Staying in with PN Johnson

I was devastated not to be able to read today’s featured book as it sounds fabulous and I’ve seen some wonderful reviews for it. Sadly my TBR simply couldn’t accommodate it.

However, I’m thrilled that PN Johnson has agreed to stay in with to chat all about his debut. Let’s see what he has to say:

Staying in with PN Johnson

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Phil.

Thank you for inviting me! It’s terrific to be here.

Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought my debut, Killer in the Crowd. It’s a murder mystery thriller which I’m hoping you’ll absolutely love!

What can we expect from an evening in with Killer in the Crowd?

Music, warmth and a great read, I hope! Killer in the Crowd is a story I’ve wanted to tell since I worked on a University Entertainments committee as a student. Although it’s set today, it takes us back, behind the scenes to reveal secrets from the early 80’s punk scene.

Oo. Just the time I was at university and seeing punk bands. Tell me more! 

It’s a fast moving action thriller which offers escapism, entertainment and excitement. I hope readers will really fall for my protagonist, Cath; she’s an ordinary teacher with an extraordinary secret – her mum was an infamous punk princess, who vanished when Cath was just seven years old. Cath reforms her mum’s old band, with four former punks now heading towards their sixties, determined to rekindle their youth and reveal the truth about what happened to Cath’s mum. It’s a tale of passion, determination and discovery.

I’m all for characters in their sixties Phil!

This extract is from the opening night of the tour, when this ordinary girl goes from teacher to star. We join Cath waiting to perform with Décolleté. Dressed as her missing mother, Cath’s hoping to elicit information from fans to find the truth about what happened to the infamous and much loved Betzy Blac:

I wanted to hug them all for getting me this far, and I knew I couldn’t let them down, despite feeling a little lost without Trav, my talisman and biggest fan. I knew he would have been there if he could. Well-wishers had sent messages, as had our new management, but they just flowed over me. I was concentrating on getting it right. I had one go, one throw of the dice: it was now or never. I had to be as good, if not better, than I’d been at the try-out gig in London, and this was the start of a tour, the opening night. It had to be a success.

The crowd was piling in and the house music was playing. The bar queues were growing and I sneaked a look around the curtain in the wings. A security guy checked me out and then nodded as I craned my neck to see the people who’d actually paid to see me. They were a wide range from old fans to students whose parents might have been Décolleté fans themselves. There were even some families, couples with teenaged children. I took a deep breath and went back into the dressing room, my confidence slipping.

The hour before we went on felt like an age. I kept going over the set list in my mind and wishing we’d had even more rehearsals, but it was like sitting an exam: there could always have been more time spent revising. I was testing myself—what was the second verse of Two Lovers in One Night? No, I couldn’t remember, but I kept telling myself it would all come back.

Steve Hewitt, the tour manager, looked in and smiled. He’d seen it before. “You’ll be fine. Believe it! Okay, stage time. Have fun, girls. Give them a taste of heaven.”

He muttered something into a mic on a headset and motioned to us to go on.

We moved silently into the wings and waited, unseen by the expectant crowd. Suzi patted me on the back and whispered: “Go Cath: be Betzy!”

I gave her a smile; for all her bravado, I could tell she was nervous too. I was here, in Mum’s place, about to lead her band through the set list of singles she’d taken to the top more than thirty years before—the outrageous, pioneering, punk princess rock chick that was Betzy Blac. She’d been praised by one generation and despised by another, even including her own mother. Her screaming sensuality had demanded to be heard, and demanded a place in music history. Now she was a legend reborn, alive in me: the daughter she never saw grow up.

It was time. The house music stopped and the lights went out. The expectation came to boiling point, the crowd started to clap and chant. It became a torrent and then a roar. As I walked forward my make-up hardened in the almost instant heat as the lights burst on and flooded the stage. I was feeling almost naked before this image-hungry crowd, hundreds of eyes on me as phone cameras flashed and I fed the online frenzy.

To the sound of rapturous shrieks and applause I tilted my head back and waited for the follow spot to close in on my face, the rest of the stage going dark until I screamed the magic words: “Oi scumbags! The bitches are back! We’re Décolleté, and this, this is for you.

Suzi and the band took their cue, just as they had with Mum all those years ago. Décolleté were alive, and full of fire: their fingers less nimble, their bodies less taut, but their passion still as strong. There was a split second of silence before Suzi shrieked and jumped into the air, her hands hitting the strings of her red Fender guitar. The assault on the ears of those in front of us began. Speakers flexed in cabinets, spewing airborne emotion at the speed of sound. The opening power chords screamed out. Cassie’s desperate drums demanded to be heard. Heads shook and waved in front of me, people jumped and cheered. The lights burst on and off like a supernova as I scanned the heaving crowd.

Colours changed, from deep reds and cool blues to brilliant white and everything in between, darting in and out of the smoke billowing on to the stage. The stage crew followed the script to the letter. Fans were raising their hands, cheering and calling my mother’s name, wanting me to be her, reborn, to glimpse what once was. And all the time I wondered: was the killer out there? Watching, waiting, wanting to end the show once and for all?

While I played Betzy Blac on stage, Mum was somehow still beside me, somehow cheating death. There were tears in my eyes and pain in my throat, but I sang, screamed and thrust my way through her raw, uncompromising, love-hungry lyrics.

Song rolled into song and the lighting and stage moves worked well. I hadn’t realised how much I’d absorbed during those intense rehearsals in London. The crowd were loving it and when I took a moment to appeal for information, as I’d done at our first gig, Mum’s face appeared behind me with the number the police had provided. The crowd clapped as I asked them to help me find my mum and Raven’s killer, then the lights dropped, leaving just a follow spot on Mum’s face and the number.

Suzi played an elongated intro into Raindance and the crowd erupted as the lights came back up. As I sang this international best-selling love song, I thought of Trav still in the States as I sang the last line: “So the storm tried to wash our love away, but we swayed together throughout the pain, and you and I’ll dance forever, in the falling rain.”

The audience joined in and carried on after I’d finished, wanting to reprise the chorus, but it was time to press on.

“Okay, let’s turn it up. Remember this one? Hot Lips, Cold Heart!” I shrieked, and the band took their cue. Adrenalin surged as we performed the set list. The encores were welcomed as Mum’s hits were blasted out while camera phones flashed and arms waved.

We came off stage after the second encore with the crowd still banging their feet on the floor and clapping loudly, chanting “Décolleté!” over and over again. But we’d had enough, we were exhausted. As I walked back to the dressing room a warm glow spread through me. Yes! I’d got through it. I hadn’t frozen, forgotten the lyrics or faltered. I’d managed to play my mum with her band to her audience and they’d loved it.

Wow. I loved that Phil. 

Phew! And there’s so much to come. My stories are for rainy days and lonely nights, sunny beaches and poolside cafes. They’re for anyone who enjoys great locations and gripping tales, with protagonists you want to fall for, laugh with and cry for, and… there’s a Hollywood ending waiting to be revealed!

Sounds brilliant. How is Killer in the Crowd being received?

I was lucky enough to have two great main reviewers. Music legend Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel, a truly great artist, said it was: “Utterly compelling, with an ending that comes like a bolt from the blue.” Nick Crane, TV presenter (Coast) and travel writer, said it was: “A real escapist page-turner with plenty of plot twists, oodles of drama and a compelling cast. Terrific.”  Another reviewer said it: “has it all! Readers will enjoy this curvy spine-tingler. I loved the finely woven romance in this novel.” – Jonann Sandvig. Yes, there is a “will they won’t they” love story hidden between the covers too!

You must be thrilled with those responses. I think I’d adore Killer in the Crowd.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it? 

Well, as Killer in the Crowd is about a famous female punk band reforming to solve a mystery, I thought you’d enjoy a post gig feast! I’ve been in a few dressing rooms after gigs and you’d be amazed what some bands want! From sandwiches to curries, crisps to cake, plus of course, booze and lots of water. So, here is a selection of post gig goodies  – pizza, curly sandwiches, a few bags of salt and vinegar crisps, and some Pinot Grigio, larger and fizzy water!

Any guest who brings food – even curled sandwiches is always welcome…

And, as music is my closest companion when I’m writing, I brought a playlist of songs from that era, and beyond, from Chrissie Hynde and the pretenders with Stand by You, Patti Smith – Because the Night, through to current artists including   The Summer Set, Blossoms and a little chilled Ibiza. My book is dedicated to musicians, because they give us the soundtrack of our lives. Music can save us from our darkest thoughts and add magic to our most precious moments of love.

You won’t mind if I add a little Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music too I hope!

One secret confession I’ll reveal here…I actually cried when I wrote the ending of Killer in the Crowd, they were tears of happiness. And I’m pleased to say, I’m told that I’m not the only one who’s read it and done that either, so be prepared for a warm fuzzy feeling and a big happy smile when you get to the encore. Hey, do start – the pizza’s are particularly good. I hope you enjoy Killer in the Crowd! And thanks so much for inviting me! It’s been fun.

It has! Thanks so much for staying in with me Phil. I think I’d love Killer in the Crowd. Now, yoy dish up that pizza and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details:

Killer in the Crowd

Live music is in her blood, but as the death threats arrive, she fears there’s a killer in the crowd.

Cath Edgley is a normal schoolteacher at a normal high school… until she hears the shocking news that fading rock star Raven Rain has been murdered.

Because, to Cath, Raven Rain is more than just a picture on a magazine – he was also the ex-lover of her missing mother, Betzy Blac, lead singer of ’80s punk girl band, Décolleté. A woman who went missing over 30 years ago.

Warned by a string of mystery text messages to “trust no one”, Cath is inspired to solve the mystery of her mum’s disappearance, once and for all.

Cath finds herself thrust into the sordid underbelly of the ’80s music scene, when rock and roll played second fiddle to the sex and drugs.

Along the way, she also finds herself playing a new role: unwitting replacement lead singer for Décolleté on their first tour in over 30 years.

Can Cath find the killers before she becomes their next victim?

Are the superstars she encounters all that they seem?

And what exactly happened to the punk superstar, Betzy Blac?

If you love mystery thrillers with a musical twist, then you’ll love Killer in the Crowd, the debut novel from P N Johnson.

Published by Burning Chair on 31st March 2022, Killer in the Crowd is available for purchase here.

About PN Johnson

As a TV Newsreader, Reporter and Producer for both BBC East and ITV Anglia, Phil Johnson covered everything from tracking down criminals in Spain and going on high-octane police chases, to interviewing pop stars, politicians and celebrities. Phil Johnson was also the face and voice of Crimestoppers in the eastern region for many years and created the successful TV series: “999 Frontline”. Now living near Norwich, Phil loves music, sailing, and bringing exciting new characters with amazing stories to the page. His second novel is due out this summer and others are getting ready in the wings.

For further information, follow Phil on Twitter @PhilJohnson01.

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