Smart Moves by Adrian Magson #BookReview Q&A #BlogTour

For international trouble-shooter, Jake Foreman, losing his job, house and wife all in one day is the kind of problem he can’t solve. And when an impulsive move lands him in even deeper water - the kind that could lose him his life - he decides it’s time to make some smart decisions. 

The trouble is, knowing the right moves and making them is a whole different game. And Jake, who has been happily rubbing along in a job always suspected was just a shade away from being questionable, finds it all too easy to go with the flow. 

Now he’s got to start learning new tricks - and fast. If he doesn’t, he could end up dead.

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Smart Moves by Adrian Magson today. Many thanks to the author and Emily Glenister from The Dome Press for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel. You can read my review below but first I'm delighted to welcome Adrian Magson to Hair Past A Freckle. Adrian has very kindly answered a few questions for me.

Many of your books have been written as part of a series but Smart Moves is a standalone; how different is it writing a book which is a one-off?

Well, first of all, thank you for including me on the blog tour – and I’m delighted you enjoyed it.
A standalone (and this is my first, after 22 books) seems a bit like a no-return journey; since you don’t count on the characters coming back you have to resolve or at least leave hopeful the ending. A series novel can leave unresolved issues to be dealt with in a later book, but I felt I couldn’t do it with ‘Smart Moves’. As to the writing of it, I found it very liberating and great fun. It was like chucking a bunch of cupcakes in the air and seeing what came down where. (Not that I’ve ever done that…)

Smart Moves is a thriller but it’s also very witty. What would you say is the key to writing a crime book which features humour but is still exciting and believable?

Keeping a sense of balance. It’s tough changing from dark or thrilling to funny without losing something – especially for the reader. But in life there’s always humour, even in dark moments, so I think we’re conditioned to accept that kind of switch. I wasn’t aiming at laugh-out-loud moments, so I hope the balance is there.

Jake ends up travelling around a fair bit in the book, what sort of research did you have to do to ensure the authenticity of the different locations?

I’ve travelled a lot over the years, so I have a reasonable knowledge of various parts of the world.  It’s a good thing, really, as I like to use real locations in my books wherever I can, for a sense of authenticity. That’s not to show off my knowledge or the extent of my travels, but because it helps me write about those places. And anything which makes the job of writing easier is a bonus. Of course, for specific details of places that might have changed (or that I’ve forgotten), there’s always Google Maps and Street View!

At the start of Smart Moves, Jake has been content to take the money and not rock the boat, despite suspecting his job is slightly unethical. When his life is thrown into sudden disarray he doesn’t opt for a simpler life and his antics mean he definitely isn’t on the right side of the law -  but we’re still rooting for him. What’s the secret to writing a character who we hope gets away with it?

I’m glad you were rooting for him! Making him halfway likeable is a major factor. It’s easier to root for someone you kind of sympathise with or who doesn’t seem a bad person. (Although there are villains in many books that you can sympathise with – or even like, too). 
You’re absolutely correct in that Jake has been a little blinkered in the past, happy not to ask questions about his job, until it all goes belly-up on him. Which is when he has to start getting himself together again. Of course, being Jake he doesn’t do it overnight, so he’s bound to step in a puddle here and there. But it’s the journey that’s important. 
And maybe it’s because I wrote the story from Jake’s perspective that gets you inside his head a little that makes the difference. I hope so, anyway.

Jake decides he needs to try some smart moves for a change but his plans don’t exactly work out as he expected... Did you meticulously plan the plot for Smart Moves or did you see where the story took you? Do you follow a similar method for all the books you write?

You’re asking if I’m a pantser or a plotter, aren’t you? 😊 (Yes, I am!) Definitely the former and always have been. I didn’t have a clear plan but went where instinct took me. As I said above, I figured someone like Jake wouldn’t change overnight and he had to make a few mistakes, which was more human, I think. I kept asking myself what would he do next, bearing in mind his past behaviour, his friends, enemies and the outside influences he was bound to come up against. 
It’s the same with all my books: I sometimes begin with an opening and nothing else; sometimes an ending… and equally nothing; and often have bits and pieces which could be anywhere in the final book. I have tried planning before but invariably go off-piste very quickly.

You’ve had several books published now, do you still feel nervous waiting for the early reviews?

Absolutely. Everyone wants approval, and I’m no different. Sad but true. The simple fact is, I want to do a good job every time and not disappoint anyone. 

What do you have planned next for us, another standalone or a return to an old favourite?

Well, an old favourite for me, at least. Another Insp Lucas Rocco book is already with the publishers and will be out next year. I’m currently working on a couple of ideas, but I can’t mention them yet in case my early thoughts don’t work out. Me, superstitious?

Which authors most influenced your writing?

It goes back a long way (as do I, to be fair). I got hooked on ‘The Saint’ novels by Leslie Charteris when I was about eight, and westerns by Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey (my father’s favourites). Then I morphed into reading Mickey Spillane and Hank Janson (really hard-core by comparison for a ten-year-old, especially the covers), and found myself wanting to do what they all did – which was write for a living. The list is too long to go into here, but one author who really stands out for storytelling and humour is Leslie Thomas (The Magic Army, Virgin Soldiers, Midnight and Loving, etc). There are many others.

What underrated or lesser known book would you recommend?

I’m not sure it was under-rated but I must recommend the above ‘Magic Army’ by Leslie Thomas. (I’ve just checked and it’s still available). It’s a novel about the arrival of the American army on the Devon coast during the war before D-Day, and the effects on the local community. I know people who have shed a tear reading this (very real event, as it happens), and there’s a poem in the book which, when I read it years ago, made me choke. I wish I had his skill in story-telling. If you get a chance, do read it – it’s amazing.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently and what are you currently reading (if anything)?

One which made a deep impression is a thriller by Peter Hannington called ‘A Dying Breed’, set in Afghanistan and Whitehall. Another is ‘Red Sparrow’ by Jason Matthews. I’m currently reading (for review purposes)’All the Hidden Truths’ by Claire Askew, which is out this month – and is really hooking me.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Adrian, I really appreciate it and I'm thrilled to hear that Rocco will be back next year!

There are some books where the narrator has such a presence that I'm hooked from the word go and Jake Foreman definitely falls into this category. The story opens with Jake losing his job and I was immediately intrigued by his description of the work he'd done as a project supervisor. Jake himself admits it was work that might be regarded in some parts of the world as slightly unethical and  realised over the three years that he held the position that the only real requirement was not to ask too many questions; 'Don't ask, don't nose, don't look.' His bad day deteriorates further when he arrives home to discover his wife is out and he doesn't have a key. He peers through the kitchen window and describes it as being, 'Bare as a badger's eyeball.' He assumes they've been burgled but his nosy neighbour, Doris gleefully informs him that Susan has gone and he eventually realises she has left him. His fractious state of mind leads to him being arrested when the police turn up after the burglar alarm goes off and the misery is really piled still further on poor Jake when he returns to find squatters have moved in, believing it to be an unoccupied property.
Jake resolves to make some smart moves and at first things seem to be looking up for him; he has an enjoyable and memorable time at a party and then accepts a new position as a courier for high-value items although he suspects there is something decidedly dodgy about the job. His first few assignments make it clear that what he is doing isn't perhaps strictly above board but go smoothly enough,  however, Jake is one of those characters who seem to invite trouble and so when the encounter at a party results in potentially painful consequences  he believes accepting a trip to North Carolina may help put some distance between him and his pursuer. He is very wrong though and what up to now has been a book in which the potential for menace has mostly been hinted at becomes a high-octane thriller as he ends up mixed up in a very dangerous business and finds himself on the run from the law. Jake is a very likeable man, the rapport he strikes up with his squatters is testament to this and so it isn't a surprise that despite being pursued by law enforcement officers, we want him to get away with it. He is helped by Lilly-Mae but she has been living with a villain and it would seem that becoming involved with her will only result in more trouble. He can't resist the chemistry and thank goodness he doesn't because she is a fabulous character and the rapport between them is just wonderful.
Smart Moves is a gripping and immensely entertaining novel with superb characterisation. Jake is a relatable everyman and so while the situations he finds himself in may be extraordinary, his responses are understandable. The various locations are all vividly described and help create a fast-paced story which feels authentic and contemporary. I can't help wondering if Jake will find himself in more trouble in the future but if not then I can confirm that Adrian Magson writes standalones as successfully as he writes series and if we do leave Jake here then it's a perfect conclusion to a truly enjoyable story.

Smart Moves is published by The Dome Press and can be purchased here. Don't miss the rest of the  blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Hailed by the Daily Mail as “a classic crime star in the making”, Adrian had written 21 crime and spy thriller books based around:
Gavin & Palmer (investigative reporter Riley Gavin and ex-military policeman Frank Palmer; Harry Tate, ex-soldier and MI5 officer; Inspector Lucas; Marc Portman (The Watchman); investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik.
Adrian also has hundreds of short stories and articles in national and international magazines to his name, plus a non-fiction work: Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book (Accent Press).
Adrian lives in the Forest of Dean and rumours that he is building a nuclear bunker are unfounded. It’s a bird’s table.
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