I never read it. Ditto stories about the abductions and murders of children – those are even more distressing. My preferred crime reading is the kind that offers me a puzzle. Who did whatever someone did? Why did they do it? I don’t want to have to care too much about the murder victim. Actually, I much prefer it if this person kind of deserved their fate.

So, when it came to writing some crime fiction of my own, my starting point was the puzzle. Why would someone want to murder a middle-aged man in a rather decisive but unusual way? What message, if any, was the killer leaving for the police to find? My heroine, Lindsay Ellis, is the one who stumbles across the body, but she is never a suspect. Eventually, the dead man’s son is tried for his father’s murder, but he is acquitted. Who else would have had a motive to kill?

Nobody – apparently.

The fun of writing The Final Reckoning came from filling it with twists and turns, from puzzling my characters as much as I hoped I would puzzle my readers, and from delivering the kind of twist that would encourage these readers to guess the truth, but to guess wrong.

I’m hoping the solution to the mystery will come as a surprise to readers, but that most readers will say: yes, of course, it had to be like that! Rather than: oh, as if!

I haven’t cheated these readers. I’ve slipped in plenty of clues pointing to the identity of the murderer and also to the murderer’s motivation. But, of course, as the writer, I have known the answer to the big question in this novel all along. So it looks rather obvious to me!

The Final Reckoning is available as an eBook on all platforms and also as an audio book on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. Click on the cover image above for purchasing options. 

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What inspires Sheryl Browne?

Earlier in the week we celebrated the double publication day of After She’s Gone and Deadly Intent; two thrillers in the DI Matthews Adams’ series by Sheryl Browne. Today Sheryl talks a little bit about the inspiration behind these gritty, heavy-hitting new books …

What inspires me to write thrillers?

It’s a good question. The inspiration behind latest thriller, Deadly Intent, is a bit of strange one. My partner and I are keen boaters. It’s hard to imagine, though, how this idyllic scene might lead me to writing a book featuring family driven to the edge of sanity by a psychopath described by one reviewer as “the devil himself”.


We have our own little narrowboat, Aquaduck, so can often be found messing about on the water. We tend to moor up as near as we can to a pub for our evening meal. Sometimes the spots we moor in can be very remote and the pub can be an awful long way off, involving a trek along the towpath with nothing but the wind whispering through the trees and the eerie calls of nightlife for company.


Pic 2

On one particularly spooky, moon-free evening on the walk back, I spotted someone parked in a country lane running parallel to the river. A prickle of apprehension ran the length of my spine. Why, I wondered, would he just be sitting there in the dead of night alone? It wasn’t long before I was playing the ‘what if’ game. What if … he’s a burglar? A mad-axe murderer? On reaching the boat, my partner announced he’d left something in the pub and promptly scarpered off back down the towpath to retrieve it, leaving me … with the strange night-watcher and my vivid imagination. Alone on the boat, it wasn’t long before the man had morphed into …


Panicking now, I immediately searched for something with which to defend myself. The rubber ring, I decided, possibly wouldn’t fend off the hit man my partner had obviously hired. The front hatch was padlocked for the night, I had no phone signal, and the only other way out was the door he would surely imminently enter by.

Pic 4

On his return to the boat, his phone safely retrieved from the pub, my partner took one look at my face and fell about laughing. My ‘hitman’ had apparently broken down and was waiting for the rescue service. Personally, I didn’t think it was that funny. Humph.

As you might have gathered then, people inspire my writing. Every scenario, every face, every place tells a story. A glimpsed situation, an argument between a couple, for instance, a verbal ‘slanging match’ in the street, and you have your stimulus for a book, upon which your overzealous writer’s mind will weave fictional facts. You simply can’t help yourself. The premise for After She’s Gone – now out in print – is a longstanding argument, or rivalry, between two men on opposite sides of the law, DI Matthew Adams and Patrick Sullivan. To quote Rachel at Rachel’s Random Reads, who gave the book a fabulous review (thank you, Rachel!), ‘both men are angry, both men know how to kill …’ I think that sums it up nicely.

I’ll leave you with a short excerpt, which hopefully demonstrates the friction between the two men.

After She’s Gone: Excerpt

‘Oh, for …’ Sullivan shook his head. ‘You’re scraping the barrel, Adams. And you know it. They’re for personal use.’ He reached wearily for his car door. ‘You won’t find anything more. And, if you are planning on finding anything, you might want to have a rethink. Unless you’re not too bothered about getting your partner kicked off the force, that is?’ Sullivan nodded to where Steve stood behind Matthew. ‘Probably better not take a leaf out of your old man’s book and try to stitch me up, don’t y’think?’

Obviously knowing he’d got the upper hand, Sullivan climbed out, giving Matthew a supercilious smirk as he did.

He was right. Matthew knew it. His stomach churned at the very closeness of the man, as he squeezed past him to the car, no choice but to with Sullivan allowing him little space. He’d wanted an excuse, any excuse to haul him in. He couldn’t do so though without some proof of a crime having been committed.

Sullivan waited while they searched, Steve giving Matthew quizzical glances as they did. There was nothing, of course, as if Sullivan would be likely to have a stash of heroin stuffed in his boot. Matthew sighed, exasperated. He must have left his brains at home this morning.

‘Oh, dear, come up empty-handed, have we?’ Smoking a legit cigarette, Sullivan blew a fat cloud of smoke over Matthew, as he emerged from the car. ‘Maybe you should give up being a copper and do something more fruitful with your life, Adams. I’m looking for a chauffeur if you’re interested. Pays well. Nice steady work, much less frustrating.’

His temper dangerously near spiking, Matthew counted silently. At seven his anger subsided some.

‘Inside.’ He nodded towards the house, a sprawling Grade II listed building. Testament to how fruitful this lowlife’s money-making endeavors were.

‘If you insist, Detective Inspector.’ Sullivan sauntered back to his car. ‘Just so you know, though,’ he said as he climbed in, ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree, sunshine. Whatever happened to Brianna was nothing to do with me.’

Suppressing a sigh of utter contempt, Matthew looked Sullivan over distastefully and headed back to his own car to follow him up the long pebbled drive.

Minutes later, he sighed inwardly again, as the third Mrs Sullivan climbed out of the indoor heated pool – blonde, tanned and healthy in a microdot bikini – to fawn all over the man. Bought and paid for, Matthew thought, as she reeled off Sullivan’s alibi for him.

‘He was here,’ she said, looking as innocent as a newborn baby, ‘dancin’ wiv Taylor, weren’t you, babe?’ She moved across to where Sullivan was watching Matthew with wry amusement. ‘And then we went to bed. He’s a lovely little mover, aren’t you, hun?’

Oozing innuendo, the woman fluttered her eyelashes coyly and draped herself around Sullivan’s neck.

‘Yeah.’ Sullivan’s amusement turned fast to irritation, as he realised she was dripping water all over him. ‘Watch the coat, sweetheart.’ His smile was now more a grimace, as he eased her away from his cashmere.

How long before the doting husband routine wore off, Matthew wondered, and Sullivan reverted to form, giving her the odd slap for some imagined misdemeanor.

‘And what time would that have been, Mrs Sullivan?’ he asked futilely.

‘What, when we went to bed, you mean? Bout two-thirty,’ the woman said. ‘I noticed the time ’cos I was keeping an ear out for Taylor. You know what kids can be like.’

‘No, he doesn’t.’ Sullivan looked at Matthew, his eyes full of calculated malice. ‘Doesn’t have any kids, do you, Detective?’

His heart twisting violently in his chest, Matthew looked away. Count, he commanded himself, swallowing back the hatred that threatened to choke him. Ignore the bastard. Taking a shallow breath, attempting to stave off the imminent wheeze in his chest, he caught Steve’s eye, who clearly noted something was wrong, and moved towards him.

‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ the woman said as Matthew shook his head, indicating Steve should stay. ‘Patrick dotes on his daughter, don’t you, Pat? We’re working on having a baby of our own,’ she imparted. ‘Didn’t go to sleep until dawn, did we, babe?’

Looking suggestively up at Sullivan, she reached to trail a long fingernail down his torso, while Matthew suppressed an urge not to shove the excuse for a human being in the pool and hold him under.

‘That’s right, sweetheart. Taylor can’t wait to have a little sister or brother to play with.’ Sullivan locked goading eyes with Matthew. ‘Happy?’

Not until I see you banged up for life or six feet under. Matthew’s gaze didn’t flinch. ‘I’ll be back,’ he warned him evenly.

‘Ooh, move over, Arnie. I’m shaking in my boots.’ Sullivan blinked girlishly.

‘One day, Sullivan,’ Matthew promised. ‘One day.’

‘Yeah, right, maybe when you grow a pair, Adams. Meanwhile …’ Adjusting his collar and cuffs, Sullivan nodded towards the annexe doors they’d entered by. ‘Don’t have an asthma attack on the way out, will you? Oh, and give me a ring sometime about that chauffeuring job. I’m thinking you might need one soon. Not going to go down well with your superiors, is it, you wasting valuable police resources harassing innocent people?’

Sub-species, Matthew thought. Then, the tightness in his chest warning him of just such an attack, he turned away.

Thanks for reading! I do hope I haven’t frightened you off!

For more on Sheryl visit:

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Choc Lit

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A Stranger’s House Blog Tour: A Perfect Day in Cambridge


Clare Chase’s gripping crime novel A Stranger’s House is out in paperback today and to celebrate Clare is kicking off her blog tour by sharing her ‘perfect day’ in Cambridge – the city where the novel is set. Keep your eye out for a few of these locations when you’re reading the book! 

To celebrate the paperback launch of A Stranger’s House, my first Cambridge-set mystery, Choc Lit invited me to share my idea of a perfect day in the city. This is actually quite a tough call – there’s plenty to fill at least a week! However, here are a few highlights. If you ever head over in my direction, you might like to give them a go!

Breakfast at Clowns

Okay, it hasn’t got quite the same ring to it as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it’s where I’d start! Everyone refers to Clowns as a Cambridge institution, and as far as I’m concerned it is, so feel free to believe the hype! It’s a quirky, cosy family-run Italian café on King Street. The coffee’s great and there’s a lovely range of things to eat throughout the day and late into the evening, all very reasonably priced.

Clowns Cafe (1024x563)

The University

It’s everywhere in Cambridge: from the academic departments and colleges, to a range of university-owned museums and galleries. On a sunny day, I’d probably wander round a college or two – but most charge unless you’re a member of the university or a Cambridge resident, so it’s worth picking and choosing. King’s College is hugely impressive of course, but I also love St John’s.

The Bridge of Sighs (1024x766)

You can see the Bridge of Sighs by visiting St John’s College, or by punting underneath it!

Further out of town, Churchill College is well worth a visit. The main buildings are modern and brutalist – which may or may not be to your taste! – but the grounds have a variety of sculptures – including by Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth – and the chapel has stained glass windows by John Piper. Confession time – I met my husband at a college bop at Churchill, so I will always have a soft spot for it!

The university’s Botanic Gardens are also lovely on a sunny day, and perfect for anyone with young children who want to tear around. There’s a good café there too, so you can refuel.

In wet weather I’d choose Kettle’s Yard – but be warned, it’s currently closed for building work. When it’s open, it consists of a serene and beautiful house full of lovely furniture and decorations, as well as artworks by the likes of Alfred Wallis, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. It’s far more than a museum though – you’re allowed to go in, sit down and relax with a book! Next to the house is a gallery – very light and bright with high ceilings. Until it reopens, I’d take in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It’s home to countless curiosities from around the world, including a soaring totem pole. (And a Balinese mask donated by my grandmother!)


After all that walking I’d visit The Eagle pub on Bene’t Street for a rest. It’s famous as the hostelry where Watson and Crick celebrated after working out the structure of DNA, but it’s also home to the RAF bar, with its graffiti-covered ceiling. The words were written using wax, lipstick and charcoal by World War Two airmen. The place is full of atmosphere, with good food and beer too.

The Eagle Ceiling (1024x768)

Ceiling at The Eagle pub.



After lunch, I’d go punting. When I say, I’d go punting, I actually mean I’d persuade someone else to punt me. The punt is a flat boat, with a pole that you use to push yourself along and then to steer, by angling it like a rudder. I’m damned if I can get it right. If you haven’t got a willing volunteer in your party, you can hire a chauffeur punt, and be regaled with Cambridge history as you relax and let a professional take the strain.

Punting at Clare College Bridge (1024x768)


Cambridge is a city, and it’s crammed full of restaurants and all the shops you’d expect. However it’s actually quite a small place, and if you want a county walk, complete with cows, horses and the like, you can head off along the river. One direction will take you towards Ely, the other towards Grantchester. The latter is do-able in a day and you can go and peer at the Old Vicarage, the former home of the poet Rupert Brooke. The village’s Orchard Tea Rooms are also wonderful, with a timeless feel and idyllic gardens.

Cow by the Mill Pond

You get cows in the centre of town too!


Quirky Cambridge

I’d also make time to simply stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. There are plenty of quirky sights around the city. The centre is quite swanky and pricey but if you want a more alternative feel, try Mill Road.

Paymobil Man (769x1024)


I’d round off the day with a meal out, and in town, the options are vast. On this occasion, I’ll plump for La Margarita, a lovely Italian restaurant on Bridge Street (as visited by Ruby and Nate my latest Cambridge mystery, One Dark Lie)! But the Fort St George, by the river on Midsummer Common, is also atmospheric – a grade II listed timber-framed building with a cosy interior. When Ruby takes a break from her work in A Stranger’s House she escapes there for chips!

Fort St George (1024x768)If I had any energy left I’d take in a show. The Footlights would be fun; I’d see if I could spot the comedy stars of the future!

So – that’s my ideal day. If you read A Stranger’s House, I hope you enjoy the descriptions of Cambridge, and if you visit the city, have a wonderful time!

A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase is now out in paperback. For buying options, click HERE

For more on Clare, follow her on Twitter: @ClareChase_

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