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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Christmas Christie: Controversy Is A New Tradition

BBC Agatha Christie Adaptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give The Gift of Reading This Christmas

 

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As part of my first, possibly annual Christmas Gift Guide, featuring a range of quirky, unique gifts for book lovers, I showcased the stunning books on offer from the Folio Society. I also wrote an article on why beautiful books are the best gift this Christmas, which was published by LUXlife Magazine.

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These stunning photographs of one of the society’s offerings, the Maigret Collection, were taken by my friend Patrick Doherty, and give you an insight into how beautiful these books are and how spectacular it would be to receive them this Christmas, or to watch a loved-one open them and see the delight on their face! So if you’re looking for a unique gift that will be truly be treasured, look no further!

10-33 Assist PC Review: A Thrilling Realistic Police Procedural

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Written by a real police detective, Desmond P. Ryan, who I previously interviewed, 10-33 Assist PC offers a unique realism, allowing readers the chance to bond with a tough, determined detective and his team as they race against time to stop a human trafficking ring.

The first in the Mike O’Shea detective series, 10-33 Assist PC draws on Ryan’s experience as a detective to show Mike works to crack a prostitution ring. He is on the verge of getting them when an undercover from another unit burns him. With only days left before their pimps shuttle the girls out of the country, Mike pushes his team into overdrive.

Then disaster strikes, and Mike has a personal fight on his hands. He and his team work tirelessly as they race against time to catch the criminals before they leave the country and the team’s efforts are completely scuppered.

Readers will be able to clearly see that the book is written by someone with experience in the police; from the dialogue down to the description of the police station, there is attention to detail that cannot be fudged here. However, unlike some more realistic novels, Ryan has skillfully avoided overburdening the reader with too much detail and tedium. We are all aware of the bureaucracy and general bullshit that goes on in any office environment- we don’t need to read about it, and Ryan avoids this well, ensuring that readers remain gripped and the action is perfectly tempered with just the right amount of detail and realism.

Incorporating undercover officers, the grizzly realities of shift work and the drudgery that comes before the real chase, the novel gives an honest account of the day-to-day work of police officers. The second book in the series is out shortly, and if you haven’t already, I’d strongly urge you to check it and its predecessor out- they’re definitely worth a read!

 

Alison O’Leary Interview: “I always knew that I wanted to write”

 

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Another awesome interview for you today as I chat to Alison O’Leary about her novel Street Cat Blues.

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

Like most writers, my writing style has evolved over time so that some of my early efforts are completely unlike anything that I might produce now – thank goodness! Looking back at things that I wrote a number of years ago, they seem quite cringe making, but I think that’s all part of the learning process.

I discovered crime fiction via Agatha Christie when I was about twelve and was totally drawn in to the world that she created. I had nothing in common with it (and let’s be honest, who did?) but I found it totally fascinating. I guess it was a form of escapism but none the worse for that. From Agatha I progressed to writers such as P D James and Ruth Rendell and have enjoyed crime fiction ever since.

As well as being very fond of crime fiction, I am also interested in true crime. Of all the crimes, murder is the big one and I was always interested in how very ordinary some murderers are and sometimes how trivial their motive.

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

I always knew that I wanted to write but, of course, like everybody else, I had to earn a living. I taught law for a number of years but in the background I was always scribbling away. I had more than my share of rejections and learned, like many writers, to live with it. As time went on I began to attract some interest from agents and publishers, which at least told me that I wasn’t completely wasting my time.

It finally dawned on me that the key to success is persistence. I think that some potentially very good writers give up too early. Of course, there are always the stories of the lucky few who land a massive publishing deal plus film rights first time round but that kind of scenario is rare. For most of us it’s a question of keeping on keeping on. And, of course, in the digital age there are increasing opportunities to see your work in print. Apart from the possibility of self-publishing (which has been made much easier now) there are also quite a few smaller independent presses who may be willing to take a chance on a new author because they publish eBooks.

I’m a law graduate and studied Criminology as part of my degree. I also later taught it so I guess I kind of knew that crime was always going to be my genre.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Without wishing to sound too pretentious, inspiration can come from anywhere – it could be a news story or an overheard conversation. Sometimes it comes from real cases. I always keep a notebook or scrap of paper handy because sometimes a plot development or an idea for a character can suddenly come to me at odd moments; on a train for instance or even sometimes in a meeting when I’m supposed to be concentrating on something else! However, I suspect that, in common with many writers, if I waited until I was in the mood for writing I doubt I’d get much done! The thing about writing is that you just have to do it, whether you feel like it or not. But the joy of it is, once you’ve made yourself sit down at your desk and stop surfing the internet or sending text messages, the thing takes over and you find yourself immersed in the story again.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I like murder mysteries and also psychological thrillers but I’m not keen on too much blood and gore. I’m also probably not a great fan of police procedurals, but having said that, if they’re done well then they can be a great read. These days I think a lot of books cross genres so a romance might also have a crime within it. I’m also a bit of a fan of non-fiction, particularly biographies and autobiographies. I guess when all’s said and done; a good book is a good book, irrespective of genre.

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

Although he’s not a crime writer, one of my favourite all-time authors is P G Wodehouse but I’m not sure we’d get much work done. I think we’d be wasting too much time laughing. He wrote such perfect prose that always seemed to exactly capture the mood. One of my favourites is when he describes his aunt Agatha as having the demeanour of one who, picking daises on the railway, has just caught the down express in the small of the back.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Street Cat Blues and I’m pleased at the way some of the old characters are interacting with the new ones. It’s in the early stages so I’m not sure yet where it’s going to take me – the ideas are coming thick and fast.

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

I do read things other than crime and have recently discovered Lisa Jewell. I really admire her ability to tie the characters in so well with the plot. I also enjoy Erin Kelly and Claire Mackintosh.

Many thanks for answering my questions- I always love hearing from an Agatha Christie Fan!

 

A Checkered Past Review: Less Twee Than You’d Expect

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Styled to mirror the writing of classic Golden Age authors, I was intrigued to check out A Checkered Past. Book four of the Emmeline Kirby, which I recently discovered after encountering the author on Facebook, is a scintillating tale of theft, murder and general mayhem.

Protagonist Emmeline Kirby is back in London determined to make a success of her new job as editorial director of investigative features at The Clarion. Three months have passed since the events of the previous book, in which she took a trip to Torquay, which led to devastating revelations that surfaced about her fiancé Gregory Longdon. A dashing jewel thief, he is determined win back her affections with the help of Emmeline’s best friend and Grandmother.

Meanwhile, as Gregory battles to prove his worth, Emmeline stubbornly pursues a story about looted Nazi art and an IRA collaborator. When a stolen Constable painting belonging to her best friend Maggie’s family turns up in the collection of Max Sanborn, the chairman of the company that owns The Clarion, her personal crusade brings danger close to home.

Battling these conflicts, Emmeline colludes with Gregory to uncover the truth from a knotted tangle of lies, deceits and shadowy dealings. With strong characterization of all of the central characters, and a number of the minor ones, writer Daniella Bernett has enhanced a series which, although I’ve not encountered it myself before, has the potential to gain a strong following in the future.

There’s a particularly good balance in the novel between Emmeline’s personal life and her investigation of the case. The two are entwined from the beginning, and yet the author does not allow this to overwhelm or become too soap opera-y, which is always a good sign. I’m not a fan of crime fiction that ventures too far into the detective’s personal life without a reasonable motive, and whilst there was the potential here for Bernett to go too far and make this more of a romance, she manages to just keep it the right side of syrupy.

My only issue with the book is some of the writing style. For example, the opening does not draw the reader in the way it should, with  many of the sentences starting with the same words, and paragraphs, which are traditionally used to break up passages, used haphazardly- a phenomenon which continues throughout the book. As a result, the novel does not flow as well as it should, and it does take a while to really get engaged with the story, but despite this there’s a lot to like in this Golden Age style novel.

In all, I’d say this is a pretty good novel that has not been stunningly crafted, but has the potential to go far. Whilst I personally won’t be going out of my way to read the rest of the series, there is something intriguing about Bernett’s protagonist that keeps bringing me back to thinking of other strong, female detectives modeled on the Golden Age style. And that can only be a good thing.