#874: Department of Self-Promotion – The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy

Hello, everyone. I’ve written a novel. It’s called The Red Death Murders (2022), and should appear on your local Amazon franchise at any minute if it hasn’t already.

Yes, after two-and-a-bit decades of reading classic detective fiction, and six years of reading and reviewing self-published impossible crime fiction, I have combined the two/painted a target on my back and written one of my own. I don’t know quite how to talk about it, because I’m so excited to finally be able to share it with you, but here’s what the back cover synopsis says:

The Red Death Murders transforms Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ into a fast-paced novel of detection with clues provided openly in the tradition of Agatha Christie, ingenious explanations worthy of John Dickson Carr, and a complex plot to delight fans of Seishi Yokomizo.

A deadly plague

The pestilence known as the Red Death had devastated Prince Prospero’s lands, and so he retired to his isolated castle with several hundred friends to outwait the blight in safety.  Here, they distracted themselves from the horror outside the walls with decadent revelry and voluptuous self-indulgence.

A new threat

Now, the handful of loyal men who remain realise that they have merely exchanged one danger for another: a masked figure robed in scarlet stalks the shadowy halls, launching a violent attack on the prince before apparently evaporating in front of witnesses.

An impossible murder

When one of their number is found slain in a room sealed on the inside, Sir William Collingwood vows to unmask the murderer in their midst.  But what sense can be made of the apparently unexplainable deaths that follow?  Why commit murder in the middle of a plague?  And how do you catch a killer who can seemingly walk through walls and vanish into thin air?

As the synopsis suggests, the idea of the book took root when I first read ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe about a decade ago and was struck by how a group of people hiding from a deadly plague in a sealed off castle was a perfect setup for a closed-circle mystery. Over the last ten or so years, I’ve added various ideas to this speculative setting and, when circumstances conspired to find me unemployed in the latter half of 2020, I thought I’d finally try to circle the wagons, as it were, and see how far I could get with writing it.

Day 1 – 14th October 2020

As it turns out, the writing went rather well — I’ll talk about the process more in next month’s In GAD We Trust podcast episode, but the first two drafts were done on a typewriter — and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of what has resulted. Not only did I manage to write the exact sort of book I had in mind when I first read ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, I’ve also been able to work in 4½ impossible situations with rational solutions — two of which I have never seen before, including the locked room murder that opens the book which has a setup and solution that I believe is unique in the annals of impossible crime fiction.

I also wanted it to be a novel of detection, with clues presented openly so that the attentive reader would be able to solve the mystery ahead of time if they’re able to outwit me, and so — alongside creating a fictional, mock-historical setting and working in those various impossibilities — I have been at pains to be as open with the clues as I can. I’m hopeful that you’ll reach the end having been thoroughly entertained and completely bamboozled, but also agreeing that more than sufficient information was provided to qualify as what some of us call “fair play”. For added fun, there’s even a Challenge to the Reader at the point where the detective works it out, with six questions you should take some time to think about before embarking on the solution.

“I hope we get a look in at some point.”

The book is just over 91,000 words and will be published in both physical and electronic form, available only through Amazon since their ubiquity makes them the ideal way to get the book into readers’ hands. I’ve gone for a slightly smaller paperback format — what I call B-format size, between a British Library Crime Classic and an American Mystery Classic — and, as a sort of Bonus Material, have included the full text of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ with approximately 20 annotations wherein I discuss how elements of that story influenced this novel. Plus, it comes with the amazing cover you see above, made for me by the very talented (and very understanding!) Felix Tindall, who could not come more highly recommended for your graphic design needs.

I am beyond excited to finally share this with you, and I really hope you enjoy it — I have plans for at least three more at present, though I’m unlikely to have quite the same freedom to write any more unless this does incredibly well…so spread the word if you like it! The ebook should be available to download now, whatever domain your local Amazon resides in, and the paperback is showing up in most places and so is now terrifyingly available for other people to read without me being able to make any of the amendments I’m terrified I forgot to finalise before hitting “Sure, let people read this”.

“The gang’s all here!”

I’ve tried to be sensible about the pricing — I want this to be appealing, but I’d also like to eventually make back the money I’ve spent on it…and, hey, maybe turn a profit at some point — so I’ve put a fair amount of research into local prices and tried to be sensible in what I’m asking. I’m also acutely aware that this is the first time I’ve put a monetary value on anything I’ve promoted through this blog, however, and so am inevitably worried I’ve got it horribly wrong. The prices currently give me the approximate same return in all territories, but if there’s an argument for them being lowered — or, hey, highered! — I’m open to hearing it. Thanks for bearing with me while I stumble around trying to figure out what I’m doing.

Okay, I think that’s it. Hopefully some of you are excited to read this, and thanks in advance to anyone who buys it now or in the future — you probably won’t regret it. Here’s the Amazon UK link — it is on sale in other countries, too, you can buy it in Australia, Canada, Germany, France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, the US…enough people can now access it to make me something of a nervous wreck at the prospect, so I’m off for a lie down. Have a lovely weekend!

All the classics today.

79 thoughts on “#874: Department of Self-Promotion – The Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy

  1. Brilliant work, Jim! I am beyond ecstatic to read this work of yours! As always, seeing you and Tom work so hard on your writing makes me feel ashamed of how hard it’s been for me to find time to write at university, and this second of publications is another kick in the pants! I’m sure the contents of the book will be more than worth my embarrassment at my own laziness, though!

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    • Bah, laziness nothing — uni’s your priority, take it from me that there’s plenty of time to read and discuss books once the important business of setting up the rest of your life is taken care of.

      Hope you enjoy the book, and here’s hoping you get some free time to indulge in something purely for the fun of it before too long 🙂

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  2. This is astounding, wonderful news! I was telling my wife recently how the French New Wave started with critics—how the energy of their reverence for overlooked masters turned into the energy of creation, and in the back of my mind I’ve been hoping you would do the same with your felicity and genre savvy. (Not to mention your tantalizing allusions over the years to original solutions.) Big congratulations— and off to Amazon!

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    • I wish I’d had the insight to phrase it so well — this is very much a work of reverence for the past, and a hope that something new can still be found in the genre’s future.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm and kind words, here’s hoping the book lives up to its billing.

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  3. Whoaaah congratulations!! When I saw the post title I had to reread the author’s name a few times just to be sure. It must be great to finally publish something that’s been growing in your mind for 10 years

    Already ordered. Can’t wait to see what you have in store

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    • I am quite unbelievably excited for people to read this, not least because it is exactly a book that’s been slowly marinating in my mind for ten years. There were times when I wondered if it would ever see the light of day, and I’m so glad I seized the chance to write it when it came.

      I’m psyched to see what people make of it; it’s book I wished someone else would write, but then I’m not the audience this time…!

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  4. Jim – I have been enjoying your blog and podcasts for nearly four years and have learned much from your insights.

    A couple clicks on Amazon and mine arrives on Tuesday. Looking forward to reading it.

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    • Thanks, Scott; I feel like the blog and the podcast, and the kind response both have gotten, were sort of the refinement process for bringing this book into the light, y’know?

      And since they’ve been the method of making sense of the genre for myself, it hopefully follows that people who have enjoyed them will enjoy this. Here’s hoping, anyway…!

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    • Thanks, Sergio — it’s an exciting time, and I’m very lucky to have been able to bring everything together to see the book through to completion. Looking forward to your thoughts.

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    • Thanks, Nick — it’s been a real labour of love, but one that was also a huge amount of fun. I’ve read the best, I read the rest, I’ve tried to work out what I think works…and this is the result. With any luck, you and others will agree with me 🙂

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    • What’s crazy is that I would have had this idea bubbling in the back of my head for a few years when you posted that, and so you’d think I’d remember your posting about it — I’ve even <ireplied for pity’s sake — but I have no recollection of this whatsoever. I guess we should have a conversation about royalites, eh? 😄

      Hope you enjoy it — I know impossible crimes aren’t your preferred métier, and my plot-fixation often finds us on different sides of the critical divide, so thanks for giving it a go.

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  5. Woah this news has taken me by surprise in a way that a mystery denouement hasn’t managed to in a while! Congrats! Really pleased you’ve taken the bold step from preeminent GAD blogger to bona fide author. And I look forward to reading it, since I know from your critiques that you give similar importance to the principle of fair play as I do, so I know I won’t have much to complain about in that respect. The fact that it promises inventive impossibilities is just the icing on the cake. Take my money, Jim!

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    • Haha, thanks — I’m terrified about the clewing, in this, because the temptation is to hold back so the surprise hits harder and yet the pedant in me needs the clues to be there because, dammit, that’s what I would want.

      Hopefully I’ve walked that line well, but I trust you to tell me if you think not. Really looking forward to your take on this.

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      • Quick question. Does the paperback contain floorplans of the castle? Just curious since I know sometimes these fail to translate over to Kindle, which is what I’m reading the book on.

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        • Alas, there are no floorplans — the money involved in getting them produced so that they looked good was an additional cost I opted to forego. I did try to be very clear with the descriptions, though 🙂

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          • No I’m sure you did. Its just a personal preference for floorplans over excessively descriptive text, especially when we’re talking about rather individualistic spaces as those featured within the book, particularly where geometric understanding might prove key to the puzzle. Still, I appreciate the considerations and limitations of producing such a work and its not a criticism 🙂

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            • Oh, I would have much preferred some floorplans in there — not because it needs them, but because I’d just love to include some. If it sells 10,000 copies, I’ll reissue it with them added in 🙂

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    • Thanks, dude — you said it was a new Golden Age, so the very least I could do was try and prove you right.

      I am, of course, agog to know your verdict on what I’ve created. Happy reading!

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      • Yeah… about that. You remember how I correctly predicted today’s reprint renaissance and prophesied it would lead to a Second Golden Age? I’m afraid I kind of forgot to opt out of the New World War optional extra. My bad!

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  6. I am sorely tempted to push aside the baker’s dozen books I need to read for work and get through this immediately, but we honestly might save it for the show! All the best from Herds and I on this release, we can’t wait to get to it.

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    • Haha, thanks, Flex — I set myself the challenge of writing a fair-play mystery that even you wouldn’t be able to solve ahead of time, so I cannot wait to find out how that turns out 🙂

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    • Thank-you, Martin. And with an impossible-sounding element in your own Blackstone Fell due in September, here’s hoping 2022 will be looked back upon as The Year the Locked Room Mystery Rose From the Ashes…not least because that will mean loads of people bought my book, too 😄

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  7. Hey Jim, I’ve been a reader of your blog for just under a year now, but haven’t posted any comments until now. This time I absolutely had to comment, though! Such fantastic news! Is there a way I could buy your novel outside Amazon? I’m very keen to read it. Cheers

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    • Hey, Alex, great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words, today is indeed an exciting day.

      Something I learned in the publishing of this book is that you have to pay for an ISBN when you register your manuscript as a publishable/sellable endeavour. Amazon, however, will provide an ISBN for free…on the proviso that you’re not allowed to use that to publish the book anywhere else.

      So while I believe I could buy a different ISBN and then sell the book through other outlets, at present I’m reducing my overheads and only selling it through the various Amazon outlets worldwide.

      I also didn’t want to load myself up with copies for people to buy direct from me, in case no-one bought it 🙂 I’ll probably be buying some in due course, however — some friends have said they’d like signed copies — so if you want to do that, get in touch via my contact form and we’ll see what we can sort out.

      Apologies for such a long answer to such a short question; hopefully the reasons why are clear. Hope to see you around in future.

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  8. Hi Jim,
    This is superb news. I see that is available on Kindle Unlimited in my region. Do you have a preference for how a reader acquires it? I don’t know much about publishing but which mode helps the writer the most?
    Either way, looking forward to reading it.

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    • To be honest, I have no idea. I have a feeling that a Kindle Unlimited “borrow” gets me the same commission as someone buying it, but when I went to look this up I also discovered a graph showing me how many Kindle pages of my book have been read in a certain day…and I have no idea what that is about…!

      I really appreciate you asking, but mainly I want people to enjoy this in whatever manner works best for them. If KU is your jam, go with that — I won’t be losing out too much, I’m sure, or Amazon wouldn’t offer it, y’know?

      Maybe in time I’ll figure this kind of thing out; right now, it’s still faintly surreal that people are reading my novel…

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  9. Wow, this is a welcome surprise! Congratulations! I cannot wait to read this. With my current courseload it my be awhile before I actually get to do so, but this is very much at the top of my wishlist.

    And I’m really excited to see that someone else thought that The Masque of the Red Death would make for a good mystery. It’s my favorite Poe story (sorry Dupin!) and it’s always seemed to me that there were bunch of angles it could be approached from. Yet the only author I know of who’s tried (before now, that is) is Taku Ashibe.

    (These two points don’t really relate to anything else, but: 1. I appreciate your choosing a smaller format, as they’re much easier to handle, and 2. I am inordinately pleased that the first three digits in the US price for the paperback ($12.25) sum up to the fourth.)

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    • Thank-you, it’s great to have this out in the world at last, and for people to be so excited to hear of it. There’s a lot of material in Poe’s non-criminous tales, so who’s to say that I’m not planning an Edgar Allan Poe Mysteries series, with each novel spun up from one of his Tales?

      I mean, I’m not, but who’s to say?

      I’m unaware of the Taku Ashibe — has that been translated? To see someone who actually writes shin honkaku take this on would be fascinating.

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      • Taku Ashibe’s Murder in the Red Chamber is based on the 18th century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, which I reviewed all the way back in 2016, but it’s a difficult one to recommend. Murder in the Red Chamber is set in the same place as Dream of the Red Chamber complete with its enormous cast of characters. While its not necessary to read it to enjoy Murder in the Red Chamber, you obviously miss a lot of context to perhaps fully appreciate what it tried to do. But, purely as a detective novel, it’s one of the more ambitious shin honkaku novels to be translated into English. And crammed with locked rooms and impossible crimes.

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      • Unfortunately, it hasn’t been translated. Though another of the stories form the collection was published in the September 2020 EQMM under the title of “The Dashing Joker.” It was one of the best mysteries I read that year, so I’ve been hoping that more of his stories get translated. (Incidentally, Ho-Ling reviewed the collection here.)

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        • There’s some wonderfully tempting stuff being done under the shin honkaku banner. It is sincerely to be hoped that we get a steadier stream of these stories and collections in due course, and that the current annual LRI publication and a something from Pushkin Vertigo is simply the trickle that portends a flood.

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  10. This was unexpectedly great news to wake up to today. Whenever my copy arrives it will go on top of the TBR pile. And I will be recommending it to any of my friends with even a passing interest in Poe (I’d say friends with an interest in GAD but we know that there are just about none of those. Eheu!)

    Speaking of Poe, I bet that someone could do a really good inverted mystery version of The Cask of Amontillado (my favorite of his.) Then again, Columbo’s “Any Old Port in a Storm” comes very close to that.

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    • Thank-you, all support greatly appreciated — and every copy sold gets me closer to being able to commit the time to writing another one…!

      The cat in TCoA is one of the all-time great clues, and I’m not opposed to mining Poe for more ideas in future…so you never know, watch this space.

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  11. All those times you mentioned the mystery novel you’d never get round to writing, and you’ve proved yourself wrong. Congrats!
    Very much looking forward to that podcast too, my current pod rotation is all writing podcasts, with a break when a mystery podcast comes out.

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    • Once the ideas started coming together, I was determined that this one would see the light of day. I already have 40,000 words of an abandoned novel from about 2012 or so that will never — never! — see the light of day, so starting over at a second attempt really was an act of pure will to get to the end this time 🙂

      And, yeah, I’m hoping my newness to the writing of a novel will make the podcast worthwhile for anyone who has an interest in writing. “Where do you get your ideas…?” is, it turns out, a very interesting question indeed…

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      • Your willpower serves as an inspiration 🙂
        “Where do you get your ideas?” I think I’m finding that interesting too. I’ve read a fair few writing advice books and I do wonder if some of them were written by people who have forgotten which bits were actually difficult when they started to write.

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        • I think most writing advice books are written by people who have already done so much writing that they’ve become a little passé on the matter. I imagine doing anything for long enough makes one underestimate its complexity to others. That’s why I like to imagine that my neophyte status might provide something of interest. We’ll find out in a few weeks…

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  12. My copy arrived yesterday albeit crushed and mangled thanks to the careless delivery dude who literally threw it into our tiny foyer. AARRRGH! Amazon used to take such care in packing their books. Not anymore. Book came in a pathetically thin mailer (not even a box!) with zero protection. All pages intact but the first fifteen have a huge bend in the upper corner and the front cover is a mess. Ah well, that’s them breaks. Looking forward to devouring this adventurous and innovative Poe homage!

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    • Oh, John, I’m so sorry your book was so badly manhandled — I’ll replace it with a signed copy should we ever meet face-to-face!

      Hope you’re able to enjoy it all the same, really looking forward to your thoughts.

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  13. Great news and such a surprise. I have always marvelled at your blogging and podcasting capacity (not to mention the reading that feeds all the above!) but writing a book as well!. Do you have a little “time freezing” cupboard that you pop into now and then? Now then …Could be an idea for an episode of Creepshow …. Ah; just realised – it already is! Seriously, though…. You must be chuffed to bits. I’m sure it will be fantastic and am looking forward to it. I have not been reading much GAD / GAD-inspired lately so maybe this is the one to break me back in. However, I have a dilemma: the other book on my TBR pile is …….. I’ve been saving it …… The problem of the Green Capsule. Mmm – any thoughts? Once again congratulations.

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    • Ah, The Problem of the Green Capsule — one of the few books I’d be happy for someone to read ahead of my own 😆

      I was — in a way — fortunate with the writing of the majority of this book, since I’d intended to open a bookshop in 2020 and covid put that well and truly down,,,so I found myself with a lot of free time and an economy that was slashing jobs and thought “Well, if it’s ever going to happen, it might as well be now…”. Unemployment allowed me to treat the writing of the first three drafts as a job: regular hours, every weekday, no staff meetings…it was lovely.

      Here’s hoping you enjoy your next two reads, in whichever order they come!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Well, that was a blast! The energy and verbal nimbleness so known to us all immediately marks this as a JJ production, and in the spirit of one of his own posts let me highlight a quote that shows his ability to bring the requisite Poe-appropriate eloquence when needed:

    “When the gaily-coloured crowds spiralled into the dungeons several hours later, their manic energy a spark in the dried leaves of their exhaustion, costumes far too gaudy, too fantastic–delirious fancies such as the madman fashions–showed that many had known this was no ordinary visit to a royal residence.”

    Though finely wrought flourishes like this abound, the book’s main feature is its relentless drive toward an every-firework-in-the-sky finish that left me, at least, thoroughly and happily surprised. And that’s a sometimes overlooked function of good writing in GAD in whatever year–it makes going back to examine the crafting and interlocking of a book’s gears a pleasure to be anticipated rather than endured.

    So even while greatly looking forward to the possible series that may follow, I’m going back to read this sensational debut again.

    Well done, sir!

    (As a very distinct bonus, the included annotations of “The Masque of the Red Death” are so good that, even apart from illuminating connections between that story and this book, they make one hope for similar treatments of other classic works.)

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  15. Amazon delivered my copy within two days of ordering for less than 7 euro including postage and packing, and The Netherlands is not exactly the cheapest country in the world. I would have paid 50% more without thinking, and quite possibly twice the amount after some consideration. Once your books starts to sell well, hard-cover versions would be appreciated for durability.

    I’m not going to review the story here nor elsewhere, because I don’t want to spoil. It does deliver the promised goods and I enjoyed to read it; but many of the hints and clues failed to land at me and that is mainly because I had, and still have, no idea of the layout of the castle, inside and outside. Indeed a plan is sorely missed. Maybe your projection of the castle corresponds closely enough to what most Anglosaxons would imagine to be a typical castle of theirs; but expections may be widely different elsewhere. And I suspect I have a language problem added to the differences in cultural or landscape presets as well.

    Let me explain my difficulties by giving some examples on a minor point: the moat outside – it is outside, isn’t it (some moats run between two rings of walls). Moats vary widely. In Spain, several late medieval castles do have a moat, but almost invariably dry. In Dutch, the words for moat and inner city canal are the same; both will contain water whether you like it or not, and make part of aquatic management, apart from other purposes. Even though you clearly tell the reader that the moat does contain water, my preconceptions work against me.
    For some reasons I got the impression that there is no moat at the back side of the castle, whatever the back side of an hexagonal castle is. Is that side built against a rock? Or is there a dry part of the moat out there? I don’t know.
    The way the moat is connected to the river seems weird. Even when you do not want the water to flow, you do want it to be continuously refreshed, believe me. And never tell a Dutchman that a rivers runs from the sea to someplace inland: He will take you literally because he has seen such things in his own country. Had you but told the reader what the general landscape was, the height, the distance to the sea, and the climate; it would have helped, even to a minor detail.

    O dear, this awfully reads as a rant – it was not the least intended to be one. Let me finish by complimenting you on your opening sentence. Not the first eight words – they are common enough – but the remainder after the semicolon is magistral. Had you omitted the first eight words, the result would have been monumental. But then again, it would have raised the expectations of the reader to an height that even Edgar Allan Poe would have found hard to sustain for over three hundred pages.

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    • Thanks for the feedback, Marcel, it is appreciated.

      I wasn’t working off any particular awareness of castle design, but the idea here is that the moat surrounds the castle rather than passing between two walls — a fascinating prospect that I shall look up and probably use in some future story (it has such potential!).

      The surrounding land is discussed in chapter 9, and I failed to appreciate that some extra information about topography would be necessary…thank-you, genuinely. Without any professional editor looking over my shoulder to raise such matters, I’ve probably allowed a few details like this to slip by because everything is so familiar to me. Writing is a learning process, and I’ll be sure to take these lessons and more away if I ever try a second novel.

      Glad you’re enjoying the prose; finding the right expression every time is a huge amount of fun, and trying to ensure a consistent tone is a challenge to maintain over 91,000 words. I actually have a secret method, but I don’t know whether to reveal it… 🙂

      Like

  16. I guessed that the perpetrator would be [SPOILERS REDACTED] right out of the bat as Hound of Baskerville has shown that behind something seemingly supernatural lies usually a obvious sordid motive. I also found myself suspecting the culprit who turned out to be the murderer from the point he [SPOILERS REDACTED]. I thought he [SPOILERS REDACTED]! However the motive did turn out to be confounding as I had thought he would have been [SPOILER-ADJACENT COMMENTS REDACTED]. The actual motive doesn’t work in my opinion though it was a mystery I couldn’t stop reading once it got going.

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    • I’m glad you found this an easy read, Grant — though I’m afraid I’ve had to redact most of what you said since they were very specific comments that spoiled the book for any casual browser.

      Like

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