Smokey the Cat
Anna Downes

Sixty seconds with Anna Downes...

Anna Downes grew up in Sheffield, UK. She studied drama at Manchester before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and moving to London to pursue an acting career that included credits in EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, and Dalziel and Pascoe, as well as a long-running stage production of The Dresser in London’s West End. Anna’s bestselling debut novel, The Safe Place, was published simultaneously in Australia, the US and the UK in 2020. Her second book, The Shadow House, was published in 2021 in Australia and New Zealand followed by publication in the UK and the USA in 2022. Anna lives on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia, with her husband and two children.

RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

Downes: Chaotic but lovable writer and mother-of-two seeks kind people, beaches, 90’s R&B music and the perfect pair of jeans to keep her sane and make her smile while she strives endlessly to make sense of life and Big Feelings through storytelling and art (craft gin, cheese platters and Harry Styles’ face may also apply).

RTE: What's the one record you'd take to a desert island?

Downes: Madonna – The Immaculate Collection.

RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Downes: There was a brief spell when I wanted to be a journalist, and as a young kid I could often be found writing ‘novels’ (fantasy-adventure tales written in scrappy notebooks with a purple felt-tip pen, if memory serves) – but around age 9 I was bitten hard by the acting bug and from that point on I was obsessed.

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July 30 2022

Here we are, halfway through a pretty hot summer. Have you been reading anything that chilled your blood and helped you forget the sweat ? We've got some suggestions that should get you through August.

IN PLACE OF FEAR, Catriona McPherson's historical set in Edinburgh in1948, is nevertheless surprisingly relevant, dealing as it does with women's rights and health care reform. Rebecca Nesvet says that for US readers especially, it is more timely than historical novels usually are and concludes that it is "a tour-de-force that should be on everybody's list."

Another Scottish author, Denise Mina, goes afield from her native land in CONFIDENCE, a book whose title has more than one meaning. It centres on a silver casket that is said to house a relic of Christ's crucifixion, recently discovered by a social media influencer who has disappeared. Barbara Fister regrets that it lacks the focus of Mina's previous CONVICTION, but says that it retains enough of the author's "wry humour, surprising characters, and humanity" to make it worth a read."

IN THE DARK WE FORGET by Sandra SG Wong begins with a situation familiar to readers of suspense fiction but, as Rebecca Nesvet observes, rapidly becomes something more serious - a "meditation on the kinds of cultural forgetting required of Asian-American Canadians, young women, and everyone who is struggling to find out in less literal ways who they are and whom they can trust." This element as well as the sympathetic treatment of a central bisexual character makes this book memorable, Rebecca says.

On opening Dervla McTieman's THE MURDER RULE, Sharon Mensing was a bit disappointed to find that it was not set in the author's usual Ireland, but in the United States and was a legal mystery into the bargain, not Sharon's favourite sub-genre. All the same, McTieman's skill with characterization and plot as well as her treatment of certain problems like toxic masculinity and social inequality were enough to keep Sharon reading and even to lie awake wondering where the book was taking her.

Lo Patrick's THE FLOATING GIRLS is a debut, but one that shows no signs of inexperience. Set in the fairly unfamiliar landscape of the coastal Georgia wetlands, it focuses on a series of events in a twelve-year-old girl's life that shape who she will become. Although comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird will be inevitable, I thought this of greater interest. But prospective readers should be aware that despite being marketed as one, this is not a thriller and hardly a crime novel at all. Never mind; it is a terrific read.

The pandemic has caused the protagonist of Elizabeth Hand's HOKULOA ROAD to take a new job in Hawaii when his employment in Maine dries up. But he does not wind up in tourist Maui or Oahu, but in a tropical strangeness where people have a peculiar habit of disappearing. He decides to find out what happened to one of them, a girl he met on the plane coming over. Barbara Fister reports that after a slow-moving start, it turns into "a strange, unsettling, but memorable journey."

The historical police procedural is a sturdy go-to, especially for British crime fiction. FIERCE POISON, by Will Thomas, is set in London in 1893, the thirteenth in the Barker and Llewelyn series. But, as Meredith Frazier observes, it is more concerned with providing a compelling mystery to be solved than with producing a rich portrait of late Victorian London. There is, however, enough period detail to anchor the events in the past without being forced. Alan Parks approaches the sub-genre from a different perspective. The fifth entry in his Harry McCoy calendar series (each title refers to a month in its appropriate yearly order) MAY GOD FORGIVE takes place over ten days in 1974 in Glasgow. We feel we are in a living city, but one that clearly is not the present one. I wasn't there, but several born-and-bred Glaswegians attest to its accuracy. I found the book (and the series) gritty and sometimes shocking, but thoroughly immersive.

Anne Perry's THREE DEBTS PAID is the newest in her Daniel Pitt series spun off from the 32 books that star Daniel's parents, Charlotte and Thomas. Their lawyer son has inherited their detective abilities and this time he is intent on discovering the identity of a serial killer who strikes only in heavy rain storms. Although London, downpours, and a serial killer may seem a bit familiar, Anne Corey reports that Perry keeps the reader guessing till the very end, culminating in an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.

Anne Perry is not the only one to pass the detectival torch to a younger generation. John Sandford promotes Letty, the daughter of Lucas Davenport, the main character of his long-running Prey series, to a role on centre stage in THE INVESTIGATOR. Letty may be adopted but she has developed many of her father's characteristics. P.J. Coldren reports that long-time readers of the Prey series will enjoy this new addition, while readers who are unfamiliar with the previous series can decide on the basis of this one whether they want to investigate it.

Compared with Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt and Sandford's Prey series, both of which now stand at thirty-two volumes each, Paul Doiron's Mike Bowditch is just getting started at fourteen entries. Still, it's very difficult to keep a series fresh if the main character remains inflexibly unchanged. Sharon Mensing was interested to note a subtle but real difference in Mike in HATCHET ISLAND, a slight softening, a more contemplative, less action-oriented outlook. Mike hasn't lost his engagement with nature nor his willingness to act when he must; he's just mellowing a bit.

If the weather has sapped your ambition, perhaps a good short story or two would be just the thing. Lourdes Venard can recommend CRIME HITS HOME, a collection of twenty stories edited by S.J. Rozan. These are set in various places but are linked by a sense of home. Some of the authors are very well known, some not so much but Lourdes says that there are more than one to please any reader.

The cozier side of Scotland appears in Paige Shelton's THE BURNING PAGES, the latest in the Scottish Bookshop series. Ruth Castleberry says that Shelton weaves a complex mystery out of several plot threads while honouring Robert Burns and bringing her readers up to date with the personnel of the Bookshop series.

Finally, P.J. takes on weddings in two different centuries. One is A BRIDE'S GUIDE TO MARRIAGE AND MURDER, by Dianne Freeman, set in London in 1900. The second is THE MURDER PLOT by Paula Munier, set in contemporary Vermont. The London of BRIDE'S GUIDE is effectively a small town, since it concerns a narrow group of members of the aristocracy, while Munier's book is set in rural Vermont. And both of them feature a strong female amateur sleuth. P.J. enjoyed them both, especially for Freeman's sense of humour and for Elvis and Suzie Bear, the dogs in THE MURDER PLOT.

Anna Downes is our guest in the "Sixty Seconds With..." spot this month and her one-sentence self description is encyclopedic.

Our friends across the sea have been distracting themselves from the heatwave by keeping up with what is going on in British crime. You can find out what they thought of it at CRIMEREVIEW.

And there we have it for our middle of the summer issue. We'll be back at the end of August and hope you will join us. Please get in touch if you have anything you want us to hear about.


The Editors:

Yvonne Klein

Rebecca Nesvet

P.S. If you wish to submit a book for review, please check here before contacting us. Please note that we do not review self-published books.

Our mascot and masthead is Smokey the Cat. Smokey the cat went to the great playground in the sky on April 29, 2008, at 3:30 p.m. He was about 13 years old, had diabetes and only 11 teeth left. He is much happier now. He will remain as our masthead and mascot.

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Since RTE first appeared, some twelve years ago, the business of books has changed out of all recognition. Then, books were reviewed in the print media for the most part, though Amazon was encouraging readers to post their reviews of the books they read. Now, newspapers across North America have reduced or eliminated the space they allot to books and, with certain notable exceptions, only best-selling authors are likely to get noticed. As a result, electronic reviewing has become increasingly important and, due to the somewhat slippery question of online authorship, occasionally problematic.

For this reason and in view of a recent article in the NY Times detailing a reviews-for-hire enterprise, it's probably wise for RTE to reiterate its position on reviewing. While our reviewers receive galleys, ARCs, or finished copies of books for review, they are otherwise unpaid. Furthermore, they are asked to disclose any special interest they might have in a book or an author they are reviewing. No one, including the editors, receives any compensation for the work they do. All our reviewers are encouraged to express their honest opinions, whether positive or negative, about the books they are reviewing. None of our reviewers uses a pseudonym and all are who they say they are. Nor do we employ rating systems (stars, grades, "highly recommended," or the like) in the belief that our reviews deserve to be read in their entirety. Since RTE does not review self-published or digital-only releases, we are perhaps less vulnerable to offers to pay for reviews, but it seems a good idea to make our policy clear. Finally, in the years that I've been editing RTE, I have never once been approached by a press or a publicist to violate this principle in any way.

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