Audiobooks: Revolutionary or Ruining Reading?


Recently some friends and I started to wonder if audiobooks would spell the end of real reading. Much like the Kindle before it, the audiobook has become a symbol of a new age in the reading market. Although the Kindle and eBooks have so far failed to outstrip real books in terms of sales and popularity, audiobooks are constantly growing, but will this put an end to the traditional book?

Over the years, Audiobooks have been billed as the new eBooks; a cool new means of getting existing and previously hesitant readers into the latest books and classic tomes. The idea is far from revolutionary, yet recently many new firms and platforms have sprung out of the woodwork as the literature market continues to seek new and innovative ways to entice customers to buy their products.

With the constant rise of firm such as Audible, it is no wonder that audiobooks are becoming more popular as consumers enjoy easier access to them. However, I have always wondered if they are ruining the real reading experience by providing a sort of rubbish version of actually reading a book. Is it better to read the words than it is to hear them spoken aloud?

To be honest, it is my belief that audiobooks, as they are today, have been around for donkey’s years in the form of radio shows. When I was a kid I listened to BBC Radio 4 exclusively for the dramatic readings it did of books. In the days before everyone had a computer and could Google things on demand, they were a great gateway into finding new authors I liked and reading the books for myself. That’s how I started reading Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond novels, and, they introduced me to Dorothy L Sayers fantastic Lord Peter Wimsey. These books were already in my parent’s house, but I had never even thought of looking at them until I heard them spoken aloud on the radio. The voices bought the stories to life and I couldn’t wait to have a copy in my hand to read for myself.

That, in my opinion, is the role that audiobooks play today. They allow people to get a taste of books, and then explore them for themselves. Whilst I am sure there are many who will simply skip the reading stage, there will be many more who have never previously dreamt of reading who will pick up books in earnest once they have heard them spoken.


The Beauty of The Locked Room Mystery

lock room mystery

Any UK readers will be aware that recently the comedy/ murder mystery series Death in Paradise returned to screens. The show is set on a fictional Caribbean island and depicts a range of disparate, bumbling British detectives, played by comic actors Ben Miller, then Kris Marshall followed by the current incumbent, Ardal O’Hanlon. Each week the detective is faced with an almost impossible murder, which he always solves within the final ten minutes of the show, having spent the entire rest of the hour long running time blundering about finding various silly clues.

However, the main issue here is that, despite the improbability of this happening every time, the island’s murders are all contrived so that they can only have been committed by a limited number of people. Often, there is no means by which the perpetrator could have left the room in the state it was without having been seen, which they invariably are not. This is a unique take on the classic locked room mystery, made famous during the Golden Age but used by many before and afterwards.

The return of this hit show reminded me of the on going debate about whether or not ITV should kill off Midsomer Murders, the show which seems to have been around forever, with a similar premise; the murderer must be one of a limited number of villagers connected to the victim in some, often obscure, way. Again, it is set in a small, supposedly isolated place, the fictional village of Midsomer, and the suspect list is always limited to allow for the writer to create a convoluted solution. Often, the plot runs along similar lines to that of the BBC’s Death in Paradise, with the perpetrator seemingly unable to leave either the crime scene or the village undetected.

The ultimate locked room mystery is of course Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which, as I am sure you are already aware, was recently made into a big budget Hollywood film. The end of this novel paved the way for many other plots, as it had more than one of the characters band together to create a truly improbable conclusion that kept the reader guessing right to the end.

That, in my opinion, is the entire point of the locked room mystery format. Popularised by Christie and Sayers and the like, it has been used for years across all forms of media to confuse the reader and throw them off the scent. When writing mysteries the key is to make the ending something that is bordering on the impossible, so that the reader is completely unable to guess it ahead of time but it would still, in theory, be doable. Locked room mysteries provide this as the reader knows that it can only be one of a limited number of suspects, which gives the narrative tension, whilst also they are then bamboozled by the end, which usually reveals the killer to be either the person that it had been previously proven could not possibly have committed the crime, or else a team of the suspects working together to divert suspicion and confuse the detective.

It is this combination of tense narrative and the incorporable conclusions that writers can create using the form that has led the locked room mystery to remain a success for so long, and it will undoubtedly continue on in TV shows, films and books for many years to come.

Crime Fiction I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

new year 2018

Happy New Year! It seems like only yesterday that I was writing this post for 2017, but here we are, 12 months later, looking into the latest releases for the year ahead. As ever there are loads of great things happening in the world of literature in 2018, particularly Crime Fiction which, as you probably already know, is a particular passion of mine.

Thanks to the tense political and social spaces we currently inhabit, there is a vast array of material for writers to draw from and to parallel. From the world leaders bent on inciting war no matter the consequences to the changing international marketplaces, the economic bubbles and the technological marvels that are constantly testing our moral fabric, 2018 looks set to be as fraught and challenging a year as its predecessor, and as such readers will be spoiled for choice as writers from across the various genres explore these phenomenon and the ways in which we deal with them.

Everyone from big names through to smaller writers is releasing something exciting and shiny and new for 2018, making this another great year to find some truly exhilarating novels to really sink your teeth into.

Among the big names releasing a new novel this year in the Crime Fiction market is J.K Rowling, under the, frankly pointless, pseudonym Robert Galbraith, who is reportedly releasing a new Cormoran Strike novel, which is believed to be called Lethal White. The fourth in the series, this latest novel follows on from the previous book’s excitement, so Lethal White looks set to be a thrilling treat for fans of this tough, rugged detective and his supportive sidekick.

Additionally, early in 2018 Peter May is releasing his latest novel, I’ll Keep You Safe. This globe trotting tale, set predominantly in Scotland, takes on the issues of family and how well you can truly know someone, as Niamh Macfarlane faces the challenge of exploring the betrayals of her late husband whilst proving herself innocent of his murder. As the police close in she is driven deeper into a web of lies, deceit and shocking home truths, offering a promising start to the New Year for thriller fans.

Later in the year acclaimed Scandinavian writer Jo Nesbo is also releasing a new novel, entitled Macbeth, offering an innovative take on the Shakespearean classic that will really shake things up for Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Fans of Nesbo’s fast paced narratives and snappy dialogue will be looking forward to this one, as it combines the moral questions of Shakespeare with modern topics including drugs and police hierarchies.

The usual suspects are also due to release new work, and I have high hopes for Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Hampstead Murders series to continue and offer yet another unique twist on Golden Age Crime Fiction later this year.

Overall, I’m invigorated by the range of new books and detectives being introduced in 2018, and feel that this year will offer even more exciting developments for the Crime Fiction space. Happy Reading Everyone!

The Continued Relevance of Sherlock Holmes in Modern Crime Fiction

sherlock and watson

Recently, following the release of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, (read my review of the film HERE), I’ve been on a bit of a Golden Age binge. Alongside my usual re-read of some of the best Christie novels (not Murder on the Orient Express, because it’s not a great novel with a really crappy ending), as well as some more modern novels which either mimic or eco the era.

These include Guy Fraser-Sampson’s enticing novel A Death in the Night, (my review can be found HERE) and a number of Kerry Greenwood’s brilliant Phryne Fisher mysteries (my top five can be found HERE). It was whilst reading Greenwood’s most recent Miss Fisher novel Murder and Mendelssohn that I realised the influence that Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective.

In Murder and Mendelssohn, Greenwood depicts two characters who are obviously based on Sherlock and Watson; Rupert Sheffield, an enigmatic mathematician lecturing about the science of deduction, and his travelling companion, Dr John Wilson, a former army Doctor who was invalided during the war. Sound familiar?

I thought the similarities only coincidental until I read the following passage, in which Dr Wilson tells Phyne’s family about how he came to be Sheffield’s roommate and travelling companion:

‘I was slowly dying of boredom. And grief. My friend said he knew I was looking for an apartment to share and this Rupert Sheffield, a mathematician, was looking for a roommate. They were very nice rooms, we have a housekeeper, and he warned me that he played the piano all night long, and didn’t speak for days on end, and writes equations on the wall, and I didn’t mind those things, because I was moody and still so sad, and angry, because Arthur had left me after only a few years.’ Murder and Mendelssohn page 191.

It was then that I realised just how far Holmes has infiltrated into modern Crime Fiction. Later in the novel, Greenwood depicts a sex scene between Wilson and Sheffield that must have been incredibly fun to write, and is so utterly bizarre that I can’t decide if it’s genius or a contender for the Bad Sex Awards.

In the micro-essay at the back of the novel, Sherlock Holmes and me (a love/hate relationship), Greenwood discusses the fact that she believes that the deductive powers Holmes posses are akin to women’s intuition, and that the idea of Holmes and Watson’s homosexual relationship stemmed from her reading of other books which touched on the subject, as well as some of the inferences made in the stories, such as in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, in which Watson gets shot during the investigation and Holmes becomes distraught at the prospect of harm coming to his dear friend.

Kerry Greenwood is not alone in her desire to bring Holmes and Watson into modern literature and cinema. Not only are many authors and filmmakers still reinventing the character today, but also he is often integrated, in some way, into detective novels. The character remains a key influence in detective fiction, despite the fact that he was created in the Victorian era, and therefore could be considered out of date.

The character of Sherlock Holmes is based on C. Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s detective who appears in three short stories. Despite this, Dupin is not the popular figure in pop-culture that Conan Doyle’s character has become.

This got me thinking about why Holmes and Watson remain such popular influences whilst Dupin is often forgotten. Granted, Dupin is the inspiration for Holmes, but Poe’s stories are not referenced so obviously in modern fiction as Doyle’s are. Partially, this could be put down to the number of Sherlock Holmes stories Doyle wrote, which far outstrips Poe’s three Dupin novellas, but there is also more to it than that.

Fundamentally, it is my belief that Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson embody key characteristics that everyone sees in themselves, and have, thanks to these characteristics, achieved the excitement and adventure that many readers crave. After all, Holmes is a bizarre, often unconventional detective, whilst his companion is a reliable Dr who is as baffled by his friend’s brilliance as Doyle’s readers.

Also, the pair make for the perfect template on which many writers can base their detectives. Duos often consist of one bumbling action man and one awkward eccentric; think of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings, Bulldog Drummond and James Denny, and, in television, the likes of Jonathan Creek and his various female companions. This is because each member of the pair offers skills that the other lacks, with the more reliable companion usually relaying the narrative and translating the detective’s actions for both the reader through the guise of doing so for other characters.

Ultimately, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson remain entrenched as cult figures in the Crime Fiction space, and as the media continues to remember and reinvent them they will continue to grow and evolve as characters. Although I always lament the loss of fresh ideas to reinvention (Hollywood and the constant remakes), it is always interesting to see new interpretations of classic characters.

Santa’s Little Secret: How to Make Sure Every Book Lover Gets the Gift They Adore This Year

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is always a bit of a minefield- there’s always one person who’s impossible to buy for, and there’s the risk that you’ll just get some piece of tat that you don’t want. This is particularly true of those secret santas that have small budgets, as unless the person really knows you well then you tend to just get edibles or pens.

As such, when I was running the University of Chester’s Literature Society, I invented a really cool way to make sure that everyone gets something they want. I thought I’d share it with you so if you’re all out of inspiration then you can set this up and have a bit of fun!

The idea is that everyone writes their name, alongside the titles of three books that they’d like to receive on a slip of paper. The books should’t be anything new off the bestseller list: usually people pick classics that they’ve never had the chance to read but have always wanted to.

Then the papers all go into a container, all scrunched up, and everyone picks another person’s paper. They then pick one book from the list and buy it for the other person, so the gift is both a surprise and a joy. If the limit is higher then you can get a pretty edition bound in fancy fabric or with cool illustrations, if not then you can grab a second hand copy from a bookshop or Amazon. Either way, everyone’s a winner.

Happy Reading this Christmas!

Book Adaptations: Should you Read First and Watch Later?

the men who stare at goats

Recently some friends and I got into a discussion about The Men Who Stare at Goats, a truly hideous film based on an equally hideous book. The book is a depiction of some of the U.S Army’s exploration of the military benefits of holistic techniques, such as the idea that staring at goats could kill them. The film, of the same name, is a fictionalised portrayal of the goat staring project and the sheer absurdity of it.

Much like A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine or Purple Hibiscus, readers expect there to be more to the title of books than first meets the eye; however, with The Men Who Stare at Goats, there is simply a lot of staring at goats, interceded with weird anecdotes about other, equally strange projects that America’s military and secret services have untaken over the years.

When I informed my friends that I have in fact read the book prior to watching the film, they were aghast. Surely, if I knew how dull the subject matter and how dire the execution was already, I was incredibly stupid to waste my time watching the film?

This got me thinking about whether it was better to read the book or watch the film first. As my recent review will testify, I was hugely looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s recent film adaptation of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, despite having read the book, therefore already knowing whodunit, which is effectively the point of a crime story.

Despite this, I felt that this does not dampen my enjoyment of the film. Knowing the plot did not change the experience, perhaps because they are different mediums. After all, apart from watching the David Suchet version, I had only ever encountered the story in book form, and even different film adaptations use different cinematic techniques to bring a story to life.

That being said, I do find it difficult to read a book after I have seen it adapted for either film or TV. I find that my imagination automatically strays towards the film’s version of the setting and characters, and I often struggle to accept even minor alterations in plot or characterisation.

As such, personally I believe that books should always be read first, to allow the reader to adjust to the style and characters before they are exposed to the filmmaker’s view of the story. Film and TV are both very visual, whereas with books one tends to visualise depending on how their imagination decodes the words on the pages. I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this, and whether you think you should read first, or if you feel that it doesn’t make much of a difference.