Saturday 29 June 2024

In The St Hilda's Spotlight - Jake Lamar

 Name: Jake Lamar

Job: - Author

Website: https//

X: @jakelamar


Jake Lamar is an author of a memoir, seven novels and numerous essays, reviews, and short stories. His novel The Last Integrationist won France’s Grand Prize for best foreign thriller. His most recent book Viper’s Dream was a New York Times top 4 thriller of the month. It was one of The Guardian’s best thrillers of 2023 and is currently shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger 2024

Current book?

I am writing a crime novel about chess. I describe it as a cross between Stefan Zweig and Chester Himes.

Favourite book?

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Read it when I was fourteen. It was the first time I really understood satire. That Heller could describe the horrors of war in such a darkly humorous way was a revelation for me.

Which two musicians would you invite to dinner and why?

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their 1966 incarnations. This is the toughest question in the bunch for me. Because some of the musicians I revere most might not make the greatest dinner party company. Billie Holiday would show up hours late. Thelonious Monk would probably just glower benignly, hardly speaking at all. Miles Davis might insult the other guests. Lennon and McCartney might very well insult the other guests but hearing them riff off each other would more than make up for it.

How do you relax?

Just hanging out with Dorli, my partner of 28 years. A very wise, older friend of mine once said: "The most important thing isn't having someone to do something with. It's having someone to do nothing with."

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Read it when I was fifteen. An astounding literary feat on so many levels. Veering from tragedy to satire, the novel encompasses the madness of the USA's racial caste system, from the rural South to the urban North. Ellison gave the world a metaphor for social marginalization---invisibility---that resonates with people to this day, as when groups and individuals say they want "to be seen." And, amazingly, in this 500-plus page epic, the reader never learns the name of the first-person narrator.

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

Writing and Publishing are two different planets. You will live on Planet Writing. Every once in a while, you will get in your spacecraft and fly over to Planet Publishing. But you will live on Planet Writing. Never let the volatile climate on Planet Publishing negatively impact the atmosphere on Planet Writing.

How would you describe your latest published book?

My friend and colleague David Peace was the first to call Viper's Dream "jazz noir." I think that nails it. The book is a hard-boiled crime novel---in the tradition of Hammett, Chandler, and Himes---set in the jazz world of Harlem between 1936 and 1961.

With A Dance to the Music of Crime: the artful crime to murder being the theme at St Hilda's this year, which are you three favourite albums?

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

Monk's Dream by Thelonious Monk

Purple Rain by Prince

If you were given the ability to join a band which, would it be and why?

Sly and the Family Stone, circa 1969. The music of my late childhood/early adolescence, naturally. Check them out in the magnificent concert documentary film Summer of Soul. A band made up of men and women, of different ethnic origins, mixing gospel, rhythm-and-blues, jazz and soul, to create the ultimate feel-good Funk.

If you were to re-attend a concert which, would it be and why?

Easiest question in the bunch. Prince: The Fox Theatre; Detroit, Michigan; April 1993. A relatively intimate venue---5,000 seats---not an arena or stadium. His Purple Majesty was at the peak of his powers. The crowd was 75% African American. By the third hour, the place was delirious. Prince screamed from the stage: "I got too many HITS! Y'all can't STAND it!"

What are you looking forward to at St Hilda’s?

The conversations!


Viper’s Dream by Jake Lamar (Bedford Square Publishers)

A hard-boiled crime novel set in the jazz world of Harlem between 1936 and 1961, Viper's Dream combines elements of the epic Godfather films and the detective novels of Chester Himes to tell the story of one of the most respected and feared Black gangsters in America. At the centre of Viper's Dream is a turbulent love story. And the climax bears an element of Greek tragedy. For the better part of 20 years, Clyde 'The Viper' Morton has been in love with Yolanda 'Yo-Yo' DeVray, a singer of immense talent but a woman consumed by demons. By turns ambitious and self-destructive, conniving and naive, Yo-Yo is a classic femme fatale. She is a bright star in a constellation of compelling characters including the chauffeur-turned-gangster Peewee Robinson, the Jewish kingpin Abraham 'Mr. O' Orlinsky, the heroin dealer West Indian Charlie, the corrupt cop Red Carney, the wife-beating singer Pretty Paul Baxter, the pimp Buttercup Jones and the brutal enforcer Randall Country Johnson. But Viper's Dream has a fast-paced vibe all its own, a story charged with suspense, intrigue and plot twists and spiced with violence and humour. It is also steeped in music. The Viper's story is intertwined with the history of jazz over a quarter century.

Information about 2024 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book tickets can be found here

Friday 28 June 2024

2024 Shamus Award Nominees: The Private Eye Writers of America!

 The nominees for the 2024 Shamus Award are -


Hard Rain by Samantha Jayne Allen

Go Find Daddy by Steve Goble

The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey

The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen 

Heart of the Nile by Will Thomas 


Drums Guns ’N’ Money by Jonathan J. Brown 

Gillespie Field Groove by Corey Lynn Fayman 

The Truth We Hide by Liz Milliron 

Bring the Night by J.R. Sanders 

Liar’s Dice by Gabriel Valjan 


Errand for a Neighbour” by Bill Bassman 

Beyond Belief” by Libby Cudmore 

The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow” by Sean McCluskey 

Imperfect Data” by Bob Tippee 

Making the Bad Guys Nervous” by Joseph S. Walker 

Congratulations to all the nominated authors

Tuesday 25 June 2024

In The St Hilda's Spotlight - Kia Abdullah

 Name:- Kia Abdullah

Job:-Author and Travel Writer


X: @kiaabdullah

Instagram: @kiaabdullah


Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer.She has written for The Guardian, the BBC, The New York Times and The Times as well as a number of other papers. Her 2019 debut crime novel Take It Back was chosen by The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph as one of the best new crime and thriller novels. Her third novel Next of Kin was long—lsted for the CWA Gold Dagger.

Current book? 

I’ve carved out time to read IT by Stephen King in between the proofs I get sent for work. The book is 1,067 pages long, so is quite an undertaking, but I’m halfway through and absolutely love it so far. After the first few chapters, I literally went and checked that my front and back door were locked so that Pennywise couldn’t creep into my house from the gutter outside. That’s a pretty skilful thing for an author to make you do. King truly is one of the best storytellers of our time. 

Favourite book: 

My favourite book that I’ve read as an adult is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It’s beautifully written, rich in character and just completely immersive. 

My favourite book overall, however, has to be Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I read that as a child and it had such a strong impact on my life. I grew up in a conservative Bengali family and much of my life felt prescripted: education, marriage, motherhood. Anne taught me that you could subvert cultural expectations and expect more from life. 

Which two musicians would you invite to dinner and why?

Mariah Carey because I genuinely think she’s one of the greatest philosophers of our time. When she was in her early twenties, she insisted on paying for half the mansion she bought with her then-husband Tommy Mottola. Years later, when she was 40, she was asked about this in an interview. Oh yeah,” she said drily. “Quite the silly little girl, I was.” I love that there was no pretence at feminism; she just said yeah that was stupid of me. I like that she is unapologetically who she is. 

I’d probably also ask Jon Bon Jovi frankly because I’ve always had a crush on him. 

How do you relax?

I go boxing three to four times a week, which completely de-stresses me. I came to boxing a year ago purely by chance. My next novel has a character, Safa Saleem, who takes a few boxing lessons and I thought, “If I’m going to write these scenes realistically, I’ll have to take a couple of lessons myself.” I booked two lessons with a local boxing coach and absolutely fell in love with the sport. 

I like that it’s changed how I think of myself. I was never sporty or particularly active. In fact, there is a long history of British-Asian women not exercising enough, partly because our roles were traditionally in the home. To find myself in this very male dominated sport is both a surprise and a delight. 

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

There are so many books I love which are not in my style or genre: The Secret HistoryThe Time Traveler’s WifeOne Hundred Years of Solitude among many, many others. If I can narrow the focus to crime, then I’d choose Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It’s so sharply observed and brilliantly written – and of course has one of the best twists of all time. 

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

It will happen. Be patient. But also look up compound interest. 

How would you describe your latest published book?

Those People Next Door is a tense courtroom thriller about nightmare neighbours and how far we’re prepared to go to defend the people we love.

With A Dance to the Music of Crime: the artful crime to murder being the theme at St Hilda's this year, which are you three favourite albums?

Can I say HIStory: Past, Present and Future by Michael Jackson? It’s a bit of a cheat because it’s a compilation album, but I’ll have it if I can.

Moondance by Van Morrison. I’m never sad when listening to Van Morrison.

I honestly can’t decide between Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill. Please let me have both. - Of course!

If you were given the ability to join a band which would it be and why?

I’d choose the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Critics of the band say all their music sounds alike and maybe there’s some truth to that, but I’m a fan. In reality, I’d probably have a breakdown. I am very organised and methodical, and don’t know if I could cope with their vibe of ‘California whatever’. 

If you were to re-attend a concert which would it be and why

I was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson in concert in 1997, but I was in the second row and had to be pulled out because I was getting crushed. I watched most of the show through a crack in the makeshift medical room. I’d like to do that concert again. 

What are you looking forward to at St Hilda's?

I hear that St Hilda’s has a really relaxed, informal vibe. I’m looking forward to meeting readers and catching up with author friends long into the night, perhaps with a glass or two of wine. 

Those People Next Door by Kia Abdullah (HarperCollins Publishers)

You can choose your house. Not your neighbours. Welcome to your dream home. Salma Khatun is extremely hopeful about Blenheim, the safe suburban development to which she, her husband and their son have just moved. Their family is in desperate need of a fresh start, and Blenheim feels like the place to make that happen. Meet your neighbours. Not long after they move in, Salma spots her neighbour, Tom Hutton, ripping out the anti-racist banner her son put in their front garden. She chooses not to confront Tom because she wants to fit in. It's a small thing, really. No need to make a fuss. So Salma takes the banner inside and puts it in her window instead. But the next morning she wakes up to find her window smeared with paint. And prepare for the nightmare to begin. This time she does confront Tom, and the battle lines between the two families are drawn. As things begin to escalate and the stakes become higher, it's clear that a reckoning is coming... And someone is going to get hurt.

Information about 2024 St Hilda's College Crime Fiction Weekend and how to book online tickets can be found here

Friday 21 June 2024

A.A. Chaudhuri on the importance of strong characterisation in the Psychological Thriller genre

There are many reasons why I love the psychological thriller genre. An iconic twist, spine-tingling tension, the classic unreliable narrator, and sinister mind games are just some of its timeless traits that make it such an enthralling, memorable and addictive genre.

But for me, in order for those attributes to flourish and really resonate with readers, it is vital to get the characterisation right. First and foremost, it’s the characters who are driving the plot forward and everything they do and say has an immense bearing on other important aspects like tension and suspense, or even whether a twist is believable. If, as an author, I have not developed my characters enough to make them feel real and believable, then it is unlikely that my readers will be invested in the story. After all, the clue is in the name: ‘psychological’ thriller. Fundamentally, this means that as an author I must step into the shoes of my characters, penetrating their psyches as deeply as possible, and really get to grips with what makes them tick as people. This can either be done through the first- or third-person narrative – I prefer the first person because I find it more effective, but it’s very much the author’s choice. If I have not infiltrated my character’s mindset, then it is unlikely everything else that makes this genre so compelling will fall into place. For example, if my unreliable narrator is bland and one-dimensional, they will not be so intriguing or believable because I have not shown the reader what drives and haunts them, thereby making them unreliable. Likewise, if I have not dropped in subtle clues and insights into my character’s nature or behaviour in the meat of the book, a final twist related to that particular character might not make as much sense, leaving the reader feeling at best deflated, at worst cheated.

Strong characterisation has a knock-on effect on everything we deem essential in a good psychological thriller. Unlike in a straight thriller, where there is often a fair amount of physical conflict, in the psychological thriller we focus on the characters’ inner conflict, their mental mind games with each other, also played out through dialogue. A reader needs to ‘feel’ a character’s tension, to ‘hear’ the fear in their voices, to understand by essentially ‘penetrating’ their brains what is motivating them to behave in the way they do, for all the other core characteristics of the genre to work. It is the characters’ experiences, thoughts, hang-ups, emotions, and actions that are driving the story, rather than physical action, and so the tension we expect from this genre will come from getting inside those characters’ heads and understanding what is at stake for them.

In my new psychological thriller, Under Her Roof, struggling writer – Sebastian - rents a room in the palatial Hampstead mansion of beautiful mysterious widow, Adriana. The rent is ridiculously cheap and despite his misgivings which centre around Adriana’s strange rules and the fact that the previous lodger died under tragic circumstances, Sebastian cannot resist taking her up on her offer. Things soon take an ominous turn for Sebastian when he realises that both he and his landlady are being watched, and that the terrifying situation he finds himself in may be linked to Adriana’s troubled past.

From very early on, the reader is made aware that both landlady and tenant are hiding dark secrets; secrets that haunt and inspire all sorts of negative feelings in them – guilt, fear, shame, to name but a few. We do not know what those secrets are initially, of course, but we know from the negative emotions they feel and from how tormented they are, that they cannot be good. In this way, the tension accelerates and we, the readers, have no idea if we can trust Seb and Adriana who clearly have something to hide and are harbouring such dark emotions. Yet, at the same time, we want to empathise with them because it is clear they have suffered serious injustices in the past and are by no means bad people. In this way, through my characterisation I have hopefully induced both suspicion and empathy on the reader’s part for my characters, making them more intriguing as unreliable narrators. Seb and Adriana do not just share an artistic connection, they are drawn to one another by their mutual loss and grief. Both perfect examples of what we all are as human beings – fallible. Two people with troubled pasts and terrible secrets that haunt and ensnare them in a never-ending cycle of sadness, guilt and fear, but who find themselves at the mercy of another whose intentions remain unclear, but who appears to delight in their inner turmoil, thereby ramping up that sense of dread and tension that makes this genre so addictive!

My books tend to be quite complex, but people are often surprised to hear I am not a meticulous plotter. What I do spend a lot of time on before I start writing, however, is drafting detailed character profiles. For me this is crucial, so that my readers feel able to connect with a character and understand what is driving them. To this end, for me a character’s appearance is the least important consideration. It’s the way they conduct themselves and speak to others, the inner turmoil in their heads, the way something in their childhood impacts them in adulthood, what they might love or fear, excel or perform poorly at, and finally the dark secrets they may be keeping from others and which have a bearing on their behaviour in the present. All these factors have an impact on how a character is perceived in the book, on the reader being able to connect with them, and in driving up that impending sense of dread and nerve-wracking tension we expect from the genre.

In summary, we all love an unreliable narrator, high tension, mind games and a killer twist in our psychological thrillers, but great characterisation is key to these beloved traits falling into place.

Under Her Roof by A A Chaudhuri (Hera/Canelo) Out Now.

It seems too good to be true… When struggling writer Sebastian finds a room to let in a palatial Hampstead residence he cannot believe his luck. The rent is ridiculously cheap, and he immediately feels a connection with his beautiful, widowed landlady, Adriana. It is. Things take a dark turn when he finds out what happened to the last lodger. Could this be why the house is a fortress of security, and why Adriana seems so fragile? Adriana doesn’t want to talk about the death and sadness that seem to follow her wherever she goes, and Sebastian has secrets of his own. Now someone is watching their every move and there is nowhere to hide. This house of light becomes a dark nightmare as the threat ramps up - what does the watcher want? And how far will they go to get it?

More information about A A Chaudhuri can be found on her website.  You can also follow her on “X” @AAChaudhuri and on Facebook and Instagram @aachaudhuri



Thursday 20 June 2024

Climate change comes to crime by Martin Walker

 The international bestseller explores how the backdrop of climate change in France has become important to Bruno’s story in his latest Dordogne Mystery.

Sherlock Holmes had his fogs. Hercule Poirot had ‘the chill of an early autumn morning.’ Maigret had those magical April days in Paris ‘when the sun bounced off the Seine.’ And Raymond Chandler had those hot dry Santa Anas ‘that come down through the mountain passes...On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks.’

We get climate change. Last summer the surface of the seas around the French and British coasts warmed by as much as five degrees, sending vast shoals of fish fleeing north to cooler waters. Evaporation soared and the westerly winds that carried the sodden air began to dump it as rain once as they reached high ground. And in France, that meant the Massif Central, the ancient volcanoes and sub-Alpine pastures that are the source of every French river from the Loire down to the Spanish border.

So, not for the first time, we had floods. Indeed, we now get them every year, cutting us off from the main road west to Bergerac and the vineyards. We cannot say we weren’t warned. Carved into the stone gateway at Limeuil, a town whose prosperity was built from the trade that boomed where the river Vezere met the much larger Dordogne, are the high points of floods in 1944, 1922 and 1898. They show us that the rivers were forty feet and higher than usual.

The last eighty years saw nothing like that, mainly because of the recurrent dams that have been built all the way up to the Massif, providing us with cheap electricity. But now, year after year, the dams are having to open the sluices to prevent overflows, so we get floods. We’ve had to remove the streetlamps along the quayside, and even evacuate the town’s famous aquarium.

And we get more and more forest fires, more and more days when you can smell them before you see the smoke and you keep an ear tuned to the radio for warnings. It’s almost too hot to stay outside and the water in the swimming pool starts to feel like a bath. Last year, it reached 43 Centigrade (108 degrees Fahrenheit) in my garden in the shade.

We also get hailstorms, so dense that within an hour the table in the courtyard is eight inches deep in hailstone the size of my thumb. We used to get them in late autumn, sometimes early enough to threaten the wine harvest. Now we get them in April and early May, viciously timed to devastate the young grapes on the vines. I have winemaker friends who lost two-thirds of their crop this spring. In the vineyards they say they used to reckon on one bad year in five, but in the last five years we had only one good vintage.

So more and more these days the weather has become a regular feature of my books, almost a character, just as the Perigord itself has become much more than a backdrop for the lives of Bruno, the chief of police of the small town of St Denis. I was hugely fortunate to stumble on this region, home to more prehistoric cave paintings and engravings than anywhere else on earth. Picasso came out of the 18,000-year-old art gallery of the Lascaux cave, saying, ‘We have learned nothing in all these thousands of years.’

The history never stopped. Julius Caesar’s legions fought the Gaul's here and captured a hilltop fort which then became a Roman oppidum, and then one of the guard posts Charlemagne built against Viking raids, and then the English and French battled over the castle for three hundred years. And then the French Catholics took up arms against the Protestants for another bloody century.

On top of all that, the region has become famous as one of the true heartlands of French cuisine, home to foie gras and the sublime black truffles, the confit de canard and the seven different types of strawberries, each protected by an Indication Géographique Protégée. ‘Great food and fine wines, this place is paradise on earth,’ said King Henri IV, the only French monarch to have given his name to a classic dish.

Naturally, therefore, Bruno is as much a cook as a policeman, and these days helps the volunteer firemen to control forest fires and organize evacuations from low ground and protect the town bridges from the floods. He’s not sure yet what he can do about the hailstorms but he’s working on it.

A Grave in the Woods by Martin Walker (Quercus Books) Out Now)

The long arm of history reaches into the present in Bruno's latest case when three sets of bones are discovered, buried deep in the woods outside the Dordogne town of St Denis. It appears that the remains have lain there since World War 2. Bruno must investigate who the bones belong to and whether their burial amounts to a war crime. Bruno has other concerns too. After weeks of heavy autumn rain, the normally tranquil Dordogne River has risen to record levels, compromising the upriver dams that control the Vezere that flows through St Denis, bringing the threat of a devastating flood. As ever, Bruno must rely on his wits, tenacity, and people skills to ensure that past wrongs do not result in present violence, and to keep his little town and its inhabitants safe from harm.

You can find Martin Walker on Facebook.

Notes from an Accidental Crime Writer by Isobel Shirlaw

I didn’t realise, when I set out to write a novel, that the sort of story I was trying to tell would one day be classified as crime fiction – just one of the reasons, perhaps, that that particular novel (a mash up of violence, family secrets and the supernatural) didn’t get published…. With the next one, I got closer. I was told by an agent that it needed to be ‘crimier.’ Again, I hadn’t spotted that it would be perceived as crime fiction at all, seeing it as a sort of semi-violent, coming of age, YA-slash-adult tragi-comic psychological thriller. Hard to pitch? Impossible to sell.

One thing I did realise was that I was writing about families – all sorts of different families but all with their own secrets and problems. These were stories with a darkness at their heart. And it seemed that whatever I wrote, the crimes kept creeping in.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t feel qualified as a crime reader. I love writers that put me at immediate unease – Patricia Highsmith, Mariana Enriquez, John Fowles, Donna Tartt. And I wanted to instil a sense of dread in my readers. But it still didn’t feel like proper crime fiction. But by book number three or four or five – my so-called ‘debut’, A Proper Mother, I had started to embrace the crimes at the heart of the family. I knew I had found the right story and the right genre.

A Proper Mother is the story of a frightened single mother, Frankie, a survivor of domestic violence, negotiating an often hostile world, terrified that her youngest son Michael will turn out violent like his father. An early review of the book, on the crime fiction pages, observed that it is not a conventional crime novel. I found myself nodding along.

But why? 

Has it got crimes in it? Yes. Police? Yes again. Court cases? Dead bodies? No comment.

I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. Some of the first other writers I have met have been crime writers. At this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol I was surprised to hear at least two other writers say, almost apologetically, that their book wasn’t necessarily crime fiction or that they didn’t see themselves as crime writers. It has made me think more deeply about this whole area. For if even the people who write it are not sure that it is crime fiction, then what exactly is crime fiction?

Perhaps it depends on another question: what is crime? And that particular question has been at the centre of my professional career for a long time. I have worked for many years for domestic violence charities in various capacities – supporting victims, developing services, fundraising, working with the criminal justice system; often trying to persuade the police, other professionals and wider society to take crimes perpetrated by people’s partners and ex-partners as seriously as those perpetrated by strangers.

A major problem with crimes relating to domestic violence is a perception in many parts of society that they are not as serious as other sorts of crime. Of course for those who work in the field of domestic violence, it is widely understood to be more dangerous. As Refuge (where I worked for many years) and the NSPCC often remind us: two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner. And the people at highest risk of homicide are babies, killed, usually by a parent or step-parent in a context of domestic abuse. 

I remember once calling the police to report my front door having been kicked in by a stranger one evening while I was out. Fortunately no-one succeeded in getting into the house; nothing was taken; no-one hurt. But the police response was extraordinary. A team arrived within moments. They took fingerprints, sought witness statements, returned the next day for further checks and sent countless leaflets offering support. That same week I had been talking to a woman whose ex-partner had climbed in her window and threatened to kill her with a clawhammer. She was carrying her toddler. When she called the police, no-one came. She was lucky to survive. And she managed to get to a refuge. But many women in the same position are not so lucky.

In my novel I wanted to put the reader in the shoes of the survivor. Frankie’s experiences are fictional but not uncommon. I hope they resonate. Having accidentally written a crime novel I hope it helps, in some way, to change our collective perception of domestic violence and recognise it as serious crime.


A Proper Mother by Isobel Shirlaw (Oneworld Publications) Out Now 

Ever since an ominous palm-reading on her honeymoon, Frankie has suspected that her youngest son, Michael, is different. From an early age he sees things no one else can. As he grows up – academically gifted, a musical prodigy and with an unshakeable religious faith – his mother can no longer deny there is something strange about him, or that it frightens her.  It is only when Frankie learns Michael is sliding into drugs and violence that she realises she can't keep ignoring the past. But by confronting her destructive marriage and her own responsibility for all that has gone wrong, she begins to see there is something darker at play.

You can follow her on "X" @isobelshirwal

D V Bishop on keeping an ongoing series fresh

How does a writer keep an ongoing series of novels fresh when their publisher is eager for a new book each year? I’ve been pondering this lately, despite the fact it’s early in my crime writing career to fret about such challenges. After all, the latest Cesare Aldo novel A Divine Fury (out June 20th) is only the fourth in my series of Renaissance Florence thrillers.

Compare that to other authors and you’ll see I am just getting started. Ian Rankin publishes his twenty-fifth Rebus novel later this year, while Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti mysteries set in Venice now number more than thirty. And then there are the many, many Maigret tales by the masterful Georges Simenon...

Nonetheless, when A Divine Fury comes out, I’ll be finishing a draft of my fifth Aldo noel, and be thinking ahead to number six. Publish a new book every year and they soon mount up, regardless of whether that book emerges in spring [the season for debuts and those building a readership], sets forth in summer [holiday reads and mid-list favourites], or arrives in autumn [home to bestsellers and old favourites].

Like many crime writers, I have a morbid dread of repeating myself. [I also have an abiding fear that my latest book will not be the equal of my last, but I suspect this is true of almost every author, regardless of genre.] There are only so many ways to solve a murder in 1539 when facial recognition, DNA, CCTV and fingerprints are still centuries in the future.

Still, a fear of repetition didn’t stop me from wanting to write a crime series. Why? Because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. You could blame a childhood devouring the Famous Five, the Hardy Boys and other mysteries for younger readers. But I suspect the real culprit is the US cop drama Hill Street Blues which I grew up watching it in New Zealand.

I loved the show’s ongoing, character-led storylines and its then-unconventional approach to the police procedural. UK shows such as Bergerac and The Gentle Touch were no match for that. Even muscular series like The Professionals focused on standalone tales, whereas Hill Street Blues was far more novelistic.

That struck a chord with me, and inspired much of my own writing ever since. For example, I write a Warhammer fantasy novel called A Murder in Marienburg that was a thinly disguised homage to Hill Street Blues. Yes, the occasional elf wandered past in the background, but it was still a police procedural, albeit with spells and swords. 

Even when I was writing for the BBC medical drama series Doctors, I was still telling mystery stories, except they were solved by physicians rather than police. Finally, in 2017 I realised the stories I really wanted to tell were about crimes, the people who investigated them, and the consequences of transgressions against the law.

Keeping my Cesare Aldo historical thrillers fresh wasn’t a problem for the initial books; if anything, I worried about them being too varied. The first, City of Vengeance, is a conspiracy thriller in which all of Florence is under threat. By comparison, my second novel The Darkest Sin is a closed circle mystery set in a convent, making it a smaller scale story.

Happily, the story swerve didn’t alienate reader and The Darkest Sin went on to the CWA’s Historical Dagger. After that I decided each new Aldo novel should focus on a different kind of crime or employ a fresh sub-genre to keep myself and my readers on our toes. So, the third book, Ritual of Fire, features vendetta killings with each victim being burned alive.

Aldo book four, A Divine Fury, introduces a serial killer. Of course, nobody calls the killer that because such a description belongs to the 20th Century, not 1539. A Divine Fury also has exorcists, causing a dangerous collision of faith and fatalities. As Aldo tells his colleague Carlo Strocchi, investigating a murder that involves the church never ends well in Florence.

Looking ahead, next year’s book is an Ocean’s Eleven-esque caper in Renaissance Venice. After that Aldo is likely to face a Gothic mystery in book six. Sales shall determine whether he gets a seventh outing, but I’m open to suggestions for new sub-genres…

A Divine Fury by D V Bishop. (Pan Macmillian) Out Now

Florence. Autumn, 1539. A religious serial killer is haunting Florence and only Cesare Aldo can stop them. Cesare Aldo was once an officer for the city’s most feared criminal court. Following a period of exile, he is back – but demoted to night patrol, when only the drunk and the dangerous roam the streets. Chasing a suspect in the rain, Aldo discovers a horrifying scene beneath Michelangelo’s statue of David. Lifeless eyes gaze from the face of a man whose body has been posed as if crucified. It’s clear the killer had religious motives. When more bodies appear, Aldo believes an unholy murderer is stalking the citizens of Florence. Watching. Hunting. Waiting for the perfect moment to strike again . . .

Find out more about D. V. Bishop at his website: 

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Wednesday 19 June 2024

Mary Horlock on The Safest Place in the World.

There was something magical about an island—the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world—an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.

So thought Dr. Armstrong, one of the characters in Agatha Christie’s classic novel And Then There Were None. The story is now familiar: a group of strangers are invited to a mysterious island where they are then stranded and killed off one by one. It’s a kind of locked-room mystery, but by using the setting of on an island, cut off from the rest of the world, Christie increases her characters’ isolation, ramping up the atmosphere of fear and paranoia. 

To re-read the novel now it’s surprisingly dark, but islands can be dark, and I think I’m allowed to say that since I’ve lived on two. They are these fragments of land adrift from the wider world, always a little out of step with it. Whether it’s a tropical haven or a windswept stretch of rock, an island is a border, exposed to the sea on all sides. To be able to see your limits should be reassuring and novels set on islands, particularly crime novels, have that comforting lure. The natural boundaries of cliff and shore shape and contain the narrative. We have a set number of people and places. It is like a puzzle or a game, and also, like a smaller version of our own world. We can put it under the microscope, poke it and prod it and pull it apart. 

But the limits are a danger, too. The island is at the mercy of the elements and can throw up all kinds of surprises: a bad storm, something strange on the beach. In And Then There Were None, just like in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies or more recently Alex Garland’s The Beach, our characters find themselves on an island that is not their home, and with life’s normal rules suspended, things quickly fall apart. 

Inevitably perhaps, I’m interested in islanders as much as islands. Islanders often feel like outsiders. By choice or birth, they live on the fringes. This makes them good observers and also, narrators. My father’s family were from the Isle of Wight, and my grandmother, who lived in house looking out over the Solent, would regale me with stories of wreckers and smugglers who were apparently my ancestors. 

When I was seven we moved to Guernsey, an even smaller island in the English Channel. ‘There’s no crime on Guernsey,’ my mother would say (which is often what someone says in a crime novel just before they die). But she’d then point out - quite rightly, I should add - that on a tiny island where everyone knows everyone else, why bother to commit a crime when you’d be swiftly caught? To me, that sounded rather like an invitation. 

My new novel, The Stranger’s Companion, is based on a true crime, a real-life mystery that happened on the island of Sark in 1933. Now Sark, to those who don’t know, is an island even smaller than Guernsey. It measures three and half miles long and has no cars or streetlights to this day. In 1933 it had a population of 500, two telephones and only three wireless sets on the whole island. Unsurprisingly, it had become a haven for shell-shocked veterans of the last War, and was regularly advertised as the perfect place to escape the more ‘disturbing elements of modern civilisation.’ Then the clothes of a man and woman were found on a cliff edge, with no sign of their owners. Despite days-long searches over the cliffs and coves, nobody was found and nobody was reported missing. It caused quite a sensation in the press precisely because it seemed so unlikely. Sark was ‘the Island Where Nothing Ever Happens’ and yet something obviously had. 

The story and the way it caught everyone’s attention points to the truth at the heart of island mysteries - whether real or invented. We think we are on safe ground, but we’re not. Bad things happen everywhere, sometimes in places where we least expect them to happen. All we can do is create the frame to contain and make sense of them.

The Stranger's Companion by Mary Horlock (John Murray/Baskerville) Out Now.

October 1933. With a population of five hundred souls, isolated Sark has a reputation for being 'the island where nothing ever happens'. Until, one day, the neatly folded clothes of an unknown man and woman are discovered abandoned at a coastal beauty spot. As the search for the missing couple catches the attention of first the local and then national newspapers, Sark finds itself front-page news. When young islander Phyllis Carey returns to Sark from England she throws herself into solving the mystery. As Phyll digs through swirls of gossip, ghost stories and dark rumours in search of the truth, she crosses paths with Everard Hyde, a surprise visitor from her past. As press coverage builds to fever pitch, long-suppressed secrets from Phyll's and Everard's shared, shadowy history begin to surface.

More information may be found on her website

Sunday 16 June 2024

Joanna Dodd on The Long Shadows cast by Old Sins

Long before I started writing my debut psychological thriller The Summer Dare, I was fascinated by the tricks memory can play on us and by what goes through the heads of people who commit a crime a long time ago and think, for decades sometimes, that they’ve got away with it. What story do they tell other people about what happened? Even more interestingly, what story do they tell themselves and, over time, do they actually start to believe that story? 

For me, these questions become even more acute when the person who’s done something wrong is a child at the time. When I was at school, I used to have a recurring nightmare where I’d wake up convinced I’d caused someone’s death. For a few fuzzy-headed moments it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again, and then reality would take over and I’d realise that what I had in fact done was tape over my dad’s recording of the rugby before he’d had a chance to watch it. Such a relief! 

But supposing you were a child and you woke up with that feeling and it was true. Maybe you didn’t mean to do whatever it was, but you can’t be sure that people will believe that, so you make up a story about what happened, and you tell it to other people, and you try to tell it to yourself too. And gradually over the years, the lines between what actually happened and what you tell yourself happened become blurred. 

After all, memory is notoriously unreliable. Many works of fiction explore this concept brilliantly. One of my favourites is Iain Pears’s incomparable An Instance of the Fingerpost, which tells the same story of a murder in 17th century Oxford from four different points of view—all of them unreliable narrators. 

In real life, we’ve all been in a situation where friends or family tell a version of the past that doesn’t accord with our own. We’re all our own unreliable narrators. I’ve definitely been mid-argument with my brother, and longed to be able to rewind and play a perfectly accurate version of whatever we’re bickering about. But the point is I can’t; no one ever can. Mostly the differences in our memories are trivial, and you could argue that when the stakes are high, because some kind of terrible incident has occurred, people might hold onto a more accurate version of events. But I think the opposite could sometimes be true: when the stakes are high, everyone has an interest in creating their own version of the past and they might not even know they’ve done it. There’s a reason why so many of the great works of fiction exploring the unreliability of memory centre around crime.

And if you were a child who did a terrible thing, when justice finally caught up with you, could you conceivably argue that you were a different person now—an adult? Are you always culpable for the sins of your younger self, or does it depend what, and how serious, those sins are? If we’re talking about criminal acts, the legal position is clear. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, and in Scotland it’s 12. As a society, we recognise that children are less morally culpable than adults, and a different sentencing regime applies, but it’s not uncommon for people to be sentenced when they are adults for crimes they committed as children, and the courts have grappled with how best to handle these cases. And behaviour doesn’t have to be criminal to have life-altering implications. 

For The Summer Dare I had the idea of a group of old school friends, who are now adults and are bound together by something that happened to them 25 years ago that they can no longer even talk about. At the time, they tell the grown-ups around them a version of what happened and their decision to withhold the truth has awful consequences. But as adults themselves, they all have slightly different memories of the long-ago summer night that changed all their lives for ever, and somewhere between the gaps in these multiple versions is the truth.

The Summer Dare involves three different timelines: the present, when my characters’ lives are starting to unravel in frightening ways; 1999, when they were school friends and took part in a dare that changed all their lives for ever; and the 1920s, when a legendary star of the silent screen is accused of murder after a glitzy showbiz party. All three strands explore the tricks memory plays and the difficulty of definitively establishing what happened many years earlier. 

The Summer Dare by Joanna Dodd (Hera Books) Out now

Six weeks of friendship. A lifetime paying for it. They were the cool girls. Two years older, oozing glamour. She could prove herself worthy of their friendship. She could do the dare. Twenty-five years later, Lucy has a perfect life. She is still friends with the cool girls. All except one. Maddie. The one they never saw again after the dare. They don't talk about her. They don’t think about her. It is as though she never existed until… Lucy gets a text from an unknown number. Why didn't you tell them where I was? The past hurtles into the present and secrets push their way to the surface. Who is the message from? Is Maddie back? Or is someone else set on exposing the truth and seeking revenge?

Find out more about Joanna on her website You can also find her on X @jkdwriter

Friday 14 June 2024

Bloody Scotland Sneak Peek

 Bloody Scotland 2024 Programme Sneaky Peak

Authors released as part of the festival’s inaugural ‘sneaky peek’ include:

Richard Armitage – Headlining the opening night on Friday 13th September, one of the UK’s most popular actors will be at The Albert Halls in Stirling to talk about his debut thriller, Geneva. His string of acting credits include The Hobbit, North and South, Into the Storm and Spooks.

Ann Cleeves – The creator of three outstanding crime series, two much-loved television dramas in Vera and Shetland and 26 novels translated into over 20 languages will be in conversation with one of the co-founders of Bloody Scotland, Lin Anderson. Her event will be on the afternoon of Saturday 14th.

Peter May – Launching the much-anticipated fourth book in the Lewis series, one of Scotland’s favourite crime writers will be back on the Stirling stage for the first time since 2014 in conversation with one of the founding directors of the festival, local author, Craig Robertson. He will be at the Albert Halls on Saturday evening.

Louise Minchin –  The BBC Breakfast TV presenter will be in Stirling at noon on Sunday 15th September to talk about her debut novel, Isolation Island. The book draws heavily on her TV experience.

Ruth Ware – The international bestselling crime writer – hot from being the guest programmer at Harrogate - will be in conversation with Louise discussing her new blockbuster, One Perfect Couple, chaired by TV and radio presenter, Bryan Burnett.

Tickets for all of these events are now on sale! See here.

Thursday 13 June 2024

The Wrong Child and the Writer's Room

Writing is a lonely business. Despite feverish bouts of activity during literary festivals and inspiring one-to-one chats with readers at bookshop events, novel writing is essentially a solitary pursuit, the writer spending endless hours alone wrestling with the rigours of plot, character, theme and pay-off. But what if it wasn’t? What if you could lighten the load and banish the loneliness by teaming up with another writer, sharing and exploring all the major decisions about your new story together? Why not draw on the experience, inspiration and narrative nous of a pair of writers, fulfilling the maxim that two heads are better than one?

That was the thinking behind a major new Writers Room style initiative dreamt up by myself and publisher Sam Eades at Orion Fiction, which will see five co-written novels released over the next eighteen months, the first of which – The Wrong Child  - has just launched on Kindle, Amazon and in Waterstones. The genesis of the project was simple. We would take the kernel of an idea I’d had, then find an inspirational, story-savvy crime writer to climb inside it, then watch it blossom into something new and surprising. It was risky for sure – what if we didn’t get on, what if the ideas didn’t “take” – but the results have been exhilarating. Three novels are already in the bag, two more are on the way, and The Wrong Child, co-written with the amazing Julia Crouch, is already getting rave reviews on Good Reads, Amazon and beyond.

So why did we decide to do embark on this co-writing experiment? Partly it was to vanquish a common writer’s fear that good ideas will simply wither and die if left untouched and ignored in our computer files. But it was also a chance for me to explore new and exciting genres. I’m principally known for the DI Helen Grace series and for high concept, serial killer thrillers in general. The Writers Room initiative allowed me to explore unfamiliar worlds, taking bold steps into domestic noir, suburban suspense, twisty procedurals and nail-biting abduction thrillers. There is truly something for everyone in this collection of compelling, innovative mysteries and I loved exploring new worlds, new characters and new approaches to story-telling.

Once we’d decided on our top five ideas, our first job was to identify our crack team of co-writers. Aided by Leodora Darlington at Orion, we set about our task in earnest, spending many happy hours reading the very best of modern crime fiction. Before long, we had our five authors. Julia Crouch, the queen of domestic noir, Steph Broadribb, ex-bounty hunter and international best-seller, Andy Maslen, the prolific, hugely popular creator of the Gabriel Wolfe series, Lisa Hall, the undisputed master of jaw-dropping psychological thrillers and Alex Khan, a nailed-on star of the future, whose DS Mumtaz Ali thrillers had me teetering on the edge of my seat.

So how would this collaboration work? Friends and colleagues were immediately curious. Who would shape the story? Who would create the characters? Would we write one chapter each, firing them back and forth to each other in a blizzard of bodies, betrayals and bloodshed? Drawing on my background in television, I took on the role of producer and show runner, locking myself in a room with my fellow collaborators for an extended bout of “story bashing”, to use the official TV term. Hunkered down in the basement of Carmelite House, Orion’s HQ on the Thames, we set off on a gruelling but exhilarating series of one-to-one ideas sessions, during which we defined, shaped and mapped out our new novel.

The approach was similar on each, starting with a session designed to define the unique selling point of our story – the killer concept – before moving on to bespoke sessions exploring character, setting, plot and pay-off. An exhaustive – and occasionally exhausting – process for sure, but the endless pacing and “What ifs?’ allowed us to dig deeper, to go further in our pursuit of original ideas and surprising narratives. The instant response in the room – be it a big thumbs up or a quizzical “maybe” – is incredibly useful when shaping a new story, allowing you to junk unpromising notions, running instead with those angles and insights that inspire both of you. Writing is often a question of confidence and in the Writers Room a shared idea that electrifies both writers is a sure sign of good things to come.

Of course, the real benefit of co-authorship was revealed when we moved on from the planning stage to the hard graft of crafting chapters of tightly coiled prose. Time and again I was thrilled by the originality, personality, wit and personal experience that my co-writers brought to the table, taking an initial idea and bringing it to life in ways I would never – could never – have thought of. I could cite endless examples of this, but here I’d like to highlight Julia Crouch’s writing in The Wrong Child. A sinister tale of child abduction and dark family secrets, it introduces us to Sarah, a mother of three who’s struggling to bond with her new baby, following a difficult birth. Julia, with her eye for detail and trademark mordant humour, was able to capture the physical, emotional and psychological rigours of childbirth with an honesty, piquancy and wicked wit that would have been way beyond me. Happily, and appropriately, The Wrong Child is dedicated to Julia’s first grandchild, Frank, who arrived safely during the writing of the novel.

There are many more such stories I could tell, but instead I will let the new novels speak for themselves. Don’t miss out on The Wrong Child and brace yourself for Steph Broadribb’s chilling thriller, The Reunion, which will be released on September 5th 2024. Please enjoy them responsibly though, as they are seriously addictive…

 The Wrong Child by M J Arlidge and Julia Crouch (Out Now) Orion Publishing.

When 3-month-old Max is abducted, his parents are plunged into their worst nightmare. Devastated mum Sarah only took her eyes off him for a second, but that doesn't stop her guilt. Even husband Jake can't hide his anger that their little boy went missing on her watch. By contrast there are smiles and celebration at a caravan park in Lincolnshire, as baby Blaze is introduced to the Star family. Jenna and Gary are delighted with the new addition to their family. He is their fourth child and a real object of delight to their eldest - fifteen-year-old Willow - who once again will raise the child. But trouble is brewing for the Star family. Willow is concerned by the desperate online appeals from Sarah and Jake, baby Max has neonatal diabetes and without regular treatment will die. As baby "Blaze" becomes seriously ill, Willow makes a shocking discovery. What is the truth about her family? And how far will they go to hide their deadly secret?