Recent Reads

We’re moving into festival season where much of my reading will be books of authors I’m interviewing. This is always a great opportunity to discover new writers and I’ve already read some excellent books. In the meantime, February and March was a time to tackle my TBR pile and read titles from around the world.

I’ve been reading Jonathan Kellerman since the 1980s and still love the Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis partnership. City of the Dead is, I think, the thirty-seventh book in the series. A naked man is found dead in the street and in a nearby house, a woman with an odd array of clients is discovered murdered. Alex realises he knows the dead woman. She’s a psychologist with dubious credentials which might prove to be a motive for murder. I loved the wide ranging feel of the investigation which takes the duo around LA. As usual, Kellerman gets into the heart of the city’s psyche.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight is the evocative title of the new book by Riku Onda. It’s one of the few psychological thrillers I’ve read which actually does delve into the psyche of the characters. Aki and Hiro have decided to go their separate ways and spend a last night together in their Tokyo flat. A year earlier, on a trekking holiday, the guide fell to his death. Both are convinced the other is repsonsible and the night is to be a battle of wits until the truth emerges. Tense and unflinching, this a book which gets into the heart of the characters and there are plenty of surprises along the way.

The Poisonous Solicitor is the true story of a well-known Hay-on-Wye solicitor, Major Herbet Armstrong, who was hanged for killing his wife and the attempted murder of a rival solicitor with arsenic-laced food. The case was infamous at the time and is even mentioned in Dorothy Sayers’ crime novel Unnatural Death.The author, Stephen Bates, gives a modern perspective on the incident. Of the two previous biographies, one strongly argued that Armstrong was guilty of the crimes, the other that it was a miscarriage of justice. Bates treads a path between the two theories in this excellent book. Armstrong comes across as completely unpleasant but his wife was no saint either. I was left with a strong view on the man’s guilt but there’s plenty of mystery in the case to arrive at a different conclusion.

One of the best books I’ve read this year is The Distant Dead by Heather Young. Chatting to American readers, I believe it was published a few years ago there and I’m delighted the book has found a UK publisher. A maths teacher, Adam Merkel, is found burnt to death near a ranch in the hills. Sal Prentiss, a boy he befriended, might know more about the death than he is letting on and Adam’s teaching colleague, Nora, also believes the solution to the crime lies in Merkel’s past life. The story takes you into the politics of a small American town where most of its residents will never have the opportunity or inclination to leave. I found the story engrossing and loved Young’s use of language to draw you into the heart of the story.


Best of January’s Reads

I had a bit of a reading slump towards the end of last year so over the festive season, I came up with a plan. I would look at the proofs on my shelf and kindle, and read the first fifty pages. The ones that grabbed me, I’d continue with and the rest would be recycled. It’s not the authors’ fault, it’s mine, but I did need to get my mojo back. The results were a revelation and I enjoyed some really great books in January.

I’m a huge fan of Eric Rickstad’s writing and was looking forward to reading his new novel, I Am Not Who You Think I Am. In a Vermont town, Wayland witnesses his father’s suicide. Next to his body is a note with the words, I am not who you think I am. Confused by his mother’s reaction to his father’s death, the incident is never spoken of again until Wayland reaches sixteen in 1984. Plagued by nightmares, he begins to dig deeper into the suicide by seeking out his father’s friend and newspaper clippings about the death. He’s confronted by uncomfortable truths about his parents and secrets the town is trying to bury. Fast paced and written with a clear-eyed view of human frailties, this is a cracker of a book from Rickstad. What a writer.

Oxford makes a great setting for a crime novel but I suspect doing something new with the city can be quite difficult. Simon Mason, in A Killing in November, however, has written a fresh, innovative police procedural with two great protagonists. DI Ryan Wilkins is grew up in a trailer park and is not enamoured of the world of Oxford colleges. His colleague, DI Raymond Wilkins is a young Oxford educated black detective, one of the force’s high flyers. The two don’t get on. When a woman is strangled at Barnabas Hall college, the pair are forced to work together to unravel the crime. The book is great fun and the author clearly loves playing with names from the closely related monikers of the detectives to the porter, Leonard Gamp. This is the start of a new series and I can’t wait to read more.

I was recently given a proof of The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards and was drawn to its dark cover. Set in present day Milwaukee, a woman digs deeper into the disappearance of her sister nearly thirty tears earlier. Dee McBride disappeared in 1991 while the crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer were in the headlines. With the case overlooked by the police and media’s obsession with Dahmer, Dee’s sister, Peg, confronts her own memories of the time to unravel events. I’m always looking for innovative forms for the crime novel and although fiction, it reads like a true crime memoir. I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author.

Land of Snow and Ashes by Petra Rautiainen is a fascinating story set around Nazi crimes against the Sami people in Finland. In 1944, a Finnish soldier works as an interpreter at a Nazi concentration camp. After the war, journalist Inkeri travels to Lapland ostensibly to write about economic changes in the region. On the search for her missing husband, she begins to discover the truth about the camp and locals attitude towards it. This compelling story is translated by David Hackston who has written a fascinating overview of the Finnish war experience at the beginning of the novel.


Books you’ll want to read in 2022

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.


It’s the festivals’ festive choices: Top 5 Books of the Year

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 Bennett Sister (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.

Nick Triplow (@nicktriplow) is a writer and co-founder of the Hull Noir crime fiction festival along with Hull crime writer, Nick Quantrill, with whom he also co-hosts the Hull Noir Three Book Friday series on YouTube. 

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!


Gothic Reads for Halloween

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.

Happy reading and Happy Halloween.


The Shadowing

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.


Book Review: The Piper’s Dance by Maxim Jakubowski

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.


Book Review: Running Out of Road by Cath Staincliffe

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.

Recent Reads

As I’m busy writing, my crime reading has been pushed to late night chapters before I go to sleep. It’s a shame as, many times, I’ve wanted to keep going with the book. Such is the lure of good crime writing. However, we read when we can, and I’ve enjoyed some excellent thrillers recently.

Death in Summer is a strong first novel by Lina Areklew for fans of Nordic noir. Fredrik Froding is a former police officer convinced that his brother, who supposedly drowned in the MS Estonia disaster, is in fact still alive. He pursues the owner of a hotel he thinks he saw his brother enter to the island of Ulvön. There, his prey ends up dead and Fredrik a prime suspect for the killing. His ex-lover detective Sofia Hjortén is convinced there’s more to the case but puts her career in jeopardy keeping their affair secret. A compelling read with a wonderful location. The translation is by Tara F Chace.

Rachel Ward has a written a new crime novel under the name RM Ward. In Safe With You Kath, a resident of a London estate has befriended a shy girl in the flat next door and arranged, via a series of knocks, a system where she knows that all is well. When one day the knock doesn’t come, Kath begins a journey to discover what has happened to Mina. This pacy novel has an excellent premise which is well executed in a genuinely compelling read.

Another excellent psychological thriller, When the Lights Go Out, is coming in December by Chris Curran. Struggling actress Ava joins the Chimera theatre group, desperate to get away from her actor boyfriend and attentive parents. A car accident on her way to meet the group appears to be an unfortunate incident but Ava soon realises someone wants them out of town. Prank or genuine threat? As the attacks escalate, Ava starts to look more closely at her fellow thespians. A wonderful, character driven thriller. I loved the theatre group setting.

Trouble by Katja Ivar is a memorable read from an interesting crime writer. Private investigator Hella is asked by her former boss at the Helsinki murder squad to look into the background of it potential new head of the service. She agrees to the job but asks permission to view the files on her father’s death in 1942. Discovering little of value about her family’s tragedy’s she is nevertheless perturbed of reports that a man is watching her house and leaving her notes. As she digs deeper, her investigations into the past and present begin to converge. Hella is a wonderful protagonist with an interesting private life. Ivar has set up an intriguing premise of her next book in the series which I can’t wait to read. Trouble is out in January 2023.

Red Dirt Road is the third Australian based novel by S R White and, in my opinion, the best. Detective Dana Russo heads to Unamurra, an outback town suffering from the dry. Two men have been murdered, their bodies fashioned into angel figures which mirror the art installations in the town. Russo has two days to solve the case – after that her hostile boss wants her back. As she unpicks the town’s secrets, she finds help in an unexpected source. Tense and wonderfully detailed, I liked the slow unravelling of the denouement. Crime writing at its best.

(End of) Summer Reads

Summer is nearly over. We had a hot burst in July and it’s returned with a vengeance. For me, the only way to cope with the heat is to sit in a cool room to write and read. I’m not a great fan of hot weather even though I lived in Greece for four years. I can’t wait for autumn to appear but while I tap my feet for the first signs of cooler air, here are my end of summer picks. It’s a satisfyingly eclectic mix.

The Harbour by Katrine Engberg will give you a bit of Scandi coolness. Fifteen year old Oscar Dreyer-Hoff goes missing and his family are convinced its not teenage angst but his disappearance the result of a kidnapping. The solution to the mystery appears to lie at the harbour where the family own a boat and it takes the skills of detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner to unravels layers of secrets. Although I haven’t read the author before, I found her writing absorbing and very much enjoyed the police procedural element to the novel. The translation was by Tara Chace.

I’m a big fan of Deon Meyer and was looking forward to reading his latest Benny Griessel novel, The Dark Flood. Benny is almost out on his ear after a failed investigation and exiled to Stellenbosch. The region’s economy has been ruined by entrepreneur Jasper Boonstra who has fixed his sights on Sandra Steenberg to sell one of his properties. But Sandra realises Jasper has plenty of dirt on her background and the stakes are high. Tense and compelling this is classic Meyer. The translation is by K L Seegers.

The Prime Minister’s Affair is the new thriller by Andrew Williams. While reading this absorbing story, I was struck by how little I knew about the politics of the late 1920s/early thirties. Labour’s first PM is Ramsay MacDonald, a widower whose affair with Kristina Forster lays him open to blackmail. The relationship is common knowledge amongst Ramsay’s friends, colleagues and enemies and it is down to Dick (French) Stewart to come to some arrangement over the indiscreet letters. As I’d expect from Williams, the story was compelling and full of rich portrayals of both real and fictional characters from the period. Shady intelligence practices and political manoeuvrings make for shifting allegiances and the story moves from Brecon to Paris via London. A wonderful read.

The fascination with the writer Georges Simenon is almost as strong as that of his fictional character Jules Maigret. In this new book by journalist and critic, Barry Forshaw, the author’s life and legacy is considered alongside his books and film adaptations. There is plenty of interest to attract both those new to Simenon’s work and more informed readers. I particularly liked the chapter on collecting Simenon – I began reading his books with the green penguins and have continued with the new translations. Forshaw’s writing is always accessible and wide ranging and this is no exception.

The Bad Sister by J A Corrigan is a tense, quick moving psychological thriller. Three sisters come together for a celebration and a tragedy occurs. Years later as another celebration is planned in the luxury riverside home, old jealousies and tensions rise to the surface. Corrigan’s work is always page-turning and I continue to be impressed by the range of her talents. Perfect end of summer reading.