The Top Five Travis McGee Novels For Fans Of The Seafaring Sleuth

After discovering the amazing Louis L’Amour through watching Westerns, I fell back into my love of crime fiction, but managed to find a series that was adapted and features my new favourite actor.

This time, it’s the Travis McGee books by renowned thriller writer John D. MacDonald.

Another recent find I learned about through my newfound love of Sam Elliott movies, MacDonald’s droll seafaring sleuth appealed to me for a number of reasons.

For one, Travis McGee, known as Trav, lives on a barge called the Busted Flush. That’s an amazing name, and I’ve always wanted to live on a boat myself, so the series immediately caught my eye.

Also, the character is witty in the hardboiled manner, and clearly modelled on classic pulp fiction detectives such as Philip Marlowe.

Elliott plays him in a film named Travis McGee, and there was also an earlier film adaptation featuring Rod Taylor.

I’ve only seen Elliott in Travis McGee, and it’s safe to say that, while a good watch, the film does nothing to prepare you for the incredible wit and dry worldliness of the books. These novels are full of insightfulness and deep descriptions of the baseness of the human condition.

MacDonald, the author of this intensely gripping series of books, was already a prolific thriller writer before he created McGee, but the creation cemented his reputation as a creator of innovative detective stories.

The series protagonist, McGee is a bit different from traditional private eyes, but in many other ways he’s also incredibly similar.

Unlike many hardboiled private detectives, he doesn’t really style himself as such. Instead, he views himself as a ‘salvage expert’, who will find whatever you’ve lost in return for half of it.

He calls himself retired, stating that instead of retiring at 60 like others, he’s taking his retirement in chunks. He works when he needs money, then he takes some time off until he starts running low on funds.

While all this might make him sound like a glorified beach hippy, he’s as fast-talking, hard-hitting and generally unconventional as any other hardboiled private sleuth.

He’s also a smooth talker who’s great with women, and who frequently finds himself entangled with questionable ladies. When it comes to violence, McGee isn’t afraid to use it and is handy with his fists, but he has a moral compass like many hardboiled private eyes, which often leads him into questionable situations.

So, if you’re looking for a crime fiction series that offers something a little bit different, then MacDonald’s Travis McGee series could be the perfect choice for you.

Many of the newer editions of these books, which were first published throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, come with an introduction by Lee Child, so there’s even more of an incentive to read them.

There are more than 20 novels featuring Travis McGee, each one including a different colour in the title. All of them show the detective uncovering a new and more ingenious case, with a cast of phenomenal, often oddball characters.

These books are often overlooked by hardboiled crime fiction fans, who focus on the traditional names. If you’re looking to check out this series, then here are my top five picks.

5. The Dreadful Lemon Sky: In the early hours of a perfectly ordinary morning, Travis McGee is awoken by an old girlfriend with a favour to ask. She requests that McGee stashes her suitcase, which is filled with $100,000 dollars of suspicious cash. She asks him to keep it safe for two weeks, and to send it to her sister if she’s not back by then to collect it. In return for this simple favour, McGee can keep $10,000, which is less than his usual fee of half the loot, but the job is much simpler than his normal commissions. He reluctantly takes on the role, and after two weeks he goes snooping around to see why his friend still hasn’t returned to collect her case of cash. He learns that she’s died in what’s described as an accident, but McGee isn’t so sure. Feeling upset about his friend’s death, the sleuth sets out to uncover who staged the accident and is led into the seedy underbelly of organised crime. MacDonald keeps the reader guessing throughout this novel, which is why I enjoyed it so much.

4. The Empty Copper Sea: A wealthy businessman disappears off his luxury boat, and the accident is blamed on the vessel’s captain. He’s believed to have fallen overboard and drowned, and as the captain is accused of being drunk in charge of the cruiser when his employer went over the side. Van Harder, the captain of the boat, is a proud man who wants his reputation restored to him. He’s convinced that his boss is alive and well, and has gone into exile in Mexico to hide his unscrupulous business dealings and ill-gotten gains. Harder goes to his old pal Travis McGee, and asks him to help him prove that the accident wasn’t his fault and that his boss faked his own death. Seeking to prove his friend to be a capable seaman, McGee goes off in search of the missing man, and soon uncovers a tale of deception, deceit and devious financial dealings. This is the book that was the basis of the TV movie Travis McGee, which starred the iconic Sam Elliott, with the location moved from Florida to California. The film doesn’t do the book justice; while Elliott makes an excellent smooth-talking sleuth, he doesn’t quite embody the deceptive beach bum energy of the real McGee. The character is supposed to disarm women and adversaries with his deep tan and languorous demeanour. Once they’re suitably disarmed, he is able to extract their deepest secrets. Elliott is too much the hero to play McGee, and the script lacks the dry edge that MacDonald uses in all his books. Don’t let that put you off from reading The Empty Copper Sea: it’s a truly spectacular story that any hardboiled detective fiction fan will enjoy.

3. A Deadly Shade Of Gold: When an old friend of McGee’s drops by and asks to see him, they agree to meet at the man’s motel room. When the private eye arrives, he’s greeted by the sight of his pal’s murdered corpse. All that’s left behind is his old friend’s vengeful girlfriend and ancient Aztec idol that leads to a lot of trouble. This is the first book in the series to feature the enigmatic playboy economist Meyer, who features in later novels as McGee’s friend who often helps him to recover valuable items for his clients. This novel takes the reader from the Florida beaches where he lives on his houseboat to the expatriate society in Mexico as he searches for other icons in the series.

2. A Nightmare In Pink: Like all good hardboiled private detectives, Travis McGee was in the army. When the sister of an old friend from his days in service, who got injured when he stayed behind while McGee was on leave, comes to him for help, the professional finder feels compelled to assist her. Her fiancé has been murdered in what the police claim was a normal mugging, but she suspects differently. The murdered man was digging in some unsavoury places and seemed to have uncovered a scandal at his real estate firm, and a lot of money has gone missing. Just as McGee is getting nearer the truth, he’s sedated and trapped in a mental hospital. MacDonald keeps the thrills coming in this fast-paced and innovative thriller, which goes from simple search to gripping crime thriller in just a few short chapters.

1. The Deep Blue Goodbye: As I’ve said over and again, the first book in a series is always a great place to start. In this case, The Deep Blue Goodbye is an amazing place to begin, and makes for a perfect introduction to Travis McGee, beech bum extraordinaire, and his unique way of life. He’s got Miss Agnes, which might be the only Rolls Royce in the world to have been made into a pickup truck. He’s also got the Busted Flush, and his whirlwind life on board her. When his dancer friend, Chookie, introduces him to a friend who’s been raped and had an unknown treasure stolen from her by a two-bit smooth-talking conman, he sets out to recover the treasure. Quickly, McGee discovers the depths of the conman’s depravity, and his sense of morality kicks in and he begins a desperate, nationwide search for this rapist turned thief.

Jane Hobden Interview: “I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking”

Crime writer and former paralegal Jane Hobden talks me through her work and how it’s evolved into her latest novel, Guilty.

Tell me about your books. What drew you towards writing psychological thrillers?

I have always loved thrillers whether it be crime, suspense or psychological.  Basically, I write something that I would love to read.  I like to be kept guessing until the end or have something that I didn’t expect happen. 

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

My background is in criminal law where I worked as a paralegal.  I really enjoyed that job – every day brought something new.  I have spent a lot of time in Courts and Prisons preparing a persons’ case for trial including meeting a wide range of clientele who, in most cases would be absolutely terrified of the process and the fear of facing a prison sentence.  I find that it brings both the best and the worst out in people. 

I first started writing in 2011 at a time when I was in a job that I didn’t particularly like.  I found that it helped with my work stress levels having something to focus on.  My first book The Hartford Inheritance I self-published in 2014.  Since then, I’ve changed jobs and as with most people, life has been too fast paced to be able to concentrate on writing anything new save for a dystopian future YA book that my kids could read.  Then Covid-19 happened and we had no option but to slow it all down.  That’s when I started writing again – this time a crime thriller. 

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

Guilty strays far from the traditional one-dimensional thriller.  I want the reader to not know who is guilty until the very end.  I’ve tried to show the assault from different viewpoints, allowing the reader to sympathise with each emotion that the characters feel.  I want the reader to consider if they would behave in the same way. 

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

I’ve always had a ‘healthy’ imagination shall we say.  I love crime dramas.  As my husband would say, unless there’s a dead body in a tent, Jane wouldn’t turn the TV on for it.  I love the thrill of it.  I like to write something that’s dark and thought provoking.   I don’t think I’d be able to write in any other genre. 

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

I’m definitely reaching for the stars here but I’ve got to say J K Rowling.  What she created in Harry Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  A book loved by children and adults alike.  The detail involved.  So much thought goes into every single one of her characters and every storyline leads in a different direction.  She’s definitely my idol. 

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

I’ve already started my next novel, which has the working title Beneath Ground.  Another psychological thriller but this time I’m dealing with Stockholm Syndrome. 

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

One of the books I recently read was a book by a debut author called Abigail Dean.  The book is called Girl A, I’m sure most people have heard of it by now.  It is absolutely amazing.  I loved it from cover to cover and read it in days.  I’m very much looking forward to her new book, which is due for release in the summer I believe. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you, Hannah, for reading and reviewing Guilty.  It really means a lot for someone of your calibre to get involved. 

Massive thanks to Jane for answering my questions: I’m very excited to review Guilty in the coming weeks.

Have A Very Norwegian Easter By Reading A Crime Novel

Happy Easter weekend to all the lovely Dorset Book Detective readers!

If you’re looking for a new tradition for Easter this year, when things are a bit weird, then I’ve got the perfect idea for you: read crime fiction.

Hear me out: I know crime fiction doesn’t sound very Easter-y, but in some countries it actually is a time-honoured tradition to read thrillers at this time of year.  

At Easter here in the UK, traditions include hiding chocolate Easter eggs for kids to find, eating a cake made with marzipan balls meant to symbolise the apostles and cooking an oversized roast dinner.

While the holiday retains some religious symbolism for some Christian households, most of us just enjoy having the time off, seeing our loved ones and stuffing our faces with tasty treats.

One international tradition that I think we should adopt in the UK is the Norwegian habit of Påskekrim, or reading crime novels at Easter.

At Easter, in this beautiful and chilly Scandinavian country, people cuddle up with a gripping thriller or binge watch a Scandi crime film or TV show.

The tradition allegedly started when two Norwegian crime writers took out an advert in the newspapers that convinced readers to read their new novel. The advert was so persuasive that many readers thought the tale was true.

Thanks to the success of the stunt the book was a huge success. As well as literary success, the publicity strategy started a tradition where readers would seek out new thrillers and mystery novels to read at Easter.

As a result, publishers started timing the releases of new crime fiction novels to coincide with the religious holiday. That meant that there were even more awesome thrillers for readers to check out at Easter every year. It also meant that it’s become a time-honoured tradition to read them over Easter.

Personally, I think that reading crime fiction at Easter is the perfect tradition for the UK. It’s a great way to reinvigorate yourself over the long weekend and expand your mind, while being lazy at the same time. Crime fiction is gripping and great for helping you to escape tough times.

It’s safe to say that there haven’t been too many times that have been tougher than these. That’s why crime fiction is particularly useful for this Easter. After all, we’re probably going to all being feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) as we’re not able to meet up with as many people or do the fun Easter activities that we’re used to enjoying. But reading, particularly gripping mysteries and thrillers, is a great way to feel exhilarated even while you’re stuck indoors, or in the garden if the weather stays fine.

Really well written crime fiction novels can take you out of your home, or garden, and transport you to a new time, place and situation. There’s a type of crime fiction for every writer, ranging from quaint cosy crime fiction through to terrifying political thrillers and more. That means that whatever you’re into, there’s a mystery for you to enjoy this Easter.

Also, reading crime fiction is one of the few Easter traditions that doesn’t involve food. Don’t get me wrong: food is really good. Everyone needs food, and most of love eating it (except for people who just eat those weird Huel meal replacement things, and they’re weird). However, Easter is a lot about food for most Brits. From the cake with the marzipan apostles to the classic crème egg, hot cross buns to the all-important roast dinner, there’s just so much traditional Easter food to choose from. So, it’s nice to have a new tradition that’s not edible.

While I know some people who do use this time to read, or re-read, the Bible, as it’s a religious holiday, most of us don’t believe and therefore choose not to read it.

If that’s the case, then Påskekrim could be the perfect solution. By making this a yearly tradition, we can feel comforted by the familiarity and get the chance to read shiny new crime fiction novels. It’s a win-win situation if you ask me!

Going one step further with the tradition and giving crime fiction books at Easter could be the UK’s way of stepping up this tradition, and I for one am all for it! While we give out loads of edible gifts, mostly in chocolate form, we could start giving out a longer lasting reminder of the awesomeness of Easter. Whether you’re religious or not, this is an amazing time of the year. We get time off and the sun is shining. There will soon be cute baby animals for us to fawn over and pretty flowers. The days are getting longer and the weather’s getting better, and this year, we’re also beating a pandemic.

Being reminded of all that with a shiny new mystery novel would be ace. I for one have already treated myself to a few new thrillers over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll be reading them over the long weekend to celebrate Easter. I think in the future, getting one wrapped in egg covered wrapping paper would make me a very happy reader!

In all, I hope the weather does stay fine for us all this Easter weekend, and that everyone gets the opportunity to read an engaging thriller. It’s even better if you can eat some yummy chocolatey treats while you’re reading too! It’s been a tough year of lockdown, and while it’s getting easier, life is far from back to normal. So, please, be kind to yourself this Easter and consider adopting a new tradition: self-case and reading your favourite crime fiction.

Black Coffee Review: A Tantalising Thriller That Doesn’t Really Reflect Christie’s Prowess

As a bored, Golden Age crime fiction fan looking for something to keep me entertained during the lockdown, I’ve been turning to re-reading old favourites over recent months. Among my most beloved books is my collection of Hercule Poirot novels from the renowned Queen Of Crime, whose novels were the epitome of Golden Age crime fiction, Agatha Christie.

Re-reading old favourites offers many benefits, including giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ll definitely enjoy the book. That’s why I’ve been devouring Agatha Christie novels during the pandemic. While I’m not averse to reading the odd Miss Marple novel, or even one of her lesser-known Tommy And Tuppence books, my favourite series of all out of Christie’s extensive back catalogue is the Poirot novels, which feature the pernickety Belgium private detective and his various accomplices as they solve devious crimes.

There are several of these books that I love, including the gripping Dead Man’s Folly and the twisted Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case, as well as her short story collections such as Poirot Investigates and Poriot’s Early Cases. However, I’ve also been searching for new Poirot stories that I haven’t read yet, but which I know will give me a taste of one of my favourite fictional sleuths and a new tale to sink my teeth into.

My search for new Poirot novels, beyond the original ones by Christie, which I’ve already read, and the ones by Sophie Hannah, which I’ve also checked out and reviewed, led me to Black Coffee. The book is an adaptation of a stage play script written by Christie herself, and turned into a novel by Charles Osborne, with the permission of Christie’s family and estate.

Osborne has also adapted a couple of other plays by Christie, so I was interested to check out this book. As mentioned, the original script for the play was written by the Queen Of Crime herself, but Osborne has bought it back to life by turning it into a novel, so readers like me can enjoy it even during the lockdown.

The play was slightly less popular than the renowned Mousetrap, also written by Christie, and which is the longest running show on the West End. However, Black Coffee was still incredibly popular, and it was turned into a 1931 film, as well as being turned into a novel.

Before I begin giving my opinions, I just want to say that I’ve never seen the film or play, or read Christie’s original play script. As such, I don’t know how much of it can be attributed to Osborne and how much was Christie herself. While I enjoyed reading Black Coffee, I did find it lacked certain elements that make for the perfect Poirot novel.

The book tells the story of Sir Claud Amory, a reclusive scientist living outside London in a large, luxurious home with his family, servants, secretary and a mysterious Italian friend of his daughter-in-law. Amory is developing a revolutionary formula for a new explosive that could completely change the world of war and the global power landscape.

Worried that the formula is about to be stolen by someone in his house, Amory hire Hercule Poirot to come down and take the formula back to London, where it can be given to the Government. On the evening when the detective, with his old friend Captain Hastings in tow, is due to arrive at the house, the formula is stolen from Amory’s safe.

The head of the household offers the thief one last chance to redeem themselves by switching off the lights and allowing them to anonymously return the formula. When the lights go out, the envelope in which the formula was is returned, but it later turns out to be empty. At the same time, Amory, who had just complained that his coffee was bitter, is found dead.

Poirot and Hastings arrive on the scene in time to find the dead man and offer their services to the family. The great detective hopes to find both the formula and the murderer, who he believes might be one and the same.

The plot is certainly thrilling and engaging, and the outcome is definitely unexpected and inventive. However, one of the key plot twists is taken directly from another Poirot novel; I won’t say which, so there are no spoilers. It’s simply a little disappointing that the main plot device is lifted from another book, although it is understandable that Christie would do this, as she probably believed that the play audience wouldn’t notice as they were watching rather than reading the tale.

Poirot himself is slightly off in Black Coffee. He’s a bit of a caricature of himself: like someone has heard of Poirot and his quirks, and then written a version of him without actually ever reading a Christie novel. Again, I understand that, for a play, the depiction needs to be more intense, as theatre goers will be less engaged and have less time with the character than book readers.

It’s very clearly an adaptation of a play: you can see it in the way the book is written. Osborne doesn’t do much by way of novelisation: while the book clearly isn’t written in the style of a play script, it isn’t quite a novel either. There is a very clear idea of space in the book, meaning readers can clearly see where each person is in the room and how they interact with one another. Also, the book is dialogue heavy, as you would expect a play script to be.

None of this detracts from Black Coffee’s appeal, but it does make it understandable that Poirot wouldn’t exactly be what I was expecting. However, he feels very different from what I wanted from the Belgium super sleuth. He’s not as sharp or perceptive in this as he is in most other novels and stories.

I’ve also got an issue with the book’s depiction of Captain Hastings. Hastings is a renowned detective sidekick, mostly because of the TV and film adaptations of the Poirot novels and the amazing portrayal of the character by actor and author Hugh Fraser. The character is not actually in that many of Christie’s books; in fact, he makes it into just 8 of the author’s 33 novels about the Belgium private eye. He also narrates many of the writer’s short stories featuring Poirot. In Black Coffee, Hastings isn’t the narrator; unlike he is in the novels written by Christie, which shows that Osborne didn’t take too much trouble to change the play script.

Hastings is another caricature of the character; Christie portrays him as a conceited and slightly uptight man who doesn’t have the wit or ingenuity of Poirot, but who is still deeply brave and loyal. He’s loyal to both his friend Poirot and his wife, but Black Coffee portrays him as flippant, deeply unintelligent and disloyal. In Christie’s books, you can see why Poirot likes to have Hastings around, but in this adaptation it’s difficult to see any benefit in this conceited man.

Even Inspector Japp, who turns up towards the end of the book, isn’t remotely similar to Christie’s original. In The Mysterious Affair At Styles, the first Poirot novel by the Queen Of Crime, the character is described as:

“One was a little, sharp, dark, ferret-faced man, the other was tall and fair.

I questioned Poirot mutely. He put his lips to my ear.

‘Do you know who that little man is?’

I shook my head.

‘That is Detective-Inspector James Japp of Scotland Yard-Jimmy Japp.’” (Page 82).

The character is, again, very different in Osborne’s version of Black Coffee. The book portrays him as:

Japp, a bluff, hearty, middle-aged man with a thick-set figure and a ruddy complexion” (Page 132).

The two portrayals differ greatly. As you can see, Black Coffee does not continue the traditions of Christie, as several of her long running characters are different from their usual descriptions and actions. So, while the plot is gripping and intriguing, and the dialogue is fascinating, the book doesn’t really feel like a real Christie, or an actual Poirot story.

As I’ve said before about Kenneth Branagh’s film depiction of Poirot, just because you give your character the name doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the same. The version of Poirot adapted by Osborne isn’t the real Poirot; he might have the same fastidiousness and speak partially in French, but he’s not as delightfully diligent in his investigations, nor as characteristically witty as Christie’s original, despite the book being based on a play the Queen Of Crime wrote herself.

So, if you’re a Poirot fan who’s looking for a way to satisfy your craving for Christie, then you’re better off re-reading her novels. If you want to read something new, then I’d suggest checking out the amazing Poirot adaptations by Sophie Hannah, which are a much more realistic and relatable version of the great Belgium detective. Start with The Monogram Murdersand go from there; that’s a truly great series of adaptations that will give avid Christie fans something else to get their teeth into once they’ve finished re-reading all the original novels.

John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

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

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

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

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

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

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

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

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

The Top Five Alex Delaware Novels To Get You Hooked On This Daring Psychiatrist/ Detective Duo

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve become a fan of John Kellerman’s writing, but now I am I’m hooked.

He’s a prolific writer who’s created books across a number of different genres, but my favourites are definitely his Alex Delaware/ Milo Sturgis novels.

This seemingly unlikely detective duo make for a great team. Kellerman breaks the mould with these two; unlike traditional detective double acts, the narrator and assistant is the cerebral one, while the Lieutenant and clear leader is the bullish everyman.

Together, the pair combine their skills to solve some of LA’s most brutal and disturbing crimes. While the novels are set in LA, Kellerman is quick to make witty retorts against the modern bullshit he sees around him and to turn potentially dreary lines of questioning into rapid, witty dialogue.

Personally, I hadn’t heard of the Alex Delaware novels until a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed several of the Alex Delaware series, although I’ve not yet read them all. I was surprised, when I started buying more of them, how many books are actually in the series.

If you want to know where to start, then check out my pick of five books in the series that are great for anyone who wants to test the waters and find a new favourite series to binge on.

5. Blood Test: In this gripping thriller, Alex Delaware is called in to negotiate when the parents of a young boy with cancer refuse his life-saving treatment because of the beliefs of their cult. The seemingly easy job quickly turns sinister when the five year old boy and his parents disappear from the hospital. A bloodied hotel room is found and Milo is drawn into the investigation. The cult turns out to be less wholesome than you might think, and Alex and Milo soon discover that the group is deadly dangerous and there’s more than one life at stake.

4. Serpentine: The most recent novel in the series, Serpentineis a cracking modern crime novel that is relatable and insightful, so it’s great for new readers just checking out these books. When Milo has a very old cold case thrust on him by his superiors, he asks his old friend Alex Delaware along to work out the psychology of the woman who is searching for answers about her mother’s murder more than thirty years previously. What initially seems like an impossible case, with little to no evidence, soon transforms into a

3. The Museum Of Desire: An unsettling staged murder scene in the back of a limo outside a rented mansion sets the scene for a gripping police procedural. The Museum Of Desireis both unique and enticing, as Kellerman draws you through the sordid and seedy underbelly of LA, dealing with everyone from rich, airheaded philanthropists through to washed up artists and beyond. Alex and Milo work hard to whittle down their cacophony of suspects down to a select few, then face a vicious fight to track down and capture the monster who staged the scene and committed more atrocities in the name of art and revenge.

2. Survival Of The Fittest: When the mentally disabled daughter of a rising diplomat is found murdered in a desolate corner of the mountains, Milo and Alex suspect a political motive. However, the girl’s father is adamant that there isn’t one, and wants to be in control of the investigation. Thanks to his power, he’s able to make the detective duo’s work difficult, and seems determined to either send the investigation on the wrong track or bury the investigation. When another body is discovered, things get difficult and Alex is forced to go undercover in what turns out to be a deeply sinister plot with far-reaching implications. This novel is chilling and the conclusion will stay with you long after you’ve finished the final chapter.  

1. When the Bough Breaks: As I keep saying, when you want to start a new series, start at the beginning. The first in the Alex Delaware novels isn’t the best in the series, but it is an ideal introduction to the psychiatrist and his friend in the LAPD, Milo Sturgis. In When The Bough Breaks, Alex is bought in on a case where a psychiatrist is found murdered, with one possible witness in the room; a traumatised seven year old girl. Alex must help her to tell the police what she knows, but he quickly realises that the murdered man wasn’t a decent human being, and that there are links to his own past trauma that he has to face before he and Milo can uncover the truth. This book is good for anyone who wants an introduction to Kellerman’s characters and story-telling style, but there are more engaging plots in the later novels.

Serpentine Review: A Cold Case That Becomes A Contemporary Crime Caper

Having enjoyed The Museum Of Desire when I reviewed it last year, I was excited to check out the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel Serpentine.

Kellerman brings back his gruff, burly LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who join forces once again when Milo has a very cold case foisted upon him by the higher ups.

He’s unwilling to take on the case, which is more than 35 years old, but he and Alex go to meet a wealthy and influential young businesswoman who has used her connections to wangle herself a review of the case, despite it’s age and the very low probability that it’ll get solved.

From the first meeting with the women, a gym wear mogul whose mother was found shot dead in a car miles on a remote road in LA, it is clear things aren’t what they seem with this accident case. The site where the car is found is very from her home in Danville, but besides that there’s very little for the pair to go on.

From this first meeting, it’s clear that the unusual yet well-matched sleuthing duo know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. The woman has little information to go on; she only found out a few years ago from her stepfather what had happened to her mother. Her stepfather refused to tell her anything and there’s limited information out there about the case.

She only has one photo of her mother; a strange picture that shows her standing awkwardly alongside the man she’s supposedly in love with. The only possession she has left from her late mother is her necklace, made of Serpentine, which is where the novel gets its name. The jewellery isn’t something that this seemingly stylish lady would wear, but her daughter clings to it like a comfort blanket that reminds her of the mother she never knew.

With her stepfather now dead and gone, the young woman is desperately searching for answers, and she’s happy to get the help of a pair of experts, neither of whom is as happy to be taking on the case. Milo and Alex have limited information from the start- there’s not even an accurate site for where the car was torched all those years ago.

Kellerman’s characterisation is brilliant in this novel; there are some really amazing characters involved with this case as it unfolds. One of my personal favourites is the last living detective who was assigned to the case: a truly obnoxious vegan who goes by the name ‘Du’.

It’s as the pair, with a little help from Du and the Internet, delve deeper into the case, that they see that it’s not the dead end they’d originally thought it was. In fact, alongside the initial victim, there are several other unexplained and unusual deaths connected to the case. For example, the boyfriend of the murdered woman, who raised her daughter, died on a hike when he’s clearly not an man who’s accustomed to spending time outdoors.

As the case shambles on, Milo and Alex realise that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. There’s something sinister going on, and there are powerful people who don’t want the truth to see the light of day.

Much like The Museum Of Desire, Serpentine is witty and engaging. The main detective, Milo Sturgis, is reminiscent of some of the best hardboiled detectives. His supporter and fellow investigator, psychologist Alex Delaware, who’s also the novel’s narrator, is his opposite, and in a way the pair turn the traditional detective pairing on its head.

While many detective duos are headed by a cerebral detective who is aided by a strong everyman, in this case Milo is the strong, burly, ordinary bloke. Alex is the cerebral thinker of the pair, and he assists the LAPD detective by using his professional and personal knowledge to assist his more streetwise colleague.

Together, the pair works hard to solve the case. As with the previous novel, there are a couple of small issues with the plot, and it does feel a little frustrating how hard the sleuthing duo works, only to have some major for major breakthroughs in the case to drop into their laps. While luck and coincidence must, in real life, assist with some cases, with a cold case like this one, it seems highly unlikely that so much good luck would bring so many great pieces of information and fresh leads to light.

These issues are small and inconsequential, however, when you consider the excellence of this fast-paced plot. Kellerman is a master at suspense, and his excellent characterisation will keep you engaged and invested in the story throughout this witty mystery.

Overall, Serpentine is much more than just a dry old cold case story. The plot quickly transforms into a fast moving modern thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. There are plenty of mysteries associated with the cold case where the investigation begins, so there’s enough to keep you entertained and leave you with no idea what’s coming next, which is ideal for a police procedural.

Sophie Hannah Interview: “Writing had been my hobby since childhood”

As a massive fan of her reimagined Poirot novels, I’m really pleased to be able to share my interview with Sophie Hannah. She shares a unique insight into her work from the very beginning, so if you’re a fan of any of her work, either her standalones or her Poirots, then you should definitely read what she has to say.

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

As a reader I’ve been a mystery addict since I started with Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series at the age of seven. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was twelve, then moved on to Ruth Rendell. My favourite writers have always been crime writers. So, it was probably inevitable that I would gravitate towards crime and thrillers as a writer; I have a very strong affinity with the genre and it’s what I most love to read.

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

Writing had been my hobby since childhood, but I first became a published writer as a student. I published my first picture book (Carrot the Goldfish – inspired by my husband’s observation that a piece of carrot peel in water resembled a goldfish!) and two poetry pamphlets while doing my degree and MA. Then when I was working as a library admin assistant after graduating university—I’d chosen a very easy, undemanding job in the hope that I’d have lots of time and mental energy free for my writing, and this plan worked brilliantly! — I published my first full-length poetry book. On the back of that, I was offered the most amazing opportunity: a two-year Creative Arts fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, which is where I started to write novels. I published three non-crime novels before discovering my natural niche of crime, and Little Face, my first crime novel, was published in 2006.

How did you get to become a published writer? What was it like getting your work published? 

One of my university tutors really encouraged my poetry writing. He suggested I send off a selection of poems to magazines and then later to a small press publisher, and I started to have regular publication success. People wanted my poems! My first book was a limited edition, 200-copies-only pamphlet, but I really felt as if I’d made it and was now a properly successful writer. The same tutor was also the MD of Carcanet, one of the main UK publishers of poetry, and not long after that he published my first full-length poetry book, The Hero and the Girl Next Door. When it came to publishing my novels though, it was a much harder work.

My wonderful agent at the time absolutely ripped apart my first novel, Gripless, which was agony but she was totally right about everything that was wrong with it. Her feedback enabled me to make loads of improvements and finally it got published. It didn’t sell too well, however, and neither did the next two novels. They simply weren’t commercial in a straightforward way, so I can understand why they didn’t, and I still love them regardless. I then went through two more agents and lots of disappointment before finding my amazing agent Peter Straus, who I’m still with now, and having my big breakthrough with Little Face, whichbecame a surprise word-of-mouth, massive bestseller, sold to 34 countries and led to publishers all over the world saying to my agent and to Hodder (my UK publisher) ‘Please send us lots more books like Little Face by Sophie Hannah’.

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them? 

It’s always my aim to create an irresistibly suspenseful hook – to present the reader with a seemingly impossible mystery that they won’t be able to resist because they’ll be desperate to know what’s going on. In Little Face, for example, a mother insists that her new-born baby is missing and that an unknown baby has been left in her place. The baby’s father, however, is equally adamant that his wife is lying or insane.

In my latest standalone psychological thriller, Haven’t They Grown, the protagonist encounters the children of her estranged friend who, twelve years after she’s last seen them, are still three and five years old – no taller and apparently no older than they were more than a decade earlier. My readers can be sure of a complex and twisty ride, followed by a satisfying solution. They tell me they never see what’s coming, which is very important to me, because I’m often disappointed by the guess-ability of solutions in thrillers.

How did you find reimagining the Poirot novels? Talk me through your process of making them unique while still being true to Agatha Christie. 

Thanks to my lifelong and obsessive Agatha Christie fandom, the blueprint for her particular and genius approach to storytelling is somehow imprinted in my DNA. However, Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time, so the last thing I wanted to do was to try (and, obviously, fail) to ‘be’ her, or copy her—I was very clear about this from the start. I wanted to stay faithful to the Christie-esque elements that readers love — the irresistible premise, the intricate plot and un-guessable solution — but I’m still writing as me.

How did you come up with the character of Inspector Catchpool? What was it like to create a character as part of such a renowned series? 

Poirot belongs very much to Agatha Christie and I didn’t want to seem to be appropriating him. Catchpool is my middleman. I invented him so that he could kind of represent me in the book: he’s a new person working with, and writing about, Poirot, and so am I! To be honest, I have never seen writing continuation novels as being all that different from writing a non-continuation novel. We use true/already-existing elements in our fiction all the time. The novel I’m writing right now, for example, is completely original and not a continuation novel, but it already contains some real places and some real things in the world. Poirot, though a fictional character, is a very real thing in the world.

Are there any other classic crime fiction series that you’d like to reimagine? 

I’d love to have a go at Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series! I think mystery is the perfect genre to hook in young readers—why would anyone ever want to read a book that wasn’t a gripping page-turner? That’s certainly how I felt as a kid.

Do you prefer writing non-fiction, fiction, or poetry? Is the process different when writing each type of text? 

The process is the same for all of them, really. I don’t have a preference, because whatever I’m writing at any given moment is always the thing I love the most, and the need to satisfy my inner perfectionist means that I have to commit fully to my current project, finish it to the absolute best of my ability and make it as good as it could possibly be. 

What books do you like to read yourself and how do they impact on your own writing? 

Mainly and overwhelmingly, it’s crime fiction and thrillers: I re-read my Agatha Christie collection every few years. Ruth Rendell, Nicci French and Tana French are also firm favourites. I’ve just read an amazingly gripping book called The Housewarming by SE Lynes, and now I’m desperate to read the rest of her novels!

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)? 

Some of my best ideas come from real-life dramas, grudges and weird experiences. I’m absolutely fascinated by psychology and am always trying to understand what might motivate a person towards a particular action or behaviour. I also have a habit of taking something I’ve seen or experienced in the course of my everyday life and asking, ‘What if…?’ to build up that scenario into something dramatic enough to be the subject of a thriller.

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

Cameron Mackintosh. I’ve co-written (with my friend, composer Annette Armitage) two musicals: The Mystery of Mr.E  (a murder mystery musical) and Work Experience (a musical locked room mystery)Very small and local productions of both have been staged in my hometown of Cambridge, and were huge, sell-out successes. The Mystery of Mr. E also did a small, national tour, which was thrilling. The pandemic has put paid to further plans for the moment but watch this space! And my dream would be to have Cameron Mackintosh collaborate with me to stage both at the West End. So, Sir Cameron, if you’re reading this, please get in touch!)

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us? 

My current most exciting projects are, firstly, my online coaching programme for writers, Dream Author, which launched in 2019 and has had the most incredible success so far in terms of the difference it’s made to members’ lives and writing success levels. The programme offers psychological, practical and commercial help (and any/all other help a writer might want or need!) to writers in all genres and at all levels of experience—we have bestselling authors as well unpublished writers just starting out.

I created the programme because I’d noticed that so many writers I knew were creating unnecessary suffering for themselves just by the way they were thinking about their writing, not analysing or challenging the thoughts that were harming both their wellbeing and their ability to work towards their goals. When we learn to think about our writing situations and ambitions in the most helpful way, the positive results can be really dramatic. Anyone who’d like to find out more should visit the Dream Author website: https://dreamauthorcoaching.com/. You can sign up at any time!

I’m also at the moment currently writing Book 11 of my Culver Valley crime series. My detectives Charlie and Simon haven’t had an outing since book 10 in 2016, and I’m hugely exciting about this one coming out later in the year. Details will be available very soon and anyone who’d like to receive news of this latest book, or any of my other projects, can sign up to my newsletter at: https://sophiehannah.com/.

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

There is one in particular I’m very much looking forward to but it’s a top-secret project at the moment so I can’t divulge any details! Once it is officially announced there will be lots of excitement, however.

Do you have anything to add?

In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered how much I love podcasting and my How to Hold a Grudge podcast (based on my self-help book of the same name) now has five seasons available on iTunes, Spotify and all podcasty places! I discuss, with various guests, all things grudge-related. In the latest series we’ve covered apologies, complicity, forgiveness, plus the grudge worthy overlooking of Agatha Christie’s Mary Westmacott novels, the US Election and literary prizes.

I’ve also created a private weekly podcast for Dream Author members only, which covers all of the programme’s core topics. There’s a bonus episode on the Dream Author homepage all about building resilience, which anyone can access and you can find How to Hold a Grudge on iTunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/how-to-hold-a-grudge/id1439465411

Huge thanks to Sophie for answering my questions! As a huge fan of your work it’s amazing to find out more about your writing process.

5 Awesome Crime Fiction Novels Set On Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday, which means that everyone in a relationship will be posting soppy, loved-up social media posts.

For us singletons, in normal times we’d have a fun night out with our pals, or go on the pull and have a laugh.

Myself, I’ve always wanted to try speed dating and try my best to put them all off by being as wacky as possible! I’ve never actually done it because I want a friend to go with me and, so far, no one has volunteered.

However, during the pandemic, none of that is possible, as everything is still shut down to keep us all safe from the virus. Therefore, we need to find new ways to entertain ourselves.

Whether you’re in a relationship and sick of the site of them, or you’re single and fancy doing something fun, you can find solace in a good book.

While you might think romantic fiction is the perfect choice for your Valentine’s Day read, if you don’t like it then it won’t make you happy.

Instead, if you’re a fan of thrilling, action-packed novels, then why not try some crime fiction instead?

Just because you choose to avoid romantic fiction, doesn’t mean that you can’t read something that’s not Valentine’s Day themed.

The romance-laden holiday is a popular choice for crime fiction writers who use the nature of the day, with all its secrecy about crushes and focus on love, to their advantage in their plotting of fiendish mysteries.

So, if you’re searching for an exciting new read this Valentine’s Day, then check out this list of crime fiction novels and mysteries set around the holiday.

5. The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders: Written by Ruth Dudley Edwards, this novel is a truly terrifying tale of obsession. The novel is crafted in the style of a Golden Age mystery tale, making it an engaging choice for readers who love traditional, cosy crime fiction. The protagonist, Robert Amiss finds himself stuck in a dead-end Civil Service job in a non-descript backwater. In the midst of this dullness and banality, comes a spate of maliciousness and petty-minded sniping. What initially appears to be just malice and office nastiness quickly turns sinister when the wives of the bureaucrats are sent a poisoned box of chocolates. The murder puts Amiss in the thick of a complicated investigation, and together with a novice detective who’s obsessed with crime fiction and a local superintendent, he works to uncover the truth. In the course of the investigation, the intrepid threesome delves through marital strife, lies, deceit and unfulfilled ambition in search of the truth. This is a tantalising tale modelled on Golden Age cosy crime novels, so it’s perfect for fans of that sub-genre who want something new to check out that’s Valentine’s Day themed.

4. Gilt by Association: Another cosy crime novel, Karen Rose Smith’s novel features an unlikely amateur detective: a home stager. Caprice De Luca is a busy lady; she’s searching for a new dress, helping out her sister with her new baby and training her puppy. Despite all of this and preparing for a Valentine’s Day dance, De Luca still has the time to take on a new client with a picturesque home that is easy to turn into the ideal setting for a hearts and flowers themed open house. Things quickly turn from romantic and sweet to daunting and sinister when the homeowner is found dead. De Luca is drawn into a tempting mystery that threatens her Valentine’s Day plans. The novel will entice anyone who likes a crime story without all the gore that usually goes along with them.

3. Claws And Effect: Part of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs Murphy series of cute, cosy crime fiction, Claws And Effect features a set of conniving animal sleuths who set about uncovering the mystery of a murder in the boiler room of a small town hospital on Valentine’s Day. With the help of the local postmistress, they work to uncover the clues and decipher the meaning behind the local gossip that has proliferated around the victim. It’s a cosy, sweet tale that makes a great gift for yourself or your loved one this Valentine’s Day. If you’re a young crime fiction fan, or you just don’t like particularly gruesome books, then this could be an ideal choice for you to read and entertain yourself with over this Valentine’s weekend.

2. A Judgement in Stone: Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement In Stone begins with a massacre on Valentine’s Day, as four members of the wealthy Coverdale family are murdered. The suspect is their housekeeper, who shot them as they watched an opera on TV. When she is apprehended by the police a couple of weeks later, they discover a secret that she’s kept hidden for decades and that brings out the complexities of social class and the ways that it can have an impact on all of our lives. This is a gripping thriller that’s impossible to put down, so it’s an ideal choice to keep your mind off your relationship status.

1. Valentine: As the name suggests, Tom Savage’s Valentine is about an obsessive Valentine who’s desperate to win over the woman of his fantasies, fictional bestselling author Jillian Talbot. She already has a lover, as well as a great career and awesome friends who love her very much. A creepy stalker could ruin her life; or take it. The book was turned into a film in 2001, but it wasn’t remotely similar; the book is chilling and haunting, the film is gory and frightening. As such, even if you didn’t like the film, the book is worth checking out this Valentine’s Day if you’re looking for a spine-tingling thriller that will set your teeth on edge and keep you hooked.