Friday, 22 September 2023

October Books from Bookouture

The Nurse is by Jenna Kernan. “Can you start right away?” I can hear the desperation in Dr Roth’s voice. He’s longing for someone to look after his poor, sick wife Sabrina in their perfect Florida home. The job pays an awful lot. And I really need the money. As long as they don’t ask too many questions… I spend my days by Sabrina’s side. She has everything money could buy – a luxurious home, a handsome, doting husband who would do anything for her. I hate cleaning up her mess, picking her designer clothes off the floor, and driving her to the golf club. I hate how she sneers at me, no matter what I do. But I have to remember why I’m really here. Dr Roth has made it clear I have to make sure she takes her medication. Because if she doesn’t, there’s hell to pay. Three times a day, I count her sedative pills carefully. Sabrina rambles about the death of a child. About a terrible accident. Dr Roth shakes his head sadly. Delusions are a heartbreaking symptom of his wife’s illness, he says.But when Dr Roth leaves the house, Sabrina becomes more clear-headed. She tells me she’s done something terrible. And that her husband is lying. He keeps her trapped because of what she did. And I’m the only one who can help her escape.  Can I believe the words of a woman suffering from delusions? Or is Dr Roth not as trustworthy as he seems? Someone is lying. And if the Roths find out why I’m really here, this could take a deadly turn…

The doorbell chimes loudly. Her husband answers. Muffled voices. Then a crash. The sound of her husband’s body falling to the floor. “Joseph…?” Her voice wobbles. And she knows instantly—she should have stayed silent… Ex-cop Sally Fairburn has put the world of crime behind her, but when her old boss contacts her about working her first case as a detective, she can’t resist. The high-profile Austin case will be her first opportunity to prove herself. Retired accountant Joseph Austin has been found dead and his wife, Fiona, in a coma, in their exclusive Peakhurst mansion. It’s a suspected burglary gone wrong, but something about the murder scene doesn’t add up: why is nothing valuable missing Nobody seems to know who might want to hurt this sweet old pair, but as Sally investigates, she discovers the wealthy couple weren’t as popular as she first thought. They’d been embroiled in heated arguments with their neighbor, ex-con Salvador Sobral, for months. His is the strongest motive she can find. But before Sally can pounce, she receives a chilling call. Sobral has been brutally murdered with a thin strip of wire. Racing to find the missing link between the murders, Sally grows ever more desperate to catch the killer—especially when her violent ex-husband returns to his post with the Franklin police department, determined to discredit her. Fiona Austin holds the answers Sally needs. But will she come round from her coma before the murderer strikes again? Or will the killer lead Sally down a dangerous path that will leave her balancing on a knife edge between life and death? First Victim is by L A Larkin.

The Weekend Away is by Miranda Smith. My sister died. Her friends lied. And now I’m going to learn the truth…  A year ago, my twin sister Samantha left me a message: I need you. A day later, she was dead. I always knew it was suspicious, but no one would listen. But I’ve just found her journal, tucked into a hidden space in the window seat of our childhood bedroom. It shows who her best friends really are: the fraud. The liar. The cheat. The crush. Now, they’re all together on a weekend away, in a beautiful wood-panelled cabin in the mountain. And I’m going too. One of them killed her, and I’m going to prove it. But am I ready for the answers I’m seeking? Because I soon realize that my sister had dark secrets too…  And when fire breaks out on the mountain, leaving us trapped, I must decide: what will I risk to get justice for Samantha? Because finding the truth might cost me my life…

The house is deathly silent as the summer sun starts to creep in through the dusty windows. The children should be waking up, the parents should be cooking breakfast. But they all lay still, their heads on their pillows, lifeless eyes staring at nothing, their bodies waiting to be discovered… When a couple and their young twin boys are discovered brutally murdered in their beds, everyone suspects this is a home invasion gone tragically wrong. But as Detective Madison Harper walks into the run-down house that is eerily empty, she isn’t so sure. Talking to the neighbors, Madison soon discovers that the family only recently moved to the small town of Lost Creek, Colorado. No one has met them, and no one knows their names. With nothing to identify them in the house, or even to show that the house belonged to them, Madison is suddenly faced with not only having to find a cold-blooded killer, but needing to identify the victims too. Then, Madison’s heart stops in her chest when she discovers a small yellow t-shirt in the back of the family’s vehicle that says Daddy’s Girl. The couple must have had a daughter as well as the twin boys, but where is she? Madison suspects she’s been abducted, and vows to find the missing little girl before it’s too late. But as Madison makes a breakthrough in identifying the family, she discovers they had a secret that changes the whole course of the investigation. Madison knows with every second that passes the chances of finding the girl alive get smaller, but she’s prepared to risk everything to find her, even her own life… Her Lonely Bones is by Wendy Dranfield.

The Perfect Date is by Julia Crouch. I thought I’d found the one… But then I found him dead. The last time I saw Harry, he was smiling at me over a candlelit table. It felt like I’d known him forever. I sipped my wine, and let myself hope for a second perfect date. But this morning, out on a bright sunny walk, my rescue dog starts barking. I follow to see what he’s found. That’s when I see Harry’s body. His handsome face is cold and still. I back away, trembling. It should be the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But it’s happened to me before. The last two men I dated are dead. I can’t tell the police I knew them both. I’d be their number one suspect. But I need answers. Am I going mad, or is this my fault? And if I don’t find out who is doing this, will I be next?

Prom Queen is by Laura Wolfe. Twenty years ago, someone murdered my best friend the night she was crowned prom queen. Now I’m finally going to prove it… After Bailey died, I fled our small lakeside hometown and never returned. But now I’m forced back here and I can’t avoid the constant whispers about our prom night, the suspicious looks of the people I grew up with. Then I bump into a woman in a coffee shop and my eyes are drawn to the silver locket around her neck, glinting in the sunlight. My blood runs cold. I know it’s Bailey’s—she never took it off. And it’s been missing since the night she died. The shock of seeing it again jolts me back to that terrible night: Bailey under the glittering lights, blowing kisses to a crowd glaring furiously back at her. Bailey wasn’t supposed to be prom queen—and someone made her pay for it. Officially her death was ruled a tragic accident, but I knew better. I’ve never seen this woman before, so why does she have my best friend’s necklace? There has to be a reason, and this time I’ll stop at nothing to find out what really happened to Bailey the night she died. Everyone in this town has secrets. But as I edge closer to the truth, I’m afraid of what lengths they’ll go to protect them… 

As she opens her eyes and takes in the dark, damp earth, her heart races. She tries to move but the rope binding her feet cuts tight—she’s trapped underground. Heavy footsteps pace above. A tear falls down her cheek as she stifles a scream. He’s walking away. He’s left her for dead… When a shallow grave is discovered in the dark pine forest surrounding Black Rock Falls, Sheriff Jenna Alton rushes to investigate. After unearthing the old bones, Jenna scours the area for clues: and her heart beats wildly when she bumps into a teenage girl, breathless and covered in dirt. Wanda Beauchamp tells Jenna she was kidnapped from her foster home and buried alive. Could the kidnapper be linked to the shallow grave? Taking in Wanda’s thin frame, Jenna knows the poor girl is close to death. She’ll do everything she can to save her, but they’re miles from anywhere and night is falling fast. When Wanda falls, the kidnapper makes his move and Jenna is powerless to stop him taking the young girl’s life. Escaping the same fate, she is wracked with guilt and vows to catch the ruthless killer and bring him to justice. When another girl is reported missing from a foster home, Jenna and her deputy David Kane know they must act fast to save her. Jenna believes the murderer lives off-grid, and a clue at a local supply store finally leads her to a remote cabin in the woods. Still haunted by Wanda’s last moments, can Jenna lay a trap to outsmart this twisted killer preying on young girls? Or did she just put herself in unthinkable danger? Where Hidden Souls Lie is by D.K Hood.

The sunlight dances on the turquoise pool as I wait for our first guests. But my blood turns to ice when I recognise one of them as an old friend and a flood of guilt and fear comes rushing back. Is she here to ruin my life for a second time? ‘It’s been so long’, Saskia says as she hugs me. I plaster the smile back on my face, my hands shaking as I usher our guests into the traditional Spanish farmhouse we’ve spent years renovating to perfection. Saskia and I had been so close, until she betrayed me. Now I’ve started a new life here in Spain. I met José and fell in love with his deep brown eyes, and together we opened our own retreat nestled high in the mountains. But José has no idea about the real me – I know he wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye if he ever found out that I have blood on my hands. Then I discover our beautiful water fountain stained a deep red. My heart pounds with fear because it feels like a warning. And all my worst nightmares are confirmed when I find a note in my bedroom, revealing my terrible secret. I was with Saskia all day, so I know it can’t be her. Which means that someone else at the retreat knows the truth about me – and they’re here for revenge. But this perfect new life means everything to me. And I’ll do anything to protect it… The Retreat is by Karen King.

Her Last Words is by Carolyn Arnold. The glow from the fireplace throws an eerie light over the woman’s carefully arranged body, her lifeless eyes reflecting the flames that slowly burn the evidence of who did this to her… When Detective Amanda Steele is called to the brutal murder scene of successful local author Felicity Kelley, her blood runs cold. Because Amanda not only knew the victim, but was the last person Felicity called moments before she was murdered. Plagued with guilt that she never answered, Amanda is left wondering whether she could have prevented the murder, and vows to catch the killer, no matter what. Desperately searching the crime scene for clues, Amanda is shocked when she discovers a Queen of Hearts playing card, suggesting the murder could be an imitation of a scene from Felicity’s bestselling crime novel. Terrified that she is dealing with a crazed fan who could strike again, Amanda’s worst fears are confirmed when another innocent woman is viciously murdered, with the same chilling calling card left behind. But when Amanda connects the murders with a cold case from fifteen years ago, a case that Felicity appears to have been researching for her next novel, she is forced to question if the killer’s motive is even more sinister than she first suspected. But the closer Amanda gets to unearthing this motive, the closer she gets to becoming the next victim…

On the surface we were the perfect couple, but no one knows what we’ve been hiding .. Just six hours ago, Alex and I were married. It was a beautiful wedding by the sea, on the beach we’ve always loved. Our guests crowded outside our beach hut to raise a toast before our first midnight swim together as man and wife. And then, suddenly, he was gone, drowning in the water that meant so much to us. But instead of being able to mourn in peace, to get to grips with my awful new reality, the police are here. It seems they don’t think Alex’s death was an accident. And I’m the main suspect. I know I’m innocent, but I also know we both had secrets. And to my horror, it seems Alex’s were worth killing for. But who in our wedding party could have wanted him dead? I thought I knew the man I married but I couldn’t have been more wrong. But then again, he didn’t know the real me either. I’ve been hiding from the truth for so long. And then I realise: what if it wasn’t Alex’s past that was coming back to find him. What if it’s mine? How far will someone go to expose my darkest secret? Her Perfect Revenge is by Lesley Sanderson.

The Teacher is by Danielle Stewart. Daisy sobbed as she pointed at the picture of my darling son. “It was him,” she cried out distraught. “He was the one who attacked me.”Today all my worst fears came true. I thought I had escaped the dark secrets of my teenage years. But when my son is accused by one of my students of a crime I know only too well, my past comes hurtling into my present. Surely my beloved son Bryson, my kind and caring boy, who I raised to be nothing like the men of my past, couldn’t be mixed up with – or worse, be – what they are describing. Could he? But when Daisy comes to me in the classroom with tears in her eyes, trusting me with her confession, I vow that she won’t suffer the same fate I did. But what can I do? I love my son. I need to believe him no matter what. As I struggle to know who to believe, the threats begin. Notes on my car, messages saying you will pay for what happened. Just like last time. Only this time I don’t know if I’ll get out of it alive…

The Night of The Sleepover is by Kerry Wlkinson. Four girls close their eyes. Only one wakes up. Leah and her three best friends get changed into their pyjamas, eat pizza and argue about what film to watch. They laugh together until the early hours. But the next morning, Leah blinks open her eyes and sees three empty sleeping bags. The other girls are gone. Twenty years later. In her small hometown, still-haunted Leah has never been able to shake off the rumours and whispers. How could she have slept through it all? She must know what happened. Now, a documentary is being made about the night Leah’s best friends disappeared. Is the truth about to come out? Then an anonymous email arrives in Leah’s inbox. ‘Stop them’. Somebody out there knows what happened the night of the sleepover. Is Leah in terrible danger? And will she ever find her missing friends – or are some secrets meant to be kept forever?

‘Please – someone – help us. We’re at The Lodge, the snow is everywhere. We’re trapped. There was an argument last night… things got out of hand. Someone went missing in the middle of the night. We think they might be dead…’ Two days ago the Wilson family checked into the imposing, glass-fronted Lodge, surrounded by snow and perched perilously on the edge of a cliff looking out to a grey sea. Not everyone was looking forward to the family get-together. But mother-in-law Angela insisted the winter trip would help heal their rifts… Danni: The new wife who feels like an imposter. She doesn’t trust anyone – even her husband. But is she trustworthy herself? Fiona: The ex-wife who feels that all eyes are on her. She’s here for the sake of her children, but she fails to hide her seething jealousy towards her ex-husband’s new family… Angela: The mother-in-law who can’t help but interfere. She planned the family holiday to get everyone together, but does she really want to keep the peace? Scott: The husband torn between his ex-wife and his new wife. He says he wants to do right by his family, but he’s been telling lies to them all. Now his darkest secret is about to be revealed. After a night of arguments, morning breaks with a single scream. Not everyone came to The Lodge play to happy families. Someone came to get revenge… The Lodge is by Sue Watson.

The Day After the Party is by Nicole Trope. The perfect birthday or the perfect nightmare? Katelyn smiles around at her husband and friends, gathered to celebrate her thirty-sixth birthday in their beautiful home decorated with fairy lights. But the next day Katelyn wakes up shaken and terrified in a hospital bed… She doesn’t remember the sweet taste of birthday cake icing, or how angry her best friend was at midnight, or the terrible things her husband said. She doesn’t remember the party at all. When she asks her husband what happened the night of the party he says ‘nothing’. But her blood runs cold at the way his voice lilts slightly. The way it always does when he is lying. Did someone at the party harm her? What is her husband hiding? Or did Katelyn herself do something terrible? Only one thing is certain. Nobody can be trusted. And if Katelyn’s memories of the party do come back, it will tear them all apart…

Murder in a French Villageis by Merryn Allingham. Join bookshop owner Flora Steele and handsome writer Jack Carrington as they set off on a French adventure and solve a chilling crime! Jack is stunned to receive a call from his estranged mother, Sybil, asking him to drop everything and come to France. Together with Flora, his fellow sleuth, they pack their suitcases, dreaming of fragrant lavender fields and freshly baked pain au chocolat. It’s only when they arrive that they discover the shocking truth – Sybil’s friend was killed on a street in Paris, and she is desperate for their help. The case leads them to a picturesque village in the south of France where life should be rosé, but even the bright blue skies can’t hide the fact that something is very wrong. And the mystery only deepens when Flora discovers that Sybil was in fact the intended target. Who would want her out of the way? Perhaps Sybil’s relationship with wealthy Italian count Massimo Falconi has something to do with it. His darling daughter Allegra, ruthless business partner Pascal and his jealous estranged wife Isabella all have reasons for revenge… Then when another person in the small French town dies in suspicious circumstances, Flora is convinced the two untimely deaths must be connected. Just when the case seems impossible to crack, a chess box provides an unlikely clue. Can Flora discover the truth before Sybil meets her end? Or could trouble in paradise spell a final au revoir for the detective duo?

Why Write About What You Know? Researching The Mystery of Yew Tree House

I envisaged this as a homage to the Christie/Ngaio Marsh Golden Age, yet with a modern twist. The Mystery of Yew Tree House is set in a dual time frame of 1940 during WWII and the present day. Obviously, I know a bit about now, but to enter the spirit of the forties in wartime Britain – and then to take readers there - required research. 

The story was inspired by the many ‘pillboxes’ dotted around the Sussex countryside, where I live. Red-brick structures, square, hexagonal or octagonal, they were built by the coast in the South East and inland at key routes and waterways to defend against a Nazi invasion. Pill boxes were used by the Home Guard – not the jolly bunch of incompetents portrayed in Dad’s Army - but a serious and skilled men with day jobs who had to huddle in these pillboxes every night. 

While out with my dog I see many pill boxes. As is often the case, once my attention is caught by a location, in Kew Gardens, the Thames Towpath, I imagine a body there. What if that body was a skeleton dating back to the war? 

One joy of writing fiction is research. While an image - say a pillbox – might be a starting point, for me, research is as much an exploration of a subject that’s aroused my curiosity, as about giving ‘reality’ to my fiction. 

That adage of ‘write about what you know’ works better as, ‘what I don’t know, I’ll find out then I’ll write about it.’ This has led me out of my study into the world of other people’s chosen paths. I’ve ridden in the cab of a London Underground train listening to the driver describe his work. Exploring behind the scenes of a police station gaining a sense of what it was like to police London in the nineteen-eighties. I’ve interviewed botanists and visited ‘The Artist’s Room’ at Kew gardens to see a botanical illustrator at work. For The Playground Murders, at the Museum of Childhood, I ferreted through yellowing papers describing playground safety in the nineteen-seventies. and eighties. A child of the sixties, I was aghast at ways I could have been injured or worse in my local playground. When I wrote The Companion, I remained in my study to read about psychopaths. I did venture into the cellars at Sheffield Park House where I pondered on where that body might go. Who says writing is a lonely business?

For The Mystery of Yew Tree House, my research involved books on the Home Front, women’s diaries and newspaper archives. But as ever, I tramped the novel’s location . For fictional purposes, Bishopstone and Lindfield became one village. 

Delving into the Home Guard I discovered Churchill’s Secret Army. Men – and women – supposedly in the Home Guard, who were actually in an Auxiliary Unit. Trained at a secret location, this guerilla force – called Stay-Behinds –was armed with fearsome a Fairbairn-Sykes dagger with which to ambush a victim and cut his throat. Butcher and bolt. Stay-behinds were in reserved occupations or too young for the forces An ideal recruit knew the terrain, every ditch, every culvert, so could move at night with ease and speed. A blacksmith and farm labourers with practical skills, even poachers. Especially poachers, those used to committed crimes and playing dirty. 

I found my neighbour’s father’s name listed in a Sussex Auxiliary Unit. My neighbour had an inkling his dad – a farmworker had not actually been in the Home Guard. Once, his father had pointed towards a field near the farm on where he had worked and remarked, ‘that’s where we were holed up’. That was all. He would have been referring to his unit’s Observational Base, an underground bunker which not even locals knew about. My neighbour said his dad was ‘a gentle giant’, who hated pain or suffering. What had his father made of ‘butcher and bolt’? The Auxiliers were told they had a fortnight before they would be killed. 

After the war, cut loose without pensions or praise and, having signed the Official Secrets Act unable to say what they had done in the war. There were medals, but you had to pay for them.

An undercurrent of secrecy and violence lies beneath my ‘cosy’ picture of a village at war. My modern twist on the Golden Age is that nothing is what it seems…

The Mystery of Yew Tree House by Lesley Thomson (Head of Zeus) £20.00 Out Now

Eighty years of secrets. A body that reveals them all. 1940. At Yew Tree House, recently widowed Adelaide Stride is raising her two daughters alone - but it's not just the threat of German invasion that keeps her up at night. She is surrounded by enemies posing as allies and, while war rages, she grows sure that something terrible is about to happen. 2023. Soon after Stella Darnell begins her holiday at Yew Tree House, a skeleton is found in a pillbox at the bottom of the garden. The bullet hole in the skull tells her that the person was murdered. This triggers the unravelling of a mystery eighty years in the making. Soon, Stella will learn that Adelaide was right to worry - the fighting might have been happening abroad, but the true enemy was always much closer to home...

More information about Lesley and her work can be found on her website. You can also find her on X @LesleyjmThomson and on Facebook and on Instagram @lesleythomson.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Extract from Murder at The Residence

 The old guy mumbles in his hospital bed.

‘What did you say?’ I ask, leaning closer.

‘Death says check mate.’

He’s not much more than skin hung on old bones. His skin is pale grey, stretched across bones that stick out as if all the meat has gone from them. His hair’s grey and sparse. But there’s life in his eyes. They’re blue-green like the deep sea. A pair of twinkling stars in a body close to death.

I’ve outsmarted death more than once,’ he continues. ‘And more than twice.’

His voice is faint, hardly more than a whisper.

‘Now my battle’s almost over and the doctors say I have at best a few days to tie up loose ends.’

Hákon has a drip in his arm that feeds him. A computer monitors his pulse that flickers at around fifty beats a minute. There’s an oxygen mask hanging down on his chest and occasionally he feebly pushes it up to his dry, parted lips.

I put my russet-brown briefcase on the floor in front of the monitor.

‘It’s been a marathon and it’s almost over. I’m not running away from death any longer. No point now.’

‘The nurse said you had a final wish. What’s that?’

‘The sin of neglect weighs heavy on me.’

‘Sin? Wouldn’t you be better off with a priest?’

‘Not that sort of sin,’ Hákon says.

A middle-aged nurse looks in when he starts to cough. She makes the old man comfortable in his bed. She moistens his dry lips, passes a damp cloth over his pale grey forehead.

‘There you go, Hákon. That’s better, isn’t it?’ she clucks, without expecting a reply. Then she’s gone back along the corridor. A merciful angel in human guise.

This place gives me the horrors. I swear to myself again that I’m not going to end my days here in death’s waiting room. I try to get this visit over as soon as I can.

‘So, what can I do for you?’ I ask.

‘Are you in a hurry as well?’

‘Yes. Always.’

‘I’d like to ask you to clear the way for me to complete a task I never had the energy to finish,’ Hákon says.

‘Let’s hear it.’

‘I’ve always found injustice hard to bear,’ he continues, his voice weakening. ‘It’s been a hell of a burden sometimes because in this world there’s so much that’s unjust. There are evil people running everything, and I’m sad to say I was never any kind of a hero. I often felt bad over the injustices I witnessed, and mostly never did anything.’


‘Except once.’

Hákon pulls at the oxygen mask with his right hand and presses it to his face. The hand shakes and trembles.

I look away, glance around for a chair. I pull a white stool up to the bed, and sit.

The old man’s stable, for the time being.

‘What happened that one time?’ I ask with impatience.

‘Come closer,’ he whispers.

I’m on my feet, closer to the bed. I lean down to his face. Even though I feel sick at the foul smell of death that’s coming from him.

‘I had to do something,’ he breathes.

‘What did you do?’

‘Killed a man or two.’

I’m taken uncomfortably by surprise. I’m not sure I’ve heard him right.

‘You killed a man or two?’ I repeat.

‘Aye. There were two of them.’

I straighten my back. Looking into his blue-green eyes. They look perfectly clear.

‘Are you messing with me?’ I ask coldly.


This makes me shiver.

‘I don’t regret it in the least,’ he whispers. ‘I had to do it to save my child from a terrible fate.’

‘What child?’

‘I’m asking you to find my child.’

‘What child are we talking about?’

‘She was about a year old.’


‘I don’t know what her name is now,’ Hákon whispers. ‘She was christened Ásthildur. She was given a new name when she was adopted.’

‘When was this?’

‘Summer 1972.’

I quickly do the sum in my head.

‘So now she’d be getting on for forty?’

‘Ásthildur will be thirty-eight at the end of May. Her birthday’s the twenty-fifth of May.’

‘Why should I search out this woman?’

‘I want my child to know the truth.’

’What truth?’

‘The truth about her parents. The truth about Hjördís and me.’

Hákon’s eyes flicker to one side, to the white table by the bed.

‘Open the drawer.’

I pull the handle on the white cabinet. There’s a brown cigar box held together with tough red tape.

‘Take the box with you.’

‘What for?’

‘You have to find my child,’ he whispers. ‘You have to tell her the truth.’

Murder at the Residence by Stella Blómkvist (Translated by Quentin Bates) Corylus Books

It’s New Year and Iceland is still reeling from the effects of the financial crash when a notorious financier is found beaten to death after a high-profile reception at the President’s residence.The police are certain they have the killer – or do they? Determined to get to the truth, maverick lawyer Stella Blómkvist isn’t so sure. A stripper disappears from one of city's seediest nightspots, and nobody but Stella seems interested in finding her. A drug mule cooling his heels in a prison cell refuses to speak to anyone but Stella – although she’s never heard of him. An old man makes a deathbed confession and request for Stella to find the family he lost long ago. With a sharp tongue and a moral compass all of her own, Reykjavík lawyer Stella Blómkvist, with her taste for neat whiskey, a liking for easy money and a moral compass all of her own Stella Blómkvist has a talent for attracting trouble and she’s as at home in the corridors of power as in the dark corners of Reykjavík’s underworld. 

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Scottish Crime Writing Prize for Unagented Writers

HQ Fiction and Bloody Scotland announce new Scottish Crime Writing Prize in Association with The Times and The Sunday Times in Sctland and 42 Managment 

HQ Fiction are thrilled to be launching a competition in partnership with The Times and The Sunday Times in Scotland, Bloody Scotland, and 42 Management and Production to find an unagented Scottish writer writing Scotland-set crime novels. For the purposes of the prize, a crime novel is eligible if the author was born, raised, is a permanent resident in, or has a strong and enduring connection to Scotland.

The judging panel comprises of author and Bloody Scotland board member Abir Mukherjee, Eugenie Furniss and Emily MacDonald from 42, David McCann, Deputy Editor for The Times and The Sunday Times Scotland, and HQ Fiction Publisher for crime and thrillers, Manpreet Grewal.

Entrants can enter the competition by submitting a 500-word synopsis along with the first 5,000-10,000 words of the manuscript and a 200-word author biography to Submissions are open from July 1st 2023 until 30th November 2023. The six-strong shortlist will be announced in January 2024, with the winner due to be announced in March 2024. The winner will have their book published by HQ. They will also receive a £10,000 advance, plus agent representation from 42.

For terms and conditions click here.


Saturday, 16 September 2023

McIlvanney Prize and Bloody Scotland Debut Prize announced!!


Sponsored by The Glencairn Glass

We're thrilled to reveal the 2023 winners of The McIlvanney Prize and The Bloody Scotland Debut Prize. The finalists for both prizes led the iconic torchlit procession from Stirling Castle through the historic old town this evening accompanied by the pipes and drums of the Stirling and District Schools Pipe Band. On stage at The Albert Halls Kenny Tweeddale, from sponsors The Glencairn Glass, presented the winner of The Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year to Kate Foster for The Maiden (Mantle) and The McIlvanney Prize Scottish Crime Book of the Year to another debut author, Callum McSorley for Squeaky Clean (Pushkin Press).

The judges for The McIlvanney Prize were unanimous in their praise for Squeaky Clean which beat off competition from previous McIlvanney Prize winners Craig Russell and Denise Mina and previous Bloody Scotland Debut winner, Robbie Morrison, to be named Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

Bryan Burnett from BBC Radio Scotland said:

A wonderfully rich and funny new voice in Scottish crime. McSorley has created characters you invest in and a plot that keeps you hooked right from the start. Although it’s dark and gruesome it’s full of laugh out loud lines that still bring you pleasure long after you’ve finished the book. A novel I couldn’t wait to recommend to friends. ‘Glasgow’s least popular detective’ is about to hit the big time.’ 

Jason Allardyce, former editor of Sunday Times Scotland described it as:

A fresh new voice brings a Brookmyre-esque beauty that sparkles like a motor straight out the car wash. Full of unforgettable, three-dimensional characters and laugh out loud moments in every chapter to offset the violence among the valets.’

Angie Crawford Category Manager for Waterstones called it:

A thoroughly astonishing brutally brilliant novel written with wit and verve and laced with a very black humour that betrays a vulnerability and gets right under the skin. Callum McSorley’s writing is fresh and exciting, I can’t wait to read more.

Squeaky Clean (Pushkin) features DI Ally McCoist the least popular detective in the Glasgow police who has been demoted. It’s a contemporary thriller packed with black humour and hints of Breaking Bad. Like Tim in the book, Callum McSorley worked at a carwash to make money while he was a student which has informed some of the colourful characters.  He is from East Kilbride (as is the original footballing Ally McCoist) and graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2013. His stories have appeared in Gutter magazine and New Writing Scotland.

The judges for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize selected The Maiden by Kate Foster (Mantle) as the best Debut of the Year.

Pauline McLean from BBC Scotland said:

The Maiden is a finely crafted, multi layered story. I didn’t want it to end, and certainly not in the way I knew it did, being based on a true-life case. A rare and poignant female perspective in a decidedly male world, told with passion and humour. Much more than a crime novel, and apt that its own development began at Bloody Scotland in 2020.

 Kenny Tweeddale, New Product Development Manager from The Glencairn Glass said:

I thought The Maiden was a terrific bodice ripping tale that kept you guessing till the end.  The fictional story was built around factual characters and a historical incident from the chequered past of Auld Reekie. Bouncing between two strong female characters it demonstrates how women had to strive to survive in a male orientated world.

Journalist and Editor Arusa Qureshi said:

The Maiden is a fascinating and immersive debut, that places you in an imagined yet historically familiar time and space. Stories about women in history are so often lost or forgotten so it’s refreshing to read something based on a true case that is skilfully constructed and utterly gripping, with a woman’s voice front and centre.

Kate Foster has come full circle at Bloody Scotland. She first appeared on the virtual stage at Pitch Perfect during lockdown in 2020. She won the pitching panel with an outline of The Maiden and went on to get an agent and publisher. The Maiden (Mantle) is set in the 17th Century and is a reimagining of true historical events in which Lady Christian Nimmo is charged with the murder of her lover - and uncle - James Forrester. Kate Foster is a journalist and lives in Edinburgh.

Kirsty Nicholson, Design and Marketing Manager at Glencairn Crystal, said:

We’re raising a celebratory dram in our Glencairn Glass to salute Callum McSorley and Kate Foster for winning this year’s awards. A massive congratulations to them both on their success. We’re very proud of our Scottish heritage and it has been a huge honour to sponsor the awards over the past few years that showcase the diverse array of talent that currently exists in the world of Scottish crime fiction.

A huge congtulations to both winners!

Friday, 15 September 2023

Gareth Rubin talks to Shots Magazine


We’ve recently been energised by a most unusual novel from the writer and journalist Gareth Rubin. 

We wrote at the time of its release: “Gareth Rubin’s two novellas that form The Turnglass is a narrative of mysterious beauty, locking two very different writing styles to tell two very different stories that are linked so, so very elegantly. Less of a novel, more a unique reading experience”

Read the full review HERE

We’ve followed the author from his debut Liberation Square where we introduced our readers to his work HERE

And as ever we had a few questions regarding his most unusual work The Turnglass which the author kindly answered.

Ali Karim: So before we get started, could you give us a quick review of both your career in journalism and creative writing for our readers?

Gareth Rubin: Why not? I started off as a news journalist, turning freelance pretty early and then writing mostly about arts – film, books, theatre – and travel. That was a brilliant time, getting to travel the world and get paid for it. Then something grabbed hold of me and I got the idea of training as an actor. I did that, did a bit of professional work, touring Shakespeare, playing Dracula and other bits and pieces. Then back to journalism, writing about social affairs for the Observer. A bit of jink then, into writing books, and my first novel, Liberation Square, came out four years ago; and my second, The Winter Agent was published in 2020.

Ali: After The Winter Agent, what about COVID and the shutdowns? 

Gareth: It came out during the depths of Lockdown when all the bookshops were shut and the publisher was having serious distribution problems, so it was virtually impossible to buy it. That was on the tricky side.

Ali: After Liberation Square and The Winter Agent, what made you change direction toward The Turnglass?

Gareth: God knows. Yeah, it’s a bit of a spin, but I had this idea for a book that you can read from either direction and it just stuck there. I think it was also the technical challenge that appealed. And I wrote it during Lockdown in a conference room at The Observer because the building was empty so I could be left in peace for once.

To read more of the interview click on this link.

Shots Magazine would like to thank Katherine Armstrong of Simon and Schuster for her help in organising this interview.

Photos / Images  (c) 2023 Mike Stotter, Goldsboro Books, Simon and Schuster, PenguinRandomHouse, Bloomsbury, Vintage and Columbia Pictures

More information about Gareth Rubin is available from   

Signed copies of THE TURNGLASS can be obtained from Goldosboro Books, London HERE

Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club Books Announced

Six books, including ones by Janice Hallett, Dinah Jefferies and Greg Hurwitz, have been chosen as Richard and Judy picks for the autumn Book Club, exclusive to W H Smith.

The selection of novels has been curated by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan and range from adventure and thriller to comedy. 

Mystery writer Hallett’s The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels (Viper) features on the list. The book, which Finnegan describes as “creepy and  complicated”, lays out a new story in the author’s “inimitable cosy style of dossiers, emails, texts and recorded phone calls".

Jefferies historical novel Night Train to Marrakech (HarperCollins) has also been picked, making this the author’s third appearance in the Richard and Judy Book Club. The book is set in 1960s Morocco, and Madeley has praised Jeffries for capturing the atmosphere of Marrakech “better than anyone else I have ever read".

This is also the third Book Club nomination for Hurwitz, whose thriller The Last Orphan (Penguin) has also been selected as a book club pick. Meanwhile, Charlotte Levin’s "heart-warming" story If I Let You Go (Mantle) is also on the autumn list, as is The Traitor (Penguin) by former crime reporter and civil servant Ava Glass and We All Want Impossible Things (Doubleday), Catherine Newman’s debut novel about love and friendship. 

The six recommendations in this series are available in W H Smith stores across the UK and online. Moreover, the Richard and Judy Book Club podcast will also be returning for another series on 28th September, providing an introduction to each of the recommended titles from the authors in conversation with Madeley and Finnegan. 

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Holly Seddon on Why Crime Fiction loves to play with memory?

I was around nine, my sister was around five and we were walking home from school one day. (This was the eighties, so that’s not as alarming as it now sounds.) Our flat was in view. I remember looking forward to Round The Bend and Count Duckula so it must have been a Tuesday. 

An old lady came out of the green grocer’s shop to my right. I remember the sheet of metal on the pavement that was covering a missing paving slab, I remember her winter coat buttoned up and the smile she gave me. I remember her lying flat on the floor, so suddenly that I didn’t have time to see her foot catch the uneven edge of the metal sheet. A wet pink tooth had skittered from her mouth and across the pavement. 

I remember my terrified sister, flying off as fast as she could to find our dad. I remember squatting down, utterly unequipped, next to the old lady. Because she had smiled at me, I felt a kinship or obligation. As she lay, toothless and crying, I said, “Are you okay?” She did not have time to answer me because the green grocer had run out to help, and an off duty fireman. Maybe my dad by then. For the next thirty years I would, from time to time, torture myself about asking such a stupid question. She was very obviously not okay and she needed help, not polite inquiries. 

There are other memories from that era, of arguably more significant events, that I have forgotten even though I know from family or public record that they occurred. Memory does not work like a zip drive, it’s more a lucky dip bucket. I should remember crucial events affecting our family or our country, but I remember the smile, coat, tooth and shame. I still felt the shame. 

But, when I checked just now, I can see I got some details wrong. There was no green grocer’s shop. So the man I remember in a green tabard, helping, was probably not really there. I also realised that the off duty fireman I remembered helping, had actually helped with a completely different incident during a school trip. Someone helped the old lady but all I really know is that it wasn’t me. 

I have no idea if it was even a Tuesday. Count Duckula and Round The Bend were my favourite shows and I probably have other clear memories of racing home to watch those, which I’ve folded in. I don’t remember racing home to watch Blue Peter because I didn’t. It was boring.

My sister and I had not discussed this experience since 1989 but when we finally talked about it recently, she remembered it just as vividly. But she did not remember it exactly the same. And by comparing our memories we dropped some incorrect details, confirmed others, and a clearer picture developed. And when I squirmed in my shame, she said, “but you were nine”. She’d been there too, and she had not thought I’d done anything wrong and then, suddenly, maybe I hadn’t. 

Memories feel unshakable, we can see them in our minds and watch them over again like a video. They feel concrete because they are ours, like documents in our mental filing cabinet. And so, when evidence comes along that those memories are flawed, incomplete or even entirely false, that’s pretty terrifying. 

We deny it. “I was there, I know what I saw”. 

Or we rationalise it. “You think that because you were further away/drunk/short sighted”. 

Or, and this is the most unsettling of all, we accept that our memories were wrong in this case. And if these memories are wrong, what other memories might we remember incorrectly? Can we ever trust our memories, our brains, ourselves? 

Not really, says Elizabeth Loftus, a leading expert on memory. In her 2013 TED Talk How reliable is your memory, Loftus says that rather than a “recording device”, memory is “constructive” and “reconstructive". She likens it to a Wikipedia page. “You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.” 

Crime fiction loves to play with memories. A crack in the psyche is rich compost for unease and fear. What is more frightening than not even trusting yourself? 

Some of the biggest crime books of the last decade feature protagonists battling memory issues. From SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep to Paula Hawkins’s The Girl On the Train to In The Woods by Tana French. Fear of our memories failing us, or painting us the wrong picture, is a universal concern.

In The Short Straw, I wanted to play with childhood memories and the long tendrils they can have. My three main characters – adult sisters - have contrasting and confusing childhood memories of a particular day that appear to show one thing and then - when finally put together - tell an altogether different and more sinister story. It takes them returning to an abandoned mansion they have not seen for thirty years, for the memories to surface fully. And when they do, they realise they are in terrible danger. 

But I also wanted to give the sisters what my sister gave to me. Reassurance and forgiveness. Look, I was there too, and it wasn’t your fault. You were nine. 

We can often feel like we are our memories. But maybe, more importantly, we are a combination of perceptions. Our own and other people’s, the documented evidence and the nebulous anecdotal evidence of how we made others feel. Maybe this is why it is so important, so valuable, to share memories with each other. Maybe, without sharing, we will never be able to see the full picture.

The Short Straw by Holly Seddon (Orion Publishing) Out Now

Three troubled sisters find themselves lost in a storm at night, and seek safety at Moirthwaite Manor, where their mother once worked. They are shocked to find the isolated mansion that loomed so large through their childhoods has long been abandoned. Drawing straws to decide who should get help, one sister heads back into the darkness. With the siblings separated, the deadly secrets hidden in the house finally make themselves known and we learn the unspeakable truth that will tear the family apart.

More information about Holly Seddon and her work can be found on her website. You can also find her on X @hollyseddon on Instagram @hollyseddonauthor and on Facebook.

Writing the Lure of Water

It was early autumn, a clear day with a cloud-scudded sky, and they had leapt into the water, their skin kissed by silver bubbles. They raced each other against the current, up to where the weeds stood tall, suspended in fronds, and the newly fallen leaves glowed like jewels from the bottom of the river. 

- Extract from SILENT WATERS, publishing 14th September.

What is it about the water that draws us? Is it that, like the flames of a fire, water is always moving? Are we hypnotised by it?

I am certainly drawn to writing about the water. I love the beauty of it, and the power it can wield. In truth, I fear it, and there's something wonderful about writing about what we fear. Perhaps that's why a lot of writers write. Because writing whatever 'fear' means to us enables us to explore something difficult. Most importantly, when we write 'The End', we have survived it.

Everyone knows water can be our friend – a clear blue lagoon, a holiday swimming pool for our kids. But it can also be a foe, and it's not just the obvious expanses of water we should look out for, like the dark shadow of the rip in the sea, or the rainfall that falls so fast and so heavy that it causes floods and landslides. No, quite often, the most dangerous areas of the water are the ones we don't think anything of; the village pond, the bathtub, the river we run alongside everyday. 

I found a way to write my enchantment with water into a thriller – and it was by exploring the profession of police diving. In SILENT WATERS, I explore the perils of it via my protagonist, Jen Harper, a full time police diver, as I was lucky enough to talk to a diver to research the book. I can verify for absolute certainty that diving is one of the toughest jobs within the police; it requires such grit and determination and patience and I have the utmost respect for anyone that specialises in it.

I asked my contact what drew them to police diving, and they had replied with the joyful simplicity that they loved the water: the depth and the murk of it, the smoothness of it and its rhythmic calm, how the light plays on the surface of it, but also, conversely, its blackest corners, too.

Police diving allows a variety of environment, and a variety of cases, but an officer that specialiaes within that unit doesn't hold the day to day grind that most police officers incur. Divers are never involved in the ‘whys’ of an investigation, only the hunting of what’s crucial to solve them. Divers do a job and then they move on, rarely finding out the resolutions of a case they’ve searched for. Quite often they find out what happened in a case when they see it on the news.

There’s nowhere underwater you can think of that a diver hasn’t been or won’t go; the sea, in lakes and rivers, canals, sewers and wells. A police diver is someone who craves a very particular type of challenge, and who has a deep drive for success against odds when looking for lost belongings, vehicles, weapons, bodies. 

It’s a person who is comfortable being claustrophobic, who likes working in the silence. And perhaps there's something calming about this – in our busy world, perhaps the quiet of the water is comforting. Perhaps the fact that a diver cannot see when in the water and has to do everything by touch, is also comforting, womb-like. They are in a submerged world, with only their heartbeats for company.

Not only did I want to explore the police diving but I wanted to really convey the feeling of being underwater, the delight of it, and the danger. I read books about individual relationships with water (The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka), articles from members of wild swimming communities, and nature books about what water tasted like in rivers, and what vegetation grew along the river banks. It was brilliantly immersive. So much so, that I've found myself writing my new book set against the backdrop of a Scottish Loch. More on that to come..

Silent Waters by L V Matthews (Welbeck Publishing Group) Out Now

Is blood thicker than water? At five a.m. one summer's morning, police diver Jen Harper wakes to find herself submerged in the silt of a river with no memory of how she got there. Forty-eight hours later, she's called to dive in the same river in search of a missing woman, Claudia Franklin. But for Jen, this is no ordinary job. Her and Claudia's families were entangled for decades - there is unresolved resentment between them, unspoken secrets. Jen hasn't seen Claudia for twelve years now. Or has she?