Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Joffe Books Prize for Crime Fiction Writers of Colour


Joffe Books, in conjunction with bestselling crime writer Dorothy Koomson and literary agent Susan Yearwood, is seeking to discover a new crime fiction writer to join our bestselling list. We are launching a new writing prize for unagented crime fiction writers of colour to turn their fantastic manuscripts into bestsellers. The winner will receive a two-book publishing contract with Joffe Books. 

The competition aims to champion authors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds writing in one of our favourite crime fiction genres: electrifying psychological thrillers, cosy mysteries, gritty police procedurals, twisty chillers, unputdownable suspense mysteries, shocking domestic noirs . . . 

Whether you are writing your crime fiction debut, previously published or self-published, if you are an unagented crime fiction writer of colour, we want to hear from you! 

DOROTHY KOOMSON, BESTSELLING CRIME WRITER, says: “I think crime fiction in all its glory could really benefit from more stories by traditionally underrepresented writers out there. This competition is one way of doing that. I’m so excited to be a judge on this and can’t wait to read the submissions.” 

SUSAN YEARWOOD, SUSAN YEARWOOD AGENCY says: “Joffe Books is one of the most innovative and inclusive-thinking digital publishers in publishing today and I am pleased to be asked to judge Joffe’s inaugural competition to find a great crime writer. I have long been a fan of Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers in this genre and I look forward to meeting big talent in crime writing.

EMMA GRUNDY HAIGH, JOFFE BOOKS says: “We are very excited to launch this competition. If we are to create meaningful, long-lasting change within our industry, it is not enough to claim to have an open-door policy. It is our responsibility to actively seek out writers from communities that are underrepresented in our genre and support them in building sustainable careers. I can’t wait to discover the fantastic writers that enter this competition and get their work to the hands of readers.” 


The winner will receive a two-book publishing contract with Joffe Books. 


Entrants are invited to submit their full-length manuscript, written in English, along with a synopsis of the book and author biography, to prize@joffebooks.com. 

The opening date for entries is 1 May 2021. The closing date for entries is 30 September 2021 23.59 p.m. GMT. No entries received after this date will be accepted. 


All submissions will be read and judged by the Joffe Books team, Dorothy Koomson and Susan Yearwood from Susan Yearwood Agency. The winner of the competition will be selected by these judges based on their work’s quality and commercial potential. 


Joffe Books is one of the UK’s leading independent publishers of excellent commercial fiction, especially crime and mystery fiction. We are renowned for working closely with authors from across the world to create fantastic books and turning them into bestsellers. Since 2014, we have published more than 500 books by over 70 authors, sold over 10 million books and been shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year twice (including in 2021!). Our roster of award-winning authors and New York Times, USA Today and Amazon bestsellers includes Joy Ellis (currently up for Crime & Thriller Book of the Year), Faith Martin, Robert Goddard, Rick Mofina and Stella Cameron. 

While Joffe Books maintains open submissions for all authors, this competition is designed to offer an exclusive opportunity to Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, who are particularly underrepresented in crime fiction publishing. 


Dorothy Koomson is an award-winning, global bestselling author of 16 Sunday Times bestsellers. She was featured on the 2021 Powerlist as one of the most influential Black people in Britain and appeared in GQ Style as a Black British trailblazer. Dorothy uses her platform to support new writers and recently launched The Happy Author podcast. Her latest paperback, All My Lies Are True, the follow-up to the ITV-adapted, The Ice Cream Girls, is out now. Her next book I Know What You’ve Done, is published in July (Headline) and available to pre-order now. 


Susan Yearwood began her career in publishing in the early 1990s, gaining valuable experience at Virago, now part of Little, Brown Book Group and Penguin Books Ltd (Penguin Random House). Susan Yearwood Agency was founded in 2007, starting the successful careers of debut writers Kerry Young, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Prajwal Parajuly, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. Susan now represents a wide range of clients who write everything from book club fiction, crime/thriller, YA novels, well-being and cookery. 

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Books To Look Forward To From Headline Publishing

June 2021

Death on Stage is by Caroline Dunford. It is 1914 and war is underway. A group of French actors has become trapped in Britain and some of them are seeking political asylum, among these is a mathematician with whom Euphemia's friend, Mary, has been corresponding. He joined the troupe with the express intention of making it to Britain and to Mary before the war began. Euphemia's new commander sends her undercover to the theatre where the company is finishing its run, and he instructs Fitzroy to remain on medical leave. But Fitzroy has never been one to obey orders. Meanwhile, Euphemia's husband, Bertram, lies critically ill in hospital and Euphemia must employ all her strength to stay focussed on her mission. With actors and agents playing roles both on and off stage, the toughest challenge is knowing who to trust...

July 2021

Rogue Asset is by Andy McDermott. Alex Reeve was Operative 66. A former special ops soldier and one of the UK's deadliest weapons, he was a member of the secretive SC9 - an elite security service with a remit to neutralise the country's most dangerous enemies. Falsely accused of treason, Reeve was forced to hide in the shadows as the brutal assassins he once trained alongside sought to eliminate the 'rogue asset' at any cost. But tricked into revealing himself, Reeve is suddenly dragged into a lethal conspiracy involving the British state, shadowy Russian agents...and his own father. If there's one man who can survive...it is Operative 66.

Seven friends gather at a castle in the Scottish Borders. One last girls' weekend before Georgina's wedding. Near the castle, through a path in the woods, is a loch. After a few drinks, they head down to the water to take photos. The loch is wild, lonely, and stunningly beautiful. They set their camera to self-timer and take some group shots. Later, looking back at the pictures, they see something impossible.Behind them, eyes wide, a small, drenched boy emerges from the water. But none of them saw him, and nobody knows where he went. They're miles from the nearest town. How did he get there? Where did he go? As the weekend unravels and terrible secrets come to light, it soon becomes clear that their perfect weekend is turning into a perfect nightmare. They're desperate to leave - but someone won't let them. Down by the Water is by Elle Connel.

The Shetland Sea Murders is by Marsali Taylor. While onboard her last chartered sailing trip of the season, Cass Lynch is awoken in the middle of the night by a Mayday call to the Shetland coastguard. A fishing vessel has become trapped on the rocks off the coast of one of the islands. In the days that follow, there's both a shocking murder and a baffling death. On the surface there's no link, but when Cass becomes involved it is soon clear that her life is also in danger. Convinced that someone sinister is at work in these Shetland waters, Cass is determined to find and stop them. But uncovering the truth could prove to be deadly . .

I Know What You've Done is by Dorothy Koomson. What if all your neighbours' secrets landed in a diary on your doorstep? What if the woman who gave it to you was murdered by one of the people in the diary? What if the police asked if you knew anything? Would you hand over the book of secrets? Or ... would you try to find out what everyone had done?

Mother Midnight is by Paul Doherty. 1312. Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal, has returned from the West Country to find Westminster in chaos. Edward II has fled in an attempt to protect his favourite from the wrath of his noblemen; and a royal clerk has been found dead, poisoned in a locked chamber. Drawn into a maze of murder both at Westminster and at the Convent of Saint Sulpice, where young novices have started to disappear, Corbett quickly establishes a connection between the two mysteries. As other killings follow, Corbett's investigation leads him to a high-class brothel and its sinister owner, Mother Midnight. Challenged to a duel and hunted by a guild of ruthless assassins, Corbett and his loyal henchmen, Ranulf and Chanson, face a sea of troubles. And Corbett must call upon his wit and ingenuity to halt the tide of disaster that threatens to engulf him.

A black father, a white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance. Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah's white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death. Derek's father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father's criminal past. But Buddy Lee - with seedy contacts deep in the underworld - needs to know who killed his only child. Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons - and each other - as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys. Razorblade Tears is by S A Cosby.

The Truth-Seekers Wife is by Anne Granger. It is Spring 1871 when Lizzie Ross accompanies her formidable Aunt Parry on a restorative trip to the south coast. Lizzie's husband, Ben, is kept busy at Scotland Yard and urges his wife to stay out of harm's way. But when Lizzie and her aunt are invited to dine with other guests at the home of wealthy landowner Sir Henry Meager, and he is found shot dead in his bed the next morning, no one feels safe. On Lizzie's last visit to the New Forest, another gruesome murder took place, and the superstitious locals now see her as a bad omen. But Lizzie suspects that Sir Henry had a number of bitter enemies, many of whom might have wanted him dead. And once Ben arrives to help with the investigation, he and Lizzie must work together to expose Sir Henry's darkest secrets and a ruthless killer intent on revenge...

The House of Death is by Peter Tremayne. Ireland. AD 672. The Feast of Beltaine is approaching and the seven senior princes of the kingdom of Muman are gathering at Cashel to discuss King Colgu's policies. Just days before the council meets, Brother Conchobhar, the keeper of the sacred sword, is found murdered. Sister Fidelma and her brother Colgu fear that the killer had been trying to steal the sword that symbolises the King's authority to rule. And as rumours begin to spread of an attempt to overthrow Colgu, news reaches Cashel that a plague ship has landed at a nearby port, bringing the deadly pestilence to its shores. Amid fear and panic, Fidelma, Eadulf and Enda must work together to catch a killer as the death toll starts to mount...

August 2021

Murder at the Seaview Hotel is by Glenda Young. In the charming Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough, a murder is nothing to sing about... After the death of her husband Tom, Helen Dexter is contemplating her future as the now-sole proprietor of the Seaview Hotel. There's an offer from a hotel chain developer to consider, but also a booking from a group of twelve Elvis impersonators, a singing troupe called Twelvis. Tom loved Elvis and for Helen this is a sign that she should stay. But the series of mysterious events which follow, suggests that the developer is not going to give up easily. Then, shortly after Twelvis arrive, one of the group disappears. His body is found floating in a lake, with his blue suede shoes missing. Could the two be connected? With the reputation of the Seaview on the line, Helen isn't going to wait for the murderer to strike again. With her trusty greyhound Suki by her side, she decides to find out more about her guests and who wanted to make sure this Elvis never sang again.

I Shot the Devil is by Ruth McIver I used to think that I'd escaped Southport . . .Now I realised, Southport had been coming for me all this time. Erin Sloane was sixteen when high school senior Andre Villiers was murdered by his friends. They were her friends, too, led by the intense, charismatic Ricky Hell. Five people went into West Cypress Woods the night Andre was murdered. Only three came out. Ativan, alcohol and distance had dimmed Erin's memories of that time. But nearly twenty years later, an ageing father will bring her home. Now a journalist, she is asked to write a story about the Southport Three and the thrill-kill murder that electrified the country. Erin's investigation propels her closer and closer to a terrifying truth. And closer and closer to danger.

Death Comes to Bishops Well is by Anna Legat. When Sam Dee moves to the beautiful Wiltshire village of Bishops Well, he expects a quiet life of country walks and pub lunches. OK, so his new neighbour, Maggie Kaye, is a little peculiar, but she's very nice - and his old pal Richard Ruta lives just down the road. But when Richard throws one of his famous parties, things take a sinister turn. Sam, Maggie and the rest of the guests are dumbfounded when Richard falls down dead. A horrible tragedy - or a cunningly planned murder? With a village full of suspects - and plenty of dark secrets - just who exactly would want to bump off their host? Is there a connection to another mysterious death, nearly twenty years before? Armed with her local knowledge, Maggie - with Sam's reluctant but indispensable help - is soon on the case. But when the body count starts to rise, will sleepy Bishops Well ever be the same again?

A mother walks into the sea... and never comes back. Why? One perfect summer day, mother of two Alice walks into the sea . . . and never comes back. Her daughters - loyal but fragile Lily, and headstrong, long-absent Marietta - are forcibly reunited by her disappearance. Meanwhile, with retirement looming, DI Fox investigates cold cases long since forgotten. And there's one obsession he won't let go: the tragic death of an infant twenty years before. Can Lily and Marietta uncover what happened to their mother? Will Fox solve a mystery that has haunted him for decades? As their stories unexpectedly collide, long-buried secrets will change their lives in unimaginable ways. Mssing is by Erin Kinsley.

The Ex-Husband is by Karen Hamilton. Charlotte and Sam were partners. In life, and in crime. They never stole from anyone who couldn't afford it. Wealthy clients, luxury cruise ships. It was easy money, and harmless. At least, that's what Charlotte told herself, until the world caved in on her. But now, years after she tried to put that past life behind her, it comes rushing back when her estranged ex-husband Sam suddenly goes missing - and someone threatens to expose what they did. Desperate to escape whoever is tormenting her, Charlotte takes a job as events planner for an engagement party onboard a superyacht in the Caribbean. For a while, her plan seems to have worked, nothing but open ocean and clear skies ahead. Until it becomes clear that she's no longer a thousand miles away from harm. Because whoever is behind it all is onboard too. And now there's nowhere left to run.

The closer you get to the truth, the more dangerous it gets. FBI Agent Tom Hunter has been chasing down leads to find the brutal cult that damaged some of his closest friends. They managed to escape to tell their stories, but Eden's location has always remained a mystery.Liza Barkley is struggling with her feelings for Tom and wonders if their friendship can survive the secrets they've kept from one another. But they may be forced to confront the truth when a chance to help the investigation puts Liza directly in the line of fire. When the perpetrator of an attempted sniper attack on Liza and her friends is discovered to be one of the cult's leaders, DJ Belmont, it becomes clear that he is out to get revenge on the victims who escaped Eden's clutches.But there is one person who has always had control over DJ, and who no one outside of Eden has ever glimpsed: cult leader Pastor. When a serious injury forces Pastor to seek help outside the confines of the Eden, Tom and his team finally have a chance to bring the cult down. But DJ Belmont has his own plan, and is not going to stop until he gets what he wants... Say Goodbye is by Karen Rose.

The Night Singer is by Johanna Mo. You've no idea what you're dredging up. You're going to ruin everything. Hanna Duncker has returned to the remote island she spent her childhood on and to the past that saw her father convicted for murder. In a cruel twist of fate her new boss is the policeman who put him behind bars. On her first day on the job as the new detective, Hanna is called to a crime scene. The fifteen-year-old son of her former best friend has been found dead and Hanna is thrown into a complex investigation set to stir up old ghosts. Not everyone is happy to have the daughter of Lars Duncker back in town. Hanna soon realises that she will have to watch her back as she turns over every stone to find the person responsible...

Also published in August The Great Shroud by Vera Morris and Murder After Midnight by Lesley Cookman.

September 2021

The Last Train to Gipsy Hill is by Alan Johnson. Gary Nelson has a routine for the commute to his rather dull job in the city. Each day, he watches transfixed as a beautiful woman on the train applies her make up in a ritual he now knows by heart. He's never dared to strike up a conversation . . . but maybe one day.Then one evening, on the late train to Gipsy Hill, the woman who has beguiled him for so long, invites him to take the empty seat beside her. Fiddling with her mascara, she holds up her mirror and Gary reads the words 'HELP ME' scrawled in sticky black letters on the glass. From that moment, Gary's life is turned on its head. He finds himself on the run from the Russian mafia, the FSB and even the Metropolitan Police - all because of what because this mysterious young woman may have witnessed. In the race to find out the truth, Gary discovers that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye...

Daniel Pitt is defending an old college professor from Cambridge, who has been accused of plagiarism, when a series of brutal murders occurs on the streets of London. The rainy-day slasher, as the crazed killer becomes known, violently attacks his victims in the pouring rain and then removes one of their fingers before leaving the bodies. Daniel's dear friend Miriam fford Croft, newly qualified as a pathologist, is tasked with examining the bodies for clues and when Special Branch warn the police to stop investigating one of the victims, Daniel finds himself reluctantly drawn into this haunting mystery... Three Debts Paid is by Anne Perry.

Last Seen Alone is by Laura Griffin. When they face the most baffling missing person's case of their careers, a fiercely ambitious lawyer and a homicide detective have no one to turn to for help except each other.Up-and-coming attorney Leigh Larson fights for victims of sexual extortion, harassment, and online abuse. She is not afraid to go after the sleaziest targets to get payback for her clients. Leigh is laser-focused on her career - to the exclusion of everything else - until a seemingly routine case and a determined cop turn her world upside down. Austin homicide detective Brandon Reynolds is no stranger to midnight callouts. But when he gets summoned to an abandoned car on a desolate road, he quickly realizes he's dealing with an unusual crime scene. A pool of blood in the nearby woods suggests a brutal homicide. But where is the victim? The vehicle is registered to twenty-six-year-old Vanessa Adams. Searching the car, all Brandon finds is a smear of blood and a business card for Leigh Larson, attorney-at-law. Vanessa had hired Leigh just before her disappearance, but Leigh has no leads on who could have wanted her dead. Faced with bewildering evidence and shocking twists, Leigh and Brandon must work against the clock to chase down a ruthless criminal who is out for vengeance.

Ghosts of the West is by Alec Marsh. When daring journalist Sir Percival Harris gets wind of a curious crime in a sleepy English town, he ropes in his old friend Professor Ernest Drabble to help him investigate. The crime is a grave robbery, and as Drabble and Harris pry deeper, events take a mysterious turn when a theft at the British Museum is soon followed by a murder. The friends are soon involved in a tumultuous quest that takes them from the genteel streets of London to the wide plains of the United States. What exactly is at stake is not altogether clear - but if they don't act soon, the outcome could be a bloody conflict, one that will cross borders, continents and oceans...Meanwhile, can Drabble and Harris's friendship - which has endured near-death experiences on several continents, not to mention a boarding school duel - survive a crisis in the shape of the beautiful and enigmatic Dr Charlotte Moore?

Prisoner is by S R White. 24 Hours after leaving his cell he was dead. Can she find out why? When a man is found savagely 'crucified' amidst a murky swamp in northern Australia, detective Dana Russo and her team are called to a shocking scene. The victim is a convicted rapist, just released from prison, who years earlier committed an atrocious crime yards from where he was killed. Who murdered him - and why? With several potential leads, the investigation quickly becomes more complex, and sinister, than anyone imagined. And Dana realises she'll have to confront her own troubled past to understand the true motives of the killer...

October 2021

A Christmas Legacy is by Anne Perry. Gracie Tellman is preparing for Christmas with her husband and three young children when Millie Foster calls upon her. As a maid at Harcourt House, Millie is terrified that sinister goings-on, including the disappearance of food from the kitchens, will lead to her unfair dismissal, and she begs Gracie to investigate the situation. With the promise that she will be back in time for Christmas, Gracie takes Millie's place in the Harcourt household, never imagining the discovery she then makes. For the servants have been keeping a secret and their efforts are about to be rewarded in the most extraordinary way...

November 2021

Vine Street is by Domnic Nolan. SOHO, 1935. Sergeant Leon Geats's patch.A snarling, skull-cracking misanthrope, Geats marshals the grimy rabble according to his own elastic moral code. The narrow alleys are brimming with jazz bars, bookies, blackshirts, ponces and tarts so when a body is found above the Windmill Club, detectives are content to dismiss the case as just another young woman who topped herself early. But Geats - a good man prepared to be a bad one if it keeps the worst of them at bay - knows the dark seams of the city. Working with his former partner, mercenary Flying Squad sergeant Mark Cassar, Geats obsessively dedicates himself to finding a warped killer - a decision that will reverberate for a lifetime and transform both men in ways they could never expect.

Also published in November Good Cop, Bad Cop by Simon Kernick and Deadline by Quintin Jardine.


Friday, 7 May 2021

2021 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Best Published Novel Award

 After a year’s hiatus, the Best Published Novel award has returned with a 12-strong longlist. The Prize is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English, and this year we are recognising the best adventure fiction published between 1stMay 2020 and 30th April 2021.

The following 12 authors all in the running for the £10,000 prize:

THE DEEP BLUE BETWEEN by Ayesha Harruna Attah (Pushkin Press)

CITY OF VENGEANCE by D.V. Bishop (Pan Macmillan)


THE HILL by Ali Bryan

OTTO ECKHART’S ORDEAL by Niall Edworthy (Universe, Unicorn Publishing)

THE ENGLISHMAN by David Gilman (Head of Zeus)

OPERATION CERTAIN DEATH by Kim Hughes (Simon & Schuster UK)

MISS BENSON’S BEETLE by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

THE GLASS KINGDOM Lawrence Osborne (Hogarth)


ROGUE by James Swallow (Bonnier Books UK)

THE COLD MILLIONS by Jess Walter (Viking)

Congratulations to all the authors long listed for the award.

Niso Smith, Founder of The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, commented

Books are a lifeline for many people and have been more so than ever over the past year. While we have not been able to travel, to experience other places and cultures, to meet the people who make our world so colourful, we have relied on books to take us there. This longlist truly has an adventure for everyone.’

The Foundation encourages readers to select the one that appeals to them most, then read, share and recommend.

The Prize received 127 entries from publishers and literary agents, by authors from across the world, including Australia, Canada, Ghana, Ireland, South Africa, India, New Zealand and the UK.

The longlist is selected by a panel of librarians and library staff, who looked for novels which both honour the traditions of the great adventure stories and are unafraid to try something new.

Six titles will be selected by the same panel to progress to the shortlist, after which the novels progress to the 2021 judging panel.The Prize will also include a public vote over the summer with the reader’s choice equating to one seat on the judging panel. We look forward to hearing what you think!

Shortlist Announced: 20th May 2021

Winner Announced: 8th September 2021

BM CARROLL - Defending the Indefensible

Many years ago, when I was researching an earlier novel, I spoke to a criminal lawyer who was brilliant, dedicated and extremely tolerant of my naïve questions. The lawyer was also, at the time, representing a woman who had stabbed her estranged husband to death on a Sydney freeway during morning peak-hour traffic. It was a horrific crime, deeply shocking for witnesses, responding emergency services and the general public. I couldn’t help deviating from my research to ask the lawyer: Why on earth would you want to defend this case? And what defence can there possibly be? 

The lawyer’s answer was along these lines. Because what happened on the freeway is only one part of the story. And because everyone – no matter how awful the crime – is entitled to a thorough, high-quality defence. 

The danger of a good defence 

 Her response has been percolating in my mind for almost twenty years and every time a similarly shocking crime occurs, I think not only of the victim, but also the accused, and what caused them to commit such a terrible act … and also the defence team who step up to defend the indefensible. 

 In my latest novel, You Had It Coming, a barrister, who has made a name for himself defending sexual assault cases, is shot outside his home. William Newson is a beloved father, a considerate boss and a strong advocate for the rights of the accused. He is also responsible for the acquittal of defendants who are guilty of their crimes and enabling at least one repeat offender. His profession leads to irreconcilable differences with his wife, who divorces him because ‘all those girls can’t be lying, William’. His profession causes numerous threats on his personal safety by angry complainants and their distraught families. His profession ultimately costs him his life. 

 It’s true that every defendant, no matter how heinous the crime, is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a strong legal defence. Without these basic standards, our legal system would be neither just nor fair and innocent people could be wrongly accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit. 

 However, it is a mistake to believe that the verdict in a trial is always just and fair. A miscarriage of justice seems more likely in sexual assault cases, because most of the time only two people know what actually happened and their perceptions of reality can be very different. ‘Reasonable doubt’ can flourish and all too often there is simply not enough evidence to return a guilty verdict. But just because there is not enough evidence and the final verdict is NOT GUILTY, doesn’t necessarily mean that the crime did not occur. It can even be argued that the more diligent and aggressive the defence, the better chance that a rapist will walk free … and go on to reoffend. 

He said vs. She said 

 You Had It Coming explores the murky matters of consent, admissible evidence, reasonable doubt, the rights of the accused, victim blaming, and the appalling reality that some offenders are not convicted for their crimes. Our legal system is imperfect, lawyers on both sides are endeavouring to do their jobs to the highest standard, and what can really be done if it’s one person’s word against another’s? 

 She said: Everything done and said that night was funnelled down, down, down until it became one singular question: had consent been given? The one thing she knows for sure is that she did not consent. Therefore, it should have been black-and-white. 

 He said: It’s one thing convincing a judge and jury you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s another convincing yourself ... I was sorry and ashamed, but incredibly relieved when we were acquitted. I thought I could walk out of court, leave it all behind me, and finally start my life. But something like that doesn’t go away. It affected every relationship I had, every job I interviewed for. To be upfront or not. To tell the truth, or hope they’d never find out. 

 Back to the woman on the freeway, where the crown and the defence agreed that the defendant was suffering from schizophrenia when the attack occurred. The court was told she had delusional beliefs about her estranged husband, that he was poisoning her food and abusing their daughter. She pleaded not guilty due to mental illness and was acquitted of the charges. 

 The criminal lawyer had done her job superbly and, in this case at least, there was a legitimate defence despite the damning circumstances.

  • Publisher : Viper; Main edition (13 May 2021)

B.M. Carroll (also known as Ber Carroll) was born in Blarney, a small village in Ireland. The third child of six, reading was her favourite pastime (and still is!). Ber moved to Sydney in 1995 and spent her early career working in finance. Her work colleagues were speechless when she revealed that she had written a novel that was soon to be published. Ber now writes full-time and is the author of ten novels. Over the last few years, Ber's writing has become darker and more suspenseful (probably reflecting her state of mind). Her most recent novels The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy, Who We Were, and You Had It Coming are published under B.M. Carroll.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Society of Authors Announce Grants For Work in Progress

 This couldn’t have come at a better time’ – Writers receive £185,000 in grants for work in progress

From work exploring the relationship between journalism and public health, economic inequality in India and cultivating resilience and hope, these grants for work in progress ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’ for 78 writers

The Society of Authors (SoA) has awarded 78 writers with a financial grant to support their ongoing writing projects, worth almost £185,000 in total. The grants are awarded twice a year as part of the Author’s Foundation and K Blundell Trust to support writers with their ongoing writing projects, by buying them time to write or help with research costs.

Some of this year’s recipients include poet Anthony Anaxagorou, novelist Kerry Hudson, writer and academic Sophie Coulombou, poet Roy McFarlane and novelist Anietie Isong, with writing projects focusing on Britain’s colonial relationship to Cyprus, the ‘darker side of motherhood’, race and racism in the nineteenth century and economic inequalities in India. These grants will allow writers to take on important collaborative work, archival research and allow for ‘robust ground reporting’.

Authors can find out more about next year’s grants deadlines below.

Hear from some of this year’s recipients below.

 Anthony Anaxagorou

‘… sustaining an income has been even more tenuous this year… so this couldn’t have come at a better time’

I’m incredibly grateful to the Authors’ Foundation for receiving an Arthur Welton grant, which will afford me both time and space to develop my forthcoming poetry collection. The impact of the pandemic on the educational and performance sectors has meant sustaining an income has been even more tenuous than it was prior, so this really couldn’t have come at a better time. The collection is set to explore Britain’s colonial relationship to Cyprus in the late 19th and early 20th century, which expands to work around the diasporic experience, intergenerational behaviours and traumas, masculinities, and other intersecting themes.”


Anthony Anaxagorou is a British-born Cypriot poet, fiction writer, essayist, publisher and poetry educator. His poetry has been published in POETRYThe Poetry ReviewPoetry LondonNew StatesmanGranta, and elsewhere. His work has also appeared on BBC Newsnight, BBC Radio 4, ITV, Vice UK, Channel 4 and Sky Arts.

 Anietie Isong

The Authors’ Foundation grant will provide the additional financial resources I require while preparing my novel’

 "I am deeply grateful and honoured to receive an Authors’ Foundation grant for my work in progress, News at Noon. This novel explores the relationship between journalism and public health, as well as what it means to be caught between two loves. News at Noon is the fruition of extensive research, and I have recently signed a publishing contract with Jacaranda Books. Without a doubt, the Authors’ Foundation grant will provide the additional financial resources I require while preparing the novel for publication." 


Anietie Isong’s first novel, Radio Sunrise, won the 2018 McKitterick Prize. His collection, Someone Like Me, published in 2020, won Kennesaw State University’s Headlight Review Chapbook Prize for Prose Fiction. Isong’s essay is featured in the anthology, Of This Our Country, published by Borough Press in September 2021. 

 Sophie Coulombeau

Just as important as the grant itself is the vote of confidence in the quality of my writing and the importance of my work’

 I am honoured, delighted and deeply grateful to be awarded a Society of Authors K Blundell Trust grant. Since my debut novel was published nine years ago, my creative development has been hampered by pressure to pay the bills with an intensive day job, and the challenges of both baby loss and post-natal depression. The Covid-19 pandemic, as many writers will know, has made everything worse.

My grant from the K Blundell Trust has given me the gift of space and time to work on a deeply personal project. My novel-in-progress follows nine hours in the lives of two very different women brought together by moments of madness. It investigates parallels between the psychological effects of baby loss and those of perinatal illness, and aims to contribute to a recent wave of powerful literature exploring the darker side of motherhood. Just as important as the grant itself is the vote of confidence in the quality of my writing, and the importance of my work. Thank you so much.”


Sophie Coulombeau is a novelist, academic and writer for radio. Her debut novel RITES, a coming-of-age literary thriller about friendship, betrayal and the unreliability of memory, was published in 2012 and was described by Philip Pullman as ‘terrific. A story that's intriguing, puzzling and entirely gripping.’ She has also published short stories in magazines including The New Writer and the Momaya Annual Review, and has written and presented critical and creative features for BBC Radio 3. She is a part-time Lecturer in English Literature at the University of York, where she specialises in literature of the eighteenth century. Her current work-in-progress, for which she has been awarded a Society of Authors K Blundell Trust grant, is a literary thriller about monstrosity and motherhood.

 Kerry Hudson

It feels incredibly apt that the grant – a symbol of hope in itself – has been given for this particular book’ 

I am so honoured and grateful to be awarded this Authors’ Foundation grant for my forthcoming book How to Hope– a nonfiction exploration of how to seek hope and access resilience during these complex and challenging times. It feels incredibly apt that the grant – a symbol of hope in itself – has been given for this particular book. It will make an enormous difference to the focus and time I will be able to give to this project. Thank you.”


Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Her first novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, was the winner of the Scottish First Book Award while also being shortlisted for the Southbank Sky Arts Literature Award, Guardian First Book Award, Green Carnation Prize, Author’s Club First Novel Prize and the Polari First Book Award. Kerry’s second novel, Thirst, won France’s prestigious award for foreign fiction the Prix Femina Étranger and was shortlisted for the European Premio Strega in Italy. Her latest book and memoir, Lowborn, takes her back to the towns of her childhood as she investigates her own past. It was a Radio 4 Book of the Week and a Guardianand Independent Book of the Year.

 Sonia Faleiro

I’m grateful to the Authors’ Foundation for this award and everything they do for authors’

 I’m honoured to be a recipient of an Authors’ Foundation and K Blundell Trust grant. The award will allow me to complete the final volume in my trilogy of nonfiction books on contemporary India. I have spent the last 15 years writing about the impact of economic inequality and political mismanagement on marginalised communities. This last year has hurt these groups more than ever. The award will allow me to visit these communities for the sort of robust ground reporting that is vital to my work. I’m grateful to the Authors’ Foundation for this award and for everything they do for authors.”


Sonia Faleiro is the author of The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing (2021) and Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars (2010), which has been translated into six languages and named The Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year and a Book of the Year by the GuardianObserver, and Economist. Her writing has received support from the Pulitzer Centre and The Investigative Fund and appears in The New York TimesThe Financial TimesThe Times Literary SupplementForeign PolicyHarper’sGranta and elsewhere. She is the founder of South Asia Speaks, a literary mentorship program, and the co-founder of Deca, a global cooperative of award-winning journalists. In April, she created Artists for India, an author-led initiative to raise funds for India during the Covid crisis. She lives in London.

 Roy McFarlane

I’ll be looking at “maroons” – a term which refers to people who escaped slavery to create independent groups and communities’

 I’m grateful to the Authors’ Foundation and K Blundell Trust for providing me with the Arthur Welton Award to enable me to work on my third collection of poems. I’ll be looking at ‘maroons’ – a term which refers to people who escaped slavery to create independent groups and communities.  And ‘marronage,’ or running away, which refers to a strategy of resistance.

A section I’d like to call ‘A Short history of violence visited upon black bodies’, will be looking at texts from the 1800s to the present day of posters, leaflets, newspaper clippings with the intentions of creating a series of Erasure poems.”


Roy McFarlane is a poet, playwright and former youth and community worker born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage spending most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham Poet Laureate, Starbucks Poet in Residence and is currently the Birmingham & Midlands Institute Poet in Residence. Also, an Ambit and Poetry Wales Competition winner. His debut collection, Beginning With Your Last Breath, was followed by The Healing Next Time (Nine Arches Press 2018), nominated for the Ted Hughes Award and Jhalak Prize. Roy has an MA in Writing Poetry from Newcastle University and the Poetry School and is presently working on his third collection with Nine Arches Press coming out Spring 2022.

 Sarah Broughton

I want to … reveal the stories of forgotten women who crashed through political, industrial, class and racial barriers and changed [Cardiff] forever’

 I’m really honoured to receive an award from the Authors’ Foundation – the support and encouragement it represents for my work-in-progress is hugely significant for me. The Invisible City is about Cardiff – from a female perspective. Biographies of cities tend to focus on the favoured few who funded, built, and profited from them and, unsurprisingly, these were usually men. I want to unpick the fabric of Cardiff, steeped as it is in the aristocracy and draper’s dynasties, in coal and merchants, buildings and statues, and reveal the stories of forgotten women who crashed through political, industrial, class and racial barriers and changed their city forever.”

Sarah Broughton is a writer and producer. Her creative nonfiction book, Brando’s Bride, was shortlisted for a Wales Book of the Year Award in 2020. She has also published a novel, Other Useful Numbers (both with Parthian Books). Away from writing Sarah is Creative Head of Martha Stone Productions and responsible for their film and documentary slate. She lives in Cardiff.

 John Woolf

This award will enable me to engage in important collaborative work, archival research and, of course, the writing of my book’

 I am so grateful and massively humbled to receive the John C Laurence Award ‘for work that helps improve understanding between the races.’ The award will enable me to engage in important collaborative work, archival research and, of course, the writing of Black Victorians – a book which builds on my earlier work and explores race and racism in the nineteenth century.”

Dr John Woolf is a researcher, writer and historian specialising in nineteenth-century cultural history. He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age and co-author of the bestselling audiobooks Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets and The Halifax Slasher. He teaches at Hult International Business School and is a local Councillor in Islington, London.  

Apply for a grant

 The deadlines for applications for the next round of grants for work in progress are 1 July 2021, for distribution in October, and 1 February 2022, for distribution in May 2022.

From 2021, the Authors' Foundation grants include the World of Books Impact Award – two annual grants of £5,000 each for books of any genre that have the power to inspire progressive behaviour change. Read more here
As Covid-19 continues to impact incomes, we are still distributing hardship grants to authors in financial crisis from the Authors’ Contingency Fund.



The more astute among you will have realised that this month’s Getting Away With Murder is not in its usual place. This is due to the main website having been hi-jacked by interweb pirates (probably Russian) and sailed into the Bermuda Triangle, or whatever it is happens in these cases. As you may have gathered, I am no expert when it comes to modern technology, but those who claim to be assure me that normal service will soon be resumed.

In the meantime, following an untraceable transfer to a Swiss bank, I have managed to insert myself into the Shotsmag Confidential ‘blogspot’ which is normally curated by the voluptuous Ayo Onatade. She, naturally, has absolutely no responsibility for what follows unless of course legal action ensues, in which case she does. 

Why We Read Crime Fiction

The Italian literary magazine Scritture migranti kindly answers that perennial question thus: Thanks to its transnational circulation and its aptitude to highlight social and political issues throughout the lens of the investigation, crime fiction offers a privileged perspective through which to observe the encounters and the conflicts associated with social and cultural mobility. Moreover, the critical reflections on the connections between social norms and otherness expressed in crime fiction encourage also to take into consideration the mobility of the genre itself in terms of genre-blending.

Who knew?


I suspect there are few people alive who have actually read William Le Quex’s The Invasion of 1910, though many a fan of spy fiction will have seen it referred to and it is said to have sold a million copies when published in 1906, after serialisation in, unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail.

It appeared at a time of ‘spy mania’ (probably whipped up by the Daily Mail) when the entire nation was convinced that an invasion from Europe - first from the French, then the Germans - was imminent. Can you imagine anyone getting that worked up about Europe these days?

Le Quex, a journalist, knew how to spin a scare story and his books certainly touched a nerve. The Invasion of 1910 described a successful German landing on the coast of East Anglia, their troops spearheaded by battalions of much feared Uhlans (light cavalry) leading the advance on London.

Fortunately, the vanguard of the Uhlans stopped off in Saxmundham “to refresh themselves at The Bell” and after sampling strong Suffolk Ale, the invasion naturally faltered and the invaders were eventually defeated. I do not know if there is a memorial plaque in The Bell, but as soon as I am allowed, I intend to find out.

In the book, the mayor of London issues a proclamation declaring a state of emergency and calling all loyal citizens to arms. It is dated 3rd September 1910, a date which, 29 years later, would see a similar declaration against Germany. Coincidence? Almost certainly.


Another example of meandering visitors to East Anglia came to mind with news of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, Prince Philip, a keen cricketer, would often turn out to play for a village team organised by Pip Youngman Carter, the husband of crime writer Margery Allingham, at their home in Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex. (Carter was a friend of the Duke and I believe he was a guest at the Royal Wedding in 1947, though Margery was not.)

Local legend has it that no matter how many he times he drove himself from London to D’Arcy, he always got lost and had to stop at numerous public houses to ask directions, disturbing many a pub landlord early in the morning, well before opening time, though all were proud to help with the Duke’s navigation.

During the saturation media coverage of his death I began to think that I was the only person in the country who had not been asked to recount their memories of meeting him, though I can only claim that honour twice. Once was at the Brewing Research Foundation in Surrey where he extolled the virtues of British ale (admittedly to a partisan audience) and then added some rather disparaging remarks (very well received) about a certain lager brewed in Copenhagen. He said he was allowed to say such things, because he had once held a Danish passport.


Quite by accident, whilst perusing the jolly old interweb, I was reminded of another East Anglian connection from days of yore, in the title of a thriller which has stayed with me forty years after forgetting just about everything about its plot.

That thriller was Teeth For The Brigadier, a Sphere paperback originalpublished in 1976, and supposedly the first in a series code-named ‘Shalom’ which was never to materialise.

In truth, I remember the author far more than the book. Michael Hamilton, always known as Steve in real life, was a near neighbour of mine when I moved to the Essex village of Wivenhoe in Essex in 1975 (the painter Francis Bacon and the journalist Peregrine Worsthorne were other neighbours). He was working as a news reporter and editor on the then new commercial radio station, Radio Orwell and after several late night discussions, probably on licensed premises, I discovered that he had served during WWII in the RAF regiment and had been present at the liberation of Belsen concentration camp. 

He had married a Holocaust survivor and when he had felt the need to write a thriller, as many journalists do, it had to be about an Israeli intelligence unit (‘Shalom’) tracking down and eliminating Nazi war criminals. Teeth For the Brigadier, which involved a set of false teeth as I vaguely recall, was, he told me, the first in a six-book deal, but Steve died very soon after publication of his debut and the series came to an abrupt end.


Fresh Blood

I was cheered by the news that The Piper’s Dance, the new novel by my old conspirator-in-arms Maxim ‘Murder One’ Jakubowski is to be published by Telos in July. It is not, however, a crime novel, but a ‘phantasmagorical improvisation’ on what happened to the children who followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin to their musical fate.

It is something of a departure for Maxim, the new Chairman of the CWA, who has written and edited scores of books across various genres from sci-fi to erotic thrillers, and the news was also slightly chastening as I realised that it was now 25 years since he and I co-edited the first Fresh Blood anthology showcasing new British crime writers, including Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Mark Timlin, Denise Danks and Stella Duffy.

The anthology was a spin-off of the Fresh Blood group, an ad hoc and undisciplined alliance of writers which had emerged some five years earlier in 1991 and the name came at the suggestion of the late Michael Dibdin who then claimed he ‘didn’t do short stories’ and so was, ironically, not included in the collection.


Nihil Nove Sub Sole

If one believes publishers’ hype, and one never should unless it’s about one’s own books, then there is a new and radical trend for the crime novel for ‘psychological’ suspense in a domestic setting. This usually involves a young woman who conceals a secret (about her origins, or a mental condition) and/or discovers she cannot trust her husband/partner/best friend or (surprise, surprise) a total stranger she has befriended on ‘social media’.

It isn’t of course a new trend and one of the pioneers was American Vera Caspary (1899-1987) who is best remembered for two novels, Laura (and the classic Hollywood film noir made from it) in 1942 and Bedelia in 1945.


Although set in 1913, the Bedelia of the title strikes a more contemporary femme fatale pose on the covers of both the American (left) and British paperback editions. The US cover image proved particularly popular in France where, just to ram home the point, the French edition also had Femmes Fatale in bold type on the cover, and I believe it to be still in print to this day.


Odds & Sods

Veteran thriller writer Derek Robinson, the author of many fine novels of war-in-the-air and espionage has of late begun to collect notes and jottings made during a fifty-year writing career and publish them himself under the imprint Whistle Books.

His second collection, Odds & Sods Mk 2, is now available and although the bulk of the entries concern military matters and WWII (from the role of paratroopers and gliders to the London Blitz and the bridge on the River Kwai), Robinson’s musings encompass Dylan Thomas, John F. Kennedy, T.E. Lawrence, rugby union, the role of the King’s Champion and epilepsy.

It is a fascinating collection of, well, odds and sods, especially if you have an interest in military history, and worth the price of admission if only for the warning: ‘Writers are not exemplary citizens. They steal ideas, seduce other men’s wives, borrow money, fail meet deadlines, get drunk and insult their critics. You wouldn’t want your offspring to marry one.’ 


Deighton Updated

I hear from an excited American reader - though I have not seen them myself - that some of Len Deighton’s early thrillers have appeared in new editions which pay homage to the iconic paperback cover designs of the 1960s. Certainly the new editions, now published as Penguin Modern Classics (not before time) seem to bear this out:


I am not, however, tempted to replace my original copies which I have owned for more than fifty years.


The Intro Has Landed

As editor of the Top Notch Thrillers imprint for ten years, I managed to revive a hundred British thrillers from the 1960s and ’70s which had slipped out-of-print, but I never had the chance to produce a new edition of a Jack Higgins novel as they always seemed to be in print, even half-a-century on. However, I have now been given the chance to do the next best thing and write the Introduction to a new compendium volume, Graveyard To Hell, which will be published by HarperCollins in August which combines three early Higgins novels.

Known collectively as the ‘Nick Miller trilogy’, The Graveyard Shift, Brought in Dead and Hell is Always Today, are perhaps among the least well-known titles in Higgins’ prolific output and the most unusual in that he moved (temporarily) away from action/adventure thrillers set in exotic foreign locations, to try his hand at gritty murder mysteries with Nick Miller, a young police detective, as hero. Being Jack Higgins, though, the action is fast and furious and one of the books in the trilogy, Brought in Dead, is a full-blooded (and really quite impressive) revenge thriller.

First published between 1965 and 1968, they are very much of their time, but no less interesting for that. They have a toughness - Miller patrols a grim urban world of seedy night clubs, local gangsters, canals, drug addicts, telephone boxes and sex workers - which may have come as a shock to television viewers brought up on Dixon of Dock Greenand Gideon’s Way and who were not yet comfortable with Z-Cars. In 1968, Britain may not have been ready for The Sweeney, but the Nick Miller books can be seen in many ways as a sneak preview of things to come. After only three outings, Jack Higgins put Nick Miller on hold and moved on to action thrillers and war stories which would put him in the Alistair MacLean bracket. Seven years later, the eagle landed for Mr Higgins and the rest, as they say, is history.


Comfort Reading

The recent farcical attempts to tempt away our best football clubs (and Spurs, for goodness sake!) into a European Super League saw loyal, traditional supporters dismissed as ‘legacy fans’ more concerned with the past than a bright, commercial future. It made me realise that I must be a ‘legacy reader’ when it comes to crime and thriller fiction, certainly when reading for personal pleasure and comfort during the latest lockdown.

I appreciate that the never-ebbing tide of ‘domestic noir’ novels of ‘psychological suspense’ which seem to dominate publishing at the moment (see earlier rant), are not aimed at me and they may well attract new readers to the genre, but I find many of them pale and unconvincing when compared to the chillers of Ruth Rendell or Margaret Yorke. In the past I have referenced - and probably misquoted - that erudite American critic Sarah Weinman, and will do so again, when she said that most of this new wave of novels of domestic suspense contain female protagonists who are ‘either too stupid to die or batshit crazy’.

Which proves little other than I prefer my domestic noir done by ‘legacy authors’ and for comfort reading this month, I picked a ‘legacy’ thriller writer to whom I never paid sufficient attention in his heyday in the 1960s.

A Dragon For Christmas, first published in 1963, was the third of Gavin Black’s thrillers to feature hero Paul Harris, but actually the author’s fourteenth novel. Under his real name, Oswald Wynd (1918-1998), he began writing fiction shortly after the end of WW2, most of his books being set in the Far East.

Born in Japan to Scottish missionary parents, Oswald Wynd was educated in America and at Edinburgh University. Joining the Scots Guards on the outbreak of war, his fluency in Japanese earned him a commission in the Intelligence Corps and a posting to Malaya. During the Japanese invasion of 1942, he was captured and spent three years as a prisoner of war, working in the Hokkaido coal mines. After a string of romantic and historical novels, he turned, under the name Gavin Black, to the thriller in 1961, creating Paul Harris, a Singapore-based businessman, enthusiastic womanizer, suspected gun-runner and occasional undercover agent who was to feature in a series of thirteen books up to 1979.

The Paul Harris adventures were credibly-plotted thrillers, with our hero constantly under threat, but often reluctant to take violent action to save himself. In A Dragon For ChristmasHarris is in Peking on a trade visit (supposedly) selling a marine engine to the Chinese communist government and has hardly got his toothbrush unpacked before there’s a dead body planted in his hotel room (bugged, of course) and a sniper taking pot-shots at him and his only ally turns out to be a fellow Japanese ‘businessman’.

But in all fairness, one didn’t read Gavin Black for edge-of-the-seat violent action or plots which might mean the end of the world, but for his insight into - and clear affection for - the Far East. His description of a Chinese economy, going through Chairman Mao’s failing ‘Great Stride Forward’ programme must have been fascinating in 1963 and cleverly presaged some of the horrors to come in the Cultural Revolution. Most of Black’s scorn is reserved for robotic officials with a Stalinist devotion to the communist party, pointing out that all party members are equal but some are clearly more equal than others.

As a foreign, ‘imperialist’ white man’s view of the East, the language may not, today, be politically correct enough for some, though cringeworthy examples are few and far between, often affectionate (or patronising if you prefer) and usually refer to the Japanese, as when Harris ruminates: ‘A Japanese can never disguise the fact that he is lit [drunk], and they don’t really try’.

Books of the Month

Tom Bradby’s new novel Triple Cross  [Bantam] is the final part of his trilogy to feature senior MI6 operative Kate Henderson and her family (and the family connection here is an important one) and can certainly be read as a piece of first-rate stand-alone spy fiction, but I would strongly suggest reading the earlier volumes - Secret Service and Double Agent - in order to get a full appreciation of the rich tapestry of both political and domestic treachery Bradby has woven.

MI6 has a Russian mole (when didn’t it?), the Prime Minister (a strangely familiar character) is being smeared with lurid sex scandals and Kate Henderson, now out of the secret service and enmeshed in multiple domestic problems, has to follow a very thin trail of breadcrumbs to uncover the mole, code-named Dante, in order to clear the PM and, possibly, salvage her marriage. The action flits from England to France, to Istanbul, Prague and Moscow, climaxing in a desperate charge for the border with Georgia, all of which makes one long for the lifting of Covid travel restrictions. 

Triple Cross, indeed the complete trilogy, is highly recommended and although I cannot resist the urge to boast that I correctly guessed the identity of ‘Dante’, I have to admit I only did so 85% of the way through the third book.

Just when you thought Covid was a thing of the past (okay, I’m getting ahead of myself, but bear with me), Frank Gardner’s third thriller Outbreak [Bantam] threatens us, post-Covid, with a totally lethal outbreak of a man-made virus which will, in the hands of right-wing neo-Nazi nut-jobs, ‘cleanse’ the non-Aryan world by recreating the bubonic plague.

MI6 agent Luke Carlton has to discover the origin of the virus and then, with the help of traditional enemies within Russia’s GRU has to infiltrate the neo-Nazi group via modern communications technology (a lot of phones are involved in this rather than shoe leather, as Quiller had to do it in Berlin in 1965). Carlton also spends an exhausting time on aeroplanes, flitting from London to Svarlbad, to Vilnius in Lithuania, to Moscow and back for a gripping climax in, of all places, Braintree in Essex.

Carlton is no James Bond and has a slight touch of the Boy Scout about him at times, but Frank Gardner puts him through the mill in a story right out of the Frederick Forsyth playbook when it comes to driving the plot at a ferocious pace. Along the way, Gardner packs in the detail of international espionage and trade-craft, all of which rings completely true, as you might expected from the BBC’s veteran security correspondent. When he tells me that the GRU’s training academy is known as ‘The Conservatory’ and is situated at 50, Narodnoe Opolchenie Street in Moscow, I believe him implicitly. I was also delighted to learn that MI6 in-house slang for their sister agency MI5 is ‘Snuffbox’. 

I only discovered Kent police detective Alex(andra) Cupidi last year but she immediately shot into my premier league of favourite fictional sleuths. As created by William Shaw, she features in a new novel, The Trawlerman [Riverrun], suffering PSTD from her last case and is, in theory, on sick leave, left to prowl (mostly by bicycle) the wild wastes of Dungeness.

Naturally, Alex cannot keep her investigative nose out of the many shady dealings on her patch which seem to happen right under it, including a Folkestone trawlerman who went missing at sea seven years before, a recent brutal double murder, a financial scam which has wiped out the savings of a friend, a  cross-Channel drugs trade and an army veteran gone feral in the local woods. Whilst also dealing with a truculent teenage daughter and suffering stress-related nightmares and premonitions,  Alex finds the best therapy is to tackle crime even if she has to do so unofficially.

Cleverly plotted, reeking of a desolate Kentish coastline where the main tourist attraction is a nuclear power station, and with a resourceful, fully-rounded (and flawed) protagonist, The Trawlerman is an excellent, totally absorbing crime novel which can only augment the reputations of William Shaw and Alex Cupidi.

Lector intende - laetaberis (‘reader, pay attention - you will enjoy yourself’ as one of the very first novelists, Lucius Apuleius, wrote sometime in the second century) there’s a new Lindsey Davis novel. 

A Comedy of Terrors [Hodder] is the latest outing for Flavia Alba, the doggedly determined  (and British, sort of) private investigator in the man’s world (and many of the men are total jerks) of Ancient Rome circa  AD89. I have to admit that I had my doubts when Flavia first took centre stage from Lindsey’s original Roman gumshoe (gum sandal?), Marcus Didius Falco, but I am now a dedicated fan as she follows in her adopted father’s footsteps down those mean via. In A Comedy of Terrors it might be Saturnalia, but that doesn’t mean a very merry time will be had by all, especially those allergic to nuts or practical jokes in really bad taste.

If you prefer a more up-to-date historical mystery, but still far enough in the past not to give you nightmares, the gold standard has surely been set by Andrew Taylor, whose latest, The Royal Secret [HarperCollins] paints a technicolour picture of the intrigue, sights, sounds and smells (particularly the smells), of Restoration London in 1670. This tale, continuing the careers of  the adventurous young (female) architect Cat Hakesby and the more uptight James Marwood in one of the most turbulent periods of London’s history.

Not that some things ever change and the scene where Marwood has to help a very drunk companion down The Strand...well,  we’ve all been there. And then, as now, relations with the rest of Europe are strained - to say the least - and perhaps it’s best to be wary of Dutchmen bearing gifts.

Between 2007 and 2013, David Downing wrote six exceptional historical spy novels each named after a Berlin station during and immediately after WWII, his hero being John Russell, an Anglo-American journalist and former communist with a German wife and son, which meant he could (and did) spy for just about anyone. After a gap of eight years, Wedding Station [Old Street Publishing] - Wedding being a district of Berlin - gives us Russell’s back story as a newspaper crime reporter in February 1933 as the Nazis have taken power and the Reichstag  burns.

As law-and-order now seems a matter for thuggish SA brown shirts rather than the police, Russell is drawn into the murder of a young male prostitute, a missing girl with communist party loyalties, the suspicious death of a genealogical researcher and a disappearing (Jewish) astrologer. In this Berlin, Russell is not undercover, or a spy, but doing a policeman’s job because the police cannot or, for political reasons, choose not to. There is a staggering amount of detail, all of which I am sure is accurate, about the street plan and transport systems of pre-war Berlin - perhaps too much information - and the book lacks the suspense of those set in the latter days of the war, particularly the outstanding Potsdam Station. Still, it is very good to see John Russell back in action, a man with a dangerous job in a dangerous place at a very dangerous time.

Reading Jo Spain’s The Perfect Lie [Quercus] I got the same feeling I get when watching a TV thriller where characters go into a darkened room or cellar, knowing that there’s something nasty there and always feel like screaming “Put the bloody lights on!”. In the case of The Perfect Lie it is more a case of why didn’t they ask that at the time? Because if they had, things might have been clearer. But that is not the point, because this is a thriller which sets out to bamboozle the reader from the start and many a reader will happily go along with it, suspending a large amount of disbelief as the author uses every trick in the book to string out the suspense by withholding information and deliberately confusing the timeline, plot twists being more important than in-depth characterisation or motivation.

Curiously, or perhaps not, this is the third novel of ‘domestic suspense’ I have read this year (so far) where a female protagonist is motivated or haunted by a missing, or murdered sister. It stands out by being set in America, though the author is Irish, and whilst certain well-known Irish authors have had great success in writing credible American settings, The Perfect Lie  (which has an Irish protagonist) tries a little too hard, almost as if it had been translated into American. 

The initial question posed in Charlotte Northedge’s debut novel of domestic suspense The House Guest [HarperCollins] is which of the two main characters is the more bonkers: Kate, the disturbed young woman struggling to survive in London whilst searching for a lost sister who joins a ‘life coaching’ group of middle-class women, or Della, the alpha-female ‘life coach’ who runs it? It soon becomes clear that Kate fancies Della’s successful lifestyle, house and family (Della is a sort of unsympathetic version of the Amanda character from the wonderful sitcom Motherland), and the wannabe house guest gets her wish suspiciously easily.

As Kate worms her way in to Della’s life (mostly by being remarkably passive and unaware), it seems as if we are in for a classic cuckoo-in-the-nest tale, but then things twist and we might be looking at a Handmaid’s Tale scenario, though minus the religious fanaticism. It is difficult to believe that Kate, a 25-year-old university graduate, initially accepts her fate which involves in being isolated, though not actually restrained, alone in a villa in the south of France for nine months (spoiler alert), without trying to escape or pick up more than two words of French, and it is not surprising that her attempts at finding justice as she sees it, are fairly inept and doomed from the start. As a thriller, The House Guest may have its flaws, but it does explore interesting themes of loss, exploitation of the weak by those with sharper elbows, metropolitan middle-class anxieties and, above all, motherhood.


Dark Moon Rising

With due deference to Mr Aldrin, there is already a considerable buzz about The Apollo Murders to be published by Quercus in October.

Houston certainly sounds to have a problem in this thriller set partly on the far side of the Moon in 1971, by American astronaut Chris Hadfield, though it is not, of course, the first murder mystery to have been set there.

Back in 1990, the late, great Reginald Hill produced the whimsical novella One Small Step featuring his famous detective duo Dalziel and Pascoe investigating the murder of a French astronaut. You knew it was science fiction because it was set in the future - in 2010! - and that it was also fantasy as the astronaut was part of a space programme run by the unthinkable ‘Federated States of Europe’. 

Until normal service resumes,

The Ripster.