Introducing Alex Macbeth and The Red Die

The body of a man with a red die in his pocket is washed ashore near a quiet village on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. But what looked initially like a corpse that came in with the tide soon turns out to be a murder case that will lead Comandante Felisberto and his team to the edge of danger and despair as they uncover a trail leading up to the highest echelons of power in their country.

Can Felisberto and his ‘motley crew of rural investigators’ solve the case – and survive?

OOOH! Alex Macbeth’s debut novel, THE RED DIE, sounds right up my reading alley and so, while I wait for my pre-order copy to land on my kindle this weekend, I jumped at the chance to ask Alex some questions about this gripping new story, set in Mozambique.

Alex, how did you come to write this particular novel?

Alex_smallI was sat in a police station in Mozambique because somebody had stolen my motorbike. Despite the curious situation, I was overwhelmed by some of the challenges the officers faced; there were no aspirins in the district, yet hundreds of crimes. A total of six officers policed a town of more than 130,000 people. The force’s only car often ran out of petrol and the local police force had no forensic department.

I think in Europe we have a stereotype of African policemen as corrupt and malicious figures, but I realised that the challenges of being a detective in an African village are huge and often under-appreciated. So I was inspired to create a rural African hero, a shrewd, ‘hardboiled’ detective who despite his limited resources is determined to fight crime. The quirky setting grew on me and with research the story became my debut novel, THE RED DIE.

Do you have a favorite scene or character in your novel?

I have to say, there are several I enjoyed writing, although the scene in which my protagonist, Comandante Felisberto, jumps out of an exploding plane without knowing whether his parachute works is one of my favourites.

I also enjoy writing dialogue a lot so the interrogation scenes, which usually come with a twist, are also among some of the scenes that I enjoy re-reading the most.

What was your process in writing THE RED DIE? How long did it take?

THE RED DIE took five years to write and went through at least twelve drafts.  As the plot developed, I had to do more and more research. Subsequent drafts helped shape some of the details that contribute to the sense of place (Mozambique), the characters, their relationships (e.g the grumpy and technophobe old-school detective and his technology-obsessed deputy) – and also plot twists.

26221053_10155867073520761_3564073603336382054_oI wanted to create a detective who was both tough but sensitive, just but hard. I tried to take what I could from Chandler’s hardboiled detectives and combine it with the attempt to rectify moral hazard that is so present in Nordic Noir. And I set it in Mozambique, in the small district where my family have lived for the last fifteen years.

The story is told from three points of view. The main story follows Comandante Felisberto, the investigating detective. The secondary story features Tomlinson, a British zoologist in Mozambique. Podolski, a dodgy British banker in London, makes the odd appearance too.

I always think the books author’s read tell me a lot about them and their books. Can you recommend some three novels you have read and loved?



WIZARD OF THE CROW – Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Hmm, Alex. You have chosen 3 books I have never heard of! Thank you! I’m excited to check them out.

And finally, what is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

Gosh, that’s tough. I guess the best advice is keep writing and believe in your voice, even if at times others, or even you, don’t like it. It takes time to find a voice we feel comfortable with as writers. Meanwhile, read as much as you can! Others have already shown the way to write great stories, we just need to catch up on how to do it.

Alex Macbeth’s debut novel, THE RED DIE, is available on Amazon in the UK & the US

To know more, find Alex on twitter, facebook and at his website.


Cover reveal!

I’m very excited to get the go ahead from Fireship Press to start using the cover for Charlatan! The advance reader copies are ready and publication looks like being in September/October. Should be firmed up soon. In the meantime, here’s my favourite quote from the back cover:

“I enjoyed it enormously…you brought the Affair flooding back to me with added excellent detail. It really is a remarkable achievement.” – Anne Somerset, author of The Affair of the Poisons.

And the cover itself…. I love it!


High Dive by Jonathon Lee

Although it doesn’t qualify as a historical novel (thankfully – since I can remember 1984 pretty well!), this excellent novel evokes the recent past. Well worth reading. Here’s my review of High Dive for

I think this link will work for a while and then after that you need to join BookBrowse to read it and all the other review and beyond the book articles on there.

Book love

sun kingToday I have been writing the historical afterword for my novel and to help me do it I’ve pulled down from the shelf some of the books I have loved best while working on Charlatan. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but The Sun King by Nancy Mitford has to get a special mention.

I bought that book fourteen years ago. That’s a life time ago – in fact that’s my oldest child’s lifetime ago, pretty much, as it was not long after I had Dominic (somehow now 14 and six foot 2) that I found myself I pushing him around in his pushchair in the small Suffolk village we lived in at the time, quietly dying of boredom. Adjusting from working full-time to being at home with a baby was a task in itself, but at least I had mastered the art of sitting on the floor with a small child and playing with him with one hand while holding a book and reading it in the other. The trouble was that all I had on my shelves fiction. I needed something a bit more challenging.

The answer came in the form of the village second-hand book store which, very handily for a mother with a pushchair, had books in boxes set out on tables on the pavement. That’s where I came across this:


The cover of my copy is not quite so attractive as the edition now available on Amazon that is pictured above! But what a wonderful read it is, packed with detail, generously illustrated and delivered with Nancy Mitford’s inimitable voice and wit. In chapter six I first came across the Affair of the Poisons. Mitford provides a lively, gossipy outline of what happened in Paris in the late 1670’s and early 1680’s but what really caught my interest was when she wrote that she had gleaned much of this information from another book altogether, from which she said “most of the foregoing facts, which are only like the visible part of the iceberg, have been shamelessly culled.”

How much did I want to know about the rest of the iceberg? So much! And although I never managed to find a translation of Georges Mongredien’s book about Madame de Montespan, (the book that Nancy Mitford referred to) I did find Anne Somerset’s The Affair of the Poisons. And maybe a few more…

1924, the year that made Hitler

A quick link to my most recent article for the Historical Novel Society about 1924, the Year that made Hitler:



This is the kind of non-fiction I really enjoy – clearly well researched but also highly readable and engaging. I particularly liked the way Peter Ross Range gave his view on Hitler’s character in passages like this one:

“When faced with high-risk situations, Hitler’s instinct was almost always to take the leap. Action was his aphrodisiac, his catnip, his default.”

Among lots of interesting insights, I was struck by the discussion of Hitler’s reading habits. Ross Range suggests that historians differ on the amount of reading Hitler actually did. Although it seems pretty clear that he owned a lot of books, as any bibliophile knows, owning and reading are not always the same thing. I subsequently found an interesting article about Hitler’s reading habits in the New York Times, and also this photo of Hitler in his Munich apartment which Peter Ross Range also mentions in his book.




From Under a Cloud

Research is a wonderful thing. Looking into late nineteenth century madness (as you do) I came across the autobiography of Anna Agnew, a mother of three who spent 7 years in a lunatic asylum in the 1870s/1880s.




In From Under A Cloud, Anna describes her lifelong suicidal tendencies and the sweeping bouts of depression and delusion that culminated in an attempt to murder her sons in order, in her mind, to spare them the possibilities of suffering insanity as she did. It’s an incredibly readable little book and a great source.

Nellie Bly

So my new Work In Progress is set in 1887 when journalist Nellie Bly convinced a judge that she was a lunatic in order to be committed to the lunatic asylum on Blackwell Island in New York City. She spent 10 days in the madhouse and wrote about the experience in two lengthy articles published by The World newspaper. Here is Nellie:



Mrs Engels

There have been so many books written from the point of view of wives and lovers of famous men in the last couple of years – I even wrote an article on the subject for the Historical Novel Society – but Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea is right up there as one of my favourites. The voice of Lizzie Burns is a wonderful achievement. I’ve reviewed the book for Bookbrowse and also did a follow up article about the families of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Big thumbs up for Mrs Engels from me.mrs engels

My Sunshine Away

I’ve just read My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh for Bookbrowse and very much enjoyed it.


It’s first and foremost a piece of literary fiction. But Walsh steps up the tension and suspense in his novel by giving his reader a narrator who admits on page three that he is a suspect in the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl. The attack, carried out ‘by a man or perhaps a boy,’ is described with a degree of detail – the heat of the night, the gnashing of insects in the bush where the rapist waits, the scrape of asphalt on the victim’s knees – that in light his swift admission that he is suspect, appears highly incriminating. Suddenly, the first person narrator of the novel is unreliable. The reader cannot tell if he is telling the truth about what happened or not. What remains to be seen, and has the reader turning the pages, is what kind of unreliable narrator this particular character will be. Is he the rapist or simply a suspect? Does he know what happened to Lindy or merely think he does?

The literary term ‘unreliable narrator,’ was introduced in the twentieth century by literary critic, Wayne C. Booth, but suspect narrators have been delighting readers for centuries, both in prose and poetry. As readers we very often embark on reading expecting that the main character, particularly in the first person, will tell us a truthful story and be our guide through the events to follow, but what fun ensues when that proves not to be the case.

Here are five of my favorites:

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe


In one of the first novels written in English, published in 1722, Moll tells the story of her life with charm, wit and a clear desire to put the happiest gloss on her less than upstanding character. Moll is a prostitute, a thief and a con artist whose story takes us in and out of Newgate prison and across the Atlantic and back again. Moll’s form of unreliability is comedic and her balancing of the truths of her actions and self-justification are at the heart of the novel’s enduring success.


My Last Duchess by Robert Browning


Browning’s poem, written in 1842, takes the form of a monologue ‘spoken’ by a sixteenth century Duke showing his art collection to an emissary who is there to arrange the Duke’s next marriage. They stop at the portrait of the Duke’s last wife and the reader gradually realizes that the Duke is directly responsible for his young wife’s death. Deliciously creepy!

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie


Published in 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s most famous Hercule Poirot novels, particularly notable because her narrator, Dr James Sheppard proves to be unreliable. Although acting in the role of assistant and confident to Monsieur Poirot, Dr Sheppard is not honest in his account of events around the murder, building up to one of the most surprising plot twists in detective fiction. I’m thinking I’m ready to read it again…


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


Is Scout a reliable witness to the trial of Tom Robinson for the rape of Mayella Ewell in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama? Combining a child’s view of events and her narrator’s interpretation of her memories as an adult, Harper Lee’s classic novel, published in 1960, skillfully uses the perspective of youth to explore her story. The reader must interpret the ‘truth’ of the story, reading between the lines of what Scout sees, what she understands and what she believes to be true. Scout is not deliberately unreliable as a narrator, but she is unreliable just the same.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published in 2015, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is narrated by Rachel whose unhappiness and quickly apparent drinking problems lead the reader to doubt her veracity. When a girl that Rachel has been watching from the train disappears and we learn that Rachel was on her street that night but cannot remember what happened there, even our narrator herself isn’t sure about the truthof her own role in the ensuing police investigation. Rachel’s emerging story casts doubt upon doubt about her ability to find the truth about her own and others behavior. This is my book club’s pick to read this month. I liked it and enjoyed Rachel’s unreliability but I’m not sure it got the thumbs up across the group.

Oprah Book Club pick!

Oprah Announces Her 4th Pick for Oprah's Book Club 2.0

I am so happy to see Cynthia Bond’s novel picked up by Oprah Winfrey. It was THE BEST book I read last year (out of over 70 novels) and I think it deserves a really wide readership!

Here is a quick link to my article about it for the Historical Novel Society – A Haunting Jewel of a Novel and the full interview with Cynthia who was very generous in answering my questions.