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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Reviews: The Chinese Girl

Baker paints his Hull landscape in a manner befitting Elmore Leonard. Refreshing. Dave Windass, The Big Issue.

Baker’s intense psychological thriller takes us to the inside of Stone’s head, and explores a violent man who is trying to change. Its intense plotting, and real sense of evil, has room for passionate romance and some entertaining comedy.’ Roz Kaveney, Amazon.

‘Have you ever found yourself reading a book way into the night, even though your eyes are aching for sleep? I started reading The Chinese Girl and found I could not stop – I simply had to know what had happened to Juliet. If, like me, you’ve never read John Baker before, this is the perfect place to start. An exceptionally brilliant writer. Kate Mills, Editor, The Mystery & Thriller Club.

It tackles a variety of social issues . . . The Chinese Girl paints a grim picture of Hull, which, most likely, won’t please the tourist board, but it makes for a far from grim read, which should make you smile more than once. Tracey Crampton, Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

The novel explores the issues of coming home. Of coming to terms not only with the outside world but also with yourself. One of (John Baker’s) strengths is his immaculate perception of people. His characters are genuine and three dimensional so the reader really cares what happens to them. The Chinese Girl is a beautifully drawn novel filled with dark humour and flawed characters that are so real they could be sitting next to you on the bus. This is hard-boiled fiction at its finest. Inventive, witty and entertaining to the last page. Lucy Smith, The Hull Daily Mail.

Baker creates an affectionate portrait of a man trying to stay on the straight and narrow after years of being banged up. Although The Chinese Girl contains some grisly and harrowing elements, it also explores the importance of dreams, the strength of love and the potential for change. Add to that the humanity of the characters and Baker creates an ultimately uplifting novel which is refreshingly original and absorbing. Cath Staincliffe, novelist, Manchester Evening News.

A very well structured and intriguing novel. Literary and cultural assumptions are readily confounded as Baker leads his characters, and the reader, along a route in which the conventions of plot are constantly challenged. Stone and Ginny’s growing, and believable, relationship is one of the book’s highlights, and further emphasises Baker’s lack of need for cliché. For those who enjoy well-written, character-led novels which happen to centre upon crime, The Chinese Girl is highly recommended. Paul M Chapman, Sherlock Holmes Magazine.

This likeable ex-con’s attempt to overthrow the local gang leader makes an absorbing urban thriller . . . by a talented and not well enough known British writer, John Baker. Susanna Yager, Sunday Telegraph.

Baker’s series featuring the tenacious Sam Turner has acquired a good reputation. He strikes out at a tangent in The Chinese Girl with a narrative so rich in menace and atmosphere that we don’t miss Turner. We’ve read a million versions of the ex-con pulled back unwillingly into the criminal world, but rarely delivered with the exuberance that Baker demonstrates here. He’s also particularly skilful at marrying the disparate worlds of the American tough-guy thriller with the English novel of cold-eyed social observation. The Good Book Guide.

I thought The Chinese Girl was a smashing read. Funny, gripping and profound are qualities that are not often gathered together in a detective novel. Jean Hartley, author of The Marvel press, Philip Larkin, and me.

Very impressive indeed. I loved the set up of this novel: ex-con Stone Lewis, recently released from a twelve year stint, his face covered with jailhouse tattoos, comes home one evening to his dingy basement flat in Hull to find what he thinks is a dirty pile of clothes. Turns out said pile of garments is attached to a beautiful, delicate Oriental woman who has been beaten unconscious and left on Stone’s doorstep. Our man collects the woman and takes her inside, gradually bringing her back to the land of the living with his tender ministrations. He finds a package of letters in her bag which he can’t resist reading (and Baker makes the risky but very effective move of breaking up the narrative with a long epistolary chapter) and finds that the mysterious woman has returned from L.A. to look into the disappearance of her best friend after her letters abruptly stopped… A stylish and well-written novel. The Poinsoned Pen, Scottsdale, Arizona.

In the great tradition of hard-boiled fiction, this is a tough story about vulnerable people. The writing is marvellous – poetic, serious and comic. If this book doesn’t make the shortlist for the Gold Dagger there’ll have to be a stewards’ inquiry. Mat Coward, Morning Star.

Told in the tough, urban language of Britain’s new crime fiction writers, The Chinese Girl satisfies on a number of levels, not the least of which is its depiction of decent human beings surviving in a very tough environment.’ George Easter, editor Deadly Pleasures.

The cleverest trick here is making the reader identify so closely with Lewis, and we follow his dangerous odyssey with total attention. The danger is offset with Baker’s trademark wit, and many readers will be more than happy with this accomplished break from the Sam Turner series. Brian Ritterspak, Crimetime.

An intriguing novel that proves Baker is good enough to change course without checking his stride. Nottingham Evening Post.

Reinforces (Baker’s) reputation as one of the most talented crime writers around. Yorkshire Evening Press.

What Baker is so good at is creating a character with whom you can sympathise. I like Baker’s Sam Turner novels and with (The Chinese Girl) he’s trying something different, something refreshing, and it’s working. He continues to bring sparkle to the genre. Mike Stotter, Shots.

The letters alone are a work of art. This is an amazing crime novel. It tells a terrific story. It keeps you guessing about what happened before the book opened and what will happen after it closes. It deals with a range of social issues, mental illness, racism, drug dealing, gang warfare and always has something insightful to say about each. He tells it like it is and you sense that he was there and lived through it all himself. The author once stated that there are dark shadows imprinted on his soul that’ll never go away. He has imprinted them on this book. Alex Auswaks,

A good example of hard-boiled British crime writing. Neatly meshes the conventions of the tough-guy novel with the realities of contemporary Britain. Jeff Popple, Sunday Canberra Times.

An intriguing read that throws light on human prejudices, loves and the preoccupation with image as well as telling a good crime thriller story. Huddersfield Daily Examiner.

It is very obvious that a great deal of care has gone into the writing of this novel. A lot of thought has been put into the actual use of words. For that alone it would deserve to be read, but the story itself is also rewarding. The characterisation is good and the pace fast. It must also be said that Baker has a good eye for irony. It is, however, only fair to warn the prospective reader, that there are some exceptionally grisly scenes and concepts. Corrupt police and the drug trade are the least off-putting of these. And the overall verdict? Well worth reading. Denise Wels,

Stone is a knight in tarnished armour. Scarred both on the outside and within, his humour, hope and humanity shine through and he’s a wonderful not-so-perfect hero for a not-so-perfect world.
This is a book about prejudice and appearances. Some people only see what they want to see, some people only show one side of themselves and keep the darker side hidden, others are exactly what they seem. As usual, John Baker explores his themes and fits them seamlessly into the central plot and the whole thing is told in a way which is both tender and frightening, lyrical and harsh. The writing reminds me of a really good song, where both words and music stay in your brain after only one hearing. Donna Moore,

Those readers for whom crime yarns routinely mean California and fast cars and handsome brutes and suave threads and the FBI and heroics might find welcome relief in John Baker’s latest offering. Here is an original and engaging story set in Hull, an industrial port city in the north-east of England where it rains and gets cold and where most people scratch to get by.
John Baker has a fine sense of place and people that reminds me of George P. Pelelcanos’s Right as Rain, which I reviewed in the last issue. Baker has the dialogue down pat and knockabout sense of humour that is just right for this tale of nastiness in post-Thatcherite Britain. More power to his elbow! Robert de Gille, Crime Factory, the Australian Crime Fiction Magazine

John Baker, in his Sam Turner series set in York, shows great skill in creating sympathetic characters. He has created a whole other set of people in this book. This is a very different series from the Sam Turner books, but with equally intriguing and real people. Barbara Franchi, Reviewing the Evidence.

It seemed to me that this was so much more than the average crime novel. I was gripped from beginning to end by a group of characters who had all of my sympathy and all of my admiration. The setting is Hull and there are some dark and brooding passages, but even though the subject matter is hard there is an undercurrent of humour and good will that takes you right to the last page. If you have enjoyed John Baker’s Sam Turner series, which are set in York, you will already know that he is a considerably talented writer. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Sarah Holmes, Word of Mouth,

Excellent Nail-Biting Psychological Thriller.
John Baker, author of the excellent Sam Turner mysteries, has turned his pen to a psychological thriller that had me biting my nails as I wandered around inside a violent man’s head. Stone wants to change, but can he? This, for me, was a delightful, though somewhat grim, read that I highly recommend. Ruth Ann Maria Ramirez from San Diego, California, on

Marvellous. John Yates, Yorkshire Post Magazine

A gem
The Rap Sheet, January Magazine

I just finished The Chinese Girl and I loved it. I’m mad for some of the ways in which you use words. The combinations of words is what I mean, I think.
And I liked your characters (both bad and good) very much. You write some really good bad guys. I didn’t expect that. I think it was because of the way you look. I should know better.
What I can’t understand is why you’re not published here in America, or better known.
I’ve put you on my recommended list on my blog and who knows, maybe that will get more people to know and read you. Sandra Scoppettone, novelist

This is the kind of book that you wish lasted longer. Not that the story is less than complete; the end is perfectly satisfying. Rather, it’s that the characters are so alive and interesting, the reader would very much like to hang around; see where life takes them next. But of course that would ruin the story by taking it out of the beautiful provenance of fine fiction. “The Chinese Girl” kept me up past bedtime and so I finished it within an already overbooked weekend. Don’t miss it. Kathleen MaherDiary of a Heretic.

I really did enjoy The Chinese Girl. The description of Ginny throwing up was inspired. Norman Jenson, One Good Move

I must mention that he forges phrases and puts a few words together in some ways that are startling and quite lovely. Not banging you over the head literateur-ly, just spot on. It’s requiring self-control for me not to gulp the book down way too fast but I don’t want to miss anything, not to mention lose the pleasure of relishing it. Just Muttering,