Hot off the presses! I recently managed to get my hands on Nightmare, the gripping new novel featuring private investigator Jack Nightingale – who fights the powers of Hell itself – by bestselling author Stephen Leather. Leather’s Nightingale novels should appeal to anyone with an interest in supernatural sleuths, since they follow in the great tradition of the classic occult detectives such as Hodgson’s Carnacki, Blackwood’s Silence and Le Fanu’s Hesselius, but updated for a modern audience. Although Leather is one of the UK’s top-selling thriller writers and the author of 23 novels, it was the character of Jack Nightingale which really shot him to author superstardom. Nightmare is the third novel in the Jack Nightingale series and follows Nightfall and Midnight, which were published in 2010/11. What particularly impresses me about Leather, however, is the fact that he started out as a self-published writer who became an e-publishing phenomenon after selling nearly 400,000 e-books online (Leather’s The Basement was the No. 3 bestseller in the Kindle store at the start of 2012). As such, Leather’s example should give hope to all aspiring writers out there, as well as establishing the credibility of e-book self-publishing as a way of breaking into the market.
In brief, Jack Nightingale was once a police officer who was haunted by his failure to prevent the suicide of a 9 year old girl whose father had been abusing her. His guilt concerning her death has somehow led her to communicate with him from beyond the grave. Nightingale feels sure that Sophie, the little girl, is trapped in eternal torment and appealing to him for help. As if that were not enough, Nightingale is also grappling with the creepy house that he inherited on his father’s death, where someone once tried to burn him alive. As the novel progresses, Nightingale finds himself facing the combined threat of his former colleagues in the police force, the gangs of South London and the powers of Hell itself in his quest to save the soul of a little girl – and his own in the process. Written with the panache and fine ear for dialogue that one might expect of an experienced novelist, Nightmare is a thrilling collision between the real and the occult, suffused with mysterious pentagrams, not to mention a creeping sense of evil that will leave you disturbed for days after you turn the final page.
Leather writes in a pacy, in-your-face style deliberately based upon the work of Jack Higgins and Gerald Seymour. If you’re encouraged by Nightmare to read any of his other books, you’ll find that they frequently include themes of crime, imprisonment and military service, as well as, of late, terrorism and the War on Terror. Leather’s settings are typically London and the Far East, which is hardly surprising given that he divides himself between the UK and Bangkok, Thailand. Two of his novels, The Stretch and The Bombmaker, were filmed for Sky Television and he has also written for TV shows such as The Knock, London’s Burning and the BBC’s Murder In Mind series. It took him a long time to break into the publishing market however, and it is something that he only managed because of his adaptability and never-say-die attitude. If one of his stories didn’t work as a book, he would try it as a screenplay, self-publish it or condense it into a short story and go for the magazine market. Any struggling writers out there could learn a lot from Leather, who in 2011 was the second bestselling UK author on the Kindle worldwide (beaten only by Lee Child). There really is some sense in the old saying – ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’!