Thursday 29 February 2024

Drama, Conflict, and Cruelty, The Real Appeal of Reality TV.

In the basement of the psychology department at Sheffield University, where I studied for my degree, there was a nursery school in which one whole wall was a two-sided mirror. Students such as myself would file in to a thin dark room on the other side of that wall and watch. It was a sneak peek into how kids behave when they think no-one can see them. And we saw some fascinating things – like the boy behind the bookcase who hit three or four children as they were sent to fetch a book, only to then join them crying at the teacher’s table. A sign of intellect or criminal prowess? Only time would tell.

This was way before I had ideas of being a crime thriller writer, I just wanted to study people and find out what makes them tick. And TV was about to help out with that, big style, because a few years later, in July 2000, Big Brother launched and a new era of Reality TV was born. Here was the chance for all of us to stand on the other side of that two way mirror and see how real people behave in the real world. 

But no one could have anticipated the fame and shame consequences that would befall Reality TVs participants. We came to love them or we loved to hate them. And there was no going back. Ever since, the nation has tuned in to watch everything from people competing for a job on The Apprentice, to looking for love on First Dates and Married at First Sight. We’ve rooted for our favourites on The Hunted, revelled in the drama of Made in Chelsea and relished secrets and lies in The Traitors. A recent survey of 2000 people in the UK by ONEPOLL found that nearly 40% of us watch some kind of reality TV every week, and this rises to 50% for under 35s and 48% for females.* 

Why do we love it so much? Some psychologists believe it is all to do with Social Comparison Theory. We enjoy watching confrontations, people making a fool of themselves, or doing anything to entertain us, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Others believe the shows we choose say something about our individual motivations: some of us are looking for companionship, some are looking for escapism and the competitive amongst us are enjoying taking sides. 

The truth is we love human drama in all its forms – from the books we read to the movies and TV shows we watch. But Reality TV provides something more on top. Dr Carol Lieberman, a psychiatrist who works on reality shows says, “We love reality TV because it allows us to live vicariously through the show participants without being publicly humiliated ourselves.” Many reality TV shows now employ psychologists to help them to pick the right ‘characters’ and much time is spent on designing the best scenarios to elicit an emotional reaction. So if the scenes are staged and the characters hand-picked, what is real? It turns out this question is what many people have come to most enjoy about such shows. We have to figure out what part of the show is Reality and what part is Television, so we become ever more engaged in the experience. We become part of the game.**

And so, it turns out the two-sided mirror is not enough. What we really want is to watch real people in extreme situations, and we don’t mind if this has to be stage managed. We might have been happy to watch the best of the best compete to be Sir Alan Sugar’s apprentice back in 2005, but by the time he was Lord Sugar it was more interesting to watch the egotistical being put in their place, or the whole team imploding in conflict. Perhaps this is why in 2019 the New York Times branded British Reality TV a ‘Theatre of Cruelty.’ ***

All this got me thinking, if Reality TV shows have to keep evolving to apply ever more pressure on participants so that they react in ways that keep us interested and entertained, how far would they go?

And if someone making such a show really hated the genre and the kinds of people who chose to participate - people they see as fame hungry, shallow, attention seekers – what then? What dire situation would they be willing to put people in to grab attention and make the public watch. This is the premise of The Escape Room. A reality TV show to end all Reality TV shows.

I decided that an escape room was the perfect vehicle to explore a reality TV show gone dark, because people readily volunteer to be locked inside such places to experience the thrill of being trapped. And so, my protagonist Bonnie and seven other contestants are taken to The Fortress, a three story cylindrical, concrete sea fort off the coast of Portsmouth. They arrive feeling confident that they can solve the puzzles and break free, but what they soon come to realise is that when you’re trapped inside a structure built to keep the enemy out, it can easily keep you in. 

And when one contestant’s failure on a challenge leads to his death everything changes. It’s not about fun anymore, it’s about survival. 

The death of a contestant seemed like a logical step in the dark evolution of such shows. We have all heard of the deaths sadly associated with reality TV, but thus far all have occurred outside of the show. In The Escape Room the contestants are unsure if the death is accidental or intentional. What they are sure of is that to escape they only have one option: to win. 

The Escape Room by L.D. Smithson is published by Bantam (£14.99).

Everything is a clue. Bonnie arrives on a remote sea fort off the coast of England to take part in a mysterious reality TV show. Competing against seven strangers, she must solve a series of puzzles to win the prize money, but this is no game - and the consequences of failure are deadly. No one leaves. Under scrutiny from the watching public, the contestants quickly turn on one another. Who will sacrifice the most for wealth and fame? And why can't Bonnie shake the creeping sense that they are not alone? The only way out is to win. When the first contestant is found dead, Bonnie begins to understand the dark truth at the heart of this twisted competition: there's a killer inside the fort, and anyone could be next. If Bonnie wants to escape, she needs to win... Are you ready to play?

L D Smithson can be found on “X” @LeonaDeakin1

* OnePoll (2016) The reality TV habit 

** Rose, R.L, & Wood, S. L. (2005) Paradox and the consumption of authenticity through reality television.

*** The New York Times (2019) British Reality Television Is A Theatre of Cruelty

Wednesday 28 February 2024

2025 Daggers Open for Submission 


You are invited to submit eligible titles to the new and expanded 2025 CWA Dagger awards, which are now open for entries. 

Daggers Submissions

The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Daggers are considered a marker of excellence in the industry and have been synonymous with quality crime writing for over half a century. The awards are judged by independent expert panels. 

The oldest membership organisation for crime writers in the UK, the CWA was founded in 1953. It began its awards in 1955, with Agatha Christie as the principal guest at its first awards ceremony in 1956. 

2025 includes two new Daggers, announced earlier this year - the CWA Twisted Dagger and the CWA Whodunnit Dagger. Eligibility criteria for both can be found below. 

The CWA has also refreshed the name of two of its categories: the John Creasey New Blood is now known as the John Creasey First Novel Dagger, and the Debut Dagger is now the Emerging Author Dagger. 

Vaseem Khan, Chair of the CWA, said: “It’s always exciting when the Daggers open for submission, knowing that the very best books in the genre will shortly be winging their way to our independent judging panels. This year is extra special. Expanding the Daggers was one of my pledges as chair. The new Daggers recognise two subgenres that have grown to dominate the publishing landscape in recent years and I, for one, am excited to see who the first recipients of these Daggers will be. And in terms of refreshing the titles of the John Creasey New Blood and Debut Daggers – that was simply rectifying a longstanding point of confusion. The John Creasey First Novel Dagger is for a full-length debut novel while the Emerging Author Dagger is for early chapters of a work by an unpublished, unagented author.” 

Crime fiction is now the most popular genre in publishing, with this trend showing no signs of abating. 

The CWA’s mission is to promote the genre and act as a voice for the interests of its author members. 

The Daggers are one of the most inclusive genre awards, with categories for crime fiction in translation, short stories, and new authors, alongside the Gold Dagger for the novel of the year and Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller. 

Eligible books for the CWA Twisted Dagger are psychological thrillers (set in any period), suspense thrillers, and domestic noir. The Dagger will celebrate dark and twisty tales that often feature unreliable narrators, disturbed emotions, a healthy dose of moral ambiguity, and a sting in the tail. Judges for this Dagger are Gavin Bell (aka writer Mason Cross), Tracy Fenton (founder of THE Book Club on Facebook) and writer Susi Holliday 

Eligible books for the CWA Whodunnit Dagger include cosy crime (including the ‘modern cosy’), traditional crime, and Golden Age inspired mysteries. These books focus on the intellectual challenge at the heart of a good mystery and revolve around often quirky characters. The judges for this Dagger are writers, Steph Broadribb, Derek Farrell and Gytha Lodge. 

Submission guidelines for the 2025 Daggers are now live on the CWA website. 

The longlist will be announced at the CWA annual conference on 20th April, and the shortlist at the UK’s biggest crime fiction convention, CrimeFest, hosted in Bristol on Friday 10th May; the Dagger awards ceremony takes place in the summer. 

March Books from Bookouture

Murder at the Island Hotel. Spring, 1936. As the boat draws into the harbour of Bird Island, Kitty is absolutely delighted to see the stunning hotel for the first time. She and her friend Alice have been asked to join the distinguished guests before the hotel officially opens its doors, but they have barely unpacked when the owner is found dead in his own study… Sir Norman’s death looks like suicide. But Kitty isn’t convinced – she cannot find a note, and he is left-handed but was shot on the right side of his head. Kitty tries to reach the police, but a violent storm engulfs the island and the power goes out. Kitty and Alice need to move quickly before anyone else finds death on their dinner menu! With several old friends amongst their suspects, Kitty decides the investigation should stay secret. But it’s not until Kitty uncovers Sir Norman’s financial difficulties that she’s on the killer’s trail. Can Kitty and Alice catch the culprit in time for tea, or will they become the next guests on the murderer’s list? 

You look so happy in your wedding photo, gazing at your perfect new husband, glass of champagne held high in a toast. You chose to ignore the warning signs, but he hid more than one secret from you. And now he’s gotten away with your murder… Every night I watch Benjamin and Gwyn in their gorgeous, glass-fronted Seattle home. Your ex-husband. Your best friend. Newly engaged, they’re busy dreaming of their future. The official story is that you disappeared, but I know the truth. They killed you. I know Benjamin’s new business is in trouble, that he desperately needs your money. I saw the way Gwyn looked at him at your wedding reception, finding any excuse to be close, to laugh too loudly at his jokes. After all, she always wanted your perfect life. But don’t worry, Madeline. I won’t let it end like this. I can see everything from my place in the shadows between the trees. With their house lit up, they are on display. I’ll bide my time and worm my way into their home, their lives. They will never know the truth about who I am. You didn’t get your happily ever after, and neither will they… Never Trust The Husband is by Jessica Payne.

Her Last Hour is by B.R Spangler. She can hear the faint lapping of waves nearby as she tries to open her swollen blue eyes. But all she can see is darkness, there is nothing but the suffocating sand that surrounds her. As her consciousness fades, she wishes she had never trusted him… When Ruby Evans is abducted on her way home from volunteering at a nursing home in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Detective Casey White’s heart breaks for the inconsolable mother. Terrible memories flood back of when her own darling daughter was taken twenty years ago. Pushing her own pain aside, Casey vows to find Ruby and bring her home. After desperately searching the road where Ruby was last seen, Casey receives a letter from someone claiming to be the kidnapper. In cursive red letters, she is warned that she has less than twenty-four hours to find Ruby alive. And when forensics reveal the letter was written in blood, Casey knows this isn’t a hoax. Working around the clock, Casey is devastated when her team hit another dead end, and she’s shattered when Ruby’s body is discovered buried on the beach—she’s too late. Now looking for a twisted killer, Casey is shocked when she receives a call from an evil predator she put behind bars ten years ago. He says he knows who the killer is, and will help Casey in exchange for his freedom. Casey refuses, but when she receives another letter, she is forced to reconsider. Because the killer promises the next victim will be someone much closer to her, and the clock is ticking. With only hours left, Casey has to decide if she’s prepared to free one evil monster to catch another, and if she doesn’t, will her loved ones pay the ultimate price?

The end of our marriage was only the beginning…  Last night, we celebrated our anniversary. Over candlelight, we talked about the children, our work, and I was so happy, and felt so loved. But the next morning, when I check my phone, there is a message. From a friend. And a string of photos appear of my husband, Will, with another woman: walking along the street holding hands. Going into fancy hotels. Standing at a window, his arms around her, her head on his shoulder… I beg Will to tell me what’s going on. But all he can say is that it’s not what I think. As if the betrayal wasn’t bad enough, he won’t even be honest with me. And now there’s someone watching our house. Will is acting like a stranger and I think he’s following me. I can’t trust him anymore, and I desperately need to know who sent me those photos and why. But maybe Will is telling the truth. Maybe it’s not what I think. Because the more our pain stops us talking, and the more the two of us tear each other apart, the more I wonder if I ever knew him at all – and what I’ll have to risk to protect my children. And when at last the secrets are revealed, will the truth save our family, or destroy us all? The Split is by S.E.Lynes.

The Widow Bride is by Carey Baldwin. Her diamond engagement ring glitters as she tells me he’s the one. But I’m sure there’s hesitation in her voice and the way she winces when her fiancé pulls her close makes my stomach drop. Could he be as dangerous as I fear? I thought handsome, charming Blake would be the perfect fit for my quiet and sweet-natured friend Melanie. Widowed far too young, she deserved a second chance at love. So, when he proposed so soon after I set them up on a date, I convinced myself that the timing was just right. But I should have stopped it.  I tried to ignore Blake’s controlling behaviour. It started small; telling her not to have a glass of champagne to celebrate their engagement, putting cameras up around her house for “safety”. But Mel seemed so happy and in love, I couldn’t bring myself to share my creeping doubts. If only I had. Because now I’m not only worried about what Blake is doing to Mel behind closed doors. Since he warned me to back off their relationship, I’m certain I’m being followed. Then I look into Blake's past. I’m sure he’s working with someone else. Someone close to me… I need to get us both out of here. What have I done?

The joyous crowd applauds as the happy couple strides down the aisle. This Cotswolds country wedding has everything – friends and family, beautiful flowers and… murder? When Julia Bird’s ex-husband Peter and his lovely partner Christopher decide to get married in Berrywick, Julia is delighted – after all, who doesn't love a country wedding? Little does Julia know that normally calm and collected Christopher will turn into a full-on Groomzilla – and that by the end of the night, someone will end up dead. The morning after the big day, the jolly nuptial mood turns grim when Julia discovers the lifeless body of the caterer, Desmond. Someone locked him in the cold truck and the poor man froze to death. Now looking for a murderer, all eyes are on Christopher who, mid-tantrum, had publicly threatened to kill him. Convinced that Christopher is innocent, Julia vows to find the real culprit. Julia soon discovers Desmond had a long list of enemies as she races against the clock to clear Christopher’s name. Could his death be the work of the respected wedding planner who was heard exchanging choice words with the victim? Or perhaps it was his wife – ‘til death do them part – who didn’t shed a single tear at his funeral? But just when Julia thinks she’s cracked the case, her prime suspect is found dead with a knife in their back. Can Julia find the murderer before they strike again? A Country Wedding Murder is by Katie Gayle.

The Garden Party is by Wendy Clarke. It’s so kind of our neighbours to throw this party welcoming us to our new home. My husband and I finally moved to the right place. A happy, safe street where nobody knows about my mistakes. But I soon learn their smiling faces hide even deadlier secrets…  As I take in the little plates of sandwiches arranged over checked tablecloths, the lavish cocktails, and children playing, I finally feel happy in my new home with Owen. I love hearing the gossip from the local families; the whispers about which wives I should avoid, and which husbands sneak out at night. But then I notice that the mother at number 3, Phillipa, is completely ignoring her sweet little girl. All blue-eyed Lexi wants is for her mother to play with her. And as Lexi pulls on Phillipa’s skirt, I’m certain I hear the woman threaten to smack her. Isn’t anyone going to say something? Even as I’m filled with rage, terrible memories flood back: of standing in a cold, thin hospital gown, hearing I may never have my own biological child. And then a shout pierces my memory. Lexi has run away from her mother and nearly fallen into the large, deep pond in the middle of the green. Everyone rushes over to comfort her, while Phillipa stays at the party to top up her drink. I promised Owen I’d put my past behind me so that we could start a new life. But some people don’t deserve to become mothers. I plaster a smile onto my face. I need to befriend Phillipa. And do whatever it takes to keep Lexi safe…

A discovery of bones on a windswept beach, the disappearance of a young woman, and a detective whose secrets are about to come out… Summoned to a crime scene swarming with people, Detective Billie Ann Wilde is devastated to find a woman’s broken bones abandoned in a suitcase on the sand of a popular Florida beach. And Billie’s blood runs cold when she reads the name “Danni” handwritten on the luggage tag in black ink: the name of Billie’s own best friend. Rushing over to Danni’s home, Billie is relieved to find her alive, preparing dinner for her two young daughters. So whose bones are in the suitcase? And why was Danni’s name at the scene? For years, Billie has worried that the dark secrets in her past might put her loved ones in danger, and soon her connection to the case is confirmed. Another set of bones is found at a busy local mall. With shaking hands Billie reaches out to read the luggage tag where another name is written in black ink: but this time, it’s Billie’s own name. And now, Danni has gone missing… Can Billie face up to the past and unravel her connection to this twisted killer? Or, with two young women already gone, is it too late for Billie to save Danni’s life? Then She Is Gone is by Willow Rose.

I Let Her In is by Maria Frankland. I tread quietly up the plush carpeted stairs. There’s no-one here to see me as Cassie and Jon’s bedroom door creaks gently open. I’ve watched them from afar for so long. Now I’m finally in their house. But there’s no time to waste. I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to get what I came for, whatever the cost…  I open the front door and there’s Amy, smiling sweetly and ready to help. She’s been a lifesaver since Jonand I moved here – from walking the dog to picking up my little son Teddy from nursery last minute. I’m so lucky we met in the playground the first day we arrived. Amy is more than just a good friend. My only friend, really. Whenever Amy and Jon exchange glances I’m sure it seems like they’ve met before, even though Jon swears they haven’t. But then again Jon recognises lots of people from his childhood round here without truly knowing them. I’ve put it out of my mind. Just like my fear of being watched. I need to remember I’m safe now. But today, when I turn up at Teddy’s nursery, I learn I was so, so wrong. The teacher tells me Amy picked him up an hour ago. Now they have both disappeared. I am frantic. I will do anything to get my son back. I should have known I can’t trust anyone. Then the phone rings, and I know what I have to do… 

Breath catches in my throat and terror grips me as my daughter’s favourite jumper slides into focus. Time slows. Helpless, I watch my precious little girl run into the road. Screeching tyres slice through the quiet afternoon. Days from now, my friends will say the worst day of my life was all my fault… A bright and welcoming haven, the playgroup sits at the heart of the town, tucked away inside a red-brick building. The Nest should have been the safest place for my rosy-cheeked, pink-obsessed daughter, Florence. Run by mothers like me, I trusted my newfound friends – Alice, Beth and Georgie – to take care of my child. But now my choice has left Florence fighting for her life. My heart pounds thinking about what I will tell my husband, James. He stayed with me through the darkest times, and I thought some space would bring us closer. But as I watch our little girl sleeping in a hospital bed, I know our relationship may never recover from this. How can I tell James what really happened if I don’t know myself? I can’t shake the feeling the other mothers are lying to me; they know I’d never let Florence leave the nursery by herself. We’ve all got dangerous secrets we want to protect, but if they expose mine, will anyone, including my husband, believe me when I say I didn’t harm my daughter? The Playgroup is by Leah Mercer.

The Girl in the Dark is by Zoë Sharp. The woman falls. Her body begins to shake. Her brown eyes turn upwards, showing a mix of panic and desperate hope. She takes a deep breath and says one word: 'Blake.' Then her eyes close, her face pales, and she goes still forever…  The victim: Shannon, a woman who went out of her way to help the lost and hopeless, left abandoned to die by the side of the road. Where was she in those last few days before her death, and why was she so frightened? The avenger: Blake Claremont, who knows only too well how it feels to be alone on the streets of a big city. Blake survived, thanks to Shannon. She’s determined to find out who killed her friend, and why. Before she died, Shannon was searching for answers. She knew that people were going missing… never to be seen again. Now, with the help of Detective John Byron, Blake must take up Shannon’s investigation. She knows these streets and the predators who walk in the darkness. She will follow in Shannon’s footsteps until she finds her target: the ruthless men and women who steal people’s lives and will do anything to protect their secrets. And then, they will pay. 

Mother of the Bride is by Samantha Hayes. My mother is obsessed with every detail of my wedding – controlling my dress, my ring, my happiness… But when the day finally comes, will she really let me go?  I’m smiling as I walk down the aisle, but my smile masks cold, clammy, prickling fear, even though it’s meant to be the happiest day of my life. My husband-to-be, Owen, is everything to me, with his sandy hair and sparkling blue eyes. He convinced me everything would be fine. That we’d be safe. I pray he was right as I reach for his hand. He smiles reassuringly. I swallow hard. Because last year, my sister’s fiancé was murdered on his wedding day. And I found my mother’s corsage next to his body… So when our guests are asked if they have any objections, I hold my breath. Please let me be wrong about what she did. Please let Owen be safe. But when I turn to look at my mother, my blood turns to ice. There is only dark, calculating fury in her eyes. I knew she didn’t want to let me go. But is my husband’s life actually in danger? Or is mine…?

You let her in. You shouldn’t have… I was so nervous about someone new joining our house share; after everything that happened with my parents, my friends are like my family. Our imperfect but well-loved house is the only place where I can be myself. But when Poppy knocks on our door, blonde hair, wide eyes and a friendly smile, we all agree she’s a perfect fit. I just wish I could shake the feeling that I’ve seen her before… At first, everything runs smoothly. But one day, Poppy arrives home with my housemates in tow. She says she ‘forgot’ to invite me to the movie. My stomach drops. As she sidles up to my friends, I’m gripped by a familiar panic. If Poppy is from my past, will she turn my friends against me? Will she tell them the secret I’ve so carefully buried? I feel like Poppy’s watching my every move. My home used to be the place where I felt most comfortable. But as she places a delicious home-cooked meal in front of me, I don’t even feel safe eating here. I have to find out who she really is, and what she wants. And when I do, will she realise too late which one of us is truly dangerous? The Perfect Housemate is by Lorna Dounaeva.

Stunning views across the Grand Canal and a hotel suite fit for royalty… Lady Eleanor Swift is having a jolly good time on her Italian vacation, until a gondola ride is cut murderously short! 1924. Lady Eleanor Swift has been on a grand tour around Italy for a month with her butler Clifford. Finally arriving in Venice, she’s thrilled to be attending the famous carnival: all that’s needed is the perfect bejewelled costume for her faithful bulldog, Gladstone. But on her first gondola ride to take in the sights, a passenger collapses into the canal with a knife sticking out of his back. Eleanor saw an argument break out between the gondolier and the victim, Councillor Benetto Vendelini, and it turns out they're rivals from the city's two great families. Vendelini’s murder is sure to reignite their centuries-long feud. While attending a glitzy ball that night, Eleanor learns of a plot to steal a precious family heirloom from the Vendelini household. Is the stolen item the key to solving this baffling murder? In this floating city of tiny winding alleyways, Eleanor traces the missing heirloom to an antiques dealer in a far-flung corner of town. But when her handbag is snatched by a cloaked thief, she realises the murderer is dangerously close. Can Eleanor unmask this most cunning of killers, before she joins the other victim at the bottom of the Grand Canal? A Death in Venice is by Verity Bright.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Murder by the Book: A Celebration of 20th Century British Crime Fiction

 Murder by the Book: A Celebration of 20th Century 
British Crime Fiction

23 March – 24 August 2024

Monday – Friday 9am – 6:30pm

Saturday 9am – 4:30pm

Closed Sundays, and 29 March to 1 April 2024 inclusive 

Booking is essential. Entry is FREE.

Crime fiction is the UK's most read, bought and borrowed genre. Cambridge University Library draws on its world-leading collections of British crime fiction to stage a murderously good exhibition! 

Bringing together literature, culture and heritage, Murder by the Book: A Celebration of 20th Century British Crime Fiction illuminates and celebrates the stories of the UK’s most popular fiction writing. Curated by award-winning crime novelist Nicola Upson, the Library's exhibition challenges traditional distinctions between literary fiction and genre fiction. Murder by the Book examines crime’s place in our literary history and the Library’s own Special Collections. 

The exhibition showcases rare books and audio-visual recordings looking at the genre from its origins in the works of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens to contemporary best-sellers Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. 

With first editions of The Moonstone and Bleak House, as well as Sherlock Holmes' debut appearance, the exhibition also looks at the Library’s remarkable collections and stylish dust jackets that represent more than a century of British book design. 

Tickets can be booked here.

Curated by crime novelist Nicola Upson.

Monday 26 February 2024

The Barry Award Nominations 2024


The Barry Awards are awarded by Deadly Pleasures Magazine. The winners in each category will be announced at the Opening Ceremonies of the Nashville Bouchercon on August 29, 2024.  

Best Mystery or Crime Novel

Dark Ride by Lou Berney (Morrow)

All the Sinners Bleed by S. A. Cosby (Flatiron)

Ozark Dogs by Eli Cranor (Soho Crime)

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper (Mulholland)

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane (Harper)

The Detective Up Late by Adrian McKinty (Blackstone)

Best First Mystery or Crime Novel

Better the Blood by Michael Bennett (Atlantic Monthly Press)

The Peacoock and the Sparrow by I.S. Berry (Atria)

The Bitter Past by Bruce Borgos (Minotaur)

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua (Minotaur)

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor (Riverhead)

Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon (Morrow)

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita (Berkley)

Best Paperback Original Mystery or Crime Novel

Murder and Mamon by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)

Every Thing She Feared by Rick Mofina (MIRA)

Who the Hell is Larry Black? By Jake Needham (Half Penny)

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderer's by Jesse Sutanto (Berkley)

Expectant by Vanda Symon (Orenda)

Lowdown Road by Scott Von Doviak (Hard Case Crime

Best Thriller

Burner by Mark Greaney (Berkley)

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron (Soho Crime)

Moscow Exile by John Lawton (Atlantic Monthly)

Going Zero by Anthony McCarten (Harper)

Drowning by T. J. Newman (Avid Reader Press)

Zero Days by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press)

Congratulations to all the nominated authors.. 

Friday 23 February 2024


 The LA Times Festival of Books have announced the Mystery and Thriller finalists

Dark Ride by Lou Berney

All The Sinners Bleed by S A Cosby

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper

Time's Undoing by Cheryl A. Head

Sing Her Down by Ivy Pochoda

 Congratulations to all the nominated authors! Winner will be announced at the LA Times Festival of Books on Friday 19th April 2024 at 7:00pm.

Thursday 22 February 2024

Social, Cultural and Political climate of Victorian England

How the social, cultural and political climate of Victorian England combined to create a perfect storm of crime, murder and sensationalism.

Kim Donovan, author of The Mysterious Mrs Hood, provides the historical backdrop to her great -great aunt’s murder in 1900.

England 1898 --It has been ten years since Jack the Ripper terrorised the streets of Whitechapel, London. Charles Booth and his team of socialists have been working on a project to map wealth and poverty across the city since 1886, and have recently named Stockwood Street, which was home to Mary Jane and Herbert Bennett, as being one of the ‘lowest class’ streets in Victorian London. It was at this point that Mary Jane and Herbert made a choice: to turn to crime to escape poverty. Mary Jane’s desperate struggle for survival had begun.

Charles Booth’s work would eventually result in a colour-coded map of the city, which carved out and demarcated the poorest streets with thick black lines. Booth classified these areas as being home to the ‘lowest classes.’ The notebooks that accompany Booth’s poverty map add vivid detail about the social character of each street, which helps to give us a sense of the conditions in which people were living at the time. Stockwood Street, a dingy thoroughfare off Plough Street, near Clapham Junction, was described as being awash with ‘drunken, rowdy and troublesome people’. It is easy to imagine the danger that may have lurked on the ‘vicious and semi-criminal’ street after dark. It is no surprise, then, that a heavily pregnant Mary Jane would have urgently sought to liberate herself from these challenging social conditions.

The researchers documenting the conditions on London’s streets would at times be accompanied by the police officer for the district in which they were charting. It was a time when officers walked their beats. Forensic science was in its infancy, and the police still relied heavily on clues to solve crimes. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Scotland Yard had been set up ten years before, and plain clothed police officers, who had originally been thought of as ‘spies’ had made significant strides in winning the trust of the public. Despite this more robust police force, Mary Jane and Herbert would successfully evade the scrutiny of the authorities as they travelled across the country, graduating from fraud to theft, and eventually to arson, while leaving a trail of disgruntled people in their wake.

When relations between the couple eventually began to sour, it is unlikely that they would have considered divorce. Although legal by that time, divorce was expensive and brought with it great shame, especially for women. Mary Jane would have been dependent on her marriage for reasons of reputation, and she would have been reliant on her husband for money.

Despite the great swathes of black on Booth’s map of London, social conditions across the country were being to improve. The Bank holiday Act of 1871 had introduced four regular bank holidays, which gave workers more time for leisure activities, and the development of the railways made it possible to travel longer distances with more ease. Seaside resorts had begun to spring up, and Great Yarmouth in particular became a popular holiday destination. It was here, on a holiday with her infant daughter in September 1900, that Mary Jane would meet her tragic end.

This increase in leisure time coincided with a rise in literacy levels and the development of a more affordable and less regulated press, which, in turn, led to a dramatic rise in newspaper readership. The Victorians had a reputation for being avid consumers of violent entertainments, and a new-fangled form of journalism dubbed ‘Tabloid Journalism’, or ‘Yellow Journalism’ (in North America) had started to develop. Articles in this style had a focus on bold headlines, emotive writing and sensationalist stories. They were, broadly speaking, a development of the Broadside, a type of street literature that had been infamously sold at public executions in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The sensationalist reporting of crime was at odds with a legal system that required impartiality, and there were calls at the turn of the 20th Century to regulate the press through fear that sensationalist reporting would prejudice active cases. It was into this press that the story of Mary Jane’s murder found its way, and it was through a newspaper report that her father would learn of his daughter’s murder. The press whipped up such a frenzy around the case that the ensuing trial attracted attention from across the country and Mary Jane Bennett became a household name. She had escaped poverty, and her desperate struggle for survival had come to an end, but not in the way she would have hoped for.

The Mysterious Mrs Hood by Kim Donovan (Orion Publishing) Out Now

A true Victorian murder mystery... Great Yarmouth, September 1900: A young woman is found dead on the beach, a bootlace tied tightly around her neck. Despite her death attracting national attention in the press, nobody claims her. Detective Inspector Robert Lingwood of the Great Yarmouth police force declares he will not rest until the mystery of the young woman's death is solved. But it's only once the case has been referred to Scotland Yard that the layers of mystery start to peel away... 'Mrs Hood' was in fact Mary Jane Bennett, and this is her story. Following clues and tracking red herrings leads the police to close in on their one and only suspect. With arson, fraud, an affair and a sensation-hungry press, the murder gripped the nation in one of the most eagerly anticipated trials of the early twentieth century.

Kim Donovan can be found on X @Kim_Donovan_

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Theakston's Special Guest Authors Revealed


Theakston Crime Harrogate International Festivals has announced the Special Guests for the 2024 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, the worlds largest and most prestigious celebration of crime fiction.

Curated by bestselling crime writer and 2024 Festival Programming Chair Ruth Ware, with the programming committee, the Special Guests on this years programme include global bestsellers and fan favourites Chris Carter, Jane Casey, Elly Griffiths, Erin Kelly, Vaseem Khan, Dorothy Koomson, Shari Lapena, Abir Mukherjee, Liz Nugent and Richard Osman.

Returning to Harrogate for its 21st year, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (1821 July 2024) is a highlight of the crime fiction year, offering fans from around the world a unique opportunity to hear from the biggest stars of the genre, discover exciting new talent and enjoy a packed programme of panels, talks and inspiring creative workshops.

This years Special Guests include home-grown talent from around the UK, alongside exciting writers from Canada, Brazil and Ireland, in a thrilling celebration of the genre that highlights its strength, diversity and global appeal. Ruth Ware, bestselling author and 2024 Festival Programming Chair said: "I'm so proud of the incredible roster of special guests appearing at this year's Festival - together they showcase the strength, breadth and sheer excellence of the crime-writing landscape. Harrogate has always been a Festival with readers at its very heart, and there really is something for everyone in this glorious celebration of our brilliant and bloody genre."

Vaseem Khan, award-winning author of the Baby Ganesh Agency series and the Malabar House novels and last year’s Festival Programming Chair, will open the Festival in conversation with Abir Mukherjee, author of the globally bestselling Wyndham & Banerjee series. 2024 Festival Programming Chair Ruth Ware will interview author, producer and television presenter Richard Osman about his multi-million copy bestselling Thursday Murder Club series.

International bestseller Shari Lapena visits from Canada to talk about her latest thriller What Have You Done with Liz Nugent, winner of four Irish Book Awards and fellow Irish crime writer Jane Casey will be in conversation with Erin Kelly, whose highly anticipated new novel The Skeleton Key is published in April.

Big name thriller writers Chris Carter, the bestselling author of the Robert Hunter series, and Dorothy Koomson the Queen of the Big Reveal unveil their latest novels and Festival favourite Elly Griffiths will discuss her new standalone mystery The Last Word.

Simon Theakston, Chairman of T&R Theakston Ltd, said: “It continues to be a privilege to support the worlds best crime writing Festival as we have over the last 21 years. In that time, we have had the great honour of hosting crime writing legends from across the globe as well as introducing brilliant new voices, and I am looking forward to celebrating what promises to be yet another wonderful Festival with my festival friends over a pint of Theakston Old Peculier!

Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive of Harrogate International Festivals, said: The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival turns 21 this year, and we look forward to bringing another brilliant Festival to Harrogate in celebration. Ruth has curated a thrilling programme with every crime fiction reader at its heart. We look forward to sharing the full programme in the coming months and cannot wait to welcome everyone to the Festival in the summer whether its your first time or your twenty-first!

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is delivered by the north of England’s leading arts Festival organisation, Harrogate International Festivals and forms part of their diverse year-round portfolio of events, which aims to bring immersive cultural experiences to as many people as possible. Classic Weekend Break Packages, Author Dinners and tickets for Creative Thursday are on sale now. To book tickets, please call +44(0)1423 562 303 or email More information about tickets and packages can be found here. The full programme for this years Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival will be announced in Spring 2024