Friday, 15 September 2017

Lines of Justice: Aždaja - Lee Sherred - Review and author Q & A

Lines of Justice: Aždaja is the debut novel from Lee Sherred. I first became aware of this author when he joined a Facebook group called Book Connectors and posted a link to his book, describing it as a 'realistic, dark crime thriller' so naturally I clicked the link to find out more. After reading the blurb I was intrigued:

Bound by honour. Driven by revenge. Two men with a score to settle.

Kosovo, 1999:

Sgt Dean Samson and his team of British soldiers are well aware of the dangers they’ll face and the things they’ll see in a country that has suffered years of oppression and ethnic cleansing. But nothing could have prepared them for Aždaja, a sadistic, mythical, serial killer with a penchant for vile humiliation and unimaginable torture.

Present day:

Since leaving the Army, Samson now a Police Officer, has struggled to erase his darkest memories of Kosovo. When he receives a devastating medical diagnosis, his nightmares come flooding to the surface, forcing him to face up to what he did….and what he didn’t do. With nothing to lose and no one to stop him, he's at a crossroads. But is he prepared for what lies in wait? Will the horrors of Kosovo return with a vengeance?

I downloaded a sample and the next night I read it and then headed straight back to buy the book the next day!

First things first, this is definitely not a book for you if you're squeamish! The prologue is one of the most shocking/horrific/distressing/sickening/stomach churning (delete where applicable) openings to a book that I think I've ever read. That said, it's not gratuitous violence, it's in keeping with the story and its relevance became clear as I read on.

When Sergeant Samson and his team were in Kosovo they crossed paths with a man calling himself Aždaja and he's someone that Sam hoped to never encounter again.

Fast forward several years and Samson is now with the police force when he hears about some grisly murders. While there's unfortunately nothing unusual about that, he's disturbed to find out that the victims are some of his ex-army buddies who also witnessed the appalling acts of Aždaja. Surely he's jumping to conclusions and this guy is safely locked up somewhere back In Kosovo.

When he finds out the manner in which his friends were killed, the floodgates open and he begins having chilling nightmares that take him straight back to his army days and an encounter that he had tried so desperately to forget. Unable to put this out of his mind and with a life changing illness hanging over him Samson decides to take matters into his own hands, after all, what has he got to lose?

 Lines of Justice: Aždaja is an impressive debut novel and one that definitely packs a punch in more ways than one. Knowing that Lee Sherred had been in the army and the police force before I started reading his book, I suspected that it was going to be a difficult read (for the subject matter not the words themselves) and I was right, which is why I said at the beginning of my review that it's not a book for you if you're squeamish. This is a fast paced thriller that had me reading through my fingers and curling my toes at the same time! Knowing that there are real people like this out in the world who will stop at nothing to punish others that they feel have done wrong is a very scary and sobering thought. I think that Lee has got a bright future ahead of him as a writer and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes their books dark, gritty and jam-packed with realism.

I've been chatting to Lee over the last few weeks and I'm delighted to tell you that I've managed to persuade him to stop by today and answer some questions.

Photo courtesy of Lee Sherred

Hello Lee and welcome to The Hippo.
Hi Neats, thanks for inviting me. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Yes, unfortunately I don't have any formal writing qualifications or background, having not been the most 'attentive' pupil at school shall we say! It's been a steep learning curve for me. I started boxing and training in a number of martial arts in my early teens which led to working as a door supervisor at a number of the less salubrious night clubs before I was even old enough to legally be in there. While working one evening there was an unfortunate incident which lead to a bit of a run in with the police. This was the mental slap I needed to sort myself out so, shortly after that, I joined the British Army and it actually really straightened me out. After a number of years, where I spent a considerable amount of time on operational tours in various Balkan states, I left and joined the police. During my police career I've held positions in many covert and specialist roles. 

You’ve been a soldier, a police officer and a competitive fighter. What made you decide to write a book?
I've always been an avid reader and, for many years now, I've tentatively considered writing. I even started on a couple of occasions but, due to work commitments, didn't get very far before putting it aside. Unluckily, or luckily depending on how you look at it, I was injured quite badly at work at the beginning of last year which suddenly cleared my schedule. All of a sudden I went from being very busy to sitting around twiddling my thumbs so, in an attempt to keep my mind active, I dived full on into my writing, now absent of any excuses to put it off. 

Can you describe how your book took shape and how long it took you to write it?
Lines of Justice: Aždaja is the first in a series and it's my first (self) published book. From start to finish it probably took a little over a year to complete. Without giving too much of the plot away, many police officers joke about what they might do IF they are ever stricken by a terminal illness. Obviously it's all harmless banter but a few years ago a good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and was in a very bad way. I remember having a conversation with him shortly after his first bout of chemo. He told me that his only goal was to survive long enough to see his son born (his wife was pregnant at the time). Unfortunately his doctors were very sceptical that they could successfully treat his type of cancer. That really hit home with me and got me thinking. How would I cope in his place, suddenly given the knowledge that my life had a very short best before date? He was lucky. Before being diagnosed he'd been a very fit and motivated guy so they were able to hit him with some seriously hardcore treatment, the effects of which were absolutely horrendous...but it worked. His son is now four and, other than a bit of a scare which required another course of horrible treatment 'just in case,' my friend is doing very well.   

How would you describe Lines of Justice: Aždaja to entice someone to read it?
Hmm...realistic maybe? A bit different to the norm perhaps? Although I don't have the writing pedigree of many authors out there I do posses something many of them don't...a wealth of first hand knowledge and experiences in the fields that I write about, especially useful when describing the grittier scenes. A lot of the modern crime and psychological thrillers are great and entertaining fictional stories, and I thoroughly enjoy reading them myself, but, many of the big, bestselling authors have very little actual knowledge of the mindset of today's emergency services or how a police investigation actually works in reality. This is definitely not meant as a criticism, far from it, but I like to think that I can bring an element of the missing realism to the table in my books. 

Lines of Justice is very graphic in parts, especially the prologue, and I believe that a lot of these scenes by your own personal experiences. This must have been an horrific time for you, so how difficult was it to revisit these experiences and write your book?
Funnily enough it was actually harder than I'd imagined. I've always been one of the luckier ones, able to ignore the nastier stuff and get on with the job at hand, put it behind me and move on pretty quickly. As I wrote, I began searching my deeper memories for inspiration and dug up things that I'd obviously buried deep down. Again, without giving too much away, a lot of the more graphic things featured in the book, especially in the epilogue, are inspired by actual events. As I typed I started to re-live them, recalling minute details that I hadn't even noticed at the time. It's funny how the brain works, it was almost as if I was looking at one of those Virtual Reality 360 degree tours of my mind...very strange. Soldiers and emergency services deal with the most horrendous things on a regular basis, which I think some readers may possibly forget. Reality is often a lot worse than fiction. I don't really ever talk of the nastier things I've seen or done, they don't exactly make a good dinner time conversation, so it was a little strange to pour all this stuff out in a book for all to see. It was actually quite hard work to write in places!

The name Aždaja is just one of many figures in Serbian Mythology. What made you choose this dragon-like monster over the others to feature in your book?
The Balkans have a very rich and interesting history filled with great mythology and folklore. I remember hearing stories about the Aždaja, a creature of pure unadulterated evil, years ago and it has been in the back of my mind to use that in a book ever since. The age old battle between good and evil...with a bit of a twist. Aždaja was always going to be the first in a series of dark thrillers that are very loosely based around the mythological creature.  

Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know?
Ha ha, if I said no then I would be lying! A good bit of advice I received years ago was to 'write what you know.' The main character must have more of me written into him than I'd meant because friends and family who have read the book identified me in him straight away. Some even mentioned that they pictured me when reading the book. He was never meant to be me, he's just a fictional character. Some of the other characters are based roughly around people I know or have met with distinctive traits or mannerisms I found interesting that I could use, others are completely made up. As with most police officers we tend to be people watchers, we can't help it. I think that helped me when considering character descriptions.   

Who are your favourite authors and which book do you wish you’d written and why?
That's a tough question, my fictional reading tastes are pretty varied. I'm currently into Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles but I'm also a fan of Tom Clancy, Conn Iggulden, Thomas Harris
Hmm, which book do I wish I'd written? That's a tough one but I'm going to go with The Man In The White Suite by Ben Collins. If I'd written that then it would've meant that I was the Stig on Top Gear...and that would have been pretty cool! Ha ha. On a serious note, I wish I'd come up with the idea for Cornwell's character Richard Sharpe. I think he's a really great character. I love how the author has taken an orphan from the lowest walks of life and thrown him, awkwardly, into the highest ranks of society during a period in our history where that would've been unheard of. It gives the author an unlimited amount of options to twist into his tales.  

Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell us about?
Yes, I'm currently working on the next in the Lines of Justice series which follows on from where Aždaja left off. I haven't decided on name yet and don't want to say too much because I'm still in the preliminary draft stages but it's obviously also going to be quite a dark, realistic, psychological thriller that again gently hints at the Serbian folklore stories of Aždaja (evil) and Zmaj (good...ish).

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers?
Only thanks for reading my book and I hope you enjoy the next one. Is it OK to use this blog to raise awareness? I'd just really like to just say, if you have family or friends in the military or emergency services, then please just keep in mind that if they don't want to talk about their day then there may be a very good reason for that. I'm always open to feedback, good or bad, because this is all a learning experience for me. If you've read Aždaja then I'd be grateful if you leave me a review. Thanks for looking.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions today Lee and I wish you lots of luck with Lines of Justice: Aždaja
You're welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

You can find out more about Lee by using the links below:


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