The Top Five Crime Fiction/ Thriller Long Reads To Get You Through The Cold Weather

winter reading

With winter now firmly settled in and the nights much longer, readers are in their element as they snuggle up warm and dig in to a good book. However, constantly changing books can get tiresome, so it’s good to have a few long reads up your sleeve to keep you going.

Thrillers and crime fiction books are also a great shout in the cold weather, when the cold and dark really helps ramp up the tension you already feel reading them. With this in mind, I showcase five of my top long reads from the genres and explain why I think they’re a good choice for your winter reading. I’ve also picked a load of classics mixed in with some new novels so you’ll have plenty to choose from!

5. Lethal White: As you may know if you read my review, I find J.K. Rowling’s crime series a little bland, with a number of characterisation and plotting issues. Despite this, the latest outing for dour private detective Cormoran Strike is the best of the bunch, and, although it’s a little over-long, it’s a good read to devour during a long trip away.

4. Merlin At War: I am a huge fan of Martin Ellis’ cerebral detective, and as such I’d urge readers to check out the third in the series, Merlin At War. It might help if you’ve read the two previous novels but you’ll still enjoy this gripping police procedural even if you haven’t. The story focuses on Merlin’s quest to find his friend’s killer, whilst all the while working on the case of a murdered French abortionist which quickly links to a large financial institution. All three case coincide and Merlin struggles to work out both the connection and the culprits in this extraordinary novel which is guaranteed to keep you hooked.

3. The Little Drummer Girl: My latest spy novel obsession, John Le Carre’s thrilling tale of a young actress recruited by Mossad to infiltrate the inner circle of a terrorist with a long-held vendetta against Jews. As she becomes increasingly involved in the ‘Theatre Of The Real’ she discovers just how conflicting politics and morals can be. Having loved the BBC adaptation of the book I sought it out and devoured it over Christmas, and I would recommend it for long train journeys, as it is both long and intense enough to made the time fly.

2. Dracula: Bram Stoker’s dark and twisted tale of a vampire overlord who rapes, pillages and murders with impunity is a good size for those looking to some to really get their teeth into (excuse the pun). Written from the point of view of a guest at Dracula’s own home, it follows a quest to rid the world of this monster once and for all.

1. The Troubled Man: Henning Mankell’s Swedish Inspector Wallander takes his final outing in this exceptional novel, which is long enough to keep anyone busy. It’s also got an engaging plot centred around the disappearance of Wallander’s daughter’s father-in-law, a former Swedish Navel Officer who suddenly disappears not long after his lavish birthday party. As clues begin to surface which link back to the cold war, Wallander is drawn into a case with vast political ramifications.

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New Year, New Yuck: Resolutions Are Bollocks, If You Must Make One Make It About Books

new year reading

New Year, same old nonsense. My social media feeds are now overflowing with friends and family making ‘resolutions’ they’ll forget in a fortnight. Losing weight’s a popular one, as well as getting a new job. Some are wholesome and lovely, like my friends who vow to take up a new hobby, or give their kids more attention, or listen to their loved ones more often.

Most, however, are downright attention seeking, and I cannot stand them. However, I was surprised that I haven’t noticed many book themed resolutions this year or, now I actually think about, ever.

One of my friends at work is doing one, which is what made me actively think about. She’s doing a book a week challenge, and although she’s so far a little behind, she’s doing all right on it. It’s a pretty cool idea really; she’d been buying a lot of books and not reading them, so decided that reading a book every week was a good way to finally get round to them and have some fun at the same time.

This sort of thing seems like a great idea, as reading is a pastime often forgotten in today’s technological era, where many are engrossed in TV, films and games. Personally, owing to my blog and the fact that I have so many books if I didn’t read them and then give them to the charity shop I would be overrun, already read around a book every week, but this is a great way to encourage others to read more.

Another great New Years Resolution idea that isn’t complete cobblers is to read more widely, which is my own personal resolution. Traditionally, as a crime fiction and thriller fan I usually end up reading books by cisgender, straight white guys. Whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, widening your reading is great for broadening your horizons. I do read some postcolonial fiction as a hangover from my university days, when that was my favourite module, but that’s not enough, so this year, alongside my usual reads by my favourite authors, I will be branching out, both in terms of writers and their books themselves. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, so it’ll be great to find some memoirs, biographies and discussion books to expand my knowledge.

Don’t worry though- The Dorset Book Detective will still be a crime fiction and thriller focused blog! I’m lucky enough to work with loads of great authors and publicists who are always helping me discover great new talent in the genre, and for my own personal reading I was lucky enough to receive Michelle Obama’s autobiography Becoming for Christmas, so that will keep me going alongside Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure. 

So, if you’re still on the fence about making a New Years Resolution, why not make it book based? From a book a week, two weeks or month challenge through to broadening your horizons, reading everything by a particular author or revisiting old favourites, there are lots to choose from and they don’t involve buying expensive, funny smelling diet tea or going through gruelling exercise based challenges, which is always a bonus!

The Man With No Face Review: Getting 2019 Off To A Thrilling Start

the man with no face peter may

Last year Peter May published the intense and gripping I’ll Keep You Safe, so I was incredibly excited to check out his latest novel, The Man With No Face, due to be released on the 10th of January. I was expecting May’s typical strong characterisation, eventful plotlines and a spectacular finale to round it all off. I was not disappointed.

Less of a domestic drama than May’s previous book and far more of an international thriller, this latest novel travels the world, focusing on jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman, who travels to Brussels in search of a scoop. During his stay two men are murdered, with a young girl being the only witness.

Desperate for answers and to protect the child, Bannerman begins a potentially fatal race against time to uncover the truth in a very tangled web of lies. Trying to both find out what happened and protect the girl, who is the sole witness to the tragedy that killed her father and changed her life. Autistic and vulnerable, her only method of communication is drawing, but she is unable to finish her portrait of the killers face due to her own fear and the dark, terrifying surroundings in which she saw it.

As Bannerman gets closer to the truth he has to combine protecting the girl with finding the culprits and bringing them to justice, but the work brings him nothing but trouble.

Set in the late 1970s, the novel evokes an era in turmoil, both politically and socially, and shows this through the tense narrative and tightly wound plot. May’s real skill is in characterisation and dialogue, and he shows this in The Man With No Face, with every character expertly crafted.

At the end of the day, May’s books are always dependable for their excellence of characterisation and deft plotting, and The Man With No Face is no exception. Any fans of May, or of gripping international thrillers in general, will enjoy this novel no end, and it makes a great read to get the New Year off to an excellent start.

 

 

Andrew Thompson Interview: “I’ve spent most of my life living inside my own head and writing has given me an outlet to create something that is entirely my own”

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For my first interview of 2019 (how exciting!) I spoke to Andrew Thompson, author of dark comedy Pettifyr on the Rocks.  

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing dark comedies?

Pettifyr on the Rocks is my first novel and (getting this out there up front) it is supposed to be a funny book. I never intended it to be a ‘serious’ thriller and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The plotting here is so wafer-thin that you’ll get a paper cut from the Kindle edition…

That said, it is a warm-hearted little story from someone who has always had a deep love for the so-called ‘golden age’ of English crime thrillers (especially Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham) and the old black and white Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan movies that I adored sitting in front of on TV when I came home from school. I remember sitting in the dark watching the old Miss Marple movies with Margaret Rutherford and the Basil Rathbone Holmes films. I love all of those old movies, plus the James Bond and Humphrey Bogart films. Hitchcock too.

I wanted to write something that reminded me of those old books and films I loved as a kid, but with a twist and something of myself in it. Something that had the feel of a classic old paperback Leslie Charteris or something that you might pick up from a hotel bookshelf. I wanted it to be uncomplicated, funny and, perhaps most importantly, warm and engaging. Mainly I needed to get Jennifer out of my head. She’s been banging away at my frontal lobe for a long time and it is nice, finally, to have her out in the world and doing something quasi-useful. By ‘quasi-useful’ I obviously mean drinking too much, swearing like a docker with a bee-sting and basically blundering about.

If I had tried to write a ‘straight’ thriller it would be rubbish. I don’t have the brain for complex plotting or the interest in creating a world of pain and suffering for a psychological thriller. I’d rather try to create something that made someone laugh on the train and then tell their friends that ‘it’s utterly stupid, but quite funny’. If this book (and Jennifer) makes people smile then I will have achieved my goal.

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

Most of the time I’m just a dull little office worker, staring out across an ocean of an open-plan room populated by banks of humans with computer screens. I’ve started writing, I think, as a bit of a reaction to that. Don’t get me wrong, large organisations are not inherently dull places because they are, at the end of the day, populated by people and people come in all shapes and sizes. It is easy to look around, though, and feel that your life is passing you by.

I’m also a musician and played in a band in the mid-noughties, so I’ve done a few different things and have moved around quite a lot geographically. The most honest answer is that I’ve spent most of my life living inside my own head and writing has given me an outlet to create something that is entirely my own but also stands entirely apart from me. The idea that you can create a world, and characters, that other people can enjoy when you are not there is extremely compelling. In short, I guess these books are about my need to create something. Jennifer has been knocking on the front door of my head, with increasing persistence, for a long time.

Please tell me about your books. What sets them apart from other similar novels?

Pettifyr on the Rocks is the first in a planned series centred around flame-haired, foul-mouthed investigator Jennifer Pettifyr, whose primary skill-set revolves around drinking, swearing, punching people and generally making a nuisance of herself. As to what sets my books apart from others- apart from the weak prose and poor plotting, obviously- that’s not really for me to say. Jennifer does pop to the toilet on a reasonably regular basis (my mother first pointed this out, so I deliberately put more pit-stops into the books now just to wind her up). Surely that’s a bit of a breakthrough in British crime fiction? Does it interrupt the narrative flow? I think it’s integral. The flow, you might say, is integral.

Jennifer herself is an investigator of the unexplained whose services are used occasionally by the Government as and when they have problems requiring a bit of unofficial nose poking. She is in her very late-twenties, does like a bit of a drink (who doesn’t?) and loves a good board game. The stories are set, very loosely, around the very late 1980s but are deliberately vague about this. I want them to feel quite timeless in terms of setting. She’s a strong girl, very sporty and well capable of looking after herself. She gets stuck in and gets stuff done. Despite some emotional frailties, I hope that Jennifer is a good role model for young women everywhere. That is what I wanted her to be, above all other things. Other than for her language, of course. Her language is bloody dreadful.

Tell me about the books you personally write. Where do you find your inspiration?

Jennifer Pettifyr, who is occupying all of my writing, is a horrible little hybrid of various different people. Her flame hair is pure Amanda Fitton. I loved those books. Her outlook on life, sadly for all of us, is closer to Romesh Ranganathan.

She drinks too much, swears too much, has a first-class honours degree in sarcasm and a heart as big as a pork pie on steroids. Her ability to veer off at random into chatting shit for Britain (and insisting on a ‘final wee’ despite only being five minutes from wherever she is going) is entirely my wife. She does this ALL the time. I’ve mentioned my love of old film noir, thrillers and potboilers already and those are a massive influence and inspiration for me, as are comedies such as Withnail & I, The League of Gentlemen and Blackadder.

On a more serious note, I am also drawn to the more romantic style of mystery fiction for its pure escapism. I do find it depressing that so many thrillers and masses of suspense fiction seems to revolve around physical and sexual violence towards women. The serial killer performing increasingly horrific acts in order to generate tension. There are dark scenes in my books but, fundamentally, that isn’t what I want to write about and others are far better at it than I could ever be. People suffer and die every day in real life. With a book, I can do something about it. I can stop it happening to someone. You can do anything at all in a book. I’d rather use my time to attempt to create someone who, although flawed, tries her very best to help people and always to do the right thing. That’s Jennifer. She may pop to the loo, but she’s definitely got your back. When she’s not in the loo. She’s like an awkward Simon Templar. That’s who she is.

As for Jennifer’s annoying sarcasm, that’s just me after a few G&Ts. A work colleague called me ‘sassy’ last week on a night out. I don’t know many 6’ 4” males who get branded as ‘sassy’. I was inordinately pleased. As for Jennifer’s swearing, just spend an hour in the Essex Arms in Brentwood and you’ll realise that, in fact, she hardly swears at all. Seriously, that pub is an education in the use of the four-letter word. Also, they show the footie and the train times. Great off-licence across the road too (big shout out to Elaine here).

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

I’d love to buy Adam Diment a drink and thank him for the Philip McAlpine books. If I could ever write anything even 10% as perfect as those I’d die a happy man. As for collaborating, I’ll just sit back in an armchair with a nice glass of red and let him crack on. He wouldn’t need my help. I took The Dolly Dolly Spy on holiday for six summers on the bounce. Just re-read it over and over. It never got old. The pages fell out eventually; I read that book so much. At the end, only the suntan lotion was holding it together. 

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

I’m working on the second Jennifer Pettifyr book right now and it’s entertaining me immensely. The idea for it came to me from watching an old episode of The Avengers and it gave me the perfect idea for getting into Jennifer’s family and a bit more of what makes her tick (which is hinted at in the first book but not really explored at all). I’m very excited about it, as it is shaping up to be (a) much funnier than the first one and (b) almost competently written. Almost. If you scrunch up your eyes and squint at it.

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

I’m quite dreadful for the lack of diversity in my reading habits! The trouble with having a full-time job (other than people giving you stuff to do… I mean, what’s that all about?) is that I don’t have a lot of reading time. To be honest, I generally end up reading a mixture of big-name authors (if they aren’t up their own backsides) plus anything random, unusual or interesting, which could be anything really. I read a lot of old thrillers when I can (my guilty pleasure is old second/third/however many-hand paperbacks from authors I’ve never heard of). I really loved the Glass Books trilogy. I loved Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz). The problem is, when I read other books it reminds me that, well, I’m just not up to the job…

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Pettifyr on the Rocks is available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle now. Link through the website www.pettifyr.biz. Paperback option through Amazon to follow shortly.

Also, and this is very important, thank you so much for asking me! If you want me to expand on or clarify anything please just let me know.

Thank you for your time, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing your thoughts and learning more about your writing!

 

Christmas Christie: Controversy Is A New Tradition

BBC Agatha Christie Adaptation

As we edge swiftly towards the New Year, I am proud to present my thoughts on the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation and the controversy surrounding the changes that the writers made to the plot and the protagonist’s backstory. Apologies for the lack of posts over the past week, I’ve been off celebrating the holidays. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and I’m very pleased to be back writing after my awesome trip back to Dorset!

During my stay with my family we were all united in wanting to watch this year’s BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, which is unusual as normally we only agree to watch children’s films together (not because we’re weird, but because children’s films are favoured by both my parents. My father, who is in his late fifties, adores Toy Story and got over excited when Monster’s University came on, but can’t stand any of my ‘grizzly nonsense’).

Agreed on something for a change, we all settled down happily to watch The ABC Murders, the first of the BBC’s adaptations to feature one of Christie’s established and renowned detectives, in this case her beloved Belgium sleuth, Hercule Poirot. However, it quickly transpired that, unlike the twee gentility of the novel, this show was to have a grimy, dark undertone, with deceit and dastardly dealings at its heart.

Personally, I have long advocated that Poirot is becoming a little overdone in the modern literary and cinematic spaces, and should be left in peace; this opinion was overridden this year, however, by my adoration of the Christmas Christies, which bring the chance to check out one of my favourite author’s works in a new light. In the end, I rather liked Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of this Christie classic, and found it an enjoyable and memorable addition to the various adaptations that the corporation has produced during the Christmas period.

Thanks to their quality and exceptional source material, over the years watching an Agatha Christie adaptation has become a festive tradition over recent years, and if a BBC option is not available there is usually something, such as the excellent Crooked House we were treated to last year. I have come to view as a necessity at Christmas, rather like receiving a Terry’s Chocolate Orange or having a fight with pieces of wrapping paper!

My favourite by far was the utterly stupendous And Then There Were None in 2015, which was shown on the BBC and featured Charles Dance in what was, undoubtedly, the best performance of the entirety of his illustrious career. This adaptation was not without its detractors, and many believed it to be too dark, with the key issue many critics took was its deviation from its source material.

This is the case this year, and also in previous years. Although it missed the Christmas slot thanks to Ed Westwick’s sexual assault allegations, Ordeal by Innocence was another adaptation which proved divisive when the BBC aired it at the beginning of the year because the ending was completely changing from the original novel. In the case of The ABC Murders, the changes to the source text were less obvious and overriding, however they involved key elements of Poirot’s backstory, such as the idea that, instead of being a former policeman as he is in the novels, he is instead portrayed as a Priest, who fled to England when German soldiers burnt his church, in which a number of children were hiding, to the ground.

Despite this fundamental change, I personally feel that this is in no way disrespectful to the author, and it enhances rather than detracts from her legacy. These adaptations are allowing a whole new generation to experience Christie’s work, and although her novels were often twee and genteel, at their heart was the human experience and the cruel, vile side to humanity that lurks within even the most respectable and revered members of any community. Embracing this darker side to Christie’s work does not detract from it, and going a little off-piste to make your own mark on a book is nothing to be ashamed of, at least not in my book.

After all, the changes did not make the adaptation any less watchable, and John Malkovich’s performance as an ageing, withered Poirot was as mesmerizing as we all knew it was going to be the moment his casting was announced. Nursing a pain he keeps secret from even his closet friend, this version of the character is multi-dimensional and truly fascinating. Whilst he is not entirely canonical, he is certainly more so than many, such as Kenneth Branagh’s unique yet ultimately un-Poirotish portrayal, which sees the actor strutting about like a peacock rather than actually doing any thinking.

That being said, I am hopeful that Malkovich will resist the urge to return as Poirot. Let it remain in our memories as an excellent performance, as opposed to dragging it out until we hate it. Also, I rather like seeing new actors perform Christie each year, and whilst Malkovich and Rupert Grint, who starred as his reluctant link to officialdom as Inspector Crome, were both truly brilliant, it would be great to see someone new take on a role in 2019.

At the end of the day, if you’re a Christie fan that hasn’t already checked out the BBC’s version of The ABC Murders then please don’t let the negative reviews and publicity about the changes to the source material put you off. This is a magnificent reimagining of a classic Poirot story, and although it is not an exact replica of the novel, that’s for the best. The world would be awfully boring if filmmakers and TV producers were made to replicate novels word-for-word with no creative input of their own, and this version enhances the book and the Christie cannon far better than some imitations of other works, such as the latest Sherlock Holmes film, which has literally had viewers walking out of the cinema. Bring on next year’s BBC Christie is all I have to say!

A Quick Christmas Message From The Dorset Book Detective

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Merry Christmas! This is just to let you know that I will be taking a lovely festive break to return to Dorset and have lovely food, nice company and, of course, great books! I’ll be back in the New Year so don’t worry- there’s much more to come! Have an incredible time yourselves and I hope you all have a well-earned rest!