Tuesday 31 August 2021

Judging the Daggers: an insider’s view

Earlier on this year I wrote an article for the CWA Red Herring Magazine about being a Dagger Judge and judging books for book awards in general. I have decided to put it up on the blog. I hope that it gives some insight into what judging books for awards entails. Comments welcome.

Book awards are fantastic things and authors love winning them, but what about those people who judge the award? How do they feel about the pressure that is on them?

Being a judge for a book award is an honour, and as someone who has judged the CWA Short Story Dagger among other awards I have enjoyed it immensely. However, judging a book award is not an easy job as there are tough decisions to be made. Be prepared to have your views challenged and your taste in books widened.

When judging a book award there are various things to bear in mind. 

  • What you like, others may not and vice versa. You have to broaden your horizons as you are bound to read a book which you find disappointing but others think is wonderful. 

  • Do not pre-judge the book because you’ve read a negative or positive review. Approach it with your mind as a blank slate.

  • Consider the sense of place, characterisation and plot. Do you still think about the book after you’ve finished reading it?

And this is what we’re looking for in the books submitted:

- Immersion in a different milieu
- Originality of approach
- Fresh dialogue/descriptive power
- Demonstration of trust in the reader’s imagination
- Well-written prose that’s consistent in holding readers’ attention

Whichever author wins the award has won because their book stood out to all the judges. Nevertheless, just as with readers, every judge's taste in books is different, which is why when the longlist and shortlist are revealed there’s always an eclectic mix of books.

Just because it is a popular book does not make it a well-written book and just because it is a well-written book does not make it a popular book. Nor are judges swayed by the popularity of an author: it is entirely about the book; every book is judged on its merit.

I found that judging awards takes a lot of commitment; commitment of time and more – you have to love crime so much that you’re prepared to spend a lot of time reading books that take you out of your comfort zone.

The Dagger judges operate entirely independently from the CWA and are made up of booksellers, reviewers, librarians, journalists and readers who are fascinated by the genre. The CWA committee has no say in the decisions over what books win, nor do they have any say in the books that are submitted. The judges can only read the books that are submitted or which they call in. The onus is on the publishers to submit their books. No author has any say at all in the composition of the judges for each Dagger; our Daggers Liaison Officer takes the lead in that. 

Aside from the Chair of each judging panel, the judges change every three years. Judges enjoy a meal on the CWA at the final judging meeting.

No one takes on the role of Dagger judge for such benefits. It’s done for the pleasure of being part of the most prestigious book awards in the world. It’s also exciting; I found myself immersed in a genre that is constantly changing. I’ve been reading crime for over 40 years, and getting the chance to give back to the genre that has brought me so much pleasure was very satisfying. It also helped me to fully appreciate the hard work of those at the heart of the awards - the authors.


Former Chair of Judges of the CWA Short Story Dagger 


Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize 2021 Finalists Revealed


Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival reveals

five finalists for the McIlvanney Prize 2021 

sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from 

Culture & Business Fund Scotland

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, completed with the help of Ian Rankin, was launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival immediately prior to the announcement of the McIlvanney Prize shortlist.

The McIlvanney Prize judges this year include 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.

They selected five finalists from the longlist of thirteen. The list includes 2015 winner, Craig Russell; established names Stuart MacBride and Alan Parks and two debut authors, Emma Christie and Robbie Morrison who beat some of the biggest names in crime fiction to make the cut. Emma Christie was one of the up and coming authors selected to appear at Crime in the Spotlight as a support act for The Never Ending Panel last year.

The judges described Craig Russell as ‘an author who never disappoints and always gets to the heart of a story’ and they ‘loved the presentation of Victorian Edinburgh and Celtic myths’ in HYDE (Constable)

They praised THE APRIL DEAD by Alan Parks (Canongate) for ‘continuing to innovate’ and said they ‘enjoyed the well-drawn characters and cliffhanger ending’.

They called THE COFFIN MAKER’S GARDEN by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins) ‘a dark, edgy and original novel, full of action and a great sense of place with just the right kind of humour'

They described THE SILENT DAUGHTER by Emma Christie (Welbeck) as ‘taking the domestic noir genre and offering something fresh and different with well controlled characters’ and called EDGE OF THE GRAVE by Robbie Morrison (Macmillan) ‘. They enjoyed the pace of the novel and the unforeseen twist at the end. Both are also on the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize.

The Glencairn Glass, the World’s Favourite Whisky Glass and the Official Glass for Whisky is again sponsoring both The McIlvanney Prize and The Bloody Scotland Debut Crime Novel of the Year. Culture & Business Fund Scotland have generously given matched funding.

The winners of both prizes will be revealed at the Albert Halls in Stirling at 5.15pm on Friday 17 September and broadcast live on-line.

Monday 30 August 2021

Frozen Thrillers by Tyler Keevil

Frozen landscapes make for compelling scenery: snow-covered fields and hills; buildings, roads, and vehicles coated with frost; jagged icicles hanging from awnings; the delicate fractal structure of snowflakes; layers of ice that can conceal hidden dangers, and secrets. Given the power inherent in such imagery, one can see why these landscapes have often been chosen as the backdrop to thrillers.

What might we call this sub-genre? The frozen thriller? The chiller-thriller? Regardless of title, it contains a multitude of rich and varied works. Prime examples abound, from commercial blockbusters to indie gems, with settings both rural and urban. They might take place in a foreign and unfamiliar location, or in a character’s home town or area, as in the Coens’ classic Fargo and Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone. At times the setting is enclosed and confined – like the chairlift in Adam Green’s Frozen – whereas in other cases it is wide-open, with characters dangerously exposed to the elements and each other (Taylor Sheridan’s excellent Wind River springs to mind, here). Frozen thrillers can overlap with other genres, including survival-horror (The EdgeThe Grey), murder mysteries (Gorky ParkThe Killing), historical adventure (The Tenderness of Wolves), mythical epic (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) or even science fiction (The Thing). 

It’s no coincidence that the majority of the examples above are films, or have been adapted for film: the frozen thriller seems particularly suited to the big screen, since it is so visually stark and striking, filled with images of contrasting whites, blacks, and greys. One could argue that the monochromatic palette codifies the moral tensions and ambiguities inherent in the stories. Many of the works that influenced my own frozen thriller, Your Still Beating Heart, were cinematic. In developing the story, and particularly in cultivating the mood and atmosphere, I returned to works that had inspired me over the years; in so doing certain patterns began to emerge, and recur.

Of primary importance was Brad Andersen’s gripping Transsiberian (2008). It follows a couple, played by Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson, on a train from Beijing to Moscow after completing their missionary work. They fall in with two other travellers who turn out to be smugglers – leading to deception, betrayal, and murder. The use of Russian dolls (which contain smuggled heroin) serve as a brilliant symbol for the layers of the film, and thrillers in general. The journey isn’t only outward, but inward: the progressive stages of revelation until the heart of the mystery is reached. The train is also an excellent device. It places limitations on the narrative and the characters’ options, so that while the geographical journey covers hundreds of miles, there is still a sense of entrapment and confinement, as the tension rises and the couple struggle to escape their situation.

The journey in Transsiberian is decidedly one-way. By contrast, Courtney Hunt’s impressive debut feature, Frozen River, makes use of a voyage and return structure. Here, again, smuggling is involved, though in this case the cargo is not drugs, but people. Hunt’s heroine is Ray, a single mother raising two boys and living on a trailer park in upstate New York, near the border with Canada. Struggling to make ends meet, Ray meets Lila, from the nearby Mohawk reservation, who offers the chance to earn some desperately needed money: the two women will use Ray’s car to drive across the border to Canada to smuggle migrants into the United States, using Mohawk territory to provide protection from law enforcement agencies. The film has a docudrama look to it, which heightens the authentic feel: the result makes for tough, poignant viewing in its depiction of ordinary people caught up in illegal and morally murky activity, doing what they can to get by – and facing the consequences. 

One distinct aspect of the works mentioned above is that most rely on a relatively small cast. It is as if the stark backdrop of the frozen thriller enables the artist to foreground characters, and focus on the interactions, tensions, and conflict between them – in the same way you might in a stage play. I adopted a similar approach in Your Still Beating Heart. For the first third of the novel, after the shocking murder of her husband, Eira is alone as a foreigner in Prague, and largely cut off from human contact – aside from Marta, her landlady, and Mario, the street hustler who will eventually lure her into taking part in a criminal scheme. The early chapters rely on imagery and setting to convey Eira’s mood and emotional state. The frozen backdrop of Prague – embedded in my own memory from the time I’d spent living there – seemed not just the ideal but the only possible location to set Eira’s story. Once Mario connects Eira with the villains, Pavel and Valerie, and she agrees to their offer, she leaves Prague behind but not that sense of isolation and emotional detachment, which became key to her character’s decisions, and ultimate redemption. Her name, in Welsh, means ‘snow’ and it resonates with Mario’s nickname for her: the snow queen.

Once I had my cast of characters in place, it was a matter of setting them in motion like the figures on Prague’s famed astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall. From there, I began to perceive the progression of the plot, and the conflict between good and evil, like a game of chess, with its black-and-white board and pieces – an apt analogy for the story themes. As author I got to play both sides, as they sought to outsmart and evade one another, while being inextricably drawn into contact, and confrontation, leading towards an endgame. 

Perhaps it is this aspect of frozen thrillers, and thrillers in general, that I find most fascinating. Certain elements and motifs such as those outlined above will often recur: stolen money, smuggled cargo, missing or kidnapped victims, borders to be crossed and recrossed, ordinary people caught up in illegal activities. As artist part of the joy and challenge in working within any genre is finding new ways to make use of these tropes: arranging them in a pattern that is both unique and familiar, moving towards an unexpected but inevitable finale that should be both startling and satisfying for the reader.

Your Still Beating Heart by Tyler (published by Myriad Books) £8.99 Out Now

All it takes to change a life is a single moment. A random stabbing on a London bus leaves Eira stripped of a future that should have been hers and propels her into a life skewed out of all recognition. In Prague, the city where she and her husband got engaged, the city where now she flees to in her grief, a chance meeting leads to an intriguing proposition. There's a small job for someone like her: someone without a criminal record or personal connections; someone willing to take a minor risk. All she needs to do is pick something up, and drive back. Just once. Only ever once. Her mission takes her to a place where life is cheap and sordid deals are done. Risking her own life to save another, she must confront unspeakable evil and outrun those who would betray her.

Sunday 29 August 2021

Anthony Award Winners Announced


Since Bouchercon 2021: Blood on the Bayou in New Orleans. was cancelled and has had to be postponed to 2025!, the organisers did an online Awards presentation hosted by Hank Phillipi Ryan.

The winners are as follows -

Best Hardcover Novel

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)

Best First Novel

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco Press)

Best Paperback Original/E-Book/Audiobook Original Novel

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey (Thomas & Mercer)

Best Short Story

"90 Miles" by Alex Segura - Both Sides: Stories From the Border (Agora Books)

Best Juvenile/Young Adult

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

Best Critical or Nonfiction Work

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession by Sarah Weinman, ed. - (Ecco Press)

Best Anthology or Collection

Shattering Glass: A Nasty Woman Press Anthology - Heather Graham, ed. (Nasty Woman Press)

David Thompson Award Special Service Award

Janet Rudolph

The awards ceremony can be seen on the Bouchercon YouTube channel, so do tune in. Congratulations to all the award winners.

Saturday 28 August 2021

2021 Davitt Award Winners

Sisters in Crime Australia have announced the 2021 Davitt Award Winners -

Adult Crime Novels 

Winner:- The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Also nominated -

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

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

Gathering Dark by Candice Fox (Penguin Random House Australia)

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

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

The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal (Allen & Unwin)

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

Torched by Kimberley Starr (Pantera Press)

Young Adult Crime Novels

Winner:- Where We Begin by Christie Nieman (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Also nominated -

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

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

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

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

Children’s Crime Novels

Winner:- A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin Children’s)

Also nominated -

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

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

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

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

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

Non-fiction Crime Books 

Winner:- Witness: An Investigation into the Brutal Cost of Seeking Justice by Louise Milligan (Hachette Australia)

Also nominated-

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

The Case of George Pell: Reckoning with Child Sexual Abuse by Melissa Davey (Scribe Publications)

Missing William Tyrrell by Caroline Overington (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

Snakes and Ladders: A Memoir by Angela Williams, (Affirm Press)

Debut Crime Books

Winner:- Sheerwater by Leah Swann (4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Australia) 

Also nominated - 

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)

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

The Case of George Pell: Reckoning with Child Sexual Abuse by Melissa Davey (Scribe Publications)

The Safe Place by Anna Downes (Affirm Press)

Troubled Waters by Mary Jones (Green Olive Press)

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

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

The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (Simon & Schuster Australia)

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

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

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

The Winner of the Readers Choice Award 

The Shifting Landscape by Katherine Kovacic

Thursday 26 August 2021

Ned Kelly Award Winners Announced


The winners of the 2021 awards were announced in an online presentation hosted by crime author Christian White. The complete shortlist can be found here.

The winners are 

Best Debut Crime Fiction 

The Second Son by Loraine Peck. 

Best True Crime 

Stalking Claremont by Bret Christian. 

Best International Crime Fiction

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. 

Best Crime Fiction 

Consolation by Garry Disher.

Established in 1995, the Ned Kelly Awards are Australia’s oldest, most prestigious awards honouring crime fiction and true crime writing. The ACWA reported a record number of entries for the awards in their 26th year, with 149 entries, a 50% increase on previous years.

Congratulations to all the nominated authors and winners.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Macavity Award Winners 2021


The Macavity Awards are nominated and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International, subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal, and friends of MRI.

The Macavty Awards 2021 are for works published in 2020. The Macavity Shortlist can be found here.

Best Novel:

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)

Best First Novel:

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco)

Best Critical/Biographical:

H R.F. Keating: A Life of Crime by Sheila Mitchell (Level Best)

Best Short Story:

Elysian Fields,” by Gabriel Valjan (from California Schemin’: The 2020 Bouchercon Anthology, edited by Art Taylor; Wildside Press)

Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery:

Turn to Stone by James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Congratulations to all

There’s Nothing Funny about Murder by Lisa Cutts


As obvious as it sounds, I don’t find murder funny. After twenty-five years as a full-time police officer and six police procedural novels, I turned to cosy crime in an attempt to lighten the mood.

During my police service, spent predominantly as a detective, I worked on a vast number of murders. It was something that gave me endless inspiration for writing fictional murder investigations that were as true to life as possible. In the world of policing, something that is never far away – whatever the intensity of the situation – is gallows humour. It was never far from my working day, nor my writing.

Earlier this year, I decided to change both working aspects of my life. Using parts of beautiful Kent as a backdrop, I penned my first cosy crime mystery, Murder in the Village, complete with retired detective Harry Powell. Being a little jealous of his lifestyle, I decided to call it a day and retire from Kent police. It was a very strange change for me, yet undoubtedly the right one. For many of us, 2020 put a lot of things into perspective, and so instead of fitting writing around my day job, it now is my day job. Creating an English village setting for my new series where everything was picture perfect, murder rate aside, was a lot of fun. 

Over the years, I’ve spent a great deal of time in Kent’s villages, whether out on enquires or for less stressful reasons. I’ve been fortunate to have these locations on my doorstep. I used Chilham as a basis for the Belinda Penshurt cosy series, inspired by its castle, tea room and two pubs, adding in parts of Lenham and Challock for good measure with Tenterden making a veiled appearance as Upper Wallop. It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t make official on duty calls to these particular areas when investigating murders. Throughout time, these quintessentially English villages have been the scenes of suspicious deaths, yet they were few and far between.

Now that I’m free to write without the self-imposed rigid rules of how a murder investigation team works, it is gloriously refreshing. Whilst writing police procedurals, I had found myself on dozens of occasions reaching for a copy of some police reference book or other, or randomly asking a room of my colleagues, ‘Can anyone tell me exactly how long gunshot residue stays on someone’s hands?’ This was met with odd looks and the question, ‘Aren’t you currently working on a stabbing?’ Followed by, ‘Is this research for a book?

I still make sure the basics are correct, that goes without saying. Besides, after spending longer as a police officer than not being a police officer, some things are ingrained. Like the humour. It’s a coping tactic of normalising the weird and bizarre. And there’s plenty of that to go round.

It’s worked for one of my characters, Harry Powell, my retired detective inspector. His character as a serving police officer had a different view of the world to the one he has now as a civilian – a smidge less jaded and worn down with a touch less cynicism. He is the only character to feature in all of my books, police procedural and cosy crime, and I’ve loved writing him from a different angle. Retired colleagues had repeatedly told me that giving back their warrant card gave them a totally different mindset, something I hadn’t believed until I handed over mine. 

My protagonist, Belinda Penshurst, is the amateur sleuth who keeps Harry very much on his toes. She has a blatant disregard for following the rules and openly mocks the retired DI for his attempts to keep her on the straight and narrow. In Murder in the Village, they team up, parts of their character rubbing off on each other. 

In time, I wonder whether retirement will see me stick to the rules or allow me more freedom. Belinda seems to have a lot more fun than Harry. Just saying…

Murder in The Village by Lisa Cutts (Bookouture) Out Now

Meet Belinda Penshurst. Castle owner, dog lover… crime solver? Belinda Penshurst loves her home village Little Challham, with its shady lanes, two pubs and weekly market, and she’s determined to keep it peaceful. She may live in Challham Castle but she knows almost everything that goes on under her nose. So when irritable pub landlord Tipper is found dead in his cellar, she’s perfectly placed to investigate. Retired detective Harry Powell moved to Little Challham for a quiet life. He didn’t expect to be dragged into a murder investigation. But the police don’t seem half as enthusiastic as Belinda about the case, and there are strange things happening in the village. Particularly the number of dogs that have disappeared lately… Is there a dognapper snaffling schnauzers and luring away Labradors? Is Belinda barking mad to be worried that her brother Marcus was arguing with Tipper on the day he died? Belinda and Harry track down the suspects: the rival landlord, the outraged barmaid, the mysterious man in the black car following dogwalkers around. But are the dogged detectives running out of time to sniff out the killer, before he starts hounding them?

You can find Lisa Cutts on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @LisaCuttsAuthor

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Durham Book Festival


The Durham Book Festival have announced their programme. The festival is due to take place between 9th and 17thOctober 2021. The full programme can be read here. They are combining a return to live in-person events at the Gala Theatre with a full digital programme of over 50 literary events, films, podcasts, essays and more.

Tickets are now availble.

The crime fiction events are -

Catriona Ward and Abigail Dean: Thrillers With a Twist - (9th October 2021- 11:00am)

Join Abigail Dean and Catriona Ward, two thriller writers who are turning the genre on its head as they explore trauma and survival in these gripping and intelligent novels.

In Girl A by Abigail Dean, Lexie Grace is the girl who escaped. Following the news that their abusive mother has died in prison, Lex is forced to return to the House of Horrors that she grew up in. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the house into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings – and with the childhood they shared. An ordinary house on an ordinary street becomes a pit of unimaginable darkness in The Last House on Needless Street, a truly nerve-shattering psychological thriller by Catriona Ward. This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. That’s where you’re wrong.

Chaired by Grace Keane, New Writing North

Richard Osman: Books That Made Me - (9th October 2021 – 7:00pm)

We are delighted to welcome Richard Osman back to Durham Book Festival for a special pre-recorded digital event. Richard will be talking about his new crime novel The Man Who Died Twice as well as some of the books that have inspired him throughout his life.  The Man Who Died Twice is the second novel in the record-breaking, bestselling Thursday Murder Club series. Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life. As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?  Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter and the creator and co-presenter of the BBC One television quiz show Pointless. His first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was a million-copy bestseller.

Chaired by Professor Katy Shaw, Northumbria University.

Murder, Mystery and Mayhem: Durham City Guided Walk - (15th October 2021 – 10:30am)

(Meet outside Gala Theatre entrance) It could be said that Durham City exists because of crime. Pillaging by raiding Vikings led to the city’s formation as we know it today. Take a walk around Durham and hear how crimes gone by have been recorded through the written word. Discover how the city and its hinterland have provided a backdrop and been incorporated into crime fiction and writing.

Denise Mina and Lucy Jago: Women Who Dare - (15th October 2021 – 5:30pm)

Denise Mina and Lucy Jago discuss their new novels, which tell the stories of transgressive women in history and the secrets and scandals of the royal courts. It’s Saturday evening, 9 March 1566 and Mary Queen of Scots is six months pregnant. She’s hosting a supper party. Mary doesn’t know that her Palace is surrounded – that an army of men is creeping upstairs to her chamber. They’re coming to murder David Rizzio, her friend and secretary. Mary’s husband wants it done in front of her and he wants her to watch it done. Rizzio by Denise Mina looks at history through a modern lens and explores the lengths that men – and women – will go to in the search for love and power. Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family. Anne Turner has wit and talent – but no stage on which to display them. When these two very different women meet a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects and where ancient families fight for power. Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, A  Net for Small Fishes is an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court.

Chaired by Dr Natalie Mears, Durham University.

Val McDermid: 1979 - (16th October 2021 – 7:30pm)

Join us for an evening with bestselling crime writer Val McDermid as she talks about 1979, the heart-pounding first novel in a gripping new series by the Queen of Crime.  Set in Glasgow and following crime reporter Allie Burns, 1979 draws upon McDermid’s own experiences as a journalist, where she witnessed life in the newsroom at first-hand.  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.

Chaired by Doug Johnstone, author of The Jump.

Monday 23 August 2021

Ilkley Literature Festival


The Ilkley Book Festival have announced their programme. The festival is due to take place between 1st and 17th October 2021. The full programme can be read here. This year they will be producing a hybrid event of over 70 events with it beaning a mixture digital events, 'live” in person interviews, talks and panels. 

Booking opens Tuesday 31 August at 10:00am. 

The crime fiction events are -

Cold War Spies - Tim Tate and Trevor Barnes – (Saturday 2nd October at 3:00pm)

Award-winning documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist and best-selling author Tim Tate is joined by crime novelist Trevor Barnes to discuss some of the most gripping true stories of Cold War history. From a supposed Polish secret service agent passing Soviet secrets to the West, to the Portland Spy Ring where KGB ‘illegals’ operated under false identities stolen from the dead. Tate’s The Spy Who Was Left Out in the Cold draws on a wealth of previously unpublished primary sources to tell the dramatic true story of Michal Goleniewski, the best spy the West ever lost. Barnes’ Dead Doubles explores a case that justified the West’s paranoia about infiltration and treachery.

Graeme MacRae Burnet: Case Study (Saturday 2nd October at 4:00pm)

London, 1965. An unworldly young woman believes that a charismatic psychotherapist, Collins Braithwaite, has driven her sister to suicide. Intent on confirming her suspicions, she assumes a false identity and presents herself to him as a client, recording her experiences in a series of notebooks. In Case Study, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Graeme Macrae Burnet presents these notebooks interspersed with his own biographical research into Collins Braithwaite. The result is a dazzling meditation on the nature of sanity, identity and truth itself. Interview by The Telegraph book critic Jake Kerridge.

Imran Mahmood & Jenn Ashworth: Lying Eyes – (Sunday 3rd October at 1:00pm)

Join novelists Jenn Ashworth and Imran Mahmood as they discuss the role of unreliable narrators in fiction. Ashworth’s Ghosted explores a deeply affecting and unconventional love story, shot through with anger, black humour and grief. Mahmood’s I Know What I Saw is a thriller that centres on a now-homeless former banker who witnessed an impossible murder, and how the consequences of the crime force him to confront his vexed past and the unreliability of his memory. Interview by The Telegraph book critic Jake Kerridge.

Sunday 22 August 2021

I Was Blackmailed into Writing Crime Fiction…

Honestly, I’m not joking! The story started in 2004-2005, when I was trying to put together a Mystery and Thriller anthology in my day job as an editor at Tritonic Books in Romania. I had several translation contracts in place but it was hard to find any Romanian authors. I’d been an avid reader of crime fiction since childhood. Even during Communist times, we had access to the classics like Agatha Christie, Chandler, Hammet or Edgar Wallace, and after 1990 dozens if not hundreds of books in the genre were published, as if to make up for those years when the book world was controlled by the state.

So Hrib the editor asked Hrib the potential author very earnestly if he could write a Romanian crime novel. Why not? But I needed a spark to get started. 

In those days, Romanians were very keen to go to the Greek seaside in summer: good prices, nice food, beautiful beaches. While my daughter was fast asleep, I would rush to the local café early in the morning before the owner had even managed to sweep the floor properly. He would make me a nice strong coffee. Then another one. After a couple of days, he got used to me. And I ended up with two large notebooks containing a crime story taking place in Greece (obviously) but also in Romania, Austria and France.

The biggest problem I had was deciding who should be my main protagonist. I’d read far too many crime novels featuring a cop or a private eye. I wanted something different: part civilian, part investigative journalist, a bit of a busybody. No Superman, no Bond, perhaps a sort of Romanian Philip Marlowe. But what would an investigator from the Balkans be like? By no means as heroic as Jack Reacher, nor as deep in thought as Wallander. Perhaps Montalbano would be a closer fit – after all, Romanians love their food nearly as much as the Italians.

While searching for inspiration for my Balkan hero, I spent my evenings at a seafood tavern. After a copious meal of calamari and seasoned octopus, accompanied by taramasalata and tsatsiki, I would stay up late at night over a glass of Metaxa with the owner Stelios. He was a charismatic guy, full of contradictions, a capitalist with leftist tendencies, and I couldn’t resist borrowing his name for my main character. As for the surname, that was the easy part. I was born in Bucharest which lies in a flat plain so I always dreamt of the mountains. And thus, the character Stelian Munteanu was born. ‘The Greek Connection’ was published in 2008 in Romania and in 2015 in Canada.

After the first novel, there were quite a few readers demanding a second one. I was somewhat influenced by the success of the Da Vinci Code at the time and wrote ‘The Cursed Manuscript’ together with a historian. The policeman Tony Demetriade, who barely appeared in the first book, gets promoted in his job and therefore plays a more central role in this second novel.

The third book was a military thriller about the Somalian pirates but many readers considered it a love story because that is the book in which Stelian meets Sofia Matei and falls in love.

The fourth novel ‘Kill the General’ was translated and published in the UK in 2012, and in this novel (which takes place largely in Vienna) and the next one (where Copenhagen forms the backdrop), the civilian Stelian and the policeman Tony start to form a proper crime-busting, spy-catching duo.

After a bit of a break, Stelian and Tony get back together in ‘Resilience’. Stelian Munteanu is now married, his wife is supporting him with her well-paid job in London, and he gets caught up in a confusing story. His old friend Chief Inspector Tony Demetriade tries to help, together with his new partner, the young and beautiful Anabella Păduraru. But the case throws up all sorts of surprises… 

I’ve been faithful to the crime fiction community by and large, although I’ve had a few small detours along the way. I’ve tried to describe places I’ve actually visited – with the exception of Somalia. Although some friends who know Somalia won’t believe me that I relied solely on research in that case.

I would say this is the perfect life for a crime author: lots of new places to discover, good coffee and food to enjoy, stories to eavesdrop on the terraces or in taxis… And no end of places in the world where you can tape off the area and say: ‘No trespassing. Crime (writing) scene in progress.’

Resilience by Bogdan Hrib (Corylus Books) Translated by Marina Sofia (Out Now)

Stelian Munteanu has had enough of fixing other people’s problems: all he wants to do is make the long-distance relationship with his wife Sofia work. But when a notorious Romanian businessman asks him to investigate the death of his daughter in the north of England, he reluctantly gets involved once more. This time it turns into a tangled web of shady business dealings and international politics. Moving rapidly between London, Newcastle, Bucharest and Iasi, Resilience shows just how easy and dangerous it is to fall prey to fake news and social media manipulation.

Bogdan Hrib was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1966. He is a former journalist, civil engineer by education and now professor at the University in Bucharest, Hrib is the co-founder of Tritonic Books (1993) and has been instrumental in bringing other Romanian crime writers into English publication. He was the vice-president of the Romanian Crime Writers Club (2010-2012), and the director/organizer of the International Mystery & Thriller Festival in Râșnov (2011-2015), as well as the PR coordinator of the History Film Festival also in Râșnov. He is the author of the crime fiction series featuring Stelian Munteanu, a book-editor with a sideline doing international police work. Kill the General (2011), the fourth book in the Munteanu series was Hrib’s first novel translated into English and won the Special Award of the Bucharest Writers Association (2012). The Greek Connection is Hrib’s second novel translated into English.

You can find Bogdan Hrib on Facebook and on Twitter @bo_hrib. More information about Bogdan Hrib and his work can be found on his website.

Marina Sofia was born in Romania but has lived in the UK for half of her life. She was a reviewer for Crime Fiction Lover for more than seven years and has also worked for Asymptote Literary Journal. Her previous translation for Corylus Books was Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu. She is on Twitter @MarinaSofia8 and she also blogs at Finding Time To Write.

Saturday 21 August 2021

Killer Nashville: Silver Falchion Award Winners


The 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award Winners were announced at the Killer Nashville Awards Dinner.


The Crow’s Nest by Richard Meredith


Con Me Once by J. L. Delozier


Rose by Any Other Name by Becki Willis


The Lost Wisdom of the Magic by Susie Helme


Within Plain Sight by Bruce Robert Coffin


Y.A. Irish Town by Matthew John Meagher


Code Gray by Benny Sims


Words Whispered in Water by Andy Rosenthal


Odyssey Tale by Cody Schlegel


Couch Detective Book 2 by James Glass


Borrowed Memories by Christine Mager Wevik


Ring of Conspiracy by J. Robert Kinney


The Divine Devils by R. Weir

Thursday 19 August 2021

Pandora's Box by Erin Kinsley

 Imagine you’ve found the perfect gift for someone you love. 

As you wrap it in well-chosen paper, tie round a ribbon and write your message on the card, you’re full of anticipation of their pleasure when it’s opened. And as you hoped, they’re delighted with your choice, thanking you with warm smiles and a hug. 

Except that weeks later, your gift derails their whole life.

An unintended gift of a poisoned chalice is at the heart of my third emotional thriller, Missing, when a young woman on uneasy terms with her sister buys her a present potentially spring-loaded with more misfortunes than Pandora’s box. 

Like most crime writers, I’m intrigued by every kind of mystery, from the true identity of Jack the Ripper to the unsolved disappearance of Claudia Lawrence. And that love of mysteries makes me unapologetically a fan of Long Lost Family, a TV programme popular on both sides of the Atlantic, whose speciality is re-uniting mothers with children they were forced to give up for adoption decades ago, and siblings separated at birth. Participants often contact the programme after years of fruitless searching, and are frequently overwhelmed to find themselves in emotional meetings before the closing credits roll. 

But how does Long Lost Family so often succeed in tracking people down where its hugely invested and committed participants have previously failed? Simply because it solves these ‘cold cases’ using a very contemporary tool: a home-test DNA kit.

DNA testing has come a long way in the thirty years since it was first used in the UK to secure a conviction in a court of law. The case was the killing of Dawn Ashworth by Colin Pitchfork, a baker from Leicestershire. Ultimately, Pitchfork was convicted of two murders, described by the judge at his trial as ‘particularly sadistic’, and his release from prison this summer (2021) is the cause of some controversy. Sentenced today rather than under 1980s law, his crimes would have attracted a whole-life tariff.

From that point forward, DNA testing began to take a central role in crime detection, and also became more commonplace in the area of family law, to establish paternity. Before long, genealogy sites like Ancestry.com took the short step to packaging DIY kits aimed at the burgeoning numbers of people researching their personal history and family trees. 

Sounds like a cool and unique gift, wouldn’t you say? A simple test and an eight-week wait could save you years of trawling through census records online, or scouring the ledgers of ancient parish records in cold and draughty churches to trace your elusive ancestors. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for some people – including the sisters in Missing – a DNA test reveals shocking information, opening cans of worms that can’t be resealed and undermining carefully curated family secrets. 

Of course, those digging for their roots have always run the risk of uncovering potentially uncomfortable truths - the date of a marriage only days before a birth (or no record of any marriage at all), a death from syphilis or addiction, maybe a dishonourable mention in a newspaper report of court proceedings – but whatever was hidden was usually far back in the past.

But an unexpected DNA test result impinges on people still very much alive, and for some they throw up deeply troubling insights, proving that at a molecular level, they’re not the person they thought they were. 

What happens when it turns out your uncle is your father, your mother isn’t your mother or your brother shares no blood with you at all? Those on the receiving end of unexpected results are bewildered and confused. Often, they want answers to new questions they may never get, especially if those with knowledge are already dead. Then, whether they like it or not, they’ve inherited the family secret, and must make the decision whether to share it, or keep it to themselves as it’s been kept from them. 

The knowledge those kits offer is intriguing and enticing, but just like Pandora’s box, it might be better not to lift the lid. 

There is such a thing as too much information, and sometimes, ignorance is bliss. 

Missing by Erin Kinsley (Headline) Out Now

A mother walks into the sea... and never comes back. Why? One perfect summer day, mother of two Alice walks into the sea . . . and never comes back. Her daughters - loyal but fragile Lily, and headstrong, long-absent Marietta - are forcibly reunited by her disappearance. Meanwhile, with retirement looming, DI Fox investigates cold cases long since forgotten. And there's one obsession he won't let go: a tragic death twenty years before. Can Lily and Marietta uncover what happened to their mother? Will Fox solve a mystery that has haunted him for decades? As their stories unexpectedly collide, long-buried secrets will change their lives in unimaginable ways.