Shocking Circumstances Review: Style Over Substance

shocking circumstances

Opening with a bang, Chris Roy’s Shocking Circumstances lives up to its title; the first chapter is exhilarating and fast paced as we witness the beating of a man for information on missing money. Well executed, this thrilling opener nonetheless leaves the reader confused and wanting more- although they certainly get it as the novel continues to rattle along.

Following the rise, fall and retribution of Clarice “Shocker” Ares, a former boxer and her husband Ace Carter, who are fitted up and busted with a shipment of drugs which sees them on a downward spiral as they undergo humiliation, fear and desperation to get themselves out of prison and exact revenge on the corrupt policeman that destroyed their lives.

Aside from the opening chapter the novel is written in the first person, providing an interesting narrative as the reader navigates the various hectic arenas in which the plot plays out.

Dialogue is great, and the characterization is interesting and well-throughout out, but the plot is often a little one-dimensional and at times unbelievable; whilst Shocking Circumstances could never be described as boring, I find myself wondering if real people would behave as Roy’s characters do in the given situations.

Remembering that this is fiction and everyone is allowed a little artistic license, overall this novel is a hit. Equal parts exciting and riveting, it holds the attention well and offers a lot more punch than many more tame thrillers.

David Hingley Interview: “I would call myself a storyteller first and foremost”

David Hingley_1

Author of the highly successful Mercia Blakewood novels, a series of 17th century historical crime books, David Hingley talks me through his work and how he creates the fascinating characters and plots that have made his novels so popular.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards historical crime fiction?

My debut series of novels centre around Mercia Blakewood, my determined 17th century protagonist. Written from her point of view, we’re always in her presence or in her head, and so the style, and particularly her dialogue, must reflect much of her character: a tenacious seeker of justice. But the style also reflects the different moods throughout the books, at times light, at times brutal, but always, I hope, enjoyable to read. Why historical crime? Simply because that’s a genre I’ve always enjoyed myself – Sansom, Davis and so on. I love the combination of fascinating characters, twisting plots, and historical learning.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I’m from the English Midlands, but I’ve been fairly itinerant in my life. Most recently I lived in New York, passing three years in Manhattan before returning to England last year. That’s one reason Birthright, my debut novel, concludes in New York, at the time the city was founded (or rather, taken from the Dutch). I’ve wanted to write a book since I was very young, but I don’t draw all that much on my past while writing, other than in the naming: Mercia is, of course, also the name of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands, and some of the characters dotted about the books take their names from places I know.

How important is historical accuracy in your works and how do you go about ensuring this?

This is a crucial question. For me, the most important thing about any story is just that – the story. This is fiction, after all, and I would call myself a storyteller first and foremost. That’s not to say I don’t do a lot of research for the books, because I do (a lot!), and a vast amount of historical detail brings period colour to Mercia’s adventures, in terms of the real-life characters I write, or the descriptions of the places, or the little snippets about events and daily life. Conversely, I try not to get too hung up on writing dialogue in the exact way it would have sounded, as I think that can impede the flow of understanding, although I take great pains to avoid anachronistic words. I love history; I try to ensure it supports the fiction rather than distract from it.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

So far I’ve written two books in the Mercia Blakewood series, with a third underway. Birthright sees her travel to London and then across the ocean on a mission for the King, in the hope of regaining her stolen inheritance. Puritan takes place while she is meant to be resting after the events of Birthright, but a serial killer is on the loose in New England and her acute sense of justice compels her to stay to solve the crimes, perhaps at the expense of her own well-being. I think people who like the books do so because they enjoy an absorbing story that, hopefully, makes them want to keep reading. And I know she’s my creation, but Mercia is very much the star of the show. I hope readers enjoy spending time with her and sympathising about her plight.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I suppose my inspiration comes mostly from within. I start with a broad idea and gradually, over a period of months, hone in on the detail. I describe it as a bit like the work of a classical sculptor – you start off with a featureless block, but then you work at the material until the general shape is formed, and then take your time to chisel at the fine detail until one day you are done.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

It would have to be JRR Tolkien. I adore his fantasies – in fact, I went to the same school as Tolkien attended in Birmingham – and what an honour it would be to help finish off the tales he left uncompleted, or to write the next phase in the history of Middle Earth after the One Ring is destroyed. I remember picking up The Hobbit when I was about 8 or 9 and being captivated by it. The imagination needed to create the mythology of Middle Earth is staggering.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

As well as the third novel in the Mercia Blakewood series, I’m going to start releasing a few short stories about a different character set in the same time period, mid-1660s London, available on my website later this year. I’ll be writing these in the first person and the protagonist will be male. I also have an idea for something set within the action of Birthright, to be released in a real-time kind of way over a period of weeks. More anon!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I’m so immersed in writing the third Mercia book at the moment that I haven’t thought about my own reading pleasure of late! But it’s important for my own sanity to avoid spending all my time in the past. For new authors especially, I’d recommend checking out Goldsboro Books – their website always features a wide range of debut novelists across several genres.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thank you for asking me to take part in this interview and good luck with the future of your blog! Should anybody wish to know more about me, or more importantly about Mercia and news about my stories and books, my Twitter handle is @dhingleyauthor and my website is

Thanks ever so much to David for taking the time to answer my questions; it’s been fascinating.

Colin Dexter Obituary

colin dexter 2

Norman Colin Dexter, who died at home this morning at the age of 86 according to his publishers, created an enduring legacy with his Inspector Morse novels, which have become international bestsellers and form the basis for three TV series; Inspector Morse, which was based, for the most part, on the books; Lewis, which featured the escapades of Morse’s dogged Detective Sergeant as he becomes an Inspector and takes on his own caseload; and finally Endeavour, which showcased Morse’s early life as a Police Constable.

Dexter was heavily involved in the creation of these shows, and alongside his writing and advising roles he also made a number of notable cameos in the shows in a Hitchcockian manner, inserting himself into often mundane scenes.

A classicist by nature, Dexter was born and raised in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and prior to his writing career he was a classics teacher for many years. Despite living in Oxford and working at the University in later life, as well as setting his award winning novels in the city, Dexter actually attended Christ’s College, Cambridge. After struggling with his teaching posts due to his encroaching deafness (which he later wove into the plot of the novel The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn) Dexter took up the post of senior assistant secretary at the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations, a post he held for many years until retiring, by which point he was already a renowned writer.

A crossword devotee and fan of poet A. E. Houseman, Dexter was renowned for his fanatical attention to detail and dedication to the English language, and as such he created a detective who mirrored this image; Morse was a grammatical snob who regularly quoted the likes of Houseman and Larkin, as well as being a classicist himself (albeit one who never actually obtained his degree). Similar to his creator Morse could not abide social snobbery, and indeed Dexter himself, despite amassing a fortune through the sale of his novels, remained living in the same house in Oxford throughout this period of his life, and was known to live simply despite his penchant for fine alcohol and classic cars (again similar to Morse, who drove a Jaguar Mark 2).

Every aspect of his books reflected Dexter’s passions; his key protagonists, Detective Chief Inspector Morse and Detective Sergeant Lewis, were named after crossword buffs (Sir Jeremy Morse and Mrs. B Lewis respectively), and Morse’s first name was just another clue to be solved for many years, with fans initially not being told, then it emerging that it began with an E, before finally, in one fell swoop, the full name was revealed to be Endeavour, after Captain Cook’s ship, owing to the character’s parents being Quakers.

Writing at a time when novels, and Crime Fiction in particular, were comparatively staid and formulaic, Dexter both broke and embraced the mould, creating a cerebral detective who was both very much of his time and distinctly out of it. At a time when writers such as Ian Rankin were developing hard hitting, tough talking dropouts who won based on their flare for the dramatic and ability to be knocking down the right door at the right time, Dexter developed an introverted gentleman with failed ambitions and deep passions who stood out from the crowd whilst, through predicable narratives (although highly unpredictable, and often deeply confusing, plots) adhering to the Golden Age tropes which define Crime Fiction as a genre.

Alongside numerous Crime Writers’ Association awards, he also received an OBE in 2000 and was appointed an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Lincoln. All these awards paled in comparison, however, to the devotion of the legions of fans that read and admired his work, and his legacy lives on in the form of 13 full length Morse novels and a legion of short stories.

Kerry Greenwood Interview: “I have been avidly devouring detective novels since I was old enough to read”



It is my absolute pleasure to showcase my latest interview with the wonderful Kerry Greenwood, an acclaimed author who has written books spanning many genres, but who is perhaps most famous for her Miss Phryne Fisher novels about a titled lady in 1920s Melbourne who solves crimes, as well as her Corinna Chapman books, which center around a baker and reluctant crime solver with an equally fascinating life who is drawn to adventures. I have been a big fan of Miss Fisher’s for a while (check out my POST to see my top five picks if you want to introduce yourself to her) and I was thrilled when Kerry very kindly sent me over these answers to my interview questions. They are truly fascinating and give a great insight into how she came to create these two amazing characters. Enjoy!

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I was trying to get published: a soul-destroying, painful process I never wish to repeat. At my critical moment I had reached the final shortlist for the Vogel Prize, and I was summoned by a publisher who told me that my book (a historical novel) was not what she wanted. Wishing then to throw myself under the nearest tram, I listened in growing astonishment as Ms Publisher then told me she would like to commission me to write two detective novels. I accepted, naturally. I would have been mad not to. That said, I have been avidly devouring detective novels since I was old enough to read. This helped a lot.

What is your background in writing and how did you come to do it as a profession? How does your work as a lawyer influence your writing?

I have been writing all my life since the age of four, when wrote my first ever sentence: ‘The world is round and spins in space.’ I wrote seventeen historical novels before Cocaine Blues. It was, in retrospect, the ideal apprenticeship for a professional writer. My long years in magistrates’ courts have not really affected my writing much, except by contrast. In fiction, we can supply a happy ending which may not be available in real life. And I made a promise to myself not to steal my clients’ stories. Unlike writers who lead more sheltered lives, I know that real-life criminals are almost invariably depressingly dull, stupid, and boring.

Talk to me about Phryne Fisher. What’s the inspiration behind this particular character and why do you believe she has become so popular?

I dreamed up Phryne on the tram trip home from the publishers that day. By the time I got home I had everything I needed (her name, history, background and attitude). She was named after a famous courtesan in ancient Thebes, and I decreed that she would be a wish-fulfilment figure for all women. She would be James Bond, Simon Templar, Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey all rolled into one. She would be titled, and have wealth, beauty, brains, courage, and a sufficiently humble childhood to ensure that she appreciated her life to the full. She would never need rescuing, and she would never obsess about the things real-life women feel they have to suffer. For so many women, Phryne is their pinup role model. I am very, very happy with this.

With regards to Corinna Chapman, why did you choose to make her a baker as well as a detective? This is an unusual combination; why do you believe she has become so popular despite this?

The bakery places Corinna at the centre of a small urban community. And since I was writing the first ever American-style cosy set in Australia, I wanted food and comfort to be at the dramatic centre of the books. Being a baker is an immense advantage for a fictional detective. I am very surprised nobody else thought of this.

Writing across such a vast array of genres, how does your style differ between each? How do you adapt to the needs of each audience to ensure that your books are always well received?

As always, it’s all about respecting your audience. Each genre has its rules, and devotees want to know that they will be getting what it says on the cover. I think myself into the characters, and they tell me what to say, and how to say it.

How do you go about researching your novels and ensuring that they are as accurate as possible?

Like my hero Dorothy Sayers, I research everything I can find about the period and themes I am writing about. I will probably use less than a tenth of what I have found out. I take great pride in getting the details – as well as the overall picture – exactly right. My readers expect it, and I provide it.

Having already undertaken a number of writing collaborations, who would be your ideal co-author, living or dead, if you could choose utterly anyone, and why?

Lindy Cameron. I am co-writing with her right now. She understands me and my writing perfectly.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The new Corinna! It is under construction even now.

Within the wider literary market, what new books or writers are you looking forward to later in the year and beyond?

Any more Rivers of London would be wonderful. Ben Aaronovitch writes novels the way they should be written.

Anything you’d like to add?

Books are wonderful! I am glad people still want them.

I just want to say a massive thank you to Kerry for her time. I’ve wanted to hear her thoughts for quite some time now and it has been amazing hearing what she has to say. Her publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, were kind enough to help me arrange this, and you can read about her on their site HERE.

The Top Five James Bond Novels Guaranteed to Have You Thirsting for Adventure


James Bond is now so much more than a slightly misogynistic secret agent. He has become an icon. A legend. The film series made him popular in the mainstream but it is the series of novels by Ian Fleming that truly created this perfect character and made him what he is today.

Built on a fairly formulaic plotline and filled with unbelievable characters, the Bond novels have a lot in common with many genres of Crime Fiction, and it was the sharp wit, exciting scenes and far-flung adventures that got me hooked. Like Crime Fiction as a genre, there is literally no good reason why the Bond novels should be as universally popular as they are: however the series remains among the most popular in the world, and the character himself has become a cultural idol.

Here I select my five top picks for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Bond or just find out what all the fuss is about.

  1. Moonraker: Although the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, is pretty dire, the second and third well make up for it in flare, style and wit. Beginning with a seemingly simple mission to discover if a man is cheating at cards, it quickly descends into much more, with a plot that spans across countries and involves a great deal of Second World War conspiracy. The characters are memorable, the plot believable enough and also clever enough to convince the reader without completely confusing them, or being purely nonsensical, as is the case with many spy novels.
  1. You Only Live Twice: The last Bond novel published in Fleming’s lifetime, You Only Live Twice begins with the protagonist on his uppers following a personal tragedy, the novel becomes much messier than some of the others; however, it still retains the classic twists and fascinating insights which make it a good all round Bond novel.
  1. Goldfinger: Constructed into three parts, this novel is much more ingenious that some, and makes for an interesting read. In places you can see where modern writers such as John Le Carré take their inspiration; the novel is truly thrilling and the plot deliciously twisted, with a spectacular ending.
  1. Diamonds Are Forever: Any novel featuring the phrase ‘Spangled Mob’ deserves a mention, and the fascinating world of diamond smuggling is an interesting space for the ever versatile James Bond to navigate. But the action isn’t limited to a little precious stone smuggling: rigged horse races, shady gangs and gruesome murders all follow as Fleming reinvents the fairly predictable plotline to produce an interesting and engaging novel.

live and let die

  1. Live and Let Die: The second Bond novel introduces the truly diabolical Mr Big, one of the greatest villains Fleming ever wrote, in my humble opinion. The Bond ‘girl’ is Solitaire, who has some really snappy dialogue, and the plot is just convoluted enough without being overly ridiculous. This is the perfect combination and makes for the ideal spy novel, making up for the abysmal first novel and showcasing Bond at his finest.

Crime Fiction for Children: How to Get Kids Started at a Young Age


Crime Fiction is a fascinating and varied genre, and although the tough, gritty thrillers are generally reserved for adults due to their explicit nature, there is no reason why children should not be introduced to some of the classics.

Personally, I started my obsession early, with novels by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers that I read, or was read, at a very young age, before graduating on to slightly darker but still fairly tame novels by Colin Dexter in my teens. Then my Scandinavian Crime Fiction obsession began when I fell in love with Henning Mankell’s dour yet cerebral detective Kurt Wallander, and so ended my innocence as I was plunged headfirst into a world of cruel murderers, blood soaked crime scenes and diabolical plots that was far too mature for my tender teenage years.

Despite this I grew up with a great love for this diverse literary genre, and I believe that the wave of young people’s Crime Fiction that has sprung up over recent years is only a blessing. When I was a kid the nearest we got to real adventure was the Famous Five, who were always a bit tame, and Goosebumps, which, although innately creepy, lacked the adventure and thrill kids were actually looking for. As I got older I began to notice, and relish, a wave of exciting novels and series that mirrored their adult counterparts whilst simultaneously being devoid of bad language and gratuitous violence. There are the remakes, such as the Young Bond series, which directly parallel adult novels, through to the novels specifically dedicated to young adults such as The Maze Runner books.

All these, much like their older counterparts, such as The Famous Five and even the Nancy Drew novels which, despite being an excellent example of young people’s fiction, remain lacking thanks to that deliberate lack of narrative force which publishers deliberately force on any book labelled ‘young adult’ in order to ensure that it definitely does not offend even the most over zealous parent, offered young readers a chance to enter into an exciting new genre of semi-crime fiction books. Over the years the rules have become more relaxed as taboos are broken and parents realise the futility of protecting their children from the horrors of the world, but, to my mind at least, there remains a certain tameness to many young adult books which is not present in adult fiction, even adult fiction that would be suitable for older children and teens.

As previously stated, I was exposed to many ‘adult’ novels before I became an actual adult, and on reflection believe that even some novels that I did not have the chance to read when I was younger, including Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond series, would be perfectly suitable for younger people despite not being labelled as such. This serves the dual purpose of introducing them to one of the most popular and varied genres in the literary market from an early age without patronising them and encouraging their sense of wonderment and driving their desire to read.

One of the things that truly put a dampener on my desire to read as a young woman was the sheer volume of novels I was expected to enjoy that were about fucking animals. It was only when I started to read of my own volition and realised that I could read anything, through my exploration of various Crime Fiction styles, that I started to understand that there was so much more out there. I feel this is crucial to ensuring that young people, especially today when they are exposed to so many screens and technologies, are supported and driven towards reading as a hobby, as it is so important to their long-term development. As such, varied, realistic and un-patronising genres such as Crime Fiction are critical, and I feel that showcasing the variety and sheer exhilaration that they offer will help kids to learn to enjoy reading and ultimately set them on a great, and fun, path for life.

Mark Mayes Interview: “I find things flow more easily when I cease all worry”

Mark Mayes

Photograph by Tina White

Mark Mayes, author of The Gift Maker and short story writer, talks me through how he came into writing and how he works to make his style his own.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

I think it’s evolved over the years that I’ve been trying to learn about writing. Having said that, I think I possibly have more than one style, as the writing in The Gift Maker does seem rather different to that of many of my stories.

Perhaps I should say the ‘voice’ is different, certainly the syntax and rhythm of the prose; and in the novel I’ve gone for a slightly more elaborate style – it just came out that way, and seemed to fit the otherness of the rather odd and arcane world in which the story takes place.

A question I consistently ask myself with regard to style is: does this irritate me in some way? Another one might be: could you simplify or clarify the image? And yet another: are you straining for undue emotional weight or effect? Are you leaving the reader with nothing to do, on account of spelling things out too explicitly?

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I’ve done a whole host of pretty dead-end jobs, having left school early. Having said that, I did try my hand at acting for a while in my 20s; and then returned to education in my 40s, to pursue a degree in English.

I don’t know if I am a professional writer, as such, as I’ve never earned my living as a writer, or even part of my living. However, I have hopes for the future that it might be possible to earn part of my living from writing. I think being able to do that would be a most fortunate thing. Whatever occurs, I will always go on writing for the pleasure and challenge of it – perhaps even to satisfy some strange underlying psychological need.

In terms of my overall writing journey, I began with literally no confidence or related background, some twenty years ago, by taking an evening class in fiction writing for beginners. I also took classes and workshops in poetry. Song writing has been another creative outlet over the years, although I’ve never formally studied music or song writing. I’ve written short stories for quite a while now, always hoping to write a novel one-day, and for many years never having the confidence; or else the idea fell flat, and I gave up hope; or else life got in the way.

As for drawing on my past, I tend to write more from imagination than directly basing stories or scenes on past events. Having said that, character traits can be drawn piecemeal from several different sources, and then further mixed with pure invention; so, often, characters and settings can be an amalgam of memory, experience, imagination, dream, other literary sources, newspaper reports, and so on. I relish the idea of mixing things up like that.

Please tell me about The Gift Maker. What really makes this book stand out from the crowd?

I think it’s an unusual story. It’s quite hard to define, and undoubtedly cuts across several genres. In a sense it’s a hybrid. The gifts in the story come in boxes, and ironically perhaps, the narrative and world of the novel cannot easily be boxed. At least I hope it cannot.

I believe the story is both quite simple in terms of the fairytale and mythical tropes it employs; and the notion of quest, or a hero’s journey; yet in some ways the book as a whole might be seen as philosophically quite complex, but that’s for the reader to decide, I feel.

I think, finally, that it poses questions, rather than offering rigid answers. It explores themes of identity, responsibility, moral agency, and purpose – both at the individual level, and that of humanity at large. That sounds a bit grand, but some of those considerations bleed through, I believe. I hope so, anyway.

How do you adapt your writing style when composing short stories? Do you find the word limit restrictive or freeing?

I do quite like first-person narratives when it comes to short-form fiction. I’d also love to write a novel from a single character’s perspective, but that is certainly more of a challenge, I’d imagine. If the voice/character chosen is not compelling, sufficiently nuanced, but simply vapid or annoying, this could be disastrous.

When you get above five thousand words in the short story, it becomes increasingly hard to find outlets that might consider looking at pieces of this length. Understandably, in a magazine or anthology, they need to fit in a good number of pieces, and so word count is important. I have written a number of stories that fall around the seven to nine thousand mark; and there really is not much scope for publishing those, as far as I can see.

I read somewhere that ‘a story finds its own length’. I’m not sure who said that, but I’ve always liked that idea. Thinking of a story I love, such as ‘Let them call it Jazz’ by Jean Rhys – that’s got to be up towards ten-thousand words, and I just wonder how or where you’d publish that today; unless it was part of collection.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

In terms of inspiration, I find things flow more easily when I cease all worry; when, in effect, I stop trying. So it becomes more like play, like a game, where the internal critic is muted, or even silenced for a while. In that space, anything is possible; and you are not second-guessing yourself.

Another thing to get out of the way is any concern about how something will be received, or if you’ll be able to publish it, or even if other people might judge you as this or that kind of person because of what you have a character saying or doing. All that heaviness has to be dispensed with, for me at least, or else I feel paralysed. In some ways, personally, the flow comes out of an apparent emptiness, almost a blankness; a sort of open calm.

The times I’ve felt really blocked were during periods of personal turmoil or grief, and then nothing much can be done. Just have to wait it out, I think. There’s another saying: ‘happiness writes white’ (anon?) – for me that doesn’t hold true. When I’m feeling tranquil and happy, and life is on a fairly even keel, that’s when I feel I can be most disciplined, and really enjoy the writing process.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’m not sure I’d be a good collaborator, although I’d try my best. If there was a way to do it where you wrote alternative chapters, of a novel, say, as I know some writing ‘teams’ do, then perhaps you wouldn’t be getting in each other’s way so much. So, perhaps it depends on the form. It would be lovely to work with proper musicians who could set lyrics to music, or take a melody you’d written, and create a beautiful arrangement so to enhance the whole thing. Sit-com writing seems to attract pairs of writers. I’ve never tried script writing, but would love to one day.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I am working on another novel; well, I hope it’s going to be a novel, but the ending is giving me problems. I’ve left it alone for a bit now, in order not to kill the idea by putting too much pressure on it. Another thing is talking in detail about something you’re currently writing. For me, that kills the idea, and too much talking can make it feel like you’ve already done it, and so you lose some essential tension, mystery or charm when it comes to actually getting it down. I think one of Jean Rhys’s maxims was “Never tell…never tell.” I completely understand that this is a very personal take, and that for some people, talking at length about the plot or character, or what have you, may give them impetus to complete a long project.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Recently I’ve been reading, and hugely enjoying, a lot of books by my fellow Urbane authors, and currently have three on the go: ‘The Lighterman’ by Simon Michael (superb, and the third in the wonderful Charles Holborne series of crime novels); ‘debris’ – a second collection of poems by Chris Parker (really enjoyed his debut collection, The City Fox, and this follow-up looks great, too), and a romance/comedy of manners called ‘Close of Play’ by P J Whiteley – which is charmingly gentle and gracefully written. There are lots more Urbane titles coming up this year, many of which I will definitely make a point of reading.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I really want to thank you, Hannah, for giving me the opportunity to appear as a guest on The Dorset Book Detective. It’s been a great pleasure, and I must say I find the book blogging community absolutely wonderful in the way they support books and authors and independent publishers. We really couldn’t do without you!!

Thanks to Mark for taking the time, it’s been an absolute pleasure. You can read more about Mark and his work HERE.


Where Have All The Good Private Eyes Gone?


Recently the latest season of Jack Taylor appeared on Netflix and, as an avid watcher of the first few episodes (although, I will admit, not a reader of the Ken Bruen books on which they are based) I dove in happily.

Despite my initial excitement, overall I was disappointed by Jack, Kate and Jack’s new sidekick, all of whom seem like lame, watered down versions of traditional hardboiled private eye fiction characters, unlike in the earlier episodes where Jack was effectively an Irish Philip Marlowe.

This lack of true hardboiled detective is an issue in modern detective fiction. Plenty of authors create stunning portrayals of rugged, damaged detectives modelled on the Scandinavian style; equally plenty of writers choose to emulate more traditional, Golden Age Crime Fiction with a great emphasise on a Sherlock Holmes style intellect and an eye for even the most miniscule of details.

So where are all the hardboiled detectives? With the possible exception of the various reincarnations of Philip Marlowe, including the glorious portrayal of the character that Benjamin Black renders in The Black Eyed Blonde, there have been no strong, hardboiled style detectives in a long time. Many, both in film, TV and literature, fall flat, with some aspect, be it dialogue or overall characterisation, failing to impress.

Jack Taylor was, until recently, the exception. The show had the makings of a true hardboiled classic, and one that, unlike many, was set in the present day. Iain Glen’s Taylor was as witty as he was whisky soaked, and although his violence cost him his job in the Garda (the Irish police), his associations and enduring reputation ensured that he was always among the first on the scene. His lack of people skills and initial struggle to connect with and understand his suspects all initially mark him out as a great hardboiled PI, however in the later episodes he becomes almost clumsy- in Headstone he fails to consider a number of fairly obvious suspects early on, and the episode as a whole highlights the continual issue in Crime Fiction of ‘thunderbolting’; where the detective suddenly has an epiphany five minutes before the end after having had virtually no leads throughout the investigation.

Why, then, are hardboiled detectives so infrequently written nowadays? I wondered, when I first read the novels, if J K Rowling’s Cormoran Strike could be classed as such, however the character is a complete contraction. Rowling describes her character as a loner, yet her plots show him with a hectic social life as he constantly seeks companionship and praise; he is described as a quiet, introverted man yet he regularly squares up to villains and openly admits his strange background, wearing it like a badge of honour. He has all the hallmarks of a hardboiled detective: the harrowing past, the military background (whilst not essential, it lends a Bulldog Drummond esq quality to any detective), the unhealthy lifestyle and the witty patter, but the character as a whole lacks any conviction.

That, in my personal opinion, is why so many private detectives in modern novels fall short. In order to make them more attractive to the reader, they are often made to be more sympathetic, which is highly unnecessary and only detracts from them. Whilst some of the great Brit Grit authors, such as Paul Brazil and Benedict Jones are creating characters that are true to their depictions, their books are often too gory and focused on the criminal to classify as true hardboiled, private detective capers. The lack of an in between in the literature market is a shame, but with the rise of the modern detective, modelled on the Scandinavian style which combines a cerebral approach with tenacity and a willingness to turn to violence if required, perhaps we are about to usher in a whole new era for detective fiction.

The Top Five Best American Crime Fiction Novels


I’ve done Scandinavian Crime Fiction, so now I thought I’d take a shot at America. The home of the blockbuster movie and the setting for some of the deadliest genres in literature, including Westerns and pulp fiction, America boasts some truly spectacular Crime Fiction.

There is something for everyone in this list, from pulp fiction through to Westerns and everything in between. I really like the diversity of American fiction, which comes from the vastness of the country and the incredible changes that you see from one region to another. It’s great to be able to explore the various writers and their work from across America, although there are plenty that didn’t make it on to this list! Do let me know your thoughts on the best crime fiction from across the pond.

  1. The Maltese Falcon: Similar to the Philip Marlowe novels, Dashiell Hammett’s riveting novel centres around Sam Spade, a hard hitting private detective with an impressive streak of loyalty. Focused on the hunt for a gold, bejewelled falcon statue, the novel is fast paced and exhilarating as Spade finds both himself and his clients in ever increasing danger.
  1. True Grit: This fascinating Western turned crime novel has been adapted into two, equally excellent films; despite this I would wholeheartedly recommend reading the novel for the quality of the writing and the superb plotting. An unconventional tale of a young woman setting out to find the criminals that killed her father, with the help of a Marshall and a Texas Ranger, both of whom have fairly dubious reputations. Despite this the three enter into a thrilling chase across tough terrain to catch a killer.
  1. Kisscut: Karin Slaugher’s excellent second novel features a grizzly but exhilarating case fraught with deception and raw human emotion. A real thriller, this is not a gore fest as you might expect given the author’s name (someone once told me that was her real name but I refuse to believe them). The characters are interesting and plausible and, unlike many novels, there is not one central detective. Instead a team works to uncover the truth, which feels more realistic, as well as ensuring that the weight of the novel does not fall onto one character.


  1. Sharp Objects: Gillian Flynn is best known for her bestseller Gone Girl, but personally I prefer some of her other novels, and her debut Sharp Objects is one of the best. Set in a small town in Missouri, the novel follows a damaged young journalist who heads back home from Chicago to cover the story of a recent murder that takes on a very personal edge as more details emerge. The novel showcases what Flynn does best: exploring the relationships between damaged people and the cause of the trauma. It is as much about the protagonist, journalist Camille, as it is about the crimes themselves, and as such it takes on a fascinating edge akin to people watching.
  1. The Big Sleep: Among Raymond Chandler’s finest novels (check out my top five best Raymond Chandler books HERE), The Big Sleep formerly introduces protagonist Philip Marlowe for the first time. This tough talking, hard drinking maverick private detective forms the basis for a series of thrilling novels, and this first outing is no exception. Marlowe is slick, witty and quick thinking as he takes on a case of blackmail that quickly spirals out of control. Los Angeles is as much a character in the novel as Marlowe himself, and the city is depicted as both murky and mysterious, with the same intriguing beauty, endearing charm and enticing persuasion as Vivian Regan and Carmen Sternwood, the two sisters who each play a strong role in the novel’s plot and whose charms contribute to their respective downfalls.