Happy New Year. I hope you had a relaxing and healthy festive season. One of my resolutions is to tackle some of the unread books on my shelves of which there are many. They include proofs I’m yet to read but I did have a push before Christmas to get a flavour of what’s coming in 2022. Here are my recommendations of books you’ll really want to read this year. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash Cash is an excellent writer and this is an interesting tale on the impact of a crashed plane on an island community in North Carolina. Beautifully written, the characters stay with you long after the book’s finished. Out on 3rd Feb.
The Book of Sand by Theo Clare Clare is pseudonym of the late Mo Hayder. Two storylines – a girl in modern day US and a group of friends in a dystopian future – come together in an engrossing tale. Possibly the longest book I’ve read in a long time, the pace was brilliantly maintained. Published on 6 January.
The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett After the success of The Appeal. Hallett is back with a story written featuring audio transcripts. Equally innovative, it has an interesting plot featuring a possible code put in books by a Enid Blyton type author. As much fun as her last book. Out on 13 January.
The Marsh House by Zoe Somerville In 1962, Malorie rents a house over Christmas with her daughter. She finds the notebooks of teenage Rosemary from 1931 and finds herself drawn into a story of family secrets which impacts on her own place in the world. I loved the sixties setting and the genuine creepiness of this novel. Published on 13 March.
Begars Abbey by V L Valentine An American girl discovers her penniless mother was from a wealthy but dysfunctional English family. Once she arrives at Begar’s Abbey, she begins to peel away the layers of a family secret. A brilliant high gothic read with an compelling protagonist. Out on 28 April.
Book festivals are the literary heroes of 2021 who have brought authors to readers in trying circumstances. Organisers have had to deal with ensuring the safety of attendees, uncertain audience numbers, short notice changes to line-ups, and the mechanics of new technology. However, the good news is that festivals have taken place to the delight of everyone.
To celebrate this achievement, I’ve asked eleven festival organisers and event chairs to tell me their top five books of the year. People programming book festivals often read as much as reviewers but we rarely hear about the books they loved. So, what were their stand out reads of 2021?
Vicky Dawson is the Book Festival Director of Buxton International Festival (@BuxtonFestival). In 2021, she programmed the book events for the main July festival and the autumn Big BIF Weekend. The festival will returning July 2022. Her top reads were:
1. Tristram Hunt – The Radical Potter Much wider than a biography of Josiah Wedgwood. Takes in the gamut of the Midlands Enlightenment and the state of the nation in Wedgwood’s time. Also Tristram is so very, very good on the festival stage.
2. David Hockney & Martin Gayford- Spring Cannot Be Cancelled Turned me from a Hockney denier to Hockney aficionado. A beautiful book for our times and charming conversation between two art lovers.
3. Penelope Lively – Metamorphosis Lively has been my lockdown saviour and this collection of her own stories sent me back to rereading all my favourite of her novels.
4. John M. Marzluff – In the Company of Crows and Ravens Not a new book but I add this in as the best virtual book event I’ve seen this year courtesy of The Last Tuesday Society. John spoke from his log cabin in Yellowstone Park for an hour and a half to an international audience.
5. Jeff W. Bens – The Mighty Oak I read about this on Lit Hub. I’m not sure why a book on a violent aging ice hockey player addicted to pain killers appealed, but it turned out to be compelling, emotional and beautifully written.
Gill Hart is the event organiser for the independent bookshop Lindum Books (@LindumBooks). In 2021, they held author interviews both online and in person. The following list is her top 5 Lindum Books events reads.
1. Katherine May – Wintering (virtual event). We did this as both a virtual event and a reading group book and it helped us all get through a tough winter in its reflections on both the natural world and the effects of winter on mental health.
2. Janice Hadlow – The Other BennettSister (virtual event). This is a brilliant rewrite of the Pride and Prejudice story from Mary’s point of view; as well as being a great read, it left me feeling so very guilty at my lifelong complicity in the bullying of the unlikable sister – I finished firmly in team Mary.
3. Vaseem Khan – Midnight at Malabar House (virtual event). It’s always a pleasure to discover – and introduce our customers to – a new crime series and this is the start of a really excellent one, set in 1950s India shortly after partition and introducing India’s first female police detective.
4. Lucy Adlington – The Dressmakers of Auschwitz (real life event). A compelling and important story told from a completely new – and crucially from a female – perspective; what made this so special was the focus on celebrating the lives and (in some cases) survivals of these amazing women, rather than just on their dreadful circumstances.
5. Karen Maitland – The Drowned City (real life event). In a change from her usual historical (medieval) period, this is the first of a series set against a background of the witch hunts of James I and featuring the most engaging Daniel Pursglove; as in all Karen’s books the setting is so well drawn you can almost smell the place!
Alis Hawkins (@Alis_Hawkins) is a Welsh author and founder member of Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival (@CrimeCymru) which held its digital event in 2021. The festival will return in Aberystwyth on May Bank Holiday 2022. Here she gives her top five crime reads.
1. Imran Mahmood – I Know What I Saw A worthy successor to You Don’t Know Me marks Imran Mahmood as a star who’s not just rising but already at the top of his game.
2. Chris Lloyd – The Unwanted Dead I was lucky enough to read a proof copy of this and predicted that it would be a winner well before it won the Historical Writers’ Association gold crown – the brilliant first book in Lloyd’s Eddie Giral series.
3. Beverley Jones – The Beach House Bev Jones’s recent books, set in America, have begun to garner the success she was denied when she set her books in Wales and this one is an absolute cracker.
4. Laura Shepherd-Robinson – Daughters of Night Meticulously researched, beautifully plotted, wonderfully realised and perfectly, absolutely satisfying – this is a tour de force of historical writing in any genre.
5. Mari Hannah – Without a Trace I’ve been meaning to read Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels books for a while and interviewing her for Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival provided the perfect opportunity: having read this pitch-perfect novel I’ll be reading them all now!
Sian Hoyle (@SianHoyle) is the Director of Derby Book Festival (@DerbyBookFest) Its June festival was one of the first in-person events of the year which also featured the live streaming of author interviews. It held an autumn edition in November and will be back in June 2022.
1. Maggie Shipstead – Great Circle Epic in every way – great storytelling and a lovely twist at the end. Her travel writing skills are evident in this global novel. Well deserved Booker shortlistee.
2. Amor Towles – Rules of Civility Having loved A Gentleman in Moscow I finally read his first. Wonderful depiction of New York society between the wars with memorable characters. The intro really pulls you into what happened to the man in the photograph.
3. Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half Thought provoking exploration of our divided society, the implications of our decisions and the lies we tell.
4. Rumaan Alam – Leave the World Behind Unnerving novel about what the end of the world might be like. Written before the pandemic, it really resonates.
5. Taylor Jenkins Reid – Daisy Jones and the Six Written as an interview with the band members, it is based on Fleetwood Mac’s turbulent relationships. Not my usual choice and can’t now remember why I read it other, than I kept on seeing mentions. Unputdownable for me.
Matt Johnson (@Matt_Johnson_UK) is a founder member of Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival which held a digital event in 2021. The festival will return in Aberystwyth on May Bank Holiday 2022.
1. Harper Lee – To kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (narrated by Sissy Spacek). It took me a long time to get around to this and it was worth the wait. Everything about it was just excellent.
2. Patrick Radden Keefe – Say Nothing Brilliantly written. The truth behind one of the most notorious crimes of the ‘troubles’.
3. Seamus Milne – The Enemy Within If you thought you knew what our Government is up to, think again. A gripping read.
4. Heather Martin – The Reacher Guy Read before I interviewed Lee in April. Absolutely fascinating. Well researched and very well written.
5. James O’Connell – 3 Days in June The Falklands, 3 Para and the battle for Mt Longdon. In the words of those who were there. A humbling and absorbing read.
Caroline Maston (@carolinemaston) is the founder of the UK Crime Book Club (@ukcrimebookclub). Their festivals take place on Facebook and on YouTube. They’re aiming for 3/4 next year including the new Winterfest that celebrates all things cold, cosy and seasonal.
1. T G Campbell – The Case of the Curious Client (Bow Street Society) A team of unlikely crime sleuths, solve cases in the victorian era, historical, witty and smart everything I want in a book.
2. S E Moorhead – Witness X Dystopic crime set in a near future when memories can be viewed and used to solve crimes, there needs to be more crime novels like this.
3. William Hussey – Hideous Beauty YA crime story, with a young protagonist reeling from the loss of their first partner trying to find answers to what has happened, made me cry.
4. Eiko Kadano – Kiki’s Delivery Service Young witch goes off to find her way as an adult, starts a delivery service, this is a warm hug of a novel
5. Laurence Anholt – Festival of Death An unusual crime solving duo try to solve a murder that has happened on the pyramid stage at the Glastonbury Festival in front of a lot of witnesses, a truly excellent read.
Margaret Murphy (@murphy_dyer) is a crime writer and panel moderator who reviews fiction and non-fiction – new and old – at blog, Shelf Indulgence. She is co-founder of Perfect Crime UK (@PerfectCrimeUK), which launched its first in-person crime day in Liverpool in November 2021. Her latest novel is Don’t Scream. Here are her top reads of 2021.
1. Lisa Gardner – Alone Is Catherine Gagnon a femme fatale or a wronged woman? Is she harming her child or protecting him? And can she stay one step ahead of the monster, recently released from prison, who has haunted her dreams since her harrowing abduction as a child? Alone is a thrilling and genuinely exciting read, and I tore through it, eager for each new revelation.
2. Allan H Ropper and Brian Burrell – Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole This book is truly extraordinary. Allan Ropper is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and is credited with founding the field of neurological intensive care, so he knows a thing or two about the brain. Taking the form of a series of case studies, the book provides fascinating insights into a neurologist’s work and the often bewildering behaviours caused by the malfunctioning brain.
3. Patricia Highsmith – Carol Highsmith wrote Carol (originally The Price of Salt) under a pseudonym, and didn’t acknowledge authorship until 1990. Published in the 1950s, when lesbian relationships were considered morally corrupt, Carol captures perfectly the oppressive sense of dread and the persecution of gay women at that time. Yet it also offers hope – a rare and beautiful thing in Highsmith’s work.
4. Naomi Wood – The Hiding Game Naomi Wood begins her story during Germany’s hyperinflation years in the 1920s. There are hints of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in the opening chapters, but the book bears a stronger affinity to Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune – the first in her Balkan Trilogy. A world in turmoil, a growing sense of threat, and people living rich and fulfilled lives while madness rages all around.
5. Michael Connelly – The Law of Innocence In this almost unbearably tense narrative, Lincoln Lawyer Micky Haller is pitted against an ambitious DA hell-bent on finding him guilty of a murder he did not commit. The clever legal challenges and counter-challenges of the trial, coupled with the twists and turns of Haller’s parallel murder investigation are so engrossing that I read far into the night, desperate to see him vindicated.
Nick Quantrill (@NickQuantrill) is the Hull based author of the Joe Geraghty series of crime novels. Nick is also the co-founder of the Hull Noir (@HullNoir) crime writing festival which ran as an online event in 2021.
1. Dominic Nolan – Vine Street A sweeping historical noir set in the 1930s and inspired by true events. It’s Peaky Blinders for grown-ups.
2. DL Marshall – Anthrax Island A spy novel set on an inhabitable island, but one with murders? I’m in.
3. Eva Dolan – One Half Truth No one captures societal issues so consistently well as Eva in her Peterborough series. Another winner.
4. Ray Celestin – Sunset Swing To 1960s Los Angeles and the conclusion of this outstanding quartet of noir novels, all done with a master’s touch.
5. David F Ross -There’s Only One Danny Garvey Working-class, small town life is vividly told via the medium of faded football glory. All the heart of prime Roddy Doyle.
Lee Randall (@randallwrites) is currently working with Borderlines Carlisle (@borderlinesfest) to programme their 2022 festival, and with Wigtown Book Festival on their 2022 Big Bang Weekend. She chairs numerous events throughout the year, digitally and in person. In 2021, she worked with Edinburgh International Book Festival, Write Highland Hoolie, Wigtown Book Festival, Borderlines Carlisle, Ballie Gifford Borders Book Festival, Bloody Scotland, Granite Noir, Scottish Books Long Weekend, and for FANE productions.
Each year I read a combination of old books, brand new books, and proofs of books not yet published. Among my favourite “read-in-the-line-of-duty” titles from 2021 were these, offered in no particular order. I’ve decided to focus on fiction, and am surprised to notice that four are debuts. (Ask again tomorrow and I am sure to pick a different five books!)
1. Cherie Jones – How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House This is a trip to paradise — the Bahamas — that’s anything but heavenly, evoked so vividly that you’ll taste the tang of the ocean on your tongue long after reaching the end. A warm, engaging novel about fully-fleshed-out characters, with all their flaws and virtues. Difficult issues, such as domestic abuse, are handled with deft subtlety.
2. Jarred McGinnis – The Coward The story of a young man coping with the aftermath of a car crash that forces him to move back in with his father, a recovering alcoholic he hasn’t spoken to in a decade. The story of a man in a wheelchair that’s not about being in a wheelchair, but about family, masculinity, guilt, addiction and love — drenched in mordant wit and inescapable truths.
3. Elaine Feeney – As You Were. A laugh-out-loud book about death? A desperately moving, yet never twee tale of mortality? This is both. It’s also a potent story about Ireland and its relationship with women — and about women’s relationship with shame. What a balancing act! I loved it.
4. Andy Charman – Crow Court. An ambitious, original, polyphonic historical novel set in 19th century Dorset, that airlifts you into the heart of the action, witnessing the repercussions of devastating events on a small community as they play out over decades. And play’s the operative word — one senses an author revelling in the possibilities of language and imagination. Fun and unforgettable.
5. Pat Barker – The Women of Troy. My relationship with Pat and her work goes back decades, to book one, Union Street. Her talent remains breathtaking and inspiring. I have a lifelong fascination with Greek mythology, and love her reinterpretation of the Trojan War told from a female perspective.
Tim Rideout (@TimRideout1) is an event chair who interviews authors for literary festivals & bookshops, including the Newark Book Festival (@NewarkBookFest), Lincoln Book Festival and Lindum Books. In his spare time he’s completing a PhD in Gothic fiction. The following are his top five interview related crime/thrillers
1. Ann Cleeves – The Darkest Evening A brilliant reinterpretation of the country house mystery by one of our best contemporary crime writers writing at the top of their game. Claustrophobic, unsettling, compelling.
2. Elly Griffiths – The Night Hawkes The Dr Ruth Galloway series goes from strength to strength. Griffiths deftly crafts a deeply disturbing atmosphere, using the Norfolk tale of the Black Shuck – a spectral hound of bad omen.
3. David Baldacci – A Gambling Man The second novel to feature 1940s PI Aloysius Archer in a noirish novel that evokes effortlessly the best of Chandler and MacDonald.
4. T.M. Logan – Trust Me A daring central conceit and opening scene sets up a cracking thriller that never lets up until the very last page.
5. William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin – The Dark Remains Rankin’s seamless completion of McIlvanney’s unfinished Laidlaw novel represents the best of both authors.
1. Jerome Charyn – Sergeant Salinger A brilliantly conceived account of JD Salinger’s experiences in love and war. Beginning in 1942 and a doomed love affair with Oona O’Neil, we follow the young Salinger to England, then as an increasingly disillusioned member of the counterintelligence corps advancing with the Allies across Europe.
2. Cathi Unsworth – Bad Penny Blues Reissued by Strange Attractor Press in February 2021, Bad Penny Blues hits as hard now as it did on first publication. A fictionalised account of the true case of a killer (or killers) who, between June 1959 and February 1965, murdered eight women and left their bodies in or along the Thames in West London. Immersed in the lives of the disenfranchised and socially outcast, Bad Penny Blues is a classic London noir.
3. Dominic Nolan – Vine Street Sharing some of the same streets and themes as Bad Penny Blues, albeit a generation earlier, Vine Street takes us into the seedy un-owned back-alleys of Soho of the 1930s and 40s as Detective Sergeant Leon Geats tracks down a sadistic killer. Raw, superbly detailed, and thoroughly engaging.
4. Ian McGuire – The Abstainer A gripping historical noir set in 1860s Manchester against the backdrop of Fenian rebellion. I interviewed Ian for one of the few in-person events we staged in Hull this year as the adaptation of his novel, The North Water, screened on TV. The Abstainer shares that novel’s rich, dark detail with an unsettling sense that violence is no more than a cobbled street away.
5. James Lee Burke – The Neon Rain One of the pleasures of co-presenting Hull Noir Three Book Friday is discovering (or rediscovering) writers I’ve missed along the road. In May, Rod Reynolds chose The Neon Rain, the first of James Lee Burke’s series featuring New Orleans detective, Dave Robicheaux. I’m a firm believer books find us when we need them, this being a case in point. Thanks Rod. Here’s to 2022!
Of course, it doesn’t need to be Halloween for you to read a gothic novel. Gothic is equally suited to relentless, cloud-free hot days as it is to long, gloomy nights . We read gothic not just for the atmosphere but to occupy the space between this world and the next and to feel the sense of fear at the unexplained or the unnatural. Here are three excellent books I’ve read recently that contain classic gothic tropes in a contemporary setting.
Fragile by Sarah Hilary
Former foster child, Nell Ballard, takes up a job in Starling Villas desperate to hide her background. However, her scheming to find a place she settle in might not be all her own doing when her employer Dr Robin Wilder is revealed to have his own secrets. Meanwhile, Nell is being hunted by Meagan, her former foster mother who blames Nell for her downfall. This is modern gothic at its best. Tense and beautifully written, with a nod to the dark side within us all.
The Last Time She Died by Zoe Sharp
I love Zoe Sharp’s crime novels as she writes such strong female characters. Her latest novel is no exception. Blake Claremont disappeared ten years ago and is presumed dead. Her reappearance after her politician father’s funeral shocks family and friends, not least those who killed her ten years earlier. With a nod to Tey’s Brat Farrar, this is a story of violence and treachery with Sharp’s compelling pacing. And, of course, I love the Derbyshire setting.
The Dark by Emma Haughton
The Antarctic provides a chilling backdrop to this thriller. A & E doctor, Kate North, replaces a medic who died on the ice near the research facility. Hiding an addiction and confused by the alliances which have formed at the station, Kate begins to think her colleague’s death wasn’t an accident. But there’s no where to escape to until spring. Tense and compelling, Haughton is great at portraying the claustrophobia and intensity of life in an inhospitable landscape.
It’s been a while since I posted. I had a busy summer beginning a new book and I’ve also just started a new role as Royal Literary Fund fellow at Sheffield University. What I have neglected to do though is write a post to say that I have a new Rhiannon Ward book out.
The Shadowing is set between Bristol and Southwell workhouse in Nottinghamshire. My protagonist Hester, a Quaker, sets out on a journey to discover what happened to her sister who eloped a few years earlier. In Southwell, she discovers a plot of missing children and terrified mothers. I loved writing the book during lockdown and even managed to sneak a visit into the workhouse when restrictions were lifted.
Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers organised a brilliant blog tour for the book and many thanks to all the bloggers who took part. I know from my own experience how time consuming writing reviews are. The Shadowing has also had some lovely reviews elsewhere including from Maxim Jakubowski in Crime Time who called the book, ‘strongly atmospheric and gripping from beginning to end’, in the Belfast Telegraph which said the conclusion ‘will have you racing to the end’, and in Heat magazine where it was read of the week, calling it a ‘beautifully rendered mystery’. My Weekly magazine also said of the book, ‘fans of gothic thrillers will enjoy the suspense and atmospheric setting.’
I’ll be appearing at a number events over the autumn to promote The Shadowing and full details can be found here. I begin this Friday with an event at Big BIF Weekend. Tickets are still available here and it would be lovely to see you. It’s wonderful to finally do in-person events again.
Thanks to everyone who has already bought a copy of the book.
I’ve always loved the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. My mother had a book of verse which included Robert Browning’s poem on the story and the bit I loved best was the casual reference to a strange tribe who may or may not have been descended from the lost residents. For this is the question that most intrigues us. What happened to the children?
Maxim Jakubowski’s latest book,The Piper’s Dance, begins with an intriguing premise. That the piper took the children to an island where they’ve resided for centuries, some getting older while others stay young. This section of the novel has a wonderful dream-like state to it which reminded me a little of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. The lost children are happy but suspended in time in this strange nether-world of beautiful sunsets.
Two of the now adult children, Tristan and Katerina, discover a golden pipe and use it to flee the island and the clutches of the piper, who has been paying intermittent visits to the community. They arrive in contemporary Germany where they’re forced to make hard decisions to survive, eventually ending up in Paris. This shifts the tone of the book from its dreamlike state to a blend of fantasy and dystopian realism (this novel does defy categorisation). The piper, however, has not forgotten his lost charges and his re-arrival forces the hand of each character.
Although not a crime novel, the piper is the villain of the book. He shares many of the characteristics of the devil, forcing the characters to make unpleasant choices to survive. But Katerina and Tristan are not without their own resources and you fund yourself rooting for them as they continue to dance, or not, to the piper’s tune. To say any more would give the plot away but there’s plenty here for lovers of fantasy and dystopian novels to enjoy. It’s always good to read a book that defies categorisation and which lets the author’s imagination run riot. It’s a testament to Jakubowski’s storytelling skills that I picked up the book intending to read a few chapters that evening and raced through it. I loved it.
It’s always good to read a new novel set in the Peak District especially one written by one of my favourite crime writers. There’s so much wonderful landscape to choose from in the Derbyshire Peaks but Satincliffe never lets it get in the way of a good plot.
Scarlett is abducted after school by her estranged father, the violent Gregory Martin, and her kidnapping brings back terrifying memories for the young girl. They meet 17 year-old Dylan, county lines drug dealer whose life is spiralling out of control following death of addict Petey. Ron is a retired detective looking after a property while the owners are away. It should the last place where trouble is brought to him. While the hunt is on for Scarlett, the investigation led by DS Laura O’Neill, takes dramatic twists and turns. The lives and investigations into both crimes involving both Gregory and Dylan intersect in a dramatic and tense way as the Peak District experiences a bout of atrocious weather.
I love how Staincliffe cleverly entwines the various plot strands without forgetting about the personal dramas of each character. She excels at showing what the impact of a crime has on everyone involved – the victim’s family, the community, the investigative team, and even the criminal. She’s very good at detective duos. The police characters are never composite sketches but well drawn and interesting characters. I loved both detectives including PC Ahmed Ali. The Peak District comes to life – it always makes a great plot setting but the author has really nailed the bleak atmosphere.
I always look forward to the next Staincliffe and each book just gets better and better.