Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Brand new Heck novella, absolutely FREE

Anyone waiting for the next Heck novel, KISS OF DEATH, which will hit the shelves in August, and who can’t wait that long, may be interested to learn that a brand new Heck e-novella, DEATH’S DOOR, set when he was still a young detective constable in the East End of London, will be available much sooner than that … entirely free of charge.

In addition today, while we’re talking about shorter-than-usual forays into dark fiction, I’ll be offering a detailed review and discussion of Stephen King’s excellent chiller, JOYLAND.

If you’re only here for the King review, no problem. You’ll find that, as usual, down at the lower end of today’s blog. Feel free to shoot on down there straight away. However, if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, perhaps you’ll be interested to learn a little more about DEATH’S DOOR.

Early days

When KISS OF DEATH comes out this August, it will be the seventh book in the DS Mark Heckenburg series, and as part of that, it occurs in the present-day UK, its events unfolding as you read about them. Set against a backdrop of savage police cuts, it concerns a ho-holds-barred hunt by the Serial Crimes Unit for a hit-list of Britain’s 20 most dangerous and violent criminals who are still on the run from justice, during the course of which Heck and DSU Gemma Piper (his former girlfriend-turned-boss) get their hands on some grainy, black-and-white video footage with truly hideous content, which subsequently leads them to uncover a terrifying conspiracy.

No more about that at present. But much more about DEATH’S DOOR (out on June 29, for the princely price of nothing at all) which while it isn’t exactly a prelude to  KISS OF DEATH, (though, as a bonus, it does contain a sneak peek at the novel!) tells an earlier but very relevant tale from Heck and Gemma’s relationship.

I’m hopeful that most regular readers by now will be equally as interested in the overarching ‘Heck and Gemma’ story thread as they are the horrible crimes that Heck regularly finds himself investigating (I’d be inhuman if I hadn’t noticed that the ‘will they or won’t they?’ thing is now a big issue for certain followers of the series), and DEATH’S DOOR will only add to that, taking us back to a time when our two heroes weren’t just boyfriend and girlfriend, but were actually living together in a small flat in Finsbury Park.

However, stresses in the relationship are now finally showing. You may recall that, last Christmas, I ran the novella, BRIGHTLY SHONE THE MOON THAT NIGHT on this blog, which was set even earlier in their relationship, when all was hunky dory and the twosome, as well as being very much in love, were working well together as fellow detective constables in Bethnal Green CID. When DEATH’S DOOR is set, they are still working as DCs in Bethnal Green (and as I say, by this time living together), but Gemma is increasingly frustrated with Heck’s rule-bending and risk-taking, especially as she is about to embark on the series of promotions that will eventually propel her to the uppermost tier of the job.

That said, if there’s one thing Gemma unfailingly trusts about Heck, it’s his intuition. And when he comes to suspect that a mysterious peeping tom who has occasionally been spotted on a local housing estate might pose a much, much greater threat than it initially seems, she knows that it won’t pay to ignore him …

As I say, you can acquire DEATH’S DOOR, all 20,000 words of it, from your favourite online retailers from June 29, and it won’t cost you anything. If you’re planning to buy KISS OF DEATH later in the year, I strongly suggest you dip into this one first, as it gives yet more of the crucial back-story between the series’ two central characters (and as a quick reminder, it also gives you a glimpse at some early chapters of the forthcoming novel).

Still on the subject of my fictional police heroes, I have to say that I love this fantabulous cover from Piper Verlag, my publishers over in Germany.

This is IM SCHATTEN DES SYNDIKATS, the German translation of SHADOWS, my second Lucy Clayburn novel (published over here last October, but due out from Piper next January).

Again, as with the first Lucy novel to appear in Germany, the marketing strategy is noticeably different.

As you can see here, the original English novel hit the shops in the style of a domestic noir – which wasn’t strictly accurate, in my view, given that the Lucy Clayburn novels are dark-toned police procedurals, but which was understandable given how popular domestic thrillers were in the UK up to and including last year.

Over in Germany, there is clearly a greater interest among sales strategists in Lucy’s biker credentials and her ‘action girl’ approach to policing (the inheritance, no doubt, of her estranged father, who is now a high-ranking figure in the Manchester underworld).

Either way, I love this latest cover from Piper just as much as any of the others. As with SCHWARZE WITWEN, the first German edition of a Lucy Clayburn novel, it completely captures the image of the heroine that I had in my mind’s eye when I first wrote about her.  


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi novels) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Stephen King (2013)

It is 1973, and New England-born college guy, Devin Jones, is screwing things up educationally. Head over heels in love with classmate, Wendy Keegan, he just can’t focus on his studies – a problem that worsens when reality starts dawning that her increasing coolness is basically because she doesn’t share his ardour.

As the girl is at no stage kind enough to turn around and tell him he’s dumped, Devin continues to delude himself that Wendy is his, even when he flees into a summer job at Joyland, a second-rate amusement part on the North Carolina beachfront.

Deep down, of course, he’s well aware that the relationship has fractured, probably fatally, but instead of facing the fact, he throws himself into the new alliances he makes at the park, specifically with fellow ‘greenies’ (summer-staff), Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook, but also with hardbitten carney regulars, Fred Dean, Lane Hardy, and even grouchy old Eddie Parks, the latter group of whom, though they are civil enough with Devin on his first arrival, only become his firm pals when they discover that he excels at ‘wearing the fur’, i.e. putting on the costume of Howie the Happy Hound, the park’s mascot, and entertaining the kiddies.

It’s a long, hot, hardworking summer, during which the tireless Devin wins the approval of nonagenarian park-owner, Bradley Easterbrook, ends up being mothered by firm but fair landlady, Emmalina Shoplaw, and even attracts the attention of fortune-teller, Rozzy Gold, who is disturbed to see something bad in the kid’s future.

And this is the thing about Joyland. Though it does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a great afternoon for young families, it has a dark history. There was a murder here in the 1960s, when a girl had her throat cut on the Horror House ride. If that isn’t enough, the case was never solved, and rumour-mongers hold that the victim, Linda Gray, was only one of several attributable to the same maniac.

This macabre story is of growing interest to Devin, especially when he learns that the Horror House is now supposed to be haunted for real, Linda Gray’s sad ghost lingering in its shadows, looking to make contact with anyone she can, so that she can name her killer.

Devin never sees the ghost, himself, or even senses its presence, and is envious when he learns that Tom Kennedy has done, even though Tom doesn’t think this cool at all, and in fact was so frightened by the experience that, once the summer is over, he plans to get as far from Joyland as he can – and intends to take Erin with him, as the twosome are now an item (despite Erin and Devin’s mutual attraction).

Meanwhile, Devin, who’s grown to accept that he’ll never see Wendy again, is cultivating a relationship with another young woman, though this one is far more complex.

Single mother, Annie Ross, is spending the summer in her wealthy evangelical preacher father’s coastal mansion, and is sole guardian to her crippled, dying and yet permanently cheerful son, Michael. It is Michael who initially makes friends with Devin, a relationship Annie tries to discourage because she thinks it will end in tears – though when she actually gets to know Devin, she realises that he’s an okay guy.

But even this arrangement starts to prove difficult. Young Michael is another who possesses second-sight – and in his case it’s genuine. He doesn’t just get vague impressions like Rozzy Gold, so when he too warns Devin that something bad is looming, it needs to be taken seriously.

From a reader’s perspective, of course, it’s impossible not to form a suspicion that this approaching danger must be connected to story of the Funhouse Killer, with which Devin is increasingly fascinated. In fact, at the end of summer, when Tom and Erin go back to college, but Devin stays on – having decided to take a year out – the girl, at Devin’s behest, starts to research the case, and comes up with some compelling clues, which she duly sends back.

The question is will Devin be able to make use of these, and if he can, will that in itself be a problem? Because, if you’re a soulless, many-times murderer, and you learn that someone’s investigating you, aren’t you going to take action to prevent it? And if you’re really and truly wicked, isn’t it also possible that you won’t just draw the line at dealing with him, but maybe with all those he knows and loves as well? …

My first impression on reading Joyland was that it may have started life as a novella, or even a short story. It’s a fairly slight concept, and a very linear narrative, uncluttered by the usual side-tracks and detours that Stephen King’s larger novels are renowned for. Was it originally a shortie, I wonder, and in that inimitable Steve King style, did it simply grow with the telling? That said, it isn’t padded; there’s no issue there, and it’s a very fast read – so no-one must be concerned that Joyland is a bit of nothing.

The second impression I got is that it’s another classic piece of King’s folksy Americana. Once again, we’re in the US of the author’s younger days, his college years perhaps, which are evoked in completely authentic and loving detail. This is a classic Stephen King retrospective on earlier periods of his life. Not content just to tell you how it looked and sounded and smelled, he gets you right into the mindset, helps you capture the zeitgeist. To start with, this is a politer age; everyone, you feel, has less than they do now, yet they are more genteel. People are adults when they hit their mid-20s, and automatically are treated with respect by juveniles. Students work their way through the vacation, and they work damn hard, because they need the money. Rules at rooming houses are there to be obeyed. Children are less streetwise, and yet intangibly tougher than their counterparts today. The simple pleasures of an amusement park are deemed a worthwhile experience for working class families who take nothing for granted.

As for King’s descriptive powers … well, it’s the usual case of every other writer who reads it going green with envy. Everything about Joyland, the park, is vivid. You can hear the whistles and bells of the rides, you can smell the candy-floss and ketchup, can hear the roar of the nearby surf, and feel the tremors of excitement on first sight of the simp-hoister (Ferris wheel), Zamp rides (children’s attractions) and bang-shies (rifle ranges). 

Is it as terrifying as so many of his other works?

No, not a bit of it.

It’s a thriller. Be under no illusion about that, but it’s a low-key thriller. More important to the author on this occasion is the development of some wonderfully believable characters and relationships, and a deep contemplation of the afterlife.

Devin, for example, is only a young man – he rarely thinks about death; but there’s a killer at large, who preys on women younger even than he is. At the same time, little Michael is terminally ill, a fact he’s accepted with numbing bravery and stoicism. Because Joyland isn’t set now, this isn’t a world of atheists to whom death is oblivion. But this isn’t the long past either, so there’s uncertainty, there’s doubt, there’s fear. Annie Ross cannot disassociate the Jesus she learned about and loved as a little girl from the money-grabbing millionaire phoney that is her father. Even though there’s supposedly a ghost at Joyland, physical proof that we’re all spirits, Devin has never seen it, even though he yearns to (he misses his deceased mom terribly, and would love to hook up with her again).

This is all immensely affecting and moving – but there’s no schmaltz or sugar here; this is not a Disney story. And it makes for a hugely satisfying if very different kind of read.

I didn’t know much about Joyland when I picked it up. I tuned in expecting a typical blood-churning Stephen King chiller. I didn’t get that, but what I did get was yet another remarkable (if slightly shorter than usual) reading experience from one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ great masters of the written word.

Amazingly, given that almost everything Stephen King ever writes ends up on film or TV at some point, Joyland hasn’t – as far as I know – been adapted just yet. So (as usual) I’ll take a chance to nominate my own cast straight away. No-one’s going to listen to me, but hell, these guys would be great:

Devin Jones – Zac Efron
Annie Ross – Sienna Miller
Erin Cook – Saoirse Ronan
Tom Kennedy – Kevin McHale
Emmalina Shoplaw – Kathy Bates
Eddie Parks – Billy Drago
Lane Hardy – Clancy Brown
Bradley Easterbrook – M. Emmet Walsh

As usual, the only one I can’t cast is young Michael Ross; I know so little about child actors of those tender years that it would be a wasted exercise.


  1. Up and down that beach was a drag. King did the same in Duma Key. Good for word count, but not much else. Joyland didn't float my boat.