Saturday 31 July 2021

In Memoriam - Mo Hayder


Mo Hayder - Harrogate 2004

1 January 1962 – 27 July 2021

The crime fiction world have been deeply upset to hear the news of the sad death of Mo Hayder of Motor Neurone Disease on 27 July 2021. Alison Flood's article in the Guardian can be found here. Over on social media lots of crime writers have been expressing their condolences and paying tribute to her as they remember Mo Hayder. Her debut novel Birdman (1999) took the crime fiction world by storm and was an international best-seller. 

She was certainly a firm favourite with us over on Shots since her first book Birdman was published. Ali Karim interviewed her after her second book The Treatment (2001) had been published and the interview can be read here. There is also an interview with Christine Campbell. A review of The Treatment also by Christine Campbell can be read here. The treatment was not only a Sunday Times best-seller but it was also won the 2002 WH Smith Thumping Good Read Award. Mo Hayder also wrote the screenplay for De Behandeling (2014) which was a Belgian film of an adaptation of her book The Treatment

Ali Karim also interviewed when her first standalone book (and my favourite) Tokyo (2004) was published. Tokyo was published in the US as The Devil of Nanking. It was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger

Pig Island her second standalone book was published in 2006 and was nominated for both a Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel and shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. Her fifth book Ritual (2008) and third book to feature DI Jack Caffery which was the first in The Walking Man series was nominated for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. This was followed by Skin (2009) the second book in the series.  Gone (2010) the third book in the series was nominated and won an Edgar Award for Best novel. 

A review of Poppet (2013) the sixth book to feature DI Jack Caffery series can be read here.

Her third standalone Hanging Hill was published in 2011.  Wolf (2014) which was the final book to feature DI Jack Caffery was nominated in 2015 for an Edgar Award. It was also announced in March 2021 that the BBC were filming Wolf in Wales.

It was announced in March 2021 that Cornerstone imprint Century had acquired two speculative thriller novels by her under the name Theo Clare. The first in the series, The Book of Sand, is due to be published in January 2022 as a lead title for Century and its sequel, The Book of Clouds, will follow in early 2023.

The death of Mo Hayder is a blow to the crime writing community and she will be sorely missed by not only her fellow crime writers but also her fans. Our condolences to her family and her friends.

The Book of Sand by Theo Clare (Published by Century) Out January 2022

SAND. A hostile world of burning sun. Outlines of several once-busy cities shimmer on the horizon. Now empty of inhabitants, their buildings lie in ruins. In the distance a group of people - a family - walk towards us. Ahead lies shelter: a 'shuck' the family call home and which they know they must reach before the light fails, as to be out after dark is to invite danger and almost certain death. To survive in this alien world of shifting sand, they must find an object hidden in or near water. But other families want it too. And they are willing to fight to the death to make it theirs. It is beginning to rain in Fairfax County, Virginia when McKenzie Strathie wakes up. An ordinary teenage girl living an ordinary life - except that the previous night she found a sand-lizard in her bed, and now she's beginning to question everything around her, especially who she really is … Two very different worlds featuring a group of extraordinary characters driven to the very limit of their endurance in a place where only the strongest will survive.

Photograph ©Ayo Onatade (2004)

Friday 30 July 2021

Sisters in Crime Australia - 2021 Davitt. Awards Longlists


Adult Crime

Kristen Alexander, Riptides (Bantam Australia, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

Belinda Alexandra, The Mystery Woman (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

B M Allsopp, Death Beyond the Limit (Fiji Islands Mysteries #3) (Coconut Press) 

Rachel Amphlett, Her Final Hour (Detective Mark Turpin novel #2) (Saxon Publishing) 

Rachel Amphlett, None the Wiser (Detective Mark Turpin novel #1) (Saxon Publishing) 

Rachel Amphlett, Turn to Dust (Detective Kay Hunter Murder Mystery #9) (Saxon Publishing) 

Jennifer Bacia, Dark Side of the Harbour (Booktopia Editions) 

Amy Barker, Paradise Earth: A novel (Stormbird Press) Debut 

Sarah Barrie, Deadman’s Track (Calico Mountain #3) (HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Australia) 

Sonya Bates, Inheritance of Secrets (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) Debut 

Joanna Beresford, Every Year I Am Here (Atlas Productions) Debut 

Anne Buist, The Long Shadow (Text Publishing) 

Rae Cairns, The Good Mother (Bandrui Publishing) Debut 

B M Carroll, Who We Were (Serpents Tail, an imprint of Allen & Unwin) 

Lee Christine, Charlotte Pass (Allen & Unwin) Debut 

Phillipa Nefri Clark, Deadly Falls (Charlotte Dean Mysteries #2) (Phillipa Nefri Clark) 

Phillipa Nefri Clark, Deadly Secrets (Charlotte Dean Mysteries #3) (Phillipa Nefri Clark) 

Phillipa Nefri Clark, Last Known Contact (Phillipa Nefri Clark) 

Sherryl Clark, Dead and Gone (Judi Westerholme #2) (Verve Books) 

Sarah Clutton, The Daughter’s Promise (Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK) Debut 

Muriel Cooper, Lucid (Pegasus Publishers) Debut 

Tea Cooper, The Cartographer’s Daughter (HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Australia) 

Tea Cooper, The Girl in the Painting (HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Australia) 

Megan Daymond, Bones of Deception (Andy Knight #2) (Fracture Publishing) 

Kaye Dobbie, The Road to Ironbark (Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Ceridwen Dovey, Life After Truth ((Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) Debut 

Anna Downes, The Safe Place (Affirm Press) Debut 

Chris Elliott, Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth (DI Jabulani Sibanda #2) (Constable, an imprint of Hachette Australia) 

Kirsty Ferguson, Never Ever Tell (Boldwood Books) 

Katherine Firkin, Sticks and Stones (Bantam, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) Debut 

Candice Fox, Gathering Dark (Penguin Random House Australia) 

Darry Fraser, Elsa Goody, Bushranger (Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Darry Fraser, The Last Truehart (Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Rebecca Freeborn, The Girl She Was (Pantera Press) Debut 

Poppy Gee, Vanishing Falls: A novel (Booktopia Editions) 

Sulari Gentill, A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10) (Pantera Press) 

Brigid George, Tooting Moon (Dusty Kent Mystery #5) (Potoroo Publishing) 

Megan Goldin, The Night Swim (Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

Kerry Greenwood, Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher) (Allen & Unwin) 

Robin Gregory, Traffic (Sandi Kent Mystery #1) (Clan Destine Press) Debut 

Jane Harper, The Survivors (Pan Macmillan Australia) 

Sally Hepworth, The Good Sister (Pan Macmillan Australia) 

D K Hood, Her Broken Wings (Detectives Kane and Alton #8) (Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK) 

D K Hood, Her Shallow Grave (Detectives Kane and Alton #9) (Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK) 

D K Hood, Promises in the Dark (Detectives Kane and Alton #10) (Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK) 

Shona Husk, Close to the Truth (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) Debut 

Helen Iles, Dark Secrets (Linellen Press) Debut 

Nora James, A Shot at Amore (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Alexandra Joel, The Paris Model (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) Debut 

Mary Jones, Troubled Waters (Green Olive Press) Debut 

H R Kemp, Deadly Secrets: What unspeakable truths lurk beneath the lies? (Helmine Kemp) Debut 

Karina Kilmore, Where the Truth Lies (Simon & Schuster Australia) Debut 

Katherine Kovacic, The Shifting Landscape (Alex Clayton #3) (Echo Publishing, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK) 

L A Larkin, Prey (Olivia Wolfe #2) (Clan Destine Press) 

C A Larmer, And Then There Were 9 (The Agatha Christie Book Club #4) (Larmer Media) 

C A Larmer, Without a Word (Ghostwriter Mystery #7) (Larmer Media) 

Suzanne Leal, The Deceptions (Allen & Unwin) Debut 

Judith Lees, The Silent Syringe (Moonglow Publishing) Debut 

Carol Lefevre, Murmurations (Spinifex Press) Debut 

Leisl Leighton, Blazing Fear (CoalCliff Stud #2) (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Michele Lourie, Deceiving (Michele Lourie) 

Kirsty Manning, The Lost Jewels (Allen & Unwin) 

Annette Marner, A New Name for the Colour Blue (Wakefield Press) Debut

Nicola Marsh, My Sister’s Husband (Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK) Debut 

Donna Mazza, Fauna (Allen & Unwin) Debut 

Vanessa McCausland, The Valley of Lost Stories (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) 

Fleur McDonald, Red Dirt Country (Detective Dave Burrows) (Allen & Unwin) 

Kerry McGinnis, Croc Country (Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

Petronella McGovern, The Good Teacher (Allen & Unwin) 

Marie McMillan, The Lost Day: Under Newgrange (Europe Books UK) Debut 

Dervla McTiernan, The Good Turn (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) 

Kate Mildenhall, The Mother Fault (Simon & Schuster Australia) Debut 

Natasha Molt, Cutting the Cord (Impact Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Australia) Debut 

Alyssa J Montgomery, Five Dates with the Billionaire (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Kayte Nunn, The Silk House (Hachette Australia) 

Tania Park, Double Cross (Tania Park) 

Jan Pearson, Blue Dragon Spring (Celestial Symbols #4) (Proverse Hong Kong) 

J P Powell, The Brisbane Line (Brio Books) Debut 

Mirandi Riwoe, Stone Sky Gold Mountain (University of Queensland Press) 

Bronwyn Rodden, Orphan Rock (Ros Gordon Mystery #2) (Bronwyn Rodden) 

Elisabeth Rose, A Light in the Dark (Taylor’s Bend #3) (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Kimberley Starr, Torched (Pantera Press) 

Karen Lee Street, Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead (Poe and Dupin Mystery #3) (Point Blank, an imprint of Wildside Press) 

A M Stuart, Revenge in Rubies (Harriet Gordon Mystery #2) (Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House USA) 

Alison Stuart, The Goldminer’s Sister (Maiden’s Creek #2) (Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Chris Stuart, For Reasons of Their Own (Original Sin Press) Debut 

Leah Swann, Sheerwater (4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Australia) Debut 

Sarah Thornton, White Throat (Text Publishing) 

Sandi Wallace, Black Cloud (Gumshoe, an imprint of Next Chapter) 

Anna Willett, Dear Neighbour: No boundary to murder (Cold Peak Media) 

Anna Willett, Savage Bay Nightmare (Lucy Hush #3) (Cold Peak Media)

Belinda Williams, Don’t Let me Forget (Escape Publishing, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia) 

Young Adult Crime Novels

Davina Bell, The End of the World Is Bigger than Love (Text Publishing) Debut 

Sarah Epstein, Deep Water (Allen & Unwin Children’s) 

Fiona Hardy, How to Write the Soundtrack to Your Life (Affirm Press)

Hayley Lawrence, Ruby Tuesday (Penguin Random House Australia) Debut 

Ellie Marney, None Shall Sleep (Allen & Unwin Children’s) 

Fin J Ross, Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie (Clan Destine Press) 

Lisa Walker, The Girl with the Gold Bikini (Wakefield Press) Debut 

Lili Wilkinson, The Erasure Initiative (Allen & Unwin Children’s) 

Children's Crime Novels

Sandra Bennett, Fossil Frenzy (Adamson Adventures #3) (Rosella Ridge Books) Debut 

Jackie French, The Ghost of Howlers Beach (Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1) (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) Debut 

Jacqueline Harvey, Alice-Miranda in the Outback (Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

Jacqueline Harvey, Freefall (Kensy and Max #5) (Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

Petra James, Henrie’s Hero Hunt (Walker Books Australia) Debut 

Rebecca McRitchie, Havoc!: The untold magic of Cora Bell (Jinxed #2) (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) 

Amelia Mellor, The Grandest Bookshop in the World (Affirm Press) Debut 

Julianne Negri, The Secret Library of Hummingbird House (Affirm Press) 

Christie Nieman, Where We Begin (Pan Macmillan Australia) Debut 

Pamela Rushby, The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle (Walker Books Australia) 

Laura Sieveking, Musical Mystery (Ella at Eden #3) (Scholastic Press) Debut 

R A Spratt, Near Extinction (The Peski Kids #4) (Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) 

A L Tait, The Fire Star (Maven & Reeve Mystery #1) (Penguin Random House Australia) Debut 

Lian Tanner, A Clue for Clara (Allen & Unwin Children’s) Debut 

Renee Treml, Sherlock Bones and the Sea-creature Feature (Allen & Unwin Children’s) 

Sue Whiting, The Book of Chance (Walker Books Australia) 

Non Fiction Booksellers

Tanya Bretherton, The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s first serial murderer (Hachette Australia)

Stella Budrikis, The Edward Street Baby Farm: The murder trial that gripped a city (Fremantle Press) Debut 

Stephanie Convery, After the Count: The death of Davey Browne (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House Australia) Debut 

Melissa Davey, The Case of George Pell: Reckoning with child sexual abuse (Scribe Publications) Debut

Heidi Lemon, The First Time He Hit Her: The Shocking True Story of the Murder of Tara Costigan, The Woman Next Door (Hachette Australia) Debut 

Xanthé Mallett, Reasonable Doubt (Pan Macmillan Australia) 

Louise Milligan, Witness: An investigation into the brutal cost of seeking justice (Hachette Australia) 

Caroline Overington, Missing William Tyrrell (HarperCollins Publishers Australia) 

Monique Patterson, United in Grief: The tragic story of Stephanie Scott’s murder and the effect it had on the small town of Leeton NSW (Genius Book Company) Debut 

Suzanne Smith, The Altar Boys (ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Australia) Debut 

Angela Williams, Snakes and Ladders: A memoir (Affirm Press) Debut 

Thursday 29 July 2021

2021 Ned Kelly Awards shortlist


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

Best Crime Fiction

Consolation by Garry Disher (Text)

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox, (Penguin)

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill, (Pantera)

The Survivors by Jane Harper, (Pan)

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan, (HarperCollins)

Tell Me Lies by J P Pomare, (Hachette)

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham, (Hachette)

White Throat by Sarah Thornton, (Text)

Best Debut Crime Fiction

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns, (Bandrui Publishing)

The Second Son by Lorraine Peck, (Text)

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry, (PRH)

The Night Whistler by Greg Woodlands, (Text)

Best True Crime

The Husband Poisoner by Tanya Bretherton, (Hachette)

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

Public Enemies by Mark Dapin, (A&U)

Hazelwood by Tom Doig, (Viking)

Witness by Louise Milligan, (Hachette)

Best International Cime Fiction

The Guest List by Lucy Foley, (HarperCollins)

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

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar, (Text)

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

Broken by Don Winslow, (HarperCollins).

Congratulations to all!

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

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

Kelly Heard on Realism and Romance in a Pandemic


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 28 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Jean Harker


Name: Jean Harker:

Job: Television and radio scriptwriter


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

Current book?

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

Favourite book?

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

Which two characters would you invite to dinner and why?

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

How do you relax?

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

What book do you wish you had written and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your two favourite Oxford books?

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award Winners 2021


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

Best Original Private Eye Paperback

Brittle Karma by Richard Helms (Black Arch Books)

Best Private Eye Short Story

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

Best Private Eye Novel

Blind Vigil by Matt Coyle  (Oceanview)

Best First Private Eye Novel

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press)

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

Congratulations to all the nominated authors and winners.

Monday 26 July 2021

In The Spotlight: Maria Rejt


Name:- Maria Reijt

Job:Publishing Director at Pan Macmillain (Mantle) 


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

Current Book?

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

Favourite Book?

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

Which to charcaters would you invite to dinner and why? 

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

How do you relax? 

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

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

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

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

How would you describe working in publishing…

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

Two of your favourite Oxford novels are:

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

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

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

Friday 23 July 2021

Michael Russell on History as Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph ©Hachette

Thursday 22 July 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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