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: 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: November 2021 reads

In November, I read:

  • Ask No Questions by Claire Allan
  • The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell (non-fiction)
  • Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
  • We Can’t All be Astronauts by Tim Clare (non-fiction)

I have read all of Claire Allan’s psychological thrillers and enjoyed them. Ask No Questions wasn’t my favourite, but it was still an interesting read about a journalist investigating the death of a young girl 20 years ago. Has there been a miscarriage of justice or was the right man sent to prison for the crime? 

The Art of War for Writers has lots of great advice for writers, delivered in very short chapters (some only a page or two). It’s a book I will probably dip into again when I need some inspiration.

Haven’t They Grown has a really intriguing premise – what if you saw a friend that you had lost touch with 12 years ago and her children hadn’t changed a bit? My brain was on overdrive reading this psychological thriller and trying to guess the answer.

One of the teenaged characters in my next book is reading The Catcher in the Rye, so I wanted to make sure I got the references right. I haven’t read this book for years and I had forgotten most of it. Nothing really happens, to be honest, but it’s a great example of voice and character in action.

I have been following and enjoying Tim Clare’s podcast, Death of 1,000 cuts, particularly his ‘Couch to 80k bootcamp’ which really helped me kickstart my writing when I got stuck. We Can’t All be Astronauts follows Clare’s journey to becoming a published writer. You can’t say he didn’t pull out all the stops, from infiltrating London Book Fair pretending to be a publisher, to appearing on a TV reality show. Really funny in parts, but there is also a very serious side as Clare explores the impact of his mental breakdown and how writing aided his recovery. A lot to think about in this highly engaging memoir.

On the Shelf: October 2021 reads

In October 2021, I read:

  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  • Watch Her Fall by Erin Kelly
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 
  • Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (proof copy)
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean by L D Lapinski

I am a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was excited to read the spin-off which takes us back to the origins of the Games when Cornelius Snow is a young man, acting as a mentor to one of the tributes. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book if you haven’t read the others, or you weren’t a fan of the original books, but it was great to be back in this world and I am hoping this is the start of a new series.

Watch Her Fall is set in the world of ballet, and it was fascinating to get a peek behind the curtains of a professional dance school. I was a bit disappointed though that the whole book wasn’t set in this world though. A very enjoyable read and a good, twisty plot that kept me guessing.

I had come across Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line when it was appearing on the shortlists of writing competitions before it got a publishing deal. I’d always loved the title and the opening sequence, and the rest of the novel didn’t disappoint. It follows a group of street kids in India solving the mystery of the disappearance of children from their shanty town. Heart-breaking at times, and hard-hitting in its depiction of poverty, I am definitely following this series.

Confessions of a Bookseller is a non-fiction book I was given for my birthday. I enjoyed the wry humour and the ups and downs of running a book shop.

Crossing the Lines is an atmospheric and haunting coming-of-age story of a young girl escaping her fate and returning to her roots. With compelling characters and evocative prose, this is a journey of self-discovery that will stay with you long after you read the last line. Crossing the Lines was a proof copy and was published in November 2021.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean. It’s a middle-grade book so I am not its intended audience, but I just love the world(s) L D Lapinski has created. I am definitely going to be reading the rest of this series. I’ve bought these books as Christmas and birthday presents and they always get the thumbs up from young readers.

ON THE SHELF: SEPTEMBER 2021 READS

In September 2021, I read:

  • Hostage, Clare Mackintosh
  • When She Was Good, Michael Robotham
  • The Dark Side of the Mind, Kerry Daynes (non-fiction / research)
  • The Colours of Death, Patricia Marques
  • The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
  • The Wedding Party, Tammy Cohen
  • Trust Me, T M Logan

I bought The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques after seeing her speak at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. I was intrigued by the premise of the book in which the detective has telepathic abilities. I really enjoyed the way the author added an element of science fiction to a traditional police procedural, and it was fun to read a book set in Lisbon, a place I have never visited. I will definitely look out for her next book.

When She Was Good was a Richard and Judy selection and I thought it was excellent, one of the best books I have read all year. I’m really happy to have discovered Michael Robotham and am looking forward to reading his other novels.

I love Tammy Cohen’s books, but I was a bit apprehensive about reading this one as it has a very similar premise to my next book. However, I was really pleased that while they are both set at weddings, the plot line and characters were totally different. Again, this had a great setting of a Greek island.

T M Logan’s books are always page turners and Trust Me was no exception. I really enjoyed this book. Hostage is also a thrilling read – set on a transatlantic flight from London to Sydney.

I read The Thursday Murder Club to see what all the fuss was about. It was OK. I thought the second half was better than the first. It was a bit too gentle for my liking. Not sure whether I will read the next one.

A COVER AND A NEW TITLE FOR BOOK TWO!

You’re invited to the wedding of the season…but you might not live to tell the tale!

The cover of my second book was revealed on social media this week and I love it!

I love the striking contrast between the red, white and black. Coincidentally these were the colours of my own wedding which makes it extra special.

Some of you will know that I originally called the book The Wedding Guest, but the title was changed after discussions with the publisher, One More Chapter.

The Wedding Murders features Libby Steele, a plus-one at a celebrity wedding. She’s the guest of her boyfriend Matthew who used to be in a Britpop band with the groom. It’s the first time the band have been reunited since their acrimonious split in the 90s and Libby soon realises they all have secrets to hide.

When a bridesmaid goes missing just hours before the ceremony, Libby suspects there’s a killer on the loose…

I was lucky enough to get an endorsement from the amazing Sophie Hannah which blew me away. This is what she said about the book:

‘This gripping murder mystery will keep you riveted from start to end. Fans of Lucy Foley and Agatha Christie will love it.’ 

You can’t get much better than that! But here are some of the other lovely endorsements I’ve received from published authors:

‘An intensely compelling, riveting story with a nail-biting climax!’ Abby Davies, author of Mother Loves Me

‘A fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns’ Sophie Flynn, author of All My Lies 

‘A gripping tale with plenty of twists and turns making for a most enjoyable read!’ Roz Watkins, author of The Devil’s Dice

I really enjoyed writing this book. It will be published as an ebook in February 2022 and a paperback in April 2022 and is available to pre-order now.

If you’re a book blogger, you can request a review copy on Netgalley.

Book Two is on its way!

I’ve had a busy couple of months since signing with my agent.

I have recently signed a book deal for my second psychological thriller, provisionally called The Wedding Guest. If all goes to plan, book two will be published by One More Chapter in April 2022.

Local journalist Libby is a plus-one at a celebrity wedding at a grand manor house in rural North Yorkshire. She’s the guest of her boyfriend, Matthew, who used to be in a Britpop band in the 90s. It’s the first time the band members have been reunited since the band split up and she quickly discovers that they have something to hide…

I’m really looking forward to launching Libby into the world! This book was a lot of fun to research and write.

At the moment I am doing my structural edits. These are big changes that the editor suggests in order to make sure the story works. They’re a little tricky, as you have to check that when you change something in chapter 20, it doesn’t impact on something in chapter 47. There is a lot of ‘find and replace’ going on! The plan is to complete these edits by the end of May.

I have also been working on a follow-up to this book. It’s early days and I have just done an outline, a bit of preliminary research and written about 3,000 words. This means I have put aside the other novel I was working on for the time being. At some point I am hoping to pick it back up and work on them both simultaneously but I’m not sure if my brain can handle that…

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

On the shelf: March 2021 reads

In February 2021 I read:

  • Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis
  • If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin
  • The 24-hour Café by Libby Page
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • Girl at Christmas by Rhoda Baxter
  • Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley (non-fiction)
  • The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie
  • The Choice by Alex Lake
  • All my Lies by Sophie Flynn (proof – to be published in April 2021)
  • The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter (non-fiction)

The stand-out title for me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, one of my favourite writers. Chevalier can make just about any subject fascinating, so although bell ringing and embroidery are by no means my favourite things, I found myself drawn into this world. The novel is set in 1932 and I really enjoyed reading about that period and the expectations of women and their roles in society between the two world wars.

All My Lies was a proof, kindly sent out in advance of the publication date of April 2021. A psychological suspense, set in Oxford and Cornwall, I really enjoyed this debut novel. Great characters, evocative writing, interesting locations and a page-turning plot with plenty of twists and turns.

The Agatha Christie was not for me. I found the premise completely ridiculous to be honest!

The other stand-out title for me was The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter. I found it quite inspiring and a practical approach to defining your goals and working towards them. I particularly liked the emphasis on self-care and looking after yourself so that you don’t burn out.

In March, I am planning to read:

  • The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty
  • How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  • The Hit List by Holly Seddon
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?