Book Review: Wonderland (A Spenser Novel) by Ace Atkins


Author: Ace Atkins

Publisher: No Exit Press

Release Date: March 2014

Robert B. Parker may have died in 2010, but Spenser – his most famous creation – continues to live on… Boxing trainer Henry Cimoli and Spenser go way back, but the old man has never had to ask the private eye for a favour – until now. When a shadowy property developer attempts to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach – and sends his thugs to help expedite the process – Spenser and his Native American apprentice Zebulon ‘Z’ Sixkill follow the trail to a charming but dangerous Las Vegas tycoon, only to discover that he isn’t the only person interested in the land. As in all good stories, carnage ensues!

Despite the fine reviews for his Quinn Colson series, I had yet to tackle a book by Ace Atkins – the crime writer selected by the estate of the late Robert B. Parker to continue his iconic Spenser series. Further, while I’ve read a whole bunch of Spenser mysteries over the years, I feel like I’ve read as many unconvincing ones as I have great ones, so this was something of a speculative purchase. Happily, Wonderland was a little cracker!

Whereas I have sometimes found Spenser’s idiosyncrasies off-putting in the past, Atkins weaves the source material into something new and improved. The knockabout tone he recreates is pitch-perfect, and his brand of literary ventriloquism feels like a genuinely affectionate tribute, but the storytelling verve is fresh and exciting. Factor in a slow-burning mystery, a succession of appropriately brutal fight scenes and a heavy-duty dose of emotional clout and you have a genuinely riveting novella. Regardless of your level of Spenser fandom, this bruising PI thriller is well worth checking out!

(Note: after finishing Wonderland I discovered that it is currently being filmed by Peter Berg for Netflix, with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. The cast list suggests the story will deviate slightly from the novel – with Hawk installed as Spenser’s sidekick, rather than Z – but I’m intrigued nonetheless!)

Review by Tom Leins

Criminal Records #8 – Jason Beech on Never Go Back

In the latest instalment of the Criminal Records series, Jason Beech puts together a playlist to accompany his new book, Never Go Back (Close to the Bone, 2019).

REBELLION (LIES) by Arcade Fire

Barlow Vine has just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his hometown in the vain hope that his actions won’t catch up with him.

There’s a scene in the basement of the abandoned house where Barlow doesn’t quite know if his confused, concussed mind is dreaming or the shadows on the wall of dancing kids are real. The lyrics aren’t the main thing, and Arcade Fire are not British, but there’s a feverish folksiness to the sound which fits the strangeness.

GHOST TOWN by The Specials


Barlow’s arrival back in Sheffield is not what he dreamt. To start, he’s committed murder in Spain so he can’t just throw himself back into the swing of things. So, Sheffield has turned into a Ghost Town, where people just swish past him without acknowledgement to a soundtrack of wind. Lots of wind in Sheffield…


Barlow’s a big fan of The Jam. So is his crush, and so is his oldest friend. The Jam’s music runs through the novel. Barlow and his old mate, Denise, love them. His newfound love, Surraya, strides about in an Eton Rifles t-shirt. It’s also one of my all-time favourites.

COOL FOR CATS by Squeeze

There’s a piano in the cellar of the abandoned house Barlow hides in. What better way to cheer a man with a splitting headache than a jolly romp through Squeeze’s classic? The piano’s out of tune, so turn the wonky up to eleven.



His head is beating, there are men either trying to kill him – or use him – and he’s in mental turmoil at the murder he’s committed. What else to take the edge off but the soothing strings of Blur’s The Universal? It has a mournful quality to fit Barlow’s many regrets.

Buy Never Go Back!


Sheffield native, New Jersey resident Jason Beech writes crime fiction. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. His new novel, Never Go Back, is published by Close To The Bone on 29 November 2019.

Are you a crime writer? Would you like to write about the musical influences on your new book? If so, drop me a line via the contact form on the About page!

Book Review: The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney


Author: Liam McIlvanney

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: June 2018

Glasgow. 1969. A serial killer known as the Quaker has lured three women from the same nightclub and viciously murdered them. As the police’s laborious investigation drags on, the sense of fear is palpable and the cops are seemingly no closer to establishing the killer’s identity. Enter DI McCormack, a talented young detective who has been dispatched to Glasgow to shut down the botched investigation. Before he can pull the plug on the case, a fourth woman is found dead in a derelict tenement flat and McCormack becomes determined to win over his suspicious colleagues and nail the culprit.

Winner of the 2018 Scottish Crime Book of the Year, The Quaker is a visceral, relentless police procedural that drags the seemingly clean-cut McCormack through the grit and grime of late-60s Glasgow. The seedy atmospherics are utterly convincing and the level of period detail is similarly excellent.

The Quaker is a ferociously entertaining thriller that successfully blends a pungent David Peace-style Red Riding ambience with a dose of Glasgow grit and a genuinely gripping plot. Fantastic stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: Welcome to HolyHell by Math Bird


Author: Math Bird

Publisher: All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books)

Release Date: October 2018

At the outset of the marvellous Welcome to HolyHell youngster Jay stumbles across a briefcase full of cash – which he believes will change his life forever. Unfortunately for him, the money’s disappearance – and abrupt reappearance – was never going to go unnoticed, and before long a number of dangerous, damaged men are sniffing around – all desperate to get their hands on the loot.

Set in north-east Wales in the scorching summer of 1976, Math Bird has crafted a gripping, nerve-jangling story that is part-thriller, part-coming-of-age tale. The characterisation is nuanced throughout and the book is propelled forward by a crackling undercurrent of menace. When I reviewed Bird’s short story collection Histories of the Dead on this site, I praised its ‘noir sensibility, measured storytelling, sense of place and psychological turmoil’. It was a cracking collection, but this novel is even better, as he seizes on the themes explored in his earlier short fiction and runs with them.

Grubby, authentic and deftly plotted, Welcome to HolyHell is possibly my favourite All Due Respect book to date. With its sweaty explorations of lust, loyalty and small-town violence it would sit comfortably alongside plenty of acclaimed British literary fiction and really deserves to tap into a wider audience. Great stuff.

Buy Now!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Eamonn Griffin

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Eamonn Griffin to discuss his book, East of England (Unbound Digital).

Hi Eamonn, how would you pitch East of England to potential readers?

Ah, I’m notoriously bad at this kind of thing. So I’m cheating slightly here by quoting from a couple of reviews that folk have kindly left on Amazon. “A tale of violence and various dodgy dealings” was one summary. A story of “betrayals and violence without mercy” was another. A third and final one was “a modern gangland novel in the Chandler/Hammett tradition”, which is good to hear. Then again, someone just put “A good down-to-earth novel” which I really like too. It’s a Lincolnshire noir, and by “noir” I don’t mean any old crime or thriller novel being loosely grouped together under that banner, but one which takes note of at least some of the conventions of the noir novels and movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s – that period between The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil and which works in that kind of tradition.

Many of the key scenes in East of England take place in the type of locations that are rarely seen in crime fiction. How important was it to you to give an authentic depiction of the area?

Folk are fond of saying that the setting is a character in the story, and in lots of good writing that’s certainly the case. East of England’s set in Lincolnshire in part because it’s a place that I know quite well, and in part because it’s underused in fiction. That means that you can bring something slightly different to readers, and it also gives to a chance to deal with the specifics of what happens in rural and post-industrial communities. There are some commonalities with the kinds of crimes and dark dealings that you might find in London or Los Angeles, but those sorts of places are well-served by other writers.

What I’m doing is hopefully a little different in a way that’s interesting to readers. Also, the countryside is often treated in a bucolic, semi-comic and backward kind of way; an idealised area that’s largely harmless, sometimes charming, and where the crime writing is perhaps approached with an eye as much on the humour as the drama. Again, there are plenty of other writers doing that, and doing it better than I could ever do, so taking a hard-boiled approach to the countryside felt appropriate.

The East Lindsey part of Lincolnshire is interesting; it’s flat, being largely reclaimed from the sea, and has been struggling economically for generations. And hardship can be a precursor of and driver of crime, as well as of related activities. Also, there’s some tourism here along the coast, with several resorts, plus a scattering of market towns between the farms and abandoned RAF stations left behind after the second World War. You don’t have to make too much up. One area that I have played about with is in semi-fictionalizing some place names. That is deliberate (and a decision that a couple of readers who know the area haven’t liked); it gives me some wiggle room, so I can fictionalise some details without compromising the reporting of the geography of the area.

Dan Matlock’s actions are highly methodical and he doesn’t second-guess himself. How easy was it to establish his voice and his persona? 

It was fairly straightforward, and driven by a clear understanding of the character from the beginning. Dan Matlock is something of a loner, and he doesn’t work in partnership with others. Some writers have their detectives work in pairs – a classic trope from Sherlock Holmes stories onwards – so that questions of detection and decision-making can be dialogue-driven. With Matlock, this is largely internalised, so we experience him in real time, working out problems, assessing situations, responding to current threats. He spends a lot of time in his own head out of necessity, and there’s something of the writer there too – we tend to be the same as a breed, so there’s a little of drawing on my own approach too things, pus some inspiration from other characters and from the sort of crime and noir fiction that I tend to respond best to myself.

Did you know how the book would play out before you started writing it?

Yes. I had the ending first, and wrote towards it. That’s how I tend to work.

What do you hope that readers take away from the story?

That they enjoyed it, that they liked both the writing and the story, an that they’d be interested to read about what Dan Matlock got up to next. I’ve plenty of ideas for more books, and I’m writing a follow-up (though stand-alone) novel at the moment. And also, that they’d consider some of the detail about the setting, both in time and place, and about how they felt about both.

Who are your prime influences?

My first crime and noir-related loves were Gregory McDonald’s Fletch and Flynn novels, and Robert B Parker’s Spenser series. I read those before I delved back into the likes of Hammett, James M Cain, and Raymond Chandler.

More recently, there’s so much great stuff out there that it’s hard to list them all. Here’s a few though. Michael Connelly is – as plenty will appreciate – fantastic as a popular novelist, and his Bosch novels (as well as the recent TV adaptation) are fantastic. Two writers whose work has been of more direct influence are Donald E Westlake and Lawrence Block. Block’s Matt Scudder books are an inspiration, and there’s something of Dan Matlock in the Parker books written by Westlake under the pseudonym of Richard Stark. Matlock is perhaps half of each character – Parker is a stone-cold amoral bastard, and all the more enjoyable for it, whereas Scudder is a very human unlicensed private investigator. The character trajectory in the Scudder books from self-loathing alcoholic ex-cop to becoming settled and secure is one of the marvels of the genre; the books are worth reading in sequence for that alone.

Inevitably, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a touchstone, if only because of his and Matlock’s similarities in their loner status and in their methodical nature; there are straightforward comparisons to be made, though the two characters – and the moral and physical universes that they inhabit – are somewhat different. That said, if you like Lee Child’s books (and who doesn’t?) then hopefully you’ll find something to appreciate in East of England. I’ve recently read Andy Martin’s books on Lee Child (Reacher Said Nothing and With Child), both of which follow the writer and which examine his writing and publishing process and experiences. They give great insights into what it’s like to be a successful and distinctive author.

There are others as well. Off the top of my head: Lou Berney, Don Winslow, S Craig Zahler, and Manda/MC Scott are all writers who’ve worked in the genre that I’ve taken some inspiration from. It’s only right also that there’s acknowledgement given to Ted Lewis, whose Jack Carter books are set not a million miles away – the south bank of the Humber, with occasional forays deeper into Lincolnshire – and are key British noir works. The biography of Lewis by Nick Triplow is well worth a read.

Also, with a local-ish connection are David Mark and Nick Quantrill. Mark’s books are Hull-based, as are Quantrill’s, with a detective and a PI protagonist, respectively. As such, they’re just over the Humber from Lincolnshire. Both sets of novels are interesting in their own right, and in the ways that they treat both their locations with seriousness – in ways that mark them out as being a little different from standard genre offerings. Both authors are well worth your reading time!

And that’s before we get to non-genre writers who’ve been influential. Let’s leave it there for the time being!

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Blimey. I’ve no idea. I’m old enough to not have career plans for my writing as such. I’d just like to keep having books published and for there to be at least one reader out there who likes them and would like to see more.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

There are at least two more Dan Matlock books on their way. First up is Piece of Work, which will hopefully be out before the end of 2019. Second is Canine Jubilee, which – like East of England was – is being crowdfunded via Unbound. You can find about more about that here:

In addition, I’ve got outlines for several more Matlock novels; hopefully there’ll be enough of a readership out there wanting the books to make them a reality!

Outside of Matlock, I’m working slowly on a couple of non-noir projects. One of them has been a few years in the researching, and is a historical procedural thriller in the court of Elizabeth I.

Bio: Eamonn Griffin was born and raised in Lincolnshire, though these days he lives in north-east Wales.

He’s worked as a stonemason, a strawberry picker, in plastics factories (everything from packing those little bags for loose change you get from banks to production planning via transport manager via fork-lift driving), in agricultural and industrial laboratories, in a computer games shop, and latterly in further and higher education.

He doesn’t do any of that any more. Instead, he writes fulltime, either as a freelancer, or else on fiction.

Eamonn has collected a PhD, an MA, an assortment of teaching qualifications, and a BSc along the way. He really likes biltong, and has recently returned to learning to play piano, something he abandoned when he was about seven and has regretted since.


Twitter: @eamonngriffin /


The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Rob Pierce

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Rob Pierce to discuss his new book, Tommy Shakes (All Due Respect).

Hi Rob, congratulations on the publication of your new book. How would you pitch Tommy Shakes to potential readers?

Tommy is a career criminal, but not real good at it. He has major drinking and health problems and, in an effort to salvage his crumbling marriage, tries to pull one big job. They pull the robbery but one member of Tommy’s crew gets gun happy and it turns into a bloodbath. Among the dead: a prized employee of a local gangster. Now they’re wanted for murder, and the law is the least of their problems.

What do you hope that readers take away from the book?

I’ve never thought about that. I want people to go through some of Tommy’s emotional struggles. This was written while my own marriage was falling apart, which is why it took so long to finish. I don’t think I’ve written a good book unless I’m emotionally drained by the time it’s complete.

What would be your recommended drink of choice for people to enjoy while reading the book?

Knob Creek bourbon is a prominent drink of choice for the characters (and for me, although to nowhere the extent of these men). But you’ll probably get through the book faster if you hold it down to beer for the most part. Of course, not every shot in this book is alcohol.

You have published a number of books through All Due Respect in recent years. Do you have a favourite, and which one would you recommend to someone who is unfamiliar with your work?

With the Right Enemies is my favorite to date, but it’s the sequel to Uncle Dust, so I’d recommend starting there. Also, Dust probably has the most crossover appeal to non-noir readers, despite its being a noir novel. Not that any of my books are for the squeamish.

Of all your protagonists to date, who do you have a soft spot for, and why?

I love every protagonist as a character or I couldn’t write the books. You know, after he accepted Uncle Dust for All Due Respect, Mike Monson asked me how I wrote that character. And I found Dust an easy character to write, an extension of me without the suppression of violence (although Dust tries).

The creation of Vollmer in With the Right Enemies, on the other hand, impresses me most, because he has so little to do with me. Or most of humanity.

This book was published by All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?

These days I read primarily independents, although I read a lot of older books as well. As to reading mainstream, I don’t think I read mainstream writers, although some of my favorites (Don Winslow, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy), are published by mainstream houses. I’m currently reading Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird, which is published by Mulholland Books, so you tell me.

Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?

I don’t write like them, but I feel an affinity with Mike Monson and Tom Pitts, two terrific writers who really push the pace. There are a lot of good current writers, but I write primarily about criminals. I definitely enjoy books with good guys, but I don’t relate to them.

If you could recommend one crime novel that people are unlikely to have heard of, what would it be?

Tequila Blue by Rolo Diez. It’s about a corrupt Mexican cop investigating a gringo’s murder. As the back cover says, “a labyrinth of gang wars, assassinated prostitutes, and corrupt politicians.” Touch of Evil, indeed.

It’s the only Diez novel translated into English. If I had the money, I’d pay someone to translate the rest of them.

Who are your prime influences?

Hammett, David Goodis, George V. Higgins. Chester Himes and Richard Stark for action scenes. Eastern European post-Holocaust writers for a lot of the overall darkness, I’m sure. I mean, how dark is a crime novel when you’ve grown up with pogroms?

If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?

Career? I write books, I don’t have a career. Not in this. This is far more an addiction than a career. My idea of fame would be a large cult following. A lot of great writers haven’t gotten even that.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

The book after Tommy Shakes will be the conclusion of the Uncle Dust/With the Right Enemies trilogy. It’s called Blood By Choice and I’ve recently sent it to All Due Respect; no word on a publication date yet, but 2020 sometime is the goal. Like all my books, it pulls in characters from the other books and adds a few new ones who I’m likely to write more about in the future. Hell, Tommy Shakes is a standalone but it includes one character from my previous work and another is mentioned. And a major character in Tommy returns in Blood. It’s one thing to kill off a character, another to end an entire world.

Bio: Rob Pierce wrote the novels Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With the Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. Rob has also edited dozens of novels for All Due Respect and freelance, and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.


Buy Tommy Shakes!

Book Review: East of England by Eamonn Griffin


Author: Eamonn Griffin

Publisher: Unbound Digital

Release Date: January 2019

Debt collector Dan Matlock is out of prison, but not quite out of options. He can leave town – and his demons – and start from scratch elsewhere. Or he can go back to where it all went wrong, and pick through the wreckage he left behind. Two years jail time gave him time to plan, not brood. He knows exactly what he wants to do – and who he wants to do it to. However, the extended family of the man whose blood Matlock has on his hands have been plotting their own revenge, and when it comes it won’t be pretty.

After two years behind bars, Matlock is in no rush to enact his grand plan and the narrative unfolds at an unhurried pace. Violence is always around the corner, but in Matlock’s world there is always time for a cup of tea and a slice of cake first! The pace may be a touch slow for some vengeance-hungry readers, but Griffin’s hardnosed, meticulous prose kept me hooked throughout.

Another key strength is the author’s use of location, which feels authentic and unusual: transport cafes, static caravans and cattle markets all feature prominently. The backdrop for the climactic showdown is particularly well-judged, and provides the perfect setting for the long-brewing clash between Matlock and his enemies.

All in all, a gripping slab of Lincolnshire noir peppered with memorably grisly interludes. Impressive stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

Book Review: The Birdwatcher by William Shaw


Author: William Shaw

Publisher: RiverRun

Release Date: May 2016

Sergeant William South is a quiet, unassuming man. A solid local policeman and a committed birdwatcher, he appreciates routine and has no interest in working on headline-grabbing cases, such as murders. However, when a neighbour – one of his few friends – is found dead, he is paired with ambitious outsider DS Alexandra Cupidi, who leans on South’s local knowledge. As the case unfolds, and an unexpected lead sucks him deeper into the mystery, South finds himself increasingly unable to outrun his troubled past. Can he track down the killer before the body-count rises, or will his demons swallow him whole?

The Birdwatcher is a fascinating police procedural set on the rain-lashed Kent coast. Reluctant protagonist William South is an unusual central figure, and his grim investigation forces him into a similarly grim personal reckoning – which is teased out via regular flashbacks.

The striking spectre of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station looms over the proceedings in much the same way as South’s murky past continues to cast a long shadow over his life. The blistered-looking otherness of the area is extremely well-rendered, and I particularly enjoyed the depiction of a decrepit caravan park now ruled by an overweight local drug dealer and her vicious dogs.

Interestingly, despite being billed as a standalone, The Birdwatcher has spawned a spin-off series focusing on supporting player DS Cupidi (Salt Lane, Deadland). I look forward to reading more!

Review by Tom Leins

The Interrogation Room – An Interview With Graham Hurley

Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with British crime writer Graham Hurley, whose books include the Faraday and Winter series and the Jimmy Suttle novels.

Considering your reputation as one of Britain’s finest police procedural writers, I was surprised to learn that the early Joe Faraday books were written at the behest of your publisher – not because of any particular enthusiasm for crime fiction. In hindsight, does it surprise you that the series went on to span twelve novels?

The short answer is yes.  I agreed the first three-book contract because there was nothing else on offer.  I didn’t (and still don’t) like crime fiction, and rarely read the stuff.  Prior to the Faraday books, I’d been writing so-called international thrillers – nine in all – but Orion were unhappy with their sales performance and thought they could do better for both of us by repositioning me in the commercial marketplace.  The challenge, of course, was what to put on the page.  Without any knowledge of the genre, I was obliged to take a different approach.  Happily, in a previous life, I’d spent twenty years making documentaries for ITV and loved the process of putting real lives, and real stories on the screen.  This, especially at the research stage, involves getting into other people’s heads and winning their confidence – exactly the same approach I’d used as a novelist – and so I set out to become a working detective.  The research was the toughest assignment I’d ever set myself, but the harder I looked, the more I realised that the real drama lay not in serial killers and high-speed car chases, but in the minor key.  Sit in a volume crime CID room for weeks on end, and you begin to figure out just how these guys stay sane.  In a teeming city like Portsmouth, drug-ridden, full of feral kids on the make, that isn’t easy.  But day by day, I began to recognise and understand the undercurrents – both professional and deeply personal – that flowed through that CID office, and I was very happy to stir some of that stuff into the fictional mix.  There’s a nice irony here. Workings cops are what it says on the tin – deeply suspicious of any outsider – but after the publication of the lead title in the series – “Turnstone” – they decided I’d got their world right, and after that there was no longer a problem.  To my delight, Orion recognised that there was something new here in cri-fi, and began to put serious resources behind the books.  That led to climbing sales figures, excellent reviews, a deal for a wonderful series of adaptations on French TV, and three more three-book contracts. My biggest asset by far, aside from an exploding list of contacts, was Portsmouth itself.  It’s an extraordinary city in all kinds of ways and in the end, thanks to Faraday and Winter, I had the feeling of writing about a society caught in freefall, as all the post-war support structures fell apart.  I’d invested a huge amount of time and effort in research and was determined to make those books as authentic – almost as documentary – as I could.  In this respect, I guess the final irony was that it was me who brought the series to an end, not because of sales (which remained buoyant) but because my lead cops had aged year by year, book by book, and were now due for retirement.  Shafted by my own USP?  Well, yes…

Your books are widely praised for their authenticity – how hard is it to maintain the required level of realism? Presumably research is crucial?

Absolutely right.  You’ll guess from the above that I don’t put pen to paper until I’ve got to know everything I can about the world my characters will inhabit.  In the Faraday series, that applies equally to the cops and the Dark Side.  The best cops, before policing became impossibly risk-averse, had a little of the successful criminal about them and I was lucky enough to get to know some of these guys. They understood the criminal mentality, the juice that fuels the successful drug dealer, and it showed in the way they drove an investigation.  That was a pleasure to watch, full of the best kind of surprises, and I think it began to show as the series developed. For me, writing fiction – by definition – is an act of trespass, and unless you want to get nicked (mostly by the reader), you have to get it right.

Nowadays, what type of books do you read for pleasure?

I read all the time, and always have done.  I’m addicted to current affairs, especially now, and I hoover up anything that might shed fresh light on what’s turning out to be a huge moment in our island story.  With this, unsurprisingly, goes a passion for recent history, especially the Thirties and Forties.  I’ve been lucky enough to find a publisher to indulge this passion, and I’m currently penning a series of WW2 novels, set in the shadows of the intelligence war (see below).  Research-wise, as you might imagine, this demands reading on an industrial scale, and I love it.  Fiction?  My tastes were framed by Graham Green, Ernest Hemingway, John Le Carre, Len Deighton, and now Robert Harris.  You get the picture…

I understand that the Jimmy Suttle series started after you relocated from Portsmouth to Exmouth after more than 20 years. How long had you been living in Devon before you felt comfortable working on these books?

We’d been down here a couple of years before Orion agreed a two-book contract for a Faraday spin-off.  East Devon very definitely isn’t Pompey – one of its charms – and I knew from the start that the books would need a very different focus.  That focus lay in the relationship between the lead cop – D/S Jimmy Suttle, a young  survivor from the Faraday series – and his wife, Lizzie.  Book by book, the crimes were important, and I constructed them carefully so they were full of back story and the invitation to trespass (yet again) into other peoples’ worlds, but Suttle carried a lot of narrative weight and towards the end, much like Faraday, I sensed he was starting to struggle.

The Suttle books tackle crimes in locations such as Exmouth, Topsham and Lympstone. During the creative process what typically comes first, the location or the crime?

The location.  One of the first things Lin and I did when we moved down to East Devon was join the local rowing club.  We’ve both been water babies all our lives – swimming, dinghy sailing, kayaking – but this was a new adventure.  Thirteen years later we’re still at it, part of a crew of five reprobates, and we row silly distances twice a week.  Conditions permitting, these outings either take us out to sea or up the river Exe, where Lympstone and Topsham await.  I owe the last book in the Suttle series, “The Order of Things”, to a breakfast call we made a while back.  We always take coffee and stickies and we were parked on the beach at Lympstone, just in front of a terrace of cottages.  I’ve no idea why but the upstairs window on the end one took my eye.  It was obviously a bedroom with an incredible view out over the water, probably small, probably over-furnished.  Maybe the house belonged to a divorcee.  Maybe she lived alone.  Maybe she’d met a guy from the Met Office (in nearby Exeter).  And maybe there was more to him than she’d ever realised.  Read on….

Devon feels curiously underexplored by contemporary crime writers – why do you think that is?

I’ve truly no idea except, perhaps, one.  Writers, as a breed, need a little grit in their oyster and it often helps to live somewhere that winds you up.  Big cities – especially the likes of Pompey – can do this in spades.  Too many people in your face.  Too much pollution.  Too much clamour.  Devon, thankfully, has none of these things.  Low blood pressure, in short, can be no friend of the writer….but would I ever live anywhere else?  No way….

You have amassed a significant back catalogue – do you have a favourite title among your own books, and if so why?

My favourite book is always the one I’ve just finished.  It’s called “Amen” and happily it’s set in – yes – Exmouth.  It’s number three in a series I began last year, featuring a 39 year-old Anglo-Breton actress called Enora Andressen (she was once married to a Scandi film director).  These are first person accounts, contemporary settings, and a revelation to write.  In “Amen”, Enora makes a very bad call and falls in love with a man called Deko.  Six weeks ago, I’d never heard of him.  Now, he commands an entire book.  And that’s why I write.

Finally, what are your future publishing plans?

Severn House have just recommissioned me for the Enora Andressen series (see above), which will mean at least four books.  My other fictional adventure, very different but equally important, is “The Wars Within” series for Head of Zeus.  To date, I’ve published four novels – “Finisterre”, “Aurore”, “Estocada”, and “Raid 42”.  “Blood of the Wolf” will be published next year, and I’ve just started work on “Kyiv”, which is already deeply promising.  After that will come “Yalta”.

Bio:  Born Clacton-on-Sea.  Wrote a number of mercifully unpublished novels before ending up at Cambridge.  Spent twenty years making documentaries for ITV, winning a number of awards.  Sold my first novel to Pan/Macmillan in 1986 on the back of an ITV commission to write a six-part contemorary drama, “Rules of Engagement”.  To date, thirty six published novels.



Book Review: Sins of the Father by Graham Hurley


Author: Graham Hurley

Publisher: Orion

Release Date: 2014

The eponymous patriarch in Sins of the Father is Rupert Moncrieff – a wealthy elderly man murdered in his Topsham mansion. The case falls to DS Jimmy Suttle, a solid cop tormented by the abduction of his own daughter. Suspicion immediately falls on Moncrieff’s adult children, who still live under his roof – each nursing their own festering grudges. But does the murder relate to the dead man’s complicated family life, or is it connected to his twisted past?

And now for something entirely different… whereas most of the books featured on this blog lurk in the murkier depths of the independent crime fiction scene, Sins of the Father is a genuine mainstream proposition. This book was an entirely random second-hand purchase, which hooked me with its reference to ‘a rich old man beaten to death in the silence of his West Country waterside mansion’. Contemporary Devon crime novels are something of a rarity, so my interest was piqued.

Sins of the Father is an engrossing mystery that sees Suttle and his colleagues dragged deep into Moncrieff’s past – as far back as his National Service in Africa. Moncrieff himself is a true grotesque – fascinatingly rendered despite his pre-book demise. Grim details of the decades-old regime of terror waged against his family (and other unfortunates) are teased out by Suttle, and everybody that the detective encounters during the course of his investigation is memorably fleshed-out.

Factor in the quietly devastating parallel storyline involving Suttle’s estranged wife and her search for answers about their daughter’s fate, and you have a fantastic book, and one that packs significant emotional clout. As with the best whodunnits, there are no easy answers, just bitter truths and queasy revelations.

Review by Tom Leins