Thursday 31 August 2023

Capital Crime Fingerprint Award Winners Announced


The Capital Crime Fingerprint Awards were announced on Thursday night 31st August 2923) at Capital Crime 2023 opening night in London.

Crime Novel of the Year 

Bleeding Heart Yard byElly Griffiths

Thriller Book of the Year

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Historical Crime Book of the Year

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle

Genre-Busting Book of the Year

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

Debut Book of the Year

The Maid by Nita Prose 

Audiobook of the Year

One Last Secret by Adele Parks, narrated by Kristin Atherton 

The Thalia Proctor Lifetime Achievement Award for her invaluable contribution to fiction publishing

Jane Wood

Publishing Campaign of the Year 2023

Viking BooksUK for The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman.

Congratulations to all the winners and nominated authors.

J L Blackhurst on Locked Room Mysteries

There’s been a murder. But before you can figure out whodunnit, the more pressing question is… how?

The door to the murder scene is locked from the inside. The victim is in the middle of a snowy field with only one set of footprints. A body is discovered burning inside a bonfire effigy that everyone watched being assembled. Congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon an impossible crime. 

Much to the chagrin of true fans, the definition of ‘locked room mystery’ has been used recently to describe a murder with a finite set of suspects. Any murder on an island or in a country manor cut off by a storm, a hotel on the top of a hill and even one set in space, have all been tossed under the locked room umbrella. While these settings offer us a perfect opportunity for a fun and intriguing ‘closed circle mystery’, if you are going to call yourself a true locked room writer, you need just one thing. And no, it’s not necessarily a locked room. You need an impossible crime. Okay, actually, you need two things - an impossible crime and a satisfying solution. We don’t want secret passageways unless they were guarded at both ends, thank you. 

The locked room mystery goes back to the middle of the nineteenth century, a fact that weighs heavy when you sit down to write your first one. When you set out to write a locked room mystery, if you are like me you will probably sit at your desk and imagine the critical eyes of the forerunners of the genre watching your every attempt to perfect the impossibility of the murder. You picture writers like John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson and Ed Hoch shaking their heads and tutting at solutions that have been used before, or scoffing that you’ve made it far too obvious. And did you know you left a window ajar on page four? Let me tell you, as a voracious reader of the genre, they have all been done before. The good, the bad, and the downright silly (I’m looking at you, Mr Poe). The key to this particular mystery is to use what these masters of the art form gave you, and to spin the tale in a way it’s never been told before. And as for the window being left open – that’s what editors are for.

The first locked room murder in my book (because I chose to have not one, but three) sees a man with his throat slashed pushed from the balcony of an empty room, boarded from the inside. While the solution maybe somewhat Carr-esque, the detective sent to solve the case is the daughter of Brighton’s most elusive con artist, and the dead man is someone from her less than innocent past. She needs the skills of her estranged half-sister to figure out how this murder was committed before she becomes the main suspect. And there’s not a snake or orangutang in sight. Yes, even impossible crime fans have in-jokes. I found this out when I was the only one in my family who understood half of the references in our Sunday night Jonathan Creek episodes. 

Whether you want to write impossible crime, or just settle down and read them, there are some modern day writers who are on a mission to revive what was once an immensely popular genre. Some are reviving the golden age, such as Tom Mead with his recent book Death and the Conjurer, and some such as myself with Three Card Murder, Gigi Pandian with her Jaya Jones treasure hunter series and James Scott Byrnside with The Opening Night Murders are bringing locked rooms and disappearing killers into the modern age as we try to get away with murder. 

Three Card Murder by J L Blackhurst (HQ) Out Now.

One sister is a cop. The other a con artist. Both are suspects. DI Tess Fox's first murder scene has two big problems. One, the victim was thrown from the balcony of a flat locked from the inside. Two, Tess knows him. But the biggest problem of all is Tess's half-sister, Sarah. She has links to the deceased and has the skills and criminal background to mastermind a locked-room murder. But she's a con-artist, not a killer. When two more bodies turn up, Tess now has three locked room mysteries to solve and even more reason to be suspicious of Sarah. Can she trust someone who breaks the law for a living, even if she is family?

You can find her on X @JennyBlackhurst and on Instagram @jennyblackhurstauthor.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Geraldine Steel and Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences affect us in so many ways. Sometimes we realise with hindsight how significant they have been in our lives. Steve Jobs famously said, “You cant connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He goes on to explain that had he not attended a calligraphy class, more or less on a whim, personal computers might never have developed the range of fonts they offer today. Such fortuitous events are not unusual. If Conan Doyle had never met Joseph Bell, a surgeon renowned for his brilliant observational skills, it’s possible Conan Doyle might never have been inspired to create the character of Sherlock Holmes. 

Many years ago, my mother taught me to touch type. With my hands covered by a cardboard box, I learned to type without being able to see the keyboard. Little did I know that decades later I would make such good use of that skill. My writing career has often been called prolific, and the ability to type 70 words a minute has played a significant role in my output, with words sometimes appearing on the screen faster than I can call them to mind. In fact, I often don’t know what I’m thinking until the words appear before me on the screen. It’s a strange and mysterious process, and a great boon to a writer. 

Setting so many of my books in York is the result of another unintended consequence. A few years ago, my husband was invited to attend an event in York, as an alumni of the university. Had he not studied at York University before we met, I might never have visited the city. He was keen to return and show me the haunts of his youth, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with York. The stunning juxtaposition of medieval and modern architecture, the atmospheric cobbled streets and narrow snickelways, and the rich history that is evident wherever you look, is inspiring for a writer. It’s impossible to walk very far without finding a historic site nestled among the modern buildings in this vibrant city. 

Before lockdown we used to spend several weeks in York every year, researching locations where my characters could live, and hunting for those all important sites where dead bodies might be discovered. We walked by the river and along streets evocatively named The Shambles, Micklegate, Stonegate, visited tourist spots like Clifford’s Tower, the Dungeons, Yorvik Museum, Museum Gardens, the university, the Chocolate Museum, the railway museum, and were fortunate enough to be offered a private tour of York Racecourse when I set a murder there. There always seems to be something happening in York, from morality plays to battle re-enactments, Christmas Fairs to Viking processions, and the literature festival. 

Without Trace is the twentieth of my books set in York. The story begins when a missing woman is discovered, unconscious, and mysteriously encased in earth. The woman is taken straight to hospital, where she dies before the police can question her. Her boyfriend is the obvious suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. Although he is questioned several times, the detectives are unable to find any evidence to convict himMeanwhile, several other young women have been reported missing, all of them neighbours of the dead girl. As Geraldine and her team are trying to find out what happened, another young woman is reported missing…

Everything I have experienced in York has contributed to the development and success of my series. But what has always struck me as even more important than the city’s amazing architecture and lively events, is the friendliness of the people who live there. Whenever we visit York, we meet readers. They are always pleased that the books are set in York because, like me, as well as being interested in Geraldine Steel, they are also fans of York. 

In many ways, Geraldine has enjoyed a varied career so far. She began working in Kent, from where she moved to London, before ending up in York. As for the future, I cannot imagine she will ever move from York. How else would I have an excuse to keep returning to this wonderful and inspiring city?

Without Trace by Leigh Russell (No Exit Press) Out 31 August 2023. (£9.99)

She opened her mouth to scream, but he slapped something across her lips. The gag tasted of salt and mould, rough sacking on her tongue. With a terrifying certainty, she knew she was going to die. DI Geraldine Steel knows people go missing all the time; sometimes because they don't want to be found. So when her partner Ian asks her to look into the disappearance of his football-buddy's girlfriend, her first instinct is to reassure him there's no need for concern. Until she's called to a suspected murder, and all her instincts tell her she's right about the identity of the victim. The young woman has earth and leaf mould and fragments of twigs in her long fair hair, her nose, her mouth, under her finger nails, clinging to her clothes. It's as if she'd been completely encased in earth. And yet she was found on the pavement, at the side of a suburban road, where she wasn't in contact with any soil or mud. Had she managed to escape a living grave? Without a crime scene, the investigation focuses on her boyfriend. But Ian insists his friend is incapable of murder, and Steel is torn. Without evidence, she knows their case is weak. But without evidence, can she let a possible killer go free? She needs to find out what really happened. Where did the assault occur? Why are there traces of DNA from two other unidentified sources on the body? What reason could there be to attack a popular young woman who never did anyone any harm? And why bury her body so carelessly that she was able to escape? Then another young woman is reported missing. Unless he has an accomplice, they have an innocent man in custody. And Steel is running out of time . . .

More information about Leigh Russell and her work can be found on her website where you can sign up to her newsletter. You can also follow her on X @LeighRussell, on Instagram @leighrussell2020 and on Facebook.

Friday 25 August 2023

September Books from Bookouture

The Shadow Girl is by Shannon Hollinger. Ever since I tried to escape, he’s been keeping me in the dark. My bones ache with the cold. The longer I sit, trapped alone with just my thoughts, the more I worry… What if this is it? What if I never get to leave? The sun is rising on another cold winter’s day in Coyote Cove when Chief Maggie Riley finds an unmarked envelope on the steps of the police station. Inside is a photo of a teenage girl, bound and bruised. Maggie’s heart constricts at the terror in her tear-filled eyes. Who is she? What has happened to her? Who would have left this photo, but done nothing else to help? Maggie moved to Coyote Cove for a quieter life after her beloved young brother went missing five years ago. And this case feels as personal as anything she’s worked on since then. With no one reporting the girl missing, seemingly unloved and forgotten, Maggie vows to rescue her, and bring whoever hurt her to justice. As Maggie mines the photograph for clues to hunt down the girl and her captor, her search takes her deep into the seedy, dangerous underbelly of the secretive logging camps. Hidden away in the woods, a law unto themselves, Maggie is in uncharted—and deadly—territory. Then she finds the body of a girl who was said to have run away years ago, one with ties of her own to the loggers. And Maggie knows she’s on the right track. But as her search for the truth intensifies, Maggie’s own safety is threatened. Can she save an innocent girl’s life and get out alive herself, or could this be the one investigation she won’t survive…?

The Shadow Girls is by Dawn Merriman. I open my eyes. The room is dark and I can see no windows, only stairs leading up to a metal trapdoor. From the shadows, a figure emerges. A little girl with long, pale hair. She smiles at me. “Are you my new mommy?” she says. A young woman is missing. And Rylan Flynn was the last person to see her alive. Nobody has heard from Bess Freeman since Rylan saw her leaving a bar and walking into the night with a stranger. Normally quiet and shy, Bess would never skip out on her family and friends like this. The small town of Ashby is in shock. While the police struggle to find leads, it’s immediately clear to Rylan that this is no ordinary abduction. Her ability to see ghosts reveals sinister clues on all sides. In the basement of an abandoned church, Rylan finds the spirit of another young woman who may be a victim. And when the police uncover human remains beneath a barn, a male figure watches them closely, then disappears. Ashby’s handsome head detective, Ford Pierce, is as reluctant as ever to involve Rylan in the case. But when another woman’s body is discovered hidden in a derelict family home, it’s clear that Bess is in mortal danger. And her time is running out. For years, a killer has been lurking in Ashby, driven by a darkness that is more than human. Desperate to find Bess before another innocent life is lost, Rylan must work with Ford to unravel a dangerous web of lies. But is she drawing closer to the truth or walking into the killer’s trap?

The Wife in the Photo is by Emily Shiner. I pick up the photograph from their mantlepiece and carefully wipe away the dust. The beautiful wife. Supposedly happily married and enjoying a family vacation. I know her husband killed her. And I’m going to make him pay… This is my first job as a housekeeper, but Evan Warner doesn’t need to know that. It’s the first of many lies I’ll tell him. He just lost his wife, Lola, and now he and his young daughter Jessica are adrift. But no amount of cleaning will rid this house of the secrets that have seeped into the cracks. I never forgave Lola for what she did to me. But I can’t let Evan get away with her murder. In their impressive home, I busy myself preparing meals and peeking at carelessly discarded mail, looking for proof of his crimes. Evan hovers and I’m sure he is watching me… even as I bond with Jessica. But whenever he catches us alone together, his face darkens. I realize I have to get her out of this house before it’s too late for her, too. Then I find Lola’s diary, tucked away in a closet out of sight. Her words, hastily scrawled on these pages, change everything I thought I knew about this family. As I hear footsteps on the stairs, I know I’m trapped. And I’m in more danger now than ever before… 

The Hotel is by Emily Shiner. As we welcome the Rowe family to our beautiful clifftop hotel, a shadow passes over my husband’s face. In that moment I see it: my husband is hiding a terrible secret. Has he put us all in danger? Mark and I pride ourselves on giving visitors to our hotel, high on the rugged Maine cliffs with views of the ocean, a vacation they won’t forget. But the Rowes arestrangely over-familiar when they arrive with their teenage daughter. The wife puts a hand on Mark’s forearm and her husband meets my eyes with a knowing look as I hold my little son tight. They gush that they loved their previous stay here… But I’m certain I’ve never seen them before. Mark reassures me that the Rowes are just being friendly. We have so many visitors, maybe we forgot meeting them. When I am locked in the master bedroom for over an hour, he later soothes my panic and says it was just an accident. But I know one of the Rowes was out in the hallway listening to me cry for help. I hear one of them whispering a lullaby to my baby on his monitor. I cannot trust these people. But as the relentless icy rain gives way to the biggest blizzard of the season and we become cut off, I realize my son and I are trapped. Mark knows more about the Rowes than he’s letting on. I’ll do anything to protect my gorgeous baby boy. But how far will I have to go, to keep him safe?

My Child is Missing is by Lisa Regan. The little girl’s bright blue eyes are wide with fear, her hair tousled, her tears making tracks in the dirt smudged across her cheek. Curled tight in a tiny ball, it’s as if she wants to hide away forever. “He took her!” she cries. “He took my sister!” When a desperate mother calls Denton police department to report her children missing, Detective Josie Quinn races to investigate. Sixteen-year-old Kayleigh and her little sister Savannah went for a walk in the woods but never came home. They are good girls and know not to go far, say their frantic parents. Kayleigh always looks after Savannah and brings her home safely. Until now… Even as she vows to bring the sisters home safely, Josie’s blood runs cold: because they are not the only missing children. Rumors are spreading about the legend of “The Woodsman”: when pairs of children go into the woods, The Woodsman takes one of them and only one comes out alive. With local teenagers daring each other to walk into the woods at night in pairs, Josie knows that nobody is safe from the hysteria sweeping Denton. Little Savannah Patchett is soon mercifully found alive, alone and terrified, but she tells Josie “The Woodsman has taken my sister”. All Josie’s leads seem to reach dead ends: her team traces Kayleigh’s scent to a dank, dark cabin in the woods, but the owner has an alibi and there is no evidence that Kayleigh has been inside. When Josie persuades Kayleigh’s classmates to talk, she learns that Kayleigh herself had a secret boyfriend whose identity is a mystery. Josie is desperate to track him down and to work out if he could hold the key to solving the case. Then Josie’s worst fears come true: another pair goes missing and one of them is found dead soon after. Another teenage girl, lying straight and still, a halo of blood surrounding her beautiful blonde hair. Josie knows that the legend of The Woodsman is nothing more than a story, but the truth is far more horrifying… With Kayleigh still out there somewhere and the TV news filled with stories of a serial killer at large, how far will Josie have to go to find the killer before more innocent lives are lost?

A forged reference and a fake social media page is all it takes to convince the Mayers I’m the perfect person to look after their son Wyatt. Some people would be scared to move to a remote mountain village with a family they’ve never met, but it’s exactly where I need to be. Because Wyatt is my child… My sweet little boy was taken from me. There are dark secrets in my past that will stop me from ever getting Wyatt back, but now I’m his nanny, I’ll finally get to raise him like he’s my own. When I arrive at the Mayers’ house, I’m stunned by the striking glass family home and Robin and Paul’s lavish lifestyle, which I couldn’t afford in my wildest dreams. But Wyatt seems troubled. Robin claims he needs therapy, she says he barely speaks to her, and soon I realise that he’s rarely allowed to leave the house… When Wyatt gives me a shy smile and begins to open up, it’s clear he needed me just as much as I needed him. We’re making up for the time we lost with long afternoons playing games and baking apple pie. Everything finally seems perfect in my life. Until I find out what happened to his last nanny… The New Nanny is by L.G.Davis

The Nanny's Child is by L G Davis. I’ve always had the urge to look after other people’s children. To pour care and love into their lives, because I know what happens when you don’t. There are terrible people out there, who have been neglected and hurt and want to see the world burn. You don’t want people like that in your home… I look up at the beautiful woman with perfectly painted red lipstick standing on the front steps of her grand Victorian house. Harper already trusts me to take care of her two little girls: believes the lies I’ve told her about where I come from and how many other mothers have welcomed me into their homes. Then I see the familiar form of her husband. My ex. The man who knows where my own missing baby boy is. I know Troy will never admit to knowing who I really am. Not after what he did to me. But I still expect to see shock and recognition in his cool blue eyes when he meets me: the woman his wife has employed to care for their children. But he simply smiles. He welcomes me into his home. I’m determined to get the truth out of Troy. But soon I realize I made a terrible mistake in coming here. Someone has been in my room. And the gun I hid under my mattress is missing. Troy thinks he can scare me away. But if he won’t tell me where my son is, he has no idea how far I’ll go to get revenge…

Shadow Angel is by D.K.Hood. In a dark cabin, a young woman sits totally still. Long dark hair hangs over her shoulders and heavy makeup adorns her pale face. Cherry red lips offer a hint of a smile, but she won’t ever smile again. Her body is already cold to the touch… When black crows are spotted circling over an abandoned cabin in the woods near Rattlesnake Creek, FBI agent Beth Katz and her maverick partner Dax Styles fear something is very wrong. Beth has been hunting serial killers for years, and as she races to the forest she vows to serve her own form of justice, whatever the cost…Cassie Durham’s friends reported her missing when she didn’t return home from a local bar a few days ago. Now, Cassie sits in darkness, her last breath taken days before. Beth notices the rouged cheeks and bright blue eyeshadow are nothing like the pictures she’s seen of Cassie alive. Did someone add the heavy makeup and pose her like this after death? When another woman vanishes from a night out, Beth is convinced a twisted killer is in town. A clue on the dark web leads her to a local late-night hangout. Going undercover, she learns that when both girls vanished they were being watched by someone at the back of the crowded room. Noticing a man following her every move, Beth knows she has one chance to capture him. With a knife in her pocket and hellbent on saving another innocent life, Beth is already sure she’s going to be the killer tonight. Otherwise she will become his next victim…

Dark Angel is by D.K. Hood. In the dark pine forest surrounding the quiet town of Rattlesnake Creek, the body of a young girl lies on the ground. Her angelic blonde hair spills over her shoulders and her unblinking eyes stare up toward the sky…  It was Beth Katz’s serial killer father who made her like she is: a successful FBI agent and an unstoppable vigilante dedicated to hunting down murderers who have evaded capture. Beth will push herself to the limits to deliver justice. Even if it means killing those who deserve to die. When the body of missing schoolgirl Brooklyn Daniels is discovered in a secluded patch of woodland on the outskirts of town, Beth and her partner Dax Styles race to the scene. Brooklyn and her best friend left home to pick wildflowers a week ago and vanished without trace. Taking in Brooklyn’s body carefully laid on a blanket and the dress neatly folded next to her, Beth suddenly freezes. She’s seen this before: in the files of a cold case. The perpetrator takes two girls—one vanishes, the other is killed and left with her clothes beside her. Now Beth knows she has a twisted serial killer on her hands, she’ll stop at nothing to catch him. Even if it means going against Dax’s orders… Desperate to find the other missing girl, Beth’s heart pounds as she puts herself up as bait and walks into the secluded forest, knowing evil is lurking nearby. With Dax watching her every move, Beth prays the gamble pays off. Can she outsmart the murderer, or did she just walk into a trap? And when Beth finally comes face to face with the killer, will she hand him over or serve justice of her very own?

The Wedding Guest is by Kathryn Croft. I’m lying to the man I’m about to marry. I’m not the woman he thinks I am. But my secret’s safe. Isn’t it? I feel like the perfect bride as I drift across the beach towards my handsome new husband, the sand warm between my toes, my ivory slip wedding dress showing off my suntan. Today is the beginning of my new life. My dark past can no longer touch me. When I reach my husband, we kiss against the perfect backdrop of the shimmering turquoise sea. The congregation clap and I turn to smile at them. Then my smile freezes. I see him. Sitting there amongst my loved ones. An uninvited guest who knows the truth about me and the terrible thing that happened ten years ago. The man who won’t ever let me be happy. And as he steps forward, asking for everyone’s attention, my legs buckle. I know he wants to destroy my perfect new life. But how can I stop someone who will never let me go? And how far will I go to keep my secrets?

From the moment I was born, I knew that I would always come second to my sister. Bright, popular, beautiful – she has always been everything that I’m not. But when she vanishes without a trace I know deep down I’m the only person who can find her. I haven’t spoken to my sister Evianna in years, not since a shocking accident tore our lives apart and sent us to opposite sides of the country. For years I have worked as a social worker and Evianna is wealthy and successful. Our lives couldn’t be more different. But then I get the call. Evianna is missing and her husband Simon needs my help. Arriving at their palatial home, I expect to find Simon wracked with worry for her safety but if anything he seems more worried about what everyone will think.Scratching beneath the surface of their picture-perfect life, I discover that they were not the golden couple everyone thought. They had secrets they were desperate to hide. But then again as young sisters, so did we. As Simon’s behaviour becomes more threatening towards me, a feeling of deep dread starts to swell. I think he knows our secret. But how far will he go to make me pay for what happened and can I find my sister before it’s too late? Have you Seen Her is by Dea Poirier.

Her Hidden Shadow is by Carla Kovach. Her perfect night out just became her worst nightmare… Lauren returns home from celebrating her engagement with friends and stumbles as she gets out of the taxi. So what if her best friend Sienna didn’t show up? Lauren had a good night anyway. As she walks towards the small house she shares with her fiancé, Robbie, she’s surprised to see every window in total darkness. And when she calls his name, the house remains silent. Where is Robbie? Kicking off her red heels, Lauren heads towards her bedroom, feeling more nervous with every step. And when she opens the door, she immediately knows something is very wrong. The sickly metallic smell sobers her up instantly. And there is someone in her bed… Moving closer, her heart races in her chest. Instead of her fiancé, in the bed lies the lifeless body of a young woman, and although long dark hair covers her face, Lauren can already see who it is… her best friend, Sienna. As Lauren’s scream breaks the silence, someone stands outside the bedroom, tracking her every move. Did Lauren’s perfect little home just become the most dangerous place she could be?

The Family Guest is by Nelle Lamarr. Long blonde hair. Sparkling dark eyes. Perfect pearly-white teeth. I’ve never met her before but I know exactly who she is as I spot her through the crowds of the terminal. Because our new guest is the spitting image of the daughter we lost. And that’s exactly why I chose her. From the moment our exchange student Tanya comes into our home, I feel like my daughter has come back to life. Tanya, with her long blonde hair and slender frame, looks so much like Anabel that sometimes I can almost pretend she didn’t die in that tragic accident. Tanya really is the perfect guest – kind, polite, and always happy to help me in the kitchen. At last, a member of the family who compliments my beautiful house and enjoys my homemade dinners. And when she asks questions about my life, I feel I’ve finally found someone I can confide in. My younger teenage daughter, Paige, isn’t so happy about our guest. She thinks it’s weird that Tanya looks like Anabel, and she hates it when she wears her sister’s old clothes. But then again Paige and Anabel always had a strained relationship… And I’m certain that having another teenage girl in the house will help heal our family. But now Paige is insisting I check Tanya’s records. She’s become convinced Tanya isn’t who she says she is. But I learnt a long time ago that sometimes it’s best not ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. And I definitely don’t want Paige pulling this thread… because I’m growing suspicious that our new guest Tanya might have a secret. But I’m certain it is nothing in comparison to mine…

Murder in the Blitz is by F L Everett. England, December 1940: All Edie York has ever wanted is to be a real reporter, investigating daring hot-off-the-press pieces in her smartest pencil skirt. Instead, she’s stuck answering the telephones on her local newspaper, battling her worn-out typewriter and its missing ‘v’, and coughing through the Chief Editor’s pipe smoke as he dictates the wartime headlines. So when Edie stumbles upon the seemingly accidental death of a Home Guard soldier, she’s determined to investigate fully. Maybe, if she can find out what happened and make a story out of it, she might be given just a few column inches of her own. What Edie doesn’t expect, though, is for her first (self-appointed) assignment to turn her from secretary to sleuth in less time than it takes to type ‘murder’. With the local police, under the utterly irritating (but outrageously handsome) DCI Louis Brennan, stretched to the limit as bombs rain down, Edie alone has the time, and determination, to investigate. Despite Louis’ best efforts to keep her off the scent and her nose out of his police business, Edie discovers something that neither of them can afford to write off. Another body, whose identity will be on every front page in two seconds flat. Desperate to prevent a further murder, Edie strides out into the blackout to find answers, an exasperated Louis hot on her tail as she plunges headlong into the mystery. Will Edie unveil the murderer and make headline news, her name in print at last – or will she be next…?

The Island is by G N Smith. Her hands bang desperately on the window of Fiona’s car door as the wind flaps her pink hair sideways. Through the glass the distraught mother shrieks, ‘Please, you have to find her! You have to find my little girl.’ When eight-year-old Cait Yorke goes missing on a remote island off the coast of the wild Scottish Highlands, police officer Fiona MacLeish is quickly sent to investigate. But a gale is gathering force, and Fiona becomes increasingly concerned for a little girl braving the strong winds alone. As Fiona questions the locals, she soon realises that they are hiding many secrets. What is this island, and who really lives here? Then a boat violently crashes off the coast of the island. On board, Fiona discovers the body of a man who has clearly been murdered. But the killer is nowhere to be found. The only place they can be is on the island with no way out. Realising a killer is trapped on their island, tensions amongst the locals and Fiona begin to rise. As the gale rages on and the body count continues to rise, will Fiona find the young girl and the killer before they strike again?

The Flood is by G N Smith. Entering the kitchen, Fiona let out a gasp. The body lay askew on the floor and a trickle of blood ran from the man’s nose and across his cheek. Fiona felt deep fear as she looked down at the man she never thought would meet this kind of end… Still haunted by the historic murder of her parents, police officer Fiona MacLeish has been told by Police Scotland that she must take a break from the demands of a busy force. So she’s returned to her remote childhood home in the Borders, where she grew up with her aunt. A place where nobody even knows she’s in the police force. But when a terrifying storm cuts the small farming community off, and the bloodied body of one of her aunt’s neighbours is found, she realises the very place she has gone to find peace may be far more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. And, as the rain hammers down and the flood waters rise, the killer who is moving amongst them is getting braver… If the killer finds out Fiona is really a police officer, she may be next. Has Fiona got what it takes to discover which of the trusted people in the tiny rural community is a murderer before they strike again?

The Playground is by S D Robertson. He saved my little girl when I couldn’t. I invited him into our lives. But I had no idea he knew my darkest secret…  It is an ordinary September morning when I nearly lose my little girl. My mouth is dry, my hands shake when I see that she has darted unexpectedly into the playground… The place where my own childhood ended. Where I can’t set foot inside. As she wobbles on top of the climbing frame about to fall, a silent scream freezes in my throat. So when a stranger hears her cries and rushes to help, I feel weak with relief. I thank him as my daughter presses her tear-stained face into my skirt. Looking into his warm brown eyes and gentle smile, I feel an instant connection. When our paths cross again, I invite him for dinner. I’ve been so lonely since the breakdown of my marriage. What harm could come of it. Soon we are seeing each other daily and I feel a spark grow between us. But then he says something that makes my heart beat fast in my chest. Something that makes me think he knows my secret. That he knows what really happened at the playground all those years ago. And if he knows that, he could destroy my precious family in a second…

Murder by Invitation is by Verity Bright. Lady Swift has been cordially invited to a huge royal celebration in Little Buckford to toast the King’s birthday… but wait, is that a body in the village hall? Lady Eleanor Swift and her loyal butler Clifford are busy lending a hand with preparations for the big day. The grand dining room at Henley Hall is overflowing with home-sewn flags, paint and royal rosettes. Even Gladstone the bulldog and his new friend Tomkins the ginger cat are invited! But just days before the event Mr Prestwick-Peterson, the chairman of the celebrations committee, is found dead in the village hall: strangled with handmade red, white and royal blue bunting. With the village hall in total disarray and a key part of the decorations missing, Eleanor wonders if someone dastardly is sabotaging the King’s birthday celebrations?Teaming up with her handsome beau Detective Hugh Seldon to question the local butcher, baker, and pub landlord it becomes clear that the meddlesome busybody Mr Prestwick-Peterson was not universally liked in charming Little Buckford. Indeed, the only mystery is why he wasn’t murdered before… Searching Mr Prestwick-Peterson’s pristinely organised rooms, Eleanor is surprised to find a faded photograph of a beautiful young woman hidden within the pages of a novel. Could this be the key to untangling this very village murder? And can Eleanor catch the killer before the party is over for her, too?

The Perfect Patient is by Luana Lewis. As I walk into my therapist’s office, I’m finally ready to answer the question on everyone’s lips… Am I a murderer? It’s been six months since I woke up next to the body of the man I’d chatted to in a bar the night before. I still remember the metallic scent of his blood, the stillness of the room, and the panic that rose in my throat when I realised he was dead. I remember him buying cocktails. We talked. We went up to my room. And then… nothing. But I know I didn’t kill him.  Now, as my whole world is picked apart by the police, the only hope I have of clearing my name is with my therapist, Dr Tara Black. As soon as we meet, I feel at peace. Her kind, dark eyes make me want to talk for hours, and she tells me she can help me access my memories of that night. But it soon becomes clear there is more to my past than even I remember… Why does a flicker of recognition cross her face as I talk about the crime scene? And why do my parents look scared when I tell them I discussed my childhood with Dr Black? Did I put my trust in the wrong person? And how far will I have to go, to prove I’m innocent?

The girl’s body is lying still and the crown of rare darling roses is perfectly positioned in her beautiful auburn hair. Morgan thinks she looks picture-perfect. Until she notices the blood dripping down one side of the boulder beneath her… Following her colleague Ben up to Castlerigg Stone Circle, Detective Morgan Brookes is shocked at what she finds. A young woman has been killed, left on display at the top of the hill with a crown of roses on her head. As the team race to get the popular tourist spot cordoned off, Morgan hears the heartbroken sobs of the woman who found the body, as she identifies the victim as her best friend Cora Dalton. Morgan can already see that Cora didn’t struggle when her throat was cut. There’s no blood on the beautiful white gown she was wearing, which means that Cora knew her killer. But everyone, including her boyfriend Jay, has an alibi. As a local shopkeeper, Cora was a huge part of the community, and her neighbours are devastated to lose such a sweet soul. Then Morgan’s team discover that a local photographer had arranged to meet Cora, and it’s clear from his messages that he chose her elegant white dress. Could their photoshoot have taken a sinister turn? But when another body is found at another stone circle, wearing an identical flower crown, while the photographer is in custody, Morgan loses the only lead she has. Tracking down the florist who made the crown, Morgan pores over their records and realises the killer purchased three circles of roses… Certain another innocent life is at risk and with the killer already steps ahead, can Morgan find the connection between these girls before another life is stolen? Stolen Darlings is by Helen Phifer

Thursday 24 August 2023

Graham Smith on Location Telling Me the Story

Authors tell stories, we all know that, but one of the most asked questions of authors is “where do you get your ideas?” The answer varies from author to author and from book to book. I’ve personally had ideas inspired by a three second clip on the TV, a news story, a location I’ve visited and been inspired by.

What I’d like to explain now is how a specific location inspired me to write The Flood. Several years ago when my son was between five and nine, I’d often take him up the river where he could have a paddle, skim stones and generally have fun. At the side of the river was a small wood we’d walk through and I’d take a few slices of bread and before we left I’d build a fire by the river and toast the bread. All very idyllic and possibly a wee bit Enid Blyton so far, but the area we visited the river was in a narrow valley and there was a road on a banking that crossed the valley, and the river via a small bridge. This of course got my crime-writer’s mind working. 

What if there was a blockage at the bridge? What if the wire rope supporting a wooden fence to keep the cattle from passing under the bridge snagged of trees in a flood. Would the river be dammed? How far back up the valley would the flood waters go before they overtopped the road or burst their way through the dam and raged downstream? I knew there were no homes or farms either up or downstream from the bridge that would be affected by either rising floodwaters or a tsunami should the dam break, but I still wondered if the animals in the fields would be able to keep themselves safe.

As much as I asked myself these questions, I knew they were all hypothetical to me, and that as much as I might want to use the location as a setting for a story, I had no story to tell in that location.

It wasn’t until some years later when I saw a news report of wide scale flooding in England that I got the story. Instead of a valley, the flooded area was a wide plain, but I could see the roofs of houses poking from the murky brown floodwater. All except one, a two story house sat on a raised piece of ground evading the flooding that had engulfed the rest of its community. I pictured the scene in my mind, as the waters rose, those whose homes were affected would have sought a safe haven, namely high ground. But, when I applied my crime-writerly brain to the situation, I couldn’t help but ask myself, what if everyone who ended up in that house hated each other? What if one of them used the cloak of the flooding to kill a despised person?

I now had my story, a proper locked room or environment mystery, and I could set it in the valley I used to visit with my son. As a place it held many special memories for me and I didn’t want anything to tarnish how I think about those memories, but it was perfect for what I wanted to do. From there I found it easy to amalgamate the real physical properties my story needed from a location I was familiar with, then add the fictional farm and cottages I needed to house the characters I’d use to populate the novel.

I now had “my” valley mapped out in my mind, but I still needed a home for that valley. A place where the valleys are wide enough to be worth farming, yet not so wide as to be able to hold massive amounts of water without endangering life. It was then I settled on the Scottish Borders as a home for my valley.

The Borders are close to my home and I know valleys there play home to farms which produce milk from the lower lands and sheep and wool from the hills. 

From there it was easy to depict the valley as being remote enough the characters couldn’t hike for help, and now I had them marooned, I could let the killer among them loose.

The Flood by G N Smith (Bookouture) Out Now

There was a shape in the raging water. Fiona waded forward until she was knee-deep, holding her breath, steadying herself. Hoping. But the closer she got, the more Fiona was sure. She was looking at another victim. The murderer was here, with them. Police officer Fiona MacLeish has been ordered to step back from her role in Police Scotland. Haunted by the murder of her parents, she’s dangerously close to breaking point: and is back in her remote childhood home nestled in a valley on the Scottish border. But there’s a terrifying storm coming. When Fiona finds the bloodied body of a neighbour in their flooded house, a chill runs through her veins. The bruising around his throat tells Fiona someone wanted this elderly man dead. And with the torrential rain cutting the farming village off completely, the murderer must still be nearby. But flood waters continue to rise, and landslides force Fiona to take shelter with a crowd of locals at the highest-standing farm. Then, another victim is found, with more suspicious wounds. Trapped at the farm with a killer, with no hope of outside help, can Fiona catch them before more of the isolated community become victims?

The Island by G N Smith (Bookouture) Out Now

Her hands bang desperately on the window of Fiona’s car door as the wind flaps her pink hair sideways. Through the glass the distraught mother shrieks, ‘Please, you have to find her! You have to find my little girl.When eight-year-old Cait Yorke goes missing on a remote island off the coast of the wild Scottish Highlands, police officer Fiona MacLeishis quickly sent to investigate. But a gale is gathering force, and Fiona becomes increasingly concerned for a little girl braving the strong winds alone. As Fiona questions the locals, she soon realises that they are hiding many secrets. What is this island, and who really lives here?Then a boat violently crashes off the coast of the island. On board, Fiona discovers the body of a man who has clearly been murdered. But the killer is nowhere to be found. The only place they can be is on the island with no way out.Realising a killer is trapped on their island, tensions amongst the locals and Fiona begin to rise. As the gale rages on and the body count continues to rise, will Fiona find the young girl and the killer before they strike again?

More information about Graham Smith and his books caan be found on his wensite. He can also be found on Facebook and on X at @GrahamSmith.

Friday 18 August 2023

In Defence of the Slow Burn Thriller by Lizzy Barber

Lately, I’ve noticed a growing trend in the world of thrillers: they are becoming more and more like action movies. Everywhere you look, their velocity is being exulted: ‘fast-paced,’ ‘breakneck speed,’ ‘action packed’, ‘twist after twist.’

And whilst there is nothing wrong with an action thriller (and whilst I love seeing Chris Hemsworth’s biceps as much as the next person) I would like to make the case (slowly, and patiently), for the ‘slow-burn.’

So, what is a ‘slow-burn’? In a way it’s a promise. It says to the reader, ‘something is going to happen, and you don’t know what that is yet, but if you stick around you’ll find out.’ Where a fast-paced thriller focuses on a series of high-octane events to twist and turn the reader’s expectations, a slow burn relies on gradually ramping up the tension and pace until it crescendos into its denouement. 

However, whether it’s due to social media having retrained our brains to ingest bite sized videos at breakneck speed, or the more general instant gratification of an internet connected world, modern society – and arguably the modern reader - has lost its patience. We don’t want to wait for the twist. We are time poor and content rich. We want information handed to us instantaneously. We want the facts, just the facts. We want that dopamine hit now, now, now. 

But hear me out! Guys . . . breathe.

Reading doesn’t always have to be about that. Reading is an escape. A place to retreat to. To forget about the outside world. And for me, that means atmosphere. It means being immersed. I want to step inside the world of the book and be able to touch it, smell it, taste it. I want to linger on Tom Ripley’s suitcases; the softness of the leather, and the way Tom lovingly packs Dickie’s clothes in them. I want to have time to fall in love with the twins in The Secret History along with Richard; become spellbound by them without shouting ‘cut to the chase, get to Bunny!’ I want to roam on the Heath with Cathy and see the wildness energise her. 

As an author, I enjoy taking readers along for this ride. I like to lace my scenes with hints that all is not well; hints that gradually mount up until the whisper becomes a scream. A mother who constantly keeps the curtains of the house drawn (My Name is Anna), a gorgeous Tuscan setting that is perhaps a little ‘too’ perfect (Out of her Depth), the innocent children who talk sweetly of the nanny before (Nanny Wanted). It’s not necessarily that I want to dupe you or lure you into a false sense of security; it’s more that I want to raise your hackles as the story progresses; make you second guess everything and wonder what lies ahead. 

And slowness doesn’t have to forsake plot – in fact, it should never forsake the plot. I’m not talking about lengthy descriptions deployed for the sake of an author’s ego. Pleasingly pretty turns of phrases. Darlings they can’t or don’t want to kill. A slow-burn thriller should always be ‘thrilling,’ not boring. But the beauty of a slow-burn thriller is that it uses this narrative richness precisely in order to create the thrill. It is a powerful tool to ramp up tension, so that even in the quieter, slow moving moments, the reader feels an impending sense of dread. Rebecca’s second Mrs de Winter is not finding bodies stuffed in closets, but it is Du Maurier’s skill as an author that compels us to continually feel that she might. Slow burn is tantalising: it’s the calm before the storm, that moment before the jump scare where you feel unnervingly ‘safe, too safe.’ 

So, the next time you’re browsing the shelves looking for that perfect read, I urge you to consider the slow-burn. When deployed right, the final reveal should crackle and pop as powerfully as an action thriller: the journey is different, but ultimately all thrillers want to give us that rush, the adrenaline pounding through our veins as we reach the final climax. Allow yourself to linger on the details. See what hints the author is dropping, and why. 

Take time to smell the roses . . . you may find they’re tinged with blood. 

Nanny Wanted by Lizzy Barber Pan Macmillan (Out Now)

A remote Cornish mansion. The perfect couple. And the deadly secrets that bind them. When Lily finally leaves her toxic relationship, a job as a nanny at Kewney Manor seems like the perfect solution. There, she can cut herself off from her old life, and never have to see him again. The Rowes seem like a model family, and Lily falls instantly in love with her new home. But she can’t help feeling that something isn’t quite right. Why will nobody tell her about the nanny who came before her? Where does Laurie go at night? And what does Charles really want? As Lily becomes increasingly entangled in the Rowes’s lives, she realizes that the perfect family may not be all that they seem. And as much as she fears the past she is running from, perhaps the present is where the real danger lies . . .

More information about Lizzy Barber can be found on her website. You can also follow her on X @ByLizzyBarber and on Instagram @bylizzybarber

Thursday 17 August 2023

Gavin Collinson on the Romanov Code

The producers of The Crown missed a trick. If they’d wanted a royal family with twisting storylines, a sense of the epic and genuinely world-changing pedigree, they should have focussed on the Romanovs. Even the secondary characters would have been more interesting. Paul Burrell vs Rasputin? Come on! It isn’t even a fair fight!

My new contemporary thriller, The Romanov Code, draws on the mysteries, allure and downright dazzling wonder of Russia’s last Imperial rulers. Okay, first up, let’s address the elephant in the library. Yes, I know title is far from original, but I wanted to convey the idea that this, like a certain other Code book, will present historically authentic questions and offer solutions that are both plausible and audacious. 

The book opens with my private detective, Marc Novak, being approached to find the lost treasure of the Romanovs. So far so good. True enough, the last Tsar and his family left an awful lot of riches behind. Even in their final residence, the jail that was ominously known as ‘the House of Special Purpose’, they managed to conceal more jewellery and gemstones than the V&A’s insurance quota could comfortably allow them to display in a single exhibition. In fact, so many diamonds were sewn into the lining of the Romanova’s clothing that when their execution began, the jewels offered an effective bullet-proofing from the incessant gunfire. 

This treasure, along with that taken from their previous residences, was catalogued and later auctioned, although several of the items in question went missing before the sale. Historians often focus on their disappearance and overlook the bigger picture: literally billions of dollars worth of gold, precious stones and royal regalia - including several of the fabled Fabergé Eggs - vanished during the period between Tsar Nicholas II’s ‘abdication’ in 1917 and the aftermath of the Romanov massacre in July, 1918.

So my detective, Marc Novak, asks two questions. First, and most obviously – what happened to all this loot? And secondly, how did the soldiers at the House of Special Purpose manage to overlook the enormous stash of precious objects the Romanovs kept in what were effectively their cells? Aside from the gems hidden in the women’s clothing - 18lb of diamonds alone were recovered – following their deaths, hundreds of other valuables were found in their rooms, ranging from gold chains and a platinum cigar case, to rubies, furs and dozens of items made of solid silver. 

We know the guards were vigilant to the point of torment, implementing spot checks and vigorous searches on the Romanovs on a daily basis. So, how did the soldiers somehow miss this vast hoard as their bayonets brushed aside the blankets and their fingers sifted through the suitcases? 

Well, there’s an obvious answer, of course, but it’s a fascinating thread that you can keep pulling and pulling until accepted so-called truths are slowly unravelled. And naturally, that’s exactly what Marc Novak does – not so much gently tugging these strands of inconsistency, but yanking them into the light like his life depends upon it. Which, funnily enough, it sort of does: he’s been given one week to find the Romanov riches or his friends and loved ones will be executed. As incentives go, it’s not as welcome as that offer of a 5% pay rise, but it’s a damn site more motivating.

And that’s just the start. Quite apart from the Romanovs’ missing riches, throughout history, a mind-boggling wealth of masterpieces and treasure has vanished. In the last fifty years alone thousands – let’s pause over that word – thousands of significant paintings have been stolen and never rediscovered. The ‘misplaced’ art ranges from the works of modern artists like Geddes, to Old Masters such as Rembrandt and the greats including Degas, Cezanne and Renoir. And we can add ‘ephemera’ to this mysterious roll-call… The Florentine Diamond, the Comtesse de Vendome’s necklace (valued at over $30 million), the Ivory Coast Crown Jewels, Tucker’s Cross (the most valuable object ever found in a shipwreck), the treasure stolen from the palace of Prince Faisal… All this and thousands of other irreplaceable items - poof! – gone! The police ostensibly as helpless and hapless as Inspector Clouseau seeking the Pink Panther in this continuing seepage.

Yes, make no mistake, it is a continuing seepage. Because when viewed not simply as individual thefts but an ongoing process of removal, it begins to look like a over-arching procedure. 

How would you explain it?

Why not join Novak’s investigation in The Romanov Code to see if his explanation bears any resemblance to yours!

The Romanov Code by Gavin Collinson is published by Welbeck, £8.99 paperback. Also available in ebook.

'Danger, intrigue and glamour. My job's got the lot. If it wasn't for the hitmen paid to kill me and this ticking bomb of a case I should have never accepted, who knows? I might even enjoy it . . .' Private detective Marc Novak is given one week to find the lost treasure of the Romanovs, or his friends and family will be killed. But he's got to stay one step ahead of assassins, the Russian secret service and a mysterious, beautiful former spy if he's to stand any chance of saving his own life, let alone those of his loved ones. Outnumbered, outgunned but never out-thought, Novak must use all his guile and audacity if he's to unravel the deadly riddle of the Romanov Code . . .

Please visit for more information on The Romanov Code.