Sunday, 21 November 2021

Books to Look Forward to from Faber & Faber

 February 2022

The case was closed. Everyone in Adalen remembers the summer Lina Stavred went missing. At first, the investigation seemed like a dead end: there was no body, no crime scene, no murder weapon. The records were sealed. Then a local boy confessed to Lina's murder. The case opened a wound - one the whole community has spent over two decades trying to heal. But we know you remember. Now Lina's murderer has reappeared, and detective Eira Sjoedin must face the spectre of his brutal crime. This is her chance to untangle years of well-kept secrets - but the truth is something Adalen would rather forget. We Know You Remember is by Tove Alsterdal.

When Ghosts Come Home is by Wiley Cash. An abandoned plane. A dead body. A small town threatening to explode. 'A searing, thunderous, heartbreaking thriller. Wiley Cash has talent to burn.' Chris Whitaker Winston did not hear it so much as feel it as it passed over their house and into the trees across the waterway. The sheriff struggling for re-election and haunted by his past. The mystery plane which crash-lands on his island. The daughter returning home to hide from her troubles. The FBI pilot sent in to help. As the mystery of the abandoned plane and the dead body stokes long-simmering racial tensions, a moment of reckoning draws ever closer for the town of Oak Island.

March 2022

Nine Lives is by Peter Swanson. If you're on the list you're marked for death. The envelope is unremarkable. There is no return address. It contains a single, folded, sheet of white paper. The envelope drops through the mail slot like any other piece of post. But for the nine complete strangers who receive it - each of them recognising just one name, their own, on the enclosed list - it will be the most life altering letter they ever receive. It could also be the last, as one by one, they start to meet their end. But why?

From 'The Everyday Housewife' to 'The Cougar', 'Tricks' to 'Snowflake Time', Laura Lippman's sharp and acerbic stories explore the contemporary world and the female experience through the prism of classic crime, where the stakes are always deadly. And in the collection's longest piece, the novella 'Just One More', she follows the trajectory of a married couple who, tired of re-watching 'Columbo' re-runs during lockdown, decide to join the same dating app: 'Why would we do something like that?' 'As an experiment. And a diversion. We would both join, then see if the service matches us. Just for grins...' Seasonal Work and Other Killer Stories is by Laura Lippman.

May 2022

1 September, 1939. As the mass evacuation takes place across Britain, thousands of children leave London for the countryside, but when a little girl vanishes without trace, the reality of separation becomes more desperate and more deadly for those who love her. In the chaos and uncertainty of war, Josephine struggles with the prospect of change. As a cloud of suspicion falls across the small Suffolk village she has come to love, the conflict becomes personal, and events take a dark and sinister turn. Blending a Golden Age mystery with the timeless fears of a child's abduction, Dear Little Corpses by Nicola Upson is an atmospheric snapshot of England in the early days of war.

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Understanding Monsters, Surviving Monsters by Clea Simon


Nobody in our high school was completely surprised when Joel Rifkin turned out to be a serial killer.

Were we shocked? Sure. The quiet kind of nebbishy guy who took photos for our high school newspaper and yearbook, Joel never seemed like a threat. Was he awkward? Antisocial? Yeah, sure. But this was high school, when the best of us were only fronting. And those of us who spent our after-class hours on the Jet Gazette? Well, we were far from the coolest kids by any count. 

But were we surprised? Well, not really. Even discounting the bullying, which the press made so much of, we kind of knew something was wrong. There was a reason none of us wanted to get too close to Joel. Maybe we could sense the rage behind those thick glasses. Certainly, to the 17 young women he killed – sex workers who had fewer options when it came to avoiding intimacy – he was a monster.

My particular monster had a different face. A college classmate at an elite school, he was supposed to be a comrade. A colleague, if not a friend. At least that’s what I thought when he showed up at my door one night, maybe a month after we’d all moved in freshman year. He must’ve heard that I’ve been fighting with my boyfriend. I suspect the whole dorm heard us yelling, especially when R. stormed off and left me sobbing. And here he was with a pitcher of bullfrogs, a sweet lime drink offered in a spirit of camaraderie. Along with, that is, a shoulder to cry on until it turned into something more. An arm around my middle, pulling at me. Hands on my upper arms, holding me down.

For years I struggled with that disconnect. I was young. I had been stupid. Perhaps he had misread my signals. Maybe I had given some kind of consent, after all. Something that sounded like “yes” to a young man who might have been as drunk as I was, or so I told myself. But as I dealt with the aftermath – the unwanted pregnancy and its termination – I also had to acknowledge that there had been no further contact, no remorse and none of the awkward social outreach that one would expect from a comrade, a neighbour, and a classmate. 

Ultimately it was a letter from his roommate decades later that allowed me to see everything clearly. Ostensibly reaching out with an offer to answer any questions – once again, that shoulder to cry on – he was clearly seeking absolution. That I wasn’t ready to give, but I did take advantage of the offer and fired off questions. What I learned confirmed what I had come to suspect. No, I was not the only woman his roommate had targeted. In fact, he kept a bottle of over-proof rum purely to prey on vulnerable women. No, they hadn’t stayed in touch. Despite his complicity all those years before, my new correspondent claimed to actively dislike his roommate – and what he did. Would he call it rape? 

That’s where he drew the line. Instead, he talked about how his roommate would use alcohol to “try to have sex with women.” He was reaching out, he said, in the hope that I would be able to “let bygones be bygones.”

Was I shocked? Not really. I’ve lost that capacity, I think, at least in terms of certain forms of duplicity. More to the point, I realised then how far I had already moved on.

These days, I write crime fiction. It’s gratifying to set the world right, to see justice done. More important, with psychological suspense I can work through the impact of trauma and survival to allow my characters to achieve a full understanding of what happened and why. But even at my darkest, my books don’t deal with serial killers. What I write are the monsters I want to understand. The ones who live among us, with their smiling faces and social graces. The ones who know how to destroy us from the inside.

Hold Me Down by Clea Simon (Polis Books) out now

This riveting work of dark suspense from acclaimed author Clea Simon opens with Gal, a rock star for a hot minute twenty years earlier, back in Boston to play a memorial for her late drummer/best friend when she finds herself freezing on stage at the sight of a face in the crowd. The next day, the middle-aged musician learns that the man she saw has been killed – beaten to death behind the venue – and her friend’s widower charged in connection with his death. When the friend refuses to defend himself, Gal wonders why and, as the memories begin to flood back, she starts her own informal investigation. As she does so, she must reexamine her own wild life, her perception of the past, and an industry that monetizes dysfunction in a dark tale of love, music, and murder.

More information about Clea Simon can be found on her website. You can also find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @Clea_Simon and on Instagram.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Why Timing is Everything by Tony Kent


It was New Year’s Eve 2019 as I settled down at my father-in-law’s dining room table in Cornwall, opened my laptop and began to write. We had driven from Buckinghamshire the day before - my wife Victoria and I, and our then 18-month old son Joseph - and we had arrived late on a dark and stormy December 30th.

New Year in Cornwall had become a tradition since Clive had bought the clifftop home five years earlier, and that tradition had quickly extended to my writing habits. My previous two books had both been started at this very table, each one a year apart. And so it was that for the third time, while every one else took an afternoon walk into town, I wrote the first words of a thriller.

Two hours later my family were back - wet and windswept from the picturesque fishing village of Looe - and the first two thousand words of Book Four were on the page. Tradition had been kept. My work was underway.

Over the next two months that book began to fly. I had spent my usual three-month ‘thinking’ period going about my day with the story percolating in my head. The clock was ticking - when is it not! - and so it was a relief that the story was coming so freely. But little did I know, there was a problem looming. You see, the book I was writing was about Joe Dempsey and his ISB team preventing a terrorist attack on North America. And the form of that attack? A weaponised virus, manufactured by a rogue East Asian state which would - once released - cause a pandemic to sweep across the continental United States.

How is that for timing, you might ask yourself. Because believe me, I did!

February came and went. 

It won’t be as bad as the scientists say’, I kept telling myself. I shared the hopelessly blind optimism of Boris Johnson, only in my case the consequences of being wrong were rather less severe. But wrong we both were and so, as I lay in my bed in early March 2020 with my first bout of what we were then still calling the coronavirus, I made a big decision: the pandemic - or the pandemic over which I had some control, at least - was going in the drawer.

It was not a difficult decision. As a writer, my barometer of what works and what does not is a simple question: am I entertained by this? Because if I am not, then neither will my readers. And rightly or wrongly, there was no way I could be entertained by a book about a fictionalised virus as people were dying world-wide from a real life version. So not a difficult decision. But still a big one: I had a deadline and I had a book to deliver.

What, then, to do? I racked my brain for an answer. The book I had ‘planned’ - in other words, the book I had thought about for several months, with plots and ideas growing off in various directions that would allow me to choose the right ones once the typing started - was now off limits, and I did not have another three months to spare thinking about a new one. I also did not have the freedom of any research trips. Travel was out of the question as the lockdowns tightened and so I had to set the plot somewhere I knew. But where? 

As a dilemma it left me hot under the collar. And that temperature gave me a direction.

In my life I have experienced two particular extremes of intense heat. The dry, sharp kind that I connect to my time spent in Qatar and Dubai. And the wet, humid heat of the Florida Keys. It was the feeling of the latter that I could not shake as I wrote the first chapter of No Way To Die; the sensation of a thin, cheap material sticking to the skin. It took my mind immediately to Key West, and that in turn led me to the docks. To wonder what could have passed through that weakened, under-policed underbelly over the years? What could have found its way through the party island and onto the continental United States via those incredible oversea highways?

It was then that two words came back to me. Two words which I had always intended to be the basis for a book some time in the future.

Dirty Bomb’.

It would be absurd to suggest that the setting and the two word ‘McGuffin’ was all I needed. And it would be a lie to claim that, from that point, the book wrote itself. It did not; it was a difficult, drawn-out process that restarted several times over, all set against the strangest times in which any of us have ever lived or - I hope - will ever live again.

But for all the effort that followed, those two words and that remembered sensation of sticky heat was where No Way To Die started. And all of it because of a tradition; all of it because I chose to start writing on December 31st 2019. Had I started it even two months earlier, the book I would not be promoting would have told a very different story about a fight to stop a pandemic sweeping across America. And let’s be honest; in 2021, who the hell would want to read that?

Proof, then, that timing really is everything.

No Way To Die by Tony Kent (Out Now) Elliott & Thompson

When traces of a radioactive material are found with a body in Key West, multiple federal agencies suddenly descend on the scene. This is not just an isolated murder - a domestic terrorist group is ready to bring the US government to its knees. The threat hits close to home for Agent Joe Dempsey when he discovers a personal connection to the group. With his new team member, former Secret Service agent Eden Grace, Dempsey joins the race to track down the bomb before it’s too late. But when their mission falls apart, he is forced to turn to the most unlikely of allies: an old enemy he thought he had buried in his past. Now, with time running out, they must find a way to work together to stop a madman from unleashing horrifying destruction across the country.

More information about Tony Kent and his books can be found on his website. You can also find him on Twitter @TonyKent_Writes and on Facebook.

©Book launch photographs Ayo Onatade

What a Coincidence! By Peter Bartram

Peter Bartram recalls a surprise he had while writing his latest Crampton of the Chronicle mystery.

Coincidences happen! When I was writing The Tango School Mystery, one of my earlier Crampton of the Chronicle novels, I was pondering over whether to include a scene where a man is eaten by feral pigs. Was it likely that pigs would eat human flesh – especially if there weren’t any vegetables on the side?

The next day, I opened a newspaper and there was a headline: MAN IN ROUMANIA EATEN BY PIGS. Apparently, the bloke was blind drunk at the time and had fallen asleep in the pigsty.

When I was writing The Mother’s Day Mystery, I hummed and hawed over whether to include a posh schoolboy who’d put the black on one of his teachers. Could that really happen? Voila! There in the paper was the story of a truant lad who’d nicked £52,000 from his famous public school – and then demanded £10,000 in Bitcoin to stop the thefts. He’d also lobbed firebombs onto a motorway because he “wanted to kill somebody”.

And so, to the latest in my Crampton of the Chronicle series, The World Cup Mystery and a coincidence of a different kind. The book is set in July 1966 during the closing days of the football contest which England won.

If, like me, you were watching the final on the black and white telly in the corner of your sitting room, you’ll recall that in the last minute of extra time Bobby Moore lifted the ball up field to Geoff Hurst. The ref was already looking at his watch. Some spectators had invaded the pitch.

And BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme was telling viewers: “They think it’s all over.” He hadn’t reckoned on Hurst who took the Moore pass, sprinted towards the West German goal, and drove the ball into the back of the net. “It is now,” Wolstenholme added unnecessarily.

The second most dramatic moment in the World Cup had happened four months earlier in March. The Jules Rimet Trophy – the World Cup – had been nicked from an exhibition in the Central Hall, Westminster, where it was the star turn. It was arguably the most daring theft since 1911 when museum worker Vincenzo Peruggia walked into Paris’ Louvre, lifted the Mona Lisa off the four pegs which held it to the wall, and exited via the service door.

In the case of the World Cup, on a Sunday, when the exhibition was closed, persons unknown had unscrewed a bar securing doors to the hall. They’d used bolt cutters to remove the chain from the display case holding the cup, and left the way they came. All while the two guards hired to keep the trophy safe were doing a tour of inspection in other parts of the building.

And all while several hundred Methodists were no doubt singing a lusty hymn by Charles Wesley. Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending would have fitted the moment, if they’d known what was happening in another part of the building.

The cops chased leads and the insurers chewed their nails over the £30,000 - £580,000 in today’s money – they’d have to pay out if the trophy wasn’t recovered.

And then it was. By a dog called Pickles under a hedge in Beulah Hill, part of south-east London. It was wrapped in newspaper. The trophy, of course, not the dog. The cup was taken by the dog’s owner, David Corbett, to Gipsy Hill police station from where it was passed on to the Cannon Row cop shop.

The cops telephoned the Football Association and – wait for it – asked them to send someone to make a formal identification. (Like it could be confused with hundreds of Jules Rimet lookalike trophies being handed in.) The FA sent a man called Harold Mayes, who’d been hired to handle the publicity for the World Cup, to make the ID.

And, at last, to the coincidence. (About time, too, I hear you cry.)

For, three years later, when Harold was managing editor of a Fleet Street magazine publisher, he gave me my first job as a journalist, after I’d left university.

The thing is he never told me of the moment that had earned him a footnote in the history books. Strange because, wonderful man as he was, he was never shy about recounting the triumphs of his career, especially over a beer or two. (“Did I ever tell you how I advised Montgomery to defeat Rommel in the Western Desert?”) 

But I was pleased to discover his link to the trophy theft, even so many years later. It kind of gave me a personal link to the story I was telling in my book.

Ah, the book! How the Jules Rimet trophy came to be under that hedge has never been explained. But you’ll find a fictional account of how it came there – and how it was linked to an even more deadly crime - in The World Cup Mystery. Harold was a great teller of tales, and I hope he would have enjoyed this one.

The World Cup Mystery, by Peter Bartram is published by TBP and available on Amazon as a paperback (£9.99) or Kindle e-book (£2.99):

A KILLING BEFORE KICK-OFF…It’s July 1966 – and England is football crazy as fans cheer their team on to win the World Cup. There are millions who’d kill for a ticket to the final in London’s Wembley Stadium. Then café owner Sergio Parisi is found murdered in his own kitchen – and his World Cup Final ticket missing. As Evening Chronicle crime reporter Colin Crampton chases down the story, he discovers the ticket theft could be part of an even deadlier crime. There are laughs alongside the thrills as England closes in on victory – and Colin, with his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith, close in on the killer.

More information about the author and the Crampton Chronicles can be found on his website.  You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @PeterFBartram

Friday, 12 November 2021

Lies That History Tells Us by Dominic Nolan


HISTORY IS NOT FACT, IT IS NARRATIVE. That’s worth repeating a few times. History is constantly changing. As I write this, historians have dated an Egyptian mummy to a thousand years before the sophisticated mummification process that preserved it was previously thought to have existed, significantly altering what we thought we knew about the Age of the Pyramids. As Professor Salima Ikram, head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, notes: “If this is indeed an Old Kingdom mummy, all books about mummification and the history of the Old Kingdom will need to be revised.

History is not fact, it is narrative. English can be an unhelpfully ambiguous language at times. Let’s look at that word, “history.” It is commonly used to refer to the events of the past, yet it also isn’t the events of the past at all but is the discourse we have with those events. The continuous record we create of the past. We shape the past into a narrative from a multitude of sources – physical evidence, for sure, but also written testimonies, i.e., other narratives. History, like fiction, is a way people have of coming to terms with themselves, of defining themselves through the agency of words. All narratives are ultimately attempts at saying what the world feels like.  

 History is not fact, it is narrative. There is really less to distinguish fiction from nonfiction than might commonly be believed. Historians make choices, just like novelists. No historian simply compiles an itinerary of past events. They emphasize, they project, they disproportion. These are all things I did when writing Vine Street, which starts with a series of real-life murders in 1930s Soho. They remain unsolved to this day, but that fact was inconvenient, so I changed it. For a historian, facts are things to be proved and documented. For me, they are things to be manipulated, or even destroyed.

History is not fact, it is narrative. To misquote F. Scott Fitzgerald, being a writer is to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and retain the ability to function. On the one hand, as a writer my personal priority is not fidelity to historical facts, but fidelity to authenticity. My Soho is populated by real figures from history, some of them doing things they actually did, and others doing things they certainly did not. My hope is that the reader finds it all so plausible that in the end it makes no difference what did happen and what did not. Research and a genuine knowledge of the period in question allow me to roam freely within my subject, but also unfetter me from any particular historical data.

History is not fact, it is narrative. On the other hand, whilst embracing an irresponsibly cavalier attitude toward fact myself, I am always aware of the immense debt I owe historians. The work they do proving and documenting facts is essential for me – without them first establishing “what could be possible,” it would be impossible for me to write my fictional narratives. Without them establishing ground rules of historical fact, I could not establish authenticity in my fiction. However, when that fiction is written, it must stand on its own legs, provide its own moral context, otherwise as an art form we are saying it is reducible to a dependent offshoot of other, purer forms of narrative, such as history and sociology. I don’t believe that to be true.

History is not fact, it is narrative. Probably we want historians to be more responsible liars than I am. Raymond Carver’s last published short story before his death, “Errand,” dramatizes the death of one of his literary heroes, Chekhov, at the Hotel Sommer in Badenweiler (an event his widow Olga recounted in her memoir). For details, Carver leaned heavily on Henri Troyat’s biography, written just a few years previously, but also added a healthy dollop of poetic licence with the introduction of a dishevelled porter bringing champagne to the dying writer’s room. In Reading Chekhov, Janet Malcom reminds us that this imagined character seeped into a later biography of Chekhov, with Philip Callow inexplicably including him (as well as other unattributed colour created by Carver) in Chekhov: The Hidden Ground.

History is not fact, it is narrative. That a biographer would document fictional composition as historical fact would mortify historians, but as a writer of fiction it is surely the highest honour. To write something fictional, and yet so historically authentic that it was mistaken for proven fact, is surely what all novelists dream of. Although he didn’t live to see it, Carver literally changed history. What I would give for an imagined aspect of my Soho to turn up in some future historian’s narrative, to worm its way into the historical record. I want the Soho of Vine Street to feel that real.

Vine Street is published in hardback, digital, and audio by Headline on 11th November 2021.

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

You can follow Dominic Nolan on Twitter @NolanDom.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

New James Bond trilogy featuring the next generation of Double O agents to be published

HarperCollins Publishers acquire licence to thrill with a fully authorised new James Bond trilogy from Kim Sherwood, featuring the next generation of Double O agents

HarperCollins Publishers have acquired the UK & Commonwealth and US & Canadian rights to three contemporary thrillers by Kim Sherwood set in the world of James Bond that feature a new raft of Double O agents for the 21st century. The deal was negotiated by Kathryn Cheshire in the UK and David Highfill at William Morrow in the US, with Jonny Geller and Viola Hayden of Curtis Brown, on behalf of Ian Fleming Publications Limited. Kim Sherwood is represented by Susan Armstrong at C&W Agency. 

James Bond is missing, presumed captured or even killed. All of Bond’s contemporaries are gone and a new generation of Double O agents has been recruited to replace them and battle a global threat. At the same time, M and Moneypenny are searching for a mole in MI6. Will the truth be uncovered in time – or is this the end of the Double O section?

Kathryn Cheshire says: “James Bond is one of the most recognisable names in the world, and I was so excited when the Double O project came across my desk. Kim is steeped in the world of James Bond, and this trilogy is fresh, contemporary, and thrill-a-minute, with a new generation of spies everyone will love. It’s going to be so much fun to publish, and I cannot wait for readers to be introduced to the new Double O world!

David Highfill says: “Kim Sherwood has pulled off the seemingly impossible task of writing a new Bond novel that’s both respectful of Fleming’s original genius and yet refreshingly modern. The book is audacious, pacey, sexy and just irresistibly entertaining. People are going to be talking about this one. 

Kim Sherwood says: “James Bond has been one of the enduring loves of my life since I first watched Pierce Brosnan dive from the dam in GoldenEye. I was soon hooked on Ian Fleming’s novels. As a teenager, I chose Fleming when my English teacher asked us to write about an author we admired – I still have the school report. Since then, I’ve dreamt of writing James Bond. It’s rare that dreams come true, and I am grateful to the Fleming family for this incredible opportunity. I feel honoured to be the first novelist to expand the Bond universe through the Double O sector, bringing new life to old favourites, and fresh characters to the canon. I couldn’t be more excited to introduce the world to my Double O agents.”

Corinne Turner, Managing Director of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, says: “In her first novel, Testament, Kim showed a rare gift for characterisation, time and place. She drew readers into a journey that unfolded in unexpected ways. These talents and her near lifelong passion for Fleming and Bond make her the perfect choice for this exciting new extension of the 007 universe. I can’t wait for readers to see what she’s created.”

Jonny Geller says: “We struck gold with this latest collaboration with Kim Sherwood as not only is she a fine novelist but a Fleming aficionado of the highest order. Her re-imagining of some of our favourite characters and world building will delight any fan of James Bond and Ian Fleming. 

Crime Thrillers for Winter and Christmas by B.P.Walter

Winter and Christmas has been a time for mysteries and thrillers for many years, with readers seeking warmth from both pulse-racing, tension-driven stories or cosier, more leisurely whodunnits. I’ve always been drawn to crime fiction at this time of year – I think it’s the sense of comfort driven from order being made out of chaos. Pandemics aside, this time of year can be very hectic, thanks to bustling shops and Christmas gatherings, so there’s something intrinsically soothing about finding order and method on the page even if it sometimes alludes us in real life. My novel The Woman on the Pier isn’t detective-focused, but it does feature a central character setting off to solve a particular mystery and make the guilty (or person she perceives to be guilty) face up to their alleged crime. I’ve always found this structure compelling on the page and I hope readers find the book similarly enthralling if they choose to curl up with it by the fire on a cold winter’s night. And on the subject of curling up with a book (perhaps by the Christmas tree with a few mince pies), I’ve brought together below five of my favourite winter-based thrillers, both new and old, that would make for perfect seasonal reading.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Fans of 2019 movie Knives Out should certainly turn to this Christie gem from 1938. That terrifically enjoyable film features a lot of nods to Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, with bickering families, mysterious outsiders, a bloody death of the family patriarch and an ingenious solution. Christie apparently wrote this because her brother-in-law complained that the murders in her books were ‘getting too refined’ and apparently wanted to read a story with ‘a good violent murder with lots of blood’. Well that’s certainly what she delivered here, with the bloody throat-cutting and nightmarish sounds happening at the top of an old manor house. Once you’ve finished the book, 1994 ITV adaptation of the novel starring David Suchet is also definitely worth a watch, especially for the superb casting, helping it skilfully handle certain tricky aspects of the plot that are hard to pull-off well onscreen. 

The Dark by Emma Haughton

Now moving to something bang up-to-date, Emma Haughton’s thriller The Dark is one of the most impressive books I’ve read all year. It’s an autumn tradition of mine to take myself off on a reading retreat (not an established one, I just book myself into a hotel and just read book after book after book). When you’re doing really sustained amounts of reading, it’s common to want breaks and do something else for a bit – however this did not occur with this utterly gripping novel of arctic-based murder. Playing out in a confined environment, this is essential reading for those who enjoy Agatha Christie’s more single-setting based novels (And Then There Were None of course comes to mind) and the recent (and similarly enthralling) hit BBC drama Vigil. 

Silent Night by Nell Pattison 

This is a novel so covered in a cold, chilly atmosphere (thanks to its superb scene-setting) the pages themselves practically crack with frost as you turn them. Following the investigation that unfolds after a death at a school trip for deaf students, Nell Pattison’s characters are very vividly drawn and the haunting terrain of the snowy woods is eerily evoked. 

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

One of those books you can’t help but fly through, Allie Reynold’s debut thriller Shiver is an excellent whodunnit that at times borders on suspense-horror. Like The Dark, it’s also a well-pitched examination of what happens when you group people together for a tense period in an extreme situation, with the secrets in their past steadily coming to the surface. 

The Lighthouse by P.D. James

This is the only of my five not specifically set in winter, but it still makes of absorbing reading on dark, chilly evenings. I think I also have a lot of associations with this book and Christmas, since it was the first of P.D. James’s novels I read, back when I was 13 years old and suffering from flu in December. It was the perfect medicine: James’s mysteries are so well-thought-through, and this one takes place within the confines of a wonderfully atmospheric location: a restful retreat for the rich on an island just off the Cornish coast. Expect brutal killings, pleasingly methodical crime-solving and a very tense final act. 

The Woman on the Pier by B P Walter (Published by Harper Collins) Out Now

Two strangers meet on the pier Only one walks away... Screenwriter Caroline Byrne is desperate to know why her daughter Jessica died, murdered in Stratford when she was supposed to be at a friend's in Somerset. When Caroline discovers the messages Jessica had been sending a boy named Michael, she realises it's because of him. Because he failed to meet her that day. He's the reason why her daughter is dead. And so she makes a choice. He's the one who's going to pay. That is her promise. Her price.

More information about B P Walter can be found on his website. You can also find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @BarnabyWalter and on Instagram @bpwalterauthor. 

Reconstructing a Victorian Murder Mystery by Thomas Morris


In November 1856 George Little, the chief cashier of Dublin’s Broadstone railway terminus, was found dead, lying in a pool of blood underneath his desk. The door was locked, apparently from the inside, and thousands of pounds in gold and silver had been left untouched on his desk. Was this a robbery gone wrong? A revenge killing? Or even suicide?

It was as perplexing a mystery as anybody could remember, and it led to the longest and most complex murder inquiry in the history of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Over the next seven months, more than half a dozen suspects were interviewed and taken into custody before the detectives finally succeeded in pinning down the man they believed responsible for the senseless killing.

When I first came across a contemporary news report about this real-life murder mystery I knew straight away that I wanted to write a book about it. Both the immediate setting of a busy railway station, and the atmospheric surroundings of Victorian Dublin, were enticing. The crime itself was a genuine whodunit, and one that was not easily solved. There were twists worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, and dramatic sudden breakthroughs such as the recovery of a bundle of stolen money, just when the police investigation seemed to have ground to a halt. Then there was the surprise tip-off that led to the arrest of the prime suspect several months later, and a thrilling murder trial that gripped the nation. But perhaps the strangest episode in this tale is its unexpected epilogue, which features a scientist who believed that he could identify a murderer by analysing the shape of their skull.

The Dublin Railway Murder was a particularly lurid case in an era of sensational murders. No wonder, then, that every stage of the police investigation was followed eagerly by journalists on both sides of the Irish Sea. The detailed contemporary newspaper coverage provided me with invaluable source material, including verbatim accounts of the inquest and eventual trial. 

These articles also included colourful details: eyewitness reports of the discovery of the murder weapon, and first-hand descriptions of the significant characters and locations of this drama. I also came across a pamphlet written, and privately published, by somebody who had befriended the main suspect and made notes of their hours of conversations.

All this was more than enough raw material for a book. But then I paid a visit to the Irish national archives in Dublin, and made a discovery that transformed the whole story. In a dusty file, undisturbed for decades, lay hundreds of pages documenting the course of the police inquiry: transcripts of interviews with witnesses and suspects, letters between detectives and legal officials, and the minutes of confidential meetings. 

There were even surveillance reports filed by the undercover agents who were given the task of discreetly tailing various suspects around the city.

This new information was a goldmine. It gave a totally different perspective on the story, revealing details of the investigation that the police had deliberately kept secret. It made it possible to deduce the precise chronology of the investigation, working out who spoke to whom and when. And, crucially, it allowed me to reconstruct entire conversations using the actual words of the people concerned, so that we can hear the authentic voices of the labourers, domestic servants, clerks and railway engineers who helped the police with their inquiries.

I wanted to make The Dublin Railway Murder read like a crime novel, but almost everything in it is based closely on the historical record – not just what people said, but where they lived, what they did for a living, and how they spent their leisure hours. It was often these incidental details that were most fun to research: what shops there were in a specific street, the weather on a particular day, even the romantic history of one elderly judge. Of course it is impossible to be absolutely accurate, or to recover the unadulterated truth about such a story, particularly at a distance of more than a century and a half – but the exceptional nature of the source material offers what I believe to be a uniquely detailed portrait of a Victorian murder inquiry.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris (Harvill Secker) Out Now.

A thrilling and perplexing investigation of a true Victorian crime at a Dublin railway station. Dublin, November 1856: George Little, the chief cashier of the Broadstone railway terminus, is found dead, lying in a pool of blood beneath his desk. He has been savagely beaten, his head almost severed; there is no sign of a murder weapon, and the office door is locked, apparently from the inside. Thousands of pounds in gold and silver are left untouched at the scene of the crime. Augustus Guy, Ireland's most experienced detective, teams up with Dublin's leading lawyer to investigate the murder. But the mystery defies all explanation, and two celebrated sleuths sent by Scotland Yard soon return to London, baffled. Five suspects are arrested then released, with every step of the salacious case followed by the press, clamouring for answers. But then a local woman comes forward, claiming to know the murderer.... 

You can find more information on his website.  You can also follow him on Twitter @thomasngmorris

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Women who fall for bad men.


Women who fall for bad men—Lisa Gray on the inspiration behind Lonely Hearts.

We all know about the allure of the bad boy.

From Gone With The Wind’s Rhett Butler to the original Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean, there’s nothing quite like a leather jacket and tattoos and a fast car and a bad attitude to get pulses racing and hearts pounding.

The kind of man you definitely wouldn’t want to take home to meet your mum.

Honestly? I can see the attraction. The first time I watched the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary, I definitely fancied the selfish, egotistical, two-timing Daniel Cleaver much more than nice guy Mark Darcy. Why? Because Darcy was a little too dull and safe, whereas bad boy Cleaver was sexy and fun and unpredictable.

But what happens when a fondness for bad men is about more than just a snarl and a string of rejected lovers? When the biggest turn on is someone who breaks the law, rather than just breaking hearts?

Hybristophilia is an attraction to those who commit crimes and is sometimes known as “Bonnie and Clyde syndrome.”

When Jeremy Meeks was arrested in 2014, his mugshot went viral. Dubbed ‘The World’s Hottest Felon’, women (and men) went crazy for his razor sharp cheekbones and full lips and bright blue eyes. A one-time gang member, Meeks has since carved out a successful career as a model following his release from prison and has 1.6million followers on Instagram. 

But, for some women, the fascination with those who commit crimes goes way beyond simply liking and sharing pics on social media.

Many high-profile criminals are sent fan mail while in jail in the same way Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling receive letters from adoring fans. But these are men who are famous for being rapists and murderers, rather than making movies. Some form relationships with the women who write to them and some even marry their pen pals.

Richard Ramirez—aka ‘The Night Stalker’—was a serial killer and rapist who was sentenced to death after murdering 13 people. Doreen Lioy began writing to him shortly after his incarceration and they were married in 1996 at San Quentin.

‘The Hillside Strangler’, who terrorized Los Angeles in the late ‘70s, actually turned out to be two people—cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono. Bianchi went on to marry his pen pal Shirlee Joyce Book, while Bianchi got hitched to Christine Kizuka.

Book also reportedly tried her luck with Ted Bundy before tying the knot with Bianchi.

Bundy was another serial killer who wasn’t short of female attention or offers, despite later confessing to 30 homicides. He married Carole Ann Boon in a courtroom during the penalty phase of his trial in Florida.

It’s this phenomenon that I wanted to explore in my latest novel, Lonely Hearts—including the ‘why?’

Is it lack of self-esteem or a desire to be famous themselves that attracts women to men who are responsible for committing despicable acts? Do they actually feel ‘safer’ being in a relationship with a man who’s behind bars who can’t physically hurt them? Does the letter-writing and photo-swapping and restricted visitation all add to the fantasy and prevent the mundanity of everyday life creeping in? 

Lonely Hearts is centered around two women who both have a relationship with a famous, handsome, charismatic serial killer by the name of Travis Dean Ford. They both met him through ‘The Lonely Hearts Club,’ a pen pal service for women who want to write to men in prison. Veronica Lowe had a child with Ford and then disappeared. Jordana Ford married him before his execution and went on to become a well-known author and activist.

At the beginning of the book, Jordana is murdered in a similar way to Ford’s victims, and private investigator Jessica Shaw is hired to find the missing Veronica and her now-teenage daughter before they suffer the same fate.

It was only while watching a documentary about Bundy that I discovered he, too, fathered a child while in prison. I was intrigued by Rose Bundy. Where is she now? Does she know the truth about her father? What is known about her? The answer is very little.

In Lonely Hearts, the same questions are being asked about Mia Ford, the daughter of Veronica and Travis. In a strange twist of fate, the woman searching for Mia and her mother—Jessica Shaw—is the daughter of a murder victim and was once also a missing person herself.

Lonely Hearts by Lisa Gray (Out Now) Thomas & Mercer

A missing persons case should be pretty straightforward for private investigator Jessica Shaw. After all, it’s what she does best. But this latest case proves to be anything but straightforward. Christine Ryan is desperate to find her childhood friend Veronica Lowe. Veronica disappeared more than fifteen years ago, not long after having a child with a Death Row inmate, notorious serial killer Travis Dean Ford. When Ford’s widow, Jordana, is murdered in the same way as his victims, Christine fears Veronica and her daughter will be next. If they’re even still alive… Discovering that both Veronica and Jordana were members of the Lonely Hearts Club, a pen pal service for women who want to write to men in prison, Jessica realizes she needs to find Veronica before the killer does. But as Jessica follows the leads it begins to feel like someone is following her. Travis has been dead for years, so who is hunting the Lonely Hearts?

More information about Lisa Gray and her books can be found on her website. You can also find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisagraywriter and find her on Instagram @lisagraywriter 

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Quick Read Covers Revealed!


The Reading Agency has unveiled the eye-catching covers for the Quick Reads stories publishing on 14 April 2022, written by M.W. Craven, Paula Hawkins, Ayisha Malik, Santa Montefiore, Kate Mosse, Graham Norton, Lemn Sissay and Alex Wheatle.

Forming part of the life-changing literacy programme tackling the UK’s adult literacy crisis by helping less confident readers start reading, these eight, new short books will also be included in the World Book Night 2022 list.

The Reading Agency has also shared the many ways in which the 36,000 copies of this year’s Quick Reads titles donated as part of the 15th anniversary ‘Buy One Gift One’ campaign have reached those who struggle with reading or have limited access to books.

From August to October, tens of thousands of free books were distributed to local authorities, libraries, prisons, adult learning organisations and community-based charities around the country. The ‘Quick Reads’ short stories by best-selling authors Louise Candlish, Katie Fforde, Peter James, Caitlin Moran, Oyinkan Braithwaite and Khurrum Rahman have been encouraging new readers at food banks, homeless shelters, literacy classes, refugee groups as well as those in prison, to find the pleasure and benefits that come from reading.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency, said: ‘Thanks to the support and generosity of our Quick Reads publishers and the close collaboration of our many partners, including the generous support of Jojo Moyes, tens of thousands of these transformative stories have been put directly into the hands of those who need them the most helping progress of our mission to break down barriers to reading, and spread the joy of books to new audiences.

 Buy One, Gift One’

This year's 'Buy One, Gift One' campaign helps The Reading Agency to get copies of these transformative books into the hands of those that need them most, particularly those who have experienced acute hardship throughout the pandemic. This year, thousands of free books are being distributed in partnership with libraries and other organisations who are providing frontline support, including homelessness charities, food banks, prisons, and Young Offender Institutions.

Libraries in Newham, an east London borough facing significant problems in poverty and inequality, are gifting books to services supporting young people experiencing mental health issues and running functional skills courses. These include local Youth Zones, Newham Youth Offending Team, Supported Living, Adult Learning Services, the Newham Food Alliance and Colleges of Further Education.

Councillor Charlene McLean, Deputy Mayor and Lead Member for Resident Participation and Engagement, Newham Council said: ‘Here in Newham we are really excited to be gifting The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite, through our Adult Learning Service, Supported Living Schemes, Youth Zones and Youth Offending Teams. By gifting through these routes we aim to reach those adults and young people who would benefit most from a Quick Read, discovering, perhaps for the first time, a book that is accessible end engaging with no pressure to read it and no one judging their reading ability. We really hope that by gifting the right book, for the right person at the right time, our donations will help our selected residents to develop a love of reading and further improve their literacy skills.

Krystal Vittles, Head of Service Delivery, Suffolk Libraries, said: ‘At Suffolk Libraries’ we decided to gift from our static libraries as well as through our prison libraries to ensure these fantastic books made an impact, and hopefully spread a little joy. We also worked with our partners at Suffolk County Council to gift these books through local foodbanks as a gift for people who are experiencing tough times. We believe that reading, literacy and access to books is a fundamental human right and so we’re always keen to be part of initiatives like this to spread the love of reading.’

Oldham Libraries have distributed copies to the Oldham Council Emerging Communities Team, the Local Authority Asylum Support Liaison Officers, the Oldham Lifelong Learning Centre – who deliver literacy skills courses – and the Oldham Street Angels, who provide food, clothing, shelter and support to Oldham’s homeless.

Jacqueline Widdowson, Senior Library Officer, Oldham Libraries, said: ‘We plan to work with our local homeless charity, The Street Angels. Many of Oldham's homeless people already use our libraries and are big readers. It will be nice to encourage both current and lapsed readers to enjoy the escapism and warmth of taking yourself outside of your current experience through reading.


Burn, baby, burn! Creating serial arsonist characters by L.A. Larkin

Serial arsonists make great antagonists in crime fiction. There is something incredibly sinister about their modus operandi. The FBI defines serial arson as, “an offense committed by fire setters who set three or more fires with a significant cooling-off period between fires.” But what motivates arsonists? What are their personality traits? And how can authors use this information to create fascinating and terrifying characters? 

I began researching arsonists when I was writing The Safe Place in which a serial killer uses fire to cover up his crimes. The story is set in Washington in a small country town threatened by wildfires. Jessie Lewis witnesses the killer lighting a house fire, just before she is knocked unconscious. She becomes his next target. The mystery at the centre of the book is the identity of the serial arsonist. The suspects display one or more of the six personality traits that profilers and psychologists attribute to serial arsonists. One of the most frequently referenced reports on the motivations of serial arsonists and their typical offender characteristics was undertaken by the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in 1980. They concluded that arsonists tend to crave power, adulation and even sexual thrills. They find fire beautiful and many love to watch it wreak its magnificent destruction. Often, they are loners who have been rejected by their community. But not always. Some of the most famous arsonists were popular, family men. The six generally recognised motivators are:

  • Revenge
  • Excitement/craving hero worship
  • Crime concealment
  • Vandalism
  • Profit
  • Extremism


My central character, Jessie, is the main suspect. A former volunteer firefighter, she not only knows how to put out fires, she also knows how to start them and get away with it. Jessie is ostracised from her hometown and lives alone in the forest. Why she is ostracised has nothing to do with fire and everything to do with the domestic violence she suffered at the hands of her then boyfriend. This doesn’t matter to the local sheriff who regards Jessie as a liar with an axe to grind. Revenge-based arsonists are, according to experts, usually adult males in blue-collar jobs, which means that Jessie is an unusual candidate. Another character in my thriller, Bill Moran, is an old man who lives in the forest surrounded by junk cars. He likes to climb on the roof of his cabin and watch the wildfires in the distance as they burn through the national park. It turns out that he, and another character, have motives for revenge.

Excitement and craving hero worship

These arsonists are the thrill-seeker who light wildfires and/or burn down occupied structures because it empowers them and gives them a high. In this group are firefighter arsonists. They set the fires, watch them burn and then race in to put them out, heroically saving people’s lives. A well-known example of this was firefighter and arson investigator John Orr of California’s Glendale Fire Department. In The Safe Place, Marcus Harstad, the fire chief and Jessie’s abuser, is a narcissist who craves adulation. He has means, motive and opportunity. But he is not the only character in the book who craves adulation and recognition. 

Crime concealment

The fires are lit to destroy physical evidence, or the identity of a victim. In my thriller, the arsonist initially sets out to make the housefires look like accidents. Then he uses fire to conceal the fact that one of the victims was shot dead before the blaze consumed them. However, bullets can survive fire. The killer then goes on to set fires that deliberately implicate Jessie. Ironically, the middle-aged sheriff, who is investigating the crimes, fits the profile of the older and wiser serial arsonist. They are often regarded as the most dangerous fire starters because as their confidence and experience grows, they set bigger and more dangerous fires. 


These fires are usually lit by juveniles through boredom, rebellion, peer pressure, or are gang related. Children known to have started fires when they are young are likely to keep lighting them as adults. 


There are plenty of news stories about people who set fire to their homes, businesses, or cars for the insurance money or for other financial reasons. They are often ordinary people driven by desperation or greed, who did not intend to kill anyone. Such plans can go horribly wrong. And because of their lack of skill at starting fires, they are usually caught.


Extremists set fires to further political, social, or religious causes and may use bombs. They are likely to have done a lot of preparation and may well be prepared to die in the conflagration of their own making. One of my characters, a former FBI agent, and Jessie’s only ally, was badly injured by a bomb blast and as a result she is terrified of fire.

Profiles of serial arsonists are full of inspiring details that can help authors create credible, complex, and creepy arsonist characters. Fire can add drama, ramp up the tension, conceal evidence, frighten witnesses, and keep a reader glued to your book.

The Safe Place by L A Larkin (Bookouture) Out Now.

Her heart pounds at the sound of footsteps outside her cabin in the woods. The snap of a twig tells her someone is close by. As she treads lightly towards the back door, she says a silent prayer—don’t let him find me… Ever since Jessie Lewis reported her boyfriend, fire chief and local hero, for beating her, she’s been an outcast from the small town of Eagle Falls. And when someone sets fire to a house in the woods, killing the entire Troyer family, the locals turn on her again, taking her very public argument with Paul Troyer as proof that she lit the match. Devastated that anyone could think her capable of murder, Jessie turns to Ruth. New in town, and an ex-FBI agent, Ruth could be the exact person Jessie needs to smoke out the murderer. But can she trust her with her life? Days later, another house linked to Jessie is set ablaze. Combing the ashes for answers, she catches sight of an inscription she hasn’t seen since her childhood—since she lost someone very close to her. Is the killer is coming for her next? As local wildfires take hold of the town and everyone is evacuated, Jessie knows she must put herself in unthinkable danger to catch the killer. And when she does, will she have the strength to take them down first?

More information about L A Larkin can be found on her website. You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @lalarkinauthor and on Instagram.