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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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.

The On-going Relevance of Stephen King’s Books

stephen king

As the latest movie adaptation of IT continues to be a box-office favourite, his last collaboration with his son, Sleeping Beauties hits shelves and the Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game also hits screens, I explore the reasons behind King’s enduring success.

His first published work was a short story which was sold in 1967, and since then King has had a number of hits, with many of his novels and stories gaining popularity with readers before being made into successful TV or film adaptations which garner him international attention. The Shawshank Redemption, based on King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from his 1982 collection Different Seasons, regularly tops lists of the best films of all time.

Despite having won copious awards, gained worldwide acclaim and amassing a fortune from his vast back catalogue, King, who is aged 70, still remains a great public figure and often publishes multiple books each year, and holds numerous promotional tours and appearances to promote them. According to his publicist, he is so incredibly busy that he doesn’t even have time to do an interview for this blog (the horror!).

Additionally, King also maintains a strong social media presence, with many followers enjoying the tales of his Corgi, Molly, AKA The Thing Of Evil, as well as reading about his latest exploits and seeing trailers for the latest adaptations of his books.

It is this ongoing presence, as well as King’s willingness to embrace the changing publishing market (a number of his books have been run as online series), and his honesty and openness about writing, such as his non-fiction works, that has helped him to remain a key, cult figure in the horror and supernatural writing market.

After all, we know all there is to know about King and his life thanks to his ongoing social media sharing and his non-fiction books, such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He is also known to run podcasts and share his thoughts on social media and his official site has a YouTube channel, as well as pages on some of the most popular social network sites including Facebook and Twitter.

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His works themselves are ingenious, varied and unique, and they make for great adaptations. Recently his fantasy series The Dark Tower was made into a film, and his murder mystery novel Mr Mercedes, which mirrored hardboiled detective fiction, was adapted into a TV series with Brendon Gleeson as the protagonist. By writing across genres, King has been able to reach readers with a variety of tastes, and the adaptability of these books, and their enduring popularity on screen, has helped him reach those who prefer to watch rather than to read.

The writer has also created an enduring legacy, with many members of his family now writing successfully, including his children and wife. In so-doing King has creating a writing clan comparable to the Kardashian’s in its influence, with himself firmly ensconced as the kingpin (deliberate pun).

At the end of the day, King’s works remain a strong influence throughout the horror/ thriller genres, and his enduring popularity and influence will, thanks to his extensive back catalogue, continue on for many decades to come.

The Top Five Alternative Detectives in Crime Fiction

Dirk Gently

Whilst classic detective fiction has always been a real favourite of mine, over recent years I have grown fond of creative versions of popular Crime Fiction styles. It’s always exciting to find something new, and although I love new takes on traditional genres, it is also great to see people subverting the style. Check out my top five alternative detectives, which I hope will introduce you to something new or throw up an old favourite.

5. Hercule Poirot: Agatha Christie’s spectacularly weird Belgium sleuth may not seem a likely contender for a list about alternative detectives, but even nowadays this strange little man with the egg shaped head, formidable moustache and penchant for order and neatness is considered unusual. In 1920, when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel to feature this peculiar detective, was published this character was considered decidedly odd. Christie then went on to write novels featuring an elderly female detective, Miss Marple, which again subverted the tradition of having white, middle aged protagonists that had been prevalent in the genre for many years.

4. Cadfael: The monk turned detective is an innovative invention, but also rather unusual. Formerly a solider and man of the world, this newly appointed holy man works to uncover the truth during a series of twisted cases. A talented herbalist and sharp eyed observer of people, he uses his talents in both his roles to delve into the murkiest mysteries that the 12th Century monastic setting in which he lives is.

3. Thorpe Hazell: Victor L. Whitechurch’s Railway Detective is strange and unusual, but he has a sweet charm that makes the short stories in which he seeks out everything from kidnapped children through to missing paintings so enjoyable. A staunch vegetarian and train enthusiast, this enigmatic little man can untangle even the most complex of problems.

2. Monsieur Pamplemousse: Created by Michael Bond, the writer behind Paddington Bear, ‘Mr Grapefruit’ and his intuitive bloodhound, Pommes Frites, go on a number of light hearted adventures in this vast series of novels and stories. As a food inspector and gourmet extraordinaire, Monsieur Pamplemousse is often called in to investigate culinary conundrums that would baffle even the most astute of readers.

1. Dirk Gently: Douglas Adams’s quirky detective, who runs a Holistic Detective Agency that works on the power of coincidence to uncover the truth, is both witty and enticing. Don’t be put off by the two abysmal TV adaptations; neither the Netflix version nor its BBC predecessor do the novels any justice. Adam’s is very skilled at taking tried and tested tropes and distorting them, creating interesting and unique tales that are both fascinating and memorable.

Strike on Screen: Where’s the Charisma?

cormoran strike

The Silkworm, the BBC adaptation of J.K Rowling’s novel of the same name, has just finished, although perhaps not in the blaze of glory that viewers expected. More like a fizzle of fast running before the killer, who had barely appeared previously, was finally caught in quiet possibly the lamest struggle in the history of action scenes.

I have already mentioned in my previous review of the TV show, that the books, although interesting, witty and adventurous, are also widely inconsistent and, at times, highly unbelievable. The TV series embraces both these qualities, whilst at the time offering us a protagonist who is about as charismatic as a dead fish.

Tom Burke is a solid actor, but his Cormoran Strike is dull and uninspiring. Despite the sharp lines he has as the one-legged solider turned private detective, his delivery is strangely monotonous. In the final episode, his portrayal of a man with one leg improves vastly as he is shown limping across the road after his glamorous assistant, who is chasing the unconvincing villain of the piece, a literary agent embroiled in a very long-winded revenge plot. That is perhaps the only saving grace to the show, which has gone on for far too long (and there was only two episodes The Silkworm, which accompany the three of the adaptation of Rowling’s first Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling).

Both adaptations were identical representations of the novels on which they are based, but this does not excuse the poor acting and casting. Burke, despite his stilted dialogue delivery, is a good choice for the foul-mouthed, large framed detective, but Holliday Grainger is a poor selection for Strike’s capable and empathetic assistant Robin Ellacott. She is too glamorous, which works well during the scene where the pair visit a literary party, but looks out of place in the homely setting of her partner’s parent’s house, or even in her employer’s gloomy office. Grainger seems to know this herself, and wears a bemused expression in almost every scene bar those in which she is allowed to wear her glad rags.

Overall, I was not entirely impressed by the visual depiction of the Strike novels, although they do capture some of the craziness that Rowling’s novels have to offer. There is something great about the way the books feel like those real life situations that are so weird that you only believe them because you have actually experienced them yourself. The TV series also encapsulates this, embracing the unusual names, bizarre situations and outrageous settings of Rowling’s London with ease. However, the wooden detective, his beautiful but out of place assistant and the unfrightening villains they chase all conspire to make the series less than enticing.

At the end of the final episode, the announcer stated that the adaptation of Career of Evil, the third novel in the series, will be shown sometime next year. A hard core Crime Fiction fan who has followed Strike ever since Rowling was first unmasked (deliberately, in one of the worst attempts at hiding the truth I have seen in years) as the writer of the series, I will of course be watching- if you’re not a fan and you didn’t catch all of the rest, I really wouldn’t bother.

T.S. Junior Interview: “What I like about crime fiction so much is that it deals with the most extreme situations that people find themselves in”

T.S Junior

Short story writer T.S Junior, who is soon to publish his first full length novel, provides me with an overview of his inspirations and how his love of politics and experience working in prison has helped him to create the tension filled tales he has become known for.

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

This is a great question. The truth is that only after twelve years of writing fiction do I think that my writing style has started to set like concrete. It started with Crime and Punishment for me. Fyodor Dostoevsky is of course mythically good. The close psychic distance in his third person narration, with a lot of indirect discourse, formed my approach to fiction. His philosophical bent and use of gritty imagery also influenced me. What I like about crime fiction so much is that it deals with the most extreme situations that people find themselves in, and like in Crime and Punishment, trying to get at the dark psychology that makes criminals and good people driven to desperation tick is awesome. 

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

I started off writing by winning an essay contest when I was nine years old. I won and I got to go to a baseball clinic run by Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski. Then I wrote for college and local papers and did some freelance copywriting. But my background as a state prison guard has influenced my fiction the most. I’d written crime and horror stories before, but the darkness of the prison environment gave my work an added layer of depth and grit when it comes to street life and the criminal mind that perhaps some of my dark fiction writer colleagues aren’t privileged to.

Please tell me about your recently published collection of short stories and how well it’s doing.

I’ve just published my first book, a collection of short stories called Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor. There are ten stories that center around the darkness within the human heart, and the things that lead us astray. In one story, Christina 2/15/89, a disgraced former detective whose daughter went missing years prior, gets a break in the case which leads him to uncover a nightmare. In Son of a Ruined Patriot, a War on Terror vet suffering from severe PTSD and consumed by conspiracy theories, thinks the world is ending and kidnaps his estranged son. I think what draws people to my writing is the complexity of the characters and situations, and the dark truths. And then the fact that I write in a traditional style that is accessible to anyone. I’ll be honest, I get bored easily while reading, so I pack my stories with action. My first novel is coming soon, a crime/ conspiracy novel concerning The Bilderberg Group.

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

The most important approach to short fiction as opposed to working on longer pieces, is keeping the writing bare bones. I’ll admit that at times I can get wrapped up in my head about word counts and genres and subgenres, but mainly that comes with publishing short stories. Drafting is the fun part. When I draft short stories I do a lot more exploratory writing than I’d normally do. To be specific, I usually don’t know what the story should look like until the third draft. In Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor, all ten stories in the collection went through at least four drafts. So overall writing short stories is freeing in that if the thing ends up being useless, it’s not like you wasted years of your life pouring your lifeblood into a failed novel. Believe me, it sucks; I’ve done that seven times!

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

Maybe it’s because I work in a paramilitary environment, a prison, I’m disciplined, or maybe I should take credit for instilling a good work ethic in myself. Either way, I don’t think in terms of inspiration or writer’s block. What I do is “embrace the suck.” I take that expression from an event I took part in during the Massachusetts Correction Officer Academy. They made us run laps around an old gymnasium for two hours, then put us through an obstacle course, and then made us engage in hand-to-hand-combat. It was called The Suck. The funny thing is that during it I got my first runner’s high, so I had the time of my life. I take the same approach to writing. I sit down for a writing session everyday, aiming for about a thousand words. Sometimes it’s garbage; sometimes it’s gold. I have zero expectations about quality. What’s so cool about “embracing the suck,” is that I’ve had at least four experiences where one day’s garbage becomes gold six months later. In those cases, I had raw material to rewrite as opposed to starting from scratch with an idea.

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

Cormac McCarthy. I just love everything about the man. He’s influenced by Fyodor Dostoevsky like Hemingway, Faulkner and myself also. His mystical, almost-religious approach to writing is something that, while I can’t pull off, I admire. Plus, he writes gritty novels involving violence and rugged men, westerns and crime novels, an aesthetic I appreciate. I spent my early twenties imitating his writing.

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

I am absolutely thrilled about my upcoming novel, Dusk in the Shining City. I’ve created an excellent series character named Claude Sharkey, a detective in a small Massachusetts city, who gets tied up in foiling a massive conspiracy perpetrated by the Bilderberg Group. I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist. The Bilderberg Group is a real life organization that holds an annual conference with leaders of industry, politics, and media all in attendance in an off-the-record setting. There they informally agree on future world events as a supranational governing body. If anyone reading this is interested in learning more, I recommend the magnum opus on the topic written by a man named Daniel Estulin. It’s called The True Story of the Bilderberg Group.

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

To bring up Cormac McCarthy again, he’s been working on a novel called The Passenger for a couple years. He’s apparently trying his hand at a novel involving technology and even sci-fi elements, which is way out of his element, so I’m thrilled to see where he takes that. I’m also into Nick Cutter, the horror writer, Brad Thor who writes thrillers, and then Denis Lehane and James Ellroy.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for graciously allowing me space on your cool blog from across the pond to talk about myself and my book, Some Poor Taste Wartime Humor: Short Stories. Folks can go to my website www.tsjunior.com to learn a little more about me, and they can find the book on Amazon for only $1.

Many thanks for T.S Junior for speaking to me, it’s great to hear your thoughts and learn more about your new novel.

The Silent Death Review: Pre-War Berlin at its Most Gruesome

the silent death

Following the recent announcements regarding the TV series billed as the most expensive German television show going, I checked out the dark and thrilling Gereon Rath novel The Silent Death.

In the bleak noir setting that is 1930s Berlin, the intrepid inspector, a Cologne native out of his depth in a new city following a disastrous case battles a dastardly and sinister serial killer bent on keeping film silent.

Added to this fight are his inner demons and his new boss, who is determined to keep Gereon on the straight and narrow and make him a team player. But with a private job on the side that suddenly links to the case, dubious connections and an increasingly troubled love life, the Inspector remains a complicated and intriguing character, and his exploits bring life to the story amid the grime and dissolution of a Germany in the grip of Nazism that is creating both political and social unrest.

Author Volker Kurscher is an expert storyteller and this evocative setting combined with his superb characterisation makes this a thrilling read from start to finish. When translated the dialogue can at times sound clunky and stilted, but the characters shine through despite this thanks to the graphic descriptions Kurscher lavishes on even the most minor passers by.

When he does get his teeth into a description, Kruscher is a true artist, creating emotive and stirring depictions of pre-war Berlin that offer a unique snapshot of this glorious city’s history. As I have already mentioned when reviewing Mark Ellis’s exquisite Historical Crime Fiction novel Merlin at War, I am no history buff, but thanks to Ellis I have come to enjoy novels set in the past, and reading The Silent Death I again have the feeling of being transported back to another era.

With Scandinavian and European Crime Fiction still a big hit and the upcoming TV series to look forward to, there has never been a better time to check out Gereon Rath and his unconventional investigative techniques.