Monthly Archives: January 2012

Getting Off by Lawrence Block – writing as Jill Emerson

Published by Hard Case Crime (Titan Books).

Subtitled ‘A Novel of Sex & Violence’ and with one of the most striking jackets thus far from the superb Hard Case Crime stable (courtesy of Gregory Manchess), this new hardback release from crime legend Lawrence Block certainly doesn’t fail to deliver on any of its promises.

Sex and violence in spades here, with bodily fluids of all kinds literally pouring from every page. Not an easy read if you prefer your crime of the cosier type, but that’s not what you would pick this book up for.

Kit Tolliver is a damaged woman, abused in her past by the one man she knew had always loved her, and now hellbent on seeking out all of her former lovers in a personal quest to start again. To do this, she sees the only way to gain a release from her past is to firstly have a final sexual release with each man and then release them from the world by killing them – hence the ‘Getting Off’ in both respects of the title.

As a reader we are complicit in Kit’s crimes, and I even got the feeling that if I closed the book she would still be out there, screwing and slaying her way around the US. This is Thelma or Louise amped to the max, a femme fatale the like of which you will have never read, stealing identities and cash as she lives out her very own road movie as a seemingly unstoppable serial killer. Along the ride, Kit finds herself at the peril of others who threaten to harm and even kill her without realising what a threat she poses, and further explores her own sexuality with lesbian encounters as she strives to find what she needs, who she is.

It’s certainly a book that will divide readers, I would guess in a similar way to views of novels like Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, but whatever your view on the subject matter and the unflinching sex and violence, there is no denying the importance and the skill of Lawrence Block in the crime fiction world.

A brave and furious novel – Go get yours!


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SIEGE by Simon Kernick

Published by Bantam Press

Blasting into bookstores, here comes another rapid fire, fast paced, taut action thriller of the kind we expect and love from Simon Kernick. This time round he’s slapped the action bang (literally) in the centre of our capital city with a fictional hotel, The Stanhope, on London’s Park Lane falling victim to a terrifying hostage and siege situation by a terrorist group. The Pan-Arab Army of God have already launched attacks at a railway station and at the Westfield Shopping Centre, diverting attention away from their main central London target but, once there, it’s full on into five hours of intense action which rarely leaves the hotel, trapping the reader in with the group of hostages, hotel staff and the terrorists themselves.

It’s the human element of the book that worked very well for me as it’s hard not to draw some parallels with the first Die Hard movie for some of the general concept. Those caught up in the siege all have well-drawn back-stories, their own reasons for being there and, in some cases, reasons their being in the hotel they would rather have kept a secret.

A diabetic mother with her young son who becomes separated from her insulin, a mysterious ex-soldier, a man who has come to the hotel to end his life, a woman waiting to meet her married lover – these are all very real people with very real problems and situations before the siege erupts around them and traps them inside.

Even when the action steps outside of the hotel to the character of Arley Dale – she who has the unenviable task of running the police operation – Mr Kernick doesn’t let up and gives Dale her very own crisis. In Siege everyone is at risk.

The author’s known association with Anti-Terrorist and Special Branch officers is clear, but not in a way that appears heavy handed by piling in research – details are skillfully woven in, as and when needed, and I will never look at a drafts’ folder on someone’s email screen in quite the same way again.

I would imagine it would be very easy to spot which house Simon Kernick lives in if you walked down his street. It would surely have a bin outside filled to the brim with keyboards that had been hammered to death by his pounding unrelenting pace with which he must surely write his books at the intense speed with which readers have to devour them.

Lock your doors, check they’re locked, and settle down for a thrillfest.



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Penny Hancock drops in to talk about TIDELINE

If you’ve read my recent review, or anyone else’s review of Penny Hancock’s debut novel, Tideline, then you’ll already know of the buzz it’s creating.

Penny was good enough to drop by for a chat about the book and its writing:

KBW: I thoroughly enjoyed TIDELINE –  a magnificent crime debut, did you always set out to write a crime book?

Penny Hancock: No! I’m afraid I’d always shied away from what I thought of as ‘crime’ although I love psychological thrillers. I particularly like the idea of dark things going on under the surface of apparently respectable, upstanding  citizens.  And I’ve always written short stories in this kind of genre. But I’m getting into crime now I’ve learnt what a diverse and creative genre it really is.

KBW: I have to ask if Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery had any influence on you in terms of the abduction and drugging of Sonia’s prey?

PH: Again, no I’m afraid. I hadn’t read Misery or seen the film though have read it now. I thought Annie Wilkes was horrible, really sinister, and she does some extremely violent things, with no apparent conscience- a great horror character.  Whereas I believe Sonia is a much more tender woman, even if she does cross the line. She never actually intends to hurt Jez and she does have a conscience even if she’s deluded about what she’s doing with him.

KBW: I loved the attention to detail in Greenwich and will never see the place in quite the same way again – are there any plans to set another book there? Or have you set a location already for your second book?

PH: I love that area as I grew up there. I find the Thames, particularly those dark Dickensian creeks and urban riverside wharves and warehouses inspiring. My next book is set in Deptford, and the river still features. I love the contrast of old Dockside buildings with the towering glass skyline of Canary Wharf on the other side.  The old areas seem more sinister, but actually the contemporary skyline is more scary to me- this reflects my characters- the more polished on the outside, the more potential there is for deviance inside-if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!

KBW: Who do you read and is there a crime novel that you most wish you’d written?

PH: I didn’t read much crime until I started to write Tideline, but I’ve always loved Beryl Bainbridge’s early novels which usually feature apparently banal, run-of- the-mill characters with flaws that lead them to do terrible things. There’s always a latent sexual element to them too. Rebecca(Daphne du Maurier) is a book I wish I’d written. I also love Graham Greene.  I’ve recently discovered Nicci French since writing Tideline and like the plots which, again often involve sexual obsession or skewed relationships. I’m more interested in the characters and their motivations than the crimes they perpetrate.

KBW: Which character in Tideline do you most identify with?

PH: I think there’s a little bit of me in all the characters but equally there is a lot in most of the characters that is anathema to me.

KBW: What was the spark for the idea of the book and did it arrive pretty much fully formed or did the story reveal itself to you in the same way that it slowly rises to the surface for its readers?

PH: There were a number of sparks. I heard Chris Beckett a science fiction writer talking about ‘making the internal, external’ in his stories and realized this is what needed to do. Internally I was going through a period of nostalgia for my first romance, and where it took place- in Greenwich. I thought what if I made this obsession external, and wrote about a woman literally captures a teenage boy, in a quest to recapture her own teenage years. Only for her to do something so extreme, her teens must have been extremely troubled, with unfinished business meaning her psychological development was somewhat arrested.

The story of Sonia’s teens, and the gradual steps that lead her down the path she takes, unfolded as I wrote.  I had no idea she’d go as far as she does…

KBW: Are you set to be at any/all of this year’s crime writing festivals and events?

PH: I’ve been invited onto a panel at Harrogate and have also been approached by Bristol Crimefest. I’m also doing a panel with Sophie Hannah and SJ Watson (both authors I admire) at Cambridge Wordfest in April.

KBW: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by other writers, or any advice you would give to others?

PH: Stephen King’s advice is the best I’ve read or can give to others, don’t wait for the muse. You have to treat writing as a job, get up, get going, do it. Then if you’re lucky the muse may come up from his basement and pay you a visit. ( this is not a direct quote, I’m paraphrasing!)

KBW: Do you have a particular writing regime?

PH:I write whenever and wherever I can. When I’m doing anything else it feels I have to rush to get back to writing. I’m a bit obsessive about it.

KBW: What can we expect next from you?

PH: I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeves. My next novel is in progress and is, I hope, equally compelling and dark. It’s set in contemporary Deptford and involves two women, one a successful career woman, the other hermigrant domestic worker. After that who knows, I’ve become a little worried about Jez, I don’t think he got a fair hearing in Tideline,  so it’s possible there might be a sequel toTideline one day.

A big thank you to Penny for taking the time to drop by and to Dawn Burnett of Simon & Schuster for making the interview possible.


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the fall by Claire McGowan

Published by Headline.

What would you do if the man you love was accused of murder?

Bad things never happen to Charlotte. She’s living the life she’s always wanted and about to marry wealthy banker, Dan. But Dan’s been hiding a secret, and the pressure is pushing him over the edge. After he’s arrested for the vicious killing of a nightclub owner, Charlotte’s future is shattered.

Then she opens her door to Keisha, an angry and frustrated stranger with a story to tell. Convinced of Dan’s innocence, Charlotte must fight for him – even if it means destroying her perfect life. But what Keisha knows threatens everyone she loves, and puts her own life in danger.

DC Matthew Hegarty is riding high on the success of Dan’s arrest. But he’s finding it difficult to ignore his growing doubts as well as the beautiful and vulnerable Charlotte. Can he really risk it all for what’s right?

Three stories. One truth. They all need to brace themselves for the fall.

It’s always great to get on at the ground floor when a new crime author enters the party and, with Claire McGowan’s debut ‘the fall’ you have the chance to do just that.  There is already a huge buzz about this psychological crime novel with strong comparisons to Rosamund Lipton and Belinda Bauer, to which I would also add Elizabeth Haynes, Julia Crouch and Sophie Hannah.

So, the short review would be: Buy it, because this new lady in crime is going to be big.

With a plot steaming with racial tension, it’s a timely read, fairly low on graphic on the page violence but packed full of the impact that violence and crime has on real people thrust into difficult circumstances beyond their control.

All of the characters, despite a reasonably large cast, are well illustrated to provide the reader with enough to care about each of them – making their reasons for their actions and reactions so frighteningly realistic and, for the most  part, understandable.

So, get your copy ordered here, and get prepared for ‘the fall’.



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where THE DEVIL can’t go – by Anya Lipska

Out now from Tadeusz Books.

The thing I love about the advent of the ebook and using twitter in combination to keep abreast of new releases from both established and new authors is the chance to find gems that might otherwise slip by.

And here’s a case in point, with Anya Lipska’s debut ebook release, a gritty hard read, based in the criminal underworld where British and Polish operatives collide.  Young waitress and wannabe model Weronika has disappeared and Janusz Kiszka has been given the task of finding her. The body of a young girl has been found in the Thames. Is Pawel Adamski – a man of dubious reputation and known drug dealer responsible for the counterfeit version of ecstasy flooding the streets of London, with possible links to the deaths of three girls in Poland? A known side-effect is the overheating of those who take the drug, so stripping naked and leaping into the Thames cannot be ruled out as a possibility for the body of the girl found in the river.

Whilst Janusz pursues the family’s needs for finding what has happened to Weronika, DC Natalie Kershaw is seeking the truth by more traditional means. But Janusz has the inside track, close contact with Weronika’s friend, Justyna Kozlowska, and the ways and means to make a trip to Poland (albeit by having to accompany a coffin) to help his private investigation.

With political and sexual undercurrents to the plot, and its spattering of great Polish expressions and phrases throughout, ‘where THE DEVIL can’t go’ is a great debut with plenty to get your teeth into.

A closing sequence of events that literally left me breathless cemented my want to read more of Anya Lipska’s crime fiction – well worth you hitting this click.


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A Serpent Uncoiled by Simon Spurrier

In celebration of the unleashing of A Serpent Uncoiled in paperback from Headline, Simon Spurrier has written this illuminating and very entertaining piece on the journey to publication and the book itself – PLEASE make sure you read to the end and click the video link (one of the best things you’ll see/hear this year – but turn the speakers down if there are little ones in the room):


They say a thin-skinned writer is a doomed writer. I’d say you can cut-out the “doomed” bit and it still makes sense.Listen. Like the rest of you, I’ve watched with mouth agape as X-Factor hopefuls and talent-show noddies are shredded by the collective ire of that most modern social-arbitration MustHave: The Expert Panel. Countless times I’ve wondered how it is that Johnny Crapvoice or Jenny Mankfoot could have arrived at this point – this needle-tipped moment of unimaginable ridicule – wherein it’s explained to them, live, that despite all their protestations to the contrary they in fact cannot sing, cannotdance, and in all likeliness will never again trouble a camera-lens with their likeness. That they are in fact worthless, talentless nuggets of gristle and fear, and that should the door Hit Their Ass on the way out, they will thereafter be invoiced for sweat-clearance. That the dreams of validation and idolisation they’ve been culturing since adolescence are so much bumsoup and that – thanks to the ritual humiliation they’ve just undergone – their return to vanilla mediocrity will in all likelihood be a shitload harder than it was before.…And I’ve guffawed at these peoples’ subsequent denials or dejections or defeats, same as you, because, really, we’re all completely horrible. How, we’ve all wondered, do these poor sods get to be so delusional?The fact is, they’re not. The fact is that we live in a world horrendously deprived of perspective. It’s a world in which no opinion can be said to be certain, and no quality proven, until it’s been hardbaked by the nuclear attentions and vitriolic judgements of a million people – or more. Increasingly, I feel that if someone has the balls – the rippling enormogonads – to test themselves against that compound-eye of consumer attention, then (sorry) they can be forgiven for overcompensating on the confidence front. For appearing to be so damn sure they’ve got the goods. These suckers’ve spent a lifetime being uplifted by the misguided love-compliments of friends and family, but… secretly? They don’t really know. They’ve simply figured out that in the game of Risking Everything, you might as well step into the light with a swagger.

Here the is unpleasant truth. Nobody truly knows if they’re Good or Shit until someone they’ve never met – ideally lots of someones they’ve never met – says so. Be they singer, dancer, painter, elephant-tamer, stage magician, wombat-tickler or, yes, yes, yes, writer.

Nobody wants to hear this: Reviews are almost everything.

Of course, reviews can’t always be trusted. That’s particularly true in this, our frothing Internet digirealm, wherein the stakes for reviewers aren’t quite as simple as “express opinion; feel satisfied at same.” It can’t be ignored that in the anonymity of certain online communities, a vitriolic savaging of the source-material accomplishes at double-speed what no amount of carefully-considered praise ever could: entertaining one’s fellow Internauts and endearing oneself to their collective.

In my other life as a comics scriptwriter – particularly with the bigger super-hero stuff – my fellow creators will often recite a simple brain-preserving Commandment (usually over the froth of a melancholy beer): Do Not Read Online Reviews. Even editors have given me this instruction: as if swaddling me from a toxic cloud of schedule-disrupting hatred which, counter-intuitively, doesn’t seem to colour the editors’ own opinions. Theirs, maybe, is the thickest skin of all.

I read the reviews anyway, of course. Some days I feel slightly as thought it’s a transaction of judgement: the reader has the right to express an opinion on the mewling literary baby I’ve left dangling and vulnerable before his face; just as I have the right to decide that his ill-use of grammar, obsession with exclamation-marks and evident lack of actually-having-read-the-bloody-work allows me to confidently ignore his opinion.

As long as you’re not shutting your eyes to everyone, the gestalt opinion is probably roughly accurate.

Let’s narrow this down a bit.

As frequent readers will know, my latest book – A Serpent Uncoiled – was released in largescale and kindle formats last year. And it received – honestly – some astonishing reviews.

“This is the most original book of the year, and it will take a work of staggering outlandishness to wrest that title from Spurrier’s claws.” — BookGeeks

“A Serpent Uncoiled is a great book, but not for the faint of heart. Grim, gritty and atmospheric, it is certainly for those who like their stories with verve. With great prose and dialogue, Spurrier had created a novel that will I hope become a classic.” — Shotsmag

“An elaborately tooled razor of a book.” — Warren Ellis

“A unique protagonist, a unique voice, and a plot that sucks you in from the first page. Spurrier’s sharp, brilliant prose is addictive.” — Mike Carey

Thin skinned? I’m so thin-skinned I’ve never needed an X-ray in my life – the doctor just stands near a candle. Happily, it turns out that a crippling inability to insulate oneself from the judgement of others works in both directions. Upon reading all these lovely reviews I started to get excited. Here, I felt, was the tipping point to my career. A tsunami of hyperbolic praise and acclaim awaited me. Simon Cowell had waggled his eyebrows, pursed his lips… and raised his thumb.

That’s an amazing moment, for a fragile-ego’d wordmonkey. At long last one allows oneself a little confidence. You’ve sat and watched as the careers of your cherished peers have matured and tumesced all around you. You’ve secretly feared all along that you’re the mediocritite, the runt, the also-ran; doomed to be humoured and condescended by the giants of your circle. And now here, finally: validation! Not quite enough to become a monster – you’re not a dick, are you? – but ohhh that quiet warmth.

They say I’m good. They say I’m good. Oh god, this is really happening…

And then the book doesn’t go up onto any shelves. And the newspaper critics have got too many “big” authors to get through and not enough space. And the UK’s biggest literary retailer is in the middle of a crisis and isn’t buying anything – especially not creepy problematic Grime Novels by silly-named comicbook geeks. Oh, and Jordan’s got a new frilly-arsed gold-embossed wordcrime out, and Jeremy Clarkson just wiped his arse and published it, and there are at least four hundred soppy middle-class village-based mystery novels to be stocked before we come to the weirdo drug-taking brainfreak Private Eye stuff, and, and, and…

I said “reviews are almost everything, right?” The remainder is purely this: Attention.

When the trade-format edition of A Serpent Uncoiled was released, it staggered onto the X-Factor stage, nervous like a nun in her knickers. It puffed out its chest and gave its most confident smile. It prayed for glory and prepared itself for humiliation. And yes, oh gorgeousness and gorgeosity, Simon Cowell raised his thumb.

But there was nobody in the bloody audience, and all the cameras were watching for Cheryl Cole’s cleavage.

I’m not bitter, really. Everything’s a learning curve, in the end. So to all the readers out there I offer Perspective, and to all the writers I offer a freebie LEVEL-UP-lesson to save you a few disappointments:

The dream of becoming a writer is a fine and noble thing. The hoops one must jump to achieve it are fiery, vertiginous and smell like fart. There is no safety mat. No trainer. No chalk-pot to help you grip. And once the routine’s over and you’ve landed — ohhh the relief!

But it’s all bollocks. The hoops never stop. They just change their shape from time to time. Quality, my loves, Isn’t Enough.

The paperback edition of A Serpent Uncoiled is out this week.

And if I want to sell my book – and you’d imagine I probably do – I’ve got to take responsibility for that. And, possibly, to get a little crazy. Behold: Check this video out !


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Would you like the chance to read some great new releases from Mulholland Books and become one of their new ‘drivers’ for 2012?

In 2011 I got to read, amongst others, these great titles:

Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Black Light by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstain & Stephen Romano

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

So, go on – check here for details of how to enter – but, hurry – you never know what’s around the curve!

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The Doll Princess by Tom Benn

Published by Jonathan Cape (The Random House Group).

‘I couldn’t put it down’ is a phrase often overused in book reviews so, with The Doll Princess, I’m going with ‘I shouldn’t have put it down’, and this is because it’s a book that demands your attention.

It’s a tough, streetwise, pared down and fast tale of the criminal underworld on the streets of Manchester shortly after the IRA bombing of the Arndale shopping centre. It’s a first person account by Henry ‘Bane’ and is written exactly as it would be spoken. So, once into the story, it’s a real drag to be disturbed and have to get yourself back into the rythmn of the language, the phrases and the broken english used by Bane and the supporting cast when you get the chance to pick up the book again. For that reason, it’s a book for which you should take the phone off the hook, disable your twitter feed, send the kids to the grandparents and just immerse yourself – all that done, you’re in for a very good dark and brutal time on the Manchester streets, all from the safety of your comfy chair.

Bane works the streets for one of the criminal gangs, but he’s not in as deep as he’s about to become when he reads of two murders in The Manchester Evening News. The front page details the murder of a glamorous Egyptian woman and heiress to an oil fortune, but it’s the murder of a young prostitute that has a short mention on the back of the paper that interests him more, much more.

The  investigation Bane then launches himself into to try to unearth the truth propels him deep into another layer of the underworld, filled with the trafficking of drugs, guns and young girls (the dolls). Peppered with humour, such as Bane being referred to as ‘Rupert the Bear’ by another character for the fact that he appears to have a complete wardrobe of the same outfit, and some brutal set pieces, we are along for the ride as he seeks to find out what became of the young prostitute who was once his childhood sweetheart.

Like a great Ken Bruen book, you just need to immerse yourself in the language and the rythmn of the narrative and you’re in for a fast and consuming ride through dark territory.

The book is subtitled ‘Bane Book One’ and there is no damn way that Tom Benn can leave his readers hanging out for too long for the second installment.


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Tideline by Penny Hancock

Published by Simon & Schuster

The scene: The main bar – The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate.

The date: July 2011

The time: Can’t recall, but was definitely late and somewhat blurry (no idea why).

I’d been having an enjoyable chat with Martyn Waites following a great day’s crime writing events at last year’s festival when he suddenly broke off from our conversations to grab a passing debut author to introduce her to me.

THE debut author to watch out for, he assured me, Martyn championed Penny Hancock and her novel TIDELINE to me there and then, yet another indication of just how supportive crime fiction writers are (even to those with different publishers).

Fast forward to the end of last year and, as soon as I spotted TIDELINE appearing on Simon & Schuster’s ‘upcoming releases’ lists, I was keen to get an early request in. And now, having read it for myself, I’m next in line to start singing its praises to all I meet.

What do we do, or are we prepared to do, when we have secrets to hide away?

What are we prepared to do to keep those we love from ever leaving us?

Set in riverside Greenwich, and specifically the River House where voice coach Sonia lives, TIDELINE is a dark and unsettling tale of abduction and entrapment with all the obsessive power of Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ and Thierry Jonquet’s ‘Tarantula‘.

From the first pages it is clear that Sonia is a complex and involved character and that, as with the river outside her door, much is lying in secret below the surface with her. Something has happened in her past, something that is revealed oh so slowly throughout the novel in short flashbacks as Sonia’s first person narrative makes mention of a boy, Seb, from her childhood and an event that took him from her near to where she now lives and refuses to leave. When fifteen year old Jez Mahfoud (a nephew of her family friend Helen Whitehorn) visits her home, asking to borrow a rare Tim Buckley album from her husband’s music room, he has no idea of the spider-like trap in which Sonia will ensnare him and keep him in the River House, never wanting him to leave her side again.

Jez is in the UK from Paris, staying with his aunt Helen and cousins Barney & Theo whilst he seeks interviews for music colleges. Once he disappears, the finger of suspicion begins to point at Helen when she cannot explain away all of her absences from her own home and the police begin to suspect that she may have wanted to improve her own son’s chances of a college place by removing Jez from the running.

Drugged and suspecting that he may be being kept hidden away as part of a complex sixteenth birthday surprise, at first Jez is happy to play along, but then as he becomes sick and weak and is transfered the the garage to avoid the rest of the family discovering him, Sonia’s abduction of him starts to become more and more of a challenge and problem for her. This leads to many a moment of chance discovery and the moments that make novels like this so rewarding as the reader wants to shout into the book to warn the protagonists of clues or when secrets are to rise to the surface. With Sonia’s past being revealed to us in teasing flashbacks as the investigation continues around the area, I found myself desperate to know more all the way through – until the final shell-shock moments, which left me open-jawed.

If you loved the psychological thrills of ‘Before I Go to Sleep‘ by SJ Watson or ‘Into the Darkest Corner‘ by Elizabeth Haynes, or the desperate measures to cover crimes of Graham Reece’s ‘Mice‘, then this is for you.

We’re just going into the second week of 2012 and already a book of the year has clearly risen to the surface.



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We Love This Book

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been honoured to have been asked to write a few book reviews for the excellent website

I’ve also written a feature on the great ValMcDermid to tie in with her novel The Retribution and, most recently, interviewed Elly Griffiths about her characters and books to tie in with the release of the fourth Ruth Galloway novel, A Room Full of Bones.

Some of the pieces have appeared here on my own blog in some form, but here’s a quick run down and links if you’re interested in taking a look – and check out their great site once you’re there. 

Death in a Cold Climate – A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths

Envy by Gregg Olsen

11.22.63 by Stephen King

Victim Six by Gregg Olsen

Lies by Michael Grant

The Retribution by Val McDermid

Val McDermid – Criminally Brilliant

Elly Griffiths Interviewed


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