The Top Five Best Historical Crime Fiction Novels to Get You Reminiscing

The Yard

History has never been my strong point; regardless, I have always enjoyed reading about the past, especially in fiction, where the narrative is able to place a strong perspective on the way that characters react to their surroundings, rather than those surroundings themselves. As such, I have decided to choose my top five favourite Crime Fiction novels set in the past.

In this list ‘Historical Crime Fiction’ is defined as a novel written recently but set in the past. I love a bit of Golden Age Crime Fiction, but I’m not filling this list with Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. The beauty of historical novels is the research that and skill that the writer employs to ensure that their book is accurate and engaging. There are some old favourites of this blog here, as well as some novels that I haven’t had time to mention yet, but that definitely deserve a place on any reading list.

5. The Yard: Alex Grecian’s historical thriller is set in Victorian London, charting the murder of a police detective not long after Scotland Yard’s failure to apprehend the infamous Jack the Ripper. Introducing the yard’s first forensic pathologist, the team, known as ‘The Murder Squad’ sets out to unravel this fiendish crime and, in the process, exposes the seedier side of their city.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House: Based on a real life case, Kate Summerscale’s book is a combination of fact and fiction, seamlessly blending the real life facts of the case with a fictionalised narrative of how Whicher may have felt and behaved. The murder of a three year old boy at his father’s country estate was a scandal at the time, and the eventual culprit proves to be embroiled in a web of malice and angst, all of which is depicted beautifully by Summerscale in her enlightening, empathetic book.

3. The Silent Death: As my previous review testifies, I am a recent convert to Volker Kutscher and his tough, rebellious detective Gereon Rath, whose dubious connections and even worse love life lead him into conflict with his superiors as he battles against a fiendish killer. The beautifully depicted setting of 1930s Berlin provides the ideal landscape for a furious race against time as Rath and he teamwork to catch a murderer with a fixation for actresses. As he begins the grizzly task of removing the vocal cords of screen icons in order to keep the industry away from the advent of talkies, the reader is led on a fascinating journey through this atmospheric, historical city to a dramatic conclusion.

2. Dead Man’s Chest: I am, as my previous post attests, an ardent fan of Kerry Greenwood’s mesmerising and unconventional female detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher. Set in the 1920s, Greenwood’s novels highlight the less published, seedier side of life, and whilst all of her books are excellent, Dead Man’s Chest offers a truly fascinating insight into the society of the time. The novel contains a number of subplots which provide a glimpse of various facets of life in the 20s, including parenting, servitude, and the upper classes.

front cover Merlin at War1. Merlin at War: As part of author Mark Ellis’s book tour, I recently reviewed this exceptional novel, and promptly went out and ordered the first two novels in the Frank Merlin series, Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold. All three are equally well plotted, fast paced and exhilarating, however it is Merlin at War that is a true masterpiece. Skilfully executed, the novel is evocative and, whilst I am no historian, it is my understanding that it is accurate to its Second World War setting. Whether this is correct or not, Merlin at War remains an exceptional piece of fiction with strong characters, an intriguing plot and an finale that will blow your socks off.

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Aydin Guner Interview: “I want the reader to connect with the characters on a deep level”

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Author of The Devil in I, Aydin Guner, talks me through his background and how he came to create such an innovative and unique novel.

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

I’d define my style as fast paced. A lot of people who have read The Devil In I have said they couldn’t put it down once they started reading. That was a planned intention. I’d say character development is a key trait too; I want the reader to connect with the characters on a deep level. After reading the book, a lot of people asked me if the characters were based on real people, have told me they know people just like Latasha, and have even accused me of being the Devil! It’s all good though, connecting with the characters is a key part of the reading experience.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I’ve spent time in the banking sector in my professional career and have been writing since I was young. I used to write stories and do movie reviews. I had a very active imagination. I started writing my first book about 6 years ago, and it took 4 years to write. I was just so overwhelmed with the reception; it broke into the Amazon to 100 several times in the first few months. And yeah, I guess my life changed off the back of that.

Please tell me about The Devil in I. What do you think makes this book a gripping read?

I think what makes The Devil In I so gripping is it is written in the first person and the lead character is the Devil! I’m not sure if a book like that exists, it might do, but I haven’t seen it. You really get into the world of the Devil, how his mind works and how he perceives the world. He lives as a mid 20s Wall Street guy in New York and though he is the devil, he does have a vulnerable side.

He does some despicable things, but you read how he is suffering, almost bored of who he is. I think people will like this book because it’s fast paced, exciting, X-rated in places and, very unexpected! There’s twists and turns in this. As deceptive as the Devil is, this book will take you on that journey.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

That’s a great question! I like to add as much description as possible and one thing I often focus on is the scent and smells of the people and the environment. For example, if the lead character meets a woman and is attracted to her, how does she smell? What is her perfume? Does she have a lot on? How does it make me feel? All of these questions I believe help absorb the reader into the story. Same with being in New York, what can you see, hear and smell on the subway? Crowds, beeping horns, splashing rain from the tyres, talking, sweat, aftershave, stomping feet: I like to really get involved with the senses.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’ve always liked reading autobiographies. I like hearing things from the horse’s mouth. I like feeling like I’m in someone’s head and I try to understand their psyche.

One of my favourite books is American Psycho and that was written in the first person. As is my book The Devil In I. My second book, which will be out next year, will also be in the first person, so, I guess this is a style preference of mine.

The Devil In I

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

Stephen King or Brett Easton Ellis. Either of those two would be a dream come true.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Yeah absolutely, along with fiction I like writing psychology books. I have an ebook called Behind The Mask: An Introduction into Covert Narcissism. My new psychology book is out on November 28th and is called 10 Steps To Heal From Narcissistic Abuse. Narcissistic Abuse is a relatively unknown form of abuse but its essentially emotional abuse. Narcissists, or people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are bullies who attack you while hiding behind others; it’s a passive form of bullying that can literally ruin lives. It’s a fascinating subject and I’m confident a lot of people can identify with the topic. The book is perfect for beginners to the topic, or for those who are familiar with what narcissistic abuse is. You can pre-order the book on Amazon now at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B075NSV4W7/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_w2t1zbN6VNFXG

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

I’ll be honest; I haven’t been too connected with the latest scene. I’ve been so busy writing my own books, and have recently completed a screenplay for The Devil In I, I haven’t had time to see who’s out there. There are a lot of great writers out there though, doing great things.

Anything you’d like to add?

I just want to say thank you for all of the support and if you want to connect with me please message me on twitter at www.twitter.com/aydingguner66 . I’m always on there and read the messages. You can also link in with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aydinguner66. Hope to hear from you. Thanks again for the support!

Many thanks to Aydin- it’s been a pleasure having you on The Dorset Book Detective.

Veteran Avenue Review: A Real Old-School Thriller in a Modern Setting

veteran avenue

Mark Pepper’s action packed thriller invokes an almost Raymond Chandler-esq, telling the tale of a former solider whose past clashes violently with his present as he travels to America for the funeral of a fellow veteran. Years earlier, as a child, he is befriended by a stranger in the Oregon wilderness and stolen away from his parents. After a bizarre hour spent in a log cabin, he is sent back with a picture of a young girl. It is this chilling event that returns to haunt this haunted veteran as he tries to untangle an incredibly complex web of malice, deceit and violence.

Protagonist John Frears is a drifter with a tough exterior and an interesting host of friends and acquaintances. The novel’s whole cast of characters are interesting and varied, with strong dialogue that makes this a really easy book to devour. The story is punchy and fast paced. Author Mark Pepper is also an actor alongside being a writer, and this shows in the novel; the plot is driven by dialogue, eliminating the issue of info dumping, which can often ruin thrillers.

The one thing that grates on me is the names; whilst the dialogue helps enhance the American setting and gives the novel an almost wild-western feel, the strange names, such as Roth, Dodge and Hawg, are too over the top, and give this otherwise fascinating and well crafted novel a comical, almost slapstick feel which does not suit it.

With its quick witted dialogue, engaging characters and well-driven narrative, Veteran Avenue is a great thriller that readers will struggle to put down. I found myself on the verge of reading it again once I’d finished, as I was so entranced by Pepper’s portrayal of John’s adventures.

James McCrone Interview: “I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy”

James McCrone

Political thriller author James McCrone discusses his work and where he finds his inspiration.

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

I’m drawn to taught stories, strong characters and good writing. These are what (good) mystery-thrillers deliver. The writers I admire—Le Carre, Follett, Greene, to name a few— propel their stories relentlessly, economically. At the same time, though, they’re not afraid to pause over a question or to notice beauty. Le Carre and Greene in particular are masters of putting to work every little thing they pack into their narratives. I hope my work is as full.

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

I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy. I’ve written stories, and some of them have been published. I studied for an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, but most of my work was unpaid.

It wasn’t until 2015, when we moved abroad for a year in Oxford, that I finally made a good fist of it. My wife had a fellowship appointment at the university, and I didn’t have a work permit for the UK. I threw myself into writing, finishing and publishing Faithless Elector in March of 2016 and beginning Dark Network that same month. Since returning to the United States last year, I’ve continued writing full time.

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

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I’m most interested in stories where the official version of events seems thin, naïve, or deliberately misleading. I want to know the rest of the story, the other side. For instance, when I first learned about how the Electoral College works and that electors weren’t bound to vote as promised, I thought it was mad. It seemed ripe for mischief. The idea and the outline for Faithless Elector came quickly. The writing of it came much slower.

As to writer’s block, I’ve been fortunate. When I find myself blocked in one area, I move to another. If a scene isn’t working, I work on a different scene, or I make notes about a different story entirely.

All kinds of incidents creep into my work, sometimes unconsciously. For instance, when I was writing about Imogen’s isolation at the FBI in Dark Network, and likened it to “traveling through a country where she didn’t speak the language,” I had just returned from a pretty frustrating grocery shopping trip in Konstanz, Germany, where I didn’t speak the language. I was struck by how little interaction I had with anyone else, how isolated I felt. I had typed the sentence before I’d even thought about it.

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

I’d love to work with Oscar Wilde, though I don’t think it would be much of a collaboration, really—more just me transcribing whatever witticisms he was saying at the time. Still, it would be great fun. Moss Hart, one half of the Kauffman & Hart screwball comedy team, would also be fantastic, and I think I’d learn a lot.

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

I’m working on Consent of the Governed, which will complete this series (due out fall of ’18); and I have some sketches for a fourth Imogen Trager novel. Before starting that fourth novel, though, I want to focus on my play, Culinati, a comedy set in a busy New York restaurant kitchen. It asks the question, “what would you serve if your life depended on it?”

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

I got the new Le Carre, Legacy of Spies. I’m very excited to make a start there. I also want to check out Attica Locke’s work. She’s the author of Pleasantville and Bluebird, Bluebird. My wife raves about her writing so much I’m getting kind of jealous!

Thank you James, it’s been great hearing your thoughts. You can learn more about James and his work HERE.

The On-going Relevance of Stephen King’s Books

stephen king

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

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

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

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

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

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

stephen king book

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

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

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

Saigon Dark Review: A Fascinating Emotional Rollercoaster

saigon dark

Following my interview with Elka Ray, I checked out her innovative novel Saigon Dark, a thrilling tale focusing on morality and how seemingly small decisions can come back to haunt you.

The novel follows a desperate mother, disillusioned with her life, who finds herself in an impossible situation. In a bid to escape it she makes a decision that will change not only her own life, but also that of those around her. Spanning over a decade, the novel shows the fallout from this one wrong turn and how it impacts on the protagonist, Lily’s, life, as well as that of those she loves.

Elka, who has travelled extensively, draws on her strong knowledge of Asian culture and geography to provide a novel that, although exceptionally emotive and thought provoking, is also richly depicted, and filled with luscious descriptions of the Vietnamese way of life which her character now lives. Every description is well crafted and designed to stick with you- I can still picture the ‘four dark marks, like fingerprints dipped in ink’ that adorn the wrist of a local beggar.

Characters are often described, not in definite terms, but through a discussion of how they make the protagonist, Lily, feel or the memories they evoke in her. Through the first person narration we see a world filtered by Lily’s morals, memories and beliefs, creating an unreliable but fascinating narrative.

Fundamentally a strong thriller, Saigon Dark is a complex novel that does not fully belong to any genre. This is a tale of bitterness and betrayal, love, loss, and a desperate struggle to hide the truth.

The Lighterman Review: An Intense Thriller That Will Keep You Hooked

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The third in the Charles Holborne series, Simon Michael’s gripping novel evoking the dark and twisted setting of 60s London. There is a hint of John le Carré in this tough legal thriller that packs a punch as the reader is swept along towards a fascinating conclusion.

Following on from the first two novels featuring Criminal Barrister Charles Holborne, The Brief and An Honest Man, The Lighterman begins with a jaw-dropping action scene. The spellbound reader is drawn into a bombing that evokes the horror of the Second World War with a flashback to 1940s London, which is in the grip of terror as Germany bombs the city and its residents flee.

It is in this intense start that sets the pace for this intense and well-crafted book, as we follow Charles in his quest to protect his family and his reputation. His past returning to haunt him, and Charles is forced to face up to the consequences of his previous actions.

One of the best things about this novel is the names, some of which could have come straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. From Ninu Azzopardi to Billy Hill, the characters’ names are so incredibly unbelievable that they become realistic, and add another dimension to the complex and intriguing people who populate this rich story.

With a great combination of history, adventure and crime, The Lighterman is makes for a unique read that stays with you. Every now and then I see something or hear a phrase that reminds me of part a of Simon Michael’s exhilarating book. Despite flicking between the 40s and 60s, there is something deeply relatable about the novel that makes impossible to put down and leave readers riveted. This was another book that I have been meaning to review for a while, but once I started it reading it I found it impossible to put down and devoured it in less than a day. I would urge anyone who enjoys challenging, dark thrillers to check this out- you will not be disappointed.