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

winter reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

1033CoverProofFlat

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

IMG_0107

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A CHECKERED PAST front cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicki Goldie Interview: “I would say that without reading it would be impossible to be a writer”

Book launch good photo

Golden Age crime fiction fan and author Vicki Goldie talks to me about how this seminal era shaped her work!

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

I grew up reading Agatha Christie, she was my mother’s favourite and then I progressed to the other golden age authors especially Dorothy L Sayers. I then came across a local Dorset writer Gladys Mitchel in the 1980s. They all influenced me and made me a little obsessed with Art Deco and that period in time. Just as I was thinking about trying some more writing I met Peter James. He was very generous with his advice and he has greatly influenced my style and form of my books.

How has your time working for libraries influenced your writing?

My job was to organise author events and promote libraries to the reading public. So over nearly twenty years I met an awful lot of authors and quizzed them on writing. We also ran writing workshops and that was fantastic help. Of course, I also read a huge number of books! Libraries are invaluable for research and also save a considerable amount of money though borrowing their books for free.

Please tell me about Blind Witness. What defines your writing style?

Blind Witness is book one of a series of books featuring Alasdair Charters and his wife Melissa. Alasdair is a blind World War 1 veteran. I have been married to a blind physiotherapist for over 40 years and I wanted to examine the prejudices that surrounded disability then, and found they still persist today. His wife is an aristocrat but is also a socialist, and I have some fun with that. The story line is pure golden age, a country house weekend party where a murder occurs. Rather than gritty crime it is more fun, although as Alasdair has PTSD, which of course was not understood then, but can be very serious.

I am part of a writers’ circle in the New Forest and they have been very helpful in helping me define my style and remove bad habits.

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

I am beginning each book with a flash back to the war. This was a great suggestion from the excellent Kate Rhodes who came down a few years ago and did an event and a workshop at Westbourne Library.

I took the Jericho Writers’ writing course and followed all his advice. It made me analyse the book and it is amazing to find themes in your drafts that you were unaware of when writing. Having found them it is good to develop them. It makes the book richer.

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

I do read a huge amount of crime both modern and old fashioned. I love discovering new authors especially ones that have been out of print for years. All books have something to teach you as a writer. I love reading Santa Montefiore, it is important to vary your genres.

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

Well sadly the fantastic Sophie Hannah is already doing this with Agatha Christie to great success! Jill Paton Walsh is writing Lord Peter Wimsey and they are super too. So not someone dead I think. As for someone living I am not sure I am at that level of expertise yet!

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

I am completing my second book in the series called Blind Pool, it is set in the Somerset Levels and a house party are caught up in the floods and cut off and then murders begin to happen. I am also researching book three, which will be set in the south of France.

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

Far too many to mention, but I do buy Peter James, Christopher Fowler, Charles Todd and of course Sophie Hannah the day they come out. I am a huge fan of Louise Penny and her new novel is out on 27th November.

Anything you’d like to add?

I would say that without reading it would be impossible to be a writer. And without libraries it would be impossible to read the amount necessary to achieve that goal.

Many thanks for answering my questions Vicki- it’s great to meet another Golden Age fan and a lover of Peter James’ work!

Martin Ungless Interview: “Crime is such a great vehicle for driving forward a story”

Martin Ungless

Crime writer Martin Ungless explains his work and how he has created a unique novel in his book Duck Egg Blues.

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

I like a nice plot, me. Crime is such a great vehicle for driving forward a story and putting characters in tricky situations, it’s got the potential to be page turning and fantastically entertaining, and in my case, so I’m told, laugh-out-loud.

I’ve always written, but had a brief interlude, a decade or so, as an architect. That’s a great education for a writer; disciplined creativity and learning to critique ones own work. It was also in my case an exercise in narrative and on producing something that pleased the public, and these days of course that’s the reader.

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

Perhaps I’ve already half-answered that, but I do think when I designed buildings that the stories they told were important. At that same time, I was continuing to hone my practical writing skills with articles in the architectural press. I do feel that writing is another outlet for the pleasure of creation, just with a different brief, and requiring a whole other set of skills. I have written a fair few short stories, and as well as refining technique these can also be usefully entered in competitions, even a long-listing can keep a writer going through the long dark self-doubt times, and sometimes you even get to win!

Tell me all about your books. Why do you believe readers and critics enjoy them?

I think readers enjoy genre fiction because we all like more of the same but different. Sometimes for me that difference comes in blending the genres themselves. I write fiction that surprises, always, regardless of whether I am genre-blending or not, and I can pretty well guarantee that you will not have read anything like one of my stories before; though (more of the same but different) my books are full of crime and detection and peril and complications and characters who suffer and win through. It’s not that my stories are so far out there, I just have a vivid imagination. Not a bad trait for a writer, I guess.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I’ve got pretty eclectic tastes. Right now I’m working my way through a whole history of C20th classic Crime, reading and rereading, trying to understand what works so well for them. I don’t know if your readers have come across They Shoot Horse Don’t They? I read that quite recently and it’s a cracker, that and the astonishing The Postman Always Rings Twice. Both feel like they were at least half a century before their time. I utterly love the energy of something like Fight Club, and the exceptional dialogue of Elmore Leonard. Outside of Crime, I’m a huge fan of Murakami.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

I’ve got wide interests hence the multiple-genres, but in particular I’m a fan of technology, and this passion gave rise to PArdew, my robot-butler-detective from Duck Egg Blues, and is also the reason why I’m currently working on a high-tech hacker thriller.

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

I think I mentioned him already, but I do think Elmore Leonard had an utterly extraordinary ear for dialogue. I think it was based on his deep understanding of character, and if they could rub off on me, boy would those be some nice skills to learn. Sadly he has passed away.

What’s next for your writing? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

My high-tech international crime thriller is called Orange612. The opening section was listed for a Debut Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association this year, so I’m pretty buzzed to be working on that.

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

I haven’t read Melmoth yet, that looks a cracker and The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, well, you just know that’s something else!

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for inviting me to talk about my work, I think it might be almost as fun as writing it.

Thanks you for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been great to hear your thoughts.

 

Lethal White Review: The Best Of A Not-So-Brilliant Bunch

lethal white

The forth instalment of the Cormoran Strike novels is excessively long- but don’t let that put you off, this is actually the best of the lot. Not that that’s saying a great deal.

Picking up directly from where Career of Evil left off, the novel shows Strike and his former assistant turned salaried partner Robin falling into an uneasy rhythm following her marriage. This is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Billy, a highly disturbed young man who comes bearing tales of child murder, before leaving as quickly and loudly as he came.

With Billy now disappeared, and no real motive to investigate his claims, Strike takes the case of the foppish politician Jasper Chiswell, nicknamed ‘Chizzle’, who is being blackmailed. Keen to avoid divulging what he is being blackmailed about, the Minister commissions Strike and his agency, which now includes several employees, to obtain information he can use against his blackmailers, who, incidentally, include Billy’s older brother Jimmy.

While the 2012 Olympics takes London by storm, the case quickly descends into almost comical absurdity, with Strike and Robin pursuing multiple lines of enquiry, many of which revolve around Chiswell and his laughably posh family. One of the problems I find with Rowling’s Strike series is that I am always unsure if she realises that she crossed the invisible line between light-hearted satire and full-on ridiculousness which is present in all crime fiction.

After all, her protagonist does, on several occasions, mention how posh and out-of-touch his client and his family are, even at one point referring to them as teletubbies, but the reader remains baffled throughout by the intensity of their otherness and the fact that none of them seem to realise how incredibly self-incriminating they are being.

In this latest outing as in all the previous, Strike remains a mess of contradictions. Although Rowling goes to great pains to make him out to be a mess of a man who she describes on numerous occasions as ‘classless’, he also shown to be more at home in a swanky pub in Mayfair than among normal people. He is often slovenly and unkempt himself, yet he judges a young woman for having painted eyeliner over a piece of sleep in the corner of her eye.

The character also mentally derides his latest temporary secretary for not remembering that he detests milky tea despite the fact that he himself is completely incapable of thinking of the feelings of others, even crashing his colleague’s wedding and taking out her flowers in the prologue. Rowling either drastically underestimates the intelligence of her readers or she is unaware of how characterisation works, but either way, the result is the same; a protagonist with all of the sincerity of a Tory election promise.

Then, of course, there is the question of length. I don’t know if you’ve been to Waterstones lately to check it out, but this book is HUGE. In hardback it is over 600 pages long, although a good 300 of these are completely unnecessary. Rowling gets so bogged-down in the minutiae of surveillance and the day-to-day running of a detective agency that she lets her narrative run away from her, and spends fruitless chapters describing the perfectly mundane. There are also far too many needless characters, leaving the reader struggling to keep up with who’s who and what’s what.

Named after the colloquial term for a horse that is doomed to die due to a genetic condition, the one thing that Lethal White does have going for it is its foreshadowing. Rowling is able to skilfully direct her readers where she wants them to, and at times it is intriguing to realise where a certain detail came into play previously. Each chapter begins with a line from Rosmersholm, a play by Henrik Ibsen, which focuses on a time of political change and the emergence of a new order, a metaphor for the downfall of the Chiswells, whose gilded life is quickly disintegrating as the case develops.

There is also some great skill shown in Rowling’s depictions of her disgustingly upper class characters, particularly Jasper Chiswell. There is one scene, in which he is chewing with his mouth open, and he spits a piece of potato at Strike, which is so vivid that I physically reacted (the poor chap on the train next to me thought I was mental, but there you have it).

These brilliant, emotive stretches of text are interspersed with a lot of waffle, but there is some narrative excellence. Robin and Strike’s relationship is brilliantly handled, and it is great that their strange passion for each other does not overwhelm the main plot.

All in all, Lethal White remains by far the best of the Strike novels, although it is, fundamentally, too bloody long and at times completely absurd. Hard-core Rowling fans will love it; anyone else is better off elsewhere.