My top picks for National Crime Reading Month 2022

June is National Crime Reading Month and here are six of the best crime fiction books I’ve read so far this year.

The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan is the second in his Malabar House mysteries set in post-partition India. I loved this books because it reads like a complicated puzzle that you have to solve. I also love the main character, Parsis.

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka is a fast paced thriller featuring five assassins. The best way to describe it would be it’s like reading a Quentin Tarantino film. Brilliant characters and a real page turner.

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood is the first in a series sensitively exploring themes of homelessness and PTSD. Jimmy witnesses a murder, but will anyone believe him? Also features a wonderful dog called Dog.

I have enjoyed all four books by C J Tudor so far but I think The Burning Girls is her best. Expertly weaving horror and crime, this is a masterclass in character and plot.

Shari Lapena never fails to disappoint and Not a Happy Family is another page turner. A rich couple are found dead in their luxury home and several people are set to benefit from an inheritance. But whodunnit?

Slightly cheating because I haven’t finished it yet but The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is absolutely brilliant! A great plot with complex characters and evocative settings. Loving all the contrasts in this book.

Book Three – the story so far (setting)

All my books so far have been set in Yorkshire, and Book Three is no exception!

Book Three, provisionally called The Challenge, is set in the city of York. York has a special place in my heart as my grandma used to take me as a child to see the daffodils around the city walls.

It is a place steeped in history and full of iconic buildings, such as the magnificent York Minster. You can find out more about the history of York on this website: https://www.visityork.org/history-of-york

The Challenge sees Libby and Peter (from The Wedding Murders) reunited to investigate the mysterious death of a teenaged boy in York.

As part of the research, I made several trips to the city, looking for good places to set key scenes.  

The Museum Gardens and St Mary’s Abbey

The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, York

York Minster

Micklegate Bar

Micklegate Bar in York

The River Ouse

Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower

The Challenge is currently with my agent, awaiting her feedback, before we submit it to my publisher. Fingers crossed they like it! 

On the Shelf: May 2022 reads

I read a lot of books in May!

  • Keep Them Close by Sophie Flynn (proof)
  • Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
  • Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (re-read)
  • The Bad Sister by J A Corrigan
  • That Night by Gillian McAllister
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (re-read)
  • The Burning Girls by C J Tudor

Keep Them Close is Sophie Flynn’s second novel and is due out in July 2022. It’s a gripping and intense psychological thriller, exploring the double-edged sword of anonymous internet forums. Chilling, creepy and frighteningly plausible with a clever twist. Well worth a read!

Considering there are more than 2,000 years between the publication dates of Letters from a Stoic by Seneca and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, you might think they wouldn’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong! I was surprised how much I picked up from Seneca’s letters about handling the ups and downs of daily life. I underlined a lot of passages (sorry!) to come back to later.

I also found Digital Minimalism eye-opening in its explanation of how social media platforms and apps are designed to make sure you spend as much time as possible on them. I think we all know this on some level, but it doesn’t stop you getting sucked in. There are some good strategies in this book to tear you away from your devices. I managed to follow some, but not all, of the advice and it is recommended if you are worried about how much time you spend online.

In May, I did an event at Marsden Library with author Amanda Huggins, so I reread her novella, Crossing the Lines. This is a coming-of-age road-trip story set in the American mid-west in the 1970s. Beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of the American landscape and some unforgettable characters.

I am appearing at Essex Book Festival in June in conversation with J A Corrigan, so I took the opportunity to read her latest novel, The Bad Sister. This is a gripping thriller about the relationship between three surviving sisters from a toxic family, and a tragic event that reverberates through their adult lives. It has some parallels with Gillian McAllister’s novel That Night, in which three siblings cover up a murder in Italy. The siblings are very close, but can they really trust each other?

Jude the Obscure is one of my favourite novels of all time, but I hadn’t read it in a while. It’s always a pleasure to return to the classics as an adult because you read them so differently than you did when you first encounter them as a teenager. I remember really identifying with Jude as he struggled to achieve his ambitions of becoming a scholar, but this time I was intrigued by the women in his life and the difficult decisions they had to make. The book has such a tragic ending which still has the capacity to shock even though I knew it was coming.

C J Tudor is one of my favourite writers. I have loved all her books, but I think The Burning Girls might be my favourite so far. The main character is a vicar who moves to a country parish and soon discovers some pretty dark secrets. It has a bit of horror intertwined with a gripping thriller and I absolutely loved it!   

The Wedding Murders is now out in paperback!

I’ve been busy over the past couple of months promoting my new book, The Wedding Murders.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since the e-book was published by One More Chapter in February (2022). It seems to be doing well and one of the highlights was when it got a bestseller flag (for one day only!) on Amazon US. On 19 March, it hit number 145 in the overall chart and was number 1 in the subcategories Amateur Sleuths and Vigilante Justice Thrillers. The latter is not a description I would use for the book but I’m not going to complain!

There are now more than 200 reviews of the book on Amazon (UK) so I am really thankful to the people who have taken the time to leave a review or a rating. It makes such a difference!

To promote the book, I did my first ever Facebook Live for the UK Crime Book Club with Abby Davies and Casey Kelleher. I was TERRIFIED but the organiser, Samantha Bowley, and the other authors involved were so lovely and put me completely at ease. If you join the Facebook Group, you can watch the video.

The paperback of The Wedding Murders was released at the end of April and receiving my author copies was another highlight. It’s always nice to be able to hold your book in your hands!

This week I returned to Marsden Library to do an in-person event with my friend and fellow author, Amanda Huggins. As always, we were made to feel very welcome. I also got a real kick out of seeing my debut novel on a display of Yorkshire Authors, alongside Alan Bennett, Joanne Harris and Charlotte Bronte. You couldn’t ask for better company!

And my next event is Essex Book Festival in June when I will be in conversation with J A Corrigan. Tickets are available here: https://www.essexbookfestival.org.uk/event/the-bad-sister-and-the-wedding-murders/

In the meantime, I will be putting the finishing touches to the latest draft of Book Three (provisionally called The Challenge) this weekend before returning it to my agent. It’s a sequel to The Wedding Murders and I have enjoyed being back with my main character, Libby, and her partner-in-crime, Peter.

You can buy The Wedding Murders online from a number of retailers including Waterstones and WH Smith, or you can purchase it from Amazon using the link below:

On the Shelf: April 2022 reads

In April 2022, I read a lot of crime fiction:

  • The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
  • Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies
  • I’ll Never Tell by Casey Kelleher
  • The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood
  • Do No Harm by Jack Jordan (proof).

And one book for research:

  • Clay Models and Stone Carving by Irene Dancyger.

The Monogram Murders is the first in Sophie Hannah’s continuation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series. True to Agatha Christie’s style, this is a golden-age puzzle mystery involving three apparently identical (but not in Poirot’s eyes!) murders in a London hotel. It will keep you guessing from start to finish and was a lot of fun to read.

I appeared on a Facebook Live panel for the UK Crime Book Group in April with fellow crime writers, Casey Kelleher and Abby Davies. I had already read Abby’s latest book, The Cult, so took the opportunity to read her debut Mother Loves Me. The Cult was one of my favourite books last year and Mother Loves Me is also brilliant. Both books are intense, creepy and claustrophobic. Recommended!

Casey’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell is a departure from her gangland novels and I really enjoyed it. Both writers are really good at capturing a child’s voice and creating gripping and disturbing narratives. There are some great twists in I’ll Never Tell.

I was a little apprehensive about reading The Man on the Street because I work in the homelessness sector, and I was worried about how it might be portrayed. I have to say that Trevor Wood is spot on with his empathetic depiction of life on the streets, the characters, some of the situations they end up in and the challenges they face. This was a great thriller with fantastic characters, and I particularly loved the inclusion of Dog. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

I picked up Do No Harm by Jack Jordan at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate last summer, but I have only just read it. This is a high-octane thriller from the start which leaves the reader constantly asking the question ‘what would I do in this situation?’. I liked the way all the characters were flawed in some way, but you were still rooting for them.

I borrowed Clay Models and Stone Carving from the library for some research into one of my characters for book four. He is a stone mason, so I needed to understand exactly how you go about sculpting stone. It was completely fascinating and made me really think about the structures I walk past every day without noticing!

Fairy tales and crime fiction

Crime writers are rarely in the business of delivering happy endings, but our books may have more in common with fairy tales than we think.

Reading some classic children’s stories to my young nephew I was struck by how much criminality lay between the pages of these seemingly innocent bedtime yarns.

Next time you’re stuck for a plot, you could do worse than peruse your children’s bookshelves for inspiration.

BURGLARY AND TRESPASS – GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS

Is it any surprise that the three bears are angry when they come back from their walk not only to discover someone has broken into their property, but also eaten their food and slept in their beds?

In one of the original endings to this tale, the bears throw Goldilocks onto the fire in retribution. The 21st century version is much tamer – Goldilocks runs away. Let’s hope she didn’t leave any fingerprints…

KIDNAP – HANSEL & GRETEL

The Witch lures Hansel and Gretel into her house with the promise of gingerbread. Once there she captures her young victims and puts her cauldron on the stove, intending to eat them.

Kidnap with a threat of cannibalism – and we read these stories to children?

POISON – SNOW WHITE

Toxic relationships are a common theme in both fairy tales and crime fiction. As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family!

Snow White’s jealous stepmother puts her to sleep with a poisoned apple. Modern day equivalents might be Rohypnol or GHB.

INTIMIDATION – THE THREE LITTLE PIGS

‘Let me in, let me in, or I’ll blow your house down!’ cries the wolf outside the little pig’s door. Intimidation is one of the building blocks of a good thriller.

GASLIGHTING – THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

The Emperor loves his clothes – so much so that he is easily tricked into believing in a special cloth that only wise men can see. Everyone around him keeps quiet as the naked Emperor parades around the town in his birthday suit. A lesson in vanity or a pitiable victim of fraud?

These days you are perhaps more likely to fall foul of cyber fraud – online retailers selling you something that doesn’t exist. Or how about creating a rich, influential character that no one dare stand up to?

Some plot devices found in fairy tales will feel very familiar to crime writers:

THE UNINVITED GUEST – SLEEPING BEAUTY

The doors are closed, the party has begun, but is there a killer among the guests? The premise of the closed-door mystery has a lot in common with the opening to Sleeping Beauty.

THE TICKING CLOCK – CINDERELLA

If Cinderella hadn’t had to leave the ball by midnight, there would be no tension in the story. She could have danced with the Prince all night, left her number and lived happily ever after. That midnight deadline is what makes all the difference. No time to stop and pick up your shoe, Cinders, get out of there before disaster strikes!

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T RESIST – PINOCHHIO

Pinocchio is all set to go to school like a real boy when he encounters the fox and the cat who tempt him to go to the fair instead. Things go badly wrong and get even worse when Pinocchio tries to lie his way out of his predicament. The only thing that can save him is listening to his conscience and telling the truth. Good job our characters don’t feel the same way, otherwise there wouldn’t be much mystery!

THE QUEST – THE BRAVE LITTLE TIN SOLDIER

In many fairy tales the heroes are put to the test before they can achieve their goal. Similarly, detectives have to overcome a series of obstacles before they can unmask the killer.

Spare a thought for The Brave Little Tin Soldier. He falls out of a window, nearly drowns, is swallowed by a fish, thrown into a stove, and set alight before he wins his true love.  

All writers know the importance of an atmospheric setting in our fiction, and fairy tales are no exception.  

INTO THE WOODS – LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

Some of the best fairy tales are set in woodland for a very good reason. Darkness, shadows, plenty of places to hide. The forest serves as a departure from the safety of home and a threshold to adventure.

Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Goldilocks are all tales of disobedience and straying too far off the path. In the modern era, it’s also a good way of losing your 4G…

CASTLES – THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA

The castles in fairy tales are often occupied by people of great power and privilege. To gain entry, peasants have to be very clever or very beautiful. The contrast between rich and poor, and the abuse of power and privilege, is fertile ground for crime fiction writers.

TOWERS AND LOCKED ROOMS – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST / RAPUNZEL

Always check your exit! The creepy castle or mansion house is a stalwart of crime fiction for good reason. Once you’ve entered, it’s not always that simple to escape. Rapunzel grows her hair to evade her capture while Beauty wins over the Beast. Modern day criminals might not be quite so easy to win round.

At the heart of every fairy story is a morality tale. Perhaps crime fiction is the contemporary equivalent?

This article was first published in Red Herrings, the magazine for members of The Crime Writers Association.

Photo by Cederic Vandenberghe on Unsplash

On the Shelf: March 2022 reads

In March 2022, I read:

  • The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan (The Malabar House Mysteries #2)
  • Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
  • The House of Killers by Samantha Lee Howe
  • Kill or Die by Samantha Lee Howe
  • Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan is the second in The Malabar House Mysteries starring Inspector Persis Wadia. Set in post-partition Bombay, this thriller revolves around the disappearance of a precious manuscript. A series of riddles sets our intrepid detective on the trail of a murderer.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in this novel and the way it is weaved around a gripping plot but mostly I just love the character of Persis and her budding relationship with forensic scientist Archie Blackfish. I’m really looking forward to the next one in the series.

Then it was all about the assassins!

I started by reading Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka. Five assassins are on a bullet train all with different agendas. The experience of reading this book was a lot like watching a Quentin Tarantino film. I loved the characters particularly the sinister teenage killer, The Prince. I read this in one sitting and was completely gripped from start to finish.

I have also been watching Killing Eve, season four on BBC One. If you’re a fan of the series, I would highly recommend The House of Killers trilogy by Samantha Lee Howe.

The first of the series, The House of Killers, was a re-read for me. It’s a twisty read featuring female assassin Neva and MI5 agent Michael who are irresistibly drawn to each other. I am now about two thirds of the way through the second book, Kill or Die and really enjoying it.

On a completely different note, I am also reading Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I am finding it fascinating to read about the lives of Ancient Romans and Greeks who practised Stoicism. It’s amazing how many parallels there are between their lives and modern lives. We still seem to be wrestling with the same problems!

On the Shelf: February 2022 reads

In February 2022, I read an eclectic mix of books: three psychological thrillers, a classic and a couple of non-fiction titles.

I read:

  • Two Wrongs by Mel McGrath
  • The Weekend Escape by Rakie Bennett
  • The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma
  • Lessons in Stoicism by John Sellars

The psychological thrillers all had very different settings – Two Wrongs is set in a fictional university and involves a spate of suicides among female students; The Weekend Escape is set on a stormy island off the coast of North-West England; and The Sanatorium is set in a creepy hotel, a former sanatorium, in snowy Switzerland. I enjoyed them all, but The Weekend Escape was my favourite as it was so fast paced!

I bought Dracula on a recent trip to Whitby. I hadn’t read it before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked the character of Mina and the use of setting and atmosphere to add to the tension. I thought Stoker made effective use of multiple narration and I liked how the story unfolds through different perspectives.

I read The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma after reading The 5AM Club. There is quite a lot of cross-over between the two books, but both are worth reading, particularly if you are looking for some focus in a very distracting world! At the heart of The Monk who sold his Ferrari is a rather odd allegory involving a garden, a lighthouse and a sumo wrestler (!) which is, at the very least, memorable! I have tried to adopt some of the principles Sharma advocates, but I am finding the early starts very challenging to stick to.

Lessons in Stoicism is quite a short book and very much an introduction to Stoicism. It was an enjoyable read but I would have preferred something more in-depth as I was familiar with most of the concepts in it.

I am now turning my attention to The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers. This is the second in the Malabar House mystery series set in post-partition India and it is really good so far! I love the main character, Inspector Persis Wadia, and all the historical details which feel meticulously researched.  

What are you reading this month?

On the Shelf: January 2022 reads

I started 2022 with some cracking reads!

In January, I read:

  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain
  • Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior
  • The Survivors by Jane Harper
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Family Tree is a story of love, loss and family. Amjad is a single dad raising his children with the help (and interference) of their grandmother. The opening chapter is particularly poignant as Amjad cradles his baby daughter, overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility of looking after two young children while struggling with his grief.

The novel then follows the family over the next 20 years as the children grow up and become young adults, navigating the complexities of race, religion and family in a West Yorkshire city. I have worked in Bradford for nearly the entire time covered in this book, so I knew a lot of the locations and events, and I enjoyed reading about them from a different perspective. I loved the way the storylines were weaved together, and I was rooting for all the characters. Recommended.

Call of the Penguins is the sequel to Away with the Penguins which I thoroughly enjoyed last year. Octogenarian Veronica McCreedy is now the star of a TV documentary and travels to the Falklands with her charming co-host, nine-year-old Daisy. There are relationship problems between Terry and Veronica’s grandson Patrick to sort out and a journey into the past as he searches for more information about his father. I can’t get enough of this series. I hope there’s another book on the way!

The Survivors is set in a coastal town in Tasmania and Harper’s descriptions of the windswept coastline are superb. A body is found on the beach and links are soon drawn to a teenaged girl who went missing years ago. Everyone in the town has something to hide, including Keiran who has recently returned to help his parents move house. This is a classic whodunnit, but while I enjoyed the mystery, it was the setting that really made this book for me.

I think I have read A Discovery of Witches at least 10 times now! For me, it’s very much a comfort read, an escape from the real world and into one dominated by witches, vampires and daemons. The first of a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches takes us to Oxford, rural France and the Highlands of Scotland all from the perspective of ‘creatures’ who live in plain sight. I think what I love about this series is that it is unashamedly academic – there are so many details of history, genetics, religion and science that are weaved together in this parallel universe.

Another book I read was The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma but I think I need a separate blog post for that! I will see if I can stick with it for a bit longer first.