Music To Write Books By – Nick Quantrill

nq-photoNick Quantrill joins Crimepieces today to talk about the music he writes to. Nick was born and raised in Hull, an isolated industrial city in East Yorkshire. His crime novels are published by Caffeine Nights. A prolific short story writer, Nick’s work has appeared in various volumes of “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime”. In 2011, 51tk6mt6kdlNick became the first person to hold the role of ‘Writer in Residence’ at Hull Kingston Rovers. When not writing fiction, Nick contributes reviews and essays to a variety of football and music websites. He lives with his wife, daughter, cat and the constant fear Hull City will let him down.

Hi Nick. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I have a confession to make. Although I’m a huge music fan, it doesn’t always mix well for me with writing. I’ve never had the luxury of a proper writing space, so I write with constant background noise – my daughter (aged 5), television, radio – I don’t mind. If I have music on, it tends to be something I know backwards, usually The Beatles, so it doesn’t demand too much attention.

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

Kind of. As much as I can point towards certain writers as being an influence, it was having friends in bands that gave me the push to write. My friends in Lithium Joe and Scarper! booked their own gigs, released their own records, sorted their own merchandise etc. It was a very clear lesson in life – if you want to do something, do it. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood?

I didn’t think I did this until I thought about it. Maybe it’s more a subconscious thing, but if I’m going to write an action scene, I’ll probably have some punk on – bands I was listening to as a teenager, like The Descendents or Green Day. If it’s a more reflective scene and it requires more thought, I often reach for the song-writers who can do in three minutes what we do in 90,000 words – writers like Steve Earle, John K Samson and Jeff Tweedy. Their skills are intimidating, but also very inspiring.

Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

I’m more likely to go back to stuff I know well with The Beatles a constant fixture. Spotify is great for writers (maybe not so great for musicians, though). If you feel the need to hear something, it’s there. I do sometimes have fun figuring out what my characters might like to listen to and then immerse myself in it as I write.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of things on the go. I have the makings of a second Hull-set crime novel featuring Anna Stone and Luke Carver to follow on from “The Dead Can’t Talk”. Hull is the UK City of Culture next year, and for better or worse, it’s something that needs documenting on the page. I’m also working on a crime novel set in various locations around the north of England, so it’s exciting to be exploring new locations.

Thanks, Nick for taking part. Good luck with the writing.  Nick can be found on Twitter: @NickQuantrill  and at his website:


Macmillan Collectors Library

img_2529I’ve just received through the post  a new edition of The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter. The gorgeous new hardback has been reissued to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the book, the first in the series featuring Inspector Morse. It has a comprehensive introduction by Barry Forshaw which gives a useful overview of one of my favourite series.

I also enjoyed the TV adaptation, even when the episodes veered from the books, and the sequel Lewis and prequel Endeavour. In Morse, Dexter created an erudite detective who continues to fascinate.

img_0186I’ve now got hold of four more of the books in the Macmillan library. Three of them are Sherlock Holmes short story collections with afterwords by David Stuart Davies and the other is a selection of classic locked-room mysteries. I have to admit, this isn’t my favourite type of crime novel but then short story does give you the opportunity to dip in and out of the genre.

img_2530The books are beautifully presented with lovely endpapers. The print is slightly small but no more than other books I buy. Either that or my eyesight is going! They’re a really beautiful addition to my bookshelves. Do any other readers buy books for their covers?

Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Reading continues apace for The Petrona Award which we’ll be awarding at Crimefest in May next year. The event in Bristol is one of my favourite crime fiction conferences and I always look forward to it. I see that they have a great Nordic line-up of authors and I’m particularly looking forward to meeting K O Dahl.

I’ve also booked for next years Bouchercon in the Toronto which is very exciting. I’ve been to Canada once before. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve long wanted to visit Toronto. So I’ll be combining crime fiction and sightseeing.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson won the Petrona Award in 2014 for Linda, As In The Linda Murder. His books are of consistently high quality and are complemented by Neil Smith’s excellent translations. The Dying Detective is possible my favourite to date. Retired Chief of the National Crime Police, Lars Martin Johansson suffers a stroke. While he is in hospital, his consultant confides that she believes her clergyman father may have been given a clue to the identity of a young girl’s murderer. Lars, from his bedside, rounds up former colleagues and family members to follow the trail of the cold case as his health deteriorates. Superbly plotted it has Persson’s characteristic grasp of the frailties of human nature. I don’t think there’s a writer like him.

9781785761973I’ve read a couple of books by Camilla Grebe which she wrote with her sister Asa Traff. The Ice Beneath Her is the first book as a solo author and is an interesting psychological thriller. Sales assistant Emma Bohman has been abruptly dropped by her wealthy lover, the boos of a famous clothing store. When a woman is found beheaded in his house, police search for the missing tycoon while the narrative rewinds two months and shows Emma’s increasing conviction that she is under threat. The split narrative, in terms of both voice and timeline works well and the readers is pulled in various directions before the final reveal. The translation was by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

61zk7awsfdlLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon appears to come to an end with The Final Word. For me, it’s the end of an era; Marklund was one of the early Scandinavian writer’s I read and I’ve particularly loved the the drama of Annika’s private life. The Final Word is, like her other books, a good balance of investigation and personal story although there is a more wistful tone to the narrative. I hope it’s not the end for Annika as she’s one of my favourite Scandi characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Music to Write Books By – Cassandra Parkin

cass-author-photoToday on Crimepieces I have Cassandra Parkin sharing the music she writes her books to.  Cassandra is an East Yorkshire writer with Cornish roots and a passion for fairy-tales. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing)won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories and her debut novel The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press) was nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars award. Her second novel The Beach Hut (Legend Press) was published in 2015 and her third novel Lily’s House (Legend Press) will be published tomorrow!

Cassandra, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

In common with many other writers, I find the music of Tom Waits an endless source of inspiration. His album “Rain Dogs” saw me through the early drafts of my first novel The Summer We All Ran Away, while “Bone Machine” helped me find my inner Weird when writing my second, The Beach Hut.

I also love the Cornish shanty group “The Fisherman’s Friends”, who are absolutely amazing and one of the most incredible live-music experiences I’ve ever had. As well as taking me instantly back to my parents’ and grandparents’ home in Cornwall, sea shanties were written specifically as songs to make very hard work flow a little more easily. Admittedly writing is not all that much like hauling in nets or raising sails, but it works for me.

Finally, I love Gregorian plainsong – I think because it was written with the specific purpose of inspiring a state of meditation and contemplation. I’m not a Christian, but I find plainsong helps me get in touch with the awareness of how vast and beautiful our world is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I hope the monks don’t mind.

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?
There’s a lyric in Tom Waits’s song “Mr Siegal” that has haunted me since the first time I heard it:

“You got to tell me, brave Captain,
Why are the wicked so strong?
How do the angels get to sleep
When the devil leaves his porchlight on?”

I come back to those four lines whenever I need to write bad characters sympathetically.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood ?

For my novel “Lily’s House” – about a woman who comes back to her estranged grandmother’s house to clear it after her death, and all the old family skeletons that come tumbling out of the cupboards – I needed to find my way back to the relationship I had with my own amazing and lovely great-aunt, who I used to go to church with on Sundays in the school holidays. Then afterwards we’d go back to her house and have roast chicken for lunch, and she would ruthlessly critique the outfit choices of all the other churchgoers and tell me terrible gossipy stories about everyone’s pasts and presents. It made me realise that being old doesn’t mean giving up on love and intrigue and arguments and secrets and excitement.

The music that took me back to those Sundays were the hymns we used to sing. The church was the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Falmouth, so I especially remember the watery hymns – “For Those In Peril On The Sea”, “Will Your Anchor Hold”, “Lord, Whom Wind and Seas Obey”, and lots of others.

Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

I particularly love Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”. I think it’s because they’re so unobtrusive, but also so complex – they feel like simple background music but there are so many amazing tricks and connections hidden within them. They’re incredibly satisfying. Also – and much less cerebrally – they remind me of Hannibal Lecter, who also liked them very much, and who is one of my favourite literary monsters.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on my fourth novel, “The Winter’s Child”. It’s set in my current home city of Hull, during its 2017 year as City of Culture, and it’s about a woman whose son went missing and has never been found. It’s quite a gothic sort of a story – filled with fortune-tellers and psychics and strange experiences. I’m really enjoying writing it.

Thanks, Cassandra for taking part and good luck with The Winter’s Child.  

Music to Write Books By – Barry Forshaw

bmfnmudlEvery Friday I run a post where authors share with us the music they listen to as they write. The full list of music can be found on the dedicated Youtube channel.

Today, I have Barry Forshaw sharing his music choices. Barry is a writer, broadcaster and journalist who has written books on a wide variety of subjects, including British Crime Writing: An EncyclopediaThe Rough Guide to Crime FictionBrit NoirNordic NoirEuro Noir and Death in a Cold Climate: Scandinavian Crime FictionHe also edits the popular crime fiction website, Crime Time, and writes on classical music.

Given Barry’s expertise in music, he’s helpfully suggested the best CDs to listen to and discussed the recordings’ merits. As most of these tracks aren’t available on YouTube, I’ve given some alternative links so you can get a flavour of the music he’s talking about. He’s persuasive in discussing the quality of his own chosen recording though so I can see a few purchases taking place.

Barry, thanks for taking part in this. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I may be known (if at all!) as a crime fiction commentator with such books as Brit Noir, Nordic Noir and Euro Noir — but those who know me (such as the crime novelist Sarah Ward, herself a singer) are aware of my dark secret: I edit a site called Classical CD Choice ( As this might suggest, serious music is my thing (although I’m also an aficionado of jazz, film soundtracks, Broadway musicals and singers such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald).

As to writing my books, such activity is always – and I mean always – done to the accompaniment of classical music. Which in the final analysis is, let’s face it, wrong – serious music should be given one’s full attention, shouldn’t it? But in the real world, one doesn’t always have the time – there are books to be written, and pieces for newspapers (I’m the crime fiction critic for the Financial Times). And one composer I listen to an inordinate amount of time is another favourite I share with Sarah Ward: Ralph Vaughan Williams.

When I was interviewing Simon Heffer about his sympathetic study of the composer, I took gentle exception to his claiming the composer for the political Right (he was adducing RVW’s quintessential Englishness); ironically, when the interview appeared and I mildly suggested that Elgar rather than Vaughan Williams might have been of a Tory nature, I received a deal of critical mail, interpreting my comment as an attack on Elgar. God forbid — I had simply tried to draw a distinction between the left-leaning Vaughan Williams (whose political persuasions and agnosticism were not automatic characteristics of his class) and the older composer. But for those like myself — who love every aspect of the composer’s work from the exquisite beauty of his string writing to the ringing brass fanfares and thundering organ passages of the ballet Job — RVW can do no wrong, Although The Lark Ascending has been voted the most popular piece of classical music in the UK, exquisite though it is, I’d suggest that a far more bracing experience may be found in the composer’s tough muscular Fourth Symphony, an orchestral tour the force that will leave you pleasurably exhausted, particularly in the white-hot performance by the late Richard Hickox. (VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: SYMPHONY NO. 4; London Symphony Orchestra , Hickox, Chandos CHSA 5003)

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

If I need to be jolted out of apathy and placed in a creative mood, there are three pieces by Richard Strauss, which always do the trick: Richard STRAUSS: DON JUAN,



Try the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/Reference Recordings SACD F707).The mastery of the orchestra which is the hallmark of Richard Strauss’s achievement is fully evident in this disc of three of the composer’s greatest tone poems, and it is a particular pleasure to enjoy this combination played with such dedication and verve here.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood?

Well, if you’re writing about murder – or (in my case) writing about people write about murder, why not have your blood curdled by an astonishing and brutal piece of music which features one of the most gruesome murders in classical music, Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin? (BARTOK: ORCHESTRAL PIECES, MUSIC FOR STRINGS, PERCUSSION AND CELESTA, SUITE FROM‘THE MIRACULOUS MANDARIN/Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner/Chandos CHSA 5130). The first thing to note about these orchestral showpieces from the ever-reliable Chandos is the sheer visceral impact of the surround-sound recording. If earlier conductors (notably Dorati and Solti) have found more Hungarian panache in the scores, Bartok’s music has never sounded better in these recordings which do full justice to the immense richness of the scoring. Edward Gardner and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra perform Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, a piece that took on wider recognition when it was used by Stanley Kubrick on the soundtrack of The Shining. Also on this disc is the Suite from Bartók’s dark and gritty ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. The work, featuring some of the most colourful music Bartók wrote, tells the story of three criminals who force a young woman to lure passers-by into a room where they intend to rob them. The third passer-by to enter the room is the mandarin. The men try to kill him, but only when the girl satisfies his desire do his wounds begin to bleed, and he dies.


Are there any longer works you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

For an hour of Danish music genius, I would recommend two remarkable symphonies by the composer Carl Nielsen.(NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES 4 & 5, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/BIS SACD 2028) The test (as much as anything else) of any performance of Nielsen’s dramatic Fifth Symphony is whether or not the side drum is encouraged to obey the composer’s instruction to ‘halt the progress of the orchestra’ – precisely what happens on the superb recording by Sakari Oramo, the first since the legendary Jascha Horenstein version on Unicorn to really take the composer at his word. The disc (in superb surround sound) also boasts a splendid version of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just about finished American Noir (so I listened to Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin), and I’m polishing Italian Cinema – so Respighi is a good fit for this. The Italian composer was the finest composer of purely orchestral music from a country best known for its opera composers and the sheer orchestral colour of his music never ceases to exhilarate. Notably his Roman Trilogy: (RESPIGHI – ROMAN TRILOGY: FONTANE DI ROMA/PINI DI ROMA/FESTE ROMANE, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/ John Neschling/BIS SACD 1720). The Roman Trilogy (the tone poems Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals) is one of the most breathtaking sequences of orchestral showpieces in the repertoire, and its rich opulence is finally emerging from the cloud of sniffy disapproval it suffered under. This amazing recording – quite the most breathtaking the trilogy has ever enjoyed — will hasten that process. Thrillingly, the recording engineers have utilised multiple channels to the full on the Super Audio recording (brass blazes from the rear channels, rather than those channels just being used for ambience) – with the volume turned up, your pulse is likely to be racing. Neschling’s highly recommendable set may, however, require the registering of a few caveats: an amazing sound stage, as noted, but a recessed organ and some undercharged elements such as the Neapolitan tune, played in rather straight-laced fashion. But these are small points; many moments (such as the cataclysmic finales) absolutely take the breath away. A truly exhilarating disc.

Perhaps, though, not music to write to…

Thanks, Barry, for taking part and good luck with American Noir and Italian Cinema. Barry can be found on social media via the links below.

Twitter: @BarryForshaw3

Website: www.

The Diversity of British Crime Fiction – William Ryan, Bill Rogers and Robert Thorogood

A lot of my reading recently, in addition to Nordic Noir, has been books by authors that I’ve been appearing alongside at events. It’s fascinating to hear what other writers have to say, in terms of what’s inspired their stories and how they go about writing their books and it helps the discussion if I’ve managed to read one of their novels. British crime fiction is a hugely diverse genre and this is illustrated by the following three books.

30130105I’ve reviewed William Ryan’s novels on Crimepieces before and am a fan of his Captain Korolev series. The Constant Soldier is a standalone which tells the story of Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army who returns home to his village from the Eastern Front disfigured from fighting. An SS rest hut has been set up in the village which provides respite for soldiers in the prison camps. When Brandt recognises one of the female workers, a political prisoner he once knew, he accepts a job inside the hut in the last days of the war. The writing, as you would expect from Ryan, is excellent and the calmly written story contrasts with the atrocities being committed around the protagonists. It is in the minutiae that we find the most moving stories and this is Ryan’s best book to date.

51zsz4aonllBill Rogers is an author who I’ve also reviewed on this blog before. His books are set in my hometown of Manchester so it’s always fascinating to read about locations I know well. The intriguingly named The Pick, The Spade and the Crow is the start of a new series featuring Senior Investigator Joanne Stuart who is newly promoted to the National Crime Agency. Stuart features in his previous series so there’s a nice continuity about the new book where a cold case suddenly becomes active again. Rogers’ attention to detail is always spot on and both the police investigation and references of Freemasonry came across as very well-researched. Those familiar with the city of Manchester will delight, as usual, in the references to landmarks such as the Northern Quarter and this excellently written book is a great start to a promising new series.

51puhqu5rcl-_sx317_bo1204203200_Lowdham Festival is an excellent event run Bookcase bookshop in Nottinghamshire. There, I met Robert Thorogood who created the Death in Paradise TV series. He’s written a book which stands alongside the series. As I haven’t seen any of the programmes I can’t compare the two but A Meditation on Murder was excellent. It’s a good example of how a crime novel can be gentle and funny without feeling ‘cosy’. The main detective Richard Poole appears to exasperate those around him yet his off-beat collection of evidence gradually uncovers the murderer of a spiritual retreat leader. Very enjoyable and I’ll definitely be reading more.

Music to Write Books By – Christina Philippou

I’ve had a manic week attending various events to promote A Deadly ThawIt’s been great meeting readers out and about but it does mean that I haven’t managed to write a post with my latest reviews. That will be coming Monday but, in the meantime, as it’s Friday I’ve another interesting post on music that authors write to.

thumbnail_cphilippou-2Today on Crimepieces, I have Christina Philippou whose first novel,  Lost in Static, has just been published. Christina’s writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under her desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, she can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. Christina has three passports to go with her three children, but is not a spy. Christina is also the founder of the contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic.

Hi Christina – thanks for joining in with this. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

Depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing something sad, I normally have No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom playing in the background.

If I’m writing something lively, I hit 90s pop (a little bit of Bobby Brown’s Two Can Play That Game or some classic Madonna, for example).

And if I’m writing action, I listen to Greenday’s Dookie and or Offspring’s Smash. So, in answer to your question, sort of?

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

Matchbox Twenty’s 3am inspired a rather sad short story which will never see the light of day, while The All-American Rejects’ Dirty Little Secret inspired a scene in my novel, Lost in Static.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood? – I love Holst’s ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ for example to get me in the mood to write angry passages.

Haha you’re far more cultured than I am! If I want angry, I put on music that reminds me of people and places that I’d rather not remember – seems to do the trick!

Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

The beauty of Spotify is that you can pick an artist to suit the mood and you can get similar music to listen to. But I normally find myself rehashing old playlists. I find listening to new music distracting when writing. I need it in the background, like the test cricket.

What are you working on at the moment?

Editing book 2 (which is as yet untitled) – which, unfortunately, requires silence, so not so exciting on the music front. Although I did have fun searching through old European hits for the earlier half of the story.

Thanks, Christina for taking part. You can connect with Christina on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Google+. Don’t forget the complete playlist for this series of posts can be found here.


Music to Write Books By – Suzanna Williams

suzanna-williamsToday on Crimepieces, I have Suzanna Williams. Originally from the gritty Northern ex-steel town of Warrington, Suz now live amongst the wild, wet Welsh mountains. She has published two YA fiction books, ShockWaves and Ninetyfive percent Human and also several picture books for young children under the name of Suzie W.

Musically, she plays/teaches the piano, used to play cornet in a Brass Band and spent suzanna-williams-on-stageseveral years playing keyboard on the club circuits. She loves many styles of music, from Meatloaf to Carrie Underwood, Chopin to Blondie … but they need to be turned up loud.

Suzanna, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I don’t usually write to any music with lyrics, as I get distracted and start singing along but I love writing to movie soundtracks. My absolute favourite is the Transformers soundtrack which was composed by Steve Jablonsky. It’s really atmospheric and magically seems to fit to whatever I’m writing.

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

When I was writing Ninetyfive percent Human I had Fear by Sarah McLachlan on repeat. It’s perfect for how you would feel if you were abandoned on a strange planet.

I also thought that, if the book ever got made into a film or series, Taking Chances by Celine Dion would be an excellent choice for the title music.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood?

How about listening to Hans Zimmer’s Chevalier de Sangreal for those moments when your hero or heroine must pick themselves up, dust themselves off and come out fighting?

Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

Movie soundtracks are pretty long anyhow but if I want something a bit different without having to think about it I go to Cinemix is an online radio station which only plays film music. It’s great if you haven’t got anything in particular in mind to write to and I’ve discovered some great music there.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m still working on the sequel to Ninetyfive percent Human. It’s turned into a rather problem book and I’m considering splitting it into two. I’ve also published some picture books for children under the pen name of SuzieW so that’s been keeping me busy too.

Thanks, Suz for coming on the blog. All the pieces chosen for this series can by found on the YouTube channel here. Suz’s links on social media are below.

Website: and

Twitter: @suzannawriter

Review: Stefan Anhem – Victim Without a Face

This week I have a post from guest reviewer Tom Priestly who has been a long time reader of Crimepieces. Tom is a big Nordic Noir fan and has sent a very useful list of his favourite Scandi crime writers in order of preference. I’ll be reading the latest book by Stefan Ahnem as part of my Petrona judging but Tom has beaten me to it and has kindly agreed to review it here on Crimepieces.

saStefan Ahnem’s Victim Without a Face is his first novel, but his previous writing experience (e.g., some of the Wallander TV scripts) has borne fruit: it is well-plotted and grabbed my attention from very early on. It has what may be called rave blurbs on the cover by the outstanding writers Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt (the Sebastian Bergman series) and Ake Edwardson (the Erik Winter series); so, although almost every new mystery book has seemingly pretentious blurbs, the reader may have high expectations from this one. All such expectations were in my case fulfilled: I consider this an outstanding mystery — but I have serious reservations too.

Investigator Fabian Risk has been re-assigned from Stockholm after some dubious event there, and travels down with his children and wife to Helsingborg, his home town, to start afresh and also to try to bring his family life into order. Nothing at all new yet, plot-wise. Still officially on leave, he is called in to assist with a case of a very brutal murder of one of his former classmates, with a telling memento left at the scene: a class photo with the victim’s face crossed out. Soon a second equally brutal one — of a second classmate — is called in, and the photo is there again, with the second face covered in a large black X. Among the twenty-plus children on the photo is Risk; his girl-friend of the time; and the boy whom the two current victims used to bully mercilessly. It looks as if the murderer is obvious, but only if he can be traced: he seems to have vanished from Sweden without leaving the country.

Two hundred pages down, another four hundred to go! Fortunately, the pace heats up. We often read the killer’s thoughts; the scene shifts over the water to Denmark and back; dead bodies begin to accumulate in numbing quantities, each killed in an ingenious and hideous manner; and the plot takes many unexpected but ultimately logical twists. As long as one can stand many very unpleasant forensic details, this may indeed be regarded as ‘brilliant’ and ‘fabulous’ (to quote a third blurb from the cover.) Moreover, the location was new to me, and was made an interesting one. Why then do I have reservations?

First, the length: 588 pages. Edwardson’s blurb includes the sentence “I read it at one sitting”. If we take this literally, it is highly unlikely. If he managed one page a minute, he will have spent nearly three days-and-nights on this task, without sleep, without bathroom breaks, and having to be spoon-fed. I found it so good that I did read it more quickly than the average two mysteries, but it was still a huge effort, as well as being heavy and unwieldy. Yes, the chosen plot requires a lot of detail, and yes, it is not difficult to read, but still I think careful editing would have pared it down to below 500 pages (!) — even with what I think are necessary additions, as now explained.

Second, it stops too abruptly. I wanted to know what happened to Risk and his fractured family, how the rest of the detective team worked out the intricacies of the crimes, and the fate of the two Danish characters — the lazy and manipulative chief inspector and his rebellious (but crucial to the plot!) female subordinate. Frustratingly, none of this information is provided: the reader is left in mid-air.

Third, there are some very annoying “Dick Bartons”. This is my own name for “cliffhangers” in detective stories, when the reader is presented with a crucial point in the narrative and then has to wait for some (short or long) while for its resolution. I base the term on the radio show which I, and millions of other young Britons, listened to – every evening when possible! – between 1946 and 1951 (when I was 9 to 14 years old), see In this series, Dick and his side-kicks Jock and/or Snowy would be at the mercy of a maniac with a large knife, or in a locked room slowly filling with water, or hanging five storeys up from a fraying rope, or in a some other equally perilous plight — at the end (as I now remember) of every single episode (or, as is written nowadays on Facebook: Every. Single. Episode.) I find that in a mystery story Dick Bartons are acceptable and enjoyable, but they must (a) not be too obvious, (b) not be too numerous, and especially (c) not have resolutions for which readers wait too long. There are not too many Dick Bartons in Ahnhem’s book, but they are obvious, and one — where a member of Fabian Risk’s family sees the murderer in a reflection in his bedroom on page 301 and we find out his fate on page 502 — is, in my view, more than just excessive: on top of the great length and the too-sudden ending, it is, for me, unacceptable. — Given the real qualities of the book, this is a great, great pity: were it not for these reservations, I would rate this among the dozen best Scandinavian mysteries that I have ever read. Readers without those reservations will enjoy it immensely and unreservedly (!).

Tom Priestly


This mammoth piece of translating was by Rachel Wilson-Broyles; it is in good contemporary English, but loses none of the Swedish-ness. (As a translator myself, I refrain from writing “well-translated”: only fluent readers of Swedish may judge this aspect.) And one other plus: there is no prominent “International Bestseller” blurb on the cover (these annoy me: if it is a bestseller from a Scandinavian country, it will be necessarily “international”).



Music to Write Books By – Melanie McGrath

melaniemcgrath_c_patriciagreyToday on Crimepieces I have  Melanie McGrath talking about the music that she writes to. Melanie is an award-winning, bestselling writer of crime fiction and nonfiction. As MJ McGrath she writes the Edie Kiglatuk series of Arctic mysteries, which have been translated into 18 languages and are currently being developed for American TV. She has twice been long-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger and her Arctic series have featured in the Times and Financial Times thrillers of the year.  Her first psychological thriller Give Me The Child is out in 2017. She is the cofounder of Killer Women, a group of female crime writers. The first Killer Women festival of crime writing is taking place on 15 October at Shoreditch Town Hall in London.

Melanie, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I write fiction and nonfiction and find that I will usually work in silence when I’m writing fiction but with music playing when i’m writing nonfiction. There are exceptions to this, though. When I need to conjure a particular atmosphere or a scene in fiction I’ll use mood music. When For the Edie Kiglatuk series of Arctic mysteries I listen to a lot of Sibelius and Sigur Ros from, respectively, Finland and Iceland but I also have a recording of an Arctic blizzard which I often play to remind myself of the violence of the setting.

When I want a reminder of just how beautiful and eerie the Arctic can be I listen to katajjaq or Inuit throat singing.

I’ve just finished a psychological thriller, Give Me The Child, set in London. For that I went out in Hackney, where I live, and recorded street sounds, nothing specific, just the thickness of the atmosphere with its rush of traffic, sirens, snatches of conversation and music, helicopters and people singing.

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

Sibelius’ tone poem The Swan of Tuonela, which I first heard many years ago, sparked off in me a love of the  far North. There’s something about it which conjures the fierceness and delicacy of the landscape along with its melancholy beauty.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood?

Kronos Quartet’s cover of the Sigur Ros track Flugufrelsarinn conjures a sinister and anticipatory mood for  listening to when you’re about to write a pivotal scene after which everything in the story changes. For some reason it also really freaks out my little cat Minou.

Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

I will listen to the same piece of music on a loop so it really gets inside me. It’s almost as though I can’t hear it  any more because it’s coming from some internal place.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished the final edits on Give Me The Child, then I’m about to write something completely different, a biography of an old East End pie and mash shop, which is more like narrative history. After that, I’m planning another psychological thriller.

Thanks for taking part, Melanie and good luck with the writing. Melanie’s social media links are below. If you haven’t read any of her books, I’d highly recommend them.

The music chosen by the authors appearing in this series of posts can be found on YouTube here.