Thursday 18 July 2024

A Case of Mice and Murder

Whenever I meet new people and they ask me what I do, I say ‘I am a barrister’. I never pause to think about it. I have been saying it all my adult life. I live and work in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London. I put on a wig and gown and went to court and argued cases every day for more than thirty years. I am a barrister. The last time I said it, was at a party thrown recently by my agent. It was the first publishing party I had ever been to. ‘I am a barrister,’ I said in response to a polite query from a fellow guest. ‘Oh, he said ‘What are you doing here, then?

What was I doing there? I am still wondering.

A Case of Mice and Murder’ is my COVID novel. Faced for the first time in my life with enforced seclusion, I wrote it more for fun than with any thought of publication.

The story was inspired by the extraordinary status of the Inner and Middle Temple (collectively known as the Temple.) The area, as a so-called ancient liberty, is in many ways quite separate from the whole of the rest of London. It is an independent local authority. And believe it or not, the City of London Police enter only with the permission of the Temple and share policing of the area with the Temple porters. Couple that with the fact that the same Temple porters man the gates 24 hours a day and the area is locked at night to all outsiders, and you have the makings of a classic murder mystery. It really only needed a body, a detective and a sidekick. So I set to, and ‘A Case of Mice and Murder’ is the result.

It tells the story of two mysteries in 1901 in the heart of legal London.

The first is the dramatic murder of the Lord Chief Justice and the quest to find his killer. The second a sensational legal battle over the rights to a book written by an anonymous author. 

There is one man linking them; Sir Gabriel Ward KC, Eton and Oxford educated, brilliant, solitary, reclusive, bound by compulsive rituals; reluctant sleuth in the first story, legendary advocate in the second.

The body of the Lord Chief Justice, is found in evening dress, with mysteriously bare feet, lying in the Temple one morning in 1901. The ‘how’ is not very difficult; a carving knife is sticking out of his chest. But who would do such a thing to a conventional successful Judge? And why?

Sir Gabriel Ward KC has no desire to play detective. He wants to be left alone to prepare for his next case. But he literally stumbles upon the body and so becomes drawn into the mystery.

His sidekick is Constable Maurice Wright of the City of London Police, who yearns to become a detective, left school at fourteen, has never read a book for pleasure and who lives with his large loving family in the East End of London.

At the same time as he and Wright investigate, Sir Gabriel is worrying about his next case; and that is a mystery, too. Sir Gabriel is not the kind of barrister who blusters his way round the Old Bailey representing murderers and his cases might be thought dry and technical. But not this one. Ward is representing a publisher who found the manuscript of a children’s book on his office doorstep with no hint as to its authorship. He published it and found himself with a smash hit that makes him a fortune. A woman claims to be the author. But is she really?

Between them, Sir Gabriel and Constable Wright while unravelling the complexities of the cases discover, along with the murderer, and the true author of the book, a friendship across the social divides of Edwardian England.

Now close to publication, I still feel like a barrister at heart but maybe, when my book actually comes out I will get over my imposter syndrome and feel able to say, when I am next asked, that I am a writer as well.

A Case of Mice and Murder by Sally Smith is published by Raven Books on 18th July 2024.

The Inner Temple: a warren of shaded courtyards and ancient buildings forming the hidden heart of London’s legal world. A place where tradition is everything, and murder belongs only in the casebooks. Until now… When barrister Gabriel Ward steps out of his rooms on a sunny May morning in 1901, his mind is so full of his latest case – the disputed authorship of bestselling children’s book Millie the Temple Church Mouse – that he scarcely registers the body of the Lord Chief Justice of England on his doorstep. But even he cannot fail to notice the judge’s dusty bare feet, in shocking contrast to his flawless evening dress, nor the silver carving knife sticking out of his chest. The police can enter the Temple only by consent, so who better to investigate this tragic breach of law and order than a man who prizes both above all things? But murder doesn’t answer to logic or reasoned argument, and Gabriel soon discovers that the Temple’s heavy oak doors are hiding more surprising secrets than he’d ever imagined.

Tuesday 16 July 2024

In The St Hilda's Spotlight - Elly Griffiths

 Name:- Elly Griffiths

Job:- Author


Facebook:- EllyGriffithsAuthor

X:- @ellygriffiths

Instagram:- @ellygriffiths17


Elly Griffiths is the Edgar Award winning author of the Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries, The Brighton Mysteries, the Harbinder Kaur series and the Justice series as well as a number of standalone novels. She was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2016. In 2020 she won an Edgar Award for Best Novel for The Strangers Diaries. In 2021 The Postscript Murders was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. Her most recent book is The Man In Black and Other Stories.

Current book? (This can either be the current book that you are reading or writing or both)

Currently reading: The Examiner by Janice Hallett. It’s the story of a murder told through the emails and coursework of six students on a multimedia MA. The reader is the examiner and, such is the author’s brilliance, I have no idea what’s going on!

Currently writing: The Frozen People, the first book in what I hope will be a series about a time-travelling detective.

Favourite song: 

Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

Which two musicians would you invite to dinner and why?

Bruce Springsteen and Giuseppe Verdi. I’m half Italian (as is Bruce!) and I’d love to talk to Verdi about his role in the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy. We could end by singing Va Pensiero with Bruce on the harmonica. 

How do you relax?

I swim every day and, however knotty the plot problem, I usually find that I’ve solved it after a few lengths. Otherwise I like to read, do crosswords and listen to podcasts. 

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. For me, it’s the perfect novel: thrilling, moving and endlessly inventive. It also has the best heroine, Marian Halcombe, and the best villain, Count Fosco. 

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

 Keep going! I wrote my first novel at 11 so had many rejections before I was finally published at 40.

How would you describe your latest published book?

The Last Word is the story of an ill-matched group of private detectives investigating the death of a writer. The trail leads them to a sinister writers’ retreat and an even more sinister book group…

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?

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

The Kick Inside by Kate Bush 

Neapolitan Songs by Giuseppe Di Stefano

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

Well, it has to be the E-Street Band. I could take over the position currently held by Patti, Bruce’s wife, shaking the tambourine and looking soulful (OK, she sings quite well too).

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

Bruce Springsteen, Wembley 1985. It was the first time that I saw Bruce in concert. I’ve seen him on every subsequent visit to the UK but I’d like to relive that first time. 

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

Everything: the talks, the discussions, the chance to overact in the murder mystery play…but mostly just meeting old friends and making new ones in a beautiful, inspiring setting. 

The Man in Black and Other Stories by Elly Griffiths (Quercus Publishing) Out Now

This collection of tales by the No 1 bestselling author features all her best-loved characters: Dr Ruth Galloway, Harry Nelson, Max Mephisto, Detective Harbinder Kaur and more. It features several stories never published before, including a brand new Ruth and Nelson story. A must for all her fans. Have you been wondering what happened to your favourite characters Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson? Dive into this fabulous collection of stories and find out. Here are stories to suit all tastes. There are ghost stories and mini cosy mysteries; tales of psychological suspense and poignant vignettes of love and loss. There's a creepy horror story to make you shiver and a tale narrated by Flint, Ruth Galloway's cat, to make you smile.

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

Saturday 13 July 2024

'Is it spies or crime'? Why I'm trying to do both’ by Patrick Worrall

Talia in Waterstones Cambridge asked me an interesting question when I thrust a proof of my new book The Exile into her hands last week.

"Is it spies or crime?"

A bit of both, I replied. We need stories that can span both genres now. Because that's the world we live in, isn't it?

Look at Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I certainly did, when I was writing The Exile. It's the closest thing to a third world war that I've lived through.

If the Russian President was a fictional character, how would you write him? Sure, he's an ex-KGB officer. But we're a long way from the intellectual fencing match of the Cold War. 

Vladimir Putin likes "active measures", and he's not subtle about it. Recent aktivnye meropriyatiya include countless hacking operations, a bomb at an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic and a poison plot which left a civilian dead in Salisbury. 

He's also as keen on amassing personal wealth as he is on plotting intelligence exploits. So is Putin a politician, a spy chief or simply a thief and murderer?  Is it spies or crime?

What about Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man who almost unseated the boss? Oligarch? Military leader? Aspiring statesman? Perhaps - but Prigozhin was also a convicted gangster who swelled the ranks of his private army with recruits from the same kind of penal colonies he knew from the inside.

When the new Cold Warriors are ex-cons and their leaders are warlords who order bloody hits on their rivals, we've come a long way from cerebral MI6 men sniffing out Cambridge-educated moles. Intelligence work "rests on a kind of gentleness", said George Smiley. Not anymore.

The brazen, lawless quality of the Putin age was very much on my mind when I wrote The Exile. I mostly do historical novels, and my new book is largely set in France during the early 1950s - the closest analogue I could find to modern Russia.

The France of the Fourth Republic was a fading empire too, unsure of its place in a new world order and desperately trying to hang on to its rebellious colonies. Post-war France was hurting - and lashing out. Political violence is nothing new on the other side of the Channel, but the really astonishing thing was the level of collusion between various agencies of the state and organised crime, particularly the Corsican underworld.

I hadn't set out to write a crime thriller, but I couldn't do justice to the period without trying to get into the minds of the spivs, seductresses, con-artists, gunrunners and godfathers who got caught up in the secret war.

Espionage fiction is tough enough, with its geopolitics and tradecraft, its complex characters leading double lives. Crime writing has its own special demands too. To my mind, it's all about the dialogue. Is it authentic? Does it smell of the streets?

Why attempt to combine the two genres, if it's so hard to pull off? Because that's the world we have to deal with. The boundaries between state actors and criminal organisations are disappearing. High diplomacy and low lives are intertwined.

Writing fiction that reflects this reality is a worthy aim, I think, even if the books that emerge from the process end up being harder to categorize. 

It's certainly an idea that will keep me occupied for my next few novels. I hope you find them somewhere in good bookshops, although I'm not sure about the section.

 The Exile by Patrick Worrall is published by Bantam Press on 11th July at £16.99

It's 1951 and the servants of Stalin are closing in on the occupied nations of eastern Europe. As the Red Army tightens the net, Greta - best and bravest of freedom fighters - is told to escape to the West and undertake a dangerous mission. Greta's task is to find a missing girl: the precious daughter of a partisan general who was sent into exile in the final days of the war. But the so-called Free World is no place for vulnerable young refugees. Europe is in ruins, the old Empires are dying, and a spectacular cast of spivs, gangsters and rival intelligence agencies are fighting over the scraps. Crossing the Iron Curtain will require nerves of steel as Greta faces down the French mob, ex-Nazis, Soviet spies, all the glamour and temptation of Paris and ultimately, her own demons. The Exile is the stunning prequel to The Partisan, which introduced the world to the force of nature that is Greta. This is her white-knuckle ride into the black heart of post-war Europe - a terrifying world in which allies and enemies are impossible to tell apart.

Patrick Worrall can be found on “X” @paddyworrall








Friday 12 July 2024

Poisons, pandemic, and a pregnant detective: 2024 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed


A neurodivergent expert on toxic botanicals, a harrowing exploration of jury deliberations, a high-tech thriller from an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, a desperate mother searching for her son as lockdown kicks in, a gay sleuth in Renaissance Florence, and the return of a beloved fictional detective are among the diverse books named today on the longlist for the 2024 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel

Fifteen years ago we launched the Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with our friends at what’s now WORD Christchurch, to celebrate Kiwi excellence in one of the world’s most popular storytelling forms,” says Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson. “Over the years we’ve celebrated some world-class storytelling, and seen our local take on crime writing, aka #yeahnoir, really flourish. There were many books our judges really loved this year, beyond those that have made the longlist, and the strength and variety of this year’s longlist is going to make it another tough decision for our international panel.

The Ngaios are named for Dame Ngaio Marsh, a contemporary of Agatha Christie and one of the Queens of Crime of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, who penned bestselling mysteries that entertained millions of global readers from her home in the Cashmere Hills. The 2024 longlist includes a mix of past winners and finalists, some first-time entrants and new voices, and several authors who’ve won a variety of other major awards including CWA Daggers, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, NZ Booklovers Award for Adult Fiction, Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award, and the Booker Prize.

 The longlist for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel prize is:

Dice by Claire Baylis (Allen & Unwin)

The Caretaker by Gabriel Bergmoser (HarperCollins)

Ritual of Fire by DV Bishop (Macmillan)

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Pet by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

El Flamingo by Nick Davies (YBK Publishers)

Double Jeopardy by Stef Harris (Quentin Wilson Publishing)

The Quarry by Kim Hunt (Spiral Collectives)

Devil’s Breath by Jill Johnson (Black & White/Bonnier)

Going Zero by Anthony McCarten (Macmillan)

Home Before Night by JP Pomare (Hachette)

 Expectant by Vanda Symon (Orenda Books)

The longlist is currently being considered by an international panel of crime and thriller writing experts from the USA, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Finalists for Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Kids/YA will be announced in early August, with the finalists celebrated and winners announced as part of a special event held in association with WORD Christchurch in late August.

For more information on this year’s Best Novel longlist, or the Ngaio Marsh Awards in general, please contact, or founder and judging convenor Craig

Pushkin Vertigo to Publish Japanese Crime Phenomenon: Strange Pictures


Pushkin Vertigo, an imprint of Pushkin Press, is to publish Strange Pictures, the first novel by Uketsu, a masked Japanese Youtuber turned bestselling novelist. Pushkin Senior Commissioning Editor Daniel Seton bought World English Rights in this and a second title from Kenny Okuyama at Japan Uni Agency. Strange Pictures will be published, in a translation by Jim Rion, in trade paperback and eBook on 16th January 2025.


Published in Japan by Futabasha in autumn 2022, Strange Pictures has already sold 800,000 copies, making Uketsu one of the most talked-about young crime writers in the country. Two further novels by the author have been published by Asukashinsha, with total sales for the books now approaching 3 million copies.


Emily Books Agency and Casanovas & Lynch coordinated the sale in Europe during and after the London Book Fair and received over 50 offers from 20 different countries, a record for Futabasha’s 76 years of history. Foreign rights have now been sold in 29 territories and film/tv requests have been pouring in. In the United States Ruth Logan sold rights on behalf of Pushkin Press to HarperVia in a highly competitive auction. They will also publish Strange Pictures in January 2025.


Strange Pictures is an intriguing new style of crime novel, in which the reader is encouraged to play detective and solve the mystery behind a series of unsettling drawings. On a seemingly innocuous blog, a pregnant woman’s sketches conceal a chilling warning; a child's picture of his home contains within it a dark secret message; a sketch made by a murder victim in his final moments leads an amateur sleuth into an investigation that will reveal a terrifying reality...


The book will be launched with an innovative and ambitious marketing and publicity campaign. An exclusive run of early proofs are currently landing with select readers, with a wider proof run planned for the autumn. Further activity will be largely video based, to closely align with Uketsu’s own creative and unique content.


Daniel Seton said: ‘I’m delighted to have acquired this highly innovative and brilliantly creepy mystery. It feels like an exciting new kind of crime writing, involving the reader in solving the puzzle in a way few authors have done before. It has already been a sensation in Japan and I think it will soon be one all over the world.’


Translator Jim Rion said: ‘As a genuine fan, I can't wait to share Uketsu's crafty tales of the macabre with readers around the world’


Uketsu is an enigmatic Youtuber and author, specializing in horror and mystery. He always appears in videos wearing a white mask and black body stocking, with his voice digitally distorted. His true identity is unknown. Strange Pictures was Uketsu’s debut novel.

Thursday 11 July 2024

Graham Hurley - So why give a bed to someone you hate?

Dead Ground is the ninth novel in my Spoils of War collection. Hunting for one of those backwaters in the seven-year swirl of World War Two violence, my eye alighted on something called Operation Felix, of which – to my shame – I had never heard.

Felix turned out to be Hitler’s bid to bring his year of sensational victories to a pleasing end. In just two brief months in the summer of 1940, he had brought country after country to their knees. Norwegian, Danish, Belgian and lastly French clocks were all readjusted to Berlin time, and now came the icing on the German cake. With Franco’s help, Werhmacht troops would head south through Spain and kick the Brits off the Rock of Gibraltar. And so, the Mediterranean would become a German lake.

Perfect. Except it did not quite work out that way. Assuming Generalissimo Franco’s compliance was a mistake, and months of wrangling would follow but Felix, like any bold idea, had an afterlife that was hard to extinguish and so plans went ahead regardless.

My job as a historical novelist is to nurture a bunch of fictional characters, introduce them to individuals who actually existed, and then see where the chemistry leads. Thus, the pages of Dead Ground partly belong to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence network; to Sir Samuel Hoare, our ambassador in Madrid; to Heinrich Himmler, in charge of the SS; and to Franco himself. 

But exalted company like this must make space for Tam Moncrieff, an ex-Royal Marine poached by MI5; for Carlos Ortega, a mercenary sniper hideously disfigured by a rebel bomb in Madrid; and for Annie Wrenne, a young bi-lingual nomad recovering from a disastrous affair. Together, this cast of worthies – some fictional, others not - must somehow keep Gibraltar safe in British hands.

What to do? Lin and I boarded the ferry to Santander, and thence a series of Spanish coaches that took us in a vast seven thousand kilometre circle the length and breadth of the country to check out key locations. The trip swallowed nearly a month and was unforgettable.

I could bore you with a series of traveller vignettes: the lengths we went to in search of bullet-pocked monastery walls, of views from this key trench location or that, of the remains of a seven-building in Murcia that had once housed thousands of Republican refugees, of the afternoon a shelf full of wine bottles fell on my head, but all this fluff would miss the point.  Because no one really wants to admit that the years of Spanish violence ever happened. Go to museum after museum and the timelines on the wall leapfrog the years between 1936 and 1939. There’s just a blank.  Whoever wants to celebrate the Spanish killing each other?

And so, the diligent researcher has somehow to coax native strangers into talking about something they would prefer to forget. Bad Spanish does not help, and neither does age, but somehow the itch of memory has to be addressed, and just occasionally it works.

We were in Alicante. Terrible things had happened there but no one these days could possibly believe it. Except, if you look hard, there are clues. On 25 May 1938, the Fascist Italian bombers levelled the Mercado Central, killed around three hundred people and injured nearly a thousand more. That single attack spilled more Spanish blood than any other raid.

Alicante has restored and opened one of the city’s bomb shelters and amongst the commemorative plaques on the wall of the current market square is a clock stopped at precisely 11.20, the moment the first bomb fell. This kind of remembrance is exceptional in today’s Spain, and we were looking up at the clock, when I felt a light pressure on my shoulder. The Spanish are very polite, and the stranger was very old.

‘You want to know about the war?’ His accent was thick.

‘Yes,’ I said.


For a long moment I was robbed for an answer. Then I began to explain about the book, the books, the series as a whole. His eyes never left mine.

‘Why?’ he asked again. ‘What business is it of yours?’’ He gestured towards the clock. ‘These people are all dead. Either then or since. So, leave them in peace.’ He smiled. ‘War is never our friend. So why give a bed to someone you hate?’

So why give a bed to someone you hate? Good question. Oddly unresolved. 

Dead Ground by Graham Hurley (Head of Zeus) Out now in Hardback £20.00

1936. Anglo-Breton translator Annie Wrenne is working in Madrid when the Spanish Civil War breaks out. Annie becomes a nurse on the front line, but after falling in love with a patient, she ends up pregnant – and abandoned – by a man she thought she knew. Annie passes the rest of the war in a haze, her only consolation her relationship with mysterious Republican fighter Carlos Ortega. Annie finds herself caught up in Ortega’s world, a web of intrigue, which leads to her recruitment into MI5. On her first mission, Annie must pose as Ortega's wife and head to Algeciras. Hitler’s Operation Felix – his plan to control the Mediterranean and force Churchill to the negotiating table – has been set into motion, and the 'couple' must help prevent the Nazis from seizing Gibraltar. But Ortega has secretly been working for the Nationalists, part of Madrid’s Fifth Column. If it falls to Annie – and Ortega – to save the day for the Allied cause, can she trust a man who has changed sides yet again?

 You can find more information about Graham and his books on his website. You can follow Graham Hurley on X @Seasidepicture

Wednesday 10 July 2024

In The St Hilda's Spotlight - David Whittle

 Name: - David Whittle

Job: - Author

Introduction: -

David Whittle is the biographer of Bruce Montgomery, who is better known to detective fiction readers (especially of the Golden Age era) as Edmund Crispin. He is a classically trained musician but is also involved in folk and big band music. He was the Director of Music for 32 years at Leicester Grammar School.


Current book? (This can either be the current book that you are reading or writing or both)

I am in the middle of the very informative Perry: A Drinker’s Guide by Adam Wells (I organize the cider and perry bar at my local CAMRA beer festival) and have just finished Midsummer Murder by Cecil Wills (I review for Mystery People). Mixing business with pleasure? No, just pleasure.

Favourite book:

There are too many. I have recently reminded myself how much I love The Bachelors (Les Celibataires) by Henry de Montherlant. It follows the decline of two elderly and impecunious members of the aristocracy who, like more or less everyone else in the book (and certainly members of their family) are disagreeably lazy, feckless, eccentric, mean, anxious, cantankerous, snobbish and malevolent, amongst many other unappealing yet somehow comic traits. How can you not take to the sort of characters who will, for instance, order a daily newspaper ‘with the sole intention of forcing this excellent man [the local postman] to walk sixteen kilometres daily from the post office to the château and back.’ As the novel memorably states about one character, an ageing count: ‘It was malevolence that kept him alive, for malevolence, like alcohol, is a preservative.’ Another French novel, Clochemerle by Gabriel Chevallier, detailing the comic repercussions from the mayor’s decision to build a public urinal in the village square, is also much loved. Appropriately, this year, I am a great admirer of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (I wrote one of my few fan letters to him about it). If all else fails it would have to be The Code of the Wooster’s by PG Wodehouse.

Which two musicians would you invite to dinner and why?

Just two seems a bit mean! One would have to be Bruce Montgomery (‘Edmund Crispin’) for the obvious reason that I’d like to see how accurate my portrait of him is in the biography, even if presumably he’d drink me out of house and home and I wouldn’t remember much as I’d be sloshed after half an hour. The other would-be JS Bach. For organists like me his music is a (the?) high point of the repertoire and I would enjoy telling him that I spent five years learning and performing all his surviving organ works (everyone else is fed up with me going on about it). There are one or two questions about performance practice that I would like to ask him before Montgomery gets going with the booze.

How do you relax?

I am a keen birdwatcher but like to have a good walk whilst doing so (I am not one of those who stands for hours in the same spot with a telescope), preferably near marshes as nothing beats a good swamp - that’s what coming from the Wash does for you. Most Saturdays in the season are taken up with football as I have a season ticket at Boston United, and also go to Derby County sometimes. And, of course, reading.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

One of the ones I have listed above for the reason that I admire them.

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

Just get on with it. Ideas are all very well, but you have to put in the slog.

How would you describe your latest published book?

I have only one published book, although I have contributed to a number of others. The rather inelegantly titled Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books has sections examining the music which are a bit specialized, but they can always be skipped. I hope the biographical chapters and examinations of the novels keep the general reader entertained.

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?

Another impossible question, the answer to which varies almost from hour to hour, but here’s today’s list:

1] I am currently enjoying the complete chamber music of Gabriel Fauré.

2] The Atomic Mr Basie (a high point of big band jazz)

3] No Rush by Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham (they are not all by him, but nobody can write slow airs like Phil Cunningham).

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

I have had the fun of playing the piano with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra (only as a guest for a couple of numbers!), but I think I’d relish playing the piano with the wonderful Scottish group Session A9. They give traditional music a really good modern drive and it can be very exhilarating (they play lovely slow tunes too).

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

It would be the last UK appearance of the great Count Basie and his Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982 (he died two years later). I was in my first job teaching at a boarding school on the Devon/Dorset border, so it was more or less impossible to get out during the week, particularly as I only had a 95cc motor bike. I managed, though, to get to it (not on the bike!) but my memory of the evening is now rather hazy. I would love to experience it again, even if only to take proper note of who the band members were.

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

I have a lot to thank St Hilda’s for, as the first time I spoke about Crispin was there in 1994 when my research was in their relative infancy. I met a lot of people who encouraged me to keep going, so I am looking forward to meeting some of them again as well as meeting new like-minded people and hearing the other speakers. I am particularly looking forward to having a chat with Jake Lamar as I relished Viper’s Dream.

Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books by David Whittle (Taylor and Francis) Out Now

Under his real name, Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978) wrote concert music and the scores for almost 50 feature films, including some of the most enduring British comedies of the twentieth century, amongst them a number in the series started by Doctor in the House and the first six Carry On films. Under the pseudonym of Edmund Crispin, he enjoyed equal success as an author, writing nine highly acclaimed detective novels and a number of short crime stories, as well as compiling anthologies of science fiction which helped to increase the profile of the genre. A close friend of both Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis, Montgomery did much to encourage their work. In this first biography of Montgomery, David Whittle draws on interviews with people who knew the writer and composer. These interviews, together with in-depth research, provide great insight into the development of Montgomery as a crime fiction writer and as a composer in the ever-demanding world of films. During the late 1950s and early '60s these demands were to prove too much for Montgomery. Alcoholism combined with the onset of osteoporosis and a retreat into a semi-reclusive lifestyle resulted in him writing and composing virtually nothing during the last 15 years of his life. 

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

Sunday 7 July 2024

In The St Hilda's Spotlight - Lucie Whitehouse

 Name:- Lucie Whitehouse

Job:- Author 

Facebook: Lucie Whitehouse

X:- LWhitehouse5

Instagram:- lwhitehouse5


Lucie Whitehouse is the author of seven novels which include the Robin Lyons series of which Risk of Harm was a Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Month. Her psychological novel Before We Met was not only a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick but also a ITV Crime Thriller Book Club selection. Her most recent book is Last Witness.

Current book? (This can either be the current book that you are reading or writing or both)

I’m currently reading my way through Rosalie Knecht’s excellent Vera Kelly series. Set in the late Sixties in New York and South America, these remind me of both Mad Men and Graham Greene, and in my book, there’s not much higher praise than that. 

Favourite book

Just one? Too hard. Can I do a top three? The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel and The Dead Hour by Denise Mina.

Which two musicians would you invite to dinner and why?

Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen because they’re both top-five favourites of mine and they’re both excellent storytellers.

How do you relax?

Dinner and drinks with friends and family.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel because it’s a work of genius.

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

Don’t try and make your first draft perfect (because, I hate to tell you, Lucie, you will never shake this habit and it’s terrible). Also, do NOT under any circumstances learn to play Sudoku. 

How would you describe your latest published book?

In Last Witness, DCI Robin Lyons is plunged into one of Birmingham’s most contentious recent cases when eighteen-year-old Ben Renshaw is found dead in city woodland. Renshaw had been a key witness in the rape trial of Alistair Heywood, son of a rich and influential local family, and the Heywoods had promised revenge but as Robin discovers, the truth is much more complicated than that.

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?

Tracy Chapman’s eponymous album, Ryan Adams’s Gold, Cowboy JunkiesThe Trinity Sessions

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

The Cure because I love them and I’m one hundred percent up for Robert Smith’s aesthetic.

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

The White Stripes at Brixton Academy, 2003. Phenomenal. Jack White is a genius. 

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

Seeing friends and making new ones, and learning more about this fabulous genre of ours.

The Last Witness by Lucie Whitehouse (Orion Publishing)

When 18-year-old Ben Renshaw is found dead in city woodland, DCI Robin Lyons is plunged into one of Birmingham's most controversial cases.  Months earlier, Ben and his best friend gave testimony that sent a former classmate, Alistair Heywood, to prison for a vicious sexual assault. Before the trial, the boys and their families endured months of brutal witness intimidation, for which the Heywoods, a privileged and influential local family, faced no legal repercussions. Instead, they vowed revenge. Is Ben's murder the fulfilment of that vow, the beginning of a bloody new chapter that will go on claim lives on all sides? Or is the truth - as the Heywoods claim - something entirely different?To solve the case, Robin has to negotiate the city's networks of power while walking a dangerous line: her own daughter, Lennie, has a secret that could threaten her liberty - and, if it comes out, Robin's, too. Before long, Robin comes to question whether she knows what justice is at all.

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

Thursday 4 July 2024

The importance of empathy when writing thrillers


It’s the 4th of July today, and of course apart from America’s Independence Day and Election Day in the United Kingdom – it’s also the release day for Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, A TALENT FOR MURDER.

We reviewed it last month, noting that “…….Told in a beguiling style, alternating between third person as well as first person point of views, we get a literary thriller that will make you shiver next time you think about reading a collection of short stories of John Cheever…….Though a warning – this novel is beguiling because under the cheerfully evocative and engaging narrative, lurks a much darker truth about concealed psychopaths and how banal evil can be……”

Read the Full Review HERE

Following our reading of A TALENT FOR MURDER, Peter kindly supplied our readers with a little context on the writing of this engaging [but very dark] narrative >

I write a lot of bad people. I write some good ones, too, and quite a few that fall somewhere in between. What I try to remember with all of these made-up humans is that they have something in common; they are the center of their own story. And they all think they’re the good guy, more or less.

My job, as I see it, is to write these characters as though they are morally equal. That doesn’t mean I don’t somewhat judge them, myself, but I need to let their actions speak louder than my words. Nothing is worse than a writer telling their reader straight out who the good people are and who are the bad. Most readers can figure this out for themselves.

Also, there is not much worse than a one-note villain. That’s why I think empathy is so important to a writer. Whenever I create the antagonist of the story, I remind myself that this particular character was a child once upon a time. That they were more than likely treated poorly by someone along the way. Just as in real life, this is not an excuse for truly heinous actions, but it does help us to understand why they happen. It helps us to feel as though this bad person has complexity.

And that makes for a better book. Once upon a time I wrote a novel called The Kind Worth Killing. There was a murderer in it named Lily Kintner, and somewhere along the way she became the protagonist of the story, and now she’s the protagonist of my latest book, A Talent for Murder. And, yes, she still kills people. But she has her reasons. I suppose all killers do. Anyway, as a writer I just put her on the page and let her do her thing. It’s not for me to judge if she’s a good person or a bad person. That’s up to the reader. 

The importance of empathy when writing thrillers

(c) 2024 Peter Swanson

Shots Magazine would like to pass our thanks to Tara McEvoy and Angus Cargill of Publishers Faber and Faber [London] for their help in getting this essay from Peter Swanson for Shots Readers.

More information about the work of Peter Swanson >



2024 CWA Dagger Awards Announced

Una Mannion, Jordan Harper, Jo Callaghan, and Anthony Horowitz receive CWA Dagger Award.

The 2024 winners of the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Dagger Awards, which honour the very best in the crime-writing genre, have been announced.

Created in 1955, the world-famous CWA Daggers are the oldest and most respected awards in the genre and have been synonymous with quality crime writing for over half a century.

The awards were announced [11pm, 4 July] at a CWA gala dinner at the Leonardo Royal Hotel in London.

The Gold Dagger, which is awarded for the best crime novel of the year, went to Una Mannion for her second novel, Tell Me What I Am.  The Irish-American author has won numerous prizes for her poetry and short stories.

Mannion beat stalwarts of the genre shortlisted for Gold, including Dennis Lehane and Mick Herron. Past winners of the coveted Gold Dagger, include Ian Rankin, John le Carré, Reginald Hill, and Ruth Rendell.

The judging panel praised it for being ‘haunting and beautifully written’ saying the character-driven thriller ‘expertly examines the boundaries of love, power and control and will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, showcases the thriller of the year. This year it went to Jordan Harper, with his second thriller, Everybody Knows.

Judges said Harper’s novel was ‘brilliantly constructed and fast-paced’ taking readers into the ‘heart of the darkness of Hollywood, guided by a sensationally atypical protagonist.

Maxim Jakubowski, Chair of the Daggers Committee, said: “Yet another remarkable year of crime writing in which our impartial judges have uncovered a crop of wonderful books. In a year in which many of our 'big beasts' had new books, it's refreshing to see so many new names and talents winning. And a momentous occasion for independent publishers who have swooped on the majority of the awards and, in particular, Faber & Faber who have achieved a rare double of Gold and Steel Daggers.

The much-anticipated ILP John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger highlights the best debut novels. 2024’s recipient is Jo Callaghan with her BBC Between the Covers Book Club pick, In the Blink of an Eye, praised for being ‘fresh, original and gripping.

The Historical Dagger goes to Jake Lamar for Viper’s Dream, a daring look at the jazz-scene of mid-century Harlem and the dangerous underbelly of its drug trade. Judges praised its skilled plotting and ‘elegantly spare prose’ creating a ‘pungent sense of the jazz age’.

The ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction was awarded to Nicholas Shakespeare’s Ian Fleming: The Complete Man, praised as a ‘panoramic biography of the creator of the most charismatic 20th century hero’. Judges found it a ‘deeply felt and meticulous portrait’ that adroitly shows how Bond emerged from Fleming’s own life and career.

The Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger was awarded to Maud Ventura’s My Husband, translated by Emma Ramadan, which was a sensation in France, likened to Patricia Highsmith and Gone Girl. Judges praised its ‘sharp twist in the tail’.

The CWA Daggers are one of the few high-profile awards that honour the short story. This year the accolade goes to Sanjida Kay for The Divide in The Book of Bristol, edited by Joe Melia and Heather Marks. Judges said it was a ‘tale of social division, loneliness, and how our desire for connection can make us vulnerable, with a bittersweet conclusion.’

The Dagger in the Library nominees are voted by librarians and library users, chosen for the author’s body of work and support of libraries, and was awarded to Anthony Horowitz.

The CWA judging panel said: “Renowned for Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders on the screen, Anthony’s books are triumphs too; the Alex Rider series, his James Bond, and his Sherlock Holmes novels. Now the author has surpassed himself with standalone mysteries and the endearing, inventive Hawthorne, and Horowitz series.”

The Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year Dagger, which celebrates publishers and imprints demonstrating excellence and diversity in crime writing, goes to Pushkin Vertigo (Pushkin Press). 

The CWA Diamond Dagger, awarded to an author whose crime-writing career has been marked by sustained excellence, is announced in early spring and in 2024 it was jointly awarded to Lynda La Plante and James Lee Burke.

The Daggers also recognise individuals whose contributions to the crime genre deserve special merit. The Red Herring Award dates back to 1959, and have been awarded to over 40 recipients. This year it goes to Jean Briggs and Dea Parkin. Darren Wills also received a Red Herring award, which was presented to him privately earlier in the year. 

The awards were co-hosted by the Sunday Times bestselling author of Truly Darkly Deeply, Victoria Selman, and the barrister and bestselling author, Imran Mahmood, whose debut You Don’t Know Me was adapted by the BBC.

Guest speaker on the night was the New York Times and Sunday Times number one bestselling author who has been published worldwide in over 25 languages, Lisa Jewell.

The Winners in Full:


Tell me What I Am by Una Mannion (Faber & Faber)


Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper, (Faber & Faber)


In The Blink of An Eye by Jo Callaghan (Simon & Schuster UK)


 Viper's Dream by Jake Lamar (No Exit Press)


My Husband by  Maud Ventura translated by Emma Ramadan, (Hutchinson Heinemann)


 Ian Fleming: The Complete Man, by Nicholas Shakespeare (Vintage)


The Divide by  Sanjida Kay from The Book of Bristol edited by Joe Melia and Heather Marks, Comma Press


 Anthony Horowitz


 Pushkin Press

Congratulations to all the nominated authors and winners.