REVIEW: A Spot of Vengeance

C.J. Anthony – Troubador Publishing – 10 July 2019 – 268 pages – Thriller

Ex-Army intelligence Danny Swift has always yearned to be an artist. By coincidence, he meets art dealer Hafiz De Mercurio who promises to help him launch his career. Little does Danny know that Hafiz hides behind a deadly cloak of deception until British intelligence recruit Danny, and his perilous mission is to covertly observe the elusive Hafiz. They believe something big is coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival anything seen before, and the key lies in a cypher hidden in works of art. Unable to refuse, Danny is drawn into a world he’d turned his back on, a world of lies, deception and double-dealing.

As the clock ticks down and Danny begins to crack the code surrounding the enigmatic Hafiz, Danny will be tested in ways he never imagined… including preventing the massacre of innocent people and artworks on display in the eleven Gagosian galleries around the world.

When this book came across my desk, the description of it really caught my attention. I thoroughly enjoy thrillers, especially ones that involve British intelligence, and the fact that this included the art world and a possible terrorist attack had me intrigued.

The story itself is very interesting, and I found myself continuing to read, despite some issues that I had with different aspects of it, because I wanted to know the conclusion of the story and how everything came together. I love how the author made the center point of the entire thing the art world, and how the different paintings were used as part of the plot, though I think the descriptions of them could have been better.

The setting of London, specifically places like Hafiz’s apartment, Bernadette’s gallery, and The Tate Modern Gallery, were well written. You almost felt like you were there as you read the story because of the detail that he included. For example, when Danny (the main character) visited the Tate Modern, there were groups of school children there, and the author pointed out that, because of these, it was easier for him to hide in plain sight, going with the flow of these groups as if he was part of them.

The characters, for the most part, kept me coming back for more, though I can honestly say I really didn’t care what happened to any of them as the story went on. It was more general curiosity of how the story would unfold, rather than an emotional connection to any of them, despite the fact that a good portion of the beginning of the novel is getting to know both the main character, a few of the side characters, and the art world itself. To me, the art world was more a character than a setting, and the best one at that.

Once Thom got involved, there was quite a bit of adventure, as Danny went from trying to prove Thom wrong to trying to stop things from happening, and parts of it were really good. Unfortunately, there were some parts that needed a better explanation, and therefore got confusing, leaving me unsure how Danny was coming to the conclusions that he was coming to. Specifically the cracking of the code. I had to go back and reread a couple of places after realizing that I’d missed something.

I enjoyed the conclusion of the story, but not the conclusion of the book. To me, the story ended with the terrorist plot being averted (I’m not giving anything away saying that, as it wouldn’t be a good book at all if everyone died in the end and the terrorists won), and although I didn’t like that it was just over and nothing really happened after that, I would have rather it ended that way, without all the extra things that happened in the end. Neither part really added to the story, and I couldn’t help but wonder, when the book concluded, if I had read the entire story wrong.

Characters

Danny was a bit of a let down. He’s supposed to be this ex-military intelligence guy, now artist, who has great potential as a character, but there’s just too many times that his behavior and attitude aren’t consistent with the type of background he has, or maybe not consistent with the way I expected him to be portrayed. He just happens to fall into this whole thing. After being quickly accepted and connecting, oddly enough, with this great art dealer, he’s immediately thrust into this art world, and then, because of his closeness with Hafiz, British intelligence reaches out to him for his help. There was too much whining, for lack of a better word. Too much bellyaching about the “predicament” he’s in. And then all the lovey-dovey longing for this woman he just met. It just felt so… forced. Like, they had to be in a relationship to continue the story. It didn’t feel fluid or real.

Hafiz was a bit of a letdown as well, and I think that was more upsetting to me than the letdown of Danny. He is another character that has such great potential, especially after an event at the beginning of the story that sort of pushes this whole thing along. Unfortunately, that event is only slightly touched upon through the rest of the story even though it is so very important. I wanted more from him.

The two female characters – Marina and Bernadette – were both perfectly perfect as perfect can be and mentioned often is their perfectly perfectness – too often. So often, in fact, that it becomes disgusting, annoying, and truly unbelievable. That’s really all you get to know about either of them, which is odd considering how integral they are to the story. The little bit we do find out about them is quickly dropped in favor of talking about how they look in their tight outfit of the moment and sex with them. It’s as if they hardly exist outside of how the men in the novel saw them, the sexual attraction, when both of them have careers and pasts that, had the author shared more about them and fleshed them out better, would have explained their motivations behind certain actions and choices they both make.

Thom, the British intelligence man, seemed very interesting, but he wasn’t around enough to really get to know him, which was strange, and a whole other complaint I have about this story.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

The adventures that are undertaken throughout the story, and not just by Danny.

The Art World itself. I really enjoyed learning about the selling of art, the paintings, the artist who created these, and other aspects of the art world that I had previously not known. Because of the fact that he was using one character teaching things to another, it didn’t often feel like an information dump.

The description of the surroundings, as I stated above, were well done, as well as the details that he put into it. Sometimes the description helped you get to know the character a little better i.e. upon visiting Hafiz’s apartment, Danny could tell, before even coming to the door, the kind of mood the man was in based on how the shades were.

The paintings as part of the plot. That was very intriguing, though again, it could have been described a lot better.

Cons:

A confusing timeline.

Disappointing altercation between the two females in the story. The confrontation between the two could have been so much better. It would have even given us a great opportunity to learn more about the two of them and, again, their motivations behind the choices they made.

The lack of real meat in the characters. Or maybe I should say meat that mattered. We have a lot of information about some, not near enough about others, but none of them felt like real people to me. As I stated above, I was reading to find out the end of the story and how we got there, not reading to find out what happened to the characters, and when things did happen to the characters, it wasn’t meaningful. There wasn’t enough depth to them to make me sad or angry or happy or upset or whatever when things happened to them.

The end of the book. Thinking about it now, I guess we can say that the author left it open for a second story, at least in some ways, but he didn’t leave it open in a way that made me want to read book two, if there is going to be one, to find out what happens. The ending is all wrapped up in this not-so-neat little package, with some of those conclusions feeling like puzzle pieces that don’t fit being forced to fit, even if one has to cut one of them to make it fit with the other.

The editing of the book was, for me, a shambles, and I brought this (with some specific points) up to the author. I put this at the end of my Cons because, as an editor, I have a harder time ignoring things that others might be able to just look past. I think the author’s editor did him and this book a disservice, and hopefully my notes were able to help the author out in the future.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I’d say it was a good debut novel, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading his next piece when it is published. It had issues, but it also had things about it that made it worth reading until the end. The author has talent, and as he writes more, he will be able to hone in on ways that will make the story even better.

INTERVIEW: C.J. Anthony

I met C.J. Anthony a few months ago through his publishing consultant and was so completely intrigued by the plot idea of his debut book that I agreed to read it. I wanted to know more about him, especially after we exchanged a few emails, so here we are, sitting down for an interview together.


Meghan: Hi, C.J. Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

C.J. Anthony: I’m a former British soldier and currently a security specialist mainly working within the Middle East. I had toyed with the idea of writing a book for some time. I had some ingredients – characters, settings, and genre – but I just needed the right plot to bring it all together. I’m inspired by my experiences that have happened in my life, taking certain events that I think would make an interesting story, and put them creatively together. By altering the truth, I create a more engaging story. A book needs a kind of organic identity.

I’m passionate about anything creative, I’m an avid art collector, a keen painter, and I have exhibited in London. For as long as I can remember, I have always been creative, and I’m obsessed with it. To produce something to evoke an emotion in others is quite overwhelming.

Meghan: What are four things most people don’t know about you?

C.J. Anthony: I’m an art collector. Artist. I’m sat in my office now – in Baghdad. I have assisted a friend who is a military technical advisor on a feature film.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

C.J. Anthony: The Village with Three Corners. I read it while I was at primary school. What a classic.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

C.J. Anthony: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan and The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

C.J. Anthony: I began writing about two years ago. My current manuscript is directly influenced by my love of art; both collecting and being an artist, also drawing on my knowledge and experiences within the security world. One afternoon I was sitting at home having a coffee with the TV on in the background, whilst flicking through one of my art books published by British artist Damien Hirst. The book illustrates over a thousand of his famous various spot paintings, spanning over twenty-five years (1986-2011).

As part of my art collection, I own a signed limited edition print by Hirst. This limited edition is titled Controlled Substances; the original was publicly on display at the Tate Modern Gallery in London in 1994. The painting is based on the simple format of the grid, the painting features circular ‘spots’ of coloured paint lined up at regular intervals, with the spaces between them always the same distance as their diameter, on a white background. With all the letters of the Alphabet and numbers next to an opposing spot, visually this particular edition resembles some sort of code to produce secret cyphers.

I’d already known about the Damien Hirst exhibition back in 2012, which I missed due to work commitments. It was a major retrospective celebrating his spot painting series, simultaneously across all the eleven Gagosian galleries worldwide. While I was flicking through the pages of the Hirst book, I noticed that the film The Imitation Game was on TV. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence codes for the British government during the second world war.

That very moment was my epiphany, my catalyst to start writing. In my excitement, I got up from off my sofa and walked over toward the Hirst edition print that was hung up on the wall. I took it from off the wall and placed it down in the centre of the living room floor. Pausing for a moment in thought, I then started to carefully tear out pages from the Hirst book, placing them around the print in a sort of strategic pattern. At this stage, it didn’t make sense, but visutally it helped me put together the plot. Eleven galleries, eleven owners, cryptography, and a bit of art and terrorism thrown into the mix. I quickly went to my study and got my notebook and pen and sarted to plan, plot, and prepare – A Spot of Vengeance. Taking me a total of nine weeks to write the full manuscript while I was in my office in Basra.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

C.J. Anthony: For me, it’s when I wake up in the early hours and go into my office and write. There’s just calming and inspiring about that time of day, when your still half asleep with a cup of coffee and music playing in the background.

My favorite place to write, when I’m home in the UK is my study as it faces out onto a wooded area, which is very pleasing on the eye, however I get distracted by the wildlife.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

C.J. Anthony: A lot of day dreaming the scenes and a lot of doodling.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

C.J. Anthony: That’s the beauty of writing, the challenges are so addictive and when you achieve your aim it’s a great feeling.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing about writing so far?

C.J. Anthony: To actually feel the physical book in your hand and to see others read it! And the great reviews I have received so far is overwhelming.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

C.J. Anthony: The books I have read have all been inspiring in one way or another, but none have inspired me and my writing style. More of a motivation to write.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

C.J. Anthony: Something that makes you want to be a certain character or makes you constantly think about a certain subject matter, long after each chapter or when you have finished the book.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

C.J. Anthony: My characters are all people that I’ve known or I still know them today. (But they don’t know it’s them. I hope ha!)

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

C.J. Anthony: Danny, with elements of Thom and the style of Hafiz – I love designer clothes, and being a gentleman is a fine art these days.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

C.J. Anthony: Yes, some book covers don’t do the author any justice, which is unfortunate as it’s a representation of them and their work. I was fortunate enough to design my own book cover, as the publishing design team’s ideas were somewhat poor and their ideas wouldn’t give the reader/viewer an insight into what the books is really about.

I love conceptual art designs on book covers, as it should give you a hint of what to expect; gets the mind working before you have even started to read.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your book?

C.J. Anthony: I’ve learned a lot about the process and mastering the craft as a writer, which is an ongoing process, and that you need to adapt all the time to keep up with trends at the time.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

C.J. Anthony: I write in a filmic way and my story is dominated by code breaking. I had to make the code breaking scenes feel very creative, in a way, so that the reader feels they are on the journey with Danny.

Meghan: What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

C.J. Anthony: It is not only a book for the spy thriller enthusiasts, but it is also for the creatives and art lovers among us. Readers will experience a vicarious feeling of excitement, opulence, and intrigue. Also educating them on a well-researched insight into the world of art, depicting how it’s dominated and manipulated by the chosen few. These are just some of the many incremental differences that readers will receive compared to other works similar to A Spot of Vengeance. Skillfully highlighting the worlds constant threat of terrorism and its shadowy tactics. This intriguing story is loosely based on true events with interesting characters. The ongoing war of critic versus artist, ruthless buyers, and the self-obsessed collectors. While portraying the lengths in which someone would go to manipulat their own position of power, purely for personal revenge. Encouraging the reader to get lost in the narrative and question their own emotional experiences. I believe it sets it apart and makes it all the more interesting as a result.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

C.J. Anthony: Originally my book was titled “The Architect” as the British artist Damien Hirst claimed to be an architect, his ideas and designs are then put together by an army of helpers. Just like a real architect designs a building and it is then constructed by builders. However, I was advised to give it a more direct title as readers would think the book was about an architect and buildings.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

C.J. Anthony: This is my first book and I have really enjoyed the journey. It has been overwhelming at times, but worth it.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

C.J. Anthony: I had written an alternative ending, but when I read it out loud, it just didn’t work and it played on my mind for days so I had to rewrite it.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

C.J. Anthony: My sister passed away three years ago, aged 38. She had learning difficulties and sadly died in her sleep peacefully. Her boyfriend (Scott) of 23 years has Asperger’s and Autism. Throughout their twenty-three-year relationship, they spent every moment they could together, doing activities, youth club, church, movies, etc. (They called themselves the love birds.) They just adored each other. However, every Monday was the only time they spent apart throughout their twenty-three-year relationship, while Scott would work part time at a local charity shop. Due to his condition, he forgets and still waits for her or visits her apartment and his parents have to remind him. I have an idea for a love story/their love story, showing the issues they battled with in society and their own conditions as a couple – with a great twist in the end.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

C.J. Anthony: A Spot of Vengeance is now being written into a screenplay. Due to having contacts within the film industry, I have secured an agent to represent me.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

C.J. Anthony: I am only on Instagram at the moment. Please connect with me.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

C.J. Anthony: Just a big thank you. My older sister, Pamela, has stage 4 cancer – she’s going through chemo therapy for the second time. I’m donating 50% of all sales to cancer research, which is a fantastic charity.

Born in the UK, Birmingham, C.J. Anthony’s debut novel showcases his creative skills and diverse imagination that will lead readers in contemplation long after they turn the last page. Drawing on his experience as a former British soldier, security specialist within the Middle East. He writes in a filmic and seductive prose, adding to the emotive and realistic charge to his narrative. C.J. Anthony is passionate about anything creative, an avid art collector, and a keen painter who has exhibited in London.

A Spot of Vengeance

Ex-Army intelligence Danny Swift has always yearned to be an artist. By coincidence, he meets art dealer Hafiz De Mercurio who promises to help him launch his career. Little does Danny know that Hafiz hides behind a deadly cloak of deception until British intelligence recruit Danny, and his perilous mission is to covertly observe the elusive Hafiz. They believe something big is coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival anything seen before, and the key lies in a cypher hidden in works of art. Unable to refuse, Danny is drawn into a world he’d turned his back on, a world of lies, deception, and double-dealing.

As the clock ticks down and Danny begins to crack the code surrounding the enigmatic Hafiz, Danny will be tested in ways he never imagined… including preventing the massacre of innocent people and artworks on display in the eleven Gagosian galleries around the world.