Thursday 30 July 2020

New CWA Anthology Celebrates Vintage Crime

A new short story anthology with a difference celebrates short stories from the archives of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).

Vintage Crime gathers gems from the mid-1950’s, when the CWA began, until the twenty-first century. The new compilation features an array of award-winning authors including Andrew Taylor, Kate Ellis, Simon Brett, Liza Cody, HRF Keating, Anthea Fraser and Mick Herron.

Published by Flame Tree Press, the anthology is edited by former Chair of the CWA and CWA archivist, author Martin Edwards.

Martin said: “This is a collection with a difference, celebrating the work of CWA members since the Association was founded in 1953. Entertaining in their own right, the stories also demonstrate the evolution of the crime short story during the CWA’s existence, from the Fifties until the early twenty-first century.

The CWA was established by John Creasey, the prolific author of over 500 novels with worldwide sales in the 1970’s of over 80 million copies in 28 different languages. The long-standing membership organisation is for authors at all stages of their career and works to promote, support and celebrate the diverse crime genre, from psychological thrillers, paranormal crossovers to police procedurals.

The first CWA anthology, Butcher’s Dozen, appeared in 1956, and was co-edited by Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell. Over the years, the anthology has yielded many award-winning and nominated stories in the UK and overseas by such luminaries as Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block and Reginald Hill. 

Martin added: “There are countless gems of crime writing in the CWA archives. I’ve picked the juiciest stories from some of the best and most well-known authors, but you’ll also find some hidden treasures by less familiar writers.

Edwards, author of The Golden Age of Murder, is also President and Archivist of the world-famous Detection Club and series consultant to the British Library’s series of crime classics.

The CWA has for over 50 years run the prestigious, world-famed CWA Dagger Awards, which celebrate the best writing in the genre. It’s also renowned for supporting aspiring and debut writers with its annual Debut Dagger competition and Margery Allingham Short Mystery competition.

To celebrate publication of Vintage Crimes, a special online panel Flame Tree Live: CWA and Vintage Crime will take be screened on Sunday 16 August at 6pm on Facebook. To watch, register in advance at 

The panel features authors Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis, Andrew Taylor and the secretary of the CWA, Dea Parkin, discussing the anthology and crime writing, writers, stories and themes.

A blog tour for the book will also take place. It starts on 10 August at Karen Reads and Recommends ending on 21 August at Bookish Jottings.

Vintage Crime, the new CWA Anthology is published in paperback and hardback by Flame Tree Press on 11 August 2020.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Heading South with John Connolly

This pestilence that has swept the globe, COVID-19 has disrupted so many activities that there seems little it can’t impact upon; including delaying the next instalment in the disturbing adventures of Charlie Parker – that singular creation from Irish literary crime / horror writer John Connolly.

At the risk of cliché, it seems only yesterday that John Connolly’s debut crime novel Every Dead Thing [1999], was awarded best debut Private Eye novel in 2000 by The Private Eye Writers of America [PWA]. This achievement made all the more poignant, that it was the first time a non-America writer received this accolade. Some would argue that the PI Genre was at the heart of the American Golden Age of Crime Fiction, so for an Irishman to be acclaimed by his American peers is remarkable.

And now we come full circle with August 20th 2020 release by Hodder and Stoughton of The Dirty South, the latest Charlie Parker adventure which goes back in time, to those early days of Connolly’s troubled protagonist, before the millennium, and well before the ubiquity of the Virus that is in the air around us -

It is 1997, and someone is slaughtering young women in Burdon County, Arkansas.
But no one in the Dirty South wants to admit it.
In an Arkansas jail cell sits a former NYPD detective, stricken by grief. He is mourning the death of his wife and child, and searching in vain for their killer. Obsessed with avenging his lost family, his life is about to take a shocking turn.
Witness the dawning of a conscience.
Witness the birth of a hunter.
Witness the becoming of Charlie Parker.

Available in the US from Emily Bestler Books / Atria October 20, 2020
Available in Ireland from Hodder & Stoughton August 20, 2020
Available in the UK and elsewhere from Hodder & Stoughton, August 20, 2020

An extract is available HERE

Shots Ezine’s Spanish Correspondent and book reviewer John Parker has been sitting on his hands, having read The Dirty South earlier this year, before COVID-19 delayed the release, and as John Parker had a few [socially distanced] questions for John Connolly, which Shots Ezine are happy to share with our readers -

From the pages of John Parker’s notebook -

John Parker: Hello John, it’s great to speak to you again. Congratulations on the publication of THE DIRTY SOUTH.

John Connolly: And great to talk again.

John Parker: So without further ado, tell us how difficult was it to go back and write about a character who has lived through as much as Charlie Parker? Were you worried about continuity or using language that was not prevalent 20 years ago, for example?

John Connolly: Actually, it was quite pleasant to write without the accumulated history of seventeen books!  As I grow older, the hard part is keeping track of everything that’s already happened, especially in a series which has a larger story arc progressing in the background. 

The hard part was the research, given that The Dirty South is effectively a historical novel.  It’s one thing going to Arkansas to walk the ground, as it were, but another to recreate it as it was decades earlier.  Thankfully, I had some help from longtime residents, but it’s a stressful business.  One turns into a version of Donald Rumsfeld, trying to distinguish between known unknowns and unknown unknowns. 

As for language, I decided to adopt a kind of heightened, stylized speech for all of the Arkansas characters. In a sense, it’s an echo of the approach to language in Every Dead Thing, although it’s more conscious and perhaps less in thrall to literary influences than in that first novel.

When I began writing Every Dead Thing in my twenties, I was very much in the shadow of a particular style of American mystery writing, and it’s taken me two decades even to begin to find my own voice.  Dipping into Every Dead Thing to check matters of consistency or continuity was very difficult for me, because my style has changed so much since then.  I hope it’s improved, although some might differ.

One issue that was problematical was the status of women and people of color during the period in which the book is set.  The setting is a society largely dominated by white males, and to some degree the novel has to reflect that, even as it tries to find a way to examine and interrogate it.  That’s a delicate, fraught exercise.

John Parker: There has been an unfortunate delay in publication due to the pandemic. But, perhaps, this makes the book more relevant than ever. Clearly black lives don’t matter to some people in Cargill. Would you care to comment?

John Connolly: The problem never seems to go away, does it?  In that sense, the book is still depressingly relevant.  One only had to witness the evidence of voter suppression during the recent Kentucky primary – and Donald Trump’s astonishing acknowledgement of the necessity of voter suppression if the Republican Party is to have any hope of remaining in power – to recognize the shadow that the subject of race continues to cast over American democracy.

But the book is as much about poverty as it is about racial inequality, and the compromises that a poor community has to make in order to have any prospect of improving its situation. The history of industrial development in the South over the last fifty or sixty years is quite fascinating, in that what revolutionized the South, New Deal liberalism and hefty tax breaks apart, was the invention of air-conditioning.  Before that, high-tech industries couldn’t really consider Southern states for investment because of the semi-tropical weather – not only the difficulty of keeping workers indoors in terrible heat, but the impossibility of manufacturing technologically demanding products in a humid environment.  
After all, you can’t just leave a window open.

But A/C changed all that, and suddenly big companies – including aerospace and defense contractors – have access to a low-cost, union-free labor force in states with a fairly lax approach to environmental standards.  The result is towns literally selling themselves to corporations for the promise of jobs, better schools, and an improved standard of living.  That’s the opportunity the town of Cargill is trying to secure in the book, and it’s only the chief of police who really understands the likely implications of this.

John Parker: Did you actually go down south to research the book? If so, how was the experience?

John Connolly: I did, because research is both a necessity and, thankfully, a pleasure for me.  I can’t write about a place I haven’t explored.  Arkansas was a part of the United States that was wholly unfamiliar to me, so I was able to start with a blank slate.  I received only the most generous of help throughout, particularly from a wonderful man named J.R. Howard, who is now retired but had worked right across Arkansas law enforcement during his career; and a young couple named the Webbs, who were fans of my books and reached out via Twitter when I posted about being in the state.  In the end, I think J.R. suggested only one correction to the text, which related to a model of gun.  Otherwise, he very kindly said that he felt he’d worked with a lot of the lawmen in the book, and the ones he hadn’t worked with, he knew. Most of that, though, was down to my listening quietly to him as he talked, and taking copious notes of everything he said.  As I grow older, I’ve learned how and when to keep my mouth shut, except to ask questions.

John Parker: When we met last summer in Avilés, Spain, you were in the middle of a book promotion tour. You said you hoped to be able to spend a little more time at home afterwards. Your wish came true. So, how did you cope with the lockdown?

John Connolly: I was okay with lockdown, the general stress of it apart.  My sons are both in their twenties and can largely take care of themselves, so I didn’t have the kind of distractions that come with younger kids.  It was, rather selfishly, nice not to have to find ways to say “no” to things.  I travelled too much last year, and it’s more tiring than it used to be.  Also, travelling so much means that I struggle to get as much writing done as I would like.  Lockdown presented an opportunity to work without interruption, and perhaps get a little bit ahead for the first time in twenty years. Routine suits me, I think.  I secretly struggle with disruption.

John Parker: Your legion of fans was lucky enough to be treated to more Parker in the online novella, The Sisters Strange. Was that a story you already had in the back of your mind or was it inspired by your wish to do something good for people under lockdown? Would you ever do it again? 

John Connolly: I decided on the spur of the moment that I should try to produce something as a distraction for readers, and to make up for the postponement of publication of my books in a number of countries.  It wasn’t something I had in a bottom drawer. I simply came up with a title, and then wrote to that title as an experiment, albeit one conducted in public.  It was an odd experience, but not a million miles away from how I write anyway: I usually only know the opening of a book, and then discover the story and the characters by writing very slowly every day.  Only at the end of the (very painful) first draft do I go back and begin revising.  The process for The Sisters Strange was similar, except that it was all done in full view of readers, I had to live with every decision I made, and there was no possibility of going back and rerouting if I went in a seemingly unpromising direction.

Would I do it again?  Ha, probably not!  Apart from being quite stressful, and leaving my flaws exposed, it was also a pretty expensive exercise.  We ended up publishing the daily extracts in six languages, which meant that I was paying five translators as well as my son, Cameron, who took care of layout and publication. I was happy to put work the translators’ way, though, and they and Cam did a wonderful job under very difficult conditions.

John Parker: Can you tell us what is coming up next? What lies in the future for Parker?  

John Connolly: Well, the next novel is pretty much done, and I’m just polishing it for delivery.  It’s an Angel & Louis book, with a cameo or two from Parker, and picks up on an incident mentioned in A Book of Bones.  As with every novel I write, it’s a reaction to the one that preceded it.  The Dirty South is almost entirely set in one small Arkansas county, but the next book – The Nameless Ones – ranges across four continents.  After that, a revised and probably extended version of The Sisters Strange will appear in some form, either as one of two Parker novellas or as a separate publication. 

John Parker: I was mightily impressed by your talk at Celsius 232 last summer which you gave in Spanish. Are you still working on your Spanish or are you learning other languages?

John Connolly: I’m still practising my Spanish each day, although comprehension and vocabulary remain a problem.  I’m improving, I think, but I suspect my Spanish still causes native speakers to wince a bit.

I have some French, but I wanted to focus on Spanish because I probably do more promotion for my Spanish editions than for any others, English-language apart.  I was embarrassed by my inability to communicate with Spanish readers directly, or to conduct interviews and presentations in the language.  I’m always embarrassed by that when I go to a new country, but it’s just not possible to be fluent in every language, so I made the decision to concentrate on Spanish. I’d dabbled in conversational Spanish a few years ago, but I decided to try to get to the point where I could do an entire session in the language, however halting it might be.  Spanish readers have been very forgiving of my mangling of their native tongue, although I think they appreciate the effort. 

But doing a public interview or presentation in Spanish is nerve-racking, and quite exhausting, because I keep running into words or terms for which I don’t necessarily have the vocabulary, or not yet.  I’ll get there, though – I hope.  At the very least, they say that learning a language can help stave off dementia.

John Parker: Last question - I heard a rumour that you were going to come back to Celsius 232 this summer? Alas, it could not be! Will you be back in the future?

John Connolly: I’d love to return to that festival at some future date, and on a practical level I do need reasons to continue working on, and improving, my Spanish.  Everyone at Celcius in Avilés (and Gijón, which I attended during the same visit) was hugely kind and generous, and it’s a lovely town.  Also, I really appreciate the fact that so many Spanish festivals are free to attend, thanks to an enlightened view of the relationship between taxation and culture.  And the food and wine are great.  I’m not sure I’d go every year, though.  I think that might rather lead people to get a bit tired of me…

John Parker: Thank you for your time John, as ever

John Connolly: My pleasure, thank you for your questions and see you soon, stay well.

Additional Resources

A guide to the Charlie Parker series can be accessed HERE

John Parker’s review of THE DIRTY SOUTH is online HERE

John Parker’s conversation with John Connolly from last year’s Celsius Festival Click HERE

BBC audio ghost stories by John Connolly –

And a trailer for the Kevin Costner movie THE NEW DAUGHTER from 2009, based on the story by John Connolly and the directorial debut of Spanish screenwriter Luis Berdejo

And previous reviews and interview features with John Connolly from Shots can be accessed HERE

Shots Ezine would like to pass our thanks to Hodder and Stoughton and John Connolly for their help in arranging this interview and also to our Spanish Bureau’s John Parker.

John Parker is a Graduate-qualified English/Spanish Teacher, owner and director of CHAT ENGLISH, an English Language Centre in Avilés on the north coast of Spain. John is a voracious reader, and has loved horror fiction for many, many years. He is also an avid beekeeper.

Editor’s Note: One of the most engaging reading experiences from John Connolly’s body of work for me is “He” an extraordinary piece of literature and here’s why: CLICK HERE

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Capital Crime Book Club

Capital Crime presents the Capital Crime Book Club, an affordable monthly subscription service and year-round home for crime and thriller fans.

Capital Crime is pleased to announce the launch of the Capital Crime Book Club. The Capital Crime Book Club is an affordable monthly subscription service that will be a year-round, inclusive, home for readers, and a regular link between authors and fans.

Each month, subscribers will receive two carefully curated paperbacks along with exclusive access to great author content and community activities. The Capital Crime Book Club offers a way for authors and publishers to connect with readers, maintaining the ethos at the heart of the Capital Crime festival.

The Capital Crime Book Club will provide readers with great value for money, and a greater sense of community.

Capital Crime co-founder Adam Hamdy, says “Capital Crime is an inclusive festival with a strong sense of community. It is in this spirit that we’re launching the Capital Crime Book Club, a home for all fans of crime fiction. With a monthly subscription fee in the region of £10 for two paperbacks and access to exclusive community content, we’re intent on offering a great value service that’s accessible to everyone.”

Capital Crime co-founder and Goldsboro Books Managing Director, David Headley, says “Capital Crime has always been about connecting fans of crime fiction with their favourite writers. We see this as another string to our bow complementing our physical festival and platform. We’re supporting authors and publishers and helping them connect with readers in celebration of this much-loved genre.”

The Capital Crime Book Club will officially launch on September 1st 2020. Register now to be among the first to experience The Capital Crime Book Club:


Capital Crime is a diverse, inclusive and socially responsible festival, running initiatives including social outreach to support students exploring a literary career, an innovative digital festival and the New Voices Award. The festival is the brainchild of British screenwriter Adam Hamdy and Managing Director of Goldsboro Books, David Headley.

Capital Crime’s inaugural festival took place from September 26th -28th 2019 at the Connaught Rooms in London. Guests included Kate Atkinson, Robert Harris, David Baldacci, Ian Rankin, Ann Cleeves, Robert Glenister, Leye Adenle, Denise Mina, Anthony Horowitz, Abir Mukherjee and many others.

Capital Crime 2020 is due to take place on 1st – 3rd October 2020. Capital Crime organisers are monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic closely and while they are not yet able to take a decision on the 2020 festival, their priority is keeping their delegates and guests safe. The Capital Crime Book Club will run alongside the festival in the event it goes ahead, or act as a substitute if it gets cancelled. If the 2020 festival does not go ahead, existing Capital Crime 2020 pass holders will have the opportunity to convert to membership of the Capital Crime Book Club, transfer their purchase to a 2021 pass or get full refunds as they see fit. Capital Crime will be sharing more details with existing Capital Crime 2020 pass holders in the coming weeks.

Catch up with Capital Crime’s Digital Festival here:

Friday 24 July 2020

St Hilda's Virtual Crime Fiction, 14/15 August - now bookable

The suspense is finally over. Booking for the 2020 Virtual Crime Fiction Event is open!
The Committee, our Hon Fellows-in-Crime, and I, are delighted to report that all the speakers planned for 2020 will be joining us for this live virtual event running from Friday evening through to Saturday evening.
Our theme remains ‘All Our Yesterdays’: historical crime fiction.
Find yourself unleashed upon the London of the Swinging Sixties, the winding backstreets of 1950s Bombay, the gin shops and brothels of Georgian London, and backstage on Brighton pier - all in pursuit of Murder.

 We shall we have the traditional Guest Of Honour session and the dramatic Whodunnit, both courtesy of Andrew Taylor, without whom no historical crime fiction event would be complete.
Whodunnit: The Murder Of Lucy Ackroyd 
is a chillingly implausible tale set in Oxford.
The hideous murder of a literary novelist takes place in a former women’s
college located in the academic badlands beyond Magdalen Bridge.
Starring: Chief Inspector Andrew Taylor, Val McDermid, Sarah Hilary,
Abir Mukherjee, and Mick Herron.
(And yours truly as the Senior Tutor, 'a woman of strong but warped passions'.)
So, please, head over to the website, peruse the programme, the speakers and
their subjects, both fresh meat and usual suspects.
We look forward to seeing you.

Thursday 23 July 2020

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 WInner Announced



Adrian McKinty, winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 for The Chain said:

I am gobsmacked and delighted to win this award. Two years ago, I had given up on writing altogether and was working in a bar and driving an uber, and so to go from that to this is just amazing. People think that you write a book and it will be an immediate bestseller. For twelve books, my experience was quite the opposite, but then I started this one. It was deliberately high concept, deliberately different to everything else I had written - and I was still convinced it wouldn’t go anywhere… but now look at this. It has been completely life changing.

Harrogate, Thursday 23 July: Belfast born Adrian McKinty has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious accolade in crime writing, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, for his best-selling thriller, The Chain, that sees parents forced to abduct children to save the lives of their own.

This phenomenal success comes after Adrian’s family were evicted from their home, forcing him to put down his pen and find work as an Uber driver and bar tender to make ends meet. Persuaded to give his dream one last go, Adrian began writing what would become his smash hit sensation The Chain, now a bestseller in over 20 countries with move rights snapped up by Universal in a seven figure deal to bring this chilling masterpiece to life on screen.

Described by Don Winslow as ‘nothing short of Jaws for parents’The Chain was chosen by public vote and the prize Judges, triumphing against a tremendously strong shortlist – including books from Oyinkan Braithwaite, Helen Fitzgerald, Jane Harper, Mick Herron and Abir Mukherjee – at a time when the UK is experiencing a boom in crime fiction, with the genre exploding in popularity during lockdown and sales soaring since bookshops have reopened. 

The news was revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on what would have been the opening night of Harrogate’s legendary Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, the announcement of this coveted trophy has marked the launch of the HIF Weekender, Harrogate International Festival’s free virtual festival bringing world-class culture to everyone at home, featuring performances and interviews with internationally acclaimed musicians, best-selling authors and innovative thinkers.

Adrian McKinty – who was previously nominated in 2011, 2014 and 2016 for his Sean Duffy
series – will now receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Looking at the titles in contention for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020, it is clear to see why crime fiction remains the UK’s genre of choice. Adrian McKinty is a writer of astonishing talent and tenacity, and we could not be more grateful that he was persuaded to give his literary career one last shot because The Chain is a truly deserving winner. Whilst we might be awarding this year’s trophy in slightly different, digital circumstances, we raise a virtual glass of Theakston Old Peculier to Adrian’s success – with the hope that we can do so in person before too long, and welcome everyone back to Harrogate next year for a crime writing celebration like no other.

Writing Setting into Crime Fiction by Olivia Kiernan

©Olivia Kiernan
The view was like something out of a John Constable painting. Ahead of me, a giant wedge cut out of the green horizon; rock, tree and river drawn into the valley below. Through a split in the dark cloud, the sun spilled down in thick beams. Around me, the ground hid pockets of moss, the hollows studded with protruding stone; a granite and quartz mix. 

Just hours before, I’d caught the ferry from Holyhead. The day was as clear as I could’ve hoped for and when we approached Dublin, the Poolbeg Chimneys materialized out of the morning fog like the arms of home. Driving free of the city, I headed south for the Wicklow mountains. I was searching for countryside, roads sheltered by overhanging trees, drive-through villages and isolation. Throughout the morning, I pulled over many times to capture a breathtaking view, eventuallly stopping at an area known as the Wicklow Gap, so named because it looks down the length of a long valley. Summer meaning little to the Irish climate, the weather was doing exactly what I was hoping for; a rolling mix of dark clouds, patches of blue sky and swirling grey drizzle. I wanted atmosphere and Wicklow was ticking all the boxes.

My third book, If Looks Could Kill, is about the different faces we wear, about what we see when we look at others and what they see when they observe us. It follows my detective, Frankie, as she takes on her next case where mother of two, Debbie Nugent, is missing but a bloody scene in her home suggests murder. There’s no body but all eyes turn to Debbie’s daughter, Margot, when it’s discovered she’s lived with this gruesome scene for days. So, Frankie leaves the familiar stomping ground of Dublin and heads to the rural Wicklow mountains. The countryside there is very remote. When night closes down the darkness is as thick as tar but in the daytime, the light, air and views can take your breath away.

I’ve always been drawn to books that play on great settings. And I love writing setting into my work. A setting can be as confined as a hotel resort or as vast as the Australian outback but I want to feel like it’s always there working with or against our protagonist. For my protagonist, Frankie, Dublin is like a close friend. Her flat, her family and her offices at the Bureau are all within reach. She has all the resources she needs at her fingertips. Dublin may hold surprises for her but she expects those surprises. She anticipates untruths from the city. When Frankie heads to Wicklow, for her, it’s hard to draw similarities between the two settings. But, to some degree, she thinks she can recreate what she has in Dublin in this rural community.

She takes control of what seems like an impossible situation. Organises search teams, forensics, witness interrogations and ekes out every detail she can about the victim, Debbie Nugent, from friends and family. But the community doesn’t operate on the same frequency as Dublin. She is an outsider there. The small garda station doesn’t have a full-time sergeant, the closest neighbours to the victim’s house are quarter a mile away and witnesses are few and far between. And there is the sheer magnificence of the breadth of landscape around her, multiple places to dispose of a body where there is little chance of it ever being discovered.

The garda station where Frankie eventually sets up a makeshift Bureau is based in Ballyalann. It’s a fictional town, imagined close to where I stayed during my research weekend. In this town, Frankie’s working in an area where most of the local station have never dealt with a murder case before and certainly not one where a girl they watched grow up is now a suspect in her mother’s murder. The terrain, the woodlands, the elements and the acidic soil all work against Frankie. And that’s what every crime writer searches for – conflict for our poor, tenacious protagonists. That and a great place to get away in the name of research.

The town’s name, Ballyalann, was put together from the anglicised version of two Irish words. Bally, derived from the Irish word ‘baile’ meaning ‘place of’ and ‘alann’ from ‘álainn’ which is Irish for ‘beautiful’. I’ve taken some creative license but the Ballyalann for this book means ‘Place of Beauty’. And for a novel whose tagline is, Appearance Is Everything, this seemed about right to me because Wicklow has looks in spades.

 If Looks Could Kill by Olivia Kiernan is published by Riverrun in hardback on 23rd July 2020.
DCS Frankie Sheehan is experiencing a crisis of confidence - having become wary of the instincts that have led her face-to-face with a twisted killer and brought those she loves into direct jeopardy. She is summoned to the rural Wicklow mountains, where local mother of two, Debbie Nugent, has been reported missing. A bloody crime scene is discovered at Debbie's home, yet no body. Not only is foul play suspected, but Debbie's daughter, Margot, has been living with the scene for three days. Aware her team cannot convict Margot on appearances alone, Sheehan launches a full investigation into Debbie Nugent's life. And, before long, the discrepancies within Debbie's disappearance suggest that some families are built on dangerous deceptions, with ultimately murderous consequences.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Murder on the Mid list and Before He Kills Again by Margaret Murphy

Flashback to 1999. A conversation with an editor: ‘You get such lovely reviews, Margaret,’ (sigh) ‘It’s a pity they don’t translate into sales.’ I was taken aback; sales weren’t my province – that surely was the publisher’s job? She frowned: ‘Oh, but it doesn’t work like that.’ Clearly, she was right – on that point, at least. Good reviews don’t sell books; marketing and publicity sell books. Yet only a tiny, favoured minority of authors have marketing budgets. 

Not being one of this happy band – and not one to give up easily, either – I decided to try to find a way of building my profile – which meant publicising my own work. But one small voice is easily drowned by the roar of the collective publicity and marketing machines of the mighty publishing houses, who can spend six figure sums promoting their big names. At that point, my advances were under £10 000, so paying for PR wasn’t an option, and shouting about my own books was definitely not going to happen – but talking about other writers I admired – that might be fun. 

The next step was to find a few like-minded colleagues, which proved remarkably easy. At the next meeting of the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers Association I approached John Baker, Chaz Brenchley, Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Stuart Pawson and Cath Staincliffe, who all readily agreed, and so Murder Squad was conceived.

We shared ideas and contacts, set up a website, designed and had brochures printed, and emailed or wrote to every library reader development officer and festival we could find across the UK. The response was hugely encouraging, with offers flooding in from festivals, libraries, and bookshops, as well as from journalists interested to hear more about this band of northern crime writers, and we launched in March, year 2000. But the squad met with opposition – even hostility – from a quite unexpected quarter: within the CWA itself. While for many members it was a lightbulb moment, a few criticised Murder Squad as ‘divisive’, and in 2003, one Dagger judge even cited the absence of Squad members from the CWA annual conference as evidence of ‘an unwelcome schism in the membership of the CWA’. The reality was that we promoted the CWA at every event we did, and Martin Edwards had edited the association’s anthologies of short fiction since 1996 — in fact, he was editing a special collection to celebrate the CWA's Golden Jubilee in the ‘year of the schism’! By then, there were five other collectives of crime writers, most of whom were CWA members. A lively and frank exchange of opinion followed, the consensus being that, as the CWA had survived three whole years since the inception of Murder Squad, it was probably over the worst. Indeed, the CWA has thrived, despite the fifth columnists in its midst, and is stronger today than it has ever been. As is Murder Squad.

We could not have imagined that it would run and run. But it did, and here we are celebrating Murder Squad’s 20th anniversary. To date we’ve given hundreds of talks and workshops, published three Murder Squad anthologies (one of which won two awards), gained 20+ prizes – including CWA Daggers, Edgars, Macavitys, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, RTS and Agatha Awards – as well as honorary degrees. Not bad for a bunch of mid-listers who refused to accept the status quo. Sadly, Stuart Pawson died a few years ago and Chaz and John stepped down from the squad, but Kate Ellis and Chris Simms have joined us, and the mutually supportive ethos continues. 

Ann has famously gone on to write two phenomenally successful book series, Vera and Shetland, which are equally successful on TV, while Cath created the highly popular Blue Murder TV series. I went on to Chair the CWA, as did Martin Edwards, and both Martin and Ann Cleeves have been awarded the association’s highest honour: the CWA Diamond Dagger. 

The COVID-19 lockdown has meant we had to cancel parties, discussion panels and workshops across the UK, but we’ve increased our online activity to compensate, with more frequent newsletters and occasional ‘Personal Perspectives’ on writing – do join us at The squad approaches the next twenty years with the same enthusiasm to reach a wider audience that we began with. In addition to our website and regular newsletters, we’re now on Twitter and Facebook – and we have a new anthology of short stories in the works. Called 21, it will celebrate our 21st anniversary with twenty-one stories – three by each of the current members, and one each from Stuart, Chaz, and John. The anthology will be published in 2021 in both the UK and the US by Severn House. 

Margaret Murphy on her new novel, Before He Kills Again

I started working on this novel over a decade ago. I’d always been fascinated by human psychology, and in 2001-2002, I’d even completed the first year of a degree in the subject at the University of Liverpool. During that time, I was volunteering at a refugee charity as part of my research for a novel and had befriended an asylum seeker. ‘Faith’ (not her real name) often became mute during consultations and interviews, and sometimes even collapsed. But slowly, her story emerged: she had been abducted in her home country, taken across the border into another country, and illegally imprisoned. Over many months she had been repeatedly raped, starved, and tortured. She had been forced to watch as her partner was murdered and had seen her friends mutilated by her captors. The UK government was adamant: there was no such regime in her home country – it was safe for her to return. My own research demonstrated that the British Government’s intelligence was out of date, but it was not accepted as sufficient proof, and it was only the delay in her asylum hearing which allowed time for their intel to catch up. After eighteen months, Faith was granted asylum and was finally able to begin building a new life.

With her permission, I included some of her experiences in See Her Burn, and a year or two later, I was invited to speak to professionals and service users at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust – a mental health trust in London which specialises in talking therapies. The trust wanted to hear about my practical experience of working with a refugee with PTSD. The session was introduced by the Portman Trust’s Clinical Director, psychoanalytic psychotherapist Stanley Ruszczynski. I told him that I wanted to write a novel centred around a psychotherapist, and Stan generously agreed to read and comment on my outline. His insights shaped the novel in such positive ways, and I am deeply grateful for his insights which gave depth and enriched the narrative.

The original version of Before He Kills Again went out (under a different title) to half a dozen editors, who praised it warmly – and rejected unanimously. But the late, great Reginald Hill read an early version of it, and he really liked it; he urged me not to give up on it, even when I found it impossible to place. This year, I rewrote the novel and submitted it to Joffe Books – and they loved it. An object lesson in never giving up on the stories you believe in.

Before He Kills Again is available in Kindle, and will be released in paperback at the end of July and is published by Joffe Books.

To find out more about Margaret’s books, visit

Saturday 18 July 2020

Shooter in The Shadows by David Hewson

©Dingena Mol and Crimezone
I have a firm and fast rule about never putting writers in a story, and certainly not personal experience. I also have a firm and fast rule about not believing in rules when it comes to writing.

So the fact I’ve broken both the first two rules in my latest book, SHOOTER IN THE SHADOWS, is neither here nor there. Readers always ask how books come about so let me be frank about this one.

Back in May 2018 I was in New York at the ceremony for the Audies, the annual Oscars of the audiobook world, amazed to find myself shortlisted for best digital original work of the year, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, narrated by the wonderful Richard Armitage. To my astonishment we won, and over drinks afterwards I found myself talking to my long-term friend and Audible producer Steve Feldberg, still pinching myself to believe that had all just happened.

Romeo was, like everything I write, finished in an apartment in Venice where I retreat to blast my way through manuscripts, away from phones, computers, people, desperate for the solitary concentration only Venice can provide. When I told Steve about this he said straight away, ‘There’s a story there. What if you locked yourself away… and found you weren’t really on your own. There was somewhere else too – and they had it in for you.

Interesting idea. Steve wanted it for an Audible original, which came out last December. And now it’s a book – with an author as the central character, something I’ve never attempted before.

Let me say straight out that my Venice is nothing like the Venice my protagonist, Tom Honeyman, finds himself in. I stay in the middle of sedate Dorsoduro, a short walk away from the wondrous Accademia. Tom, a former hack who made a fortune from a true crime book about a double murder in upstate New York, got sold a pig in a poke when he was flush with cash at the Venice Film Festival: a rotting villa on a desolate former leper island way out in the far north of the lagoon.

While I slave away during the day then relax with a spritz of an evening, Tom locks himself in solitary throughout, no phone, no internet, no easy contact with the outside world, in the belief this will let him rediscover the creativity he so desperately needs to revive his career.

One problem: when the water taxi vanishes into the distance he discovers someone else is on the island. A mysterious figure who seems to know everything about him and his past, and comes with a message: the true crime book that made Tom’s fortune was based on a lie. It named the wrong killer. Now Tom has just days to rewrite his story and finger the real one… or he’s the one who’s dead. All of which he must do from his own notes, his memory and the additional material his assailant supplies. 

So he starts writing and soon we’re dodging back and forth between the Venetian lagoon and a small town called Prosper where a teacher and her pupil, lovers it seems, died in a blaze by an out of the way paradise called Mohawk Lake. 

Can Tom rediscover his mojo in time? Does he even know the answers to the questions his murderous captor is throwing his way? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. I wanted to write a story that was about the fine line between truth and fiction at times, and how easy it is to cross from one to the other. Tom’s a good writer at heart but as a reporter he was more than happy to bend the facts to suit the story. Now that’s come back to haunt him in the most deadly of ways.

He’s also a writer who, like many, has an almost superstitious believe that his mojo can be unlocked by some kind of magic talisman, like a solitary villa in the Venetian lagoon. After all it worked for Hemingway on Torcello just a few islands away. 

Me? I don’t go for any of that stuff. 

Now… where’s that Campari spritz?

Shooter in the Shadows by David Hewson (Published on 18 July 2020)
Author Tom Honeyman has locked himself away on a tiny, remote island in the Venetian lagoon in the hope of finding the inspiration to save his career. Instead, he has an unwanted intruder, and a threatening deadline. Tom made his money naming the killer in a vicious murder in his home town Prosper in upstate New York. But the individual who’s infiltrated himself onto Tom’s island says he fingered the wrong man. Without access to the outside world, no phone, no internet, no means of escape, Tom must write a new book naming the real villain… or lose his life.

More information about David Hewson and his books can be found on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @david_hewson.

An introduction trailer to Shooter in The Shadows by David Hewson can be seen below.