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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Hippo Hands Over . . . . to S.D. Mayes

Today it's publication day for Letters to the Pianist and I'm absolutely thrilled to be handing over to the author S.D.Mayes. 

I hope you're all on your best behaviour as she's brought along a guest character and when I caught a passing glimpse of her earlier she certainly looks like she’s a lady with high standards!

But before I hand you over, let me tell you about the book.


In war torn London, 1941, fourteen-year-old Ruth Goldberg and her two younger siblings, Gabi and Hannah, survive the terrifying bombing of their family home. They believe their parents are dead, their bodies buried underneath the burnt remains – but unbeknownst to them, their father, Joe, survives and is taken to hospital with amnesia.

Four years on, Ruth stumbles across a newspaper photo of a celebrated pianist and is struck by the resemblance to her father. Desperate for evidence she sends him a letter, and as the pianist’s dormant memories emerge, his past unravels, revealing his true identity – as her beloved father, Joe. Ruth sets out to meet him, only to find herself plunged into an aristocratic world of sinister dark secrets.

Can she help him escape and find a way to stay alive?

LETTERS TO THE PIANIST is a compelling page turner packed with drama, intrigue and suspense. If you loved The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or The Pianist, then you will love this exciting new novel.

I love the sound of this book and The Book Thief is one of my all-time favourite books, so I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing Letters to the Pianist here on The Hippo very soon.

So now I’ll hand you over to the author herself and she can reveal who she’s brought along with her today.

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I travelled back in time to 1941, for an interview with a character from my book LETTERS TO THE PIANIST, Connie Douglas-Scott.

Today I sit opposite the beautiful and elegant debutante, Lady Connie Douglas-Scott in the grand living room of her parent’s home in Richmond, South West London. 

Good to meet you, Lady Douglas-Scott. I’m so grateful that you agreed to speak with me and allow me insight into your exotic world.
Lovely to meet you too, my dear.  And do call me, Connie. I apologise for being two hours late.  I awoke at midday. And my maids had to dress me in my finest and curl my hair … and, of course, I do worry terribly that my shoes and handbag are the right match. 
You look beautiful as usual, Connie.
Why, thank you. People always tell me I look like Vivien Leigh, you know, the actress in Gone With The Wind.  Although I’m twenty-four so look much much younger. Anyway, silly me. You must be terribly thirsty, so let me get our butler, Rutherford to pour us both a glass of champers. I always need a few bubbles to keep me going.  RUTHFORD, come please.

Photo found on Google

Thank you, Connie.  With the war going on, I don’t get a chance to indulge in such luxury.
Oh darling, don’t you. You do know that alcohol isn’t rationed. As long as you’ve got the moolah, as daddy calls it, it’s yours. But I suppose you’re a writer, so you must survive on bread and wine like all the creatives do. 

I can’t afford wine. But yes, something like that, Connie.
Well, I promise, before you leave, I’ll make sure you’ll get some smoked salmon and caviar.   Don’t want you starving to death now, do we?

Thank you, Connie, now can I get to the nub of things and ask why a beautiful debutante like yourself is still single.  It is hard to believe.
Goodness you are a cheeky one, aren’t you?  Okay, hmm, well, Mummy says I’m far too fussy. Although there was one man I met. Very powerful he was too, but he was much older and ... he um … well, he lives in Europe, so it wouldn’t have worked … but there’s always some chap whisking me off to the races or taking me to dine at some official function.

Sounds wonderful.
Yes, but I’ve discovered that one can be wined and dined by a perfect gentleman with a top-notch pedigree and still feel very much alone. Mummy would be livid if she heard me say this, but many of these men are terribly dull and dare I say pompous, obsessed with their investments or chasing off on shooting jaunts to the country. They want the right sort of girl on their arm but they show little interest in the real me.

So what do you want, Connie?
Just a good man … kind and loving. Someone I can talk to ... who listens, that’s all. Am I asking too much?

No, that’s completely understandable.  So there’s no one?  No one at all?
Well, umm, I do charity work you know, visiting the sick and the injured in hospital for my sins … 

Really, how wonderful of you, to give your time in this way.
Yes, I try and do my bit. Bring a bit of colour into their poor lives, you know … anyway there’s a man there – oh it’s silly really, he’s very ill and can’t remember a thing about his past … and I don’t know … I just feel quite drawn to him. Maybe it’s just that he’s a bit of an enigma, but my heart did flutter a bit. And I could see that beneath that hairy face of his, he is rather handsome.

Goodness, Connie, would your father, Lord Douglas-Scott approve?
Well that depends. We can become anonymous with this silly old war. People lose their homes and their identities. We might discover that the poor devil is from rich stock when his memory returns, you never know.   And even if he were just a handsome ruffian, well, daddy, he just indulges me. I can twist him and most men around my little finger, you know.  But I do want to settle down.
Hmm, anyway, darling, mystery is such fun. So let’s have a sip of champers and drink to the unknown … chin chin!

I’m so pleased that S.D. brought Connie along today, she sounds like an intriguing character with a very interesting story to tell.

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                                          About the author

Photo courtesy of S.D. Mayes

S.D. Mayes worked as a journalist for nearly twenty years before turning her hand to fiction. Inspired by the bizarre but factual events of Hitler’s supernatural obsession, Letters to the Pianist is her first historical suspense novel. Originally from the West Country, she currently lives in Berkshire, UK.

Letters to the Pianist is published by BHC Press and is available now in hardback and e-book and the paperback will be available from 6th October.

You can find out more about S.D. Mayes and connect with her using the links below:

I’d like to wish S.D. Mayes a happy publication day to say thank you for taking the time to stop by on what must be a very busy day. I wish you every success with Letters to the Pianist. 🥂

Saturday, 16 September 2017

#Blog Tour - Her Dark Path - Ken Ogilvie

I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the blog tour for Her Dark Path with a guest post from the author Ken Ogilvie.


16 years ago Rebecca Bradley’s mother was murdered. Rebecca was only eight years old. The killer has never been caught. Growing up, Rebecca vowed that one day she would track him down and make him pay.

Now Rebecca is a young police woman in Ontario. She wants to become a homicide detective. Her first investigation is the cold case of a woman who vanished for 16 days and then was found dead in her own home. The brutal crime shocks the small Canadian town of Conroy.

The puzzling case has uncanny similarities to the murder of Rebecca’s mother. Both victims were found strangled in their own kitchens.

Can Rebecca keep her emotions together as she closes in on a killer with connections to her family and tragic past? And will she finally get justice for her mother?

Discover a new crime writer who will have you gripped till the pulsating end.

                                                   About the author

Photo courtesy of Ken Ogilvie

I’m currently an independent environmental policy consultant, working from home in Toronto, Canada, although I’m on the road a lot. I still mostly write fiction in the early morning, and edit it later in the day. Recent consulting contracts of mine include preparing a case study designed to be used by the Said Business School, University of Oxford, on the province of Alberta’s recent transition towards being a climate policy leader in Canada, and I’ve done research and ran workshops on the creation of a new Canadian Energy Information Organization. I serve on the Boards of Directors for two leading environmental and energy organizations – the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, and Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow (QUEST). And when spare time and suitable opponents permit, I play the odd game of chess, which was a passion of mine in younger days.

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                                                   Book Rationale

I wrote Her Dark Path because a couple of decades ago I was reading a mystery novel that I suddenly snapped shut and declared, rather too vehemently, “This book is crap! I could write a better one.” I forgot about that bold (and somewhat rash) declaration for many years and focused all of my energy on my career in three Canadian governments (Federal, Ontario and Manitoba) in the environmental policy field. In 1995, when I became the Executive Director of Pollution Probe, a Canadian environmental organization created in 1969, I found myself working 24/7. The job was all-consuming, and I felt that I needed a distraction of some sort. Watching TV didn’t work, because I was tired at the end of long working days and would nod off. I tried reading books, but they just put me to sleep faster. Then I recalled what I’d said years ago about how I could write a better book. I challenged myself and got up early the next morning. By 6 a.m. I was sitting in a coffee shop with my computer booted up. I started working on a science-fiction novel – not a mystery, because I had mostly read science fiction in my youth, and only later read mysteries when I had the inclination during my busy career.

I began my fiction writing as a novice, but I had extensive writing experience in technical and policy areas, and I was a ferocious editor of staff reports at Pollution Probe. Novel writing would come naturally to me, or so I thought (incorrectly). I wrote half of a really crappy science-fiction book, and then struggled over whether to continue. But I’m not a quitter, so I shelved that book for the time being, took a deep breath, and hit the reset button. I started working on a mystery. My parents grew up near the south shore of Georgian Bay, Ontario, so I set my book close to there, just off the eastern side of that massive bay (which is about 80% of the size of Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes). I grew up in small towns in southern Ontario, until high school, so I decided to create my own small town, which I named Conroy. I made it a dying town and not very picturesque, like Louise Penny’s Three Pines, although it’s surrounded by the stunningly gorgeous landscapes of Georgian Bay (rocky, wind-swept shorelines that inspired The Group of Seven artists) and the tens of thousands of sparkling lakes dotting the Canadian Shield in the Muskoka area are not far north of where I set poor little boring Conroy (on the surface). I moved against the heavy flow of mystery novels that feature older, heavy-drinking detectives having marital and other family problems, and made my protagonist young (Constable Rebecca Bradley, 24 years old). The plot of Her Dark Path is fairly intricate and ended up with a story arc that will continue into future books. I hadn’t initially set out to write a series, although the first book contains a complete story in itself. But enough on that subject – for more, you’ll have to read the book!

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Her Dark Path is currently available to download for just 99p (at the time of posting)

You can follow the rest of the tour on these fabulous blogs:


With kind thanks to Jill at Books n All for asking me to take part in the blog tour.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Lines of Justice: Aždaja - Lee Sherred - Review and author Q & A

Lines of Justice: Aždaja is the debut novel from Lee Sherred. I first became aware of this author when he joined a Facebook group called Book Connectors and posted a link to his book, describing it as a 'realistic, dark crime thriller' so naturally I clicked the link to find out more. After reading the blurb I was intrigued:

Bound by honour. Driven by revenge. Two men with a score to settle.

Kosovo, 1999:

Sgt Dean Samson and his team of British soldiers are well aware of the dangers they’ll face and the things they’ll see in a country that has suffered years of oppression and ethnic cleansing. But nothing could have prepared them for Aždaja, a sadistic, mythical, serial killer with a penchant for vile humiliation and unimaginable torture.

Present day:

Since leaving the Army, Samson now a Police Officer, has struggled to erase his darkest memories of Kosovo. When he receives a devastating medical diagnosis, his nightmares come flooding to the surface, forcing him to face up to what he did….and what he didn’t do. With nothing to lose and no one to stop him, he's at a crossroads. But is he prepared for what lies in wait? Will the horrors of Kosovo return with a vengeance?

I downloaded a sample and the next night I read it and then headed straight back to buy the book the next day!

First things first, this is definitely not a book for you if you're squeamish! The prologue is one of the most shocking/horrific/distressing/sickening/stomach churning (delete where applicable) openings to a book that I think I've ever read. That said, it's not gratuitous violence, it's in keeping with the story and its relevance became clear as I read on.

When Sergeant Samson and his team were in Kosovo they crossed paths with a man calling himself Aždaja and he's someone that Sam hoped to never encounter again.

Fast forward several years and Samson is now with the police force when he hears about some grisly murders. While there's unfortunately nothing unusual about that, he's disturbed to find out that the victims are some of his ex-army buddies who also witnessed the appalling acts of Aždaja. Surely he's jumping to conclusions and this guy is safely locked up somewhere back In Kosovo.

When he finds out the manner in which his friends were killed, the floodgates open and he begins having chilling nightmares that take him straight back to his army days and an encounter that he had tried so desperately to forget. Unable to put this out of his mind and with a life changing illness hanging over him Samson decides to take matters into his own hands, after all, what has he got to lose?

 Lines of Justice: Aždaja is an impressive debut novel and one that definitely packs a punch in more ways than one. Knowing that Lee Sherred had been in the army and the police force before I started reading his book, I suspected that it was going to be a difficult read (for the subject matter not the words themselves) and I was right, which is why I said at the beginning of my review that it's not a book for you if you're squeamish. This is a fast paced thriller that had me reading through my fingers and curling my toes at the same time! Knowing that there are real people like this out in the world who will stop at nothing to punish others that they feel have done wrong is a very scary and sobering thought. I think that Lee has got a bright future ahead of him as a writer and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes their books dark, gritty and jam-packed with realism.

I've been chatting to Lee over the last few weeks and I'm delighted to tell you that I've managed to persuade him to stop by today and answer some questions.

Photo courtesy of Lee Sherred

Hello Lee and welcome to The Hippo.
Hi Neats, thanks for inviting me. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Yes, unfortunately I don't have any formal writing qualifications or background, having not been the most 'attentive' pupil at school shall we say! It's been a steep learning curve for me. I started boxing and training in a number of martial arts in my early teens which led to working as a door supervisor at a number of the less salubrious night clubs before I was even old enough to legally be in there. While working one evening there was an unfortunate incident which lead to a bit of a run in with the police. This was the mental slap I needed to sort myself out so, shortly after that, I joined the British Army and it actually really straightened me out. After a number of years, where I spent a considerable amount of time on operational tours in various Balkan states, I left and joined the police. During my police career I've held positions in many covert and specialist roles. 

You’ve been a soldier, a police officer and a competitive fighter. What made you decide to write a book?
I've always been an avid reader and, for many years now, I've tentatively considered writing. I even started on a couple of occasions but, due to work commitments, didn't get very far before putting it aside. Unluckily, or luckily depending on how you look at it, I was injured quite badly at work at the beginning of last year which suddenly cleared my schedule. All of a sudden I went from being very busy to sitting around twiddling my thumbs so, in an attempt to keep my mind active, I dived full on into my writing, now absent of any excuses to put it off. 

Can you describe how your book took shape and how long it took you to write it?
Lines of Justice: Aždaja is the first in a series and it's my first (self) published book. From start to finish it probably took a little over a year to complete. Without giving too much of the plot away, many police officers joke about what they might do IF they are ever stricken by a terminal illness. Obviously it's all harmless banter but a few years ago a good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and was in a very bad way. I remember having a conversation with him shortly after his first bout of chemo. He told me that his only goal was to survive long enough to see his son born (his wife was pregnant at the time). Unfortunately his doctors were very sceptical that they could successfully treat his type of cancer. That really hit home with me and got me thinking. How would I cope in his place, suddenly given the knowledge that my life had a very short best before date? He was lucky. Before being diagnosed he'd been a very fit and motivated guy so they were able to hit him with some seriously hardcore treatment, the effects of which were absolutely horrendous...but it worked. His son is now four and, other than a bit of a scare which required another course of horrible treatment 'just in case,' my friend is doing very well.   

How would you describe Lines of Justice: Aždaja to entice someone to read it?
Hmm...realistic maybe? A bit different to the norm perhaps? Although I don't have the writing pedigree of many authors out there I do posses something many of them don't...a wealth of first hand knowledge and experiences in the fields that I write about, especially useful when describing the grittier scenes. A lot of the modern crime and psychological thrillers are great and entertaining fictional stories, and I thoroughly enjoy reading them myself, but, many of the big, bestselling authors have very little actual knowledge of the mindset of today's emergency services or how a police investigation actually works in reality. This is definitely not meant as a criticism, far from it, but I like to think that I can bring an element of the missing realism to the table in my books. 

Lines of Justice is very graphic in parts, especially the prologue, and I believe that a lot of these scenes by your own personal experiences. This must have been an horrific time for you, so how difficult was it to revisit these experiences and write your book?
Funnily enough it was actually harder than I'd imagined. I've always been one of the luckier ones, able to ignore the nastier stuff and get on with the job at hand, put it behind me and move on pretty quickly. As I wrote, I began searching my deeper memories for inspiration and dug up things that I'd obviously buried deep down. Again, without giving too much away, a lot of the more graphic things featured in the book, especially in the epilogue, are inspired by actual events. As I typed I started to re-live them, recalling minute details that I hadn't even noticed at the time. It's funny how the brain works, it was almost as if I was looking at one of those Virtual Reality 360 degree tours of my mind...very strange. Soldiers and emergency services deal with the most horrendous things on a regular basis, which I think some readers may possibly forget. Reality is often a lot worse than fiction. I don't really ever talk of the nastier things I've seen or done, they don't exactly make a good dinner time conversation, so it was a little strange to pour all this stuff out in a book for all to see. It was actually quite hard work to write in places!

The name Aždaja is just one of many figures in Serbian Mythology. What made you choose this dragon-like monster over the others to feature in your book?
The Balkans have a very rich and interesting history filled with great mythology and folklore. I remember hearing stories about the Aždaja, a creature of pure unadulterated evil, years ago and it has been in the back of my mind to use that in a book ever since. The age old battle between good and evil...with a bit of a twist. Aždaja was always going to be the first in a series of dark thrillers that are very loosely based around the mythological creature.  

Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know?
Ha ha, if I said no then I would be lying! A good bit of advice I received years ago was to 'write what you know.' The main character must have more of me written into him than I'd meant because friends and family who have read the book identified me in him straight away. Some even mentioned that they pictured me when reading the book. He was never meant to be me, he's just a fictional character. Some of the other characters are based roughly around people I know or have met with distinctive traits or mannerisms I found interesting that I could use, others are completely made up. As with most police officers we tend to be people watchers, we can't help it. I think that helped me when considering character descriptions.   

Who are your favourite authors and which book do you wish you’d written and why?
That's a tough question, my fictional reading tastes are pretty varied. I'm currently into Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles but I'm also a fan of Tom Clancy, Conn Iggulden, Thomas Harris
Hmm, which book do I wish I'd written? That's a tough one but I'm going to go with The Man In The White Suite by Ben Collins. If I'd written that then it would've meant that I was the Stig on Top Gear...and that would have been pretty cool! Ha ha. On a serious note, I wish I'd come up with the idea for Cornwell's character Richard Sharpe. I think he's a really great character. I love how the author has taken an orphan from the lowest walks of life and thrown him, awkwardly, into the highest ranks of society during a period in our history where that would've been unheard of. It gives the author an unlimited amount of options to twist into his tales.  

Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell us about?
Yes, I'm currently working on the next in the Lines of Justice series which follows on from where Aždaja left off. I haven't decided on name yet and don't want to say too much because I'm still in the preliminary draft stages but it's obviously also going to be quite a dark, realistic, psychological thriller that again gently hints at the Serbian folklore stories of Aždaja (evil) and Zmaj (good...ish).

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers?
Only thanks for reading my book and I hope you enjoy the next one. Is it OK to use this blog to raise awareness? I'd just really like to just say, if you have family or friends in the military or emergency services, then please just keep in mind that if they don't want to talk about their day then there may be a very good reason for that. I'm always open to feedback, good or bad, because this is all a learning experience for me. If you've read Aždaja then I'd be grateful if you leave me a review. Thanks for looking.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions today Lee and I wish you lots of luck with Lines of Justice: Aždaja
You're welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

You can find out more about Lee by using the links below: