Despite what you might think, summer is a great time for reading. While you’re relaxing on the beach or making your way to a fun outing in the sun, you’ll need something fun to keep you occupied.
That’s why reading is a great pastime- in the summer, it’s easy to do and doesn’t require you to get sweaty or wear any fancy protective gear. It’s also a cheap and accessible way to spend your time. Whether the weather outside is frightful even in the summer (I live in the UK, so it usually is), or it’s finally giving us a blast of sunlight, you can enjoy a good book.
Buying books for winter is a lot easier than for summer. When reading in the winter, you’re looking for something unique and gripping that will give you thrills. In the summer, however, you’re looking for something comforting and interesting, that will mean that you don’t have to think too much, especially when it’s hot and you don’t want to have to strain your brain.
If you’re looking for books to read in summer, then I’ve found the perfect solution: Golden Age crime fiction is the way to go. It’s the perfect blend of cosy fiction and instantly familiar stories.
That’s because, as the sun finally starts to come out in the UK (it’s only June after all), I’ve found myself delving back into the arms of my old Golden Age crime favourites. I’ve enjoyed a lot of these books and stories in the past, and now I’m happy to be re-reading them now that the sun’s out.
For me, Golden Age crime fiction is the ultimate in summer reading. When you’re looking for comfort and something to cheer you up, a rip-roaring thriller is the ideal way to bring yourself out of your shell. As long as it’s not too gory, a police procedural or a modern thriller usually fits the bill for cheering me up.
When it comes to sunshine, I need something fun and calm, and I want something that’s set during a sunny period. Many Golden Age crime fiction writers wrote books and short stories set in sunny climates, so I can usually find something sunny and bright.
That’s particularly important when you live somewhere like England: where we get like four hours of sunshine every year, usually in bloody May. Right now, we’ve been very fortunate to have some nice weather, and I want to make the most of it by reading books that transport me to a sunny place, even in the evenings when it goes dark.
Still, I don’t want to read those awful romance books that some of my friends take on holiday with them. I want something that still interests me and is gripping, rather than just some soppy book that’s simply set in sunny climes.
That’s why I love reading Golden Age crime fiction during the summer, particularly when we get rare bouts of sunny weather in the UK, or if I travel to another country with decent weather. Books by classic authors from the period, including my old favourites Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers are great for taking on holiday, or a staycation, or to simply enjoy at home.
There are also Golden Age style novels, written today, that can give you the feel of traditional, quaint cosy crime fiction. One of my favourite modern series that feels like traditional Golden Age crime fiction is the Phryne Fisher novels by the amazing Kerry Greenwood. These amazing books are set in the 1920s, and feature an incredible female protagonist who’s unconventional detective style allows her to uncover the truth about a range of sordid crimes and murders.
If you want to check out something that feels familiar, then you could consider some reimagined version of your favourite Golden Age crime fiction serials. There’s plenty of incredible reimagined crime series out there, including Sophie Hannah’s amazingly authentic Poirot stories and Jill Paton Walsh’s version of the Lord Peter Wimsey books. Whatever you like, you’ll be able to find something that you love that extends your enjoyment of your favourite Golden Age book series this summer.
So, if you’re searching for a new book or a series of novels that will help you to enjoy the summer sunshine, then I think you should check out Golden Age crime fiction. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or you’ve never even read an Agatha Christie novel (how I don’t know, but I’m sure there must be at least one of you out there somewhere), you should try reading Golden Age crime fiction this summer.
I’ve been privalleged to speak to Steven Powell, an acedemic and author of several studies on crime fiction, including 100 American Crime Writers and several books about James Ellroy. He discusses his passion for all things crime fiction and how he came to study the topic for a living.
Talk to me about your scholarly work. What drew you towards studying crime fiction?
I have always loved the written word, and I was studying a Victorian Literature MA at Liverpool University when I realised, as fascinating as that period is, it was not something I wanted to pursue in further research. The course was heavily slanted towards poetry and the realist novel and ignored say, Penny Dreadfuls, and other elements of Victorianism which we now recognise as the harbingers of detective fiction.
With the encouragement of my future wife Diana, I decided to do a PhD on the author I have always been the most fascinated, even obsessed with – James Ellroy
What drew you towards James Ellroy? Why are you so passionate about his work?
I remember spotting a copy of Ellroy’s American Tabloid in a bookshop in my early teens and just getting hooked immediately. His portrayal of history is so urgent, visceral and immediate. When you read him, it feels like you’re there: whether he is portraying 1950s Los Angeles or the Mob hatching deals to build casinos in the Caribbean in the 1960s. He has experimented with various prose styles and persona and found a formula which, as he might put it, ‘will leave you reamed, steamed and dry-cleaned, tied, dyed, swept-to-the-side, screwed, blued, tattooed. These are books for the whole fuckin family if the name of your family is the Manson family’
What’s your approach to researching your books?
Over the past twenty years or so, there has been an expansion of scholarly interest in crime fiction, when previously genre works could be dismissed as not worthy of critical attention. It’s exciting, but it also leaves significant room for development in how we can conduct research into the genre. I read a heck of a lot: novels, critical material, contemporaneous material. Personally, I love interviewing authors, editors, agents, anyone involved in the publishing biz. For Ellroy, I have visited his archive at the University of South Carolina and know him well personally. He has been very generous and cooperative with my research. I’ve written and/or edited three books on James Ellroy so far.
When you wrote 100 American Crime Writers, who were your favourite authors in the collection?
One of the most difficult challenges of editing that book was to narrow the list of writers down to one hundred names and still do justice to the long history of the genre and experiments in sub-genre. Of the ‘newer’ writers I’m a big fan of Megan Abbott and James Sallis. My personal favourites would be the great Charles Williams and David Goodis.
Did you learn anything interesting that you’d like to share while researching that book?
Crime writers have suffered for their art and many of them paid a heavy price to pursue the craft they love. It’s no secret that getting published is difficult today and even harder to make a full-time living out of, but it was no easier back in the days of Black Mask magazine and Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks. I really grew to appreciate the sacrifices writers make, and the sacrifices made by the people who love them. I loved putting that book together and still receive great feedback about it. Recently, a companion volume titled 100 British Crime Writers, was published, edited by Esme Miskimmin. I contributed a few chapters to that edition.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I do, but I’m currently sworn to secrecy about it. I would expect my next book to be published in late 2022, and when it is, you will be the first to know Hannah!
What’s your personal opinion on the future of the crime fiction market?
Whichever way you look at it, the future is bright. Crime fiction is so naturally popular, whether it be dark Scandi tales or vintage British Golden Age Detective Fiction, and it lends itself so well to film, television, theatre and music. COVID has presented its challenges but lockdown has, I feel, proved the wellbeing benefits that come from reading, and someone out there must be writing a great (lockdown) room mystery. I would encourage all readers to return to their local bookshops, be it Waterstones or independent businesses. They deserve our support, especially as we ease our way out of lockdown.
Anything you’d like to add?
Only to thank you Hannah for inviting me on and for everything you do for the written word. Worship the book and spread the word!
Huge thanks to you Steven it’s been great to learn more about you and your work.If any of my fabulous readers are interested in finding out more about his work, you can check out his website HERE.
When you think of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, you probably remember her most notable detective, the Belgium private sleuth Hercule Poirot.
If you’re a bit more of a fan of the undisputed Golden Age crime fiction genius, then you might also love her homely, elderly amateur detective and general busybody, Miss Marple.
While this pair characters are, indisputably, amazing, there’s a lot more to the Queen of Crime than just these two. Christie was a prolific author, who wrote 66 full-length novels, as well as hundreds of short stories that were published in over a dozen collections and many newspapers and periodicals over the years.
Her work defined the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, and became a source of inspiration for writers and artists from around the world. Her work is popular everywhere, and it’s even been turned into animated series in Asia and major blockbusters in Hollywood.
While Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple novels are renowned around the world, and even the sight of a set of dark moustaches invokes an image of her famed detective, the Queen Of Crime also created many other memorable and intriguing characters.
Many of these characters aren’t given the attention and renown that they deserve. During the pandemic, I’ve been turning to Golden Age Crime Fiction and old favourite authors like Christie to bring me comfort, and I’ve found myself revisiting some of her amazing, yet underrated, characters.
That’s why I’ve put together this brief list of some of my favourite and, in my opinion, under appreciated, Christie characters. It’s not a definitive list, and I’m sure other fans of the author might not agree with all of my choices, but hopefully this list will inspire you to check out some Christie characters that you’ve not investigated before.
Parker Pyne: Parker Pyne is a sort of consultant life coach, who aids private individuals in everything from relationship issues through to suspicious deaths and almost everything in between. He advertises in the newspapers with short, cryptic ads that entice many individuals from all walks of life to reach out to him and embroil him in their mysteries and lives. The character appears in a selection of short stories that are really interesting. He also appears in a short story entitled Death On The Nile, which later became the name of one of Christie’s most famous Poirot novels. The story is an early incantation of the novel, but it’s very different in plot, with only a few small similarities. This progression shows how Christie used short stories as a creative springboard.
Ariadne Oliver: Appearing in several Poirot novels and a couple of standalone short stories, Mrs Ariadne Oliver was Christie’s literary self-portrait. The character is an eccentric author who created a Finnish detective, who she’s sick of- similar to Christie herself, who told many of her friends and fans that she was tired of writing about Hercule Poirot. Ariadne Oliver also adores apples, and is generally just a funny and witty character who’s great fun for readers, as well as being a useful foil for the detective. I love her TV portrayal in the ITV Poirot series and the character is definitely undervalued in the books. She’s wacky and funny, while also being intelligent and she has the ability to command the attention she deserves, rather than getting dismissed as so many similar characters are in books. She’s funny but also droll and makes acute observations about the human condition, which is again a refreshing change.
Luke Fitzwilliam: This ex-policeman character returns from India in the novel Murder Is Easy and meets an elderly lady on a train. She states that she’s going to report a serial killer to the police. Before she gets to Scotland Yard, she dies in mysterious circumstances. Unable to let the matter lie, Luke Fitzwilliam decides to investigate. The character isn’t a reoccurring one, but he does stick with me because he’s deeply compassionate and has an intuitive understanding of human nature. He’s also wrong many times, and is open and honest about his lack of knowledge, which is refreshing as many of Christie’s protagonists are very arrogant and proud of their abilities.
Superintendent Battle: While Inspector Japp, the character inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade is perhaps the best known of Christie’s policemen characters; Superintendent Battle is arguably the most interesting. Battle appears in five of Christie’s full-length novels, including standalone tales and Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. He also appears in several short stories. The character is related to several others who turn out to be instrumental in other Christie mysteries. He’s also a lot more in-depth and insightful than some other police characters, who simply act as an official counterpart to private detectives. Battle is intelligent in his own right, and brings a lot of information and useful ideas to the investigation, even if, ultimately, the protagonist detective is the one who eventually gets the glory of actually solving the case in the end.
Miss Lemon: Hercule Poirot’s secretary who also appears in a selection of other short stories, including a couple of Parker Pyne tales is also a funny character in her own right. Christie’s description of the character, who is portrayed as having no imagination and being dedicated exclusively to the creation of the perfect filing system, is droll and witty. It’s also an interesting commentary on the way that many detective novels at the time portrayed working women as sexless, dull people who have no lives outside of their work. Miss Lemon has a sister, and the novel Hickory Dickory Dock contains funny passages about how Poriot doesn’t realise that the character would ever have a family and that she was born as a secretary with a desire to improve filing. The character is a funny commentary on the portrayal of women in literature and a useful soundboard for the eccentric Belgium sleuth.
Mr Satterthwaite: In The Mysterious Mr Quin short story collection, and a few other tales, Mr Satterthwaite and Harley Quin muse over a selection of unusual and seemingly unsolvable crimes. While Harley Quin might be the titular character in the series, he’s merely a plot device used to prompt his friend, Mr Satterthwaite, into uncovering the truth. While his name appears in the title of the book of short stories, Quin not a two-dimensional character, whereas the elderly and old-fashioned Mr Satterthwaite is a fully-fledged character with inventive ideas and witty repartee. He’s an avid and astute observer of the human race who uses his insight to help him to find out the truth in even the most unsettling and confusing cases. The character also appears in the Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy and the short story Dead Man’s Chest, which shows how useful a foil and observer he is.
It’s billed as a unique version of a traditional crime novel, and it’s easy to see why as soon as you turn the first page. The narrative is divided into sections, so that the reader sees the case from multiple perspectives. It offers almost Gone Girl esq perspective flips, but more of them, so that the reader is constantly unsure about whose version of the truth is the real one.
The plot follows the strange case of Megan Sands, a young mother whose six-year-old daughter is taken into care following a fall down some stairs. The teaching assistant who took the child to hospital and urged the staff there to call social services is also a mother with a daughter in the same class; indeed, the two young girls are friends.
Not long after Lola Sands is taken into care, someone breaks into the teaching assistant’s home and throws acid over her husband’s face, before tying her up and berating her before letting her go. The teaching assistant, Becky Thurston, recognises the assailant and identifies her as Megan Sands. She tells the police that Megan had threatened her before and been abusive prior to the devastating attack.
When the police go to visit Megan at her flat to quiz her about the attack, they find a bottle of acid and a blanket out in the hall on the floor below where she lives. It’s this coincidence, and Megan’s lack of alibi and shifty behaviour that leads the police to arrest and charge her with the crime.
The novel details the court case, as well as the events leading up to it and in between. Skipping from different perspectives and narrative styles, Hobden creates an enthralling tale that’s very difficult to put down. The reader is thrust into this captivating story and soon finds themselves wondering who to believe.
Many of the characters that narrate chapters, and deliver witness statements that Hobden uses to change up the writing style, are unreliable, with their versions of events differing drastically from other people’s accounts. So, the reader is left on tenterhooks and you’re unable to guess what’s going to happen next.
Thanks to Hobden’s diverse writing style, which includes witness statements, court dialogue and first person, character narrated chapters, the reader gets a complete perspective over the case. As mentioned, several of the characters are, at specific times throughout the story, unreliable, meaning that we see the action unfold slowly. The tale becomes increasingly complicated as Megan gives her evidence in court, and twisted versions of the truth start to come out.
The book is great, but it’s not without its flaws. The main issue I find is that the witness statements, used at the beginning of the novel to break up the narrative, feel a little samey. For those that are supposed to be written by characters in professional jobs, they don’t quite hit the right note. The same goes for the court proceedings: at times, the lawyers just don’t sound right. I’m not a lawyer or an expert myself, but I’ve read enough crime fiction to know that some of the text isn’t quite accurate.
That being said, accuracy isn’t everything, and while these minor issues might impede the narrative slightly, they don’t change the fact that this is an incredible book that keeps you hooked to the very end. Hobden structures the novel well, so that you feel compelled to keep going to get to the next twist and uncover the next fact.
It’s this propulsion that drives the reader through the novel and makes Guilty such a great read. You’ll be surprised how quickly you finish this compelling read. Once you’ve finished it, you’ll be haunted by the plot. It’s not just the plot that’s unforgettable; the characters are also engaging and memorable. Megan Sands, whose first-person account is interspersed with her witness testimony, is a relatable and understandable character who inspires both pity and understanding.
Her supposed victim’s wife, Becky Thurston, is also relatable and is both suspicious and subtly threatening. Even small, minor characters are intriguing and memorable, including Megan’s lawyer. He’s a robotic career man who has no compassion for his client and is neither sympathetic nor particularly competent. Through characters like him and the unsympathetic policemen who interview Megan, Hobden makes a point that the legal system in the UK is often incredibly prejudice, particularly towards single mothers living in social housing.
When all’s said and done, Guilty is a unique thriller that works on many levels. It’s not without its flaws, but those don’t detract from the novel. It’s still a great read that will keep you riveted for a long while to come. The book also makes you question the truth and how every story has more than one side. So, if you want to enjoy a gripping summer read, then this could be the perfect solution for you.
After discovering the amazing Louis L’Amour through watching Westerns, I fell back into my love of crime fiction, but managed to find a series that was adapted and features my new favourite actor.
This time, it’s the Travis McGee books by renowned thriller writer John D. MacDonald.
Another recent find I learned about through my newfound love of Sam Elliott movies, MacDonald’s droll seafaring sleuth appealed to me for a number of reasons.
For one, Travis McGee, known as Trav, lives on a barge called the Busted Flush. That’s an amazing name, and I’ve always wanted to live on a boat myself, so the series immediately caught my eye.
Also, the character is witty in the hardboiled manner, and clearly modelled on classic pulp fiction detectives such as Philip Marlowe.
Elliott plays him in a film named Travis McGee, and there was also an earlier film adaptation featuring Rod Taylor.
I’ve only seen Elliott in Travis McGee, and it’s safe to say that, while a good watch, the film does nothing to prepare you for the incredible wit and dry worldliness of the books. These novels are full of insightfulness and deep descriptions of the baseness of the human condition.
MacDonald, the author of this intensely gripping series of books, was already a prolific thriller writer before he created McGee, but the creation cemented his reputation as a creator of innovative detective stories.
The series protagonist, McGee is a bit different from traditional private eyes, but in many other ways he’s also incredibly similar.
Unlike many hardboiled private detectives, he doesn’t really style himself as such. Instead, he views himself as a ‘salvage expert’, who will find whatever you’ve lost in return for half of it.
He calls himself retired, stating that instead of retiring at 60 like others, he’s taking his retirement in chunks. He works when he needs money, then he takes some time off until he starts running low on funds.
While all this might make him sound like a glorified beach hippy, he’s as fast-talking, hard-hitting and generally unconventional as any other hardboiled private sleuth.
He’s also a smooth talker who’s great with women, and who frequently finds himself entangled with questionable ladies. When it comes to violence, McGee isn’t afraid to use it and is handy with his fists, but he has a moral compass like many hardboiled private eyes, which often leads him into questionable situations.
So, if you’re looking for a crime fiction series that offers something a little bit different, then MacDonald’s Travis McGee series could be the perfect choice for you.
Many of the newer editions of these books, which were first published throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, come with an introduction by Lee Child, so there’s even more of an incentive to read them.
There are more than 20 novels featuring Travis McGee, each one including a different colour in the title. All of them show the detective uncovering a new and more ingenious case, with a cast of phenomenal, often oddball characters.
These books are often overlooked by hardboiled crime fiction fans, who focus on the traditional names. If you’re looking to check out this series, then here are my top five picks.
5. The Dreadful Lemon Sky: In the early hours of a perfectly ordinary morning, Travis McGee is awoken by an old girlfriend with a favour to ask. She requests that McGee stashes her suitcase, which is filled with $100,000 dollars of suspicious cash. She asks him to keep it safe for two weeks, and to send it to her sister if she’s not back by then to collect it. In return for this simple favour, McGee can keep $10,000, which is less than his usual fee of half the loot, but the job is much simpler than his normal commissions. He reluctantly takes on the role, and after two weeks he goes snooping around to see why his friend still hasn’t returned to collect her case of cash. He learns that she’s died in what’s described as an accident, but McGee isn’t so sure. Feeling upset about his friend’s death, the sleuth sets out to uncover who staged the accident and is led into the seedy underbelly of organised crime. MacDonald keeps the reader guessing throughout this novel, which is why I enjoyed it so much.
4. The Empty Copper Sea: A wealthy businessman disappears off his luxury boat, and the accident is blamed on the vessel’s captain. He’s believed to have fallen overboard and drowned, and as the captain is accused of being drunk in charge of the cruiser when his employer went over the side. Van Harder, the captain of the boat, is a proud man who wants his reputation restored to him. He’s convinced that his boss is alive and well, and has gone into exile in Mexico to hide his unscrupulous business dealings and ill-gotten gains. Harder goes to his old pal Travis McGee, and asks him to help him prove that the accident wasn’t his fault and that his boss faked his own death. Seeking to prove his friend to be a capable seaman, McGee goes off in search of the missing man, and soon uncovers a tale of deception, deceit and devious financial dealings. This is the book that was the basis of the TV movie Travis McGee, which starred the iconic Sam Elliott, with the location moved from Florida to California. The film doesn’t do the book justice; while Elliott makes an excellent smooth-talking sleuth, he doesn’t quite embody the deceptive beach bum energy of the real McGee. The character is supposed to disarm women and adversaries with his deep tan and languorous demeanour. Once they’re suitably disarmed, he is able to extract their deepest secrets. Elliott is too much the hero to play McGee, and the script lacks the dry edge that MacDonald uses in all his books. Don’t let that put you off from reading The Empty Copper Sea: it’s a truly spectacular story that any hardboiled detective fiction fan will enjoy.
3. A Deadly Shade Of Gold: When an old friend of McGee’s drops by and asks to see him, they agree to meet at the man’s motel room. He left after breaking up his relationship and ruining the life of a young woman, and now he seeks redemption by cashing in on his scheme to make money from gold statues. After stating his plan to his old friend, they agree to another meet up. When the private eye arrives, he’s greeted by the sight of his pal’s murdered corpse. All that’s left behind is his old friend’s vengeful ex- girlfriend and the ancient Aztec idol that leads to a lot of trouble. This is the first book in the series to feature the enigmatic playboy economist Meyer, who features in later novels as McGee’s friend who often helps him to recover valuable items for his clients. This novel takes the reader from the Florida beaches where he lives on his houseboat to the expatriate society in Mexico as he searches for other icons in the series.
2. A Nightmare In Pink: Like all good hardboiled private detectives, Travis McGee was in the army. When the sister of an old friend from his days in service, who got injured when he stayed behind while McGee was on leave, comes to him for help, the professional finder feels compelled to assist her. Her fiancé has been murdered in what the police claim was a normal mugging, but she suspects differently. The murdered man was digging in some unsavoury places and seemed to have uncovered a scandal at his real estate firm, and a lot of money has gone missing. Just as McGee is getting nearer the truth, he’s sedated and trapped in a mental hospital. MacDonald keeps the thrills coming in this fast-paced and innovative thriller, which goes from simple search to gripping crime thriller in just a few short chapters.
1. The Deep Blue Goodbye: As I’ve said over and again, the first book in a series is always a great place to start. In this case, The Deep Blue Goodbye is an amazing place to begin, and makes for a perfect introduction to Travis McGee, beech bum extraordinaire, and his unique way of life. He’s got Miss Agnes, which might be the only Rolls Royce in the world to have been made into a pickup truck. He’s also got the Busted Flush, and his whirlwind life on board her. When his dancer friend, Chookie, introduces him to a friend who’s been raped and had an unknown treasure stolen from her by a two-bit smooth-talking conman, he sets out to recover the treasure. Quickly, McGee discovers the depths of the conman’s depravity, and his sense of morality kicks in and he begins a desperate, nationwide search for this rapist turned thief.
Happy Easter weekend to all the lovely Dorset Book Detective readers!
If you’re looking for a new tradition for Easter this year, when things are a bit weird, then I’ve got the perfect idea for you: read crime fiction.
Hear me out: I know crime fiction doesn’t sound very Easter-y, but in some countries it actually is a time-honoured tradition to read thrillers at this time of year.
At Easter here in the UK, traditions include hiding chocolate Easter eggs for kids to find, eating a cake made with marzipan balls meant to symbolise the apostles and cooking an oversized roast dinner.
While the holiday retains some religious symbolism for some Christian households, most of us just enjoy having the time off, seeing our loved ones and stuffing our faces with tasty treats.
One international tradition that I think we should adopt in the UK is the Norwegian habit of Påskekrim, or reading crime novels at Easter.
At Easter, in this beautiful and chilly Scandinavian country, people cuddle up with a gripping thriller or binge watch a Scandi crime film or TV show.
The tradition allegedly started when two Norwegian crime writers took out an advert in the newspapers that convinced readers to read their new novel. The advert was so persuasive that many readers thought the tale was true.
Thanks to the success of the stunt the book was a huge success. As well as literary success, the publicity strategy started a tradition where readers would seek out new thrillers and mystery novels to read at Easter.
As a result, publishers started timing the releases of new crime fiction novels to coincide with the religious holiday. That meant that there were even more awesome thrillers for readers to check out at Easter every year. It also meant that it’s become a time-honoured tradition to read them over Easter.
Personally, I think that reading crime fiction at Easter is the perfect tradition for the UK. It’s a great way to reinvigorate yourself over the long weekend and expand your mind, while being lazy at the same time. Crime fiction is gripping and great for helping you to escape tough times.
It’s safe to say that there haven’t been too many times that have been tougher than these. That’s why crime fiction is particularly useful for this Easter. After all, we’re probably going to all being feeling a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) as we’re not able to meet up with as many people or do the fun Easter activities that we’re used to enjoying. But reading, particularly gripping mysteries and thrillers, is a great way to feel exhilarated even while you’re stuck indoors, or in the garden if the weather stays fine.
Really well written crime fiction novels can take you out of your home, or garden, and transport you to a new time, place and situation. There’s a type of crime fiction for every writer, ranging from quaint cosy crime fiction through to terrifying political thrillers and more. That means that whatever you’re into, there’s a mystery for you to enjoy this Easter.
Also, reading crime fiction is one of the few Easter traditions that doesn’t involve food. Don’t get me wrong: food is really good. Everyone needs food, and most of love eating it (except for people who just eat those weird Huel meal replacement things, and they’re weird). However, Easter is a lot about food for most Brits. From the cake with the marzipan apostles to the classic crème egg, hot cross buns to the all-important roast dinner, there’s just so much traditional Easter food to choose from. So, it’s nice to have a new tradition that’s not edible.
While I know some people who do use this time to read, or re-read, the Bible, as it’s a religious holiday, most of us don’t believe and therefore choose not to read it.
If that’s the case, then Påskekrim could be the perfect solution. By making this a yearly tradition, we can feel comforted by the familiarity and get the chance to read shiny new crime fiction novels. It’s a win-win situation if you ask me!
Going one step further with the tradition and giving crime fiction books at Easter could be the UK’s way of stepping up this tradition, and I for one am all for it! While we give out loads of edible gifts, mostly in chocolate form, we could start giving out a longer lasting reminder of the awesomeness of Easter. Whether you’re religious or not, this is an amazing time of the year. We get time off and the sun is shining. There will soon be cute baby animals for us to fawn over and pretty flowers. The days are getting longer and the weather’s getting better, and this year, we’re also beating a pandemic.
Being reminded of all that with a shiny new mystery novel would be ace. I for one have already treated myself to a few new thrillers over the past couple of weeks, and I’ll be reading them over the long weekend to celebrate Easter. I think in the future, getting one wrapped in egg covered wrapping paper would make me a very happy reader!
In all, I hope the weather does stay fine for us all this Easter weekend, and that everyone gets the opportunity to read an engaging thriller. It’s even better if you can eat some yummy chocolatey treats while you’re reading too! It’s been a tough year of lockdown, and while it’s getting easier, life is far from back to normal. So, please, be kind to yourself this Easter and consider adopting a new tradition: self-case and reading your favourite crime fiction.
Kellerman brings back his gruff, burly LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who join forces once again when Milo has a very cold case foisted upon him by the higher ups.
He’s unwilling to take on the case, which is more than 35 years old, but he and Alex go to meet a wealthy and influential young businesswoman who has used her connections to wangle herself a review of the case, despite it’s age and the very low probability that it’ll get solved.
From the first meeting with the women, a gym wear mogul whose mother was found shot dead in a car miles on a remote road in LA, it is clear things aren’t what they seem with this accident case. The site where the car is found is very from her home in Danville, but besides that there’s very little for the pair to go on.
From this first meeting, it’s clear that the unusual yet well-matched sleuthing duo know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. The woman has little information to go on; she only found out a few years ago from her stepfather what had happened to her mother. Her stepfather refused to tell her anything and there’s limited information out there about the case.
She only has one photo of her mother; a strange picture that shows her standing awkwardly alongside the man she’s supposedly in love with. The only possession she has left from her late mother is her necklace, made of Serpentine, which is where the novel gets its name. The jewellery isn’t something that this seemingly stylish lady would wear, but her daughter clings to it like a comfort blanket that reminds her of the mother she never knew.
With her stepfather now dead and gone, the young woman is desperately searching for answers, and she’s happy to get the help of a pair of experts, neither of whom is as happy to be taking on the case. Milo and Alex have limited information from the start- there’s not even an accurate site for where the car was torched all those years ago.
Kellerman’s characterisation is brilliant in this novel; there are some really amazing characters involved with this case as it unfolds. One of my personal favourites is the last living detective who was assigned to the case: a truly obnoxious vegan who goes by the name ‘Du’.
It’s as the pair, with a little help from Du and the Internet, delve deeper into the case, that they see that it’s not the dead end they’d originally thought it was. In fact, alongside the initial victim, there are several other unexplained and unusual deaths connected to the case. For example, the boyfriend of the murdered woman, who raised her daughter, died on a hike when he’s clearly not an man who’s accustomed to spending time outdoors.
As the case shambles on, Milo and Alex realise that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. There’s something sinister going on, and there are powerful people who don’t want the truth to see the light of day.
Much like The Museum Of Desire, Serpentine is witty and engaging. The main detective, Milo Sturgis, is reminiscent of some of the best hardboiled detectives. His supporter and fellow investigator, psychologist Alex Delaware, who’s also the novel’s narrator, is his opposite, and in a way the pair turn the traditional detective pairing on its head.
While many detective duos are headed by a cerebral detective who is aided by a strong everyman, in this case Milo is the strong, burly, ordinary bloke. Alex is the cerebral thinker of the pair, and he assists the LAPD detective by using his professional and personal knowledge to assist his more streetwise colleague.
Together, the pair works hard to solve the case. As with the previous novel, there are a couple of small issues with the plot, and it does feel a little frustrating how hard the sleuthing duo works, only to have some major for major breakthroughs in the case to drop into their laps. While luck and coincidence must, in real life, assist with some cases, with a cold case like this one, it seems highly unlikely that so much good luck would bring so many great pieces of information and fresh leads to light.
These issues are small and inconsequential, however, when you consider the excellence of this fast-paced plot. Kellerman is a master at suspense, and his excellent characterisation will keep you engaged and invested in the story throughout this witty mystery.
Overall, Serpentine is much more than just a dry old cold case story. The plot quickly transforms into a fast moving modern thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. There are plenty of mysteries associated with the cold case where the investigation begins, so there’s enough to keep you entertained and leave you with no idea what’s coming next, which is ideal for a police procedural.
As a massive fan of her reimagined Poirot novels, I’m really pleased to be able to share my interview with Sophie Hannah. She shares a unique insight into her work from the very beginning, so if you’re a fan of any of her work, either her standalones or her Poirots, then you should definitely read what she has to say.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thrillers?
As a reader I’ve been a mystery addict since I started with Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series at the age of seven. I discovered Agatha Christie when I was twelve, then moved on to Ruth Rendell. My favourite writers have always been crime writers. So, it was probably inevitable that I would gravitate towards crime and thrillers as a writer; I have a very strong affinity with the genre and it’s what I most love to read.
What is your career background and how did you get in to writing?
Writing had been my hobby since childhood, but I first became a published writer as a student. I published my first picture book (Carrot the Goldfish – inspired by my husband’s observation that a piece of carrot peel in water resembled a goldfish!) and two poetry pamphlets while doing my degree and MA. Then when I was working as a library admin assistant after graduating university—I’d chosen a very easy, undemanding job in the hope that I’d have lots of time and mental energy free for my writing, and this plan worked brilliantly! — I published my first full-length poetry book. On the back of that, I was offered the most amazing opportunity: a two-year Creative Arts fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, which is where I started to write novels. I published three non-crime novels before discovering my natural niche of crime, and Little Face, my first crime novel, was published in 2006.
How did you get to become a published writer? What was it like getting your work published?
One of my university tutors really encouraged my poetry writing. He suggested I send off a selection of poems to magazines and then later to a small press publisher, and I started to have regular publication success. People wanted my poems! My first book was a limited edition, 200-copies-only pamphlet, but I really felt as if I’d made it and was now a properly successful writer. The same tutor was also the MD of Carcanet, one of the main UK publishers of poetry, and not long after that he published my first full-length poetry book, The Hero and the Girl Next Door. When it came to publishing my novels though, it was a much harder work.
My wonderful agent at the time absolutely ripped apart my first novel, Gripless, which was agony but she was totally right about everything that was wrong with it. Her feedback enabled me to make loads of improvements and finally it got published. It didn’t sell too well, however, and neither did the next two novels. They simply weren’t commercial in a straightforward way, so I can understand why they didn’t, and I still love them regardless. I then went through two more agents and lots of disappointment before finding my amazing agent Peter Straus, who I’m still with now, and having my big breakthrough with Little Face, whichbecame a surprise word-of-mouth, massive bestseller, sold to 34 countries and led to publishers all over the world saying to my agent and to Hodder (my UK publisher) ‘Please send us lots more books like Little Face by Sophie Hannah’.
Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them?
It’s always my aim to create an irresistibly suspenseful hook – to present the reader with a seemingly impossible mystery that they won’t be able to resist because they’ll be desperate to know what’s going on. In Little Face, for example, a mother insists that her new-born baby is missing and that an unknown baby has been left in her place. The baby’s father, however, is equally adamant that his wife is lying or insane.
In my latest standalone psychological thriller, Haven’t They Grown, the protagonist encounters the children of her estranged friend who, twelve years after she’s last seen them, are still three and five years old – no taller and apparently no older than they were more than a decade earlier. My readers can be sure of a complex and twisty ride, followed by a satisfying solution. They tell me they never see what’s coming, which is very important to me, because I’m often disappointed by the guess-ability of solutions in thrillers.
How did you find reimagining the Poirot novels? Talk me through your process of making them unique while still being true to Agatha Christie.
Thanks to my lifelong and obsessive Agatha Christie fandom, the blueprint for her particular and genius approach to storytelling is somehow imprinted in my DNA. However, Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time, so the last thing I wanted to do was to try (and, obviously, fail) to ‘be’ her, or copy her—I was very clear about this from the start. I wanted to stay faithful to the Christie-esque elements that readers love — the irresistible premise, the intricate plot and un-guessable solution — but I’m still writing as me.
How did you come up with the character of Inspector Catchpool? What was it like to create a character as part of such a renowned series?
Poirot belongs very much to Agatha Christie and I didn’t want to seem to be appropriating him. Catchpool is my middleman. I invented him so that he could kind of represent me in the book: he’s a new person working with, and writing about, Poirot, and so am I! To be honest, I have never seen writing continuation novels as being all that different from writing a non-continuation novel. We use true/already-existing elements in our fiction all the time. The novel I’m writing right now, for example, is completely original and not a continuation novel, but it already contains some real places and some real things in the world. Poirot, though a fictional character, is a very real thing in the world.
Are there any other classic crime fiction series that you’d like to reimagine?
I’d love to have a go at Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series! I think mystery is the perfect genre to hook in young readers—why would anyone ever want to read a book that wasn’t a gripping page-turner? That’s certainly how I felt as a kid.
Do you prefer writing non-fiction, fiction, or poetry? Is the process different when writing each type of text?
The process is the same for all of them, really. I don’t have a preference, because whatever I’m writing at any given moment is always the thing I love the most, and the need to satisfy my inner perfectionist means that I have to commit fully to my current project, finish it to the absolute best of my ability and make it as good as it could possibly be.
What books do you like to read yourself and how do they impact on your own writing?
Mainly and overwhelmingly, it’s crime fiction and thrillers: I re-read my Agatha Christie collection every few years. Ruth Rendell, Nicci French and Tana French are also firm favourites. I’ve just read an amazingly gripping book called The Housewarming by SE Lynes, and now I’m desperate to read the rest of her novels!
Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?
Some of my best ideas come from real-life dramas, grudges and weird experiences. I’m absolutely fascinated by psychology and am always trying to understand what might motivate a person towards a particular action or behaviour. I also have a habit of taking something I’ve seen or experienced in the course of my everyday life and asking, ‘What if…?’ to build up that scenario into something dramatic enough to be the subject of a thriller.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Cameron Mackintosh. I’ve co-written (with my friend, composer Annette Armitage) two musicals: The Mystery of Mr.E (a murder mystery musical) and Work Experience (a musical locked room mystery). Very small and local productions of both have been staged in my hometown of Cambridge, and were huge, sell-out successes. The Mystery of Mr. E also did a small, national tour, which was thrilling. The pandemic has put paid to further plans for the moment but watch this space! And my dream would be to have Cameron Mackintosh collaborate with me to stage both at the West End. So, Sir Cameron, if you’re reading this, please get in touch!)
What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?
My current most exciting projects are, firstly, my online coaching programme for writers, Dream Author, which launched in 2019 and has had the most incredible success so far in terms of the difference it’s made to members’ lives and writing success levels. The programme offers psychological, practical and commercial help (and any/all other help a writer might want or need!) to writers in all genres and at all levels of experience—we have bestselling authors as well unpublished writers just starting out.
I created the programme because I’d noticed that so many writers I knew were creating unnecessary suffering for themselves just by the way they were thinking about their writing, not analysing or challenging the thoughts that were harming both their wellbeing and their ability to work towards their goals. When we learn to think about our writing situations and ambitions in the most helpful way, the positive results can be really dramatic. Anyone who’d like to find out more should visit the Dream Author website: https://dreamauthorcoaching.com/. You can sign up at any time!
I’m also at the moment currently writing Book 11 of my Culver Valley crime series. My detectives Charlie and Simon haven’t had an outing since book 10 in 2016, and I’m hugely exciting about this one coming out later in the year. Details will be available very soon and anyone who’d like to receive news of this latest book, or any of my other projects, can sign up to my newsletter at: https://sophiehannah.com/.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
There is one in particular I’m very much looking forward to but it’s a top-secret project at the moment so I can’t divulge any details! Once it is officially announced there will be lots of excitement, however.
Do you have anything to add?
In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered how much I love podcasting and my How to Hold a Grudge podcast (based on my self-help book of the same name) now has five seasons available on iTunes, Spotify and all podcasty places! I discuss, with various guests, all things grudge-related. In the latest series we’ve covered apologies, complicity, forgiveness, plus the grudge worthy overlooking of Agatha Christie’s Mary Westmacott novels, the US Election and literary prizes.
I’ve also created a private weekly podcast for Dream Author members only, which covers all of the programme’s core topics. There’s a bonus episode on the Dream Author homepage all about building resilience, which anyone can access and you can find How to Hold a Grudge on iTunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/how-to-hold-a-grudge/id1439465411
Huge thanks to Sophie for answering my questions! As a huge fan of your work it’s amazing to find out more about your writing process.
It’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday, which means that everyone in a relationship will be posting soppy, loved-up social media posts.
For us singletons, in normal times we’d have a fun night out with our pals, or go on the pull and have a laugh.
Myself, I’ve always wanted to try speed dating and try my best to put them all off by being as wacky as possible! I’ve never actually done it because I want a friend to go with me and, so far, no one has volunteered.
However, during the pandemic, none of that is possible, as everything is still shut down to keep us all safe from the virus. Therefore, we need to find new ways to entertain ourselves.
Whether you’re in a relationship and sick of the site of them, or you’re single and fancy doing something fun, you can find solace in a good book.
While you might think romantic fiction is the perfect choice for your Valentine’s Day read, if you don’t like it then it won’t make you happy.
Instead, if you’re a fan of thrilling, action-packed novels, then why not try some crime fiction instead?
Just because you choose to avoid romantic fiction, doesn’t mean that you can’t read something that’s not Valentine’s Day themed.
The romance-laden holiday is a popular choice for crime fiction writers who use the nature of the day, with all its secrecy about crushes and focus on love, to their advantage in their plotting of fiendish mysteries.
So, if you’re searching for an exciting new read this Valentine’s Day, then check out this list of crime fiction novels and mysteries set around the holiday.
5. The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders: Written by Ruth Dudley Edwards, this novel is a truly terrifying tale of obsession. The novel is crafted in the style of a Golden Age mystery tale, making it an engaging choice for readers who love traditional, cosy crime fiction. The protagonist, Robert Amiss finds himself stuck in a dead-end Civil Service job in a non-descript backwater. In the midst of this dullness and banality, comes a spate of maliciousness and petty-minded sniping. What initially appears to be just malice and office nastiness quickly turns sinister when the wives of the bureaucrats are sent a poisoned box of chocolates. The murder puts Amiss in the thick of a complicated investigation, and together with a novice detective who’s obsessed with crime fiction and a local superintendent, he works to uncover the truth. In the course of the investigation, the intrepid threesome delves through marital strife, lies, deceit and unfulfilled ambition in search of the truth. This is a tantalising tale modelled on Golden Age cosy crime novels, so it’s perfect for fans of that sub-genre who want something new to check out that’s Valentine’s Day themed.
4. Gilt by Association: Another cosy crime novel, Karen Rose Smith’s novel features an unlikely amateur detective: a home stager. Caprice De Luca is a busy lady; she’s searching for a new dress, helping out her sister with her new baby and training her puppy. Despite all of this and preparing for a Valentine’s Day dance, De Luca still has the time to take on a new client with a picturesque home that is easy to turn into the ideal setting for a hearts and flowers themed open house. Things quickly turn from romantic and sweet to daunting and sinister when the homeowner is found dead. De Luca is drawn into a tempting mystery that threatens her Valentine’s Day plans. The novel will entice anyone who likes a crime story without all the gore that usually goes along with them.
3. Claws And Effect: Part of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs Murphy series of cute, cosy crime fiction, Claws And Effect features a set of conniving animal sleuths who set about uncovering the mystery of a murder in the boiler room of a small town hospital on Valentine’s Day. With the help of the local postmistress, they work to uncover the clues and decipher the meaning behind the local gossip that has proliferated around the victim. It’s a cosy, sweet tale that makes a great gift for yourself or your loved one this Valentine’s Day. If you’re a young crime fiction fan, or you just don’t like particularly gruesome books, then this could be an ideal choice for you to read and entertain yourself with over this Valentine’s weekend.
2. A Judgement in Stone: Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement In Stone begins with a massacre on Valentine’s Day, as four members of the wealthy Coverdale family are murdered. The suspect is their housekeeper, who shot them as they watched an opera on TV. When she is apprehended by the police a couple of weeks later, they discover a secret that she’s kept hidden for decades and that brings out the complexities of social class and the ways that it can have an impact on all of our lives. This is a gripping thriller that’s impossible to put down, so it’s an ideal choice to keep your mind off your relationship status.
1. Valentine: As the name suggests, Tom Savage’s Valentine is about an obsessive Valentine who’s desperate to win over the woman of his fantasies, fictional bestselling author Jillian Talbot. She already has a lover, as well as a great career and awesome friends who love her very much. A creepy stalker could ruin her life; or take it. The book was turned into a film in 2001, but it wasn’t remotely similar; the book is chilling and haunting, the film is gory and frightening. As such, even if you didn’t like the film, the book is worth checking out this Valentine’s Day if you’re looking for a spine-tingling thriller that will set your teeth on edge and keep you hooked.