Thursday, 29 July 2021

2021 Ned Kelly Awards shortlist


The Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA) have announced the shortlist for the 2021 Ned Kelly Awards. 

Best Crime Fiction

Consolation by Garry Disher (Text)

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox, (Penguin)

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill, (Pantera)

The Survivors by Jane Harper, (Pan)

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan, (HarperCollins)

Tell Me Lies by J P Pomare, (Hachette)

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham, (Hachette)

White Throat by Sarah Thornton, (Text)

Best Debut Crime Fiction

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns, (Bandrui Publishing)

The Second Son by Lorraine Peck, (Text)

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry, (PRH)

The Night Whistler by Greg Woodlands, (Text)

Best True Crime

The Husband Poisoner by Tanya Bretherton, (Hachette)

Stalking Claremont: Inside the hunt for a serial killer by Bret Christian, (HarperCollins)

Public Enemies by Mark Dapin, (A&U)

Hazelwood by Tom Doig, (Viking)

Witness by Louise Milligan, (Hachette)

Best International Cime Fiction

The Guest List by Lucy Foley, (HarperCollins)

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman, (A&U)

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar, (Text)

We Begin at the End by Chris Whittaker, (A&U)

Broken by Don Winslow, (HarperCollins).

Congratulations to all!

Established in 1995, the Ned Kelly Awards are Australia’s oldest, most prestigious awards honoring crime fiction and true crime writing.

For more information about the 2021 shortlists, go to the ACWA website.

Kelly Heard on Realism and Romance in a Pandemic


When people talk about the influence of COVID-19 on reading trends, the word that I always hear is comfort. Readers appear to be seeking out escapism, reaching for the dependability of formulaic genres, or rereading old favorites. Although it is too soon to know for sure, I can’t help but wonder if the pandemic will have a comparable effect on the way that we are writing. 

I’ve always attempted to keep the reins on my writing with a question: isn’t this too much? As in, too much coincidence, too much melodrama, just too much? At some point during lockdown, my drafts and characters began to answer no. The resulting books are full of foreboding, danger, and melodrama, and the settings are melancholy and wild. They are closer to psychological suspense than the women’s fiction I have usually written. As the long days of quarantine dragged into summer and then fall, I stopped asking quite so often. I have always been the type of reader who prefers to marvel at a story, rather than to outsmart it. But in making writing choices that were, to a degree, less than realistic, I couldn’t help but feel that I was breaking a rule somewhere. There is a word for that, though.

In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye argues that the present definition of novel is too broad. His theory of genre lays out, instead, four intertwined forms of book-length fiction, of which the novel is only one. Frye is long out of fashion when it comes to literary criticism, but his basic argument with our overuse of the term novel rings true, possibly even more today than when he wrote it in 1957. To illustrate his concept, I have written a brief summary of each of Frye’s four genres, along with an example from current crime and psychological suspense books.

The first two, and most common, are novel and romance (in this instance, romance as a form of prose fiction is distinct from the genre of romance novels). A novel is set within society, with pacing and plot dependent on causality—you could say, plot-driven. By contrast, a romance is more likely character-driven, set “in vacuo,” often in vast and wild natural landscapes, its stylized characters giving the form a “glow of subjective intensity.” Frye compares Jane Austen (novels) to Emily Bronte (romance) by way of example. In terms of psychological suspense, I would compare something like Minka Kent’s The Watcher Girl (a novel: plot-driven, a layered protagonist situated in contemporary culture: in the suburbs, on the internet) to Eliza Maxwell’s The Unremembered Girl (a romance: a breathtaking drama of a crime mystery, set out in the marsh, where the alligator, Old Brutal, lurks). Though these books achieve different goals, neither is less suspenseful or thrilling than the other. Where a novel deals with society, a romance deals with individuality, its natural landscape yielding to what Frye calls the “nihilistic and untamable.” I can’t help but think, when you see a thriller with a two-star review that says that it was too much about character rather than plot, that was very likely more romance than novel—not that either category has more claim to psychological suspense than the other. 

Frye’s third genre, the confession, is most closely linked to memoir. Frye’s prototypical confessions are those of St. Augustine and Rousseau. It would be unusual to find a contemporary book that is purely confession, which is as concerned with intellectual subject matter as with narrative. One is Travis Besecker’s Lost in Infinity, psychological suspense written as fictional memoir, which jumps from apparent tortured autobiography to thriller with ease. And the anatomy, the fourth genre, includes books that are part narrative, part catalogue of ideas, usually satirical. Think: Alice in Wonderland, The Circle, The Master and Margarita. Fight Club, satirizing toxic masculinity and consumer culture, shares some tendencies with this genre. Do these distinctions matter? Probably more to writers than to readers, but Frye would have answered that we ought to judge a writer in terms of the conventions they chose.

In terms of my own writing, the reminder that fiction deserves for us to judge it in terms of its own intent was enlightening. Suddenly, I wasn’t writing a dreamy, insufficiently realistic novel. I had a different goal all along, and I shouldn’t have needed a theorist to tell me so, either. Part of me is dying to ask everyone else out there: how has the pandemic changed your relationship to your writing? My anecdotal evidence, as a writer who spends a lot of time talking to other writers, suggests that many of us are experiencing a different relationship to realism than we used to—no need to wonder why. They always say it with a kind of guilt. But I think that is fine, if it’s validation that you need, not that you should need it. Occasional escape can be a form of sustenance or medicine. Romance as a form has never been a refusal of reality; it exists within reality, as a complement to it. As for me, for the foreseeable future, I will be sitting at the “nihilistic and untamable” table.

 Woman in the Water by Kelly Heard (Bookoutre) Out Now

I know my sister didn’t die by accident. Does someone know our secret? I swore I’d never go home to Brightwater. It would be safer for everyone if I stayed away. But now my sister is dead, and I am driving down the familiar highway, watching the sunlight glimmer off the lake, with the memory of her green eyes like a knife in my heart. I know Holly didn’t slip and drown out by the old boardwalk, surrounded by trees and dark water. She would never have gone there, if she had a choice. Her little girls need me now. I couldn’t save Holly, but I must protect them. Because if whoever killed Holly knows what we did all those years ago, out on the water, then I need to find them before they come after me. But how can I, when there are still so many things I don’t know about what really happened that night?

More information about the author can be found on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @kheardbooks.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Jean Harker


Name: Jean Harker:

Job: Television and radio scriptwriter


Jean Harker, is a Scot who was brought up in Wales and read English at Oxford (St Hilda's). She is a writer for television and radio. She has written short stories for Woman’s Weekly and Bella, and television scripts for Jackanory Playhouse. She is also the creator of the children's programme The Wild House.

Current book?

Reading or working on? I’m mostly a scriptwriter (as Jean Buchanan) so what I’m working on at the moment is a series of 15-minute scripts for children about a trainee wizard (still at Wizardschool) who is almost completely lacking in magical talent and is still on grade 1. I regret to say that it is influenced by childhood memories of piano lessons – if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it.

Favourite book?

The Pack of Pieces by Anthony Armstrong (1897-1976). It was published in 1942 by Michael Joseph, and is a collection of Armstrong’s ‘fairy tales for adults’ which had previously appeared as Christmas treats in posh magazines such as the Illustrated London News. These hilarious stories have a wonderful pantomime vibe, and are actually suitable for all the family. At the time The Pack of Pieces was published, Armstrong was busy editing, and writing most of, Tee Emm, the RAF’s legendary WWII Training Memorandum and home of the celebrated twit Pilot Officer Prune (created by Armstrong and cartoonist Bill Hooper), whose disregard of safety details and correct procedures demonstrated what not to do.

Which two characters would you invite to dinner and why?

This is a really good question, and crime fiction is the best place to look for inspiration. I should like to invite Michael Innes’s Sir John Appleby (as he became towards the end of his police career) and Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – I am sure that they would have an intriguing conversation about spycatching and the maintenance of public security. To another dinner, I would invite Inspector Morse and Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, who later became Duke of Ankh, and I would listen to their discussions of criminal investigation. It is interesting to note that, of the four characters I have mentioned, only one was not ennobled – Morse.

How do you relax?

By loading the dishwasher, making soup, and going for walks around Farmoor Reservoir.

What book do you wish you had written and why?

Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? by Tom Holt. I suppose it comes under the heading of fantasy action adventure, as it’s about a group of 9th-century Viking warriors who wake in the present time from a magical sleep. Taking modern technology in their stride, they continue their campaign against their great enemy, the evil sorcerer-king. The plot contains history, archaeology, magic, romance, sword-fights, the Germanic heroic code, and some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. I’d love to do a screen adaptation of it.

What would you say to your younger self if you were just starting out as a writer?

Ah, what a telling question... I should advise myself to network furiously, to learn to recognise an opportunity and grab it, and also to read books by or about writers who’ve made it, so as to learn from their career experiences. Among such books are David Mitchell’s memoir Back, Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic (about Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and Richard Molesworth’s well-researched Robert Holmes: A Life in Words, about a peerless television scriptwriter who started out as a policeman.

What made you decide to want to tell the story behind the classic Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief?

I first went to the Côte d’Azur -- otherwise called the [French] Riviera, and the most glamorous part of the South of France -- about 20 years ago, and loved it. We had a copy of the Rough Guide to Provence with us, which mentioned Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch a Thief and said that the film’s three stars were the Riviera, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, in that order. I realised that I had seen the film, but only in black and white years previously on my parents’ very old telly. So I bought the DVD and watched To Catch a Thief in colour. It was stunning. I was blown away, captivated by the scenery, the glamour, the fashions, the badinage, the storytelling... 

I got hold of a copy of the 1952 novel by David Dodge, which was the book behind the film; the two are interestingly different. Then I read Dodge’s 1962 travel book The Rich Man’s Guide to the Riviera, which included an account of the events which inspired his best-seller To Catch a Thief. At the time, Dodge and his family were living in a small rented villa near Cannes, and – in his absence -- Dodge was suspected of carrying out a daring $250,0000 jewel-robbery in the palatial villa next door while celebrity guests were dining on the terrace overlooking the Med. Of course Dodge was innocent, and the thief was soon arrested. But Dodge had the plot for his next novel, which he claimed was ‘the easiest eighty-thousand words ever written’ -- expatriate American former cat-burglar is wrongly accused of committing a daring jewel-robbery and has to prove his innocence by catching the real thief. 

Would it be possible to find the small villa which Dodge rented, I wondered? In The Rich Man’s Guide to the Riviera he described its location in a lush garden sloping towards the Mediterranean in the small port of Golfe-Juan, a few miles outside Cannes. The villa was called Noel Fleuri, because the garden was in bloom at Christmas. In an article in the travel magazine Holiday Dodge provided, just once, the name of the nearby palatial villa which had been burgled. Would that be enough to enable us to find the Villa Noel Fleuri? It was, and we did. Our search for the villa made it into a Radio 4 arts feature, a tie-in with my dramatisation of the novel To Catch a Thief for Radio 4. The Dodges’ little villa is still standing, although in a state of some disrepair, on some of the most expensive real estate in France.

Your two favourite Oxford books?

My two favourite books featuring Oxford. First of all, the 1911 classic novel Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. It is usually described as satirical, but it is knowing and funny as well, and written with terrific style, about a bewitching girl who arrives in Oxford and wreaks havoc among the undergraduates (then only male) who all fall in love with her. Beerbohm left Oxford without a degree, having used his undergraduate years at Merton to establish himself as a journalist and caricaturist (‘I was a modest, good-humoured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable.’). Then about 16 years later he put his thoughts about Oxford into Zuleika Dobson, his only novel. He was very keen for the heroine’s name to be pronounced properly, and when the BBC proposed a radio adaptation, he sent the producer a telegram which read ‘ZULEIKA SPEAKER NOT HIKER BEERBOHM’.

The novel Zuleika Dobson may be easily slipped into a pocket, but the same cannot be said of my second choice, which would seriously impede any tourist enthusiastic enough to want to carry it around when sightseeing. It is a real doorstopper of a book. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Oxford (HMSO). It was originally published in 1939, and contains lots of architectural and historical details of the colleges and other university buildings, along with some useful photographs.

Information about 2021 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book tickets can be found here.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award Winners 2021


The Private Eye Writers of America have announced the Shamus Award Winners for 2021. (For works published in 2020). 

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

Brittle Karma by Richard Helms (Black Arch Books)

Best Private Eye Short Story

Mustang Sally” by John M. Floyd in Black Cat Mystery Magazine

Best Private Eye Novel

Blind Vigil by Matt Coyle  (Oceanview)

Best First Private Eye Novel

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press)

The Eye, the PWA Life Achievement Award, was given to Michael Z. Lewin

Congratulations to all the nominated authors and winners.

Monday, 26 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Maria Rejt


Name:- Maria Reijt

Job:Publishing Director at Pan Macmillain (Mantle) 


Maria Reijt is a publishing director with her own imprint (Mantle) at Pan MacMillian. Maria Rejt has worked with such authors as Andrea Camilleri, Willliam Ryan, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, C J Sansom and Colin Dexter.

Current Book?

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad by Michela Wrong. This is a devastating read but a brilliant account of why the Rwandan genocide happened and the consequences still reverberating today. Deeply shocking and intensely moving.

Favourite Book?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S Lewis was a magical reading experience in my childhood and the memory of it remains undimmed.

Which to charcaters would you invite to dinner and why? 

I should like to invite Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Sonya to celebrate their inspirational resilience and the Russian soul…

How do you relax? 

Before lockdown I’d love trips to the theatre, seeing modem plays and classics. Since the theatres have stayed dark for far too long I’ve resorted to the Box Set. I watched all series of Spiral back to back as I’d missed them on first showing. Pure police procedural genius, brilliantly acted. The Paris setting is wonderful, too.

I wish I had written The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood has given us an enduring classic that will always speak to women everywhere for as long as we have to fight for equality, freedom and justice.

What would I say to my younger self starting in publishing …

Always listen to your convictions and work hard to convince others of them. You won’t always get it right but if you publish with passion you have done your best for your authors and yourself.

How would you describe working in publishing…

It has been -and continues to be - an absolute privilege to make a living as an editor in the world of books.

Two of your favourite Oxford novels are:

Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson. An academic family in North Oxford is brought brilliantly and vividly to life. I’ve recommended this novel to so many friends and colleagues and everyone so far has loved it.

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. Such ingenious and escapist fun!

Information about 2021 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book tickets can be found here.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Michael Russell on History as Mystery

Someone once said that by the time any novel is published, it’s already ‘historical’. A weary complaint about how slowly publishing wheels grind, but the historical novel is a much-loved genre, and recent years have seen a remarkable growth in historical crime fiction. I’m now writing a seventh story about an Irish detective, Stefan Gillespie, set in the 1930s and 40s. The books take a sideways, sometimes wry look at World War Two from the perspective of Ireland, which remained controversially neutral, while providing British forces with tens of thousands of volunteers and secretly working surprisingly closely with British Intelligence. 

The reasons for Irish neutrality, some inevitable, some understandable, some less so, form a web of contradictions in a country scarred by civil strife and, in the early years of the war, facing invasion by Germany or Britain, possibly both at once! 

Such contradictions, as well as the fog of war Stefan Gillespie encounters not only in Ireland, but in Britain, America, Spain, and Germany too, are part of why finding new things to write about a war that has produced more fiction than any other is possible. But real storytelling is not in the sweeping panorama of history. My novels do involve espionage at times, and they do engage with what war means, in ways both trivial and tragic, but it is in the ordinary business of ordinary lives, and yes, ‘ordinary’ murders, that true stories are told. Stories of individuals in extraordinary circumstances, and often in circumstances not so extraordinary. 

But why history as mystery at all? As writers it’s a way to write uniquely about what obsesses us and fascinates us. The link to the past is deep, and fiction gives freedom to explore it in quirky, unexpected ways. That doesn’t mean leaving facts behind, just looking at them differently. There are alternative histories (Robert Harris’s still wonderful ‘Fatherland’), but historical crime readers expect historical history! They are well informed and leap on any mistake. To persuade them to enter your world and inhabit it, you can only invent on firm foundations of fact. 

The things I invent are often pedestrian. The most unlikely events are almost always real, often small things historians have no interest in. When Stefan Gillespie stays at the Irish College in Salamanca, at the close of the Spanish Civil War, only the seminary’s archives provided the coincidence that it was the HQ for German Military Intelligence. Such serendipity is probably the experience of every historical fiction writer. When I needed a police raid on an upmarket abortion clinic in Dublin in 1935, I had no idea such a clinic existed. Not only did it, but the Austrian who ran it was a German spy. Almost too much coincidence for fiction!

But the appeal of historical mystery isn’t a particular time or particular facts. It’s our intimacy with the past that matters. In Powell and Pressburger’s 1944 film ‘A Canterbury Tale’, on the eve of D-Day, Thomas Culpepper gives a lecture to some soldiers, about the Pilgrim’s Way and the Kent village they’re camped near. The soldiers are waiting for the pub to open. They ask why they should care what happened six hundred years ago. Culpepper’s reply isn’t about great events or figures, but the houses we lived in as children and how our grandparents lived.

There are more ways than one of getting close to your ancestors… follow the old road and as you walk, think of them. They climbed Chillingbourne Hill like you today, they sweated and paused for breath, like you. And when you see the bluebells in the spring and the wild thyme, and the broom and heather, you’re only seeing what their eyes saw. You ford the same streams. The same birds sing. When you lie on your back, and watch the clouds sailing, you’re so close to those people you can hear the thrumming of the horses’ hoofs, the sound of wheels on the road, and their laughter and talk. And when I turn the bend in the road, where they saw the towers of Canterbury, I feel I’ve only to turn my head to see them behind me.’ 

The ‘old road’ is any road, anywhere. Mine stretches through the Wicklow Hills to the uplands of Dorset, along the Thames into London, across the plains of East Africa and the foothills of Kilimanjaro, through Corfu’s woods to Homer’s wine-dark sea. We’re on a road not less but more travelled-by. Our lives are richer for it. 

But Thomas Culpepper missed something. He didn’t hear a faint gasp, or the cry from the trees as a knife slipped between a pilgrim’s ribs. Historical crime fiction is your opportunity to travel back in time and remedy some murderous omissions... 

The City Under Siege  by Michael Russell (LittleBrown) Out Now

1941, and Detective Inspector Stefan Gillespie is ferrying documents between Dublin and war-torn London. When Ireland's greatest actor is arrested in Soho, after the brutal murder of a gay man, Stefan extricates him from an embarrassing situation. But suddenly he is looking at a series of murders, stretching across Britain and Ireland. The deaths were never investigated deeply as they were not considered a priority. And there are reasons to look away now. It's not only that the killer may be a British soldier, Scotland Yard is also hiding the truth about the victim. But an identical murder in Malta makes investigation essential. Malta, at the heart of the Mediterranean war, is under siege by German and Italian bombers. Rumours that a British soldier murdered a Maltese teenager can't go unchallenged without damaging loyalty to Britain. Now Britain will cooperate with Ireland to find the killer and Stefan is sent to Malta. The British believe the killer is an Irishman; that's the result they want. And they'd like Stefan to give it to them. But in the dark streets of Valletta there are threats deadlier than German bombs...

Photograph ©Hachette

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Chris Whitaker wins Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year with We Begin at the End


Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End has been crowned Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021 at the opening night ceremony for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – presented by Harrogate International Festivals at the Old Swan Hotel.

A powerful story of crime, punishment, love and redemption set in coastal California, We Begin at The End is credited by Whitaker as saving his life after being brutally mugged and stabbed as a teenager.

Whitaker has clinched the title on his very first nomination after being chosen by a public vote, the prize Academy and a panel of expert judges, receiving £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

An unprecedented decision has been taken to recognise Northern Irish author Brian McGilloway’s exceptional political thriller The Last Crossing as Highly Commended. McGilloway will also receive a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier for his novel which explores The Troubles from the perspective of former operatives who like to think they have moved on.

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “The contest for this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award has been fiercely fought – a reflection of the outstanding quality of all the longlisted and shortlisted crime fiction published within the last year. I offer Chris Whitaker my hearty congratulations for clinching the title on his first ever nomination for his powerful and insightful We Begin at the End.

Gary Jones, Express Editor-in-Chief, said: "It's a great pleasure to be associated with the world's most famous celebration of crime writing and we're thrilled the Theakston Old Peculier Festival is back this year in the flesh and better than ever. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors for crime book of the year and especially to winner Chris Whitaker."

Special presentations were also made to Ian Rankin OBE and Mark Billingham, the winners of the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award for 2021 and 2020, respectively.

Simon Theakston added: “It was an absolute pleasure to award crime fiction legends Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham with the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award 2021 and 2020 respectively. They are two titans of crime fiction and richly deserving of this latest recognition of their mastery of the genre.”

Ian Rankin OBE, recipient of Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award 2021, said: “It’s such a privilege and an honour to receive this award, and especially to be in Harrogate to receive it in person. I’ve been a published writer for over thirty years but this past year has been uniquely challenging - for writers, readers and booksellers. It’s heartening to see the Theakston Festival rise like a phoenix. Books continue to provide us with that wonderful mix of food for thought and escapism. I couldn’t be prouder to be a crime writer.”

Mark Billingham, recipient of Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award 2020, said: “It goes without saying that - presuming it’s not some sort of administrative error - this is an enormous honour. I’m as gobsmacked as I am grateful to be joining a list containing the likes of Ruth Rendell, PD James and Lee Child and while there are many individuals to whom I’m hugely indebted, first and foremost I want to say ‘thank you’ to the readers. Without them, there’s no point to any of it.

This year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival continues until Sunday at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate. Special Guests this year include Mark Billingham, Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths, Mick Herron, Clare Mackintosh, Val Mcdermid and Richard Osman, curated by Festival Programming Chair Ian Rankin OBE.

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors. The longlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith.

When Fact Feeds into Fiction by Claire Allan


I was signing copies of my first psychological thriller when a fellow author – a woman I had first met when she taught a creative writing class at my secondary school – congratulated me.

I’ve always wondered why you didn’t write crime novels,’ she said. ‘You have a wealth of material in your head already. It’s a natural fit for you,’ she said. And she was right. I’d spent seventeen years as a staff reporter working on the largest local paper in Northern Ireland, the Derry Journal

In the course of my journalism career I had covered more court sessions than I could count. I’d listened to evidence and pleas on cases ranging from petty shoplifting, to rape and murder. I’d even spent a considerable amount of time listening to the greatest legal minds in the UK as they poured over hours of evidence during the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday.

An occasion on which I’d stood on a bleak country road and noticed the blood of an attempted murder victim mixing with the mud and rain remains indelibly inked into my memory.

I can still conjure the smell in the air, the bitter cold temperature, the feeling that something very bad had happened at that spot.

And yet, despite this extensive internal library of experience –, writing crime fiction had held no appeal to me. 

Perhaps it was the case that while I was working full time as a journalist, and my day job gave me that up close and personal look at the darker side of lives. When I went home each day I needed to switch off so I found my relief in writing ‘women’s fiction’. 

I wrote about love, friendship, families and happy ever afters – and I enjoyed a degree of success with that. I had eight novels published with Irish publishing house Poolbeg Press – and I was a multiple Irish Times bestseller.

So what changed?

First of all, I decided to take voluntary redundancy from journalism to try and concentrate on my writing career. That gave me the freedom of headspace.

The second factor, and this one was definitely unplanned, was that an editor challenged me ‘to unleash my dark side’, stating that she thought I could definitely pull off a thriller.

I walked away from that meeting feeling quite sure she was wrong, but I decided to give it a go anyway. Before long, I had written Her Name Was Rose and found, to my great surprise, that I enjoyed every second of it. I felt as if I had been given permission to try something new, something that was beyond my fiction-writing comfort zone.

Yes, it was scary – but it was also exhilarating. I found writing the threads of a thriller, drawing them all together and adding in some twists for good measure to be immensely satisfying.

And more than that, there were editors out there who agreed that I was actually quite good at it. So I found myself, quite unexpectedly, with a book deal to write two thrillers and with a whole new direction in my career.

Of course I don’t, and would never, take the real life experiences of the victims of crime who had shared their stories with me and weave them into my books. I wouldn’t repackage someone’s trauma as entertainment, but I have realised that the hours I have spent talking to real life victims of crime – hearing their stories, absorbing their feelings, witnessing what crime can do to a person, to a family and to a community – has become my most invaluable resource as a writer. It’s what gives me the ability to write with empathy and to get inside of the mind of my characters.

Getting to the heart of character is central to my books. It’s the part of writing that I love the most and have always loved the most. Telling the stories of the humans behind the headlines was always my favourite thing about journalism. I liked to think that I gave a voice to people who would not otherwise have had one – and that feeds into my crime writing style and indeed what drives me to write in this genre.

It’s five years since I left journalism behind, and three years since my first thriller was released. I don’t think the second would have happened without the first. 

The experiences and feelings I’d been witness to in the needed room to breathe and there needed to be distance between real life and fiction.

I hope I’ve struck that balance now – although centring my new novel, Ask No Questions, around a journalist will no doubt draw comparisons between my real life past and my fiction-writing career. For now, I’m more than happy to leave to the journalism to my fearless protagonist Ingrid Devlin, but I’m thankful for the career that showed me all the light and shade that exists within our society.

Ask No Questions by Claire Allan (HarperCollins) Out Now

Not all secrets are meant to come out...Twenty-five years ago, on Halloween night, eight-year-old Kelly Doherty went missing while out trick or treating with friends. Her body was found three days later, floating face down, on the banks of the Creggan Reservoir by two of her young classmates. It was a crime that rocked Derry to the core. Journalist Ingrid Devlin is investigating - but someone doesn't want her to know the truth. As she digs further, Ingrid starts to realise that the Doherty family are not as they seem. But will she expose what really happened that night before it's too late?

You can follow Claire Allan on Twitter @ClaireAllan

Why Make It Up? How I reached the 20th Bryant & May book by Christopher Fowler


For my mother, a crime novel was a sealed room and some suspects. She didn’t appreciate that you could use them to smuggle in all kinds of strange and thoughtful notions. Bryant & May have been unraveling London’s mysteries (and in the process learning about themselves) for well over twenty years – and now they’ve reached their 20th anniversary book.

Long-running crime series are acknowledged but not always reviewed, and if they have elements of humour they’re rarely taken seriously by critics. You can write a story in which half a dozen victims die in the course of a single investigation and no-one will disbelieve you if you present the facts without laughing. The irony is that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is rooted in truth and the crimes are often versions of real events, exaggerated but never impossible. I don’t work in the field of magical realism; the books are full of personal stories I’ve jotted down.

In ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ I wanted to create a grand adventure involving a landmark that exists in plain sight. In many ways London Bridge lies at the heart of the city, but it has now become invisible. It’s so little regarded that if you Google it you’ll be shown endless images of Tower Bridge. Having torn down so many of our most beautiful buildings we’re left with the ones which are useful, and London Bridge fits the bill. It’s not attractive but it is by far the most fascinating of the thirty five bridges.

Although each investigation features roughly the same cast, each book must stand by itself. A series is not a serial. Luckily I’ve had a lot of help from London, which works as an extra character and sets the tone for what follows. I’m not the only one to discover this; Ben Aaronovitch, Laura Wilson, Mick Herron and many others have also realised how inspiring the city can be to the criminally minded. 

I wanted to start the book with the tragedy of an elderly lady who died of neglect in the centre of town, a story which was taken from today’s papers. I don’t like using women as victims, so the first thing I did was make her strong. But I also love hiding puzzles, so in a fair-play gesture I came up with a few tricks hidden in plain sight. I always make sure I have a powerful ending and work backwards; otherwise the reader won’t feel properly rewarded for the hours they’ve invested. 

Ideas for novels come from multiple directions; ‘Oranges & Lemons’ started when I walked around London churches reading the dark history of nursery rhymes, realising there was a hidden connection between them. I added one of the few citrus-based accidents ever to feature in a mystery novel. 

I also like to invent new words. There’s no law that says you can’t make up a word if you can’t find an appropriate one. As a result, Oxford English Dictionary readers are adding half a dozen of my invented words to the next edition of the OED as they meet the criteria for inclusion. I’m very proud of this!

Calling the Bryant and May books ‘unorthodox’ is a bit of an understatement. Their unlikeliest investigations are mined from London's forgotten stories; tales of lost paintings, fallen celebrities, tragic sacrifices, mysterious guilds, secret clubs and forgotten social panics. In one novel I staged a murderous attack on a tube escalator surrounded by CCTV cameras just to show it could be done. It’s better to confront the challenges of the 21st century head on. Necessity makes for originality. Who could have made up the fact that in 2019 a terrorist was beaten back with a narwhal tusk on London Bridge?

It’s said that readers enjoy mysteries because they tidy up the mess of real life, but I try to leave a few untidy ends for the reader to unravel. This time I’ve given them their fullest rein, from Rita the scarily well-read taxi driver to three elderly ladies who work for government security, all of whom are based on real characters. And I’ve broadened out the story, even managing to get my detectives to New York.

So, after twenty-plus years is the history of Bryant & May finally over? Not quite. Crime writers are tricksters. Wait and see, I may still have a surprise or two up my sleeve. 

Bryant and May: London Bridge is Falling Down by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday) Out Now

It was the kind of story that barely made the news in London. When 91 year-old Alice Hoffman dies of neglect in her top floor flat on a busy London road, the story is upheld as an example of what has gone wrong with modern society; she slipped through the cracks in a failing system. But detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit have their doubts. Mrs Hoffman was once a government security expert, even though no-one can quite remember her. When a link emerges between the old lady and a diplomat trying to flee the country, it seems that an impossible murder has been committed. Mrs Hoffman wasn't alone. Bryant is convinced that other forgotten women with hidden talents are also in danger. And they all own models of London Bridge... With the help of some of their more certifiable informants, the detectives follow the strangest of clues in an investigation that will lead them through forgotten alleyways to the city's oldest bridge in search of a desperate killer. Just when the case appears to be solved and exasperated unit chief Raymond Land can retire and rest easy, the detectives discover that Mrs Hoffman was smarter than anyone imagined. There's a bigger game afoot that has more terrible consequences... t's time to celebrate Bryant and May's twentieth anniversary as their most lunatic case brings death and rebirth to London's most peculiar crimes unit.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Cara Hunter

Name:- Cara Hunter

Job:- Author

Twitter:- @CaraHunterBooks


Cara Hunter is the author of five (soon to be six in March 2022) books featuring DI Fawley. Her debut novel in the series Close To Home was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick in 2018. It ws also shrtlisted for Crime Book of The Year in the British Book Awards. The series is due to be adapted for television.

Current book?

The Survivors, by Jane Harper. I’ve loved her previous ones so l have high hopes.

Favourite book?

If I’m not confined to crime it would have to be The Lord of the Rings – along with half the population of the world! Imagine writing something loved by whole generations. 

Which two characters would you invite to dinner and why? 

I think PD James’s Adam Dalgliesh would make an interesting and thoughtful dinner guest, and perhaps Irene Adler from the Sherlock Holmes series. That would make for a lively combination.

How do you relax?

Reading! And my guilty pleasure- watching true crime TV. I’m a total addict, but if my husband says anything I just say ‘research’…. 😉

What book do you wish you had written and why? 

The Lord of the Rings (obviously!) but in terms of crime, probably Gone Girl. Such a clever premise and so well executed.

What would you say to your younger self if you were just starting out as a writer.

It’ll be hard work, but hard work is how you earn your luck. I’ve always believed that, and so far I think it’s been true.

How would you describe your series character Detective Inspector Adam Fawley?

I’m going to cheat a little here and borrow the description of Alison Graham at the Radio Times, who said he was “‘kind, compassionate, clever and just that bit out of the ordinary”. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Your 2 favourite books on Oxford

The first is Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins. A similar set-up to Close to Home - a young girl goes missing in Oxford - but there the parallels end. This is a very different Oxford, set firmly within the university. Intelligent, beautifully written and amazingly well researched (I learned a lot!), and with a delicious creepy edge into the bargain. I loved it.

And the other is Thomas Hardy's harrowing classic Jude the Obscure. Dark, cinematic and unforgettable. And if you've ever wondered how Adam Fawley got his name, you'll find the answer here..

The Whole Truth by Cara Hunter (Penguin)

She has everything at stake; he has everything to lose. But one of them is lying, all the same. When an Oxford student accuses one of the university's professors of sexual assault, DI Adam Fawley's team think they've heard it all before. But they couldn't be more wrong. Because this time, the predator is a woman and the shining star of the department, and the student a six-foot male rugby player. Soon DI Fawley and his team are up against the clock to figure out the truth. What they don't realise is that someone is watching. And they have a plan to put Fawley out of action for good...

Information about 2021 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book tickets can be found here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

In the Shadow of Sherlock by Mick Finlay


The Arrowood series is very much inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The idea for the character of my detective, William Arrowood, came to me while I was reading the Holmes stories one day. I began to wonder how other private detectives might have felt about Sherlock if they were trying to earn a crust in London at the same time as him. There really were both male and female consulting detectives working in Victorian London at the time, people such as Paddington Pollaky, Charles Field and Kate Easton. While most private detective work involved collecting evidence for divorce cases, other more interesting tasks were also done, such as Pollaky’s work collecting evidence of Confederate arms shipments. Putting myself in these early sleuths’ shoes, I thought I might be a little envious, perhaps even bitter, about the success of a Sherlock Holmes-type character. I might even doubt his methods. It was that thought that led to the creation of Arrowood. 

Because he’s a rival to Holmes, I needed him to be a very different type of man. In contrast to Holmes, he’s overweight with no interest in sports, a bit of a coward, a glutton, and also an emotional man. He lives among a ‘modern’ extended family which grows from book to book and overcrowds his home. And rather than relying on forensic evidence, he devours Victorian books on psychology and personality and tries to apply those ideas to his crimes. 

Sherlock is alive and working in the same city as Arrowood, although in the first four books he never actually appears. He sends Arrowood a couple of telegrams, his cases make newspaper headlines, and Arrowood tries unsuccessfully to visit him, but we never see him. Readers often ask me if they’ll ever meet, but so far I’ve avoided writing scenes where Sherlock actually appears. Although there are some fantastic authors publishing books featuring Sherlock, I didn’t feel I could take Doyle’s character and write him myself. It was a personal decision, and I certainly don’t think it’s wrong to do, but so far I haven’t felt comfortable enough to do it. Partly because I wanted my novels to be filled with my own characters, but also because I didn’t want the ghost of Conan Doyle to judge me for overstepping. And I do feel him sometimes, breathing heavily behind me as I tap away at my keyboard.

I love the Sherlock stories. The secondary characters are a joy, and Holmes’s sense of humour, particularly in how he teases Watson and the police, is great fun. The stories are incredibly well-formed, and Holmes himself is a complex man of weaknesses as well as strengths. I’m a huge fan. That said, Conan Doyle was a man of his time, and we get a good sense of him through his letters, collected in a fascinating volume by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley. The Holmes stories reflect who Doyle was and the tastes of the audience at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Reflecting the beliefs and attitudes of polite society, there are places that Doyle wouldn’t go in the Sherlock stories, and places that many modern readers might wish he hadn’t. For example, while Doyle deals with the British empire mainly through backstories of adventure and intrigue, he doesn’t deal with the plight of colonised peoples. And while Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in 1888, and the first Holmes story was published in 1887, Holmes never takes up a similar case of serial killing. Holmes also has some rather sexist views about women, and Doyle’s description of non-white characters are often stereotypical and racist (although the Adventure of the Yellow Face is a good counter). When I started writing Arrowood books, I wanted to portray a more realistic London than we see in the Holmes stories, one where we see disability, the Irish question, crimes against women, racism and the appalling poverty up close. It’s here where I feel I need to step out of Sherlock’s shadow, and try to get closer to what life was like in those days. The Arrowood books aren’t preachy, they’re character- and plot-driven, but they don’t hide the bad stuff. And as to whether Arrowood and Sherlock will ever meet, well, if I can ever shake that sense of Doyle’s ghost watching me, it might just happen. 

Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay (Harper Collins) Out Now

London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood. Nowhere to hide. London, 1896. As winter grips the city, a group of African travellers seek sanctuary inside the walls of the Quaker Meeting House. They are being hunted by a ruthless showman, who is forcing them to perform in his ethnic exhibition in the London Aquarium. Nowhere to turn. Private investigator William Arrowood and his assistant Barnett agree to help the travellers avoid capture. But when they arrive at the Meeting House, they find a scene of devastation. Two people have been murdered and the others have fled into the night. Nowhere to run. The hunt for the real killer leads Arrowood into the dark heart of Victorian London. A shadowy world of freak shows, violence and betrayal, where there are no good choices and only the slimmest chance of survival...

Monday, 19 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Jane Casey


Name :- Jane Casey

Job :- Author

Twitter :- @JaneCaseyAuthor

Introduction :-

Jane Casey is the author of two different series Maeve Kerrigan a Detective Sergeant and her YA (Young Adult) featuring Jess Tennant. Her novel The Stranger You Know won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. she has also been shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award four times (with her novels Into The Fire winning in 2015 and Cruel Acts in 2020 Irish Crime Book of The Year) She has also been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award

Current book?

I’m currently reading The Heights by Louise Candlish, which is coming out soon. It’s incredibly gripping, as you’d expect!

Favourite book?

One of the authors that made me want to be a writer was Mary Stewart, who redefined the thriller in the second half of the twentieth century and put women at the heart of the story. It’s impossible to choose a favourite but Wildfire at Midnight is a superb murder mystery, set in an isolated hotel on Skye. The writing is sensationally good; I’ve read it so many times I could probably recite quite a lot of it!

Which two characters would you invite to dinner and why? 

I’d love to have dinner with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, even though I’d be the gooseberry! Their conversation would be impeccable and I’m confident that Wimsey would pick good wine. They’re a fascinating couple to me (and generations of readers).

How do you relax?

I imagine stories that I have no intention of writing. Because reading and writing were my hobbies before they became my job, they’ve lost some of their power to make me relax, but daydreaming is still pure joy. I love sharing my characters with readers, but equally it’s nice to have some that are just for me, at least for now. 

What book do you wish you had written and why? 

I really wish I’d written The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s impossible to imitate, let alone better, although the ingredients have been pawed over many times. The plotting is wholly original but feels inevitable, the writing is glorious and often very funny, the characterisation is spot on and the atmosphere is a perfect combination of glamour, wholesome New England academia and seedy decay. My heart always sinks when a book is branded as the new The Secret History; it never feels fair to the author.

What would you say to your younger self if you were just starting out as a writer.

I’d say the same thing I tell myself every day: the work is the only thing that matters. The rest, whether it’s sales or awards or reviews, is just noise. Publishing tends to focus on the first year of a book’s life but books last for a very long time; I try to set my sights on writing for the long term, not the next deadline.

How would you describe both your series characters? 

Maeve Kerrigan is a detective sergeant in the Met Police, on a murder investigation team, and Josh Derwent is her DI. Maeve is something of a goody-two-shoes and doesn’t always fit in with the prevailing police culture – she’s a natural outsider. Josh was only ever meant to be in one book but he elbowed his way into becoming a main character, which is very much how he conducts himself. Abrasive, cutting and an alpha male, his saving grace is that he has a heart of gold that comes with decency and honesty. I absolutely love writing them; they bicker and test one another but at the foundation of it all is love and respect.

Favourite books on Oxford

Last Bus to Woodstock, the first of the Morse novels by Colin Dexter, is a real favourite of mine. All the elements of the later books are there and the setting feels very much like the real Oxford – a living city rather than a film set. Of course Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers is the ultimate book about the university, even though it’s very much of its time. It poses some questions about the value of learning, particularly for women, that are still being mulled over today. If I can have a third (given that it’s non-fiction) Jan Morris’s wonderful book Oxford is a spectacular and very enjoyable evocation of the city past and present. 

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey (HarperCollins Publisher)

He tells you you’re special… As a barrister, Ingrid Lewis is used to dealing with tricky clients, but no one has ever come close to John Webster. After Ingrid defended Webster against a stalking charge, he then turned on her – following her, ruining her relationship, even destroying her home. He tells you he wants to protect you… Now, Ingrid believes she has finally escaped his clutches. But when one of her colleagues is run down on a busy London road, Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim. And then Webster shows up at her door… But can you believe him? Webster claims Ingrid is in danger – and that only he can protect her. Stalker or saviour? Murderer or protector? The clock is ticking for Ingrid to decide. Because the killer is ready to strike again.

Information about 2021 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book tickets can be found here.

Photograph ©Jonathan Goldberg

Sunday, 18 July 2021

2021 Malice Domestic Agatha Awards Winners


The 2021 Malice Domestic Agatha Awards Winner were announced tonight at More Than Malice, the Virtual Malice Domestic Festival this year.

Best Contemporary Novel

All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best Historical Novel

The Last Mrs. Summers by Rhys Bowen (Berkeley)

Best First Novel

Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Kensington) 

Best Short Story

"Dear Emily Etiquette" by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Sep/Oct)

Best Non-Fiction

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane (Chicago Review Press)

Best Children's/YA

Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco by Richard Narvaez (Piñata Books) 

Congratulations to all of the winners!

The Agatha Awards were presented during MORE THAN MALICE, an online virtual crime festival this weekend. All the panels and special events have been recorded and will be available to registered participants for a few weeks. You can still register to view the great panels!

Register Now for MORE THAN MALICE