Fresh Blood

Name: Graham Smith

Title of Book: Snatched From Home

'This is a very strong debut and one which will blow you away.'

On Good Friday masked men smash their way in to Victoria and Nicholas Foulkes’ home and kidnap their two children, Kyle and Samantha. It is during this violent exchange that Victoria learns of her husband’s huge gambling debt. The money is expected within one week and their children taken as collateral. If they go over the deadline then body parts of their kids will be cut off with the aid of a blowtorch. Despite the betrayal of her husband, Victoria must put aside her newfound hatred of Nicholas and form a plan to get back their children unharmed.

DI Harry Evans is on his last week. He is not looking forward to retirement. He loves his job but is too much of a maverick for the force to even consider keeping him on for longer, but his superiors intend to keep him busy to the end. Bars and clubs are being looted without any visible signs of forced entry, farm appliances are being stolen around the Carlisle area and a couple have been conning car dealers while actually paying them. This is all chickenfeed to Evans. Harry wants one big case before his final day and intends to see out his last week in a blaze of glory. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for…

This has to be the hardest review I’ve EVER had to write. It is always difficult to review the book of a good friend and fellow reviewer. So, it was with some trepidation I started Graham’s book. Thankfully, any reservations were quickly put to bed.

Smith immediately dispenses with the gold-edged invitation and gets his hobnailed boots straight in there. Smith isn’t one to settle you in nice and easy. From page one Graham throws you in the deep end and you are in similar territory to Simon Kernick. I knew then I had better hold on to my chair as ‘Snatched from Home’ was going to be a bumpy ride.

I know the maverick cop has been done many times before in the form of Gene Hunt (Smith even mentions the great detective’s name) and Andy Dalziel. If you are of a sensitive nature and hate politically incorrect remarks, then you are not going to warm to DI Harry Evans. I, on the other hand, really engaged with him. He was presented fully formed and I could feel his heart of justice was in the right place. He may not be the best or the most efficient, and he certainly isn’t your PC-friendly copper – but he gets the job done, even if on his own antiquated terms.

There are some very (I thought) disturbing scenes, although none of it is gratuitous and is conducive to making the plot realistic, especially when mapping out the warped mind-set of the kidnappers. Sat beside this, Smith’s humour rings throughout, mostly via Harry Evans’ mouth!

‘Snatched from Home’ has great memorable characters who will grow on his readers. The action is fast-paced and mayhem ensues as Evans quite simply doesn’t care anymore – all he wants to achieve is to get those kids back home safely – regardless of the method. One thing I was mighty impressed with is Smith’s knowledge of the tricks of the villain’s trade. It certainly lent authenticity to the proceedings. This is a very strong debut and one which will blow you away. I for one look forward to being reacquainted with Evans and the team. Smith is a new and bright shining light in the crime genre – and long may he entertain us!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) You juggle quite a few different cases in the air which is a feat for a debut author although you bring them all neatly together towards the end. How was the experience of having to keep so many balls in the air without dropping one?
For me it was imperative to try and create a normal situation for the police team and part of their normality would be a heavy workload. The reality of the situation is that police officers work a number of different cases at once. I enjoyed the challenges presented to me by the juggling of the different cases and I found it also gave me a lot of opportunities to put my characters under pressure. Another great side effect was the fact I could introduce plenty of cliff-hangers to hopefully keep the reader’s reading.
2) The action of ‘Snatched from Home’ starts from page one and doesn’t really stop until the end. What lessons did you learn about maintaining such a pace throughout the whole of your novel?
Thank you for the compliment. I’ve always been a fan of fast paced thrillers and that shows in my writing. I’m sure there are many lessons I learned in ways far harder than necessary, but the abiding memory of writing it was that I had to make it the kind of read I would enjoy. I learned to integrate cliff-hangers with revelations and clues, with action in a way which I hope makes sense to others.
3) DI Harry Evans is a maverick cop who belongs from the 70’s. You even draw a comparison to Gene Hunt from the hit TV show, ‘Life on Mars’. What was it about Harry Evans that drew you to him and made you want to give him centre stage in your novel? Do you have a DI Harry Evans operating in your neighbourhood?
There are many fine writers who feature a DI Harry Evans style dinosaur and while such a character may almost be a cliché, I felt there was room for another, just so long as I made him interesting to readers and to myself as his creator. There are no DI Evans’s operating near me to the best of my knowledge, although I have heard many tales about ones from days gone by. I firmly believe the general public would love a return to some of the “old-school” policing methods Evans and his contemporaries used.
4) The nucleus of ‘Snatched from Home’ is about the kidnapping of two young children, Samantha and Kyle who are being held to ransom as insurance for a huge gambling debt. As a father yourself, was it difficult writing the parts involving the kids and describing their imprisonment?
I found some of the scenes tougher to write than others, but I’ve never been one to shy away from things just because they make me uncomfortable. Because I made Kyle the same age as my own son, I found it easy to put myself into Nicholas and Victoria’s shoes. Writing the scenes for Samantha was a lot tougher for me. As a bald man in my forties, it was much tougher putting myself into the head of a teenage girl and trying to capture her emotions and thought processes.
5) Most of the action takes place in and around Carlisle? I know you live nearby but why did you decide to choose the location on your doorstep?
The Lake District and Cumbria as a whole have such amazing scope for a crime writer. There are lakes, hillsides and many woods in where a body may be dumped, towns heavily reliant on tourism, sweeping coastlines, the city of Carlisle has a rich history and there are many small insular, almost isolated communities where someone like me can wreak merry havoc.
6) You have reviewed for for some years now. Do you think your time as a reviewer/reader has honed your skills to make you a better writer? Do you use the mind-set of a reviewer when writing/editing your novels?
I think that my time reviewing for has given me an awful lot of the tools needed to write. I firmly believe that I read review books in a way which lets me absorb a lot of the different elements of tradecraft without realising it. Stephen King himself said “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the tools to write”.

My process is that I throw down the first draft and then leave it for at least a month. Then I go back to it and read it as a reader. I make notes of all the plot holes, mistakes and timeline errors at this point. Once I’ve read through it and fixed these points, I attack each line individually. It’s at this time my wife threatens to introduce a swear-box.
7) You run an annual crime writing weekend in your hometown called ‘Crime and Publishment’ which features crime writing authors who come along to speak to budding writers about different aspects of the genre and how to improve your writing skills. The weekend finishes with a pitch to an agent. The seminar is growing every year and although only just in its third year has been a resounding success. Why did you start the festival in the first place and what has it given you since starting in 2013?
As a budding author, I wanted to attend a crime writing course where I would be taught by authors and industry professionals and get the chance to pitch my novel to an agent or publisher. When I couldn’t find one which didn’t require the taking out of a second mortgage I decided to use my connections and create my own. I am incredibly proud (and protective) of Crime and Publishment and the writers who make up the gang. That myself and two others, (Mike Craven & Lucy Cameron) have signed publishing contracts because of C&P is beyond belief for an event which had at the time only been running for two years.
8) As a newly published author what advice would you give to anyone looking for their first deal?
Be realistic, agents, publishers and anyone else you’ve submitted to are all fantastically busy people. They will NOT drop everything to read the manuscript you’ve so enthusiastically pressed into their hands. Give them time and use this lull to work on your next novel. Should you be lucky enough to be offered a contract, you’ll be given a deadline for book two. Every word you get down in advance is you getting a step ahead of the game. If you don’t get a deal, then you’re partway to completing something which may stand a better chance of being traditionally published.
9) What are you working on at the moment? Are you going to keep us in suspense as to whether your next book features newly retired, Harry Evans or DI John Campbell and his new team? Or is it a secret?
Book two in the Harry Evans series, I Know Your Secret has been submitted to my publisher and I have a Harry Evans novella completed to first draft stage. I’m currently editing the first book in a separate series and it features Jake Boulder, a Utah bouncer who ends up chasing a seriously twisted serial killer.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have with you on a deserted island?
I would have to take The Accident Man by Tom Cain as it’s the finest conspiracy theory I’ve ever read, Severed by Simon Kernick because it’s an incredibly pacey read and Lennox by Craig Russell as I just hate the idea of not having a copy near me.