We know that many of you love a good thriller. Many groups read crime, some occasionally and some exclusively, so we've put together some recommendations for writers, series, festivals, events and websites that you might find useful. This is a work in progress and we'd love to hear from you if there's anything you feel we've missed out. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
by C J Sansom
The year is 1546 and the Queen, Catherine Parr, is caring for an ailing King whose mental as well as physical health is rapidly failing. The hunt is on for heretical Protestants as the court leans back to the tenets of Catholicism.
The Queen has produced a tract ‘The Lamentations of a Sinner’ in which she possibly implicates herself in the heresy and, disturbingly, the pamphlet has gone missing from a locked chest in her rooms, for which only she has the key.
The Queen enlists the services of Matthew Shardlake a lawyer who has previously worked at court. Despite his avowal to not get involved in court politics again, (after several previous dangerous missions) he is once again drawn in to the intrigue - though his infatuation with the Queen may well have some bearing on this!
As with the other books in this series there is another mystery going on in parallel and Shardlake’s trusty but foul-mouthed assistant, Jack Barack is again also heavily involved. Together they get beaten, battered, bullied, locked in the Tower and follow countless red herrings.
This is the sixth book in the wonderful ‘Shardlake’ series (I’d recommend reading them in sequence) and it does not disappoint. These books are brilliantly written, the mysteries are unique and plausible, and the Tudor London setting is extremely atmospheric. Wonderful escapist stuff!
See our special offer for the ALICIA ALLEN INVESTIGATES series by Celia Conrad
The Tremor of Forgery
by Patricia Highsmith
Set in a sweltering north African location this novel is a disturbing exploration of moral ambiguity and repressed sexuality - classic Highsmith characteristics.
Howard Ingham, a writer, is in Tunisia to work on a screenplay for a film. Ingham has gone ahead to get started on the screenplay but his friend John, the director of the film, doesn’t appear at the arranged date. Correspondence is not forthcoming and telephone communication is sporadic so Ingham, while bemused, decides to stay and wait it out. Unable to work on the film script he starts work on a new novel, about a man living an amoral double life. Letters to his girlfriend Ina also go unanswered until finally he receives a shocker. John has committed suicide and Ina hints that it may have had something to do with the affair she and John were involved in.
Not wanting to return to the US, a despondent Ingham decides to stay on in Tunisia and takes a small bungalow in the grounds of the hotel. Here he meets a strange, lonely, whisky swigging American man in the next bungalow who claims to be a US intelligence officer. He also befriends a young Danish painter who, on the one hand, views the Arabs as inferior and suspect, but has a penchant for the young local boys. When Ingham finds himself at the centre of what may or may not be a murder, events quietly unravel.
This is a cracker of a novel with the moral hypothesis worthy of comparison to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The tension is palpable. The clicking of the typewriter keys, the whirring of the ceiling fan, the scorching heat, the relentless whisky drinking and all the unspoken sexual undertones go to producing a hugely disturbing but compulsive read and, what’s more, many questions that largely go unanswered. So, if you’re looking for a nice thriller with a nicely rounded up ending you won’t find it here. But if you want a thought-provoking intelligent read that will have you musing on the human psyche, go for it!
August 2014 Review
The Long Fall
by Julia Crouch
It’s 1980 and Emma is an 18 year old embarking on her first great adventure – a solo gap-year trip to Europe. A hugely traumatic event almost sends her flying back to the safety of home, but then she meets a couple of older travellers and they persuade her to stay, and entice her to come with them to the beautiful Greek island of Ikaria - the legendary home of Icarus.
It’s now in Clapham, London and Kate is a stay at home mother with a lot of time on her hands. She has a beautiful home, beautiful clothes, beautiful daughter, perfect (some might say) husband, and a dark, dark, secret. When she receives a call from a voice from the past asking for a meeting, Kate’s anodyne world is shattered.
This is a great page-tuner from Julia Crouch who knows just how much to give away to keep the reader in suspense. If you’re of a nervous disposition, however, there are some pretty graphic scenes that might make you think twice about handing over your hard-earned dosh to a teenage daughter in search of a gap-year adventure.
Published by Headline – 387pp
June 2014 Review
Death in Pont-Aven
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Translated by Scorcha McDonagh
This is the first outing in print for Commissaire Georges Dupin. Parisian and urbane, Dupin has been exiled to the little Breton town of Concarneau after ‘disagreements’ with his bosses. Nevertheless, to his surprise and delight, Brittany, its uncomplicated people, its stunning landscape and delicious food, is a place he has come to love. And there’s still crime to solve!
This case centres on the artist colony of Pont-Aven, home to the Pont-Aven School which included French, English, Scandinavian and American artists, the most famous of these being Paul Gaugin. What more could you want? Crime and art!
The plot: An early morning call alerts the Commissaire to the murder of 91 year old Pierre-Louis Pennec, proprietor of the Central Hotel in Pont-Aven who has been stabbed to death. The whole community is stunned. Who would want to harm this popular old man, owner of a hotel in the town that has hosted artists from around the world, and belonged to his family, for over 100 years? A host of suspects is considered: Pennec’s loyal housekeeper, Madame Lajoux; his son Loic and his scheming wife; Beauvois the local art dealer; a long-time friend, Fragan Delon or could it be André his snooty half-brother?
While Dupin and his team investigate, all is not what is seems in this sleepy Breton backwater. Skeletons tumble out of cupboards, and more deaths are to come.
This is a really original and well translated crime novel. Dupin is a likeable protagonist and Brittany is a very different setting. Dupin’s unconventional detection methods infuriate his colleagues and his addiction to coffee certainly makes a change from all those alcohol-addled detectives - though his cantankerous demeanour and chaotic personal life are somewhat typical. Oh, and the author is a bit of a mystery himself! A great holiday read.
Published by Hesperus Nova – 251pp
March 2014 Review
by Pekka Hiltunen
translated by Owen F Witesman
Lia, a Finnish graphic designer living in London, witnesses a disturbing incident on her way to work in the City. A young Latvian prostitute has been horribly (and I mean horribly) murdered. Lia can’t get the incident out of her head and when she meets fellow countrywoman Mari they strike up an instant friendship and Lia confides in her. But Mari has engineered this meeting. She has a self-professed gift for ‘reading’ people and runs a team called the Studio, whom she uses to exact justice on anyone she decides should be punished.
A roller-coaster ride commences involving computer hacking, modern day slavery and insane helicopter rescues. If you can sit back and suspend all disbelief, you’ll enjoy this thoroughly European, thoroughly over the top, story by award-winning Finnish writer Pekka Hiltunen.
Published by Hesperus Press Ltd. 420pp
February 2014 Review
The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
THE COLD DISH is the first in the terrific Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson. Longmire is sheriff of Absaroka County in beautiful Wyoming, a vast jurisdiction which takes in a Native American reservation – the ‘rez’. As ever, our hero, a widower, has personal problems, including drink, women and a feisty lawyer daughter who’d rather confide in Walt’s best friend Henry Standing Bear, than her dad.
So to the plot: A local boy, Cody Pritchard, is found dead. Longmire’s heart sinks; two years earlier Pritchard and three others had been given suspended sentences for the rape of a vulnerable young Cheyenne girl, Melissa Little Bird. What Longmire needs to do is to find the killer before the three other assailants are also served the ‘cold dish’ of revenge and he and his small team have to do it alone - there are no CSIs in this out-of-the-way place and there’s the ‘rez’ police to contend with as well. What ensues is a fast-paced, intelligent novel with great dialogue, humour and wonderful descriptive passages depicting the beautiful and, sometimes forbidding, Wyoming landscape.
This is great stuff. If your group is looking for a crime novel with a difference, look no further than this series.
Dissolution by C J Sansom
The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the King and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery in Scarnsea on the south coast of England, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer and King’s man, is sent by Thomas Cromwell to investigate. He and his young protégé, Mark, uncover a den of treachery, sexual transgression and financial impropriety, while and atmospheric misty, snow-covered, countryside provides a suitably chilling backdrop.
C J Sansom conveys an evocative image of monastic Tudor England teeming with fear and corruption, where it’s every monk for himself.
by William McIlvanney
Set in Glasgow in1977, when it was written, this is the first of the LAIDLAW trilogy featuring the eponymous DI, a philosophical, world-weary detective full of paradoxes – “a potentially violent man who hated violence, a believer in fidelity who was unfaithful…..” And, as is the fate of all fictional detectives, his domestic life is a disaster.
A girl is found raped and murdered in beautiful Kelvingrove Park. The perpetrator is a young gay man who calls on his connections with some of the city’s underworld hard men to help him out. But the girl’s father, a petty criminal with gangland connections himself, is looking to mete out his own style of justice. Laidlaw and his team need to find the killer first.
This is the Glasgow of the 1970s which, I can confirm, was a pretty rough place but it had an edge it doesn’t have today with its “anytown” restaurants and designer shops. But some things don’t change and the drink fuelled violence and religious prejudices that permeate the book still, unfortunately, exist. McIlvanney writes poetically about a town and its people utilising the Glasgow dialect in an unpatronising and surprisingly lyrical way. Highly recommended to all crime lovers.
Published by Canongate – 304pp
Dead Simple by Peter James
As a (once) resident of Brighton for almost thirty years, and a big crime literature fan, I am ashamed to say I had never read any of Peter James’ books set in that most conducive of towns to set a crime series.
The books feature Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a melancholy character whose wife – the love of his life - went missing and has never been found. When all conventional methods of detection fail he turns to alternative approaches including divination and mediums (we are in Brighton after all) which marks him out from his sceptical colleagues and provides him with his USP which makes a change from a heavy-drinking misanthrope (see Wallander, Morse, Rebus etc. etc.)!
DEAD SIMPLE is the first of the Roy Grace series and is a nail-biting thriller with some terrific twists and turns. A stag do prank goes horribly wrong: Michael Harrison is due to be married in three days’ time to the beautiful Ashley but he has gone missing and there is no-one left to tell of his last movements but Grace suspects that Mark Warren, Harrison’s business partner, knows more than he’s letting on…..
You can explore the dark side of Brighton with the Peter James interactive map.
The latest book in the series DEAD MAN’S TIME is available now in hardback.
Chourmo by Jean-Claue Izzo
Translated by Howard Curtis
In this, the second instalment of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy, Inspector Fabio Montale has left the police force but of course like all retired cops wanting a bit of peace to fish, eat, drink play belote with the old boys in the bar life just doesn’t work out like that. Fabio’s cousin Gelou’s son goes missing and she goes to Montale for help. Montale is soon immersed in corruption, religious fundamentalism and murder.
Set in the melting pot of Marseilles, CHOURMO is a heady mix of crime, food, wine, car chases and, of course, sex. Intelligent and compulsive – crime writing at its best.
Jean-Claude Izzo (1945 – 2000) was a French poet, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist who achieved sudden fame in the mid-1990s for the Marseilles Trilogy.
Published by Europa – 249pp
April crime review
by Neil Griffiths
Mary hands her new baby to Joseph: her right arm is clearly the arm of a young man. The painting is Michelangelo's Doni Tondo, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Before it stands Daniel Wright, one of the most successful policemen in the art world, retriever, at great risk to himself, of famous and priceless stolen paintings. He is supposed to be writing a series of monographs on the world's hundred most influential paintings, his cover arranged by a curator friend at the National Gallery. In fact his commission is to detect a possible art theft at the Uffizi. He has a PhD in art from Newcastle University, and is genuinely appreciative of Michelangelo's nativity: the handing over of the child depicts for Daniel the parents as a married couple, who have eaten and drunk together, walked and talked and argued together. They are not a holy family, but two people sharing the birth of their first-born. To Daniel this is what makes this painting the work of a genius. If he is moved by one detail, one indefinable artistic decision, it is the attitude of Mary's right arm.
Daniel Wright is the son of successful street traders. Through grammar school and Newcastle University he had hoped, as a graduate, to earn his living working for the most prestigious art galleries and businesses in London. But instead he falls victim to an old cliché - the glass ceiling. The jobs he wants, and is well qualified to do are reserved for the "elite" in background and education. Humiliated, he falls victim to another cliché: the trophy wife. To complete his trio of misadventures, he falls deeply in love with her.
If only his story could have ended with the wedding bells, as any self-respecting novelette would have done, and earned it's author a fortune as a best-seller! But Neil Griffiths is no Barbara Cartland, and his hero has a self defeating awkward streak. Daniel's wife, Sarah, who is beautiful, intelligent and rich, enjoys her influential job with an exclusive firm of auctioneers, dealing in fine art and the great treasures of the world. She moves in the circle from which Daniel has been so firmly excluded. Although his eminent success as an art cop precludes much of his resentment, and he and Sarah have a particularly enjoyable sex life, his marriage is threatened because he cannot forgive her friends their super-irony and their social and artistic snobbery. They regard any subject of conversation, especially art, as a vehicle for their wit and erudition. His irritation boils over during a discussion about a Caravaggio exhibition.
During one of his retrieval commissions in Calabria, Daniel had come across the Caravaggio Nativity, perhaps the most famous stolen painting in the world. He determines to rescue it from the ignorant and destructive hands of the murderous Italian mafia. Is he doing it for love of Caravagio, or to save his marriage? I very much enjoyed finding out! The characters are really interesting, the plot ingenious and the dialogue witty at times, and never dull.
Published by Penguin (available on Kindle or Amazon marketplace)
December crime review
The Fire Engine that Disappeared
by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
I read this after hearing about this husband and wife writing team from Sweden on a Radio 4 series on European crime literature. The books, featuring detective Martin Beck, were written in the 1960s and are the precursors of much of the Scandi-noir (and other European crime writing) that we all know and love today. What struck me particularly are the similarities with so much contemporary Scandinavian crime – themes of prostitution, poverty, immigration, isolation. In fact, if not for little details like men wearing soft hats and smoking pipes, and of course, the lack of mobile phones, it could be located in any post ‘60s decade.
Now to the plot: Two cops are staking out a Stockholm apartment block when suddenly the building explodes killing three people. What immediately follows is a terrifically exciting opening chapter where Gunvald Larsson, one of the detectives, rescues people from the burning building. Forensic evidence leads to foul play rather than the accidental gas explosion that was first suspected and Beck and his team are called in. Meanwhile Larsson, who is on sick leave after the explosion, conducts his own investigation.
This book is the fifth in the Martin Beck series and the first that I read. If you’re tempted by them I would begin at book one and work your way through as they follow the personal lives of Beck and his team. But as a stand-alone novel THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED is a terrific, slick thriller.
Published by Fourth Estate – 288pp
Listen again to FOREIGN BODIES: AN INVESTIGATION INTO EUROPEAN DETECTIVES
November crime review
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin’s latest detective Malcolm Fox is divorced and in his mid-40s, a lot quieter than John Rebus, Rankin’s previous protagonist, and he doesn’t drink - unlike Rebus who, aficionados will know, likes a pint or two! Fox works for “the complaints” that most unpopular of any branch of an organisation - the one that investigates its own people.
In this, the second Fox novel, the detective and his team are in the Kingdom Fife, just over the river from Fox’s patch in Edinburgh. They are investigating one Detective Paul Carter for misconduct. It’s Carter’s uncle (an ex-cop) who shopped him and when the uncle is found dead an unravelling of details leads Fox back to 1985 and a lot more than he bargained for. Throw in some personal family trials and tribulations and, as well as an excellent thriller, we get a lovely insight into Fox the man. Great stuff.
Published by Orion – 423pp
October crime review
The End of the Wasp Season
by Denise Mina
THE END OF THE WASP SEASON is a cracking thriller which opens with the terrifying murder of a rich business woman in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow. We know who the protagonists are but it’s DS Alex Morrow a no nonsense Glasgow cop (who just happens to be five months pregnant with twins) who has to unravel the crime. When the story moves south to the suicide of a millionaire in the grounds of his Kent mansion connections to the Glasgow murder become apparent and matters are further complicated for Morrow as an old school friend and her family are woven into the web.
This is an intelligent, well written, atmospheric thriller which merges in other topics such as class bias and the role of fathers. It thoroughly deserved to win this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.
Molesey Crime Bookgroup
Published by Orion - 404pp
Authors, their sleuths and series
Ǻsa Larsson – Rebecca Martinsson cases
These are brilliantly plotted and beautifully crafted Swedish thrillers. Ǻsa Larsson brings to life the beauty and solitude of northern Sweden with its isolated inhabitants who are nearer to the Sami or Finnish peoples, rather than the urbane Stockholm Swedes. She writes with clarity and care - and hats off also to the translators.
These are highly recommended literary thrillers with not one, but two, female protagonists; the fragile, insular, Prosecutor Rebecca Martinsson and her down to earth colleague, mother of four Police Inspector Anna-Maria Mella.
Åsa Larsson was born and grew up in Kiruna, Sweden. She is a qualified lawyer. Her first novel, The Savage Altar, was awarded the Swedish Crime Writers' Association prize for best debut. Its sequel, The Blood Spilt, was chosen as Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004.
Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri
Like Montalbano’s driving and the beautiful island of Sicily, in which these crime thrillers are set, the Inspector Montalbano books move at an unhurried pace. They’re not the most complicated of stories but they have a great cast of characters. They’re atmospheric, occasionally very funny, and if you love Italian food, mouth-watering.
‘The Wire’ writer gets down and dirty in the streets of Washington D C.
Inspector Ghote novels by H R F Keating
Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay CID is not your average fictional detective – he doesn’t have a drink problem, is happily married and plays it by the book. One thing he does have in common with his fellow fictional detectives is bloody-mindedness - he has to see things through to the bitter end.
The Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbo
One of the ever-expanding Scandinavian school Nesbo has created a great cop in Harry Hole. This seemingly indestructible character bounces back from every bender, beating, sacking and heart break that life throws at him.
The Dr Siri series by Colin Cotterill
Set in 1970s Laos these stories feature the only coroner in Laos, Dr Siri Paiboun, in the early days of the communist takeover. By turns amusing, thrilling and highly informative Cotterill had created an unusual but entertaining hero with an equally entertaining team.
The Wallander books by Henning Mankell
The Scandinavian crime writer of the last 15 years, the creator of the laconic Wallander just keeps churning them out – quality and quantity!
The Crime Writers Association lists countrywide events, prizes, writing competitions and more.
The Crime of it All is, in its own words, “at the critical edge of crime fiction”. Go there to read insightful interviews and reviews.
Crime Festivals and Events
CrimeFest International Crime Fiction Convention 2012 Bristol, 24 May - 27 May 2012
2012 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, 19 Jul - 22 Jul 2012
See the festivals and events page for more events in your area.
The Lye Down With a Good Book group sent us this:
R J (Roger John) Ellory was coming to Lye Down With a Good Book Reading Group. We wondered if we’d like him and if he would he have anything interesting to say. Two and a half hours later we didn’t want him to go and asked him when he could come back!
He told us about his life; how he was born in 1965 in Birmingham, orphaned at 7 and sent to boarding school by his grandmother who died in 1982. R J then tried then to support himself and his brother and was eventually arrested for poaching and sent to jail.
He has published eight books but wrote many more before finding a publisher. His books are set in the US and are all very different. CANDLEMOTH tells the story of Daniel Ford who is on death row for killing his best friend and only has 30 days left to live. In A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS Joseph Vaughan’s life has been dogged by tragedy. While growing up young girls were being murdered in his community - later in his life the killing starts again.
Roger has been shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger and has won numerous awards.
Lye Down With A Good Reading Book so enjoyed his talk that we are booking him to return when his new book BAD SIGNS is published in October.