July’s Recommended Reads

My recent reads have been a mixture of fiction and non-fiction for various festivals but I’ve managed to sneak in two books I’ve been dying to read for a while.

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey is a creepy, unusual read set in the the Yorkshire countryside. Charles and Erin Hayden are mourning the loss of their young daughter, wrapped in grief and recriminations. Newly arrived from the States, they take up residency in Hollow House which Erin has inherited from her distant relative, Caedmon Hollow. Erin retreats into an alcohol and drug haze while Charles becomes increasingly drawn to the history of the house. An interesting story with a dark theme Bailey portrays the mistrust and blame that follows an unexpected death.

The Vanished Bride is a historical novel featuring the three Bronte sisters, by Rowan Coleman written under the pseudonym of Bella Ellis, a play, of course on the moniker used by Emily to initially publish her books. Emily, Charlotte and Anne are back under the same roof for the first time in years. Charlotte is recovering from her unhappy love affair with the married Monsieur Heger and Anne has been forced to leave her last employment because of Branwell’s affair with the lady of the house. When a married woman goes missing in the nearby town of Arunton, leaving behind a bloodied chamber, the three sisters, aided by Branwell decide to investigate.

The novel is told from the points of view of the three sisters and, interestingly, it is Anne who comes across as the most forceful. Coleman has done her research and  references the sisters’ past and family life at Haworth parsonage. As Coleman says, there’s no evidence that the sisters investigated a crime but then there’s no evidence that they didn’t. I think Coleman, or rather Bella Ellis might be on to a winner here so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the book. You have a while to wait though. The Vanished Bride is out on ebook on the 12th September and hardback in November.

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Audio Recommendation: The Conception of Terror – Tales Inspired by MR James.

I’ve listened to audio books for years, borrowing cassettes and CDs from the library before they were readily available elsewhere. Recently, of course, audio books have boomed in popularity. I have a subscription to Audible and I’ve discovered some great authors through listening to their books. I’ve not mentioned them here on my blog, largely because I find the listening experience different from reading and I often wonder if my response to print would be different. However, given my reading is now around fifty percent audio, I thought I’d start sharing some of my recent listens.

Audible Originals are audio recordings not published in print and I’ve found these incredibly satisfying to listen to. I recently discovered The Conception of Terror, four stories inspired by MR James. I’m a huge ghost story fan and MR James is probably one of the most familiar names of the genre. His stories are dominated by intellectual puzzles and vengeful spirits. Adaptations of his works abound in film and TV and, now, four of his tales have been updated by contemporary writers.

Casting the Runes is one of James’s most popular stories and Stephen Gallagher’s interpretation has academic Jo Harrington give a damning assessment of Karswell’s journal submission which results in her receiving a curse from the vengeful occultist. Her partner, Edward Dunning, a paramedic becomes increasingly concerned for Jo’s sanity. It’s a nightmarish, fresh take on a very popular story and brilliantly acted.

Lost Hearts is one of James’s creepiest stories involving the disappearance of children in the vicinity of an apparent benefactor. AK Benedict cleverly transposed the story to a modern day tower block, Aswarby House, where teenage Stephanie is being fostered. Benedict captures the tension and fear of the children involved and its tone is slightly more downbeat than James’s story which I thought perfect for contemporary times.

The final two – The Treasure of Abbott Thomas and A View from A Hill written by Jonathan Barnes and Mark Morris – move the stories not only to contemporary settings but address modern day preoccupations. In the first story, Mika Chantry played by Pearl Mackie is a former comprehensive school teacher who now heads up history in the independent Somerton school where allegations of abuse are surfacing. In the final story, a father’s grieving process after the death of his child is being recorded for a podcast which his wife considers intrusive and exploitative. In the finest Jamesian tradition, curiosity is punished and retribution gruesome.

All four stories could be enjoyed without knowledge of the James originals but are a delight to listen to when you know the stories. Hopefully we’ll get more stories updated  including my favourite – Warning to the Curious.

 

Derby Book Festival: John Harvey, AA Dhand and Fran Dorricott

This Sunday, I’m interviewing John Harvey, A A Dhand and Fran Dorricott at the Derby Book Festival. They’re writers at different stages of their careers and we’ll be discussing their books within the context of the contemporary crime novel. One of the best things about moderating panels is the opportunity I get to question authors about what they’ve written and I’m looking forward to the event.

John Harvey is the author of over a hundred novels, including the Nottingham based series featuring detective Charlie Resnick and, more recently, his Frank Elder books, of which  Body and Soul is the final instalment. Katherine, Elder’s daughter, is recovering from a traumatic relationship with Anthony Winter, an artist whose paintings of her suggest a relationship characterised by coercion and abuse. When Winter is found dead, both Elder and Katherine come under suspicion, while an old crime comes back to haunt them both. I’ve long been a fan of Harvey’s novels and Body and Soul is, unsurprisingly, a compelling narrative and a poignant ending to the series.

 

City of Sinners by A A Dhand is a slice of noir (in its traditional sense) set in Bradford. DCI Harry Virdee is called to a body found in Waterstones to discover he’s on the hunt for a sadistic killer who has a personal gripe with the detective. Part of the novel is narrated by Saima Virdee, an A and E doctor who is has to care for her estranged father in law. The combination of these two plots – the brutal and gritty search for a killer and the personal backstory of Virdee and Saima’s marriage make this a wonderful read. Dhand perfectly captures the rawness of late night Bradford.

 

After the Eclipse is the debut novel by Fran Dorricott. Cassie’s sister Olive disappeared in a small Derbyshire town during the 1999 eclipse. Journalist Cassie has returned to look after her elderly grandmother but, as another eclipse is forecast, a girl goes missing. Cassie, convinced that the two disappearances are connected, begins to look at the residents of Bishop’s Green to see if there’s a predator who has been living in the community all along. Dorricott excels at showing the tensions which arise when a crime takes place in a small town.

 

Three excellent books which I can’t wait to talk to the authors about. Tickets for the event can be found here.

May’s Recommended Reads

I recently watched a programme about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and the impact of the crimes on the families of his victims. The investigation had been hampered by the police’s assumption that the killer only attacked prostitutes ignoring other victims whose profiles didn’t fit their assumptions. In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold reassesses the five ‘canonical’ victims of Jack the Ripper whose murders in 1888 appalled contemporary society and whose stories have been dissected ever since. I remember going on a Ripper walk when I lived in London and was appalled by the use of post mortem photos of the victims. These depersonalised images were both salacious and shocking and Rubenhold’s book certainly helps to reclaim the women from the manner of their deaths.

The story of the five victims are told with both compassion and with reference to the wider context of women’s lives in the period. Whether they were deserted by their husbands (Polly Nichols and Catherine Eddows) or victims of chronic alcoholism (Annie Chapman) or simply women unable to escape their pasts (Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly) the author shows the limitations of women’s choices at the time. Abandoment by one man necessitated the finding of another to act as both protector and benefactor. Each women’s story stops at precisely the point where most narratives begin – their murder – and this excellent of this book overshadows all the dubious “X is Jack the Ripper” narratives that have proliferated over the years.

I enjoyed Michelle Paver’s two previous novels, Dark Matter and Thin Air and had have been looking forward to her latest. Wakenhysrt is set in Suffolk, a fenland county where marshland wilderness coexists alongside ordinary village life. We meet protagonist, Maud, initially through a newspaper article from 1966 and are catapulted back in time to the Edwardian period where intelligence and curiosity isn’t valued in girls. Her mother, forced into a repetitive cycle of childbirth and mourning finally succumbs to illness and Maud is left alone with her repressive father.

Dark and raw, I particularly liked the way Paver didn’t flinch from the realities of women’s lives, from the bloodied pails after miscarriages, to the choices made by men in relation to the fates of their wives. The countryside is beautifully depicted, the wildness of the fens supporting a community where myths and old stories entwine. Paver has used innovative story telling methods to unfold this Gothic tale and it made a perfect late evening read.

 

The 2019 Petrona Award Shortlist

Today we’re announcing the outstanding crime novels from  Norway, Iceland and Denmark which have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

I was delighted to be the judge on the award in what will be my final year. The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during the annual international crime fiction convention CrimeFest, held in Bristol on 9-12 May 2019. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize, and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2020.

The shortlisted books are:

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

Thanks to Crimefest for their generosity and to our sponsor David Hicks. The judges comments on all the books can be found on the Petrona Award website.

Have you read any of these books and do you have a view on who should be the winner? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Books to Look Out For

I loved Stephanie Marland’s first Starke and Bell thriller My Little Eye and her follow-up, You Die Next is an outstanding read. A group of urban explorers enter a disused studio and discover a gruesome scene they’re pretty sure isn’t staged. One by one the explorers are murdered while a fellow thrill seeker pleads with academic researcher Clementine Starke to look into the deaths. This brings her into contact with former lover DI Dominic Bell. The shifting point of view works very well here – unsettling the reader and allowing us into the minds of both urban explorers and Clementine and Dom. This is definitely this author’s best book and was a delight to read.

 A Dying Breed by Peter Hannington is an excellent a political thriller with a strong protagonist. His follow-up, A Single Source, has veteran BBC Reporter Will Carver in Cairo during the 2011 Arab Spring. Political intrigue, the perils facing foreign correspondents and the exploitation of refugees fleeing conflict are all represented in this intelligent and well plotted thriller. With multiple points of view and a vast geographical scope, it was great to read a satisfyingly complex story. Brilliant for fans of Star of the North and I Am Pilgrim.

Remember me is the compelling debut by Amy McLellan. Sarah suffers from prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces. When her sister is killed by an attacker who might be known to her, Sarah needs to convince the police that not only is she not the murderer but try to help them find the culprit.  A very well written psychological thriller, with a killer premise, I was rooting for the protagonist from the start.

I devoured Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton’s books in my twenties and have long lamented the demise of the female PI novel. It looks like it’s back, however, with Marnie Riches Tightrope. Featuring the intrepid and very human Bev Saunders, this thriller is destined for great things. Earthy and raw, it features a great cast of characters and I loved that it was based in my home town of Manchester.

I read an early version of Allan Martin’s The Peat Dead and I’m delighted to see it’s being published on the 17th April. Set on the Hebridean island of Islay, it involves a historic crime (which are always a favourite theme) which is suddenly uncovered in the present day. Martin is excellent at showing how in small communities, the past can be as painful as the present and I loved the island setting.

Some book news of my own

I’ve been reading some really great novels over the last few weeks which I’ll be posting about soon. In the meantime, I’ve some book news of my own. I’m joining Trapeze, an imprint of Orion,  who will publish two historical thrillers of mine. The first called The Quickening, is the story of Louisa, photographer in the 1920s, who visits an infamous country house and is drawn into the impact of a seance which took place thirty years earlier. The hardback will be the shelves in February 2020.

The link to press release is here but I’m so excited about the new book and working with my new editor Katie Brown. My agent Kirsty McLachlan deserves a medal too.

Because they’re slightly different to my crime novels, I’m going to be using my middle name, Rhiannon, so the books will be published under Rhiannon Ward. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

In the meantime, do tell me what your favourite historical novel is – I’m fascinated to hear what people like to read.