Book review – for readers and writers – no.173: Morgen reviews Rocco and the Nightingale by Adrian Magson

Today’s book review, is brought to you by Adrian Magson who gave us ‘A Change of Setting’ yesterday and previously talked about planning.

I no longer take review requests but you can read the ones done to-date on book-reviews. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. So, on to today’s book…

Rocco and the Nightingale

Synopsis: When a minor Paris criminal is found stabbed in the neck on a country lane in Picardie it looks like another case for Inspector Lucas Rocco. But instead he is called off to watch over a Gabonese government minister, hiding out in France following a coup.

Meanwhile, Rocco discovers that there is a contract on his head taken out by an Algerian gang leader with a personal grudge against him.

The novel is available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rocco-Nightingale-Inspector-Lucas/dp/0995751013 (change the .co.uk to your country).

Author biography: Adrian is a freelance writer and reviewer, the author of twenty-two crime and spy thrillers, a writer’s help book (at the back of which I get a credit!), a young adult ghost novel and two collections of short fiction.

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Review

As many crime novels do, the story alternates between the criminals and police, and poor Rocco has the added complication of babysitting a reluctant African dignitary – accompanied by his bodyguard – with scant support from Rocco’s superiors. Over the course of the novel, we meet a variety of Rocco’s colleagues and a fine array of the underworld’s finest.

As a former dog owner, I liked the comparison between one of the victims and a sheepdog “that didn’t understand what he’s supposed to do. Good at running but crap at following the whistle.” Funny.

Humour is often evident in crime novels, and it’s well known that the police (in real life) make jokes to keep themselves, and their colleagues, sane. Another particularly amusing line was (and I assure you that it doesn’t refer to a child but a man from the Interior Ministry): ‘Rocco wondered if drop-kicking the little tyke down the stairs could be done without losing his job, and decided not. Maybe he could put sugar in his petrol tank… or something stronger.’ (Don’t try that at home!)

There was plenty of conflict – good vs. evil as well as antagonising characters – and well paced.

This is the fifth novel in the Rocco series. I’ve not yet read the previous stories so came to this one as a standalone reader and didn’t feel that I had (a) missed vital information that had already been covered in the previous novels that we should have had here; nor (b) information where it feels it’s been over-explained.

Rocco himself is highly professional and dedicated, wanting to solve the cases he’s involved in (and one’s he’s relieved of). He’s wily, and cleverly outplays a younger colleague without her knowing to suit his end without the reader losing any respect for him because we know it’s in the best interest of the case.

And now for writers…

  • The best piece of writing advice is to ‘show’ not ‘tell’. An example in this novel is ‘The old man looked shocked’ which is fine but it’s always best to have the character doing or saying something, e.g. ‘The old man’s mouth dropped open, his eyes wide’… or something better! 🙂
  • Exposition is a lesser-known term. It’s where two characters are talking about a topic they both are familiar with and know a piece of information but one has forgotten it and asks the other to remind them. It is a technique some authors use to provide information for the reader’s benefit. This may not have been Adrian’s intention but it’s a useful occurrence as I get to tell you about it. So, in this case we have…
    Character 1: ‘Maybe the information was rubbish.’
    Character 2: ‘What was it again?’
  • There were few clichés, which are fine in dialogue (up to a point – one character only) but less so in narration and an example is ‘nip it in the bud’.
  • At times, the story strayed into present tense, e.g. now, here, this, today etc. When writing in past tense, the narration should stay in past tense so the equivalents would be: then (although most ‘now’s can actually be removed), that, the previous day / a day earlier / the day before etc. Dialogue will be present tense regardless.
  • There were also points where it wasn’t clear who the he / she / him / her was where there were two characters of the same gender in the same scene or conversation. An example would be: ‘Rocco wasn’t so sure. It was the end of a long road, and time would tell if the charges stuck and Farek went down. He had no illusions about what a clever lawyer could do…’. The ‘He’ means Rocco but the last male name mentioned was Farek so the reader could think it was Farek who had no illusions.

Conclusion

It was an intricate plot, cleverly weaved, but I didn’t feel lost or confused, the expertise of the author of so many (twenty-two) novels. It was interesting to see how the threads would converge at the end.

Although crime is my favourite genre, I’m not normally a reader of historical fiction. With the occasional reference, e.g. telex rather than fax or email, and characters being threatened with the guillotine, it felt like a contemporary story and for me, an enjoyable read.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Related articles:

 

Guest post: A Change of Setting by Adrian Magson

Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of locations, welcomes back Adrian Magson, this time as part of his blog tour celebrating the release of his latest novel Rocco and the Nightingale. My review of Adrian’s novel will appear here (on my blog) tomorrow and you can read Adrian’s previous post on planning here.

A Change of Setting

After writing a series of five contemporary crime novels set in London, and the first of a spy thriller series, I thought the idea for the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series, based in Picardie, France, in the 1960s, had come out of left field. But it was probably in there all the time – it simply had to find a way out.

Most of my writing begins as a punt, often based on little more than a nugget; it might work, it might not. Planning a crime series in rural northern France was certainly a punt, although the setting wasn’t. I went to school there, aged ten, in a tiny village that is the basis for Rocco’s home base of Poissons-les-Marais (I changed the real name because it doesn’t sound very French to English ears), so I know the area. I couldn’t speak French and nobody locally spoke English, which was a bit of a challenge, albeit useful for performing a quick learning curve!

I had a good reason for taking an experienced investigator out of Paris and dumping him in a rural setting, because I didn’t want to find myself simply exchanging London city streets for Paris. In any case, France was expanding its policing initiatives at the time, so the idea fitted quite well.

Part of my thinking for Rocco was being aware of the rising popularity in the UK of European-based crime fiction, rather than UK or US-based, and I wanted to tap into that market if I could.

Placing it in the sixties was a challenge technologically (how many times did I want Lucas reaching for his mobile or tapping into the internet!), but it made the research and fact-checking fascinating because France, like the UK, was going through very interesting changes at the time, and I wanted to use a backdrop of historic events of the time on which to hang the story.

In the case of the first in the series – Death on the Marais – that backdrop lay in echoes of France’s Indochina war, in which Rocco and his boss, Commissaire Massin had both served, and which brings to the books an atmosphere of tension between the two men, and similarly the connections between a WW2 resistance fighter and a now highly-placed industrial figure with secrets to hide. In Rocco and the Nightingale, the fifth and latest book, it was the re-emergence of a gangster figure from Algeria’s independence and the rise of a criminal empire based in Paris that formed the backbone, as well as being a revisit of an earlier Rocco title.

Although the area and people are based on personal knowledge, Rocco came fully formed. He’s tall, dark and wears a long coat out of habit, likes English brogues and drives a Citroen Traction Ariane. All this makes him stand out among the locals, where horses are still used for farming and he doesn’t (yet) have running water, but a garden pump that needs priming in cold weather. Part of his struggle from book one is coming to grips with being out ‘among the cowpats’, as a former colleague puts it, and his interaction with the local villagers and villains.

But that was also part of the pleasure in the writing. If it isn’t fun, it’s not worth doing.

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I love it when settings are so vivid and absolutely, writing should be fun. If it isn’t, the reader will know.

Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian is a freelance writer and reviewer, the author of twenty-two crime and spy thrillers, a writer’s help book (at the back of which I get a credit!), a young adult ghost novel and two collections of short fiction.

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Related articles:

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. Guidelines on guest-blogs. There are other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Morgen’s Editing and Critique Service

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Although currently booked out until end-September 2014, I welcome fiction manuscripts for…

Full editing (content, copy editing & line editing): In-depth ‘firm but fair’ editing with feedback which will include grammar, punctuation, story structure, character depth / dialogue, highlighting potential copyright issues, fact checking, chapter structure / order, narrative drive… the whole shebang. This comes in the form of an edited manuscript together with separate commented document. Suitable for all writers, regardless of experience.

Charged at the competitive rate of £5 (€6.5 / US$8.5 / CA$ & AS$9.5) per 1,000 words. To work out the cost, multiply your word count by 0.005 / 0.0065 / 0.0085 / 0.0095 respectively (so a 100,000-word novel would be £500 / €650 / US$850 / CA$950 / AUS$950 respectively).

This is the type of editing I do mostly and you can read my clients’ feedback here.

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Line editing: spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage (e.g. stationery vs stationary, story vs storey), repetition, clichés, sentence construction, consistencies. Here the concentration is on sentences and paragraphs instead of pages and chapters. Suitable for more advanced writers.

Charged at £4 (€5 / US$6.5 / CA$ & AS$7.5) per 1,000 words. Multiply your word count by 0.004 / 0.005 / 0.0065 / 0.0075.

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Proofreading: a human spell- and grammar-checker, concentrating on individual words rather than the context. This is the option to take if you are confident of your characters, plot, structure and layout etc. but you want someone to go through it before you submit to an agent or publisher, or self-publish.

My non-fiction writing is about writing so I concentrate on fiction but have proofread non-fiction manuscripts, some poetry and provided feedback on a number of scripts.

Charged at £3 (€4 / US$5 / CA & AS$5.50) per 1,000 words. Multiply your word count by 0.003 / 0.004 / 0.005 / 0.0055.

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The above three options are carried out via Word Track Changes (click here for a video on what this means) and for more information on the different types of editing, click here. Another option is…

General feedback: no proofreading / editing, no changes to the document itself, just a typed summary report. This is useful if you’re not sure whether the story is working, your characters (or plot) are believable or you’ve not edited it yet but have sent it to beta (first-round) readers and the feedback you’ve received makes you wonder whether you want to progress it. I’ll be honest and tell you, although for most authors who have taken this option, I have seen promise with their work, they’ve just needed a steer in the right direction.

Charged at £2 (€2.50 / US$3.50 / CA & AS$4) per 1,000 words. Multiply your word count by 0.002 / 0.0025 / 0.0035 / 0.004.

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Regardless of the option taken, the first 1,000 words are free  (usually returned within 48 hours), given as the ‘full’ editing service for your free sample, unless you advise otherwise. This is sent to you first and there is no obligation thereafter.

Prices valid until January 2015. Fees agreed in advance of any work undertaken, and more importantly, stuck to (payment options below).

Please note: For projects over 10,000 words, e.g. longer short stories / novels, I am currently booked until late-September 2014 (I’m also the creative writing tutor for Northamptonshire County Council Adult Learning). NB. Items, unless for free sample, to be sent complete, not in sections.

There are two formats:

  • I use Word’s track changes (see picture immediately below as generic example) as it keeps the file size small and the feedback in one place.
  • For authors without Word, and therefore the facility to use track changes, I can usually convert whatever I am sent (Open Office, rtf etc) into Word then do the track changes and save it as a PDF so you can see the changes I suggest.
track changes example

example of track changes (not by Morgen)

** First c.1,000 words offered free as a sample.**

For more details including testimonials from my clients, take a look at this blog’s Editing and Critique page.

Whatever your requirement, you can email me at morgen@morgenbailey.com.

Author Spotlight no.134 – Terra Hangen

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and thirty-fourth, is of non-fiction author and interviewee Terra Hangen.

Terra Hangen lives with her husband in California and enjoys gardening and writing while her cat helps by taking a nap. She is co-author of two books “Scrapbook of Motherhood Firsts: Stories to Celebrate and Wisdom to Bless Moms” 2012 and “Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts” 2008.

Her articles are published in magazines including Victorian Homes, Lutheran Digest, Family Digest, Dog Fancy, Hobby Farms, Back Home, Elks Magazine, Mature Living, etc. She often writes about gardening, growing vegetables, favorite recipes and wrote about how Karelian Bear Dogs save Grizzly Bears for Dog Fancy Magazine.
Terra invites you to visit her blog and say hi at http://terragarden.blogspot.com and connect with her on Facebook.

And now from the author herself:

I find it very exciting to hold in my hands the first copy I receive of the books I write. Each of my books has exquisite full color art work on each page and is hardcover so the excitement to actually see the book is palpable. Of course my words were already familiar to me, but the art really enhances the text.

If you have the opportunity to co-author a book, do consider doing that. My two collaborations thus far have yielded two books, and my co-authors have become dear friends of mine. We cheer each other on in solo projects too. Also, we have complementary skills in writing and in marketing so I don’t have to do all these tasks on my lonesome.

My first article “Coffee for the Birds” combined my love of nature and selecting coffee beans to help in conservation, and I was paid $100. That made me think wow, this writing life is easy and fun. Ha ha! Little did I know how much patience and perseverance are required in the business side of writing, as we wait and wait some more to hear from editors, agents and publishers.

There is bound to be a lot of rejections in your email inbox. Even J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers. My advice is that when an article or book proposal is rejected, see if it needs improving and then send it out again. Just tell yourself it has not arrived on the right desk yet.

I recommend being published by traditional publishers. It is wonderful to be paid an advance and to have the publisher provide the artwork, cover art, much publicity and get the books in online and brick and mortar book stores. I do as much as I can to promote my books to augment the publisher’s efforts, and much of my PR centers on social media, where I enjoy blogging, Facebook and Twitter.

I feel the joy of being published, I treasure friendly comments on my blog, and I even get paid to write. Sometimes writing is so much fun, I get up and do the “happy dance” around the house as I celebrate good writing news.

My most recent book is being bought by “seasoned” moms to give to new moms, often at baby showers. A recent review of “Scrapbook of Motherhood Firsts” on Amazon says “Packed with great tips, sweet humor, lots of wisdom, and a punch of faith, this book makes a wonderful gift for every mom, no matter what stage of motherhood she may be in.” The book is selling on Amazon for $11.00, which I think is a bargain considering all the art work in it.

Another reviewer wrote “A Scrapbook of Motherhood Firsts is a must have for mothers-to-be, those who are in the thick of it, and us grandmas. Not only is this well written book filled with practical advice, wisdom, and honest confessions but the cover and the unique interior design are a piece of art–each page is visually stimulating.”

Writing is an occupation that can be lonely, since much of our work is done alone, and that is why I treasure my co-authors and all the other writers and readers I meet out here in social media. Thank you Morgen for turning your author spotlight to shine on me here.

You’re very welcome. I’ve bought a lower watt bulb since our interview. 🙂

You can find more about Terra and her writing via… her blog http://terragarden.blogspot.com. She also has recipes at http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com and her books are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with historical author Barbara Peacock – the five hundred and forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books and I also have a blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.