Extract from Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase

Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase once again sees Inspector Thomas Chard confronted with a murder in bustling Victorian Pontypridd.

On the face of it the case appears unremarkable, even if it isn’t obviously solvable, but following new leads takes Chard into unexpected places. A second murder, a sexual predator, industrial espionage and a mining disaster crowd into the investigation, baffling the Inspector and his colleagues and putting his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture.

Once again Leslie Scase takes the reader back to a time and place where, despite the pretensions of Victorian society, life is cheap and passions strong. His research brings Pontypridd vividly to life, and historical events drive along the plot of this page-turning story of detection, as Chard navigates a way through the clues and red herrings, and a lengthening list of suspects, towards the poisoner.

Atmospheric, authentic, Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page.

Our featured extract begins on page 24 of the novel, with Inspector Chard and his colleague interviewing local residents in the wake of a fire…

‘This is Mrs Griffiths who discovered the fire,’ said Scudamore by means of introduction.

‘Very pleased to meet you Mrs Griffiths, I am Inspector Chard. I hope you might be able to help me with my enquiries.’

‘Only too pleased to help. There’s not much that I don’t know,’ stated the woman confidently. ‘Not that I’m a gossip mind,’ she added.

‘Thank you. Now when did you notice the fire?’

‘Well, I had noticed old Mr. Jones go up the road, hadn’t I? Poor old soul, it’s the dust on his lungs, he hasn’t been well for ages. It takes for ever for him to get to the end of the street.’

‘What time would that be?’

‘Sometime after five o’clock then wasn’t it?’

‘Can you be more precise? I mean you must have been out on the street yourself so what time did you set off ?’

‘My old man has a bad cough so I was off to see Mrs Evans, wasn’t I?’

Chard was becoming irritable. ‘Very well Mrs Griffiths, why were you going to see Mrs Evans and how does that help us establish the time?’

The woman looked at Chard as though he was simple minded. ‘I was going to Mrs Evans to get something for my old man’s cough like I said. We don’t have enough money for doctors around here do we? We all have little gardens and grow our own natural remedies. I was short of a few bits and bobs so I was going to get some dried herbs from Mrs Evans. That’s how I know what time it was.’

‘What was the time?’

‘It was definitely sometime after five because I saw Mr Jones. I told you that didn’t I?’

Chard grimaced and decided a different tack.

‘Very well, did you notice anyone else about at the time?’

‘The light was very poor, but yes. There was Mrs Davies out with her little boy, horrible little thing as he is. Always pulling jibs.’

Chard glanced at Constable Scudamore who assisted by saying, ‘pulling faces, sir.’

‘Then there was Mr Phillips from the grocer’s shop, going about his business. He had his window smashed the other day, didn’t he? Now then, we also had Mrs Evans.’

‘The one that you were going to see?’ asked Chard.

‘No, different Mrs Evans. We have four in our street. There was someone I didn’t know, a scruffy looking man in a long coat. There were two men talking together, but they were too far away to see properly. Then young Tommy Jones, he is nearly twelve so will be down the pit soon.’

‘Is that all?’

‘Apart from Mrs Pearce’s children, she lets them run riot you know, not that I’m one to talk.’

Chard turned to Constable Scudamore. ‘Tomorrow morning trace everyone this lady has mentioned and see if they know anything.’

‘Can I go now?’ asked Mrs Griffiths.

‘Just one or two more questions. Did people get on with Mr Hughes, I mean was he popular?’

‘I am not one to cleck on others,’ said Mrs Griffiths hesitantly.

‘She means tell tales,’ added Scudamore helpfully, for even after a year Chard was still unfamiliar with the local idioms.

‘To be truthful, for I cannot tell a lie, Mr Hughes was not a particularly pleasant man. The only person who got on with him was his wife, and he was besotted with her.’ continued Mrs Griffiths. ‘No one else had much of a good word to say about him and he had been very mean spirited of late.’

‘So Mr Dixon told me,’ said Chard.

‘There’s another grumpy bugger. Those two didn’t get on at all. Why are you asking though?’ asked the woman with keen interest. ‘Do you think the fire started deliberately? You can tell me. I won’t tell a soul.’

‘We are keeping an open mind Mrs Griffiths so I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Thank you for your help.’

Turning away the inspector led Constable Scudamore out of earshot. ‘If this is murder then it doesn’t make sense. By the sounds of it he was unpopular but why not just slit his throat one evening? Why do it in daylight and then burn down the workshop?’

‘No idea sir,’ answered the constable, rubbing his chin.

‘There is evil here Constable, I can feel it in the air, but I will uncover it, you mark my words.’

Fatal Solution is available as a paperback or ebook on the Seren website

Buy the first Inspector Chard mystery, Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow, as an ebook: £7.99

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Bring a glass of wine or your favourite tipple and join us on Tuesday 25th May at 7:30pm for the online launch. Leslie will be in conversation with Matt Johnson and we’ll host an audience Q&A. Register for free via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/154383153167.

Santa Baby, Slip a Story Under the Tree

Christmas is on its way, and we have some recommendations for you whether you’re looking for a present for someone else, or you’re looking for something to ask Santa for this Christmas!

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For Thriller Lovers:

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If you or someone you know loves a good crime story, why not try Jo Mazelis’ Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning Significance, or Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s debut Dark Mermaids?

For Historical Fiction Lovers:

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Francesca Rhydderch’s debut, The Rice Paper Diaries, which won the 2014 Wales Book of the Year Award and Tiffany Murray’s chilling Sugar Hall are perfect for readers who like their stories old school. So old school they’re practically history.

For Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lovers:

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If you’re after something weird and wonderful for you or a friend this festive season, then you can’t go wrong with one of our New Stories from The Mabinogion; The Meat Tree is a brilliantly bizarre sci-fi retelling of the Blodeuwedd myth, perfect for readers who love stories that are literally out of this world. But if you’re after something a little closer to home, why not pick up a copy of Mary-Ann Constantine’s fable-esque debut, Star-Shot? This novel is a real treat for readers who are familiar with Cardiff.

For Short Story Lovers:

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For lovers of the oft forgotten art form that is the short story, why not pick up New Welsh Short Stories, an anthology featuring a wide range of Welsh authors from Carys Davies to Jo Mazelis, or Graham Mort’s latest collection, Terroir. These two look quite charming together, so if I were you I’d get both.

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For Non-Fiction Lovers:

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Jasmine Donahaye’s memoir, Losing Israel, has been stunning readers since its publication earlier this year; part memoir, part travel writing, part nature writing, it’s the perfect gift for any non-fiction connoisseur. Mike Rees’ Men Who Played the Game is the ideal book for any sports fan, and as we commemorate one hundred years since the First World War there’s no better time to read it than right now.

For Poetry Lovers:

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Here at Seren we’d be nothing without our poetry, so why not pick up a copy of Kim Moore’s hugely popular debut collection, The Art of Falling, or Jonathan Edwards’ Costa Award-winning debut collection, My Family and Other Superheroes – we promise they won’t disappoint you! Or if someone you know likes to keep on top of the latest poetry, a subscription to Poetry Wales magazine would make for a fine Christmas present, if you ask me. And I suppose you must be asking me if you’re reading this…

You can find all these books and more on our website, so treat the readers you know to some well-chosen words this Christmas!

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Criminally Good Reads

I don’t know about you, but when the colder months roll around I always find myself more inclined to pick up a thriller or a good ol’ fashioned whodunnit. There’s a strange kind of comfort in cracking open a book featuring thieves, drug dealers and serial killers whilst snuggled up under a warm blanket with a lovely mug of hot chocolate, knowing that no matter how bad life might seem at times you’re at least better off than whoever you’re reading about.

If you’re anything like me, dear reader, and you do enjoy a bit of detective work at this time of year then you’re in luck! Here at Seren we have a few books that might just peak your interest.

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Dark Mermaids

by Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

Unhappy West Berlin police officer Sophia is called on to investigate the murder of her childhood friend Käthe, after her beaten body is discovered in Sophia’s local park. Sophia is forced to return to the hometown she fled as a teenager with her enigmatic father Petrus, and Mia – a frightened child who turned up on her doorstep. She must investigate Käthe’s murder and care for a mother she believed abandoned her. As she reluctantly delves into the sordid Stasi secrets of those she grew up with, Sophia uncovers a web of horrors about her own abusive past as a child-swimming star in the former GDR. But her hunt for the truth has not gone unnoticed by those close to her, people who still have too much to hide.

Read our interview with Anne!

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The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer

by Steve Wilkins with Jonathan Hill

The story of Operation Ottawa, the cold case detection of John Cooper for two Pembrokeshire double killings: the Scoveston Manor murder of Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985 and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon in 1989. Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins tells how he gathered a specialist team to review the murders, used cutting edge forensic techniques to prove Cooper’s involvement in the crimes, and how the tv programme Bullseye led to a crucial identification. The dramatic timeline involves psychological profiling, intimidation by Cooper, the relationship between police and media in the arrest and the predicament of the victims’ families during the long years when the cases remained unsolved.

The combination of painstaking evidence gathering, new forensics, psychological profiling, and careful detection made Operation Ottawa the template for subsequent murder enquiries. Now, for the first time, the lead detective tells the story of how a vicious killer was brought to justice.

Disturbance – Ivy Alvarez


Disturbance

by Ivy Alvarez

Disturbance is a novel in verse by Ivy Alvarez that chronicles a multiple homicide, a tragic case of domestic violence, where a family was gunned down by the husband and father. 

The book features poems in a kaleidoscope of voices from all the characters involved. We first meet the family itself and witness how the father’s controlling attitude gradually escalates into violence. Then we get the aftermath: the authorities, police and neighbours, who all might have helped to prevent this tragedy. This is a very dark book, but a courageous one, ultimately about evil and its presence in our everyday lives. The fact that this family was relatively well-to-do, seemingly prosperous and well-connected, adds another layer of intrigue and mystery. There is some graphic violence, but the emphasis is on the characters and their motivations.

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Significance

by Jo Mazelis

Lucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but she’s only got as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his handsome assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance.

Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Find all these titles and more on our website where, if you order two books, you’ll receive a free copy of Christmas in Wales!

 

What is Literary Fiction?

Our Marketing Assistant, Jess, has a little chat about the difference between literary and genre fiction.

Here at Seren we primarily publish literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction, and many a time I’ve been asked what the difference is. This is a fair question – I didn’t know the answer myself until I went to university!

The simple answer is that literary fiction is much more focused on the quality of the writing style – on the way the book is written – rather than on the plot and the way the plot satisfies a certain genre. Genre fiction is full of fast page-turners and plots that try to blow your socks off, whereas literary fiction tends to be a little slower, a little quieter, but no less enjoyable.

In the realms of literary fiction we’re more likely to regularly encounter characters who feel like people we might pass in the street, rather than characters who fit a mould; crime fiction is brimming with grumpy detectives, each with their own dark and dangerous past – even Sherlock Holmes isn’t squeaky clean! In literary fiction, on the other hand, we’re just as likely to encounter the next Patrick Bateman as we are the next Atticus Finch. 

Literary fiction isn’t ‘better’ than genre fiction in much the same way that genre fiction isn’t ‘better’ than literary fiction. There’s no need for competition here, because if you’re a reader – whether you read regularly or sit back with a handful of books each year – you’ll have already read both types of fiction, and chances are you’ll have liked and disliked books in both categories in equal measure.

So if literary fiction and genre fiction are equally valid, why is our focus on literary fiction?

First and foremost, it’s writing we want to promote and celebrate. We want a good story – of course we do! – but if we had to choose between an action-packed story written in a mediocre fashion or a subtle, stunningly written story, I’m sure you can guess which story we’d pick every time.

Not only that, but literary fiction gives us a lot of freedom. Something I’ve yet to mention is that literary fiction and genre fiction are not entirely separate from one another; it’s common for a book to be considered literary fiction while also fitting into a particular genre. That’s one of the reasons we love literary fiction so much!

Francesca Rhydderch’s award-winning debut The Rice Paper Diaries is literary fiction, but it’s historical fiction, too; Jo Mazelis’ prize-winning debut Significance is literary fiction, but it’s also a thriller; Tiffany Murray’s haunting Sugar Hall is literary fiction, but it’s also a ghost story. We are able to publish a wide variety of fiction by a plethora of authors, all because we love stories that are beautifully told.

That’s why we love literary fiction, and that’s why we publish it.