AUGUST SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fatal Sunset’ by Jason Webster

In the hills above Valencia is a notorious nightclub called Sunset. When its larger-than-life owner, Jose Luis, dies suddenly, everyone assumes it was a heart attack. Perfectly understandable for a man of his age, size and lifestyle.

Meanwhile, all is not well for Max Cámara at HQ. His new boss, Rita Hernández, has it in for him and his idiosyncratic methods. He must abandon a complex investigation into home-grown extremism to check out what looks like a routine death at Sunset. But an anonymous phone call suggests otherwise…

Back in the city, Max’s journalist girlfriend, Alicia, is working on a lead that could turn out to be the story of her career. How her own investigation connects with Max’s at Sunset, and an unholy network of drug dealers, priests and shady officials protecting a dark government secret, will place both their lives in jeopardy and push everything to the very edge.

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(Before I begin – I make no apology for being MIA with Spain book reviews. I didn’t see anything I wanted to read for months. Admittedly, I didn’t look too hard. If I missed something worth reading, leave me a comment)

What can I say about Max Cámara. Fatal Sunset is the sixth book in the series (I’ve reviewed the others here) and the author has decided to really mix things up this time. Fatal Sunset is longer than the previous books, which is a nice bonus, taking in a far bigger plot than in the past. 

Cámara is a Valencian cop who was in Barcelona during the last book, another was based in Albacete. This time he is back in his home city, and out in the Sierra Calderona, the mountains outside Spain, aka my favourite place on Earth and the location of three of my own books, so I was thrilled to get into this novel.

The book starts off from the point of view of the victim, and gets weird fast. Page 2 has the guy reminiscing about his childhood, watching water run along the insides of his mother’s thighs as she washes her ‘down there’ (dude! wtf). But it’s okay, because he’s a victim and is dispatched.

Off to Max Cámara himself, back at the station in Valencia, and wow, he is a changed man. Cámara used to be a likeable, pragmatic rogue, breaking all the rules (in a city/country which was so riddled it didn’t matter). But that guy seems to have withered with age. The world is changing, and at least attempting to clean house, and the women now in charge of the station want everything done properly, not rude, not disrespectful, not wasteful or illegal. Only Cámara doesn’t agree. Cámara seems to go out of his way to be difficult right from the very beginning. He’s handled some high profiles cases in the past and now has developed one hell of an ego. Congrats to the author; it would have easy to just pump out another book with the same old character traits, but Webster hasn’t taken the easy route or written a flawless character.

Cámara likes to continuously point out that he comes from a long line of anarchists, like his wonderful grandfather, and how he likes the disorder and defiance that comes with being an anarchist. Only it doesn’t work for Cámara anymore. He is middle-aged; what he learned as a kid, and was influenced by family, isn’t so important, for now he has had plenty of time to develop his own ideals; he could be a grandfather himself. Cámara isn’t aspiring to be a good anarchist to make granddaddy proud, rather he is a breed of man, breed of cop, which is dying out, and he is rebelling against everything, like an angry kid.

Fatal Sunset bounces between characters for its point of view with every chapter, with enough characters to rival a Games of Thrones book. There is Alicia, Cámara’s girlfriend (girlfriend? She’s middle-aged too. Sidekick maybe), who is, as usual, digging up conspiracies and stories but seems to achieve little, which is a shame.  As Cámara and Alicia works to solve murders and unearth conspiracies, they never work together that well. We get to hear about how she makes breakfast half-naked, or the way her thighs wrinkle when she puts on pants, but Alicia is not a strong character anymore. She has also undergone a transformation, much like Cámara; failure to adapt has also left Alicia misplaced in the world.

However, there is Carlos, the ‘bad guy’, who is digging up stuff on Alicia, and Cámara by association. Carlos is a stiff, self-inflated guy, but the trouble is, he is better at what he does than Cámara and Alicia. The ‘bad guys’ are ruthlessly efficient, where as Cámara is an old-style detective in a new world and seems to succeed with luck as much as with experience.

But the whole theme of old v. new shines through in the short-burst chapters which flick between characters. There is no denying that policing (and the world) is changing around Cámara; the days of sitting around eating paella with his buddy Torres are done. The seedy elements of Valencia, and Spain in general, gives a feeling that the place is as stale as the endless cigarettes. Webster has done a fine job in setting the tone and the vibe of everyone and everything. It’s hard to be specific without giving away the big scandals Cámara and Alicia find (no spoilers here!) but there is a sense that if Cámara didn’t spend so much thinking about himself and how he liked to be different, he could have been more successful. Sometimes it is easier to bring something down by playing by your opponent’s rules rather than your own. Cámara never really figures that out, or at least, never gives it a try. Webster has made a character you want to see succeed, but also want to ring his sweaty neck. Kudos on that score.

There was one passage that stuck out for me, pg 193

Either side of the bag strap, her breasts hung low on her chest, nipples splayed to the sides. Below, her belly was taut and firm, yet the skin sagged in small crescents beneath the navel, where he first airs of her pubis crept up, heralds of the dark silhouetted triangle of her sex. Cámara watched in awe. But for her age, and the signs of motherhood, she appeared like an embodiment of Artemis, the Moon goddess herself out hunting during the hours of night.

And this is just a sliver of the long description of the character. Really, Cámara, really? The characters in the book are all barely described, yet here Cámara is, in the countryside perving on women who run their land nudist-colony style. She could look like a goddess if only she didn’t have qualities that make women real, like age and being a parent? Really, Cámara? The constant descriptions of women as objects makes me feel uncomfortable while I read. I used to like you, Cámara, but you are practically ageing yourself out of the system with the sexism and casual homophobia. Women’s bodies are decorative features to be described for entertainment, and there are people who use words like ‘poof’, as if they were shot out of a cannon in the 50’s and landed in the 21st century by accident. Cámara is circling around a world that needs to change, whether people like it or not. The criminals are evolving, still scum, but evolving. Cámara needs to as well. Both he and Alicia are essentially good people, but this time have not done a great job with their investigations or behaviour.

Congratulations to Jason Webster for his latest installment; six novels based on one central character is no easy feat for a writer, and Webster has successfully moved the character into a new stage in his life in Fatal Sunset, rather than just churning out a book which could have just coasted on the success of previous editions. Thank you, Jason; I have not had a book in my hands that had me turning the pages this fast in a while, or thrown it in frustration at times. This book is certainly not a boring read.

If we see Cámara and Alicia for book seven, I hope they get a holiday first! Cámara needs to chill and eat rice again, but ease up on the marijuana – really, at your age, Max? Just don’t ever leave Alicia behind; a crime character with a steady relationship is rare (no rolling through women like he’s at a drive-thru for Max), and one main reason that sets Webster’s series apart from the generic crime series that are available. I have no interest in reading any crime series other than Webster’s.

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Forget Words: It’s Numbers That Can Really Hurt You

Everyone is addicted to something – from the destructive to the sublime, we’re all hooked. You may dabble in the dark arts of alcohol or drugs, or the frivolous such as shoes or cupcakes. But many new addictions are internet based; just think of all those stupid game requests you get on Facebook. They must be popular, or would cease to exist. (Don’t ask me to name any, the ‘block’ function and I are tight).

Words – they can hurt, there’s no doubt. But now, so do numbers, because when used on the internet, they can hold far more validation than ever thought possible. Sure, your bank balance has had the power to inflate or deflate your ego since your first account opened, but numbers have taken on new meaning.

It’s an easy game to play. It can start simple; be part of a forum or FB group. Make comment/post and watch the numbers. How many people saw it? How many people commented? Sure, it may not matter. But sometimes, it can. Who is commenting, what are they saying, why are they saying it? How many people read what I had to say? But then, the important question – why does it suddenly matter?

For some people, it really matters. How many people are clicking on your website can be the difference between interacting with clients and making meaningful connections and income, or being out in Internet Siberia. For those who need those interactions as part of business, it’s a job to maintain contact and keep the numbers growing.

What if you don’t have that relationship with numbers? What if you write on your blogs/forum/group purely for the interaction with others, or purely so you have an outlet for your voice? Does it really matter how many people read what you wanted to share? No, it doesn’t. And yet, it’s so easy to become infatuated with the numbers, just like you did when you worried how many people would come to your birthday party as a kid. Writers (whether they admit it or not) are going to check their Amazon rating sometimes. Where are they ranked? How many books have been sold? And, in a hurtful turn, what the numbers of their ‘friends’ are.

I released a new book this week. Did I check the numbers? Hell yes, I did! In an unpleasant twist, something in my personal life arose and my opportunity to play the numbers game has been stripped back, along with my ability to promote the book. I consider this a good thing. Why? Apart from the vanity aspect of checking my own sales, the numbers game has no happy ending. What is the ‘desirable’ number of sales? And in what amount of time? I don’t have a set number of books I want to sell, a certain amount of money I need to make. This is my love, not my income. I learned from my previous two releases that there is no magic number of sales – at 100, 1000, 10000+ sales, the feeling of success did not increase. Also, no number of sales will ever impress anyone (because the reality is, unless you write and sell books, you won’t understand the whole process and reality of the industry. I’m not saying you are thick, it’s just one of those ‘learn as you experience it’ situations).

Then there is another number – book reviews. Be it Amazon, Goodreads, whatever, the number holds far more power than it should. In a day, a writer could receive five glowing reviews, which raises a smile, an ego stroke. They can then also receive a bad review, and that ONE will reduce them to a mess. Don’t say it doesn’t. Sure, it gets easier over time, but the initiation of receiving that solitary number can hold power. Why? Validation, or lack thereof, I suppose. After working your ass off for a year, not just with a storyline, but with the shitty ‘rules’ of the English language, having someone tell you that you suck dog’s balls isn’t pleasant. (That hasn’t actually happened to me, but the fear constantly looms.) That’s another reality of writing – you bleed your soul onto pages and let people take shots at you. Naked marathon running would be more private. A constant reply for this pain is – ‘you can’t please everyone’. It’s true, but doesn’t help at all. It just doesn’t.

I’m tired of the numbers game. I refused to give numbers power at the beginning of the writing process, and refuse to let others hurt me with their games. It is entirely possible to avoid the numbers game, and many people do. I gave up forum posting years ago, when ‘why does your stuff gets more views/comments than mine’ mind-games with users wore me down. My blogging and online fiction websites manage to hold their own, and their numbers are private. Judge me not! The fact the content is entirely written by me, and/or about my work brings tremendous happiness, regardless of the numbers. There is no pressure (other than to blog more, sorry about being useless recently). I noticed a friend published her blog stats not long ago, it was about 30 individual hits a day, and she was pleased. I said – congrats! Why? Her post spoke of happiness, and a lack of expecting 300, 3000 or 30000 hits a day. But will it stay that way? It’s easy to get addicted to popularity; humans have been doing it since one caveman had more artistic flair on the cave walls than the rest of the clan.

What’s the point here? I’ll tell you. If you are feeling empowered by the numbers that your work generates, it can be dangerous. If the game is hurting you, then you have the exact same problem. Too much emphasis is being put on numbers, and if your happiness is dependent/conditional on anything, then it will never be real happiness. It will be finite, given to you by people who are essentially strangers, and it could all disappear in a flash. If it’s hurting you, then run. I have just released a book where I threw out the ‘rules’ and made myself happy. The numbers can’t tell me I was wrong to do that, because this time, I’m actually happy with my work, and proud of that fact. Numbers can’t take that away. But, of course, I am appreciative to everyone who has been purchasing lately.

I shall now go back to writing about digging up historical graves in Valencia, and enjoy it, regardless of how many people eventually read it.

READ MY BOOK

READ MY BOOK

READ MY BOOK

PLEEEEEEEASE!

(I’m kidding, I couldn’t resist)

No feelings will be harmed by the comments or views of this post

Ten Things I Learned About Writing

Yes, I do actually do things other than try recipes, or write about visiting Spain. Here are my ten very unscientific tips for writing, written in my slightly rant-like prose, complete with gifs.

1) It’s okay to write for women

When I started writing, I must admit that I didn’t think about my target audience. I started simply writing for whoever wanted to read free stuff on the internet. As it turned out, my site filled with free reads had 3247 subscribers, all of them women. When I then went out and wrote Nights, all my readers and reviewers (that I know of) were women. I didn’t care in the least. Then, I wrote BITVS, and men started to read my work, and they didn’t always like it. It was ‘girly’, too ‘feminine’, too ‘geared towards what a woman would do’. (Disclaimer – not all men thought these things.) Duh, many of the characters are women! The main characters are women. I am a woman, so yes, how a woman would react to a situation is relevant. I had this discussion with a lot of people and they gave varying answers, from ‘don’t worry about it’, to ‘you alienate male readers who want to read about the subject’. It did cause me to doubt my work. But my husband, the world’s most relaxed person, said, ‘you’re a woman. Women like what you write. Women make up half the world’s population and buy a lot of books. If you write for women, then it sounds like you’re winning’. So, I’m going with that. Men are welcome to read my writing but if my work seems geared towards women, so be it. Women like to read and like lead female characters who have brains.

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2) I write about love… because the subject can still be explored

I make no apologies for writing about love. I write about war, and death, and violence, and drugs, and pain… and love. Everyone wants to be loved, have love, make love. Love comes in so many varieties. Someone blasted my work, saying it was boring to have characters besotted with one another. Hello! Of course they are besotted, they just met. Two people in a new relationship are going to be besotted; they aren’t looking for the commitment/companion type of love that a couple of 50 years have. If you have yet to experience love that makes you feel bewitched, you haven’t lived. The love that comes from a solid relationship is wonderful, it’s intimate, trustworthy, steady and reliable. But no one starts out with that; love starts out as a rollercoaster that leaves you feeling shaken. I write about all forms of love, from male and female points of view, and if you find love boring, you’re simply expressing it and receiving incorrectly.

Dave

3) People asking questions always sucks because nothing is ever good enough

This theory could be applied anywhere in life. When you are writing, people want to know when the book will be done, what it’s about, etc, etc. Then you publish, and the questions instantly go to what you will be doing next. The initial book is already forgotten, because ‘more’ is always needed. It’s like being in a relationship, and the questioning about marriage comes up. As soon as you’re married, the questions about having kids starts instead. What comes after that? No one asks if you’re going to be getting a divorce. With writing, there is no limit, so people keep asking about more books, making more money and having your worked adapted for the big screen. “You’re published… but how many have you sold?”  That question annoys me. What number is ‘good enough’? Nothing seems to be good enough, not at the first 100, the first 1000, or the first 5000… you get the idea. The pressure never seems to end. It’s important to remember what your own goals were and if you achieved them.

4) Friends won’t necessarily support what you write

I never expected every person I know to bankroll my writing success. Never. But there are two things to remember –

a) Some people don’t like to read, or don’t like to read the genre you write. Don’t feel bad that they have no interest in your work other than a polite congratulations. I understood this from the beginning, however, I can see how others could feel offended by people who had no intention to hurt them.

b) Beware of false friends. Writing a book can attract others who have similar ideas. Writing friends can be eager to know what you’re doing and praise you and your efforts, but they could be lying. People lie, everywhere, every day. I had a ‘friend’ whose constant criticism knew no bounds. Her own writing became stuck in a wasteland and she seemed truly offended when I made an attempt to publish. She has done nothing but criticise every single thing I have written since. The world has enough nastiness on its own  – don’t give time and air to people who are jealous and ruin the writing that makes you happy.

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5) Being defensive is part of the job

The last point brings me to the next point – criticism. It’s everywhere. The internet is filled with trolls who have no concept of the hurt they spread. While criticising writing is small compared with some of the stupid, ignorant and misogynistic material available in the world, it still hurts. You can’t please everyone. Everyone knows and accepts this, but still, criticism hurts. A lot. Every. Time. You. Receive. It. No matter how many times you tell yourself it’s inevitable, and no matter how many times people tell you forget it, you don’t. You can’t. It’s natural. Everyone gets bothered by negativity, and that makes you human, especially when you have poured your heart and soul into something, and sacrificed things to do the best you can. You’re not perfect, and the person who is (virtually) wiping their ass with your work isn’t perfect either. It’s okay to feel hurt. Will it help you write in the future? Probably not, it will probably whisper in your ear and make you feel insecure with your next book. Constructive criticism comes with proven tips; but most criticism is just drivel that should, but can’t be, forgotten. Write anyway.

AND IF YOU WRITE DIALOGUE IN A WAY THAT ISN’T “THE QUEEN’S GODDAMN PERFECT ENGLISH”, IN ORDER TO MAKE IT SOUND REALISTIC, GOOD FOR YOU. SCREW PEOPLE WHO PICK ON YOUR CHOICES.

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6) Planning can be useful and pointless

A story needs a plan, otherwise it veers off in any old direction and you end up with chapters that don’t let the story flow. That is writing 101. However, it’s the planning of time that I found to be useless. My time to write is at a premium; I don’t have designated time, or have much time on my hands. Writing is not my ‘day job’. What I have done is try to scratch out a schedule that includes writing time, and to set myself deadlines for my work. This only ever made things harder. I may schedule in 10am – 2pm to write, but what if I have no inspiration to do so? I know, you must sit and write, just keep going and force yourself to do the work. I disagree. If I don’t feel like it, I just don’t write. If something comes to me at 11pm, then I will sit down and write it. Waiting for a right moment usually gets me ten pages written in record time, and the ‘scheduled’ time can often leave me with a few paragraphs. If I write nothing for two weeks and then complete 20 pages in one sitting, then I’m happy. It always works out. The stories get written and the books get finished on time.

7) Writers block is far more dangerous than I thought

I have never suffered ‘writers block’. I assumed it was a myth made up by people who can’t write what they want. Why are you stuck? I kept asking. Stories just pour out when I sit down and write… until recently. With multiple projects going on, I began to worry about how one book flew out at a cracking pace, and another stopped dead in the water. So much so, that I read back through what had been written, and I hated it. Uh oh, has the magical writers block hit? Nope. The problem is, I have lost my passion for the subject, and that was the main inspiration for getting the project completed. I have decided to just let it go – either it will return to me when it’s ready, or it won’t. I could force out chapters, but they will be terrible. Instead, my other project races ahead and I’m happy with the product. I may have writers block, but it stems from lack of passion on the subject, and for me, that is very serious. If I simply had a lack of motivation to write, I would be happy.

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8) Publishing isn’t always fun

Writing is fun, editing is fun (most of the time), having a book with your name on it, out on sale and going well is fun. People so often ask where my ideas come from, and it’s an answer that I have well-rehearsed. The thing is, coming up with storylines is the easiest part. There is the process of getting it written, getting it edited and having the layout done and the cover made to get through. Then the worst part – promotion. The market is flooded with books and every genre has so much to choose from. You have promote your book and yourself all the time. I have one author on my Twitter and Facebook pages who is a master of promos, if being the master meant throwing the book in everyone’s face several times a day. I wish him and his book well, but there is more than just pushing your book to your friends via social media each day. I wish it was that easy. I would like to disappear from the world and get writing, but there is a certain amount of interaction with readers and future purchasers that needs to be done. People want to talk, read, review and talk again. Sites need details and updates. I like it and I feel happy when people come to me, I do. Please, don’t stop! But writing is the easy part of the process when compared to book promotion.

9) Mistakes happen

Do they? Hell yes, they do! You only have to look at my first edition of Nights to figure that out. The thing was ripped to shreds in the editing process and I ended up with a book I wasn’t totally happy with, and  I regret that. Once the next edition came out in Dec. 2012, I felt at peace with it. Now I can move on. I have done my best and not sit and think of books out in the world that I’m not totally proud of. Another writer recently said that she felt the same but didn’t have the will to go back, re-write/re-edit the book and improve the product. We all have to live with our mistakes. I accept all my mistakes, and I shouldn’t dwell on them, since there are other people out there all too ready to point them out. Mistakes are food for trolls, and they smell it from miles away.

10) I will never be an expert

I have two books on the market, so do I know what I’m doing? No! I don’t know if the ‘I can do this’ moment will ever come to me. I will continue to write the way I do, in my ‘kiwi’ English instead of proper British English or with a book full of Americanisms. I am who I am. Some people love it. Some people moan that I write footpath when it should be a sidewalk (not where I’m from, and none of my books are based in the States!). My characters will talk the way I think they should, based on who they are, where they are, and what they’re doing. After all, 99% of people don’t care either way. I write because I enjoy it, and if my style and subjects are an acquired taste, so be it.

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See ya!

PS – this blog is not a democracy; hate messages get deleted (unless I feel like running your hate posts just so others can laugh at you)

Caroline Angus Baker on ‘Talk Radio Europe’

On Thursday 13 December, I was fortunate enough to do an interview on Talk Radio Europe’s ‘The Book Show’ with Hannah Murray. We spoke about my latest novel, Blood in the Valencian Soil, and a bit about me and my life. It is now on youtube, if you would like to listen again. The interview will be repeated on talkradioeurope.com on Sunday 16 December, at 10am, and is available on the On Demand section on their website for seven days.

A special thank you to Hannah Murray for taking time to call me, and to Rod Younger from Books4Spain for introducing me to Hannah 🙂

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Click here to purchase – Blood in the Valencian Soil – Paperback, Kindle and all E-readers

Click here to read more about BITVS – Blood in the Valencian Soil – Q&A with the author

Click here to read more about the author – Caroline Angus Baker

Click here to see Spain in photographs – scenes from ‘Blood in the Valencian Soil’

Click here to learn more about Night Wants to Forget 2012 edition