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Author of the Month

Name: Martin Edwards

First Novel: All The Lonely People

Most Recent Book: The Frozen Shroud

'‘The Frozen Shroud’ is a marvellous Gothic gem with plenty of the dark and the mysterious to keep you riveted...'

Synopsis:
It is a cold Hallowe’en night and the conversation turns to the macabre and the supernatural at Ravenback Hall. Old legends are told of a woman, Gertrude Smith who worked at the Hall a century ago and who had an affair with her employer. On All Hallows’ Eve Gertrude was murdered, her face battered beyond recognition and a blanket placed over her ruined head. She wasn’t found until morning and by that time the ‘shroud’ had become frozen and attached to Gertrude’s savaged face. Now a faceless woman walks the lanes of Ravenbank never to rest in peace.

That same night another woman is found dead in Ravenbank, her face totally destroyed and a shroud across her damaged features. Five years later and people are congregating at Ravenbank Hall, Daniel Kind and his sister, Louise included. The next day a woman is missing. Is the legend of Ravenbank to be repeated? It isn’t long before Daniel is shifting through the past to find answers as DCI Hannah Scarlett searches the present for a killer who is proving a lot more lethal than a faceless ghost.

Review:
I have to admit that Martin Edwards is one of those writers who has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for some time now and I wish I had done so a lot sooner. Not one to dwell on the past I am now happy in the knowledge that I have some catching up to do now and I am anticipating some great books coming my way. It is also good that each book of this series can be read without having to start at the beginning.

However, let’s start with ‘The Frozen Shroud’. Why did it appeal to me so much and why did it deserve the ‘Author of the Month’ spot? Edwards is spot on at conjuring atmosphere and instils an intense claustrophobia as the solid winter darkness falls and as the dense fog squeezes the life out of the day. Sometimes I felt that the small cast of characters in this book weren’t on the mainland, but marooned on an island, separated from the rest of humanity by the forces of nature. You can tell that Edwards loves this part of the UK, but is not averse to showing the unseemly side of it, either.

‘The Frozen Shroud’ is a marvellous Gothic gem with plenty of the dark and the mysterious to keep you riveted to Edwards’ tale. You can tell that Edwards enjoys this genre as he scatters forgotten Gothic writers of old who were feted in their day and now forgotten. ‘The Killer and the Slain’, which I had never heard of is mentioned here and already I have bought the book as it intrigued me so much!

The plot of ‘The Frozen Shroud’ is well-played and with the intensity of a two-person play, (a subject touched upon in the book), the small cast of ‘players’ in this drama adds to the intensity and it wasn’t until near the very end that I had a glimmer as to where Edwards was directing this reader.

In a nutshell, ‘The Frozen Shroud’ is a well-constructed mystery that I am sure Christie herself would have been pleased to put her name against. Saying that, Edwards does not sacrifice his characters for plot and leads his protagonists a merry dance of emotions. This is a splendid work of entertainment and one I strongly implore you to explore. Saying that, I do suggest you don’t read this book on a winter’s evening, in a solitary cottage in the middle of nowhere with the fog pressing against the windows. Not unless you really want to lose a night’s sleep! Enjoy!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Why did you choose crime fiction as the basis for your novels?
I had the ambition to write detective stories from the tender age of eight, when I first encountered Agatha Christie. I loved the clues, the puzzle, and above all the surprise solution, and even then I felt I would like to entertain other people the way she entertained me. Of course, my tastes evolved over the years, and I shall never outsell Agatha (then again, who will?) I still like fiction that entertains, and crime fiction can be hugely entertaining.
2) The ‘Lake District’ mysteries deal with old crimes as DCI Hannah Scarlett is head of the Cold Case Review Team. As a consequence new crimes happen as a direct result of these old cases being re-opened. Do you enjoy the historical aspect of your characters investigating an old crime and how difficult is it to keep up the momentum in your books when dealing with a crime committed years before?
Yes, history appeals to me and of course it’s no coincidence that Daniel Kind is a historian, and Hannah investigates cold cases. Establishing a link between the older case and what is happening here and now can be challenging in two ways. First, there is a challenge in terms of story structure – how do I explain the mystery without having the pace drag too much? My method, in most of the Lake District books, is to build momentum gradually in the early part of the book and accelerate it later on. But I might do something rather different next time, just to confound expectations! Second, how do I achieve variety, so that the books don’t all follow the same formula? I find this a really interesting part of the writing process, something that is a genuine test of creative storytelling technique. I approach the challenge in several different ways – for instance, with shifts in viewpoint. With ‘The Cipher Garden’, for instance, I introduced a viewpoint character who was specific to that particular story. In ‘The Arsenic Labyrinth’, there was again a one-off viewpoint character, but he was the dominant figure in the early stages of the book, and in some ways (I think) one of the most intriguing characters I’ve created. With ‘The Hanging Wood’, again there was an ‘outsider’ viewpoint character, but presented in a wholly different and more enigmatic way.
3) Why did you choose the Lake District as the setting for this series? Also, why did you decide on combining an ex-TV presenter and a DCI as your main protagonists for this series?
I began my crime writing career with seven books set in Liverpool and featuring a lawyer called Harry Devlin. They were great fun to write, and I later produced an eighth, but I wanted to stretch myself and try something different. The result was a standalone set in London called ‘Take My Breath Away’. The book was bought by David Shelley, then of Allison & Busby. David wanted me to write a new series, and suggested a rural setting. This was something I hadn’t done before, and therefore a very interesting challenge. Throughout my career I’ve tried to write books that will develop me as a writer, and this means being ready, willing and able to vary my approach. It’s part of the joy of being a writer, and because I haven’t depended on writing for my whole income, I’ve been able to take risks that I think have been worthwhile. ‘Take My Breath Away’ wasn’t a big seller, but it’s a book I’m proud to have written, and the same is true (even more so, actually) with another stand-alone I wrote shortly afterwards, ‘Dancing for the Hangman’.

I love the Lakes, and don’t live too far away, which makes research fairly easy – as well as very pleasurable. Also, there had never been a crime series set in the Lakes, so that appealed to the pioneer in me. I pitched the concept of a Lake District series to David, and he liked it a lot. The first book, ‘The Coffin Trail’, sold very well and was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Prize, so I was more than happy to keep the series going. David moved on and is now J.K. Rowling’s editor. Sometimes I wonder if she picked him because she’d seen what he’d done for my career! Well, maybe not – but I’m very grateful to him for the suggestion, because the Lake District series has worked out better than I could have hoped at the outset.

As for Hannah and Daniel, I wanted to have two protagonists, not one, and to have a (gradually) developing relationship between them. Their shared interest in the past is one connection, the fact that Hannah once worked with Daniel’s dad, Ben, another. Another challenge is to write the books in such a way that you can begin anywhere in the series, not necessarily with ‘The Coffin Trail’.
4) In ‘The Frozen Shroud’, three murders all take place on Hallowe’en. Are you intrigued by the supernatural or did it simply fall in with the flavour of the novel for the murders to be committed on this celebrated evening?
Yes, I am very interested in the supernatural, despite my innate scepticism. Not so long ago, I had a ghost story published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I’d like to write more. But with The Frozen Shroud, the spooky Hallowe’en storyline fitted in with an idea for a rational murder mystery, with a connecting motive that intrigued me.
5) ‘The Frozen Shroud’ is wonderfully steeped in Gothic horror and you make references to certain forgotten Gothic authors. Through your writing and certain references I could tell you are a great fan of the classic Gothic horror genre. Did you deliberately use your love of this genre to create the claustrophobic atmosphere of Ravenbank and its chilling legend?
Yes, I’m very glad you’ve spotted that! In most of my books there are a variety of literary references, which I feel offer a bit of added value for people who are interested in that kind of thing. The Gothic stories of people like Walpole (who lived in the Lakes) and William Hope Hodgson appeal to me greatly, and it was fun to have the chance to integrate them with the story. And that’s the key – they need to fit in with the book, not just be window dressing.
6) You have made the interconnecting relationships between your cast of characters quite intense. Are they to face more troubles or are you going to be more benevolent to them in future books and allow them some happiness?
Oh, I think a mixture of happiness and further troubles – like life, really!
7) Your main profession is as a solicitor. Have you used your knowledge in any of your books and do you seek out advice from colleagues when you’ve been confronted by any difficulties with one of your plots?
I wrote about Harry Devlin because I knew what it was like to be a solicitor in Liverpool, and I enjoyed presenting a rather downbeat perspective of a criminal lawyer’s existence. Harry really is fun to write about – I like him, and I’m delighted that the arrival of e-books has given him a brand new life. I was hoping to write a series that presented a picture of a city at a particular point in its history, and perhaps the fact that the e-books are selling well indicates that people find it of interest. I’ve never worked in criminal or divorce law myself, so I did my research by speaking to colleagues, who were very patient and helpful, I must say. One of them, Paul Clarke, took early retirement, and has now written a book of his own, which pleased me greatly. My own field is employment law, which I drew on to some extent for ‘Take My Breath Away’.
8) As mentioned, you have two jobs – one as a lawyer and one as a writer. Are you very strict with yourself when you are embarking on a book and during the writing process?
Not as strict as I ought to be, I’m afraid. I tend to digress from writing my novels all too easily. But I recently reduced to a four day week and I see the balance tilting more and more towards writing – so fulfilling a long-held ambition. But I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had two great jobs that I’ve enjoyed enormously.
9) What are you planning for your next novel?
This will be the seventh Lake District Mystery and it will be set around the west coast of Cumbria, near Ravenglass –and Sellafield.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Agatha Christie – And Then There Were None

Francis Iles – Malice Aforethought

Barbara Vine – A Fatal Inversion