Wait… I’m my OWN target audience..?

Got this email from Amazon this morning:

Apparently, Amazon’s algorithms have identified me as the target audience for my own book.

I mean, technically I guess that must be true – I wouldn’t write something that I wouldn’t want to read – but it’s still a bit, well, weird.

This either means:

a) Sales are so good they’ve run out of other people to sell to!

b) Sales are so bad that I’m the only person they think might want a copy anymore

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not a)

So on that note, if you enjoy reading amazing crime stories featuring memorable characters, great locations (one is a party boat in Mexico for crying out loud!) and the dark side of human nature, then go get a copy!

Five thrilling worlds for the price of an ice-cream – and it’ll last longer too (although if you eat as fast as me, anything lasts longer than that…)

“a collection of thought provoking short stories. Dark and at times challenging, Angelo Marcos… forces us to explore the darker side of human nature.” Amazon reviewer

 

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Crime Fiction Lovers: An investigation…

I’ve loved reading psychological thrillers and crime fiction (and crime non-fiction, but that’s a post for another day) for as long as I can remember.

I’m pretty sure it started with Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs – specifically the character of Hannibal Lecter and his almost supernatural ability to read other people (and expertly use that information against them). There’s a reason the film did so well, and it’s not just because of that weird noise Anthony Hopkins made.

And I’m definitely not alone in this. That perfect combination of murder, mystery and suspense are gifts for crime fiction lovers all over the world.

But, why? How come so many ‘nice’ people love reading about human depravity and breaking the law?

I think there are five broad reasons for this.

1. Crime fiction lovers can vicariously experience extreme situations

You know that whole cliché about people slowing down on the road to stare at an accident? The mangled cars, the ambulance, the poor souls who may or may not be injured? Well, people absolutely do this, and I think crime fiction taps into a similar instinct.

Take the central relationship between the main characters in Gone Girl (an almost literal car crash relationship), or the horrific crimes committed by Jeffrey Deaver’s Bone Collector. Through reading, we get to simultaneously witness and experience these extreme relationships and events, and allow ourselves to think about how we could avoid them in real life.

There may even be an element of trying to work out what we would do if we ever found ourselves in those situations.  How would we escape?  Would we get untied in time?

Would we – could we – kill to get free?

Crime fiction – especially when written in the first person – allows us to experience these horrors as if they were our own lives.

And speaking of horror…

2. Psychological thrillers: Exciting, terrifying, and… um… safe

There’s a reason that people (other people, definitely not me) spend so much money on roller-coaster rides and extreme sports. It’s a way to allow fear to grab us by the adrenal glands and squeeze them until our bodies are flooded with fight-or-flight juice. But, and this a very important but (stop laughing, I didn’t say ‘butt’), it’s perfectly safe.

And, more importantly, we know that it’s perfectly safe.

In the same way, we can read about the mind of a serial killer, or the machinations of some psychopathic villain, or the wanton violence of a cornered criminal, and we can allow ourselves to feel fear knowing that, ultimately, we’re completely safe.

For some weird reason, as human beings we want to experience fear – albeit only if we know there’s no actual threat. It’s the difference between watching a documentary about shark attacks, and jumping into a pool with one.

3. Thrillers are neater than reality

I completely agree with those who say that life is stranger than fiction.

(Judging by recent world events, this is a very difficult proposition to argue against.)

Fictional stories generally have a defined beginning, middle and end. On the other hand, real life isn’t constrained by anything. There are plenty of true stories that, if they were featured in a work of fiction, would be considered too unbelievable to be plausible.

There’s a criminal case – Dudley v Stephens – which I studied during my law degree. Dudley and Stephens were shipwrecked with a man named Richard Parker, who quickly fell into a coma.  Dudley and Stephens decided to eat Richard to stay alive. Long-story-short, they survived, got back to land and were subsequently tried for (and convicted of) murder.

The unbelievable part of all this is that Edgar Allen Poe had written this very same incident into a novel fifty years earlier. Even the name of the unfortunate victim was the same – Richard Parker.

Can you imagine reading a book where a very specific set of events occur, and then later in the book a character discovers that someone wrote the exact same scenario half a century earlier, and that the victim had the same name?  You’d think it was stretching credulity just a bit too far.

And as well as being neater than reality, crime fiction also seems more ‘just’. The end of most thrillers is that the ‘goodies’ win and the ‘baddies’ lose, which is more satisfying than what we often see in reality.

Again, if you want to proof of this just take a look at world events.  No wonder we want to read stories where the bad people get their comeuppance, and the good people ride off into the sunset.

4. Crime fiction is interesting and, yes, educational

Police procedurals and detective stories are huge, with millions of readers buying them each year. We love reading about the inner workings of law enforcement departments and peeking behind the curtain of criminal investigations. I do anyway, which is why I love the books of Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly – both experts in this genre.

Similarly, psychological thrillers show us the psyche of seemingly unfathomable killers, or help us to understand the circumstances which might result in a ‘normal’ individual being pushed too far and committing murder.

Yes, it’s fictional, but isn’t the most effective crime fiction grounded in reality?  My crime novel The Artist may be a work of fiction, but it’s based on my own experiences as an actor combined with my study of forensic psychology.  There’s nothing in the book that couldn’t happen, even though – as far as I know (and hope) – it hasn’t occurred in reality.

Also, what better way to understand another’s point of view in the real world than stepping into their shoes through fiction?

Which leads us nicely to the last point…

5. Prison break!

Crime fiction and psychological thrillers allow us to escape our reality for a little while.

Arguably, this is why any art form exists – for both the creator and the audience.

After a long day at work, or during a seemingly endless commute, or in the twenty minutes that you know – hope! – the baby will actually stay asleep, you get to escape into another world. Admittedly the world in which you escape with crime fiction isn’t always the most pleasant, but as we said above, you know it’s perfectly safe.

So you can experience the dark side of a city you’ve never visited,  learn about the intricacies of crime investigation, spend time with the most depraved killers, and have a million other experiences you would never otherwise be exposed to.

And you get to do it all without leaving your chair or, y’know, having to actually investigate – or commit – a crime.  Not bad for the price of a coffee, is it?

So what do you think? Why do YOU enjoy crime fiction and psychological thrillers?

For a limited time you can download a FREE copy of short crime story Killing Time.

Click here to find out more

New novel – Available now!

My new psychological thriller is now officially available!

(Cue blurb…)

Life isn’t funny anymore for stand-up comedian Nick. His support group doesn’t like him, his girlfriend doesn’t like him, and his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder definitely doesn’t like him.

Wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, Nick lands a role in a film and meets up with an incarcerated criminal in order to get into character.

Enter Gideon Matthias.

Gideon is a force of nature possessing brawn, brains, and an almost preternatural gift of perception. A man who beats a fellow inmate to death while describing the emotions they’re feeling.

Nick finds Gideon both dangerous and fascinating, and is deeply affected by his philosophy that everyone is a victim of their own minds.

As Nick contends against the invisible enemies in his mind, Gideon contends against the very much visible enemies in the jail – one of which he has crossed too many times.

The two men fight to survive in their respective arenas until Gideon decides to take action. He seeks out his new friend, and their paths cross as Gideon seeks revenge for the past.

A past that Nick wasn’t even aware of…

 

Victim Mentality is available at the introductory price of £1.99/$2.99 (ebook only, paperback to follow).

So, y’know, buy it!  Then I can afford to write the next one!

Click here to get your copy!

Involuntary actions

SleepWalking blog post 2

One night in 1987, Kenneth Parks drove fifteen miles to his in-laws’ house.

He parked his car outside, walked up to the house, and broke in through a window. He then seriously assaulted his father-in-law, and fatally stabbed his mother-in-law. After this attack, he got back in his car, drove to a police station, and confessed to what he had done.  He was subsequently charged with both murder and attempted murder, and, after a lengthy trial, was acquitted on all counts.

He wasn’t found guilty for one simple reason – he was asleep at the time of the attack.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too when I first came across this case. That Parks was using the ‘I was asleep, guv’ defence which would turn out to be nothing but a desperate attempt to get away with murder. However, as it turned out, no less than five neurological experts testified that they believed he was asleep at the time of the attack.

Let me rephrase that, five separate experts, who spend their lives investigating neurological problems, issues and phenomena, swore under oath – essentially staking not only their reputations but also their liberty (perjury, anyone?) – that they believed Kenneth Parks was asleep at the time of the assault and killing.

And as if that wasn’t strange enough, Kenneth Parks’ defence – automatism – had already been used before this case, and has also been used since.

Automatism

The automatism defence essentially states that a person accused of a crime was not aware of their actions at the time of the incident. Their actions are deemed to have been involuntary, which then means they cannot be culpable.

There are even two different types of automatism; the first is called ‘insane automatism’ which is considered to be caused by a ‘disease of the mind’. Committing crimes while asleep falls under this category.

Then there is ‘non-insane automatism’, which is considered to be caused by external factors, so for instance through mixing certain medications with alcohol which then cause the person to act involuntarily.

Automatism cases are thankfully very rare, and plenty of people have tried and failed to use this as a defence for crimes they have committed, but there have certainly been some strange cases which do appear to be genuine.

Tragedy

Another tragic case is that of Brian Thomas, who for fifty years suffered from horrific night terrors. One night he dreamt that he and his wife were being attacked and that he had to fight to save her. In actual fact he wasn’t saving his wife, he was strangling her as she slept. He woke up to find his wife dead, and came to the horrific conclusion that he had been the one that killed her. Just like Kenneth Parks, Thomas was cleared of murder, although I imagine this was little consolation to either of these poor men.

Then there’s the case of Jules Lowe, who beat his 83 year old father to death, inflicting over 85 injuries. Again, he claimed to have been asleep at the time of the incident, and again, this was met with the initial disbelief that you would expect. However, the court accepted the automatism defence, concluding that he had been sleepwalking at the time and so was not aware of what he was doing.

And this isn’t just a recent affliction either.

In the 19th century, a French detective named Robert Ledru was tasked with investigating the murder of a man named Andre Monet, who had been shot and killed on a beach at Le Havre. There were only two real pieces of evidence to use – the killer’s footprints, and the type of bullet he used.

The footprints were very distinctive, as the killer was missing the big toe on his right foot. Ledru found this information incredible, as he himself also suffered from this same affliction. Thinking back to the morning after Monet died, Ledru also realised that he had woken up with strangely wet socks.

(I’m sure you can see where this is going…)

Ledru also discovered that the killer used the same types of bullets as he himself used. Putting the evidence together, he could come to only one conclusion – that he had killed Monet, while asleep.

His colleagues were sceptical – to say the least – and decided to carry out an experiment. They kept Ledru in a cell overnight so as to observe whether he would sleepwalk. As it turns out, he did, although this obviously didn’t prove he was capable of murder.

So the next day, the police officers placed a gun in his cell, and then observed him again. That night, Ledru fell asleep, walked around the cell, then picked up the gun and started firing at the officers.

(I imagine at this point the officers were wondering why they thought it was necessary to actually load the gun…)

It was eventually decided that even though it appeared Ledru had killed Andre Monet, he couldn’t be considered responsible for the death. So instead of being imprisoned, he was exiled to the country. He lived there for the rest of his life, albeit in the company of both guards and nurses. Who presumably either slept during the day, or wore Kevlar every night.

Comedy

There are also less tragic and – let’s give it a name – actually pretty funny cases.

One guy repeatedly gets up in the middle of the night and starts painting in his sleep. He does this so regularly and prolifically that he’s even been given a nickname – ‘Kipasso’.

Another guy once woke up in the early hours of the morning and found himself in his garden, having just mowed his entire lawn.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was completely naked at the time too.

Then there’s the lady who gets out of bed in the middle of the night and sleep-gorges on both food and, well, non-food (Vaseline, paint, washing powder). She also regularly cooks in her sleep using her gas oven and hobs. So this one is kind of funny, but also potentially kind of horrific…

One of the strangest of the ‘funny’ cases is that of the nurse who, one night in January 2003, left her house wearing only her nightshirt, crashed her car, urinated in the street, and then got into a fight with the police officers who, some might say unsurprisingly, took exception to her behaviour. In her case the prosecutors only partly accepted the automatism defence though, and she eventually pleaded guilty to a highly reduced charge of careless driving.

So what is going on?

Ordinarily, our brains paralyse our bodies as we sleep so as to prevent us from acting out our dreams/nightmares. This paralysis can itself go wrong at times however, so as bad as acting out your dreams/nightmares is, waking up and not being able to move or breathe properly is pretty horrific too (as anyone who has suffered sleep paralysis – myself included – can attest to). Generally speaking though, the fact that our brains stop us acting out our dreams as we sleep is usually a good thing, and helps to keep both us and other people in the room/property/world safe.

The current view on this is that this type of sleepwalking happens when the brain tries to transition from a certain type of sleep (known as deep non-REM slow wave sleep) to full wakefulness. What happens is that the brain gets caught up between the sleep state and the wake state, and then – to coin a phrase – ‘hilarity ensues’.

The explanation for sleep paralysis is actually quite similar in that the current understanding is that the brain gets ‘stuck’ between two states, and causes the sleeper to not be fully awake but not be fully asleep either. So it’s a similar problem but causes a very different outcome.

What all these cases undoubtedly show is that our brains are both amazing and amazingly complex, with even the smallest deviation in our sleep processes causing things to go from ‘normal’ to ‘odd’ to ‘potentially criminal’ in mere seconds. Poor old Ledru – and, I guess, even poorer old Monet – are testament to that.

The really scary part is, if any of us are ever afflicted by this phenomenon, we won’t actually know about it until we wake up again. At which point we may well find ourselves either handcuffed in the back of a police car, or breaking into a DIY store looking for some paint to eat…

 

Sleep No More is my psychological thriller about a young woman whose vivid nightmares begin leaching into reality. Sleep deprived and desperate, she begins to doubt her own mind – and finds herself in a deadly race against time…

Click here to find out more

The Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

Night road

 

According to official statistics, in the US alone 2,300 people go missing every day.

Around 91% of all cases are closed within 48 hours, and 99% of cases are solved completely within one year.

This of course leaves 1% of cases that aren’t solved.

The case of Brandon Victor Swanson is one of them.

 

The Disappearance

Nineteen year old Brandon Swanson lived in Marshall, Minnesota with his parents. On the night of 14 May 2008, after celebrating the last day of college classes with a friend, he was driving home along a gravel road, and somehow crashed his car into a ditch.

Unable to move it himself and get back onto the road, he called home at some time after midnight and asked his parents to pick him up near Lynd, a small town Southwest of Marshall.

His parents left the house and began driving to pick up Brandon, at the same time speaking with him on his mobile phone to determine exactly where he was.

After getting to the location which he had described, they started flashing the car’s headlights so that Brandon could start walking towards them. Brandon told them he couldn’t see the lights at all, so he got back into his car and started flashing his own headlights in the hope that maybe they would see him. His parents said that they couldn’t anything either.

Both sides got increasingly frustrated, and Brandon eventually said that he was going to start walking towards the town of Lynd, to a friend’s house. He said that he knew which direction to head in as he could see what looked like the lights of a town.

His father dropped Brandon’s mother back at home, then began driving again to find his son.

At around 2am Brandon and his father were on the phone to each other, with Brandon desperately trying to direct his father to where he was, and Brandon’s father equally desperately trying to locate his son.

Forty-seven minutes into the phone call, Brandon suddenly exclaimed, ‘Oh shit!’ and the line went dead.

And that was the last time anybody heard anything from Brandon Swanson.

His dad tried calling back a number of times, but Brandon never picked up his phone. His frantic parents continued the search but were unable to find him. A few hours later – at around 6.30am – they notified the police.

 

The Aftermath

Since that day more than five hundred volunteers have spent over one hundred and twenty days looking for Brandon – or any evidence pointing to where he could be – covering over one hundred square miles in the process. This has included over thirty dog handlers from nine different states.

The result? No evidence. No clues. Nothing.

The only thing that has ever been found is Brandon’s car, which was discovered around twenty miles away from where he told his parents he thought he crashed.

The authorities say that there is neither any evidence of foul play, nor any evidence that Brandon would have staged his own disappearance. They have also said that they do not believe there was any evidence that he was intoxicated or ‘impaired’ in any way. (And if he was drunk for instance, then it’s likely that his parents would have picked up on this over the phone).

The authorities received over seventy-five tips about Brandon, but none have borne any information that has led anywhere near to finding him. The last official search was conducted in October 2011, and age-progressed photos have also been distributed in the hope that somebody may recognise him.

 

The Theories

There have been a number of theories around what happened that night, with the most prevalent being that Brandon must have fallen into a river or creek – possibly the Yellow Medicine River – which is fifteen feet at its deepest point, and would have been running incredibly fast at the time he disappeared. The problem with this theory however, is that there would be some trace if he had fallen in, and so far nothing has been found at any point of the river.

A number of other theories have been considered, including the idea that Brandon might have hidden in an abandoned structure to escape the cold and then succumbed to hypothermia, or that he was attacked by an animal and taken away. Yet again, the main problem with these theories is that of evidence – or, more specifically, the big fat lack of it. If for instance he did hide in a structure, then surely it would’ve been found by now? Not to mention the fact that an animal attacking, fatally wounding and then dragging a person away would leave a huge amount of evidence behind.

Yet more theories are that Brandon was either hit by a car or picked up by an apparently helpful driver who turned out to have a malicious intent. These theories have major flaws, however; if a person has time to register danger, swear down the phone and then end a phone call, surely they would have time to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle? And if he was picked up by someone, surely he would tell his dad, who he was on the phone with at the time?

Also, if someone had just offered to give him a lift home, why would he swear at all ?

On the subject of the phone call, a huge question here is why the phone call was ended. If something dangerous was imminent, it seems unlikely that Brandon would actually hang up the phone. He would be more likely to drop the phone, and his parents would then hear anything that was going on (such as a struggle, or the whooshing of the river, or the impact of a car). But instead somebody pushed ‘end’ on the phone. As has been asked so many times in this case- why?

An answer might be that Brandon dropped the phone, causing the battery to fall out and so ending the call that way. However, Brandon’s dad said that after the call ended, he kept trying to call Brandon but that he wasn’t picking up the call, which means the phone was in working condition but not being answered.

 

No Trace

At time of writing – six years later – there is still no evidence or even a trace indicating what happened. In spite of all the searches using state of the art equipment and techniques, and all of the theories and hours of investigations and searches, we are still no closer to knowing what occurred that night, or where Brandon Swanson is now.

Just as with the case of Elisa Lam in Los Angeles, there seem to be more questions than answers.

Impossible as it may seem, a nineteen year old man seems to have – literally – disappeared without a trace.

Blue
Note: As a result of these events, a new law has been introduced. This requires police in Minnesota to begin immediate searches for missing adults under the age of 21, as well as any older adults who have been reported missing where there are suspicious circumstances.  It has been named Brandon’s Law.

Blue

For a limited time you can download my short story Killing Time absolutely FREE.

Click here to find out more