The Top Five Best Historical Crime Fiction Novels to Get You Reminiscing

The Yard

History has never been my strong point; regardless, I have always enjoyed reading about the past, especially in fiction, where the narrative is able to place a strong perspective on the way that characters react to their surroundings, rather than those surroundings themselves. As such, I have decided to choose my top five favourite Crime Fiction novels set in the past.

In this list ‘Historical Crime Fiction’ is defined as a novel written recently but set in the past. I love a bit of Golden Age Crime Fiction, but I’m not filling this list with Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. The beauty of historical novels is the research that and skill that the writer employs to ensure that their book is accurate and engaging. There are some old favourites of this blog here, as well as some novels that I haven’t had time to mention yet, but that definitely deserve a place on any reading list.

5. The Yard: Alex Grecian’s historical thriller is set in Victorian London, charting the murder of a police detective not long after Scotland Yard’s failure to apprehend the infamous Jack the Ripper. Introducing the yard’s first forensic pathologist, the team, known as ‘The Murder Squad’ sets out to unravel this fiendish crime and, in the process, exposes the seedier side of their city.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House: Based on a real life case, Kate Summerscale’s book is a combination of fact and fiction, seamlessly blending the real life facts of the case with a fictionalised narrative of how Whicher may have felt and behaved. The murder of a three year old boy at his father’s country estate was a scandal at the time, and the eventual culprit proves to be embroiled in a web of malice and angst, all of which is depicted beautifully by Summerscale in her enlightening, empathetic book.

3. The Silent Death: As my previous review testifies, I am a recent convert to Volker Kutscher and his tough, rebellious detective Gereon Rath, whose dubious connections and even worse love life lead him into conflict with his superiors as he battles against a fiendish killer. The beautifully depicted setting of 1930s Berlin provides the ideal landscape for a furious race against time as Rath and he teamwork to catch a murderer with a fixation for actresses. As he begins the grizzly task of removing the vocal cords of screen icons in order to keep the industry away from the advent of talkies, the reader is led on a fascinating journey through this atmospheric, historical city to a dramatic conclusion.

2. Dead Man’s Chest: I am, as my previous post attests, an ardent fan of Kerry Greenwood’s mesmerising and unconventional female detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher. Set in the 1920s, Greenwood’s novels highlight the less published, seedier side of life, and whilst all of her books are excellent, Dead Man’s Chest offers a truly fascinating insight into the society of the time. The novel contains a number of subplots which provide a glimpse of various facets of life in the 20s, including parenting, servitude, and the upper classes.

front cover Merlin at War1. Merlin at War: As part of author Mark Ellis’s book tour, I recently reviewed this exceptional novel, and promptly went out and ordered the first two novels in the Frank Merlin series, Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold. All three are equally well plotted, fast paced and exhilarating, however it is Merlin at War that is a true masterpiece. Skilfully executed, the novel is evocative and, whilst I am no historian, it is my understanding that it is accurate to its Second World War setting. Whether this is correct or not, Merlin at War remains an exceptional piece of fiction with strong characters, an intriguing plot and an finale that will blow your socks off.

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Aydin Guner Interview: “I want the reader to connect with the characters on a deep level”

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Author of The Devil in I, Aydin Guner, talks me through his background and how he came to create such an innovative and unique novel.

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

I’d define my style as fast paced. A lot of people who have read The Devil In I have said they couldn’t put it down once they started reading. That was a planned intention. I’d say character development is a key trait too; I want the reader to connect with the characters on a deep level. After reading the book, a lot of people asked me if the characters were based on real people, have told me they know people just like Latasha, and have even accused me of being the Devil! It’s all good though, connecting with the characters is a key part of the reading experience.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I’ve spent time in the banking sector in my professional career and have been writing since I was young. I used to write stories and do movie reviews. I had a very active imagination. I started writing my first book about 6 years ago, and it took 4 years to write. I was just so overwhelmed with the reception; it broke into the Amazon to 100 several times in the first few months. And yeah, I guess my life changed off the back of that.

Please tell me about The Devil in I. What do you think makes this book a gripping read?

I think what makes The Devil In I so gripping is it is written in the first person and the lead character is the Devil! I’m not sure if a book like that exists, it might do, but I haven’t seen it. You really get into the world of the Devil, how his mind works and how he perceives the world. He lives as a mid 20s Wall Street guy in New York and though he is the devil, he does have a vulnerable side.

He does some despicable things, but you read how he is suffering, almost bored of who he is. I think people will like this book because it’s fast paced, exciting, X-rated in places and, very unexpected! There’s twists and turns in this. As deceptive as the Devil is, this book will take you on that journey.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

That’s a great question! I like to add as much description as possible and one thing I often focus on is the scent and smells of the people and the environment. For example, if the lead character meets a woman and is attracted to her, how does she smell? What is her perfume? Does she have a lot on? How does it make me feel? All of these questions I believe help absorb the reader into the story. Same with being in New York, what can you see, hear and smell on the subway? Crowds, beeping horns, splashing rain from the tyres, talking, sweat, aftershave, stomping feet: I like to really get involved with the senses.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’ve always liked reading autobiographies. I like hearing things from the horse’s mouth. I like feeling like I’m in someone’s head and I try to understand their psyche.

One of my favourite books is American Psycho and that was written in the first person. As is my book The Devil In I. My second book, which will be out next year, will also be in the first person, so, I guess this is a style preference of mine.

The Devil In I

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

Stephen King or Brett Easton Ellis. Either of those two would be a dream come true.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Yeah absolutely, along with fiction I like writing psychology books. I have an ebook called Behind The Mask: An Introduction into Covert Narcissism. My new psychology book is out on November 28th and is called 10 Steps To Heal From Narcissistic Abuse. Narcissistic Abuse is a relatively unknown form of abuse but its essentially emotional abuse. Narcissists, or people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are bullies who attack you while hiding behind others; it’s a passive form of bullying that can literally ruin lives. It’s a fascinating subject and I’m confident a lot of people can identify with the topic. The book is perfect for beginners to the topic, or for those who are familiar with what narcissistic abuse is. You can pre-order the book on Amazon now at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B075NSV4W7/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_w2t1zbN6VNFXG

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I’ll be honest; I haven’t been too connected with the latest scene. I’ve been so busy writing my own books, and have recently completed a screenplay for The Devil In I, I haven’t had time to see who’s out there. There are a lot of great writers out there though, doing great things.

Anything you’d like to add?

I just want to say thank you for all of the support and if you want to connect with me please message me on twitter at www.twitter.com/aydingguner66 . I’m always on there and read the messages. You can also link in with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aydinguner66. Hope to hear from you. Thanks again for the support!

Many thanks to Aydin- it’s been a pleasure having you on The Dorset Book Detective.

Veteran Avenue Review: A Real Old-School Thriller in a Modern Setting

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Mark Pepper’s action packed thriller invokes an almost Raymond Chandler-esq, telling the tale of a former solider whose past clashes violently with his present as he travels to America for the funeral of a fellow veteran. Years earlier, as a child, he is befriended by a stranger in the Oregon wilderness and stolen away from his parents. After a bizarre hour spent in a log cabin, he is sent back with a picture of a young girl. It is this chilling event that returns to haunt this haunted veteran as he tries to untangle an incredibly complex web of malice, deceit and violence.

Protagonist John Frears is a drifter with a tough exterior and an interesting host of friends and acquaintances. The novel’s whole cast of characters are interesting and varied, with strong dialogue that makes this a really easy book to devour. The story is punchy and fast paced. Author Mark Pepper is also an actor alongside being a writer, and this shows in the novel; the plot is driven by dialogue, eliminating the issue of info dumping, which can often ruin thrillers.

The one thing that grates on me is the names; whilst the dialogue helps enhance the American setting and gives the novel an almost wild-western feel, the strange names, such as Roth, Dodge and Hawg, are too over the top, and give this otherwise fascinating and well crafted novel a comical, almost slapstick feel which does not suit it.

With its quick witted dialogue, engaging characters and well-driven narrative, Veteran Avenue is a great thriller that readers will struggle to put down. I found myself on the verge of reading it again once I’d finished, as I was so entranced by Pepper’s portrayal of John’s adventures.

Simon Maltman Interview: “Crime writing gives you something dramatic to hang whatever else you want to write about on to”

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Crime Fiction author Simon Maltman gives me a fascinating overview of his work and what first attracted him to the darker side of writing. I even grilled him on why he makes book trailers (you all know what I think of them)! 

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

I really never thought of writing anything else, because that’s what I really enjoy myself. It felt natural for me to try and write in that area. Crime writing gives you something dramatic to hang whatever else you want to write about on to.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

The majority of my writing in the past was mostly song writing. I started doing short stories about five years ago and then moved onto novels and novellas. I was a social care manager and am doing the writing on the side at the moment, while being a stay at home dad.

Why did you create a book trailer for your novella Bongo Fury? Do you believe that this medium is still relevant?

I try and do one for most of my books. I think that some potential readers might try you out if they get something they like from the trailer. It also means that I can combine my hobbies, with recording music for it.

How do you change your writing style when writing short stories? Do you find the reduced word limit freeing or inhibiting?

I haven’t written many short stories since writing novels and novellas. I used to find starting writing the longer form pieces as intimidating. I’d probably now find it hard to keep things minimal!

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

It’s really anything and anywhere that can bring you something. I like occasionally snatching something good in overhearing a conversation and then writing it down, knowing that I’ll use it later. One other thing that I repeatedly find inspiration in is both the beauty and history of Northern Ireland.

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

Wow- that’s a tough one! It’d probably have to be Raymond Chandler. That’s because I think he was the greatest crime writer, specifically because he had such an incredibly sharp and witty turn of phrase.

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

I’m pleased because I have two sequels coming out soon. My novella, Bongo Fury 2 is out this week and my publisher is editing the follow up to my first novel at the moment. While that’s going on, I’m currently working on a stand-alone novel.

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

I kind of missed Jo Nesbo when he first came out and I’m working through a lot of his stuff now and it’s just brilliant. I also really enjoyed Stuart Neville’s last book, written as ‘Haylen Beck.’ It’s a thoroughly entertaining thriller.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just thanks very much for having me! All the best.

Thanks Simon, it’s been great. Find out more about Simon’s work HERE.

Books Are My Bag Competition

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Hey! Following on from my post on National Bookshop Day (check it out HERE) I have been told about a fabulous competition being run by the organisers, Books are my Bag.

To celebrate selling 1 million Books Are My Bag tote bags, they are offering book lovers the prize bundle of a lifetime – £250 National Book Tokens, a Golden ticket to the Hay Festival, a picture signed by Quentin Blake, West End tickets… see below for more details. This is the most incredibly gift ever!

To enter, bookshop lovers just need to Tweet #OneInAMillion saying what their favourite bookshop is and why. People will have until 7th November to enter the competition, with the three lucky winners being revealed on 25th November. You can find the Bookseller Association, who run Books Are My Bag and Bookshop Day, on twitter @BAbooksellers

I’ll be tweeting, so get on it and may the best booklover win 🙂

On National Bookshop Day: Do They Still Have a Place in The Digital Age?

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Happy National Bookshop day! Today marks the day when Books Are My Bag– the campaign to celebrate bookshops- encourages people to celebrate these wonderful shops and the people behind them. Whilst larger stores such as Waterstones, Foyles and WHSmith might dominate the high streets and shopping centres, it is the independent book stores whose star continues to rise despite the pressure from online retailers and industry giants.

It is the simple pleasure of browsing a small book shop, and never knowing what you might find, that is central to the success of independent book shops. In Bridport, Dorset, my hometown, there are numerous brilliant independent book stores all offering something different; whether it be the eclectic, haphazardness that you find in Wild and Homeless Books, or the ingeniously names Book Shop’s exceptional range of new books and brilliant window displays, there is something for everyone.

The attraction of many of the seaside towns in the country comes from their affiliation with literature, such as Lyme Regis’s links to The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, for those of us addicted to Crime Fiction, Dexter’s setting of part of The Way Through the Woods in this stunning costal town. As such, the region is teeming with bookshops brimming with insightful staff, antiquated texts long out of print and shelves bursting with books to suit every taste. If you are ever in Lyme Regis, there is a stunning little bookshop right on the cob (again, imaginatively named ‘The Book Shop’), whose owner is utterly marvellous and boasts a fine collection of books which cannot be bettered.

Charity shops also offer a great selection of second hand books, with the added bonus that when you buy from them you always feel righteous as you realise that the money from the sale will go towards a good cause.

In the Midlands, my current home, independent bookshops are fewer and further between, however there are still some hidden gems to be found throughout the country, and it is a great thrill to find somewhere with a new selection to delve through. As I mentioned in my recent post Print Publishing: The Surprising Contender to Topple the Kindle, there is a real thrill to getting a physical copy of a book, and the same can be said for buying literature. It is one thing to browse online and read the blurbs, quite another to really get stuck into exploring a bookshop, seeing all the glossy covers and being inspired by the stunning cover art and inventive displays.

It is this fascination with seeing books in the flesh (as it were), and the inspiration that a good bookshop can bring, that is the reason why, in my opinion, bookshops will never truly die. Despite the rise of cheap, online book retailers, there will never be anything quite like diving into a new bookshop and the thrill of finding something new.

Kazuo Ishiguro: A Truly Noble Prize Winner

FILE PHOTO: Author Kazuo Ishiguro photographed during an interview with Reuters in New York

Today’s exciting news that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature is great news for both the author and the literature market. I was worried that, with the recent surge in popularity of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood may take the title. Popularity often wins over true literary prowess, but this latest accolade for the Man Booker winner proves that Ishiguro is a real genius.

I first encountered Ishiguro when I read Never Let Me Go, the eery dystopia in which a group of children uncover their singular nature and try to change the course of their appointed fate. A true experience, I was captivated by the raw bleakness of the novel, and how the author provoked numerous discussions through even the most minor of topics. From there, my passion grew, and I became fascinated by the writer’s inventive story lines and passionate exploration of the consequences of all our actions.

Permanent secretary of the Swedish academy which awards the prize, Sara Danius describes his work as a combination of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a little Marcel Proust thrown in; but the truth is, that Ishiguro is in a league of his own. His works are timeless. Although many, such as The Remains of the Day, are set in specific time periods, the emotions they evoke and truths they uncover can be applied to practically anyone.

Alongside being a novelist, Ishiguro is a screenwriter and renowned short story creator, putting his powers of observation and exceptional flare for creating realistic but thought-provoking dialogue into every piece of art he crafts. In researching the writer, I even found out that he has written song lyrics, which surprises me somewhat, although I can imagine that his taut, tense descriptions and inventive characterisation can transfer to lyrics, where swift depiction is a highly prized skill.

A sharp observer of human nature, Ishiguro truly deserves this prize, and hopefully this will inspire even greater feats of literary brilliance in the future. His most recent novel, The Buried Giant, was a fantastical, invigorating exploration of human nature, which deserves to be followed by another masterpiece.