Young Wallander: When Reimaging A Crime Series Goes Wrong

As a huge fan of Henning Mankell’s dour Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander (so much so that I have a tattoo of a line from one of the titans of Scandi-crime’s books on my shoulder), I was excited to check out the new Young Wallander series on Netflix.

The trailer did not fill me with hope, but I argued to myself that it’s only a small snippet of what was to come. When the series finally dropped I was eager to get started, but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I’d expected.

Mankell wrote a series of short stories about his protagonist’s origins, called The Pyramid. Set in the 1970s, the series follows Wallander as he starts out in the force and shows his burgeoning relationship with his wife, who would later leave him. It also shows the struggles at the time, including the racism and social divisions that were a key fixture of Mankell’s novels set during the height of Wallander’s career.

I’d expected that the TV series would use these stories as its base, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the show used a later novel, The Man Who Smiled, as the basis for it’s plot, but the similarities were so slight that it took me about 5 episodes to realise. It’s only small elements, but given the fact that the series was produced by Yellow Bird, the production company that helped with the Swedish series with Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh’s English version, it’s clear that these coincidences were deliberate. After all, Mankell consulted with the company on the initial two series while he was still alive, so it makes sense that they’ve done this as some kind of weird tribute.

Unfortunately, by filming it in Lithuania and filling the cast with a motely crew of British and European actors, none of whom can do a Swedish accent to save their lives, Young Wallander turns into a very poor tribute to the author. Wallander in this series is nothing like the version in the novels or the original shows that inspired so many to become fans of this intellectual detective. The boy in the show is nothing like the man he’s supposed to be becoming; he’s much less intellectual and has far too much nervous energy.

He’d never become the jaded detective of Henning Mankell’s incredible novels, who was committed to fighting crime but world-weary at the same time. He used his wits and intelligence, as well as his gut feelings; this new, younger version only uses his hunches. His guesses are never based on anything, whereas the real Kurt Wallander always had a reason, even if it was vague and based on something that had happened a while ago.

Also, this new character that Netflix has dreamed up is far too polite to be Wallander. That might sound unkind, but part of the character’s charm is that he’s gruff and grumpy, and that, while he understands the psychology of violence and crime, he struggles to connect on a basic level with others.

The version in this TV show is friendly, happy and great with people. The version of his love interest, Mona, who becomes Kurt’s wife in the novels, is also wrong. She’s the only other recognisable character from the books, and she’s far too conscientious. She’s also too happy with Kurt- in the novels, Kurt was always much more in love with the idea of Mona, and she was simply angry that he was never present around her. In the TV version, the pair actually make a great couple, which means that the premise isn’t sustainable (in the books they have one daughter, then divorce when she’s young).

Many online commentators have been quick to point out that the series should be taken as a unique entity in its own right. However, I’d argue that since it’s based on a series of world-famous novels, the creators of the show have an obligation to create a series that honours the books, or at the very least vaguely resembles them.

Completely ignoring them is pointless- why didn’t they just create a new character? The answer, I suspect, is that they wanted viewers to come expecting Wallander. Unfortunately, what we got was a very poor facsimile that doesn’t hold a candle to the novels or any of the three preceding TV series.

That being said, I would still have hated Young Wallander even if it hadn’t used the name of a character that I love. The show is poorly plotted to the point where it barely makes any sense. The ending is perhaps the worst ending in a crime fiction show that I’ve seen in many years, and that’s saying something!

To sum up, I wouldn’t recommend Young Wallander to anyone, whether you’re an avid Mankell fan like me or just someone looking for something to watch to keep yourself busy. There are so many other, much better shows on Netflix that are worth your time more than this.

Paul Asling Interview: “I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most”

London crime and romance writer Paul Asling shares a unique insight into his work and why he’s deeply passionate about the UK’s bustling capital city.

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

Good question. I think my writing style has slowly developed over many years. I have read many true-life crime books, along with fictional crime novels and short stories. I try to get a balance between the two in my writing.

I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and I thought, as I had the time, I would try my hand at writing a crime fiction novel. It was not a simple task, and it took a lot longer than I thought, but the result was my first book, Love You Till I Die.

What attracts me to crime fiction is I can use gritty imagery to deal with the most dangerous situations that people can find themselves in. It also allows me to enjoy writing about the complexity of people, as well as giving me the chance to explore both the good and bad aspects of my different characters.

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

My background is varied. I started off working in the West End of London as an apprentice Gas Fitter in the 60s and then as a London Taxi Driver in the 70s. I had a complete career change in the 80s when I got into management and then joined the legal profession. 

I think my life in London and my background have influenced my fiction the most. I started off by writing short stories about situations I’d encountered in my life growing up in London, and its characters I’d met on the way. I think this has given my writing an added layer of depth and grit.

What is it about London that makes the city such a central part of your books?

I think London is one of the most exciting and inspiring cities in the world. Day and night, it’s filled with its own smells, tastes and sounds. The city is full of extraordinary history, vitality and diversity. It also displays a remarkably rich and varied tapestry of local characters. Probably the best piece of advice I was given when I started writing was, ‘write about what you know’. And I know London inside out.

What books do you enjoy reading, and how do they influence your work?

Any work from Tony Parsons or Sebastian Faulks. I’m also a big fan of Geoffrey Household novels. I think my biggest influence would be Geoffrey Household and his descriptions of people and places.

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

With writer’s block, my list of ideas outweighs the number of stories I complete, or even start. I revisit my old notebooks whenever I’m at a loss for an idea.

For me, inspiration for writing is easy. Mainly it is listening to conversations of friends I have grown up with. I attended a school in Fulham, West London (in the 60s, when is wasn’t posh) to say it was rough would be an understatement- we had our own coroner. And my first job as a teenager was a tail gunner on a milk float. The area has certainly changed from the days I was living there.

A week ago, myself and five old friends met up in a pub in Chichester. During the four-hour period, we were there enough material came out for another ten books!


I’m fascinated by people’s motivations, especially when they seem illogical. Dark, gritty stories allow me to explore what drives people. I also think my experiences of being an ex-boxer, and the various jobs I’ve had in my life, have helped me build the characters in my books.

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

I think for me it would be Tony Parsons. If ever a man wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s him. Coming from a working-class family, as I did myself, he shows what can be done. 

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

My last book, The Carters’ was published three months ago. I have started another book, but over the next year my plan is to write some short stories alongside the new book.  

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

Any new work from Tony Parsons, Sebastian Faulks, or John Grisham.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for allowing me space on your fantastic blog.My books can be found at: https://amzn.to/3itO0nF

Thanks to Paul for answering my questions, it’s incredible to hear your thoughts and learn more about your work.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill Review: Poirot Returns With Another Captivating Case

When I heard that acclaimed thriller writer Sophie Hannah was releasing another novel brining Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot back to life, I was extremely excited. I’d enjoyed her previous forays into Golden Age crime fiction and brining back Christie’s iconic Belgium sleuth, so I was eager to see what she had in store for us this time around.

Poirot is an incredible character, and Hannah does him justice in her series of novels. She brings back the flair and ingenuity, while also showcasing the humility. Her books don’t just turn him into a caricature, like some film and TV portrayals. Instead, they showcase all of his talents in a way that the Queen Of Crime herself would be proud of.

This latest outing of Hannah’s reimagined Poirot, has him travelling on a Kingfisher Company coach to a private estate outside of London. He travels with the sidekick of Hannah’s creation, Inspector Catchpool, who’s a bit like a policeman version of Christie’s own character Captain Hastings. They’re going to visit Kingfisher Hill, a prestigious estate that houses deadly secrets.

Richard Devenport, whose family owns Little Key, a majestic house in the heart of the estate, has asked Poirot to visit his home to covertly survey his family and find out who killed his brother Frank. Richard’s fiancé, Helen Acton, has confessed to the crime, but Richard is convinced of her innocence. In his letter to Poirot he stipulates that he and Catchpool must pretend that they know nothing of the killing; instead, they are to imply that they want to learn more about a board game that Richard’s father and his business partner have created, called Peepers.

From the moment that the coach sets off, things get morbid, as they’re wont to do in a Golden Age style crime novel. A hysterical woman boards the coach, and almost automatically kicks up a fuss saying that if she doesn’t switch seats, then she’ll be murdered. Poirot changes seats with her, and is promptly faced with a confession of murder.

All of this occurs before the pair of protagonists even arrives at their destination. Once they get there, things quickly take a turn for the even stranger, with their deception becoming discovered. They are quickly called out and their identities are revealed. The woman who made her bizarre murder confession reveals them to be detectives, rather than the board game loving businessmen that they were pretending to be. She then offers up another confession, which throws the entire case into jeopardy.

Later, as the pair starts their work on this extraordinary case, a body is discovered at Little Key, raising even more questions for them to find the answers to. While investigating, they’re faced with strange confessions, unusual coincidences and much more. With no idea who to trust and where to turn, the detective and his policeman sidekick set out to uncover the truth about this utterly absurd series of events, and the equally unusual ones that follow later in the novel.

Hannah’s previous Poirot novels show her penchant for perplexing plots, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill carries on her legacy of taking Christie’s original flair for the extravagant and taking it one step further. The novel is a perfect combination of outlandish and believable.

Every chapter leads to more questions, but Hannah is skilled at keeping the reader interested and providing them with information in a way that doesn’t feel stilted. As a result, readers are kept intrigued throughout the novel despite the various plot twists and strange occurrences. There’s something new to learn about in each chapter and with every encounter that Poirot and Catchpool have, so that the reader is kept constantly guessing and unsure of what’s coming next.

In her characterisation, Hannah is spot-on, creating believable yet fascinating characters. Both her suspects and her secondary characters are two-dimensional, believable individuals who interest the reader and keep the suspense ramped up throughout the novel. The author demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature that Christie herself would have been proud of.

After all, the Queen of Crime was renowned for her sharp dialogue and incredible characterisation. In Sophie Hannah, she has an ideal modern-day counterpart to continue her legacy and bring Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous detective character, to a new generation of readers.

At the end of the day, that’s what reimagining a beloved character is all about; making them accessible to new readers. Hannah has achieved this goal and much more with her amazing Poirot novels, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is another spectacular example that is worth reading, whether you’re already a fan of Christie’s pernickety detective or he’s a completely new revelation to you.

Hannah’s novels are standalone pieces, but you’ll want to read more after you’ve finished your first, whether it’s this one or you start at the beginning with The Monogram Murders. Whatever your preference, you’ll be hooked once you sink your teeth in Hannah’s novels, and will soon find yourself desperate to check out Christie’s original stories.  

Michele Rodriguez Interview: “I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless”

In today’s interview I’m speaking to Michele Rodriguez, author of the CPS crime fiction series.

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

My writing style is much like any of my writings in that it is a work in progress.  My focus on developing a crime series came out of a direct desire to share the perspectives and stories of child protective services (CPS).  When working as a caseworker for my state’s CPS, I often felt that it was awe inspiring how little the public knew about the process or the atrocities.  I wanted to investigate both the families’ perspectives and the CPS workers’ perspectives in order to garner understanding, support and reform for CPS.  These are lofty goals but most of my writing originates from a push to understand, explore and share.

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

My background is in non-profits, social work and teaching.  I began and ran my own non-profit to promote empathy and compassion through action—youth volunteerism.  I then worked at a child advocacy non-profit for children in foster care, followed by work at a women’s homeless shelter and then as a caseworker for child protective services. Most recently, I joined Teach for America and taught English Language Arts at a middle school in Camden, NJ.  A motley background. 

These career choices unknowingly pushed me forward to writing professionally as the number of intense stories I was collecting in my mind’s database was too much to bear.  I felt compelled to write.  I draw on my personal experiences through my work to influence everything in my writing including character traits and behaviours, settings, and recurring themes.  I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless.

How do you draw on your work as a social worker to create your series?

My work as a CPS social worker is directly correlated to my creation of the CPS series, obviously.  I enjoy intertwining the reality of the processes that take place from a CPS caseworker perspective in the series.  This includes both the good and the bad as there is an overwhelming amount of both in practice.  This is also an unexplored area in literature which has made the writing of the series important to me.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

My books within the CPS series are equal parts crime and thriller/horror.  A reader knows upon picking one up that they will be reading about an actual atrocity that happened to a child.  Every book in the series is a fictional account of an actual child protective services’ case that has ended in tragedy and press headlines.  I think readers are drawn to this format because, like me, they want to understand how it could happen. 

There are overarching questions that I address—why couldn’t society protect our most vulnerable children from such horrific crimes?  Who is at fault?  Are there things that can be done that would change future outcomes?  Are there actually heroes and villains?

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

The CPS series is easy to write.  Well, that may be an unfair assessment as easy is not the best descriptor.  I’d say, the basis for the story has already been hashed out in the press, so it is easier to write than my works of literary fiction that were inspired from within.  I can write character descriptions, motives and actions quickly, allowing me more time with the plot and setting.  As such, I have not had any writer’s block as I’ve fully researched all available media on the incident prior.  I pull it back up often during the process to reflect, but that’s about it.  In this way, inspiration is overflowing and relentless which comes with its own set of issues.

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

This is an interesting question.  I would like to work with John Steinbeck on a second novel that picks up where Grapes of Wrath left off.  When reading this book with my son, I found that much of what was written applies currently.  I was struck with this desire to ask Mr. Steinbeck what he thinks about the condition of the world today.  His book ends with a homeless mother breastfeeding a dying man during the dust bowl in the United States.  There is no happy ending, only lessons to be learned.  I worry that we have yet to learn these lessons and think this needs new exploration through writing.

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

The CPS series is my focus right now and I continue to be excited about it.  I hope to release the first book, CPS: Headless, officially in March of 2021.  Until then, I continue to refine and work, refine and work. 

I was told that I must establish an online presence and am new to the online writing world entirely.  Navigating this is also exciting and overwhelming.  With that in mind here’s some of my details if you wish to follow me: Twitter @CPS_Author, website @ michelerodriguez.net, Facebook @ AuthorMicheleRodriguez, Patreon @MicheleRodriguez.

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

Since the pandemic in March led to school closing in New Jersey where I live, I have been reading books with my fourteen-year-old son.  This has been a brilliant and bonding experience for us.  Over the summer we completed Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Night by Elie Wiesel, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  We are currently muddling through J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  As such, I have put off reading or anticipating new books or modern writers.  The silver lining here is that I have a lot of good reading to anticipate in the future!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for this opportunity. 

Massive thanks to Michele for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to learn more about your amazing work. 

Gathering Dark Review: An Unstoppable Thriller You’ll Devour In One Go

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As I promised in my previous post, today I’m reviewing Candice Fox’s gripping new thriller Gathering Dark.

Jumping straight into the action, the novel begins with the robbery of a cartel owned gas station by a frightened young woman with a gun. The woman working the night shift is Blair Harbour, known as ‘The Neighbor Killer’ after she shot her next-door neighbour more than 10 years ago.

She claimed he was hurting his girlfriend, but the girlfriend herself denied it and claimed the attack was unprovoked. After spending 10 years in prison, Blair is now out and determined to make a fresh start for herself and the young son she gave birth to as she began her sentence.

Her hopes of a normal life vanish when her former cellmate, a drug-taking thief, shows up unannounced and proclaims that the woman who held Blair up at knifepoint was her daughter, with whom she has a tempestuous relationship.

The girl is missing, and Blair is quickly drawn into the messy world of this young woman. Teaming up with another former jailbird, this one now a powerful gangster, and the policewoman who put her away, Blair tries to navigate LA’s sleazy underbelly to find the missing girl and bring her home.

This central plot links nicely with Fox’s myriad of sub-plots, including police corruption, a huge inheritance given to a police officer for a job well done, millions of dollars worth of missing money from a bank job gone wrong, and Blair’s fight for the truth about what happened to get sent to prison.

While most of the sub-plots are intriguing and help to drive the narrative forward, this last one is full of plot holes. The police case rested on flimsy evidence, which would suggest a serious lack of care from the officers involved, yet Fox still tries to push the idea that the cop now helping Blair, Jessica Sanchez, is some sort of epitome of professionalism and diligence.

That’s despite the fact that she led the case, yet didn’t even complete the bare minimum of checks before sending an innocent woman to prison for a decade. The case rested on an uneaten sandwich and a lack of a motive for the victim to attack his girlfriend, but the sandwich wasn’t DNA tested and the motive could’ve been found with even a routine background check on the victim and his girlfriend- as it eventually is when Sanchez starts applying herself.

Aside from this glaring plot hole, the novel is incredibly well written and intriguing. Once you get over the slight issue of this poor plotting, you can see that Fox has crafted an incredible cast of characters. Her dialogue is flawless and there’s a surprise around every corner, so the reader is constantly kept guessing.

All of the chapters are written in a series of different styles, including the form of letters between the missing girl and an incarcerated felon, as well as the from the viewpoint of Blair, written in the first person, and from the viewpoint of Jessica, written in the third. As such, there’s a clear distinction between each chapter and the reader is constantly on the edge of their seat.

The city of Los Angeles comes alive and becomes another character to add to the list of those who are working to achieve their own agenda. All of Fox’s characters are working towards their own ends, with Blair and the story of the missing girl caught up in the middle. Through the tangled web of stories the reader wades, getting more invested in the story by the chapter. By the end, you’re so immersed in the story that you might fail to realise, as I did, that you’ve been reading several hours past your bedtime.

From the ending, it’s clear that Fox is setting up for a sequel, or possibly even a series, based on the characters in Gathering Dark, and I for one am excited to see what’s in store for Blair, Jessica and the rest. It might not be perfect, but this is a contender for one of the best thrillers of 2020, so any follow up is bound to be good. If it’s even half as engaging and intriguing as this novel, then it’ll be a gripping read that I definitely don’t want to miss out on.

Naomi Hirahara Interview: “I’ve always been curious about the outside world”

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Historical mystery writer Naomi Hirahara discusses how she researches and creates her incredible books and brings the past back to life with her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you start writing historical mystery novels?

Context is important to me—the history of how a person or place came to be. An academician in Japan called my books “journalistic,” an observation which I first interpreted as derogatory but now I believe to be pretty accurate. I’ve always been curious about the outside world. My Mas Arai mysteries are contemporary but have a cold case aspect to it—a historic event is woven into each of them. The mystery that I’m currently working on is a completely historical novel, set in 1944. I’ve written historical non-fiction, too, but with a novel I can use my imagination to color between the lines.

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

I worked as a journalist for a community daily newspaper for ten years. I didn’t know if I could be in a position to write fiction fultime, but devoted my free time working on my debut novel by taking college extension courses. I went freelance in 1997 and ever since then have been able to cobble together a solo writing career.

I’m developing a workshop on creating characters for an upcoming mystery writing conference. I’m going to use an image of cigar box as a place where we store our influences—individuals who’ve made a big impact on us, books, experiences and relationships. I believe when we write fiction, we are opening up that cigar box to access all these treasures. That’s why age can be an advantage, as long as we live our lives ever mindful and present.

As someone who writes about the American/ Japanese experience, how do you research your work? What’s the most interesting lesson that you’ve learned while researching a novel?

My years as a journalist have come in handy because I conducted a lot of interviews for stories and recording oral histories. Transcribing some of those interviews has been helpful in absorbing word choice and cadence. I’ve travelled to various historic locations, ranging from Angel Island in San Francisco to Gold Hill, where the first Japanese colonists settled in mainland U.S. from 1869-1871. Today there are so many digital resources available, from http://www.densho.org to http://www.ancestry.com to http://www.newspapers.com. What can be interesting is examining the holes of histories and contemplating why there is a void.

Talk to me about your upcoming book Clark and Division. What can fans expect from your novel?

I’m currently working on rewrites and I’m so excited for readers to be introduced to my characters. It’s set in 1944 and follows two twentysomething Japanese American sisters, Rose and Aki, who were released early from an American wartime detention camp in California’s Owens Valley to a new life in Chicago. A tragedy befalls the family in Chicago and it’s up to the younger sister, Aki, to sustain her parents while finding out what happened to Rose.

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

Chester Himes, who wrote A Rage in Harlem. During World War II, he lived in the Los Angeles home of a Japanese American woman writer while she was held in a detention center and it would be fascinating to integrate our different points-of-view in one manuscript.

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

After I complete my rewrites for the Chicago book, I’m going to be working on the second installment of my Hawai’i-based series. It’s called An Eternal Lei, and will deal with endangered flowers and sustainable tourism. After that will be another historical novel, Crown City, which will be set in my hometown of Pasadena, California.

What do you think that the current social/ political climate will do to the literary market in the future? What stories and plots do you hope to see/ plan on writing about?

It’s too hard to predict how today’s reality will impact publishing. Books have always served to whisk readers away to new worlds, sometimes fantastical ones and other times stories that focus us on real problems. I plan to continue to unearth hidden stories, my specialty.

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

I just finished reading Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong and plan to host a Zoom book club for other middle-aged Asian Americans to discuss its contents. Hong is also an accomplished poet and I plan to also read her poetry collections, especially the works that explore English language as spoken by immigrants.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The WriteNow! writing conference which I’m currently preparing for will be held on September 11-12. It’s the annual conference organized by the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime. Because of the pandemic, it will be both virtual and free. So sign up here: https://desertsleuths.com/write-now/.

Thanks to Naomi for answering my questions; it’s been fascinating to here from you!

The Top Five Best DCI Banks Novels

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My first encounter with Peter Robinson’s dour Yorkshire detective was when I saw the ITV drama series starring Stephen Tompkinson.

Robinson is a prolific writer, and there are more than 20 novels in this gripping series, so when I decided to transition to the books, I had plenty to choose from. I was quickly caught up in the amazing stories and the relatable characters.

The author creates a compelling series that showcases the highs and lows of the human race. Every story features compelling characters and twisted plots, which keep readers guessing. Set in a fictional Yorkshire town, the novels show Banks as he tries to deal with the tattered remains of his personal and professional lives, while also solving complex and fiendish crimes.

The books are different from the TV series, and although there are similarities, including character and plot overlaps, there are differences too. In my mind, the DCI Alan banks from the books is much more tough and rugged than Tompkinson’s world-weary detective.

So if you’re a fan of the TV series and want to see how the two compare, or you just enjoy a good gripping police procedural, then check out my list of my top five DCI Banks novels for first timers.

5. Cold Is The Grave: After persecuting him Banks for years, Chief Constable Riddle needs Banks’ help. Nude photos of his runaway teen daughter have surfaced online, and he wants Banks to track her down. The trail takes the DCI back to London, his old stomping ground, and into the seedy underbelly of the capital city. Even after bringing the girl back to Yorkshire and returning her to her family, danger follows Banks, and his personal troubles don’t help the situation. The result is an exhilarating novel with an intriguing plot that keeps the reader guessing.

4. Piece Of My Heart: Something I love about the DCI Banks series is that Robinson is constantly switching things up. He brings in new narrative techniques and plot devices every so often, so that readers are always kept on the edge of our seats. In Piece Of My Heart, the past comes back to haunt DCI Banks when he deals with a death close to a band who have already been involved in another gruesome crime. The band was previously linked to a brutal murder in the 1960s when a woman’s dead body is found encased in a sleeping bag after the band’s outdoor concert. Banks has to trail through the old case to understand how the past led to the events of the present. As he delves deeper into the case, both the dead girl’s murder in the 1960s and the present day slaying of a music journalist, Banks is drawn into a tawdry web of deceit and debauchery.

3. Dry Bones That Dream: When a mild-mannered accountant is shot in the head in his garage while his family is tied up at home, Banks becomes entangled in a web of lies and deceit that he never expected. When a former colleague arrives from London with surprising news that sheds a new light on the case, the novel takes a thrilling turn. Robinson creates a tantalising tale that keeps the reader guessing, but still feels realistic and relatable.

2. Strange Affair: Robinson has never been afraid to show his readers the confusing muddle that is his protagonist’s personal life, but he goes one step further in Strange Affair. Banks’ estranged brother leaves him a bizarre message, which sends the detective back to London in search of him. As he trawls the streets searching for his brother and unpicking his painful past, his colleague Annie Cabot finds a dead girl with Banks’ contact details in her pocket. It quickly becomes apparent that the two cases are linked in a sinister way. With Banks in danger, the reader is kept on the edge of their seat throughout this tense novel.

1. Gallows View: If you’ve ever read one of my top five lists before, then you’ll know that I always recommend that you begin at the beginning. The DCI Banks series is no different. The first crime novel in this gripping series introduces readers to DCI Banks and the fictional Yorkshire town of Eastvale, where he retreats to escape the hustle and bustle of life as a policeman. As Detective Chief Inspector, Banks deals with everything from petty crimes through to escalating situations, giving readers an insight into his character. The unexpected climax leaves readers raring for more from Peter Robinson and his inquisitive protagonist.

Why Crime Fiction Is Our Pandemic Genre Of Choice

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that crime fiction is an amazing genre of literature, and that it’s a great way to escape from your troubles.

What I’ve been saying for years has finally been proved true, as the lockdown has shown. New figures have shown that crime fiction sales are up from the same period in 2019.

Book sales overall are up, because everyone’s bored and stuck in their houses with none of their friends to take away their credit cards and stop them buying shit they don’t need on the internet. As the financial impact of the virus is still hurting everyone, even those lucky enough to have kept their jobs, many consumers looked for affordable luxuries that could make themselves feel better and keep them occupied, and they stumbled upon books.

So, between the availability of online stores and the boredom, many people have started buying new books to fill up their bookshelves, and their time. When you think that reading is a solitary activity, with a reduced risk of catching the virus, it’s the perfect solution for relieving pandemic boredom and the lockdown blues.

But why crime fiction? What is it that draws readers towards mystery novels and gripping thrillers?

Personally, I’ve always loved crime fiction and mystery because it gives me a chance to escape into a world that’s slightly worse than the one I’m living in currently.

I also love the fact that there are so many different types of crime fiction out there, so there’s a mystery novel for every mood. If I’m in need of something comforting, then cosy crime fiction is there for me. On the other hand, if I want something gripping and gory, then there are dark police procedurals to check out.

With so many different sub genres within the crime fiction label, it’s easy to see why so many readers are turning to it while they’re stuck indoors and in need of some reading material to keep them occupied. There’s something for everyone, and there are crime fiction and thriller novels set in almost every country and period of history, so whatever your fancy, you’ll find something that you want to read.

Crime fiction often crosses over into the comedy and romance genres, which is great for the pandemic, as readers might want a bit of a laugh as well as some thrills and excitement. This diverse genre offers it all, so readers don’t have to choose between different emotions and reactions.

Also, there’s so much crime fiction out there of all types, with new novels released all the time. Some readers might have put off buying a new book because their TBR (to be read) was huge- like mine! However, when faced with the prospect of being stuck inside, they might’ve caved and bought every book they’ve always wanted, with a view to reading more during the lockdown.

It has to be said, from what I’ve heard from fellow readers and my own personal experiences, not many of us made much of a dent in our TBR piles, never mind the new books we bought! That being said, new books always make us happy, so they’ve served one function at least.

Another reason for crime fiction’s popularity is that it is a chance to escape from the madness of reality, without having to learn another world’s rules and ideals, as you do with fantasy fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy novel, but they require a lot more concentration and time investment than crime fiction books.

With crime fiction, you’re transported to a version of life that’s pretty similar to yours now, or a bygone time whose rules are easily explained. There, you encounter monsters and fiends, just like in fantasy fiction, but in this case, they’re ordinary humans. Readers can relate to the characters, while at the same time be repulsed by their behaviour. In a world that seems to have gone insane, crime fiction offers a much-needed respite from all the crazy news stories.

In all, I think that it’s a combination of escapism and diversity that’s made crime fiction such a popular choice for readers during the pandemic. In the future, I hope that readers continue to buy books from their favourite authors and support them as we all navigate the insane ‘new normal’ together.

 

Transference Review: A Gory Mystery Not To Be Missed

transference

In the sequel to Untethered, John Bowie, who I had a great interview with previously, transforms the city of Manchester into a brutal extra character to add the list of strange, perverted and generally intriguing individuals.

The second novel to feature John Black, Transference [Love + Hate In Rain City], and picks up with the character living in witness protection in Bristol. After having offended gangland bosses in his hometown and helped to send many, including some big names, to prison, he’s now hiding out and keeping his head down.

He’s not long for the southern city or the quiet life, however, as Black is desperate to leave and return to his old stomping ground, Manchester. He had been driven out by Mr Big following an incident his club, where Black worked as a bouncer, and which led to arrests and unrest.

Following the news that the notorious gangster is soon to be released from jail, Black, a PI and writer, contrives a fairly implausible way to get himself a new case. He rings a bingo hall, and then asks for all of the people who’ve just ticked off the number 27 to be bought to the phone.

Then, he asks about a vague case, until he finds a suitable mark whose son, a student living away from home, recently died in mysterious circumstances. Black takes on the case, and then leaves Bristol on a trip back to his past, where he works on the death of the boy, as well as the perilous task of confronting his own demons.

The police set Black up with a job as a security guard turned admin guy at the block of flats from which the boy fell. The case has barely started, but quickly Black realises that the boy’s death was no accident or suicide, as the police are trying to claim to his distraught mother. He also started to notice connections between the case and his past, leading him on a self-destructive journey back into the heart of the murkiest parts of the city.

The writing is impressive, and at points it is incredibly poetic. Some paragraphs read like angst ridden punk rock lyrics, whilst others are beautifully atmospheric. The story turns incredibly dark and gory at times, and violence is peppered throughout, but somehow the author manages to make the gore interesting, not off-putting as it can be in the hands of lesser writers.

Characterisation is Bowie’s strong suit- the author creates a unique and intriguing cast of characters that keep you guessing. Some feel realistic, others like ethereal beings whose movements and thoughts can’t be predicted. All of them are intriguing and unique- from the former stripper turned literary agent to the gang lord ruling over Manchester and desperately trying to torment Black.

The book is mostly written in the first person, from protagonist Black’s perspective, and the character is what could be described as an unreliable narrator at times, particularly when he’s drunk. I’ve seen plenty of men give ‘the death stare’ before, and trust me, they’re not nearly as hard as they think they are. Most of the time, people get out of the way because they think you’re nuts, not tough.

Black’s narration pushes the novel forward, and it reads like a taught thriller full of twists, turns and the absurdity of real life. At times, Bowie takes things too far, and becomes too poetic; an early example is a list of barred patrons of a grimy pub, which Black reads off the wall as he searches for his own name. The list is far too detailed and lyrical to be realistic- most barred lists just have a photo, name and occasional notes telling bar staff to steer clear or call the management.

Aside from this, the novel is an engaging one. It’s the second in the Black Viking series, named after Black, the protagonist, and the Viking being that appears to him as a vision when his physical strength is waning and the going gets really tough. The Viking image is a bold and striking one, and the author uses it well to show Black’s mental instability and dogged determination.

All in all, I enjoyed Transference, and I’d be interested to read the next novel in the series. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about this gritty and grim thriller, and it keeps you enthralled until its bone-chilling ending. There’s clearly more to come, and I’d be interested to see what’s next for Black.