New release – ‘My Claw is Quick’- hard boiled feline fiction

‘My Claw is Quick’ is a hard-boiled detective story with a difference – Grimalkin is not your usual PI. Four legs, whiskers and a tail, perfect night vision and a talent for breaking and entering …. and a track record of crazy dames trying to kill him. He is also the only cat in history with a clown phobia. The case takes an even weirder twist when it becomes clear that a power-crazed parrot is calling all the shots. Sam Spade never had to deal with hysterical gerbil witnesses, pirate assassins or death by custard.

Extract: “My name is Grimalkin, the only licensed private investigator with a two hundred degree field of vision, sensitive whiskers, and ears that swivel independently on demand with an upper limit of 64 kHz. Claws make it difficult to handle a gun but shooting people has never been my style. Where is the fun if you can’t play with them first?”

My Claw is Quick - High Resolution - Slightly Faded Corners





This is an extremely ambitious but flawed novel which never quite manages to deliver. Based on the real life 1811 Ratcliffe Highway Murders, it begins in June 1585 when a young man arrives in Plymouth. Billy Ablass is ambitious and likable at the start but takes a seriously wrong turn in his choice of career. In the other narrative thread (London, 1811) Charles Horton of the Thames River Police is faced with the task of solving a foul murder. One of the novel’s strong points is the period detail but the author’s extensive research shows and there is too much of it, perhaps the product of a journalistic background.

The jumps from 1585 to 1811 and back again are jarring, and the two strands make the first 100 pages very confusing. Were all the people who wrote such glowing reviews at the start of the book and on its back cover reading the same novel? Personally, I have always hated the present tense in a novel. It is a literary conceit which seems so false, especially when the next chapter shifts to past tense and then present again. Consistency would have reduced the confusion to a more manageable level. The sudden jump at the end of book one when Billy is cursed – from third person to first person POV is particularly jarring, especially when book two begins and we are back in 1811 and the present tense.

The discovery of a mysterious silver coin (a piece of eight) at the first murder scene hints at the two narrative strands finally coming together by page 125 and then they separate again leaving the reader none the wiser. Another gruesome murder is discovered and another silver coin. By the next page, we are catapulted back to 1603 and a newly dead Queen Bess but by then I had stopped caring, finally abandoning ship on page 210.

Shepherd creates some powerful images and pulls no punches, uncompromising in his description of England’s part in the slave trade, but even the period detail and well drawn characters cannot save The English Monster from itself.


‘Domino Men’ uses an interesting ‘found manuscript’ premise, telling the reader that the editor discovered it on their doorstep ‘on the day that its author disappeared from the face of the earth.’ The novel itself is tightly plotted (with perhaps a few veiled digs at Prince Charles?) It is a riot of dark humour and manic inventiveness – a drugs mule exploding with the bright pink impact of a water balloon, with accompanying implied sound effects; not to mention multiple deaths by sneezing powder and office supplies. Bizarre elements combine with striking imagery: Dedlock in his tank of amniotic fluid, breathing through gills as he welcomes the protagonist, Henry Lamb, to the Directorate and reveals exactly who this shadowy organisation is at war with.

‘Queen Victoria started it all by making a Faustian bargain, signing London and all its souls away to a nefarious inhuman entity.’ The nefarious entity (Leviathan) has its own story to tell in third person POV – which allows a higher being to hijack the story of Henry Lamb’s problems in the modern world. It is only at the end of the novel that we find out why. Even the three oily lawyers from Wholeworm, Quillinane and Killbreath are like a bad, deliberately non-PC joke: an Englishman, and Irishman and a Scotsman – but are they really human anymore?

Henry Lamb is unremarkable and unassuming, a rather weakly drawn character who is so unassuming that I never liked him as a narrator. My personal bias against 1st person POV meant I preferred Leviathan’s version of events, but this is a minor criticism and the author has created some memorable baddies that more than make up for this. There is quite a body count, largely due to the serial killing Domino Men. These malevolent twins, also known as The Prefects are death incarnate, especially when they escape from their prison in the cellars of 10 Downing Street. These are not psychotic children but middle aged men in short trousers and school uniform and this is what makes them scary. The way they speak is a manically bright, inane staccato banter like a cross between one of the long-running sketches in the Fast Show (Suit you Sir) and Billy Bunter, but their dialogue is effectively menacing nevertheless.

The story flowed well with a good pace through to a satisfactory, if a little predictable, ending; all in all an enjoyable, rather surreal, novel.

Sword of the Horse Chieftain – Goodreads giveaway

SWORD OF THE HORSE CHIEFTAIN is now in paperback – win one of two FREE copies in a Goodreads Giveaway!

Sword of the Horse Chieftain cover

The giveaway will run from Tuesday 24th January to Wednesday 1st February 2017 at and two copies are up for grabs for UK residents. It is free to enter so what have you got to lose?

100 word fiction challenge!

Mrs Emmeline was an old fashioned plant hunter who specialised in one type of exotic flora and employed one full time member of staff. The young man lived in the garden to ensure The Collection did not eat paying visitors. Trespassers were always warned and deserved everything they got.

Only last week, two teenagers climbed over the high walls to enjoy a night of passion under the twin moons. They never stood a chance when the Surinam Strangling Orchid got their scent. It had not been fed for over a month and preferred its meat to still have a pulse.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it…. write the next 100 words

FLEET AIR ARM MEMORIES – paperback coming soon!

Fleet Air Arm memories 1939-1946: Tales of the Brummagem Bastard by N. H. Mills and R. S. Pyne will finally be released as a paperback in January 2017! [ISBN 9781520247670]. It has been available in ebook format ( but getting it into print has been a work in progress for several years as pressures on time/work commitments/switching to full time hours meant I had less time to spend getting the formatting right (blasted footnotes!) Unlike the electronic version, the paperback will be illustrated, with three photographs from the extensive archive. Although I would have liked to include many more, this would have forced production costs up to an unrealistic cover price.

The book details my grandfather’s service in the Fleet Air Arm on the Arctic, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific convoys. This is the war at sea as viewed by a Hostilities Only, and very cynical, sailor. Nicknamed the Brummagem Bastard, he was a fanatical Ockers (Ludo) player. The memoirs include the 1942 Pedestal Convoy, Operation Torch – attached to the naval battalion with the first army in North Africa (1943); the Sicily and mainland Italy campaign (1944) and dealing with Kamikaze attacks (May, 1945).

Norman Harry Mills ended the war as a Chief Petty Officer; one of the last servicemen demobbed after trooping duty on HMS Formidable in 1946. He resumed his apprenticeship at Fort Dunlop, Birmingham and was one of the oldest apprentices there. He became an engineer, trade unionist and Communist (but that is another story). After retirement (1979-80), he moved to Tywyn and began work on his memoirs. The vast archive of nearly 1000 photographs, diary entries, card files and hand written notes remains a tribute to how committed he was to getting his story told. He was a senior member in the Tywyn branch of the British Legion, attending Remembrance Day parades and regular reunions of the Formidable Association. He maintained a varied correspondence with ex-shipmates; extracts of some of his letters are included in the book. What he saw on the Arctic Convoys haunted him for the rest of his life. This was the one thing he never spoke of in detail and we knew not to ask.

He was decorated on the 19th of October, 1987, by Alexey Nikoforov of the Russian Embassy in London at the Nautical Services Club, Birmingham for participation in the Arctic Convoys to Murmansk. In 1992, Malta struck a 50th Anniversary medal to commemorate the Pedestal Convoy (August 1942). My grandparents travelled to the island so that he could receive the award from the Maltese president, Dr Cenzu Tabone. On the 25th September, 2002, Granddad was made an Honorary Citizen of Valletta, Malta, but failing health made it impossible to attend the ceremony.

I grew up with my grandfather’s war stories, although some of the bloodier or more risqué ones had to wait until I was older. There were many of those and some of the naval slang is not fit to print! This was a far less politically correct age.