Category Archives: Book Preview

Samantha Norman talks about co-writing Winter Siege with her late mother Ariana Franklin

“I would never have got round to writing a novel if my mother hadn’t died. I wanted to, but only in the way a lot of people want to write – in a rather dreamy, rare as hen’s teeth way: a sudden flash of inspiration one day leading to a perfect plot and 90,000 immaculately ordered words divinely processed through the fingertips by the next. It was never going to happen. Like most people, I had neither the rigour nor the discipline to do it and, when it came down to it, probably didn’t want to enough.

My mother, however – Ariana Franklin, the much-admired historical thriller writer and author of the Mistress of the Art of Death series – loved writing and was as good at it as you can get. She was also a great mum, and, as all great mothers tend to be, a terrific nag. Ever since I can remember she had nursed a conviction that I should write novels. So when she died, suddenly and unexpectedly, halfway through a book it felt not only like the most dreadful thing that had ever happened to me but a rather weird challenge as well.

I took it up hoping to do her justice, to make her proud (even from beyond the grave) and because it was the very last thing I could do for her. The result is Winter Siege, her last novel and my first, published this week.”


Click on the pic for a link to Amazon UK.

For Samantha Norman the unfinished Winter Siege was a gift from her late mother, launching her on the road of a new career in writing. Published today, it’s a standalone novel set in a freezing cold 1141. Gwil, a battle-hardened mercenary, watches in horror as a little girl with red hair is dragged away by his own men. Caught in the middle of the fight for England she is just one more victim in a winter of atrocities. But a strange twist of fate brings them together again. Gwil finds the girl close to death, clutching a sliver of parchment – and he knows what he must do. He will bring her back to life. He will train her to fight. And together, they will hunt down the man who did this to her. But danger looms wherever they turn. As castle after castle falls victim to siege, the icy Fens ring with rumours of a madman, of murder – and of a small piece of parchment the cost of which none of them could have imagined …

A review of the novel will follow next week.

More Novels in the Russell Series by Laurie R. King Available in the UK from Allison and Busby

Available from Amazon UK.

Available from Amazon UK.

By ScotKris

Fans of Laurie King have another year to wait until the next instalment of Mary Russell’s journals, so it is with considerable satisfaction that It’s a Crime! can report that those lovely people over at Allison and Busby are releasing the ‘missing four’ Russell titles, previously unavailable for a dozen or more years.

The first of these missing titles, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary, are available now, with The Moor and Justice Hall coming shortly. What’s more, with four more stunning cover designs, the entire series of (currently twelve) novels is available for the first time with a uniform series ‘look’, and full credit to the publisher’s designer for such beautiful covers.

Available from Amazon UK.

Available from Amazon UK.

Where The Beekeeper’s Apprentice laid the groundwork, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary were the early showcases of Miss Russell (with Mr Holmes, naturally), taking her forward to the 1920s and into investigations both baffling and intriguing. Theology and detective work go hand in hand and we also see the growing partnership between Russell and Holmes which forms the cornerstone of this unique series.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women sees an Oxford friend of Russell introducing her to the ‘New Temple of God’, which, if appearances are to be believed, is a sect involved in the suffrage movement of post-War years; however, appearances can be deceptive and when one murder follows another, Russell investigates …

More information at Allison and Busby.

More information at Allison and Busby.

The Moor then takes us to Dartmoor, paying homage to a certain Conan Doyle tale, but Justice Hall, for me, marked a turning point in the series. While following on directly from the events of The Moor, Justice Hall reintroduces characters first met in Palestine in events described in O Jerusalem, and involves Russell in a mystery that dates back to the Great War. Rich descriptions bring to life the Justice Hall of the title which, for me, is one of the most evocative books in this very compelling series and the closing pages remain with me some 12 years since I first read them – a telling sign.

More information at Allison and Busby.

More information at Allison and Busby.

As I have said before, one of King’s many strengths is her ability to create images in her novels that draw you into the era, cleverly combining real events with the fictitious, and in which her characters play their own unique roles. Never do readers feel they are subject to a history lesson; indeed they come away feeling enriched, entertained and truly satisfied.

With the reappearance of these four books comes an opportunity to revisit old friends or to discover them for the first time; the only shame is that a year must pass before Russell returns in Dreaming Spies!

In a crime novel: lines to make you smile

The following is an exchange between two non-high ranking coppers in London.  The one with the great line in beautiful dry humour is your protagonist.


Click on image for Amazon UK.

‘He said you were arrogant.’

‘Just arrogant?’

‘An arrogant bitch.’

I nodded.  ‘Nice.’

‘Sorry.’  He drank his lager.  ‘I hadn’t planned to say so much.’

‘Christ, don’t ever commit a crime.  The interview would be pitiful.’

Mo Hayder submits to the It’s a crime! “Five+1” Interview

Image © Margaret Lister

Image © Margaret Lister

Just in time for Easter weekend we have the publication of Mo Hayder’s latest Jack Caffery novel Poppet.  Now, the sign may say “PRIVATE KEEP OUT” but Mo has kindly let us in and generously replied to our probing questions.

1. Your arrival on the crime fiction scene came with a shocker of a book, Birdman, and you’ve established a name for yourself since with your ability to shock.  Do you set out to do this or is it incidental, a by-product of a theme you choose to explore?

If something in life shocks me I can’t process it without putting it into my writing.  It’s a sort of therapy, I guess.

2. Where your novels appear to turn on a theme or specific topic, what is it for Poppet and what’s its genesis?

Probably the theme is about how reality and hallucination can become indistinguishable for the mentally ill patient.  Also I play around with ideas of faith and destiny. 

3. Poppet brings your hero, Jack Caffery, nearer than he’s ever been to being “healed” – do you intend to keep going down this track or will you be torturing him some more in later books?

Of course I intend torturing him!  It is human nature to strive for peace, sadly the moment a fictional character finds it they lose their potential for drama.

4. Do you have anything you regret putting into a novel and/or regret omitting from a novel in your oeuvre?

I took a lot of stick for being quite so descriptive about the violence in my earlier books, and I admit at the time there were moments I found it hard to take.  But ultimately no, I don’t regret that use of violence.  Writing like that came as my natural rebellion to the fiction I’d been reared on, so it was a natural part of the creative process. 

5. Are you more scared or fascinated by some of the things you research for your novels?

For me fascination is always the corollary of fear, so I can’t really distinguish the two.

And just when you thought it was over, here’s the random “+1” question: is there a hidden character in Mo Hayder the author, something we don’t yet know about?  A Cath Kidston pinny-wearing, cupcake-baking domestic goddess?  A bit of a biker gal?  An urban explorer?

I’ve exorcised the biker gal side of me in Hanging Hill, and there is definitely an urban explorer lurking. The domestic goddess however… probably a subject better avoided.  Much as I admire people who can cook, the only thing that ever comes out of my kitchen is smoke and people crying.

Thank you Mo Hayder for being the first willing victim in our “Five+1” short interviews series.

Thank you!!!

Poppet HB

Click for Amazon UK link.


The Maude is outside.  It wants to come in.  It wants to sit on your chest.

The mentally ill patients in Beechway High Secure Unit are highly suggestible. A hallucination can spread like a virus. When unexplained power cuts lead to a series of horrifying incidents, fear spreads from the inmates to the staff. Amidst the growing hysteria, AJ, a senior psychiatric nurse, is desperate to protect his charges.

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery is looking for the corpse of a missing woman. He knows all too well how it feels to fail to find a loved one’s body. When AJ seeks Caffery’s help in investigating the trouble at Beechway, each man must face a bitter truth in his own life.  Before staring pure evil in the eye.

[Thanks and acknowledgements to September Withers and Sarah Hilary.]

Tempting? This one caught my eye…

HGJTNTYSMFrom Corvus Books in the UK:

Thirteen-year-old Emily Houchens doesn’t have many friends.  She spends her time alone in the woods near her house – her safe place, until she finds the body of a young woman.

Susanna Mitchell is searching for her sister, Ronnie, who vanished after leaving a late-night bar. The more she discovers about Ronnie’s life, the more she realises that her sister began to disappear long before she went missing.

The Next Time You See Me explores the fault-lines of a small community – their hidden desires and their other, secret selves.

Holly Goddard Jones is the author of Girl Trouble: Stories (Harper Perennial 2009). Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Epoch, Best American Mystery Stories, New Stories from the South, and elsewhere, and she was a 2007 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She teaches in the MFA programme at UNC Greensboro and lives in North Carolina with her husband, Brandon. The Next Time You See Me is her first novel.

It’s published on 4 July by Corvus Books.

#fridayreads Coming in April – Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant

If, like me, you are drawn to psychological thrillers, you may well find the premise of this one interesting…  (And make a note in your diaries.)  To be published in the UK on 11 April.  If you’re on twitter: it will be promoted with the tag #UnderYourSkin.  More info under the trailer.


Gaby Mortimer is the woman who has it all.  But everything changes when she finds a body on the common near her home.  Because the evidence keeps leading back to her.  And the police seem sure she’s guilty…


Click on image for Amazon page (where you can pre-order.)

UNDER YOUR SKIN is an unpredictable, exquisitely twisty story, which proves that there are only three rules in life that mean anything: assume nothing, believe no one and check everything. This is the story of a daytime TV presenter whose comfortable life is overturned when she finds the body of a strangled woman, it is a gripping psychological thriller in which nothing can be assumed and will make you question everything you thought you knew.

Sabine Durrant is the author of two novels, Having It and Eating It and The Great Indoors, and two books for teenage girls, Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles and Ooh-La-La, Connie Pickles. She is a former assistant editor of the Guardian and a former literary editor at the Sunday Times, and her writing has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines. She lives in south London with her partner and their three children.

Have you pulled yet?

Pulled your Christmas crackers that is.  If you have, then you may feel in the ‘pre-order’ mood so here are three fabulous crime novels coming in 2013 that you’d be absolutely crackers to miss.  Full reviews will follow near the publication dates.

31 January

BBRubberbneckerRubbernecker – Belinda Bauer (Bantam)

“’The dead can’t speak to us,’ Professor Madoc had said.

That was a lie.

Because the body Patrick Fort is examining in anatomy class is trying to tell him all kinds of things.

Life is already strange enough for the obsessive Patrick without having to solve a possible murder. Especially when no one believes a crime has even taken place.  Now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery – while he dissects his own evidence.

But as Patrick learns one truth from a dead man, he discovers there have been many other lies rather closer to home…”

A more grown-up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time meets Shallow Grave.  Dark, disturbing and witty.  Patrick is a darling.  My thesaurus does not contain the words to tell you just how fabulous this is.  On this occasion: believe the hype.

7 March

DJGoneAGAINGone Again – Doug Johnstone (Faber and Faber)

“’It’s just to say that no-one has come to pick Nathan up from school, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind?’

As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son.  Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry.

And this it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared.  As Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads – until a shocking discovery…”

Ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.  A husband, a father and a father’s worries all under the microscope.  On this occasion: will be one of the big books of 2013.

17 January

RWCapPunishmentCapital Punishment – Robert Wilson (Orion)

“Meet Charles Boxer – ex-army, ex-police and now a high-stakes kidnap recovery specialist, he knows only too well how the dark forces in the city can reach out and ensnare an innocent victim.

The hostage is the beautiful Alyshia D’Cruz, daughter of Indian tycoon Francisco ‘Frank’ D’Cruz. After a boozy night out she gets into the wrong cab home and Boxer is the only man Frank will trust to go down into the criminal underworld to retrieve her.

Boxer knows that Frank’s crooked business empire has made him plenty of enemies, but despite the vast D’Cruz fortune, the kidnappers don’t want his cash. They prefer a crueller, more lethal game and to have any chance of saving Alyshia, Boxer must play it out with religious fanatics, London’s home-grown crime lords and Indian mobsters, as his trail crosses paths with a terrorist plot on British soil.

Capital Punishment is a thrilling journey to the dark side of people and places hidden just out of sight, waiting for the moment to tear a life apart.”

[Reading status: started but not yet finished.]  Where others may be known for detail, Wilson pulls off a ‘forensic’ level.  His thrillers combine the visceral with emotion and intelligence.  On this occasion: the new series has all the hallmarks of classic Wilson.

Preview – Gone Again by Doug Johnstone

Coming on 7 March 2013 in trade paperback from Faber and Faber, I picked up the proof earlier today and can tell you this is very gripping.  I thought I’d just get acquainted with the style through a couple of pages and before I knew it I was skimming ahead with great urgency.  (At which point a great deal of discipline had to be applied.)  From the Faber catalogue:

In the tradition of The Vanishing and Tell No One comes a brilliant, guess-until-the-very-end psychological thriller.  ‘It’s just to say that no-one has come to pick Nathan up from school, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind?’

As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son.  Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry.

With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery…

Following Hit and Run (a no.1 Kindle bestseller and a 2012 Fiction Uncovered pick) and Smokeheads (shortlisted for the Goldsboro Last Laugh Award), Gone Again is Doug Johnstone’s darkest and most emotionally charged thriller yet.

Here’s the Amazon UK link for future reference.  Find out more about the author here and on twitter @doug_johnstone.