Friday, 18 June 2021

Countdown to the Daggers!!


Book lovers and crime fiction fans have a unique opportunity to watch the famed Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Daggers awards, live.

The oldest awards in the genre, the CWA Daggers have been synonymous with quality crime writing for over half a century.

 The annual glittering award ceremony is normally held at an exclusive event in London. This year, due to COVID-19, it will be hosted virtually. The online awards ceremony Daggers Live! will be broadcast on 1 July, from 7.30pm.

The evening will be compered by book reviewer, author and journalist Barry Forshaw, who is one of the UK’s leading experts on crime fiction.

Guest speaker is Abir Mukherjee, The Times bestselling author of the Sam Wyndham series of crime novels set in Raj era India. Abir won last year’s CWA Sapere Books Historical Dagger for his novel Death in the East, as well as the 2017 Historical Dagger for his debut, A Rising Man.

Queen of crime Martina Cole will also feature in the Daggers Live! Event as the recipient of the 2021 Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement, the highest honour in British crime writing.

Barry Forshaw said: “Crime books have provided escapism, solace, entertainment and enlightenment throughout the pandemic. As such, we are delighted to honour the talented and diverse authors at work in this enduring genre. The Daggers are an annual highlight in the literary world, and although virtual, we still promise an entertaining evening for these Oscars of the crime genre.

Hotly contended shortlisted authors include Robert Galbraith, Elly Griffiths and Chris Whitaker for the CWA Gold Dagger, awarded to the best crime novel of the year.

Michael Robotham, Ruth Ware, and Stuart Turton are among the shortlist for the best thriller, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, which is supported by the family-owned Ian Fleming Publications Ltd that looks after the James Bond literary brand.

Other award highlights include the Sapere Books Historical Dagger, which features Booker prize winner John Banville on its shortlist, the ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, and the Dagger in the Library, which is awarded to an author for their body of work and support of libraries. Shortlisted authors this year include Peter May, Lisa Jewell and L J Ross – the winner is voted for exclusively by librarians.

The awards take place at the end of National Crime Reading Month (NCRM) this June, a unique festival promoting the crime genre that’s held throughout the UK, promoted by the CWA. Readers and authors can follow #NCRM on Facebook and Twitter @The_CWA or find out more on the Crime Reading Month website

One of the UK’s most prominent societies, the CWA was founded in 1953 by John Creasey; the awards started in 1955 with its first award going to Winston Graham, best known for Poldark. They are regarded by the publishing world as the foremost British awards for crime-writing.

Tickets are free, but limited. To book a place, visit:


Joe Thomas on Life in São Paulo


Living in São Paulo you quickly get used to the normalisation of crime, the threat of crime. Driving is a good place to illustrate this: the winding up of your car windows when you stop; the jumping of red lights after a certain time of night; the constant checking that your doors are locked. It became clear to me that preparing for crime, or its prevention, is the same thing as living with its threat; one way or another, it very quickly becomes a mundane part of your daily life. Everyone knows someone who has suffered some terrible experience.

São Paulo exists in a state of heightened paranoia that lends itself to massive gun ownership, distrust of the police, and armies of private security. Drive around any relatively wealthy area and you’ll find high walls ringed with barbed wire, doormen, security teams, and CCTV everywhere.

When you drive into the garage in the building where I lived, you would identify yourself at the bulletproof glass booth in which three or four of the seguranças – security guards – sit. These guys are lovely and do more than just security: they run the building, taking barbeque bookings, organising events, helping with shopping and storage. 

However, carjacking in Morumbi does happen and they do do security. 

Here’s how:

Your stopped by thieves at a traffic light, one of which hops in the back with a gun trained on your head. When you approach your building, they crouch down low and tell you they’ll kill you if you do anything suspicious. So you wave nonchalantly at the glass booth and ghost inside. The thieves go from flat to flat stripping them of valuables, load up, and leave in the car in which they arrived, where you’ve been sitting patiently waiting with a gun trained on your head.

It’s a clever scam, if high-risk. 

So, in our building there is a system to protect against it. 

If you do happen to drive in with a couple of bad guys hidden in the back, you’re supposed to (calmly) park in a special bay which the security guys have designated as a signal to them that you’re in trouble. Once parked there, I don’t dare think what happens next. I never even bothered to find out which bay is designated as the signal. I lived more in fear of parking in it by accident and being forcefully ‘rescued’ by the seguranças, than I did of an actual carjacking.

One lunchtime at the British school where I worked, I tried to pop to the bank. The security guard stopped me. No one was allowed out. 

Turned out, the bank had been robbed about half an hour earlier and the two crooks were hiding somewhere in the neighbourhood. This is a posh neighbourhood, with spacious houses, foreign cars and private security booths on most corners. Later, I discovered that the police only manage to catch one of the thieves. The other was shot dead by a student’s private bodyguard. He was waiting around outside the school and noticed someone suspicious, pursued him, realised who it was and killed him. 

Shot him in the chest and head. A very professional job. 

You’d think that there might have been some legal repercussions, shooting someone dead in the street.

No one cared; the bodyguard a hero.

Most Paulistanos shrugged it off, clicked their teeth and said: 

Ah, menos um, ne?’ 

Oh well, that’s one less crook, am I right?

The phrase is spoken with a shrug, with indifference, meaning the only good bandit is a dead bandit.

Bolsonaro had that message nailed on. His popularity in the election was based on a feeling that he would sort out crime. Bolsonaro made crime, undoubtedly a problem, into the problem.

My latest novel, Brazilian Psycho, is an occult history of the city of São Paulo from 2003 – 2019, told through the lens of real-life crimes. It reveals the dark heart at the centre of the Brazilian social-democrat resurgence and the fragility and corruption of the B.R.I.C economic miracle; it documents the rise and fall of the left-wing – and the rise of the populist right.

The questions at the heart of Brazilian Psycho are: how did it come to this? How did the country change over the sixteen years from Lula’s election to Bolsonaro’s? It’s a journey from the optimistic and progressive Brazil in the Lula years to a brutal right-wing regime, mirroring so much of the rest of the world.

Brazilian Psycho by Joe Thomas is out now in hardback by Arcadia.

Brazil, 1 January 2003: President Luis Inacio 'Lula' da Silva begins fifteen years of left-wing government. 1 January 2019: Jair Bolsonaro is inaugurated, a president of the populist right. How did it come to this? A blockbusting novel of our times, Brazilian Psycho introduces and completes Joe Thomas's acclaimed Sao Paulo quartet. Over sixteen years, a diverse cast of characters live through the unfolding social and political drama, setting in motion a whirlwind of plots and counterplots: the murder of a British school headmaster and the consequent cover-up; the chaos and score-settling of the PCC drug gang rebellion over the Mothers' Day weekend of 2006; a copycat serial killer; the secret international funding of nationwide anti-government protests; the bribes, kickbacks and shakedowns of the Mensalao and Lava Jato political corruption scandals, the biggest in Brazilian history. Brazilian Psycho weaves social crime fiction, historical fact, and personal experience to record the radical tale of one of the world's most fascinating, glamorous, corrupt, violent, and thrilling cities.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

2021 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award Longlist

Bestsellers, Booker Nominees and Debuts: Richard Osman, 

Collum McCann and Abi Daré on Longlist for the 

2021 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award

Goldsboro Books today (Thursday 17th June) announced the twelve titles longlisted for the 2021 Glass Bell Award. Now in its fifth year, the Glass Bell Award celebrates the best storytelling across contemporary fiction, regardless of genre. The 2021 longlist heralds a particularly strong year for debut novels: eight out of the twelve longlisted titles are first novels – including the bestselling sensation The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, both of which were nominated for the British Book Awards.

Spanning crime, literary, historical, fantasy and science fiction genres, the Glass Bell longlist also includes the Booker-nominatedApeirogon by the critically acclaimed Colum McCann; and Three Hours, the Sunday Times Top Ten bestselling thriller from Rosamund Lupton. They are joined by two highly anticipated second novels, The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, whose high-concept debut thriller The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle won the Costa First Novel Award; and The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, whose debut thriller The Roanoke Girls was a #1 bestseller.

The longlist also includes two fascinating debuts which skilfully reimagine historical events: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi,set in an alternate Elizabethan England, and The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, which follows a failed second French Revolution. Also longlisted is Clare Whitfield’s gripping historical thriller People of Abandoned Character, a compelling take on the Jack the Ripper story. They are joined by two critically acclaimed debut crime novels – Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby, which was longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger, and the extraordinarily inventive Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi. Rounding off the list is The First Sister by Linden Lewis, a sweeping debut space opera.

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi (Mantle)

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A Cosby (Headline)

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (Sceptre)

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant (Harper Voyager)

The First Sister by Linden Lewis (Hodder & Stoughton)

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton (Viking)

Apeirogon by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Viking)

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (Michael Joseph)

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (Bloomsbury Raven)

People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield (Head of Zeus)

David Headley, Goldsboro Books co-founder and MD, and founder of the Glass Bell, says:

I can’t believe that this is our fifth Glass Bell Award. My team and I are incredibly proud of the prize that we’ve built over the last few years, celebrating contemporary storytelling of all genres. Stories unite and entertain us, and after the year we’ve had, this couldn’t be more important.

‘I think that this year’s longlist might be the most varied and diverse we’ve ever had – with everything from speculative historical thrillers to a thoroughly modern space opera, to one of the most imaginative crime novels I’ve ever read. And I am delighted to see how many debut novelists we have on the longlist this year! If this list is anything to go by, the future of publishing is strong.

The Glass Bell Award is judged by David and his team at Goldsboro Books. It is the only prize that rewards storytelling in all genres – from romance, thrillers and ghost stories, to historical, speculative and literary fiction – and is awarded annually to ‘a compelling novel with brilliant characterisation and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realised’. The shortlist of six will be announced on 5th August, with the winner, who will receive both £2,000, and a beautiful, handmade, engraved glass bell, to be announced on 30th September.

Last year, the American novelist Taylor Jenkins Reid was awarded the Glass Bell for her ‘immersive’ and ‘captivating Daisy Jones and the Six, which tells the story of the rise and fall of a fictional 70s rock band. Previous winners are Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and VOX by Christina Dalcher.

CWA Margery Allingham 2021 Short Mystery Competition – Winner Announced


The world-famed Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) has announced the winner of its Margery Allingham Short Mystery Prize.

Camilla Macpherson beat strong competition with her short story, ‘Heartbridge Homicides’.

Camilla lives in The Hague in the Netherlands. Her debut novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, which revolves around the National Gallery during the Second World War, was published by Random House in 2012 and translated into Dutch, German and Polish. Camilla is currently working on a detective story set in the Netherlands in 1940. She has won a number of awards for her short stories and travel writing. 

The competition celebrates the classic mystery story, and entries had to adhere to Allingham’s definition of a mystery. The great Golden Age author summed it up as: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.

The Margery Allingham Society, set up to honour and promote the writings of the great Golden Age author whose most well-known hero is Albert Campion, works with the CWA to operate and fund the writing competition. One of the UK’s most prominent organisations for the support and promotion of crime writing, the CWA was founded in 1953. Each year the competition attracts many entries from the UK and overseas.

Dea Parkin, Secretary of the CWA, said: “We are in awe of the quality and number of entries we received this year. We’ve witnessed a huge resurrection in the popularity of mystery stories in the pandemic, thanks in part to the popularity of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club and authors like Elly Griffith's with The Postscript Murders and Robert Thorogood who created the popular BBC murder mystery series, Death in Paradise and wrote The Marlow Murder Club. This short story competition is a fantastic way of building a writer’s craft, and profile, in the mystery genre.

Camilla will receive £500 and two passes for the international crime writing convention CrimeFest in 2022.

The announcement has come during National Crime Reading Month, an initiative promoted and supported by the CRA. Online events as well as blog posts and videos on the 2021 theme of emergence and escape are featured on the website throughout June.


Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The McIlvanney Prize 2021 Longlist


Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival 17-19 September 2021


sponsored by The Glencairn Glass

Winners to be presented on Friday 17 September 2021

Five years ago the Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award was renamed the McIlvanney Prize in memory of William McIlvanney. This year his final book, The Dark Remains which was completed with the help of Ian Rankin will be published on 2 September coinciding with the announcement of the McIlvanney Prize shortlist. 

The longlist for the McIlvanney Prize 2021 is today revealed to be:

The Cut by Chris Brookmyre (Little,Brown)
The Silent Daughter by Emma Christie (Wellbeck)
Before the Storm by Alex Gray (Little, Brown)
Dead Man’s Grave by Neil Lancaster (HarperCollins, HQ)
The Coffinmaker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins)
Still Life by Val McDermid (Little,Brown)
Bad Debt by William McIntyre (Sandstone)
The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Vintage)
How To Survive Everything by Ewan Morrison (Saraband)
Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison (Macmillan)
The April Dead by Alan Parks (Canongate)
Hyde by Craig Russell (Constable)
Waking the Tiger by Mark Wightman (Hobeck Books)

Thirteen - a crime festival’s dozen! Only Val McDermid also featured on the list last year and Chris Brookmyre has featured on every longlist either as himself or his alter ego Ambrose Parry. He describes himself as ‘the Meryl Streep of the McIlvanney’. Craig Russell and Denise Mina are also previous winners. 

Bob McDevitt, Director of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival said:

'The McIlvanney Prize longlist once again reaffirms that our crime readers love great books by well-loved authors they are familiar with but are always on the lookout for new voices and new ways to tell a crime story. It's a testament to the breadth and depth of Scottish crime writing'

The McIlvanney Prize will be judged by Karen Robinson, formerly of The Times Crime Club and a CWA judge; Ayo Onatade, winner of the CWA Red Herring Award and freelance crime fiction critic and Ewan Wilson, crime fiction buyer from Waterstones Glasgow. For the second year running the sponsor will be The Glencairn Glass – the world’s favourite whisky glass.

Finalists for the McIlvanney Prize will be revealed at the beginning of September coinciding with publication of The Dark Remains. The winner will be revealed in Stirling and on-line on Friday 17 September. 

The McIlvanney award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones. The 2021 longlist features established crime writers and debuts, corporates and indies. Previous winners are Francine Toon with Pine in 2020, Manda Scott with A Treachery of Spies in 2019 (who chose to share her prize with all the finalists), Liam McIlvanney with The Quaker in 2018, Denise Mina with The Long Drop 2017, Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015, Peter May with Entry Island in 2014, Malcolm Mackay with How A Gunman Says Goodbye in 2013 and Charles Cumming with A Foreign Country in 2012. 

On the Sofa With Victoria Selman


This June, bestselling thriller author, Victoria Selman will be joining Crime Time FM to host, On the Sofa with Victoria - a new arrow in the quiver of the popular podcast currently presented by Barry Forshaw and Paul Burke. 

Victoria’s show will bring audiences panel-style discussions between some of the most exciting names in contemporary crime fiction including Mark Billingham, Sarah Pinborough, CJ Tudor and Chris Whitaker- as well as emerging voices and rising stars such as Abigail Dean, Will Carver and Dominic Nolan. 

Each fortnight, she’ll be chatting to authors and industry insiders about everything from serial killers to series fiction kicking off with an examination of supernatural crime crossovers with Sarah Pinborough and Alex North entitled, Anything Can Happen.

Victoria says: ‘I’m thrilled to be joining Barry and Paul on Crime Time FM and can’t wait to explore the huge breadth of themes within crime fiction alongside such an exciting array of guests. 

On the Sofa with Victoria will launch on 15th June. Crime Time FM currently features one on one author interviews with Paul Burke (In Person with Paul) and film and TV reviews with Barry Forshaw (Barry’s Blu-rays). 

The trio of hosts will also be getting together on a regular basis for chats about book news, discussions of upcoming events and reviews. 

Crime Time FM Exclusive:

Sneak Peak Episode 1: 

On The Sofa With Victoria- Sarah Pinborough & Alex North

Release date: 15th June


ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN- Sarah Pinborough (BEHIND HER EYES) & Alex North (THE WHISPER MAN) discuss supernatural crime crossovers, Scooby Doo and ‘that’ ending. 


On the Easy Fix Charge

Sarah Pinborough: Supernatural crime crossovers have to have the rules and beats of a crime novel. You have to have the clues. You can’t just pull it out of the bag.

Sarah Pinborough: If you’re going to blend your genres, you have to decide which is the dominant genre.

Alex North: Just because a book has supernatural elements, that doesn’t mean anything goes. It just means it has a slightly different set of rules.

On the Evolution of the Crossover

Alex North: Serial killers are a stand-in for vampires.

Alex North: Scooby Doo was about unmasking the monster but there was always something rational going on.

On Alex’s Books

Sarah Pinborough: The supernatural in Alex’s books is like a splash of Tabasco in a Bloody Mary. It’s there to add a little bit of ‘extra’ but it’s not the vodka.

On ‘Getting it Right’

Sarah Pinborough: When you mash the two genres well, you get a creepy vibe you don’t get in a lot of crime novels.

On Twists

Alex North: When I’m told there is a twist in a book, I’m looking out for it.

Shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year revealed





Harrogate, 15 June 2021: The six authors shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year are today unveiled after being chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy. Now in its 17th year the most coveted prize in crime fiction – presented by Harrogate International Festivals – celebrates crime writing at its best, transporting readers around the world from Calcutta to California to the frigid North Sea.

This year’s longlist recognises author Chris Whitaker who hopes to claim the trophy on his first ever nomination with We Begin at The End – a powerful story of crime, punishment, love and redemption set in coastal California.

Sunday Times bestselling author Rosamund Lupton’s thrilling story of gunmen opening fire on a Somerset School has clinched a coveted spot on the shortlist. Three Hours sets the clock ticking for the hostages in a nail-biting exploration of white supremacy and radicalisation.

The creator of Norfolk’s best loved forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway Elly Griffiths is hoping that her seventh prize nomination takes her one step further to take the title. The twelfth novel in the whodunnit series, The Lantern Men sees Galloway return to the fens to hunt down a serial killer.

Trevor Wood’s meteoric rise continues as the debut author goes from being selected for Val McDermid’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel at the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival to being shortlisted for the coveted trophy with his acclaimed novel The Man on the Street. As a former naval officer, Wood brings to bear remarkable insight in this story of a homeless Falklands veteran with severe PTSD turned criminal investigator.

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for his latest Wyndham & Banerjee novel Death in the East – described by The Times as “the best so far of an unmissable series”.A mesmerising portrait of India, Assam and East End London, perhaps this third nomination for will prove lucky for the account-turned best-selling author?

The final title on this year’s shortlist is Northern Irish author Brian McGilloway’s second nomination for political thriller The Last Crossing which looks at The Troubles from the perspective of view of former operatives who like to think they have moved on.

The six shortlisted books for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021 are:

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton (Penguin Random House UK, Viking)

The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway (Little, Brown Book Group, Constable)

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (Bonnier Books UK, Zaffre)

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

The public are now invited to vote for the winner via 

www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.comand the winner will be announced on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “This is it: the crème de la crème of crime. This shortlist really does showcase the breadth and depth of the genre. It’s going to be a fiercely fought prize this year so make sure you vote for your favourite. Until then, I look forward to raising a glass of Old Peculier at the winner’s announcement on 22 July!

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

Verity Bright on Seven Reasons Killing People Is Fun (And one why it isn't)


As a crime writer, I get to kill people on a regular basis. 

And it’s so much fun! Here’s why…

1. I can kill them in my pjs if I want. If I fancy killing my victim in my pyjamas, I can (and often do). Very few murderers get to commit their heinous crimes while in their nightwear. Think about it. Normally, you have to dress appropriately. If you intend to rid the world of your victim at a posh do, you need to spend ages getting ready to make sure you don’t stand out. At the other end of the spectrum, if your victim lives in a dangerous slum area you may need to wear clothing you’d frankly rather not be seen dead in!

2. I can kill them when I want. If your victim is surrounded by people all day, the only answer is to stay up until some ungodly hour and then murder them with no one around. Assuming, that is you can stay awake long enough to get the job done. And it’s no use cursing because your favourite TV show is on when it’s also the only time your victim is walking home alone at night through those deserted woods (don’t they read crime novels?).

3. I can kill them where I want. Okay, murdering someone when they’re alone at night in the woods has been done to death in crime books. However, especially if you’re a novice murderer, what else are you going to do? It’s a tried and trusted method. You can get inventive and fancy later on when you’ve got a few under your belt. Me, I can kill someone in a disused quarry (A Very English Murder), at a fancy ball (Death At The Dance) or even on a fun run, (Death In The Snow).

4. I can kill them how I want. If you’ve ever read any of the Golden Age crime writers - Christie, Sayers, Marsh etc -you’ll know they murder their victims in the most elaborate way possible. And that’s half the fun! I’ve killed my victims off with obscure poisons, (Murder In The Snow), allergens (Death At The Dance) and even chloroform-induced fatal falls, (Mystery By The Sea). If you’re a real murderer, your choice is usually between a hard, blunt instrument, a knife or a gun. How pedestrian!

5. I can kill who I want. In the real world, a murderer either has to kill someone out of necessity or insanity. If their victim was blackmailing them or their death meant they would inherit a fortune, that’s necessity. If it just happened to be a Monday and their victim was totally unknown to them, that’s insanity. I can kill anyone, so long as I can justify it at the end. The paperboy for waking me up (us writers need our layins), the **** who cut me up earlier today, or even the nice old lady who stopped to pat Hovis yesterday, (Hovis is my pet poodle - it’s a long story). 

6. I can kill without worry. In today’s modern world murdering people is just one long headache. Stress is a real killer among murderers having to contend with state-of-the-art forensic techniques and advanced police data gathering and sharing systems. My books are set in the 1920s when fingerprinting was in its infancy, blood type identification practically unknown and the police forces were more interested in rivalry than cooperation.

7. I can kill without conscience. It’s a sad indictment that nowadays murderers often have a conscience. They often regret their evil deed after it’s done. (No point crying over spilt milk was always my mother’s motto). In my books, however, I need have no conscience at all. Even that nice old lady may end up being a victim in one of my next books (that **** who cut me up is definitely going to be). In fact, in Murder At The Fair, the victim is a character I really liked from a previous book (Murder In The Snow). Sadly, necessity is the mother of murder, and I needed a good victim and he fitted the bill, so R.I.P. Solemn Jon.

So, what’s the one reason killing people isn’t fun?

Once I’ve killed who I want, when I want, where I want, how I want without worry or conscience, I have to send the first draft of the book to my editor who points out that my readers aren’t interested in what I think is fun and promptly tells me to stop being such a spoilt prima donna and rewrite it.

And that’s no fun at all :)

Murder at the Fair by Verity Bright published by Bookoutre (Out Now)

Summer flowers, warm sunshine, a maypole dance and… is that another murder? A tricky case is afoot for Lady Swift!. Summer, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift, the best amateur sleuth in the country, is delighted to be in charge of the prize-giving at her village summer fair. But the traditional homemade raft race takes a tragic turn when the local undertaker, Solemn Jon, turns up dead amongst the ducks. Jon was the life of any party and loved by the entire village. Surely this was simply an awful accident? But when a spiteful obituary is printed in the local paper, Eleanor realises there may be more to Jon’s death than first thought. Despite handsome Detective Seldon giving her strict instructions not to interfere, Eleanor owes it to Jon’s good name to root out the truth. So with her partner in crime, Gladstone the bulldog, Eleanor starts digging for clues. When another local dies in a riding accident, the police refuse to believe he was murdered. But a second vindictive death notice convinces Eleanor of foul play. Solemn Jon’s assistant, a bullish banker and a majestic marquess make her suspect list, but it isn’t until she finds a dusty old photograph that she knows the true culprit behind both crimes. Then another obituary appears – her own! Can Eleanor nail the killer before she too turns up dead among the ducks?

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Books I am looking forward to in the second half of 2021

 So far the first half of the year has already seen a number of books that will no doubt end up on my end of the year lists. With six months to go until the end of the year the books that are I am looking forward to are as follows -

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

1979 by Val McDermid (Little, Brown) The shadows hide a deadly story … 1979. It is the winter of discontent, and reporter Allie Burns is chasing her first big scoop. There are few women in the newsroom and she needs something explosive for the boys' club to take her seriously. Soon Allie and fellow journalist Danny Sullivan are exposing the criminal underbelly of respectable Scotland. They risk making powerful enemies - and Allie won't stop there. When she discovers a home-grown terrorist threat, Allie comes up with a plan to infiltrate the group and make her name. But she's a woman in a man's world ... and putting a foot wrong could be fatal

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Simon & Schuster) If you have a problem, if no one else can help, there's one person you can turn to.   Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that's hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way onto the reservation and finds Virgil's nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop. They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realises that being a Native-American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

The Nameless Ones by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton) In Amsterdam, four people are butchered in a canal house, their remains arranged around the crucified form of their patriarch, De Jaager: fixer, go-between, and confidante of the assassin named Louis. The men responsible for the murders are Serbian war criminals. They believe they can escape retribution by retreating to their homeland. They are wrong. For Louis has come to Europe to hunt them down: five killers to be found and punished before they can vanish into the east. There is only one problem. The sixth.

Widespread Panic by James Ellroy (Cornerstone) Freddy Otash is the man in the know and the man to know in '50s L.A. He operates with two simple rules - he'll do anything but commit murder and he'll never work with the commies. Freddy is an ex-L.A. cop on the skids. He snuffed a cop killer in cold blood - and it got to him bad. So Chief William H. Parker canned him. Now he's a sleazoid private eye, a shakedown artist, a pimp - and, most notably, the head strongarm goon for Confidential Magazine. Confidential presaged the idiot internet - and delivered the dirt, the dish, the insidious ink and the scurrilous skank on the feckless foibles of misanthropic movie stars, sex-soiled socialites and potzo politicians. Freaky Freddy outs them all! In Widespread Panic, we traverse the depths of '50s L.A. and dig on the inner workings of Confidential. You'll go to Burt Lancaster's lushly appointed torture den; you'll groove overhyped legend James Dean as Freddy's chief stooge; you'll be there for Freddy's ring-a-ding rendezvous with Liz Taylor; you'll be front and centre as Freddy anoints himself the 'Tattle Tyrant Who Held Hollywood Hostage'.

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. (Cannongate) Lawyer Bobby Carter did a lot of work for the wrong type of people. Now he's dead and it was no accident. Besides a distraught family and a heap of powerful friends, Carter's left behind his share of enemies. So, who dealt the fatal blow? DC Jack Laidlaw's reputation precedes him. He's not a team player, but he's got a sixth sense for what's happening on the streets. His boss chalks the violence up to the usual rivalries, but is it that simple? As two Glasgow gangs go to war, Laidlaw needs to find out who got Carter before the whole city explodes. 

Love & Other Crimes by Sara Paretsky (Hodder & Stoughton) In this spellbinding collection, Sara Paretsky showcases her extraordinary talents with fourteen short stories, including one new V.I. story and seven other classics featuring the indomitable detective. In 'Miss Bianca' a young girl becomes involved in espionage when she befriends a mouse in a laboratory that is conducting dark experiments. Ten-year-old V.I. Warshawski appears in 'Wildcat,' embarking on her very first investigation to save her father. A hardboiled New York detective and elderly British aristocrat team up to reveal a murderer in Chicago during the World's Fair in 'Murder at the Century of Progress'. In the new title story, 'Love & Other Crimes' V.I. treads the line between justice and vengeance when the wrongful firing of a family friend makes him a murder suspect.

Sunset Swing by Ray Celestin. (Pan MacMillian) Los Angeles. Christmas, 1967. A young nurse, Kerry Gaudet, travels to the City of Angels desperate to find her missing brother, fearing that something terrible has happened to him: a serial killer is terrorising the city, picking victims at random, and Kerry has precious few leads. Ida Young, recently retired Private Investigator, is dragged into helping the police when a young woman is discovered murdered in her motel room. Ida has never met the victim but her name has been found at the crime scene and the LAPD wants to know why . . . Meanwhile mob fixer Dante Sanfelipe has put his life savings into purchasing a winery in Napa Valley but first he must do one final favour for the Mob before leaving town: find a bail jumper before the bond money falls due, and time is fast running out. Ida's friend, Louis Armstrong, flies into the city just as her investigations uncover mysterious clues to the killer's identity. And Dante must tread a dangerous path to pay his dues, a path which will throw him headlong into a terrifying government conspiracy and a secret that the conspirators will do anything to protect . . .

The Wrong Goodbye by Toshihiko Yahagi (Quercus Publishing) pits homicide detective Eiji Futamura against a shady Chinese business empire and U.S. military intelligence in the docklands of recession Japan. After the frozen corpse of immigrant barman Tran Binh Long washes up in midsummer near Yokosuka U.S. Navy Base, Futamura meets a strange customer from Tran's bar. Vietnam vet pilot Billy Lou Bonney talks Futamura into hauling three suitcases of "goods" to Yokota US Air Base late at night and flies off leaving a dead woman behind. Thereby implicated in a murder suspect's escape and relieved from active duty, Futamura takes on hack work for the beautiful concert violinist Aileen Hsu, a "boat people" orphan whose Japanese adoption mother has mysteriously gone missing. And now a phone call from a bestselling yakuza author, a one-time black marketeer in Saigon, hints at inside information on "former Vietcong mole" Tran and his "old sidekick" Billy Lou, both of whom crossed a triad tycoon who is buying up huge tracts of Mekong Delta marshland for a massive development schemeAs the loose strands flashback to Vietnam, the string of official lies and mysterious allegiances build into a dark picture of the U.S.-Japan postwar alliance.

Turf Wars by Oliver Norek. (Quercus Publishing) Since Capitaine Coste and his team's last case, calm appears to have returned to the SDPJ93 - but not for long. The summary execution of three young dealers - one them shot in the head in full view of a police surveillance team - is the signal for hell to be unleashed in the suburb of Seine-Saint Denis. Cocaine stashed in pensioners' apartments; a psychopathic gang leader of just thirteen at large among the high rises; a cult militia recruited from the boxing clubs run by the council; a deputy mayor found tortured to death in his own home. And, if all this wasn't enough to contend with, when a police intervention in a local estate fuels the residents' resentment towards authority, Coste finds himself faced with an army of merciless thugs capable of enacting a genuine revolution.

Murder Isn't Easy: The Forensics of Agatha Christie by Carla Valentine (Little, Brown) While other children were devouring the works of Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter, Carla Valentine was poring through the pages of Agatha Christie novels. It was this early fascination that led to her job as a pathology technician, trained in forensics and working in mortuariesNearly every Agatha Christie story involves one - or, more commonly, several - dead bodies, and for a young Carla, a curious child already fascinated with biology, these stories and these bodies were perfect puzzles. Of course, Agatha herself didn't talk of 'forensics' in the way we use it now, but in each tale she writes of twists and turns with her expert weave of human observation, ingenuity and genuine science of the era. Through the medium of the 'whodunnit', Agatha Christie was a pioneer of forensic science, and in Murder Isn't Easy Carla illuminates all of the knowledge of one of our most beloved authors.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Q & A with Justin Fenton


Justin Fenton has covered crime for the Baltimore Sun for more than a decade and was the lead reporter on the Gun Trace Task Force story. He is a two-time finalist for the national Livingston Award for Young Journalists and won an award from the governor’s office in 2011 for his coverage of rape claims discarded by police. His book We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption in an American City is a devastating report on the systematic corruption within the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force.

Ayo:- Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Did you always intend to be a

Justin:- I grew up outside of Baltimore - my family subscribed to two newspapers, and I delivered newspapers in my neighborhood as a boy. I also watched "Homicide: Life on the Streets" every week during its run. The idea to become a journalist didn't come together until late in high school, but I haven't looked back.

Ayo:- How long have you been a crime reporter and what made you as a journalist gravitate towards crime reporting?

Justin:- I started covering crime along with other responsibilities while assigned to suburban bureaus at The Baltimore Sun when I first started there out of college. I gravitated toward the topic because it was inherently dramatic, and I could see there was quite a bit of difference between surface crime stories and those that delved deeper into the material. I suppose that's like anything else, but I liked telling in-depth stories.

Ayo:- For a non-American could you explain why the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) was set up, who it consisted of and why what happened within the task force was considered to be so unlawful and unconscionable?

Justin:- The Gun Trace Task Force was set up, initially, to target gun traffickers - to try to cut off the supply of illegal weapons into the city. It degraded over time into a squad that roamed the city pulling people over looking for one gun at a time. The officers were "plainclothes," so not in uniform or marked cars, and took advantage of autonomy granted to such units and a lack of strong oversight. Their behaviour was clearly unlawful and unconscionable - lying about the circumstances and justification for searches, stealing cash and drugs from people, and in some cases planting evidence.

Ayo:- What sort of relationship do you think that the people of Baltimore currently have with the Police Department and in the light of the Task Force Scandal, the death of Freddie Gray and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement? Is it a relationship that can be put on a better footing or do you think that there is still a crisis in confidence in the Police Department?

Justin:- For many residents the Gun Trace Task Force scandal validated concerns that existed for decades and were not taken seriously - for others it was a wake-up call that the problems were worse than they could have imagined. The fact that it happened during the post-Freddie Gray period during which reform was supposedly taking place was a jolt that will take police a lot of hard work to overcome, if it can be overcome. Conversations about defunding the police are now being spoken in some mainstream circles, which had not been the case previously. Police are in a new position of not just trying to calm critics and tamp down crime, but justifying their existence.

Ayo:- I find it fascinating that with the death of Gray which resulted in the Baltimore Police Department being placed under federal oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice that the illegal behaviour of some members of the Baltimore Police Force wasn't dealt with sooner. Do you think that there was a reason for this?

Justin:- According to federal prosecutors, there weren't a slew of complaints against members of the GTTF for the crimes that would later be uncovered, which speaks to the fact that many of the victims were in fact criminals with much to lose if they admitted their own crimes, or that people did not feel they would believed or were even advised by their own attorneys not to speak out. Still, I agree that it's remarkable that money being stolen gets only a passing reference or two in the Justice Department's comprehensive review of the department.

Ayo:- All through the book you quite deliberately track the progression of Sergeant Wayne Jenkins career. This appears to be deliberate. Was it intentional and if so why?

Justin:- In assessing the massive amount of material and the number of characters to track, I got advice from a friend to hone in on somebody and tell the story through their prism. It was then an easy choice to focus on Jenkins: not only was he the supervisor and leader of the GTTF, not only was he the worst of the bunch, but he was also viewed within the department as one of the best. His entrance into the agency in 2003 also helped tell the story of the modern BPD, and what factors it was grappling with and the shifting strategies. It was the period just before I started on the beat in 2008, and I was very familiar with it already.

Ayo:- Does one actually know how far back the criminal behaviour with the police force (specifically Jenkins) had been going on and why they managed to get
away with it for such a long time?

Justin:- It's been said that this has been going on for quite some time and was passed on through the ranks. Certainly, BPD has had corruption scandals in the past, though those that in the recent history were exposed tended to involve individual officers; in the 70s there were larger cases involving gambling and protection rackets and things like that. I suspect that the way this investigation unfolded - a careful wiretap case - allowed it to be detected in a way that perhaps prior cases were not.

Ayo:- Whilst Jenkins is the centre of the story you have also written about a number of other officers who were involved. How important was it to include them as well since Jenkins was the undisputable ring leader?

Justin:- I struggled with that because I did not want others to be afterthoughts or excluded. There's one chapter in particular that is a bit out of place that attempts to make sure people know about Rayam, Gondo and Hersl, and that was very deliberately inserted for these reasons. At the same time I thought there was much more to be learned by focusing on Jenkins and those in his orbit - those who worked with him and say they didn't know what he was up to; those who worked with him and had suspicions; those who knew and participated; and those who were victimized.

Ayo:- Was there a sense of relief when Burley and Matthews were released bearing in mind the fact that they were languishing in prison and had been protesting their innocence for quite some time?

Justin:- Certainly, and it was a moving scene in the courtroom when the judge stepped off the bench to shake their hands. I've never seen anything like that, though for Burley and Matthews it was certainly a small consolation for what they had been through. Their story is an important part of understanding that this went back much further than the wiretap case (their arrest occurred in 2010), and that it involved much more than drug money being taken.

Ayo:- Is there any one incident that really got to you whilst you were doing your investigation and if so which one and why?

Justin:- There were two older incidents that stay with me - both took place in civil courtrooms. One is Burley being led into a civil courtroom where he is being sued, and he clearly has no idea what is going on and has no representation and the judge just bulldozes through it until Burley is led out of the courtroom and slapped with a $1 million judgment. The other is the civil attorney Richard Woods, making an impassioned speech about how important it is to send a message to police officers that they have to follow the rules, and then his reaction as the jury comes down in his favor but awards one dollar. Some of those early courtroom videos, where Jenkins is confronted and prevails in spectacular fashion, really struck me. But there's many more that stand out as well.

Ayo:- The death of Sean Suiter which came just before he was due to testify is one of those moments where no one is ever going to really know what happened. In the book it is clear that his family (and even some of his colleagues) refused to accept that there might be a possibility that he took his own life. Even I know that if you die in service then your pension is dealt with differently than if you commit suicide. How difficult do you think that this situation was to all concerned?

Justin:- It's extremely difficult, because as you said it is so hotly disputed. The distrust that has been building over the years, and then for something like this to happen and be so unclear and engender such suspicion and debate, it's going to be controversial and difficult for a long time.

Ayo:- Two of the officers decided to plead not guilty and there was a trial which ended in November 2018. Were you surprised that with all the evidence that was stacked up against them they decided to go down that route especially since there were also a number of colleagues that testified against them?

Justin:- (The trial was in Jan-Feb. 2018). As a reporter I am really thankful that those two went to trial because it allowed so much more information to come out that truly would not have ever seen the light of day if they pleaded guilty. There's been previous police misconduct cases where the officers took pleas, and we learned nothing more than what was in the original indictment. The officers taking the stand, the victims taking the stand, the evidence that was displayed - it was those officers' final act of disrespect to the police department, to allow all that to be aired. And if Jenkins had gone to trial, I think we would have learned even more.

Ayo:- What do you think has been the biggest effect that this scandal has had on Baltimore? Clearly there was something systematically wrong with Baltimore Police Department over a long period of time, they had for example three Police Commissioners in five years?

Justin:- I think it was a wake-up call that the problems were worse than contemplated and made it that much harder for people to trust that the agency can be reformed. That was already a challenge but was compounded. And, the agency continues to grapple with citizen and political pressure to control crime, which was part of the reason the misconduct was overlooked.

Ayo:- We Own This City has quite rightly be spoken about as being the next best book about the police and Baltimore since David Simon's Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets which itself is a seminal piece of work. How much were you influenced by Homicide and do you think that any more can be written about the City of Baltimore and its relationship with the police?

Justin:- What was particularly special about Simon's "Homicide", beyond his terrific writing, was the fact that it was an up close portrait of the department, from the inside, while it was happening. I often felt like I was writing a history book, even though the events were recent, because I was not there to observe the misconduct and the things taking place behind the scenes, but rather trying to reconstruct it after the fact. I think there's certainly more to be said about the city and police, and I look forward to seeing how others might approach it.

Ayo:- What after effects did this investigation have on you personally?

Justin:- I was frustrated but motivated by the fog that hung over so many of the incidents not documented in detail by the federal investigation. With so much being manipulated, should I believe everything being alleged, or did I still need to apply the test of working to corroborate things to an appropriate standard? I had to forgo certain stories because the corroboration just was not there, and I wondered to myself many times if these things were to happen again without the proof, would we be able to report them? Would we, collectively, move past them as we did in the past?

Ayo:- As a crime reporter what advice would you give someone that was thinking of reporting on crime?

Justin:- That's tough. I think one thing is that crime reporting has become much more controversial, in a good way. People are pushing us to think more critically, be more skeptical, see the issues differently, and that is good. But I also think an aspiring reporter needs to ask if they are also ready to go against the grain - which in this case is reporting on an institutional narrative when everything indicates that it is actually correct and factual. Whereas in the past the police narrative wasn't questioned enough, now some people say, "It's all lies." I understand where that comes from, and it's our job to do our best to figure out what the story is.

Ayo:- In hindsight is there any advice that you would like to give your younger self?

Justin:- I generally think a big part of our job is to bring stories out from the inside of an institution that doesn't want them to get out, and I think I spent a lot of times trying to develop those sources and do that reporting. It is very difficult and if you don't work on it, you'll never get there and you're relegated to lobbing bombs from the other side of the fence, reporting blindly. But I also think I could have spent more time reporting from the outside-in, and both are a continuing challenge.

Ayo:- What are you working on at the moment?

Justin:- Believe it or not the GTTF story continues to play out - I've recently connected with two key players who wouldn't speak to me earlier in the process, and the department's commissioned outside report should be out in the coming months. Aside from that, we are watching very closely a federal investigation of our top prosecutor and city council president, who are married to each other. The lead prosecutor is the same person who investigated the GTTF.

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption in an American City by Justin Fenton

Baltimore, 2015. Riots were erupting across the city as citizens demanded justice for Freddie Gray, a twenty-five-year-old black man who died in police custody. At the same time, drug and violent crime were once again surging. For years, Sgt Wayne Jenkins and his team of plain-clothed officers - the Gun Trace Task Force - were the city's lauded and decorated heroes. But all the while they had been skimming from the drug busts they made, pocketing thousands in Now, in light of their spectacular trial of late 2018, and in a work of astounding reportage and painstaking self-discovery, Justin Fenton has pieced together a shocking story of systemic corruption.

You can follow Justin Fenton on Twitter @justin_fenton