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I’ve listened to audio books for years, borrowing cassettes and CDs from the library before they were readily available elsewhere. Recently, of course, audio books have boomed in popularity. I have a subscription to Audible and I’ve discovered some great authors through listening to their books. I’ve not mentioned them here on my blog, largely because I find the listening experience different from reading and I often wonder if my response to print would be different. However, given my reading is now around fifty percent audio, I thought I’d start sharing some of my recent listens.

Audible Originals are audio recordings not published in print and I’ve found these incredibly satisfying to listen to. I recently discovered The Conception of Terror, four stories inspired by MR James. I’m a huge ghost story fan and MR James is probably one of the most familiar names of the genre. His stories are dominated by intellectual puzzles and vengeful spirits. Adaptations of his works abound in film and TV and, now, four of his tales have been updated by contemporary writers.

Casting the Runes is one of James’s most popular stories and Stephen Gallagher’s interpretation has academic Jo Harrington give a damning assessment of Karswell’s journal submission which results in her receiving a curse from the vengeful occultist. Her partner, Edward Dunning, a paramedic becomes increasingly concerned for Jo’s sanity. It’s a nightmarish, fresh take on a very popular story and brilliantly acted.

Lost Hearts is one of James’s creepiest stories involving the disappearance of children in the vicinity of an apparent benefactor. AK Benedict cleverly transposed the story to a modern day tower block, Aswarby House, where teenage Stephanie is being fostered. Benedict captures the tension and fear of the children involved and its tone is slightly more downbeat than James’s story which I thought perfect for contemporary times.

The final two – The Treasure of Abbott Thomas and A View from A Hill written by Jonathan Barnes and Mark Morris – move the stories not only to contemporary settings but address modern day preoccupations. In the first story, Mika Chantry played by Pearl Mackie is a former comprehensive school teacher who now heads up history in the independent Somerton school where allegations of abuse are surfacing. In the final story, a father’s grieving process after the death of his child is being recorded for a podcast which his wife considers intrusive and exploitative. In the finest Jamesian tradition, curiosity is punished and retribution gruesome.

All four stories could be enjoyed without knowledge of the James originals but are a delight to listen to when you know the stories. Hopefully we’ll get more stories updated  including my favourite – Warning to the Curious.

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This Sunday, I’m interviewing John Harvey, A A Dhand and Fran Dorricott at the Derby Book Festival. They’re writers at different stages of their careers and we’ll be discussing their books within the context of the contemporary crime novel. One of the best things about moderating panels is the opportunity I get to question authors about what they’ve written and I’m looking forward to the event.

John Harvey is the author of over a hundred novels, including the Nottingham based series featuring detective Charlie Resnick and, more recently, his Frank Elder books, of which  Body and Soul is the final instalment. Katherine, Elder’s daughter, is recovering from a traumatic relationship with Anthony Winter, an artist whose paintings of her suggest a relationship characterised by coercion and abuse. When Winter is found dead, both Elder and Katherine come under suspicion, while an old crime comes back to haunt them both. I’ve long been a fan of Harvey’s novels and Body and Soul is, unsurprisingly, a compelling narrative and a poignant ending to the series.

City of Sinners by A A Dhand is a slice of noir (in its traditional sense) set in Bradford. DCI Harry Virdee is called to a body found in Waterstones to discover he’s on the hunt for a sadistic killer who has a personal gripe with the detective. Part of the novel is narrated by Saima Virdee, an A and E doctor who is has to care for her estranged father in law. The combination of these two plots – the brutal and gritty search for a killer and the personal backstory of Virdee and Saima’s marriage make this a wonderful read. Dhand perfectly captures the rawness of late night Bradford.

After the Eclipse is the debut novel by Fran Dorricott. Cassie’s sister Olive disappeared in a small Derbyshire town during the 1999 eclipse. Journalist Cassie has returned to look after her elderly grandmother but, as another eclipse is forecast, a girl goes missing. Cassie, convinced that the two disappearances are connected, begins to look at the residents of Bishop’s Green to see if there’s a predator who has been living in the community all along. Dorricott excels at showing the tensions which arise when a crime takes place in a small town.

Three excellent books which I can’t wait to talk to the authors about. Tickets for the event can be found here.

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I recently watched a programme about the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and the impact of the crimes on the families of his victims. The investigation had been hampered by the police’s assumption that the killer only attacked prostitutes ignoring other victims whose profiles didn’t fit their assumptions. In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold reassesses the five ‘canonical’ victims of Jack the Ripper whose murders in 1888 appalled contemporary society and whose stories have been dissected ever since. I remember going on a Ripper walk when I lived in London and was appalled by the use of post mortem photos of the victims. These depersonalised images were both salacious and shocking and Rubenhold’s book certainly helps to reclaim the women from the manner of their deaths.

The story of the five victims are told with both compassion and with reference to the wider context of women’s lives in the period. Whether they were deserted by their husbands (Polly Nichols and Catherine Eddows) or victims of chronic alcoholism (Annie Chapman) or simply women unable to escape their pasts (Elizabeth Stride and Mary Jane Kelly) the author shows the limitations of women’s choices at the time. Abandoment by one man necessitated the finding of another to act as both protector and benefactor. Each women’s story stops at precisely the point where most narratives begin – their murder – and this excellent of this book overshadows all the dubious “X is Jack the Ripper” narratives that have proliferated over the years.

I enjoyed Michelle Paver’s two previous novels, Dark Matter and Thin Air and had have been looking forward to her latest. Wakenhysrt is set in Suffolk, a fenland county where marshland wilderness coexists alongside ordinary village life. We meet protagonist, Maud, initially through a newspaper article from 1966 and are catapulted back in time to the Edwardian period where intelligence and curiosity isn’t valued in girls. Her mother, forced into a repetitive cycle of childbirth and mourning finally succumbs to illness and Maud is left alone with her repressive father.

Dark and raw, I particularly liked the way Paver didn’t flinch from the realities of women’s lives, from the bloodied pails after miscarriages, to the choices made by men in relation to the fates of their wives. The countryside is beautifully depicted, the wildness of the fens supporting a community where myths and old stories entwine. Paver has used innovative story telling methods to unfold this Gothic tale and it made a perfect late evening read.

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Today we’re announcing the outstanding crime novels from  Norway, Iceland and Denmark which have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

I was delighted to be the judge on the award in what will be my final year. The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during the annual international crime fiction convention CrimeFest, held in Bristol on 9-12 May 2019. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize, and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2020.

The shortlisted books are:

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

Thanks to Crimefest for their generosity and to our sponsor David Hicks. The judges comments on all the books can be found on the Petrona Award website.

Have you read any of these books and do you have a view on who should be the winner? I’d love to hear from you!

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I loved Stephanie Marland’s first Starke and Bell thriller My Little Eye and her follow-up, You Die Next is an outstanding read. A group of urban explorers enter a disused studio and discover a gruesome scene they’re pretty sure isn’t staged. One by one the explorers are murdered while a fellow thrill seeker pleads with academic researcher Clementine Starke to look into the deaths. This brings her into contact with former lover DI Dominic Bell. The shifting point of view works very well here – unsettling the reader and allowing us into the minds of both urban explorers and Clementine and Dom. This is definitely this author’s best book and was a delight to read.

 A Dying Breed by Peter Hannington is an excellent a political thriller with a strong protagonist. His follow-up, A Single Source, has veteran BBC Reporter Will Carver in Cairo during the 2011 Arab Spring. Political intrigue, the perils facing foreign correspondents and the exploitation of refugees fleeing conflict are all represented in this intelligent and well plotted thriller. With multiple points of view and a vast geographical scope, it was great to read a satisfyingly complex story. Brilliant for fans of Star of the North and I Am Pilgrim.

Remember me is the compelling debut by Amy McLellan. Sarah suffers from prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces. When her sister is killed by an attacker who might be known to her, Sarah needs to convince the police that not only is she not the murderer but try to help them find the culprit.  A very well written psychological thriller, with a killer premise, I was rooting for the protagonist from the start.

I devoured Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton’s books in my twenties and have long lamented the demise of the female PI novel. It looks like it’s back, however, with Marnie Riches Tightrope. Featuring the intrepid and very human Bev Saunders, this thriller is destined for great things. Earthy and raw, it features a great cast of characters and I loved that it was based in my home town of Manchester.

I read an early version of Allan Martin’s The Peat Dead and I’m delighted to see it’s being published on the 17th April. Set on the Hebridean island of Islay, it involves a historic crime (which are always a favourite theme) which is suddenly uncovered in the present day. Martin is excellent at showing how in small communities, the past can be as painful as the present and I loved the island setting.

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I’ve been reading some really great novels over the last few weeks which I’ll be posting about soon. In the meantime, I’ve some book news of my own. I’m joining Trapeze, an imprint of Orion,  who will publish two historical thrillers of mine. The first called The Quickening, is the story of Louisa, photographer in the 1920s, who visits an infamous country house and is drawn into the impact of a seance which took place thirty years earlier. The hardback will be the shelves in February 2020.

The link to press release is here but I’m so excited about the new book and working with my new editor Katie Brown. My agent Kirsty McLachlan deserves a medal too.

Because they’re slightly different to my crime novels, I’m going to be using my middle name, Rhiannon, so the books will be published under Rhiannon Ward. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

In the meantime, do tell me what your favourite historical novel is – I’m fascinated to hear what people like to read.

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Karin Fossum has a unique voice although I don’t always share her bleak view of the world.  Her latest book The Whisperer, translated by Kari Dickson, focuses largely on the interplay between Inspector Konrad Sejer and a woman whose crime is only revealed to the reader towards the end of the book.  It’s a fascinating and creepy read. Is Ragna being persecuted and, if so, who would care enough to focus their attention on this elderly nondescript woman? I’m never entirely sure about Fossum’s endings and it’s true in this case too but I love her writing and am always excited to read her next book.

Jorn Lier Horst is a former Petrona winner and is one of the most consistent writers around. His Wisting books are elevated by excellent characterisation and strong plots. The Katharina Code is one of his best. An age-old crime where a set of numbers were left on a dining room table is reopened when police re-focus on the woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected, case. Wisting, who has befriended Martin Haugen over the years, has harboured doubts about the man’s innocence and he becomes a sometimes unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. Horst has written a well-plotted thriller and it was great to escape into the Norwegian landscape. The translation is by Anne Bruce.

It’s odd to note that Hakan Nesser has never appeared on a Petrona shortlist as he’s one of my favourite writers. I love the Van Veeteren series and am gradually getting acquainted with his new protagonist Barbarotti. At 595 pages, The Root of Evil is a huge book and the plot is deceptively simple: a group of friends in the Swedish town of Kymlinge are being murdered and it looks to be connected to an event that happened in Brittany in 2002. Nothing is straightforward with Nesser though and we’re drawn into a sophisticated tale with some wonderful characters. Ultimately the length of the book just about works and it’s my favourite Nesser for a long while. The translation is by Sarah Death.

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I always look forward to the latest Ruth Galloway novel from Elly Griffiths and in The Stone Circle, out on the 7th February, it’s great to see Ruth back in Norfolk. There’s an interesting link to Griffiths’s first book in the series,  Crossing Places. DCI  Nelson has been receiving letters similar in tone to those which tried to derail the investigation into missing children. The culprit’s son, Leif, has returned to look at a prehistoric stone circle where a twelve year old girl’s bones are discovered. The vulnerability of children and babies is explored in a sensitive manner. The bones are those of Margaret Lacey who disappeared thirty years earlier in a crime which the community has never forgotten. Griffiths is excellent at keeping up dramatic tension both in terms of the murder investigation and the Nelson/Ruth relationship.

The Boy who Lived with the Dead is the new novel by Kate Ellis featuring Scotland Yard detective, Albert Lincoln. Before the First World War, Lincoln led the investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy Rudyard, a young child in the Cheshire village of Mabley Ridge. Now, a woman has been killed, her small baby is missing and Lincoln is back to investigate the murder.  He discovers a town still reeling from war and families with plenty of secrets to hide. The book is an absorbing read and I loved the period detail.

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper is a psychological thriller set in my home county of Derbyshire. Caro inherits, along with her sister, their childhood home after the death of step-mother, Elizabeth. The villagers are unfriendly and the house brings back long forgotten memories for Caro. Cuckoo is an interesting psychological thriller, very well written, which cleverly exploits the closed confines of the story. Draper is excellent at  keeping the reader guessing until the denouement.

Thomas Mogford’s A Thousand Cuts had been on my shelf  for a while, a shameful admission given how much I love the author’s writing. The fifth book in the Spike Snguinetti series sees Spike’s fiancé about to give birth while he takes on a case that brings him into conflict with childhood friends. Spike is a fascinating character and it looks like he’s about to let his obsession with his case ruin another relationship. Mogford’s descriptions of the Gibraltar setting are wonderful but never allowed to overshadow the plot. It’s one of his best.

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Happy New Year to all Crimepieces readers. 2018 has been an excellent year for books and my selection of my six favourite crime novels of the year were published over at Crime Time with other reviewers’ choices. A really eclectic bunch and I was delighted to see Alex Reeve’s The House on Half Moon Street make it onto the Richard and Judy selection for their winter book club.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of some novels coming in 2019. I’ve already raved about the excellent Scrublands by Chris Hammer. I use the first chapter of this thriller with my students as an example of how to create tension early in the narrative. I’ve also got a couple of books sitting on my shelves that I can’t wait to read, notably William Shaw’s Deadland

Books are often advertised as containing a ‘killer twist you won’t see coming’ which is often untrue. The only book I can remember being genuinely shocked by the change in direction of the plot was Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing. I’m now adding Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient to my list. Alicia, a well-known artist, shoots her husband dead and from then onwards refuses to speak. Psychotherapist Leo Faber becomes fascinated by Alicia’s case and obtains a job in her psychiatric hospital to try to unravel why Alicia refuses to talk about her crime. To say any more about the plot would be to give too much away but I found narrative utterly compelling. You can tell Michaelides has spent time working in a psychiatric unit given the level of detail involved and the ending took my breath away.

I read CJ Tudor’s The Taking of Annie Thorne just before Christmas and it’s an excellent creepy read. Joe Thorne has arrived back in his Nottinghamshire home town with a dodgy CV and an uncertain commitment to his teaching post. With a family tragedy in the past, he’s been sent an anonymous note saying that a horror he thought long forgotten has returned. I loved the regional setting and Tudor’s take on the familiar ‘pit’ theme in horror literature.

It can be hard to create a genuinely original character in a crime novel but  Ilaria Tuti has managed it with Inspector Teresa Battaglia in Flowers Over the Inferno. Despite inspiring awe in her team, Battaglia is suffering from occasional bouts of memory loss. In a village in the Italian Alps the body of a naked man is found with his eyes gouged out. It becomes clear that there are more victims and the children of the village may know more than they’re letting on. I’m delighted that this well-written crime novel is going to be the first book in a trilogy because I loved Teresa Battaglia who makes a compelling but vulnerable protagonist. The translation is by Ekin Oklap.

Those are my reads to look out for in early 2019. Are there any books you’re eagerly awaiting?

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I’ve been reading some interesting Scandinavian crime novels over the last few months, saving my reviews for a round-up post. There’s a feeling of nordic noir going through a readjustment at the moment. Long running series are coming to an end and, of the new authors being published, there’s an emphasis on psychological thrillers over the traditional police procedural. I’m sorry to see that some of my favourite authors haven’t got a book out this year – Leif GW Persson and Hans Olav Lahlum for example.

Caroline Eriksson has only recently been translated into English. The Watcher, the first book of hers I’ve read, has a Rear Window feel to the plot. A newly separated author takes a rented apartment and obsesses over the family living opposite her, becoming convinced that the woman intends to kill her husband. As she starts to write a new book, her own life and that of the woman opposite become entwined. I read The Watcher in virtually one sitting and it made for compulsive reading. The relationships were satisfyingly complex and, despite spotting the twist fairly soon in the narrative, it was a compelling read. The translation is by Tara F Chace.

Killed is the final book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series where Juul finally uncovers the events leading up to the fire which left him scarred and which killed his young son. There’s a large cast of characters, hugely satisfying to fans of Enger’s series although which might prove difficult for someone picking this up as a standalone. Killed is, however, a poignant end to the Juul books which have proved to be intelligent and satisfying thrillers. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

Quentin Bates is a writer who spent a decade in Iceland and knows the country well. His series featuring Officer Gunnhildur is always a delight to read. Rather than relying on descriptive passages of the Icelandic landscape, his books are interesting thrillers with a political edge. In Cold Breath, Gunna is in a safe house with the high-profile guest of a prominent politician and her loyalties are torn when details of his life emerge. Bates is excellent at creating tension in a modern-day Reykjavik setting.

Gunnar Staalesen is one of my favourite Norwegian writers and Big Sister doesn’t disappoint. His private investigator, Varg Veum, is asked by a woman who reveals herself to be his half-sister, to discover the whereabouts of a relative, Emma. Veum discovers that the girl has been contact with her estranged father and an act of violence in Emma’s past may hold a clue to her disappearance. Excellently plotted and very well translated by Don Bartlett, this is up with Staalesen’s best.

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