Between 17 and 20 May, crime fiction lovers from around the world flocked to the city of Bristol for its annual CrimeFest convention, with special guests including Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver. Another important attendee was Jacky Collins – AKA Dr Noir – who is the driving force behind Newcastle Noir. Our reporter from the North East headed to the South West to bring us a look at the best things CrimeFest had to offer. If you couldn’t attend, here’s your chance to catch up…
Five great things about CrimeFest 2018
This year was a very special year for the convention as it celebrated its tenth anniversary. Yes, that’s ten years of crime fiction appreciation and organisational expertise from the hosts. The birthday has been celebrated in print through a charity anthology packed short stories contributed by crime authors, meanwhile on the ground there was all kinds of live action excitement at the Bristol Royal Marriott hotel…
Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver
1 – Fantastic guest authors
This year we were treated to a fine blend of new and favourite featured authors. Each one is a best-selling, world-class crime writer, many of them having supported the convention over the last 10 years. While around the world people watched the Royal Wedding on Saturday 19 May, at CrimeFest our attention was drawn to an exceptionally engaging pairing as Lee Child, creator of massively popular Jack Reacher, was interviewed alongside American crime author Jeffrey Deaver. Later that afternoon, having had a chance to refuel and recharge our batteries, we settled in for the next impressive pairing of criminal storytellers – the inimitable Matina Cole and immensely talented Peter James. Yet for Dr Noir, with a weakness for crime fiction in translation, it was the final pairing that brought ultimate criminal delight. The Queen of Icelandic crime fiction, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Gunnar Staalesen – a Norwegian Chandler – regaled us with insight into their work, explained the trends of crime fiction in the Nordic countries, and left us in no doubt that the literary phenomenon that is Nordic noir is far from finished.
2 – Wonderful range of panels
When you glance through the array of panellists appearing at CrimeFest, the reaction that immediately comes to mind is that iconic line from the old Ferrero Rocher advert: ‘Oh ambassador, you spoil us.’ You could be sure during every session at least one panel would be discussing themes that are of most interest to you, and you’d undoubtedly get to hear at least one author that’s new to you and whose latest novel will find its way into your suitcase. Dr Noir’s highlights this year were the Krimi Panel (German language crime fiction) and the Bloody Scotland panel. The former introduced me to the work of Oliver Bottini, Simone Buchholz, Dirk Kubjuweit and Andreas Pflüger, while the later, comprising Tana Collins, Lesley Kelley, Douglas Lindsay, Caro Ramsey and Michael Malone focused on those tricky questions of identity, place and voice in Tartan Noir. I should like to stress, though, that these are my limited pick from an amazing choice of panels and an incredible number of authors.
3 – Awards, awards, awards! There’s always twofold cause for celebration over the weekend as both the CrimeFest Awards are presented and also the longlists for the CWA Dagger Awards are announced. The anticipation of the winners being revealed brings a lovely frisson to the Gala Dinner and what impresses me most is the variety of categories and the format of the judging panels for each award. As you might imagine by now, Dr Noir’s favourite category of the evening is always the The Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, which this year went to Swedish author Malin Persson Gioloto for Quicksand, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles. I haven’t managed to get to this book yet, but with the endorsement of this award it has made its way further up the mammoth tbr pile by my bed. However, Dr Noir is very proud to say that she was very familiar with two of the works longlisted for the CWA International Dagger – The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason as translated by Victoria Cribb, and Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates. It goes without saying that here was much celebrating in Bristol that night over the success of Nordic noir.
4 – A great atmosphere
While much of the convention’s success undoubtedly lies with the plethora of crime writing talent all found under one roof, a large part of why the event is so popular with readers, authors, publishers, bloggers and agents is the convivial atmosphere that pervades the venue from breakfast into the wee small hours. Whether you’re having that all important catch-up over coffee in the hotel bar, raising a toast with friends out on the patio to their recent publications, unleashing your competitive streak at the CrimeFest pub quiz or giggling as authors battle it out at the closing I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Cluedo panel, it’s that great sense of being amongst friends that makes this convention so special. This year’s highlight for Dr Noir on the socialising front was joining Team Orenda for a spot of karaoke at a local establishment – who knew that crime writers were also blessed with considerable musical talent!
5 – Lovely location
By location I mean the hotel and the city. Located at the heart of the city, the Bristol Royal Mariott is close to an incredible range of cafes, bar, restaurants and shops. Over the weekend, the intensity of the event means it can be helpful to get some fresh air, stretch your legs and have a bite to eat. There’s something for everyone here with some lovely peaceful spaces even in this bustling city. For me it was the City Library, not 200 metres from the hotel, which provided a much-needed moment of calm with lovely, reviving tea and cake. Excellent air, rail and road links make Bristol the perfect city in which to host an international crime convention. CrimeFest comes quite soon after Newcastle Noir, so Dr Noir really appreciates the accessibility of the city and the great welcome that awaits at the hotel venue.
And one not so great thing…
Anyone who attended the Detecting Duos panel witnessed something that rarely occurs at crime fiction events, which are usually so readily embracing of difference and diversity. During the session, the moderator used pejorative language relating to transgender people and steered the discussion towards an attack on political correctness. She was challenged at the time, and the incident was discussed vigorously in the bar afterwards and on social media, with many left shocked. Of course, the organisers were mortified by what occurred and issued a statement on the CrimeFest Facebook page. But here’s what’s interesting to my mind: it’s vital that we can discuss attitudes or prejudices that may offend, indeed crime fiction often contains characters with prejudiced views, however it’s equally important to find a positive way of discussing these topics and maintain an atmosphere of respect and conviviality at our gatherings.
In that spirit, to finish off this report, I’d like to refer to the welcome from the co-hosts found in the CrimeFest 2018 programme. In it, they thank all those who have supported CrimeFest over the last 10 years and welcome all those that were new to the festival this year – the warmth that is expressed in these lines sums up the feeling of warmth and belonging that permeated the whole event. Thank you Myles, Donna, Adrian and all the CrimeFest team. Here’s to the next 10 years!
Written by Jeffery Deaver — Can you imagine the reaction when Jeffery Deaver pitched his first Lincoln Rhyme novel. ‘Oh yes, and my protagonist is quadriplegic, solving everything from the confines of his apartment…’ What’s the betting that they said it’d never catch on?
How wrong could those people be? We’re now 15 books down the line and Rhyme and his new wife Amelia Sachs are about to face a particularly tricky customer. He’s dubbed himself The Promisor and is targeting newly engaged couples. The first murders occur in New York’s Diamond District, where William and Anna are visiting the workshop of one of the city’s most talented diamond cutters, Jatin Patel, to collect their engagement ring. Minutes later they are all dead, at the hands of a man wearing a ski mask. The Promisor has claimed the first of many victims…
Who was that masked man? We’re let into that secret pretty early. He’s a mad Russian with a pocketful of fake passports and some kind of demented notion that taking gems from the ground and turning them into bits of jewellery is tantamount to raping the earth of its beauty. The villain is referred to as a ‘nutter’ by senior insurance claims examiner Edward Ackroyd, an ex-Met Police officer who is keen to help the investigation along, but this serial killer is also mighty clever, slyly getting to his targets when no one else is looking.
As fans know, the great thing about Lincoln Rhyme is that he doesn’t let his bodily restrictions stop his brain from taking flight and the old grey cells get a proper workout in a book that is as multi-faceted as the gems at heart of this story. Deaver’s novels are always impeccably researched. Whether it be the magic-making of The Vanished Man, or the implications of letting technology take over in The Steel Kiss, you’re dragged into the subject hook, line and sinker.
So be prepared for a bombardment of information and new words and phrases to learn in this latest release. How about diamantaire? It’s the name given to people who excel at diamond cutting, like the now deceased Jatin Patel. Or kimberlite, or the initials FD? By the time you’re through, you’ll know all of these – and more – intimately. And you’ll never look at a diamond ring in the same way again.
About halfway through this book it does dip a little. Somehow, Deaver puts all his cards on the table way too early. Plus, there are so many diversions from the main story strand that you might start thinking that the master has lost his touch. But don’t fall into his trap, for while that opening 50 per cent can appear a little too transparent, the latter part of The Cutting Edge will lead you on unexpected, devilishly devious paths.
Deaver’s love of a detour or two gives some added spice. Rhyme may be confined to quarters, but it doesn’t stop him taking an interest in matters outside his remit – and that could be about to put him (and another member of his team) into a whole lot of trouble. Oh, and New York is suffering from strange earth tremors, which may or may not be connected to a geothermal site in Brooklyn. All the usual gang is along for the ride, with Amelia Sachs beginning to feel her age, even though her penchant for derring do remains undiminished, the there’s Lon Sellito, Mel Cooper, ‘Rookie’ Ron Pulaski and the rest, with the decidedly British Ackroyd along for the ride, offering plenty of sound advice and even a new pastime for Rhyme – cryptic crosswords, no less – quite apt as it goes…
So, don’t be put off by the early part of this book, stick with it and you’ll be in for a few surprises. Hats off to Jeffery Deaver for coming up with the goods once again.
For more thrills in the Big Apple, may we suggest Hangman by Daniel Cole, or David Mark’s Cruel Mercy.
On the Radar — Here we are again, like clockwork, with a new instalment of On the Radar, featuring the latest crime novels to hit the shelves. This week, author Andrew Wilson turns the clock back to 1927 as he once again sets Agatha Christie out not as a crime author but a crime solver, and in A Different Kind of Evil she’s also working for British Intelligence (is there such a thing?). We’ve plenty more for you to devour. Ruth Ware’s latest is being released, there’s a new gothic mystery set in Edinburgh, and doesn’t the debut Find You in the Dark sound like it has an interesting premise?
A Different Kind of Evil by Andrew Wilson
The second novel in Andrew Wilson’s series featuring none other than the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, finds our heroine on her way to the sunny Canary Islands. It’s no holiday jaunt though, at the behest of British Special Agent Davison, Agatha sets off by boat to investigate the strange and gruesome death of Douglas Greene, an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. However, on the way she gets sidetracked by a woman throwing herself overboard from the cruise ship. We previously reviewed A Talent for Murder. Out 31 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware
With the loan sharks circling, Harriet Westaway is delighted to find out her Cornish gran has left her a pile of cash. Particularly as she is fully aware her grandparents died 20 years ago and it’s a case of mistaken identity. She needs that money and with a sideline as a seaside fortune teller she is confident she can bluff her way through. Soon events take a more sinister turn in this dark psychological thriller. Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 sold by the metric ton but we rated her last book, The Lying Game, as better. Released 29 May in the US, 28 June in the UK. Pre-order now on Amazon
Loch of the Dead by Oscar de Muriel
There is a wonderful cover in this, the fourth in the Victorian Gothic crime series featuring Inspectors Frey and ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray. A woman asks the pair for help after her son, the heir to a vast wine-producing estate, receives an an anonymous death threat. In return, she offers McGray access to a miraculous spring on an island at Loch Maree, which could provide a cure for his sister who has been locked in an insane asylum after brutally murdering their parents. It’s tempting, but this sacred burial ground holds many dark secrets… We’ve previously reviewed The Strings of Murder. Out on 31 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley
A debut thriller with an interesting premise, which comes out as a paperback on 31 May. Martin Reese has an obsession. He secretly buys up police files on serial killers, studies them and uses what he discovers to find missing bodies then turns over his findings, anonymously, to the police. He thinks of his work as a public service, but Detective Sandra Whittal sees things differently. She wants to find the man she calls The Finder before he has any thoughts of turning killer himself. Meanwhile, Martin’s latest investigation takes a dangerous turn. Pre-order now on Amazon
Red Hot Front by Harry Brett
Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside… especially when the salty air of Great Yarmouth beckons for the second instalment in Harry Brett’s gritty series featuring widow Tatiana Goodwin. Her husband’s business empire had its share of criminal entanglements but she stands to profit. She plans to cash in and leave the crime behind but it’s not easy to shake off her gangster husband’s past. A fire in the company HQ and a mounting death toll soon leave Tatty fighting to protect her family as Brett mines the seamier side of the coastal resort. Released 31 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Meltdown by GP James
If the names Chernobyl and Fukushima get your heart fluttering with anxiety then this thriller promises to set your pulse pounding. An unexpected but devastating earthquake rocks the northeast of the USA and the ageing infrastructure of the Bear Mountain Nuclear Energy Center creaks and groans. Plant supervisor Trace Crane fights to save the reactor while his wife, Avi, desperately searches for their daughter. Soon radiation is spilled into the environment and millions of people in the New York City area scramble for survival. It’s not just the plant that is in meltdown as humanity faces a devastating threat. Out now. Buy now on Amazon
The graphic novel of Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die goes on sale 26 June, but we couldn’t hold back on giving you an eyeful of this beauty. This is one you’re going to want to get your hands on.
Eight Million Ways to Die was originally published in 1982, the fifth book in the Matt Scudder detective series set in New York. It’s been adapted here by John K Snyder III, who has reworked the story and drawn all the artwork for the graphic novel format. Flicking through it, and reading the first dozen or so pages, he hasn’t done much wrong. This artwork totally tags an 80s comics vibe, when the likes of Eastman and Laird, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz were at the top of their games, producing dark and heavily shaded images that stood on their own as works of art.
And the story… Well, it’s hard to take the detail and density of a novel and satisfactorily convert it to the comic book format, but this really does feel like reading a detective novel. Maybe the shading, rendering and detail in the artwork just fills in the gaps as you land in a New York diner where Matt Scudder is drinking coffee and waiting for redemption. It seems to walk through the door in the form of Kim Dakkinen, a classy-looking prostitute who feels threatened and wants out of the game. Scudder agrees to protect her, but as soon as he gets close to her she’s murdered. And so the real story is how he solves her murder, all the while battling with the bottle.
New York in the early 80s was a badass place, where murder was on the menu in any number of neighbourhoods. That sense of hazard and foreboding is well captured in the text and imagery here, unlike the 1986 movie version which starred Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. In that rendition, the action was moved to Los Angeles and it came out looking like a cash-in on Miami Vice.
This is just a preview, we’ll bring you a full review closer to the launch, but our recommendation is that you don’t wait for Eight Million Ways to Die to sell out. The hardback that arrived here at CFL HQ is a dandy. You can see what we mean with a range of the artwork, below. Also see our interview with Lawrence Block from a few years back.
Written by Rebecca Alexander — Former psychologist Rebecca Alexander certainly knows how to mess with your mind, as evidenced by this debut novel which introduces archaeologist Sage Westfield and is set in the Isle of Wight.
Sage is pregnant and has recently split up with the married father of her child, although Marcus doesn’t appear to be taking the hint and is making a right royal nuisance of himself. It’s Sage’s first baby and she’s preparing for it alone, so a call to check out some bones found in an ancient well in the gardens of a cottage in the village of Banstock is all the more poignant. Covered up by the contents of a midden are two distinct skeletons – one is of a woman, tall for the 16th century, which is when the bones date back to, while the others belong to a new born baby of the same period.
The cottage belongs to the Bassett family, newly arrived on the island and they have enough troubles of their own. James Bassett is dying of cancer and spending time in and out of the hospice, his wife Judith is struggling to keep everything together, and their young daughter Chloe is acting up. The last thing they need is a major excavation going on in their garden, but Sage and her team of students have a job to do, and the more they dig – both figuratively and literally – the stranger their findings become.
There are two timelines in play here; tales centuries apart, running in tandem. The modern-day happenings intermingle with excerpts from a journal kept in 1580, by Vincent Garland, Steward to Lord Banstock. The two stories are connected… but how? When it occurs, their confluence is dramatic and the build-up to it will have you jumping at shadows – as mentioned earlier, this is an author who delights in playing with your emotions.
Setting the book on the little Isle of Wight is a nifty choice. It’s a place with a chocolate box image, where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business; a place that appears safe and secure. However, as things begin to unravel and a modern-day murder occurs, that comfortable complacency must be set aside.
Sage is an interesting protagonist and you get the feeling that if she wasn’t so heavily pregnant she’d be taking risks and getting herself into all sorts of bother, Indiana Jones style. Instead, she exudes a sense of frustration, which isn’t helped by the ongoing problem of Marcus and her budding romance with the local (admittedly rather hunky) vicar. Back in the 16th century, things are even more tricky, with witchcraft, suspicion, alchemy and even sorcery on the menu. Early experiments back then are in sharp contrast to today, where carbon dating and facial reconstruction are achieved by the wonders of modern technology, not slight of hand.
The interplay across the centuries is well conceived, although the strange cursive text that heads the 16th century chapters is difficult to decipher and can slow down reading progress. The meandering timelines are sometimes annoying – you’ll just be engrossed in one drama then thrown backwards or forwards in time to another – but at the heart of both strands is a murder mystery that will keep you guessing for a goodly portion of this book. Some parts prove more puzzling than others, but overall this is a novel that engages and entertains and I look forward to seeing how things develop in A Shroud of Leaves, which will be out next year.
If you like the archaeological angle, then try a Tempe Brennan book by Kathy Reichs. On the other hand, if it’s a hint of the supernatural you enjoy, we think John Connolly is the master there.
Written by Mark Edwards — The writers’ retreat, or any kind of retreat for that matter, is an ideal setting for a crime novel. Spend a week cooped up with strangers in an unfamiliar environment exposed to their irks, quirks and egos, and anyone might start harbouring murderous thoughts. When you add a creaky old house, people with traumatic pasts, and writers with a keen imagination to the mix, you can expect something explosive. Mark Edwards‘ latest standalone novel certainly delivers explosions, but they are well controlled by the author and used judiciously throughout the story.
Lucas Radcliffe is a horror author who’s only just got to feel the sweet taste of success with his most recent book. He is now struggling to meet the deadline for the next one and goes on a writing retreat in North Wales, close to the area where he was born, so he can focus on his novel. Almost as soon as he arrives on the doorstep of the rambling old house he meets the sad and lonely owner, Julia, and is distracted from his project.
Julia lost her husband and daughter in a tragic accident two years ago. Because her little girl’s body was never found, she refuses to believe the child is dead and blames the police for giving up on the case too soon. Lucas, who feels slightly guilty that his own books deal with kidnappings and deaths, decides to help Julia by hiring a private investigator. Concurrently, strange things start happening at the house, making the motley collection of authors panic. Even Lucas, a staunch sceptic, starts to doubt his recollection of events. Besides, Lucas himself is no stranger to tragedy, and this might be altering his normally clear-eyed perception.
The Retreat is a pageturner that must be devoured in as few sittings as possible order to get the maximum benefit from the increasingly claustrophobic and sinister atmosphere. Yet there are some lighter moments too. There is much fun to be had via the other writers on the retreat, with their squabbles and rivalries. They are all somewhat typical of the publishing industry and include the self-published author, the newbie and the pretentious literary writer who looks down on Lucas. Yet Edwards shows us that first impressions are misleading even with these apparently stock characters.
The local villagers are also delightfully eccentric, recognisable yet complex, harbouring their own secrets, often gruff and unwilling to talk. Some of them remember Lucas’ parents and his own story becomes interwoven with the history of the village. There does seem to be a trend recently in both books and film to explore how urban myths and local superstitions can cause trouble or even provoke mass hysteria, and this is certainly one appealing aspect of the book. Supernatural elements in crime fiction are criticised by some purists, but this novel has a very interesting way of handling them.
The Retreat could do with less romance, which doesn’t add much to the story when it occurs. Perhaps it could have been left to the end. There’s lots of foreshadowing too, leaving you far ahead of Lucas’ deductions. Having to wait for him to catch up makes it feel repetitive, resulting in a story that sags in the middle. Yet, overall, this is certainly no cosy crime novel, and the moments of suspense are nicely blended with folklore and local legends to create a sinister sense of unease.
For other novels set at least partially at writers’ retreats or conferences, see Exquisite by Sarah Stovell or, for a more humorous take on the topic, Invitation to Die by Helen Smith.
Written by Tim Weaver — David Raker searches for missing people, but what happens when he has to look for someone who isn’t missing at all? They’re dead, in fact, and Raker is certain of that because the person in question is his late, much loved, greatly missed wife Derryn.
She died eight years ago after a long battle with cancer – so who on earth is the woman who has turned up at Charing Cross police station, claiming to be his wife? She certainly looks like Derryn, but she appears confused. As Raker watches from behind a one-way mirror, he hears the woman recount details only Derryn would know. She is sent to a refuge while further inquiries are made, but she never arrives. Where has the mysterious woman gone? Is she really Derryn? If so, who did Raker bury? Was there even a funeral? Is Raker losing his mind?
Raker has been around for nine books now, and we’ve reviewed The Dead Tracks and four other titles in the series. So how will a series newbie fare by jumping in blindly to book number nine? It will probably help if you have some background knowledge of the man and his previous cases because some of the back stories are lightly sketched in and may leave you wondering, but You Were Gone works pretty well as a standalone too, and having no prior knowledge is a bit of an advantage in some aspects of this book.
Because Raker’s predicament turns him into the most unreliable of narrators and as you read you’ll be continually debating the whys and wherefores, much like Raker himself. The police seem convinced that he has been holding his wife prisoner for the past eight years, an eminent psychologist maintains he treated Raker for Capgras delusion, where a person believes their husband, wife or child has been replaced by an exact replica and – worst of all – he can’t find Deryn’s death certificate. Is he going mad, or being played like a fish on a line?
You Were Gone is a densely plotted, gripping, eminently readable thriller that will take you to the edge of reason and back again. There’s so much going on that there’s barely chance to take a breath – but it’s a good idea to pry the book out of your whitened fingertips occasionally, take stock of what’s just happened and maybe talk to a real human being before plunging back into the maelstrom.
Raker is an enjoyable protagonist, even though he’s a man who really doesn’t know if he’s coming or going. That confusion threatens to overwhelm, but once he begins to treat the conundrum like one of his missing persons cases, all manner of horrors come out of the woodwork until he receives help from a most unexpected source. The main narrative is interspersed with passages from the journal of an unnamed person, someone whose scribings get more and more unhinged as the plot thickens. Who is the writer and can their ramblings be trusted?
Weaver is well named as he can certainly weave a tale, and we interviewed him back in the early days of the site. Fans of the Raker series will know all about ‘Bryan Kennedy’ and his connections to the central character, but at the end of You Were Gone there’s a hint that things are about to come to a head with that particular plot strand. So it looks like book 10 is on the horizon, which is great for fans. For the newbies, maybe time to go back to the start with Chasing the Dead?
Written by Louise Voss — You certainly can’t accuse Louise Voss of not having her finger on the pulse of things. Over her 18-year writing career and 11 novels, she has tackled, either on her own or together with writing partner Mark Edwards, plenty of unusual yet always topical subjects. In Catch your Death it was unethical medical research, post-divorce dating in The Venus Trap, bone marrow donation in Lifesaver and even boyband fans in The Blissfully Dead. All the fears and traumas of modern life are handled in a sensitive manner and become part of the story, not serving as a mere inert backdrop for a conventional tale of murder or kidnapping.
The Old You is very much in this mould. It starts off like a domestic drama about a middle-aged couple. Lynn’s husband Ed is diagnosed with early onset dementia and suddenly their happy life together just outside London and joyous retirement plans come crashing down on them.
So far so normal, but dig a little deeper, and we see that Lynn and Ed’s marriage was built on fragile foundations. It is impossible to say much more here without giving away the surprises, but suffice to say that Ed’s first marriage ended in tragedy. When Ed starts forgetting words and misplacing things, Lynn cannot help comparing this diminished version of her husband with the charismatic man who captured her heart ten years ago. Memories resurface, some of them quite different to how she had originally remembered them, and sinister things start to happen.
Those who like fast pacing and big bangs might struggle with how gradual the reveal is, but this is like putting a lid on a simmering pot. There is no sudden single twist, but a steady unpeeling of layer after layer of the story, like an onion, so it’s best to allow the book to work its magic on you. The first few chapters had me wondering if this was indeed a suspense novel, but the pace certainly picks up towards the end of the book.
In a crowded psychological thriller market, there are two things which make Louise Voss’ books stand out. The first is the authentic and completely believable female voice. Lynn is neither a victim nor a superwoman – she is a sensible everywoman with good qualities and flaws just like the rest of us. She is intelligent, non-apologetic, but still full of insecurities and anxieties. Although she made friends under false pretences, her friendships are sound, so there is less of that ‘lone woman in danger in remote location’ scenario so popular in domestic noir, and which do not sound at all plausible to many women once they have passed their early 20s.
The second element is precisely that link to everyday topics which can crop up in all of our lives: aging and mental health, and how a marriage can cope with both. In many ways, a domestic set-up is a pretext for the story in a psychological thriller, but Louise Voss has the talent to weave just enough details to make it informative and touching, rather than a disposable bolt-on to set the plot in motion.
A memorable read, with characters who are sometimes uncomfortably close to real life.
We have also reviewed the excellent From the Cradle by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. For the ultimate in domestic noir, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
He cut his writing teeth on screenplays for the likes of crime serials Torn, The Little House and Silent Witness before creating the popular DI Helen Grace series of books, now MJ Arlidge’s work is back on the small screen.
Unlike television adaptations of the likes of Robert Galbraith and Ann Cleeves, this four parter, cowritten with Chris Lang, is an original drama and not based upon any previous book. Innocent will run over four consecutive nights on ITV, starting Monday 13 May, and stars Hermione Norris and Lee Ingleby. Here’s the trailer:
Innocent | This May | ITV - YouTube
David Collins (Ingleby) is living a nightmare. Convicted of murdering his wife Tara, David has served seven years in prison. He’s lost everything he held dear: his wife, his two children and even the house he owned. He’s always protested his innocence and faces the rest of his life behind bars. His situation couldn’t be more desperate.
He’s shunned by his wife’s family and friends and his only support has been his faithful brother Phil (Daniel Ryan) who has stood by him, sacrificing his own career and livelihood to mount a tireless campaign to prove his brother’s innocence. Now the case is to be reopened, a move which is condemned by Tara’s childless sister Alice (Norris) and her husband Rob (Adrian Rowlins), who are now parents to David’s children. For Alice there’s no doubt of his guilt and she’s devastated by the prospect of an appeal.
Isabelle Grey is a prolific writer, whose crime fiction series features murder detective Grace Fisher. She’s also written the standalone psychological thrillers, Out of Sight and The Bad Mother, and her television writing credits include over 35 episodes of series such as The Bill, Casualty, Wycliffe, Rosemary & Thyme and Midsomer Murders. She also writes journalism and non-fiction books under the name Isabelle Anscombe. She grew up in Manchester, was educated there and at Newnham College, Cambridge, and now lives in London.
Her Detective Inspector Grace Fisher is about to delve into the murky past of the police and a town with secrets in a cold case review when the fourth novel in the series, Wrong Way Home, is published later this month. We collared Isabelle for a briefing on what to expect as Grace investigates a brutal historic rape and murder in Southend, Essex, and goes after the most dangerous killer of her career.
What do you hope crime fiction lovers will love about Wrong Way Home? Grace Fisher has a very obvious puzzle to solve in Wrong Way Home when DNA evidence points to more than one suspect in a crime committed by one man. I had extraordinary help from a serving detective and a leading forensic scientist, which made it so exciting to write the story, confident that Grace was right at the cutting edge of modern police work. And then, as I wrote it, it also became about families, and about dealing with the past – whether it makes you who you are, or whether you can choose to escape it.
This is the fourth book in the Detective Inspector Grace Fisher series. Can you us move about her and how she is developing as a character? Grace is emerging from the shadow of her own past, covered in Good Girls Don’t Die, and becoming far more confident – in her work, at least, if not entirely in her personal life! She will always suffer a measure of self-doubt, but then that’s what makes her a good intuitive detective. Nevertheless, in this book, she’s starting to realise what she wants for herself.
You are a former journalist with the inside track on the relationship between journalists and police officers. Grace has worked closely in the past with tabloid crime reporter Ivo Sweatman. Have you drawn on your experiences of working with the cops? I was a feature writer – never a news or crime reporter – so Ivo and his relationship with Grace is pure wishful thinking! But, as a journalist, I did interview probably hundreds of people, and later, as a TV screenwriter, worked alongside a lot of cops, so it wasn’t such a huge leap of imagination to put myself – with a pinch of salt – into Ivo’s shoes. Police officers, like doctors, deal with stories which they have to prove or disprove with whatever evidence they can find. Journalists go the other way and take information they’ve gathered and turn it into a story. Sometimes these two different aims end up at odds with one another, which is partly why Grace tries to distance herself from Ivo. She also has a personal reason, but I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t yet read The Special Girls, the previous book in the series!
Grace is investigating a cold case from 25 years ago, when both the police and journalists acted very differently from today. What drew you to feature an old unsolved case this time? First of all, I couldn’t resist writing about that moment when a police officer gets to knock on a perpetrator’s door after 25 years and say, “You know why we’re here, don’t you?”
Plus I liked the juxtaposition between the incredible potential of current forensic science and a time when the tools of physical evidence were far more limited. I’m always interested in the loyalties and ‘noble cause corruption’ within institutions, especially the police. Years ago both the police service and crime reporting were more of a boy’s club. They had greater autonomy to trade information, but that sometimes gave rise to inappropriate loyalties or even outright corruption – and paradoxically also to a greater sense of honour, if sometimes only honour among thieves. So all of that is in the book.
There’s a stark contrast between old hack Ivo Sweatman’s world of print journalism and the young podcaster Freddie Craig, who appears to favour the adage ‘publish and be damned’. There are many excellent true crime podcasts that are not that extreme! Do you find them a good source material for crime fiction? Rather than material, what I have taken from true crime podcasts is how they’ve created a really fascinating new medium. I love their inherent ambiguity around the boundary between documentary truth and the use of theatrical forms of storytelling. Just because I’m hearing real voices, it doesn’t mean that both the narrator’s tone and the material aren’t being deliberately bent and shaped to elicit doubt and create misleading portraits and cliff-hangers, while cascades of detail suspend my disbelief by submerging me in a ‘real’ world. True crime podcasts are about constantly shifting perceptions, making the listener repeatedly re-interpret the evidence while trying to join the dots. What Freddie Craig tries to do is to make his listeners doubt him. Is he, the narrator, merely trying to make his material more entertaining or is he genuinely getting dangerously sucked in to his own story?
You are also a screenwriter who has worked on award-winning series. What motivated you to write crime fiction? Is this a very different writing process for you? Fiction is a very different beast to screenwriting, but it has not only given me the chance to write exactly what I want, but also to experience a very different process. Each form enriches the other. Screenwriting can be very strategic, which is useful in plotting, hiding clues and creating suspense, while writing a novel – for me, anyway – is much more organic. Jimmy McGovern talks about simplicity of plot, complexity of character, and I think that is even more important in a novel. When I no longer have a charismatic actor to make the audience root for a character, I have to do all the work of an actor myself, which has greatly increased my respect for what they do!
Do you visualise your book characters as you write and if so, who would be your actor of choice for Grace? I don’t so much visualise my characters as hear them, and hear their thoughts. Perhaps it’s because the many years I’ve spent writing screenplays have taught me not to second-guess the casting director! My dream casting for Grace would be an actor like Claire Foy or Emily Beecham, who can both show inner calculation or turmoil while remaining magnificently quiet and still.
Will we being seeing more of DI Grace Fisher? Grace is taking a little break while I write something rather different, although I’m sure she won’t stay away for long.
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