Happy New Year! It’s that time of year when I explore some of the upcoming books that I’m excited about for 2023.
There are loads of amazing books due to be released this year, but I’ve put together a small selection that I think you’ll be interested in too.
Mostly they’re crime fiction, but there are some other books I’m excited about in the upcoming months, and no doubt many I’ve not even heard of or thought about yet! But here’s the list so far to wet your appetite.
Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night
Sophie Hannah has bought the Queen Of Crime’s beloved Belgium sleuth back to life with four outstanding novels. In this fifth one, we get to see the incredible little grey cells in action on a Christmas-themed mystery. I personally love a good festive crime story, so I’m looking forward to this new outing for Hannah’s version of the beloved character.
The Murder Game
Following from his stellar debut novel A Fatal Crossing, Tom Hindle is back with a bang with his upcoming novel The Murder Game. The second book is a standalone and doesn’t follow on from the first novel. Instead, it’s set in the present day at a 1920s-themed New Years eve Murder Mystery party at Hamlet Hall, a seaside statley home. Nine guests are invited and each has a part to play in the Murder Mystery game, until one of the assembled company is killed by a violent head injury. After the devlish twist at the end of A Fatal Crossing, I’m buzzing for Hindle’s lastest release, which is due out in the next few weeks.
A Death in the Parish
The second in the enthralling Canon Daniel Clement series follows on from the first book Murder Before Evensong, with a new murder in the form of a sadistic ritual-style killing. The Reverend Richard Coles is hilarious on Twitter, and brings this wit to his cosy crime fiction writing. So, if you like classic, Golden Age-style crime fiction that delves into the politics of small English village, then this book, set to be released in the summer, could be an ideal choice for you.
Death Comes to Marlow
The follow-up to the surprisingly gripping Marlow Murder Club, Death Comes To Marlow is a classic cosy locked room mystery from Robert Thorogood, who created Death In Paradise, a show that’s almost entirely locked room mysteries. So, I’m expecting good things from this new novel, which is set during a society wedding in the small town of Marlow, where a small collection older ladies solve crimes to enliven their lives between writing crossword puzzles or caring for their families.
Death of a Bookseller
In the age of the true crime book, series and podcast, Alice Slater has endearingly entwined true crime with fiction in her first crime novel. The book features a bookshop, a friendship built on a love of true crime podcasts that takes a sinister turn, a cold case and, weirdly enough, a pet snail named Bleep. To be honest, I was sold when I saw the snail’s name, but the rest makes me excited for this quirky but also thrilling sounding new novel.
Oh Miriam!: Stories From An Extraordinary Life
A departure from crime fiction is this non-fiction memoir from the hilarious actor-turned-raconteur Miriam Margolyes. Her first book, This Much Is True, was a funny and shocking selection of unique and laugh-out-loud stories. In her latest tome, Margolyes shares even more tales that didn’t make it into the previous volume. Given how funny and, at time, deeply moving, her first book was, I’m excited to see what more the actor has to share in this new book, due out later in 2023.
Black Candle Women
If you’re looking for a book that embraces adult fantasy and loved the Netflix series Wednesday, then I’d suggest checking out Diane Marie Brown’s Black Candle Women. The novel features a family of women living together in a small bungalow in California. The group is happy and stable until the teenage family member brings home a man, which means the older women have to share a long-held secret; an ancient family curse means that anyone they fall in love with will die. I love fantasy and stories of witches, so I’m eager to read this invigorating tale.
These are just some of the books I’m excited for in 2023! They’ll be loads of exciting new titles out over the next 12 months and new writers to chat to so stay tuned.
Tom Mead is an author of locked room mysteries who recently published his debut novel. I chat to him about his work and the road he took to publication.
How did you come to become an author? What’s your career experience and how do you draw on it in your writing?
Well I studied creative writing at university, but before that I always had my head in a book. The idea of being a writer has always appealed, ever since I was young. Telling stories is what I love to do. I grew up reading classic mysteries by Agatha Christie, so fair-play puzzle plots have always been a significant feature of my reading life, too. It just seemed like a natural progression to take my enjoyment of the puzzles and use it to construct mysteries of my own.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards locked room mysteries?
I’ve always had a fascination with magic tricks and illusions, and really the locked-room mystery is the closest literary equivalent. The best kind of locked-room mysteries are the ones that give you a sense of “retrospective illumination”- a moment where you want to kick yourself because you realise how deceptively simple the solution is and you can’t believe you didn’t think of it. I love reading those kinds of book, and so I want to try and give readers the same sense of joy that I get from them.
How did you come to publish a book? As a debut novelist, what was your journey towards publication like?
My publishing experience was a pretty unorthodox one. I’d been writing short mystery stories for a long time- several years, in fact- when my story “Heatwave” was selected by Lee Child for inclusion in his anthology The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021, which was published by Mysterious Press in the US and Head of Zeus here in the UK (under the title The Best Crime Stories of the Year). This put me in touch with Otto Penzler, who runs Mysterious Press, and who shares my love of locked-room mysteries. So I took a chance and sent him my manuscript, hoping for a bit of feedback at best. Not only did I get the feedback, but I also got an offer to publish it, which certainly exceeded my wildest expectations. But it was through Mysterious that I established a connection with Head of Zeus, which is why the book came out in the US first, although I live in the UK.
Why did you decide to write Death And The Conjuror? What was the inspiration behind the book?
I’d written about my detective character, Joseph Spector, in several of my short mystery stories. I’d been wanting to use him in a piece of longer fiction for a while, but it didn’t initially occur to me that Death and the Conjuror might turn into a full-length novel. It was only while I was plotting it out, and adding characters and complications, that it occurred to me that it would take a novel to fully explore the complexities- all the twists and turns- of this story.
What’s your research process? How do you go about finding out important facts and integrating them into your work?
Writing about the 1930s is a lot of fun because that era was the height of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, when so many of my favourite writers were at the peak of their creative powers. Crime fiction offers such a brilliant insight into the social mores of an era that I couldn’t ask for better research material. But when it comes to adding period verisimilitude to my depiction of London society, there are plenty of nonfiction resources out there. Historical records, photographs, documentaries and of course books. I used as many as I could lay my hands on.
What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
My favourite writer is John Dickson Carr, commonly known as the master of the locked-room mystery. He didn’t invent the genre, but he certainly took it to new heights. Discovering his works was certainly pivotal for me. That’s why I’ve dedicated Death and the Conjuror to his memory.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I actually have two collaborations happening at the moment. I’ve co-written a murder mystery for younger readers with the author Michael Dahl. I’m also co-editing an anthology of all-new locked-room mystery short stories with Gigi Pandian, another brilliant US author who’s written a number of fantastic mystery series.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
At the moment it’s all systems go for the UK publication of Death and the Conjuror in hardback, so I’m really excited about that. But I’ve also recently announced the US publication date for the sequel, The Murder Wheel. It comes out in the US in July 2023, and in the UK later next year. So perhaps it goes without saying that I’m also incredibly excited about that.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to going forward?
I’m looking forward to diving into the latest book in Martin Edwards’s magnificent Rachel Savernake series- it’s called Blackstone Fell. Other recent books I’ve enjoyed include Anthony Horowitz’s The Twist of a Knife, Victoria Dowd’s The Supper Club Murders, and Fiona Sherlock’s Twelve Motives for Murder. Another author whose works I greatly admire is Robert Thorogood, creator of the BBC show Death in Paradise. Last year I read his brilliant novel The Marlow Murder Club, and I’m very excited for the sequel, which I understand includes a locked-room mystery.
The name is one of several pen names for the successful author, who also wrote a wide range of plays for radio, theatre, film and TV.
She only wrote a small number of crime fiction books, but they were incredibly popular and well received. As a result, Tey’s name is now listed alongside other major detective story titans of the Golden Age, most of whom wrote significantly larger back catalogues of crime fiction tales.
While you could reach for an old and worn out copy, sometimes it’s nice to have a new one with a stunning design.
Thanks to Penguin and it’s re-release of three of the most popular and intriguing of Tey’s stories, you can combine your love of traditional crime novels with your love of new books. In celebration of the world’s renewed interest in the author, who is being honoured with a blue plaque over her former home in Inverness and many other phenomenal accolades, Penguin has launched these new versions to give existing and new fans a great addition to their collections.
These three beautiful volumes depicts three beloved Inspector Alan Grant stories, and are designed with creative representations of the texts. Each one also comes with an exclusive introduction from a revered author, so you can get some new material and learn more about your favourite books from this amazing author.
Here’s a brief synopsis of each book and an overview of why you should check out Penguin’s new version.
The Daughter Of Time
Recently named the number 1 best crime novel of all time by the British Crime Writer’s Association, Tey’s amazing Inspector Grant novel combines a traditional police procedural with a historical exposé to create a unique piece of fiction that would inspire countless other authors, most notably Colin Dexter and his award-winning novel The Wench Is Dead. The Daughter Of Time sees Grant languishing in a hospital bed after an accident. With nothing to do and no motivation to read or learn, the intrepid and usually deeply curious policeman is left with nothing to occupy his mind until a close friend arrives with images of faces to tempt him to uncover the truth behind old mysteries.
Grant is intrigued by an old portrait of Richard III and starts to dig a little deeper into the life and many scandals of the crippled king who supposedly murdered two of his own nephews in cold blood. As he explores further, Grant learns more about the case and the man. Although the case is as cold as they come, he’s determined to find out more, taking the reader on a unique and unforgettable journey through British history.
This latest edition of the beloved classic from Josephine Tey is introduced by Alexander McCall Smith, who explores the timely rerelease of the book following the recent discovery of the remains of Richard III’s remains under a car park in Leicester. The informative introduction and bold cover design make this a great addition to any collection or an ideal way to start your obsession with this wonderful author.
To Love And Be Wise
Another Inspector Grant novel, To Love And Be Wise is gripping from the beginning. Grant is picking up his actress friend from a literary party in London where he meets a mysterious, handsome young American stranger. The young man is a friend of a friend of the nephew of an associate of the hosts- yes it’s convoluted!
Invited down to the small country village where most of the party lives, the photographer is a firm favourite with the ladies from the off, upsetting many of the local men and some of the matriarchs who had their eyes set on better matches for young female relatives.
Quickly, the young American assimilates himself into life in the country, and goes with his friend to complete a book about the local river. Their journey is a resounding success until the American disappears. Propelled by the higher-ups and the influence of his actress friend, Inspector Grant finds himself enmeshed in an unusual case.
There’s no body, and no telling if a crime actually occurred. But as Grant digs deeper he finds that the young American photographer had many secrets, and his motives for visiting Trimmings, the country manor where he was staying, might not have been as innocent as they first appeared. There’s a chilling twist that transforms the novel from basic police procedural into a full-blown gripping crime drama.
Introduced by Kate Mosse, the acclaimed novelist not, as I initially thought, the 90s supermodel with her name spelt wrong, this new edition also boasts a bold cover design featuring a smashed camera. It’s a great option for anyone who’s looking for a cute copy of this phenomenal novel. `
The Franchise Affair
Perhaps one of the most famous of Tey’s crime fiction novels, The Franchise Affair is the third in this selection of Inspector Alan Grant novels, featuring a truly unique problem. The owners of a house in the country, previously a beautiful manor and now a little run-down, are accused of abducting a young girl and forcing her to work as a domestic slave.
The girl runs away and her adopted parents are contacted, with Inspector Grant bought in to review the case against the women, which mostly hinges on local prejudice and hearsay, but with a few strange details included. The girl seems to have some inside knowledge of the property that seems to indicate she’s been in the house, but some of the details don’t quite ring true.
Grant quickly enters into the world of village gossip, prejudice and rumour, which leads him to question the truth in this unusual case. The twist is inventive and comes as a surprise to the reader, so you’ll always be on the edge of your seat throughout this original Golden Age detective story.
With a beautiful new cover design featuring an old fashioned car, this new design of the novel is the least easy to link to the story than the others, although the car does link to the plot eventually, but it is still gorgeous. Tana French introduces the book, and explores the real life case that inspired the novel and how the author turned the tale into an iconic crime fiction caper.
Whether you’re already a fan of Tey’s bold prose, complex plots and creative characterisation, or are a Golden Age crime fiction fan searching for a new favourite, these three redesigned classics are the perfect choice for you. Penguin has chosen three of the best of this renowned author’s books to redesign in a bold and beautiful way, and these three books will soon be an important fixture on every crime fiction fan’s bookshelf.
Right on time for summer of the roaring 2020s comes the debut novel by Tom Hindle, set in the roaring 1920s. A Fatal Crossing is everything you could possibly want from a vintage crime novel, packed with dark twists, droll dialogue and tantalising mysteries galore.
Set onboard a luxury ship that sails between London and New York, and is on its way to the Big Apple, the novel is an innovative take on the classic locked room mystery. The passenger liner the Endeavour has just 4 days left of her voyage when an elderly man is found at the bottom of a staircase after a night of heavy rainfall. The captain, keen to reach New York and begin his retirement, sweeps the death away as an accident and places the body in an old cold store. After all, his is a passenger liner, and he doesn’t have the time or facilities to investigate the death. He’s happy to wait for the ship to dock and leave it to the cops in New York.
However, a Scotland Yard police officer who is onboard the ship believes that the death is no accident. Inspector James Temple convinces the Captain to let him investigate, but only under the supervision of troubled ship’s officer Timothy Birch. Initially the inspector is reluctant to accept the help, but he eventually agrees to get the investigation moving.
From the beginning, the reader is led into a world of intrigue, with new twists and turns in every chapter. The prose is very descriptive and almost military in its formation, an approach that allows the author to pack a lot into less than 500 pages. Narrated by Birch, the novel following the officer and Temple as they attempt to unravel what happened to the old man.
Quickly, the unlikely duo, neither of whom is particularly happy with the other’s presence, learn that the dead man was travelling under a false name. He’s an art dealer from Bath, on his way to the New York Art Fair, who has been meeting with several passengers onboard to discuss various deals.
One of these is the purchase of a painting believed to be the only portrait by a renowned landscape artist. The picture once belonged to the victim, but was purchased for much less than its true value by an old associate of his, who now plans to sell it at the fair for its true value. On the night of the death, the picture was stolen and a threatening note left in its place.
As the days wear on and the body count rises, our two detectives are forced to work together to uncover the truth before it’s too late. The strangely civil odd-couple pairing of the two detectives reminds me a lot of traditional Golden Age crime fiction double acts like Wimsey and Parker or Poirot and Hastings. While the situations are different, the dynamic is similar, in that one is significantly more intelligent than the other, who is more personable and likeable. Together, the pair work well and fight against the clock to find the killer and uncover the truth.
With a set amount of time before the vessel docks in New York and no way for the passengers or crew to get off the ship, the novel is a take on a locked room mystery that was incredibly popular with Golden Age crime writers. Author Tom Hindle has named Agatha Christie as one of his writing inspirations, and it’s easy to see her influence in this incredible debut crime novel. The plot is filled with twists and new information, but as we follow the narrative of the brave and observant yet unintelligent Officer Birch, the reader is easily able to keep up with each new development in the case.
So in summary, if you’re looking for a fun and thrilling historical crime caper, then A Fatal Crossing is the perfect book for you. The characters are engaging and unlikeable in the best possible way, and the plot powers along as fast as the Endeavour on her way from London to New York. The author skilfully reveals new information at the perfect pace, which keeps you on your toes from the first page to the final paragraph. Hindle is set to release another take on a locked room mystery next year, and I for one will be looking forward to checking it out.
I’ve been a massive fan of Mark Ellis’s poetic and sensitive detective Frank Merlin for many years, and so I was excited for a new instalment to this incredible series.
It’s hard to believe that now there are 5 novels in the series, and that there’s another one that’s just come out! Dead In The Water is the latest addition to this amazing collection, and it shows Frank Merlin as a father and husband coming up against a range of different obstacles.
The book is set later in the war than the earlier novels in the series, in 1942, and the Americans have now joined the war against Hitler. Ellis loves drawing on real historical events and people in his novels, so there are plenty of mentions for history buffs to enjoy. When it comes to the fiction characters, Merlin and his team are now up against bureaucracy from both sides of the Atlantic and dealing with a spate of social unrest when a body is discovered down an alleyway.
At the same time, a shady art deal is going down, which has ramifications on many throughout London’s creative scene, including the purveyors of an avant garde fledgling literary magazine. This deal soon turns sour, and as Merlin’s body count begins to rise, he realises that something’s afoot that affects the very highest echelons of polite society.
From the very first page, readers are transported into the murky world of underground art dealing during the war, shady financial transactions and corrupt millionaires who use their power and influence for their own ends. The novel is a perfect blend of historical insight and a unique plot that holds the readers attention from the outset.
Every character is intricately constructed, and despite the sheer number of characters, the author still manages to make you care about or despise each of them. That’s one of Ellis’s key skills as a writer: being able to create characters you can hate, as well as those you can admire. It’s easy to craft likeable characters, but not so easy to write well-thought out individuals that are unlikeable. They might not necessarily be the villain of the piece, but Ellis is great at making characters who are unlikeable and, in many cases, downright creepy.
My one disappointment, and criticism, is that when I opened the book I saw how short it was. One of my first encounters with Frank Merlin was in Merlin At War, which was considerably longer than this. Having so much more to read makes me happy and means that we get to see more of Ellis’s little side plots. The author is amazing and creating unique and interesting characters, and he usually gives them more space so that their side stories really come to life.
In this novel, there are many smaller stories within the main frame of the narrative, and it would’ve been great to have them get more time and space within the book. Despite this, Ellis still does a great job of keeping them all tied into the main storyline, which concerned a shady art deal that goes horribly wrong. With a body in the river and the artwork gone, Merlin and his team face a race against time to uncover the truth. There are many suspects to choose from, and with the true ownership of this valuable art in question, there’s a lot to keep readers on their toes throughout this gripping thriller.
Also in play are the security services, a nephew of Merlin’s who’s working on a covert mission in London and a shady crew of sneak thieves trying to rob the wealthy individuals at the heart of the case. With so much going on, it’s no wonder that the book is so gripping it’s almost impossible to put down. You’ll be spellbound as you rattle around the world with Ellis’s eclectic cast of characters. Despite so many sub-plots, the novel remains surprisingly easy to keep up with, and the characters are so well-written that you’ll feel like you know them before you’re even 50 pages in.
All in all, this is another incredible addition to an already phenomenal series. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Frank Merlin already, and if you’re new to the character then it could be a good place to start, although I would recommend going from the beginning of the series. The novel covers have recently been redesigned and some of them have been renamed, so now’s as good a time as any to get into them if you haven’t already. I firmly believe that the Frank Merlin series is one of the best to be written over the past 10 years, and Dead In The Water is a truly great addition to it. I just hope the next one is longer!
The Long Weekend has been on my TBR pile for some time, and I’ve been looking forward to checking it out. I’m glad to say that Gilly Macmillan’s latest novel did not disappoint. The book is a masterpiece of modern crime fiction, with the author, who already has many bestsellers under her belt, crafting a unique and fast paced thriller. The plot races along and the story quickly transforms from a typical locked room mystery to something much more sinister.
The book begins in the remote Northumbrian countryside, right on the border between England and Scotland, where 3 very different women arrive for a weekend away at a secluded barn. They’re set to be joined by their husbands the next day, after they all gave last minute excuses not to travel with their wives. Taking weekend breaks has become a tradition for the group, but not all of them are looking forward to it, for various reasons.
Owned by a troubled farming couple, the barn is near the site of a historic Neolithic burial ground. The husband has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his wife is concerned that he’s now harassing guests at their barn, which they rent out for short term visitors. The couple are also rattled by a strange request before the group arrives, and wrapped up in their own troubles.
When they arrive at the barn, the 3 women discover an unsettling note, supposedly from Edie, another woman who was part of their social circle until her husband died, and who subsequently decided not to come to on the trip. The note suggests that harm might have come to one of the group’s husbands, leaving them all feeling confused and angry. Edie is supposedly on a spa retreat in Wales, while her teenager daughter is at band camp, but it’s soon clear that neither of them is where they said they’d be and the pair, despite being absent from the trip, are integral, in one way or another, to the plot.
Without phone signal or any other means of contacting their husbands, and with their hosts down at the farmhouse with their car, which couldn’t make the steep drive up to the barn, things aren’t going well on the trip. Add in personal disagreements and a strong storm and the women face a difficult night. The 3 women are very different, each with their own fears and concerns. There’s Jayne, a former solider who planned the trip, and who has a secret reason for choosing the barn as the location for this latest trip. Then there’s Ruth, her old friend who’s just had a baby, and is struggling to cope with being a mother and dealing with problems in her marriage. Finally, there’s Emily, a newer addition to the group who is significantly younger than the other two, being the trophy girlfriend of the oldest man in the friendship group.
The novel shifts between the misery at the barn, and back nearer the womens’ homes in Bristol, where the orchestrator of the mayhem might not be who we originally believed it to be. It also switches between perspectives, drip feeding the reader small clues so that we’re never bored, but always keeping us one tantalising step away from fully understanding what’s going on. You’ll never see the full picture until the end, and even then, this thriller is so psychologically intense that you might still not grasp the true motives behind the crimes.
One thing that makes me smile every time I look at my copy of the novel is the tagline, which states: ‘Three couples. Two bodies. One secret.’ The one secret part is what is so laughable; Macmillan is not one to confine her characters to just one secret. Every member of the group has her secrets, and their husbands too. There are failed investment projects, adultery, and more to contend with. Some of the secrets are simply basic issues that form part of ordinary life, and others are more sinister and could be the clue to unravelling the author’s tangled web.
So if you’re looking for an enthralling and compelling read to take your mind off all the madness that’s going on in the world right now, then I would heartily suggest that you check out The Long Weekend. It’s an unforgettable read that will haunt you long after you finish it thanks to Macmillan’s devilish plotting, intense characterisation and slow burning plot.
Better late than never! In my first author interview, thriller writer KT Galloway discusses her work and how her role as a psychologist helps her to craft unique and unputdownable books.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
I have always been an avid reader of horror and psychological thrillers; I love Stephen King, Val McDermid, Karin Slaughter, and of course the great Agatha Christie. The idea of reading a book and solving clues as I go is one of great joy for me. My writing career started with comedy horror screenplays and I also write uplifting book club fiction, but I really wanted to get stuck into a series with great characters and lots of creepy thrills and chills, and so KT Galloway and The O’Malley and Swift series were borne.
What is your career background and how did you become a professional writer?
I am a qualified psychologist and therapist, and that’s what I studied for my masters at university. But ultimately, I just love the way the human brain works, and that blends well with writing about people and real-life (at a push) situations.
I am an agented author of uplifting book club fiction, and have been for a few years now, but I wanted to create another persona who could write all about creepy things instead of lovely things!
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
I write whenever I can. As I still work as a therapist I’m extremely busy. Especially these last two years! So I write to unwind and relax. If I sit down at my desk and no words are forthcoming I will take myself off for a walk (my young daughter permitting) or I’ll scroll social media or watch something on Netflix or read. I often find ideas come when I’m not trying to force them.
If I’m on a deadline then I set myself time limits. 15 minutes writing at a time. These bursts of productivity work well for me and my word count increases when I set these goals.
What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
I will read anything. I LOVE books and I love getting lost in a world created by someone else. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Eve Chase who has a superpower for creating rich environments and characters. I am definitely a mood reader. If I pick something up and don’t enjoy it immediately, I will shelve it for another time. I tend to have two books on the go at once for this very reason. I don’t mind what the genre is, I’m more about the character and storyline.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Hands down, the amazing Agatha Christie. Her writing has that perfect mix of humour and suspense, and her characters are so much fun. I think I could learn so much from her; red herrings, plots, settings… just everything!!! Plus I think she’d enjoy a proper cup of tea with me while we’re writing.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I am really excited about book 4 in the O’Malley and Swift series The House of Secrets. It’s playing out to be the most chilling one of the series so far. And I just love the relationship between Annie and Joe and how that is developing. It’s out in May so watch this space. You can pre-order on my amazon page here author.to/KTGalloway
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?
I read a lot! It’s essential as a writer, I think. I have already read the new Lucy Foley, The Paris Apartment, which is AMAZING, and the new Gillian McAllister, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, which is sublime. They’re both out later on this year. As well as those, I am looking forward to The It Girl by Ruth Ware as I think she writes some of the best whodunnits.
Recently, I’ve been going through a lot of changes and suffering from exhaustion, so I decided, after a hard day, to treat myself to a trip to the cinema.
I’ve not been for since before the pandemic, and following a busy and stressful day, I thought I’d go watch a film that’s been delayed for more than 2 years.
The delays were partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also because many of the film’s stars have faced criticism for their behaviour. While many of the stars, including Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot, have faced criticism and, in the case of Hammer, serious allegations, they remain some of the world’s richest and most influential stars. And, the film is helmed and directed by Kenneth Branagh, a man who has famously overcome his own scandals to enjoy a long and prosperous career.
He has already adapted Murder On The Orient Express, and while he definitely wasn’t my idea of Hercule Poirot, the film itself was enjoyable to watch. As such, I was looking forward to a good whodunnit film, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d usually expect from a Poirot mystery.
To my surprise, from the outset, the latest adaptation of Death On The Nile is a disaster. The first scene, set in 1914, shows a captain you believe to Poirot, with his signature moustaches, announcing orders to go over a trench and attack a bridge later that day. Suddenly, an unshaven Poirot discusses the flight of the birds, and the fact that the wind has changed earlier than usual. He advises his moustachioed captain to attack immediately, which he does, despite his misgivings.
The operation is a success, but the captain dies by accidentally setting off a bomb, which Poirot tries to warn him about, without success. The detective is then seen in a hospital bed with a disfigured face and a despondent disposition. His girlfriend, who we later learn died, tells him to grow a moustache. This version of Poirot, who is later seen embarking on fast-paced dashes across the ship and striding about with a gun in his hands, is far too much of a traditional Hollywood action hero to be the peculiar little man with an egg-shaped head. Even his eyes, which turn bright green when he’s on the trail of the truth in the books, are sapphire blue in the film. It’s a small detail, but it’s very noticeable for Christie fans.
After the opening scene, the film’s narrative shifts to the film’s setting in the 1930s, with Poirot, now heavily moustached, attending a music club. He’s watching Salome Otterbourne, who isn’t the writer she is in the novel but a nightclub singer, perform. The first two dances, performed by Jacqueline and Simon and then, after he’s given his new job, by Linnet and Simon, are thinly veiled attempts to emulate the traditional film trope of dances used to emulate sex. Armie Hammer is not a gullible, stupid individual as we see him in the books, but a creepy rich boy in a vile moustache that makes him look like an unintentional parody of the cannibal sexist the media portrays him as. His hammy dancing and over egging the sexual aspects of the dancing make them look like a joke, rather than a serious sexual dance. The film does this well-worn trope incredibly unsuccessfully, and the result is a clumsy opener that only goes downhill from there.
Much of the film is different from the novels, and while that isn’t always a bad thing, in this case the changes don’t benefit the movie in any way. For a start, the characters aren’t all the same as in the books, and this significantly affects the plot and makes much of it highly unbelievable. Monsieur Bouc was in the Murder On The Orient Express novel, and Branagh’s film, and he brings him back in this adaptation instead of Colonel Race, the character who assists Poirot in the book. Bouc also acts as a replacement for the character Tim Allerton, as he attends the cruise, now panned as a wedding party, with his mother. Instead of a group of disparate strangers, the group is gathered deliberately by Linnet Doyle, nee Ridgeway, for her wedding celebration.
This makes it seem unusual when interloper Jacqueline de Bellefort, the former friend of Linnet and first fiancé of Linnet’s now-husband, Simon Doyle, joins the cruise. In the book and most adaptations, the Karnak, the liner the group travels on, is a luxury steamer and everyone on board is there for different reasons. As Branagh’s film has the party gathered by Linnet and Simon for their wedding celebration, it looks strange when Jacqueline arrives out of the blue. She’s vital for the plot, but she arrives alone with no other guests who are unconnected to the wedding party shown, making her arrival look strange and convenient. Also, Branagh’s adaptation has the boat’s staff leave the vessel at the end of every day, which is another useful but unlikely way to create a ‘locked room’ scenario.
One major missed opportunity that’s a real shame is the lack of attention to the scenery and costumes in the film. Bouc actually wears a zip-up hoodie throughout most of the film, and while these were worn in the 1930s, when the story is set, I doubt anyone on a luxury cruise would galavant around in one. The outfits and decor on the luxury liner were a great opportunity for the film to make the most of its enormous budget. There’s no opulence; the glitter is two-dimensional and looks flat on the screen. Colours on ties and jackets are made to stand out to set them apart, but I defy anyone to remember one signature look with any real clarity even minutes after the film finishes.
I expected a lot more from the outfits and scenery, but the film’s over reliance on CGI technology and lack of care when it comes to the costuming and makeup means that the film doesn’t have the obvious redeeming feature that you’d expect. The 1930s was a time of dwindling opulence, but those who were still going on luxury liners still had access to stunning costumes and retained their love of 1920s decadence. Instead of the beautiful pearls Linnet wears, which are viewed as a motive for her murder initially and are stolen, then found, then seen to be fake, the film gives the wealthy heiress a tacky looking Tiffany necklace with a huge yellow gem in the centre. The necklace looks like it’s made of plastic, and not at all like it’s an expensive and fashionable gem.
The film’s deviations from the original text, and from Christie’s style in general, are never more apparent than during a scene in which two characters are revealed to be lesbian lovers. The film is heavy handed in this reveal, with Branagh’s Poirot shouting at the two women while they admit the truth, which would have been unthinkable and subject to ridicule and abuse during the time when the film is set. In her books, Christie has characters who could be involved in these sorts of relationships, but it’s never directly revealed. In any subtle reveals, Christie is always understated and her characters are sympathetic, which is far from the case in this film.
There are some pockets of cinematic brilliance in the midst of all the dross, but unfortunately, these are few and far between. There’s a brilliant fight scene between Russell Brand and Ali Fazal’s characters over the dead body of Rose Leslie’s dispirited and highly unconvincing French Maid. Also, thanks to the addition of Bouc, who isn’t in the Queen Of Crime’s original story, there’s a brilliant bait and switch that keeps viewers on your toes until Branagh uses Bouc in a way I never expected. I won’t spoil the unique twist and inventive change the film makes to Christie’s iconic plot, but it really changed the story and is a great surprise to viewers. With so much of the film, such as Jacqueline’s arrival on the boat, being really obvious, it was nice to have one major surprise to catch you off guard.
Still, for the most part, Branagh’s Death On The Nile adaptation is a cinematic representation of the phrase ‘money can’t buy taste’. It’s an expensive film that throws its money into all the wrong places. It’s already not a great Christie novel to begin with, but the adaptation boasts many unnecessary changes and some frankly bizarre choices that make it almost unwatchable. I literally covered my eyes at some points. With so many comedy actors, including greats like comedy duo French and Saunders, I almost thought at times, that this was a parody, and it easily could’ve been if the actors weren’t all so serious and it wasn’t trying so hard. If you love Christie and her pernickety Belgium detective as much as I do, then I’d recommend you watch it once, but don’t rush out for it and definitely, if you can avoid it, don’t pay too much to watch. This film simply isn’t worth it.
Josephine Tey, the pen name of Scottish writer Elizabeth MacKintosh, was the name under which she wrote some of her best-known works.
It’s also the name I knew her under when I first read her short stories in the amazing anthology series Bodies From The Library.
After my brief introduction, I was intrigued by the author’s characters and dedication to creating gripping narratives, so I sought out some more of her work.
Characterisation and suspense are the cornerstones of Tey’s work, and she created some memorable individuals including Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, who appears in several of her most revered works.
If you’re looking for a new Golden Age crime fiction series to start in 2022, and want something authentic but not as popular as the books written by well-known names like Sayers or Christie, then Tey’s books could be the perfect choice for you.
Here are some of my favourite books by Josephine Tey to get you into her work and introduce you to her unique and well-rounded characters.
5. The Franchise Affair: An inventive and gripping novel, this unique story showcases the author’s flair for the dramatic and skill at characterisation. While the book involves Inspector Alan Grant, The Franchise Affair mainly centres around a solicitor who is called in to defend a mother and daughter who live alone in a grandiose house, called the Franchise. The pair have been accused of kidnapping a young woman, 15 year old Betty Kane, who was staying with an aunt and uncle nearby their home. She claims to have been abducted, beaten and forced to do menial work by the mother and daughter, who had been struggling to find servants to support them in taking care of their large home. While the tale seems fanciful and unusual, the girl is bruised and can describe accurately the layout of the pair’s distinctive home. The women’s solicitor, Robert Blair, is unconvinced by the girl and determined to help his clients, for whom he feels deeply sympathetic. His investigations uncover unique human dramas and incorporate so many twists that the novel is almost impossible to put down.
4. Brat Farrar: Set in a stuffy country estate, Brat Farrar is both the title of the book and the name of a mysterious stranger who intrudes on the ignorant bliss of the troubled and cash-strapped Ashby family. Brat meets a stranger while drifting around in England after spending time in America. The stranger is an actor who knows the Ashby family, and wants to use Brat to impersonate the eldest son of the family, who is supposed to have committed suicide, but whose body was never found. His younger twin is now set to inherit a trust fund from his late mother when he turns 21, but Brat and his new friend plan to swindle the family out of the money with their deception. While this book is less of a mystery and more of a thriller and human drama, it is definitely worth reading for its unforgettable characterisation and intense dialogue. The book is a stand alone novel that doesn’t involve Inspector Grant, but it is very clearly the work of Josephine Tey. It’s also a great introduction to her work and a stunning read for anyone who loves unique thrillers.
3. A Shilling for Candles: The basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film Young And Innocent, A Shilling For Candles is part of the Inspector Alan Grant series. Among the first of the books to be written under the Josephine Tey pseudonym, the novel draws on the author’s experience working with theatrical actors and writing in Hollywood. It tells the tale of a film actress, who is found dead by drowning on a beach near Kent, where she was staying with a male friend. While her death is originally thought to be accidental drowning, Grant notices a button tangled in her hair, and feels that the death is suspicious. That’s compounded when the Inspector finds out that the actress recently wrote to her lawyer to add a section to her will. This new provision will allow her male friend, who has squandered his own fortune and now lives off the actress’s generosity, to get a portion of her considerable estate. Other suspects include an astrologist who accurately predicted the actresses death by drowning, the actress’s brother, a renowned con artist, and her husband, who is unwilling to share his whereabouts at the time of her death. With a range of suspects and little hard evidence to go off, Grant has to use all of his detective prowess and investigative skills to uncover the truth. In doing so, he has to work out both how and why the actress died, so he can figure out who orchestrated her death.
2. Miss Pym Disposes: With an engaging female lead and a traditional enclosed setting at a private girl’s school, this standalone novel should have been part of a series in my humble opinion. It’s a shame it’s not, but it’s still an enticing read. Psychologist and bestselling writer Lucy Pym is looking forward to giving a lecture at a Leys Physical Training College for girls where she can share her love of her chosen subject with a group of eager young students. Invited by her friend and the school’s principal to stay the night, the stay becomes a bit longer, and is then interrupted by a tragic death. It could be an accident, but it could also be something much worse, and the longer she stays, the more Miss Pym uncovers. The novel manages to toe the line between cosy crime fiction and biting thriller, making this a unique and engaging read for anyone who loves mysteries.
1. The Daughter of Time: The last book published in the author’s lifetime, this is an incredible book about Inspector Alan Grant’s investigations into King Richard The Third. With Grant confined to a hospital bed, an actress friend of his brings in some pictures of historical figures and suggests that he tries to uncover the truth behind a famous crime. When he sees the picture of the famous king, Grant believes that the world must be wrong in assuming him a cruel and callous killer who murdered the princes in the tower and many others. The book describes Grant’s work dissecting historical material and testing out his ideas on those surrounding him in the hospital. The book reminds me of the later work by Colin Dexter called The Wench Is Dead, and is a great example of the historical cold case revisited by a recuperating Inspector that has peppered both the crime book and TV market for the following decades.