Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Staunch Book Prize

Posted by on February 22nd, 2018

The Staunch Book Prize was announced recently, and today has been opened to submissions (closing on 15 July 2018). The criteria for submissions is clear enough:

“The Staunch Book Prize will be awarded to a thriller novel in which no woman gets beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.”

Okay, so let’s look at whether this award makes any sense whatsoever. Obviously, we’re all tired of books that use the rape, torture and murder of women simply as a plot device. But what actually is the point of crime fiction, and can crime fiction avoid dealing with such subjects? Crime fiction necessarily involves a crime, and narrative demands that it is a serious one. It will generally involve a murder or a rape, or something equally awful, because a detective investigating a littering offence for ninety thousand words is unlikely to be much of a page turner.

Does a woman have to be the victim? Absolutely not (although by the law of averages alone, of course, they would be half the time) But I feel there is a sense in which men make less effective victims on a narrative level. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo culminates in a gender-reversed scene in which Lisbeth Salander rescues the imprisoned and helpless male protagonist – and yet most people will remember her earlier ordeal over his later torture. Likewise, most people remember the desperate woman in the pit in The Silence Of The Lambs, while forgetting the only people who are actually killed on camera aside from the murderer – two old male security guards, one crucified and disembowelled, the other with his face peeled off and used as a mask to facilitate a cool escape. I think people do care less about male victims, in and out of fiction, and there are interesting things to say about that in terms of patriarchy and so on, but it doesn’t strike me that the Staunch Prize is interested in interrogating that particular issue.

That aside, there is also the obvious fact that most readers are women, and if books involving violence against women are popular then there must be a reason for this. While some works might be distasteful and exploitative, perhaps others are more nuanced and intelligent? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously, because even the most cursory glance at the state of the crime genre reveals countless women writing brilliantly and powerfully about such issues. Never mind the argument that such works provide a safe outlet for the exploration of ingrained and lived fear, the best of what we have (and we have a lot of best) is intelligent, insightful, moving and, most of all, unapologetically confrontational. Which is as it should be. Crime fiction is meant to be uncomfortable; it’s meant to have sharp angles. And I’m sorry if you think serious matters are the preserve of literary fiction, but they aren’t. Crime writers are quite prepared to take weighty issues – including misogyny, in all of its subtle and blatant forms – between their teeth and fucking bite. Because that’s their job.

You can – of course – set up an award for anything, but it strikes me that setting up an award to reward the absence of something has to be better thought out than this. I do not doubt the good intentions of the organisers, but in creating this award they are throwing out so much work that would seem to be in line with their general principles. Fed up of exploitative books where women are simply the victims? Why not reward books which tackle the exploitation of women intelligently and directly instead? And yet this is an award where an all-male SAS action thriller could win, while a nuanced and smartly-observed study of domestic violence could not. That doesn’t seem remotely feminist to me – in any way, shape or form. It says to me that the organisers haven’t thought through what they’re doing and why.

you can run – reviews and interviews

Posted by on June 16th, 2017

So – it’s been a while since I added a post here, which I apologise for. But then, as noted previously, I decided to use this space more for general news and updates and less for what I used to. With regard to the latter, I tend to chat and argue more on Twitter and Facebook these days, and if you want to add me for those purposes then the links are above. Everybody is welcome.

In the meantime, my latest book – You Can Run – came out in April in ebook and trade paperback, with a normal paperback to follow in August. I figured it was about time to collect some of the reviews and interviews together. So here we go.


NJ Cooper reviewed the book at BookOxygen here:

“The first chapter of Steve Mosby’s You Can Run opens with a heart-sinking scene of a kidnapped woman in pain and terror, but this is no tick-box serial-killer thriller … The ultimate revelations are as much about the nature of love, friendship and hate as about police procedure and serial killing.”

LizLovesBooks reviewed the book here:

“A genuinely top notch, cleverly and beautifully written crime novel with a huge heart … Highly Recommended.”

Ben Hunt at Material Witness reviewed the book here:

“The plot is detailed, rich and intricate taking an unpredictable path through many damaged lives … You Can Run is a dark, haunting read that you won’t [want] to put down. Especially at 2am.”

For Winter’s Nights reviewed the book here:

“Steve Mosby is a master of darkly twisted crime thrillers and he’s done it again with You Can Run.”

The Crime Warp reviewed the book here:

You Can Run is a triumph in the creepy serial killer, edge of your seat  sort of read … The writing is beautifully haunting, almost poetic, and chilling in equal measure.”

Chris High had this to say:

“Steve Mosby’s latest outing You Can Run is – not to put too fine a point on it – sensational … Fabulously deft, ridiculously well executed and a novel to read in one hit if ever there is one, [it] is an absolute winner in every respect.”

Anne Bonny Book Reviews reviewed the book here:

“His best yet! … spine-chilling reading.”


I’ve been lucky enough to be asked some interesting questions about the book by a few different people. For one, you’ll find a Q&A with me below the review from Anne Bonny Books above.  In addition, The Crime Warp was kind enough to interrogate me here. And Chris High also had some things to ask me here.

As always, I really appreciate everybody who took the time to read the book, review the book, ask me questions about it, or just comment on it in general.

Thank you all very much indeed.

a fatal lack of talent

Posted by on March 22nd, 2017

You can set your watch by certain things in the publishing world: the bittersweet pain of a book coming out; the sad punchlines at the end of those bulky biannual royalty statements; the debates around violence in fiction, or self-publishing, or literary versus genre, or whatever. Today, we wearily turn our attention to the (penultimate) latter of the latter. Literary versus genre. Brace yourselves, because it is That Time again.

It all started with this article William O’Rourke penned about Michael Collins, a writer who may well have spent the intervening time cringing himself into a small point. O’Rourke’s article contained the following comment:

“Michael, unfortunately, had, has, too much talent to succeed as a crime writer. He doesn’t possess the fatal lack of talent required. He asks too much of a reader.”

This understandably caused some consternation in the crime fiction community, with several members responding here. I say “understandably”, but apparently Mr O’Rourke does not understand, because he has written a follow-up article. You can read that here. Do so, and then we will work our way through it, in much the same way that you might brush clumps of matted fur from a cat while wondering what in God’s name the creature has been rolling in.

We’ll start slightly above the article.

“Here he seeks to clarify his remarks.”

Well, let’s be clear: here he fails. It is an act of intellectual generosity to a reader to present your argument as clearly and concisely as possible, and a failure to do so tends to indicate either an inability to do so or an an attempt to obscure flaws in your argument. Or even, as in the word salad that O’Rourke has produced here, both.

“I am pleased that my “aside” prompted so many, in the main, thoughtful responses – and surprised that there are so many self-described “crime writers” at the ready. When I use the term I am, was, thinking of those formulaic, genre writers, who turn them out yearly, if not monthly. I worked in New York City publishing when I was in graduate school way back when and proof-read and copy-edited quite a few.”

Writing is possibly the only field in all of human endeavour where delivering something quickly is frowned on. It simply wouldn’t happen in any other line of work. “I want the figures on my desk within the hour – oh, you’ve done them already. That’s great. You’re excellent at your job.” But with books, there remains this pernicious idea that the longer you take, the better it must be (and, conversely, that writing accomplished in a short timescale must be hacked out and frivolous). Here’s a wild thought: why not judge the quality of the finished product rather than the time it took to complete it? Crazy, I know.

(Also, “yearly”. I mean, fucking honestly. I’m a slow writer, but come on).

Anyway, what he’s basically saying here is “I didn’t necessarily mean these crime writers, or even actual crime writers, more just some vague idea of a crime writer I had in my head.” Which is understandable. When John Banville disagrees with you on this particular issue you can be fairly sure you’ve lost the rest of the room too.

“My remark – “He doesn’t possess the fatal lack of talent required” – is the sentence, actually the phrase, everyone seems to object to.”

Look, just say “phrase” in the first place. This isn’t a maths test, and you’re not getting any points for showing your working.

“Though, given the literate audience involved, I would have thought that such a description – “fatal lack of talent” – would alert the reader (since it is a mixture of direct statement and hyperbole) to the realisation that I might be aware of its provoking ambiguities.”

Yeah, whatever.

“This particular notion – fatal lack – is a perennial hobby-horse of mine, though I have never written about it.”

It’s not much of a hobby-horse, then, is it?

“As an old friend said to me long ago, the non-crime writer Irini Spanidou, “Genius is a gift and talent is a curse”.”

There are two obvious ways to interprate Spanidou’s comment.

The first is that genius and talent are entirely distinct: you can be incredibly talented and never reach the level of genius, because genius is something separate. Under this first interpretation, you could also be a genius while lacking any discernible talent whatsoever. Hmmm. That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

The second interpretation would be that talent and genius are on a scale: at zero, you’re basically nothing; at 5, say, you’re talented; at 10, you’re a genius (go you!).

Obviously, the second interpretation is better, although in that case “talent” really needs quantifying for the aphorism to make sense – talent alone clearly isn’t a curse, because genius requires it. The latter is a subset of the former: genius is the bull’s-eye on the talent target, if you like. Although this is better, I think it needs more work, but I digress.

“Michael Collins, if one reads the phrase in context, is the one bereft of the fatal lack of talent, saddled with the curse, in other words, hampered by too much talent. Not the mob of crime writers out there.”

Well … yes. And no? On the one hand, this is precisely what people were objecting to, isn’t it? Michael Collins is bereft of the fatal lack of talent, meaning he has a lot of talent, whereas crime writers possess the fatal lack of talent, meaning they have less talent. Fatally, for them. Under the second interpretation above, O’Rourke is saying that Collins is a genius, whereas crime writers lack the talent to be. They’re at 5; he’s at 10. More than that, the original statement implies Michael couldn’t write crime fiction because he was too talented. And yet Michael is also apparently “saddled with the curse”, not the gift, which suggests he has talent not genius, so…? Well, who knows.

(I return to my original comment about making arguments clear. I apologise, but we are where we are).

“Everyone is a crime writer, in the largest sense.”

Everyone is a literary writer, in the largest sense. Everyone is a chef, in the largest sense. Everyone is an elephant, in the largest sense.

“Shakespeare is a crime writer. I published a novel titled Criminal Tendencies; there is a crime in it. The novel I have just completed has a crime in it – adultery, though most people no longer consider adultery a crime.”

Yeah, whatever.

“Let us be reasonable here. I am too old and have published too much to be thought ignorant enough not to be aware of the objections put forward by the miffed 13.”

You aren’t, apparently. And you haven’t, apparently. But yeah, whatever.

“But, I contend, writers who publish are always writing at the top of their form. No one writes down. It’s difficult, almost impossible. Writers cursed with too much “talent” are unable to stoop to conquer.”

It’s natural to read “form” here as akin to “game” – as in the idea that no writer publishes below their best efforts; as in that they want to do the best they can – and so we nod along, because we can probably all agree with this. But let’s remember: O’Rourke’s argument is not that Collins can’t or won’t write below his ability, but that he is unable to write crime fiction because he is too talented. He can’t “stoop” to doing so. His genius simply won’t allow it.

Has O’Rourke presented any evidence to support his position that someone with an excess of talent would be unable to write crime fiction, whereas crime writers are forced to do so because of a lack of talent? No. He has not. Will he? Place your bets.

“The crime writers I was thinking of are the sort whose principal object is not to get the reader to stop in his or her tracks and ponder some remarkable aperçu, or paradox of the moment, be stunned to stop and think, but to keep turning the pages.”

Yeah – because any writer really wants their readers to stop and not read the whole thing.

Oh, but anyway: here we are, sort of. Standing in the dust of skirmishes past at the entrance to the arena of the philosophy of aesthetics. Why and how do we value art? As entertainment – a way to pass the time? Evoking emotion? Being beautiful in some way – perhaps a pretty little paragraph or two? Forcing us to see the world anew? Do we value poetry of prose over poetry of plot and theme and character? Is any “paradox of the moment” as impressive as it sounds at first? What even is that? And so on.

It’s all part of an interesting discussion, but note that O’Rourke makes no argument that any of these different approaches to art is more valid than others, and more importantly, makes no argument that crime fiction is incapable of doing any of them, or even that crime fiction is less capable of doing them than other modes of fiction. That’s because it isn’t true.

“At my university I am part of a College of Arts and Letters. Though in our age it is mainly Arts and Entertainment. I am not on the side that thinks awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan (né Zimmerman) is an appropriate thing, even though it is certainly of the moment and is the epitome of the mix of high and low culture that reigns, evidently, everywhere. But, as a Yank, in a jingoist mode, I certainly think his winning preferable to giving it to some author I’ve never heard of residing in one of the Baltic states.”

Yeah, whatever.

“The examples of writers of announced stature who write, allegedly, superior crime novels under pseudonyms, is a matter of judgment. In any case, there are a number of counter-examples. Here are three, all by happenstance female: Doris Lessing, Joyce Carol Oates and JK Rowling. All published in different genres under pen names and those books went nowhere, until the actual celebrity author was revealed. And, in Oates’ case, it was revealed pre-publication.”

I confess: I’m not entirely sure what this means or what relevance it’s supposed to have to the overall argument that crime writers write crime because they lack the talent to do better. On that level, we hope in vain at this point.

“I am not bothered by the success of others. In fact, it’s one of my few good traits. But I am well aware of the limitations of writers and if one is addicted to metaphor, prose residing in the neighbourhood of belles lettres, it is difficult, if not impossible, to go cold turkey and write otherwise.”

Because crime writers don’t use metaphor, or rich language, or any of the other million techniques open to literary writers. Get in the sea.

“As one of the respondents (Barbara Nadel) pointed out, I, too, categorise writing as either fiction or nonfiction and, secondarily, whether it is good or bad.”

Yeah – that’s true, isn’t it. I’m not putting a question mark there, because it’s obvious. Good fiction can take many forms. It will be well-written, but the embellishment of the language might suit, and arguably even mirror, the subject matter. There might be metaphors in the sentences, but also more broadly in the themes and ideas. A good book rhymes – or deliberately doesn’t. A good book dances. A good book entertains you (there are numerous ways to be entertained). A good book will leave you thinking and feeling. A good book will leave you throwing it against the wall or desperately pressing it on to someone else.

Read what you want. Write what you want. Listen: you can list all the possible virtues of a good book, and not everyone will recognise them in the same text, but I guarantee you that the purported genre will have no bearing on this. Crime can do everything literary fiction can do, and it does, and writing the best of it takes every bit as much talent. (For “crime”, there, you can substitute any other genre and it’s just as fucking true). The end.

We’re not quite done, but the rest is all a bit “yeah, whatever”, so let’s skip straight to the finish.

“It proves the central point of my article on Michael that there is an active and vibrant and cohesive literary community across the pond, but not in the USA. Such a display of insults and ire would never happen in America, because I am not a celebrity. The chief reaction to perceived literary rebuke by an unfamous author in the States is not to be bothered. Neglect has always been the preferred weapon of choice here.”

If only.

my five favourite books of 2016

Posted by on December 28th, 2016

A quick bit of housekeeping to begin with. I’ve posted very little this year, and can’t see myself posting all that regularly in future, so I suppose I finally have to face facts. This isn’t really a blog anymore. So I’ve renamed this page as “news and updates”, and I’ll see how that works in 2017.

(Having done this, maybe I’ll find myself wanting to post several times a week and start treating it as a blog again – but somehow I doubt it. For better or worse, blogs increasingly feel outdated, and I’m far more active on the standard social media accounts these days. I’ll most likely keep this bit of my website for what it now says on the tin.)

But! I do want to post about my five favourite books of the year. As usual – and despite my best intentions – I haven’t read as much as I would have liked to. And as usual – once again – I’m determined to do much better next year. I probably won’t. It does seem strange to me, the reading lull that always occurs in the middle of each year, but maybe that’s just my nature, and around 25 novels a year is my limit.

Regardless, these were my five favourite books of 2016. They’re in no particular order, and there’s the standard caveat that my favourites do not necessarily represent what I thought was strictly best. And as always, I could – and probably would – have picked a different five on a different day. Trust me: everything I read this year has much to recommend it from my point of view, not least because I simply abandoned lots of books that aren’t on that list (and there was nothing wrong with them either). But these five stand out for me, at least today, and I recommend them to you highly. If you like these sorts of books then I think these are the sorts of book you will like.


The Poison Artist, by Jonathan Moore

We meet toxicologist Dr Caleb Maddox – an expert in pain – just after a violent breakup with his girlfriend that has left him bleeding from his forehead. On the boozy, absinthe-fulled night out that follows, Maddox encounters a mysterious woman and becomes obsessed with tracking her through the late-night bars and secret clubs of a misty, rain-drenched San Francisco. At the same time, bodies are being pulled out of the bay, each bearing marks of torture by poison. The Poison Artist is a beautifully-written, woozily erotic nightmare of a book, full of quiet horrors, evocative settings and a mounting sense of outright dread. By the time the pieces have come together at the end, you’re not sure whether you want to drink absinthe or if you might already have.


The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

While many SF novels deal in physics, Roberts’s latest novel is an adventure that hinges more on metaphysics. It effectively begins with a pun – two scientists at an Antarctic research station bang heads and bicker about Immanuel Kant’s theory of ‘the thing in itself’ and then experience what may be an alien encounter – before splitting into strands. Alternate chapters describe the fallout from that initial event, while flashbacks and flashforwards give us glimpses into a distant past and faraway future all influenced by the central idea: that Kant’s theory is right, and that access to the real world beneath our perceptions and measurements – the thing itself; A/K or “Applied Kant” – has astonishing and dangerous consequences. The central strand at times feels Bond-like and humorous, at others dense with debate, and – occasionally – horrifying. The other sections are written in individual styles, and feel like self-contained short stories that gradually bind the book together. All told, it’s an incredibly ambitious novel – demanding; intelligent; full of ideas and arguments – and it concludes with a quiet coda that’s easily one of the loveliest passages of writing I’ve read this year.


A Head Full Of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay

A superb, multi-layered psychological horror story about possession. The Barrett family suffers difficulties when one of their daughters, Marjorie, begins to show escalating signs of mental disorder. Finding no medical solutions, they unwisely invite both an exorcist and a reality television crew into their home. Fifteen years later, their other daughter, Merry, recounts her own memories of the events that took place. The horrors here build slowly – the story helped along by Merry’s compelling and appealing narration – before ending with one of the cruellest twists I can remember in recent years. Throughout, the whole novel is slyly self-aware: there are knowing references to the standard tropes of the genre, easter eggs galore, and sections where the book even takes time to dissect not only aspects of the story that have been presented to you but the way they have been. Events remain ambiguous and open to interpretation. And yet none of that stops the book gathering a chilly, terrifying pace, before that ending delivers an unforgettable final shiver.


Watch Her Disappear, by Eva Dolan

While many crime writers choose to locate their series characters in the murder squad or some other ‘extreme crime’ unit, to give them gritty and viscerally exciting investigations to undertake, Dolan chooses a quieter approach: her novels are set in the Hate Crimes unit in Peterborough. The setting allows her not only to deliver well-structured and grounded crime novels with superbly-realised characters, but also to explore timely and important social issues. It’s a thing she does with real sensitivity. Watch Her Disappear, about the murder of a trans woman, is not only smart, compassionate, beautifully written and completely compelling, it also takes its characters and subject matter into areas you wouldn’t necessarily expect. I was lucky enough to get an ARC, and this is a highly recommended read for when it’s released next year.


Slow Horses, by Mick Herron

Slow Horses is set in Slough House, a departmental dumping ground for various fuck-ups from MI5, ruled over by the odious Jackson Lamb. Lamb is a wonderful creation: obnoxious, astonishingly ill-mannered, and described as looking like Timothy Spall gone to seed – but also more than capable, and loyal to his own (admittedly well-hidden) moral compass that he’ll “never leave a joe in the lurch”. The other characters, mostly bitter and hating each other, are equally well-drawn and compelling. When a boy is abducted, his beheading scheduled to appear live on the internet, the slow horses end up involved. This is an incredibly funny book – cynical and twisted – but also a serious one with genuine heart. Not to mention the fact that it’s beautifully written with twists and turns galore. I’m not particularly a fan of spy thrillers – or series characters, when it comes to it – but the second I finished Slow Horses, I went straight to the bookshop and bought the next two Jackson Lamb books. I could easily have included either of them (Real Tigers especially) on this list instead, but figured I’d start at the beginning.


Posted by on July 4th, 2016

Today, I learned that Carolyn, my agent for the last 14 years, has died.

It took me a (relatively) long time to get published. I began submitting to agents when I was 17, and had a number of books justifiably rejected over the 8 years that followed. Carolyn was someone I kept submitting to. She would always offer constructive feedback on everything of mine she turned down, until eventually it got to the point where she was the only person I was submitting to. I still remember the phone call I had from her when, rejecting my latest offering, she jokingly wondered if I’d ever considered writing a children’s book. Obviously, I never took that particular piece of advice, and in the end she took me on with a book I’d called Untitled but Finished. That title was one of the many things she talked me out of over the years. It eventually became The Third Person, which was published in 2003. I can’t believe, writing that now, that it was so long ago.

She was my agent from that moment on. It’s fair to say there was an amount we didn’t see eye to eye on over the years. Her instinct was always to rein in my more … way out there material. But she was pretty much always correct, and I valued her judgement and expertise a great deal. There was always a moment of fear when she called to discuss whatever new book I’d sent her, because she had no interest in telling me how great I or the book was. Instead, with almost no preamble, we would begin an hour long conversation in which she’d finely detail every single fault and problem she’d found in the manuscript. She would rip the thing to pieces. And then, at the end – when I was little more than a puddle of despair – in her cheerfully laconic drawl she’d say “it is very good though!” And I knew that she meant it. Which is everything a sensible writer could ask of an agent.

The news of her death was not unexpected. She had been ill for some time, and while I was determined to stay with her as long as she felt able to continue, it was clear when I spoke to her in May that she’d reached that point. I was glad to have the chance to tell her then how important she had been to me, and what a difference she had made to my life. (Carolyn, still typically bullish even then, was having absolutely none of such sentimentality). It is very sad news indeed. I will miss her. She was absolutely one of a kind, and my thoughts are with her friends and family.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted an update here. I’ll try to do a proper one soon – although in truth there isn’t much to say. I’ve mostly been working on Book Ten (still due for publication in February 2017) and plotting out ideas for Book Eleven (more on which anon). In the meantime, I wanted to write something about the EU referendum, which is taking place in a few short days.

Not so long ago, I’d no doubt have been chomping at the bit to have my say, but I feel a genuine sense of weariness right now – and also, is there any real point in adding to the noise? But I wanted to write something. With that in mind, here are some links to posts and arguments that I’ve found articulate, insightful and persuasive. These are short extracts. In each case, the whole is very much worth reading.

Nicholas Barr of the LSE calmly addresses the various practical arguments and presents the reasons he’ll be voting for Remain:

“This article, written for many friends who have asked for a reasoned view of why I will vote Remain, summarises a longer article which sets out the supporting arguments more fully. I include links to evidence from credible sources, none (with the essential exception of the Financial Times) behind a paywall.”

Nick Harkaway writes a quiet and sensible letter to a friend thinking of voting Leave:

“From where I stand, it seems that we put a tiny fraction of our annual national spend (and get back more) towards membership of a vital trading bloc which is also a landmark project in the effort to prevent neighbouring countries with a history of violence from warring on one another?—?and that bloc, that project, is not an exogenous given. That is to say that it’s not guaranteed to continue to exist if we Leave. Our departure could bring it down. I think that would be a tragedy?—?the end of something that was begun in fear and hope, that is supposed to be about making a better world, its demise coming in response to a sustained campaign of aggressive hectoring whose positive side I cannot find.”

Laurie Penny argues – back in 2015 – that the real threat we face isn’t immigrants but creeping fascism:

“The behaviour of the British and wider European elite towards migrants is not simple inhumanity. It is strategic inhumanity. It is weaponised inhumanity designed to convince populations fracturing under hammer-blows of austerity and economic chaos that the enemy is out there, that there is an “us” that must be protected from “them” … All of this has happened before. All of this, in fact, is precisely what the European Union was established to prevent.”

John Rickards discusses the various arguments and explains why he’ll be voting to Remain:

“If we vote Leave, I think it’s widely known Johnson will challenge for the Tory leadership and will likely win. This will give us a prime minister than no one, other than about 20,000 people in Uxbridge, voted for, representing a party that a vast majority voted against in the last election, passing policy in a system which requires no vote in Parliament so long as no laws or national budget allotments are changed, in which the cabinet producing those policies is not subject to parliamentary approval or vote in the first place, and in which one entire house?—?the Lords?—?is completely unelected and over which we have no influence at all.

Tell me, what control do we get exactly? And how is that less than we have by working in Europe? What extra representation do we have in an isolated system with so much that’s unrepresentative by default?

No, it’s not us that will get control if we leave the EU. It’s those fronting Leave.”

Nick Cohen talks about the poisonous and anti-intellectual tone of some of the Leave campaign:

“As so often in the past, those who claim to be fighting the elite on behalf of the masses are the most manipulative of all. Baffled broadcasters, who do not understand the new world, have politely wondered why Johnson and Gove are claiming pensioners will be left to suffer as the NHS is overrun by 77 million Turks, when there is absolutely no prospect of Turkey joining the EU. The answer is simple: they do it because they know that playing on racial fear works. They do it because they are confident that any “expert” the BBC can put on air to contradict them can be dismissed with Govean scorn as a liar and a fraud.”

And J.K. Rowling discusses stories and monsters here:

“In a few days’ time, we’ll have to decide which monsters we believe are real and which illusory. Everything is going to come down to whose story we like best, but at the moment we vote, we stop being readers and become authors. The ending of this story, whether happy or not, will be written by us.”


Look, I wasn’t going to write anything myself, but I will say something. As a Labour voter, I don’t see any real point in blaming Cameron, Gove, Johnson, Duncan-Smith and Farage – or any of the rest of that shower of shit – for where we are now. But I do find myself, rightly or wrongly, blaming Labour a little bit. In the run up to the 2015 election, as Ukip shifted the debate to the right, Labour failed to argue that austerity was an ideological choice rather than an economic necessity, and they failed to present the positive case for immigration. On those two absolutely key issues, they failed to offer themselves up as a coherent opposition and ended up presenting themselves as Tory-lite. Cameron then found himself with an unexpected majority and was thus forced to follow through on a promise he’d only made – massively ironically as it turns out – to dampen down a division within his own party in the run up to the general election. There’s more to it than that, of course, but it’s infuriating.

But anyway: here the rest of us are now – forced to deal with a referendum that has not only proved divisive, stupid and ugly on both sides but which is wholly unnecessary. On Friday, we’ll have a result one way or the other, but that won’t be the end of it. It really does feel like we’ve pulled the cork out of a particularly hate-filled bottle right now, and I doubt it will go back in easily any time soon. And whatever the ultimate decision, it won’t be any of the high-profile politicians currently arguing so passionately for either side that feel the full force of its consequences.

And on that note, I’ll end with a link to this piece by Chris Brosnahan, which basically sums up how I feel right now.

“I wish I had a more hopeful point to end this on. Maybe tomorrow, I will. But right now… right now, I’m out of hope. I’m just scared.”

a general update…

Posted by on March 12th, 2016

1. book ten

Which is the only title the poor thing has right now. The working title has always been The Red River, but as I mentioned in my last update, nobody has any real love for that and it will most likely change before publication. But anyway! Book Ten is the reason I’ve been absent from here for the last couple of months, as I’ve been racing to hit the end of February deadline (which I ended up going over, but only by a few days). The first draft went off to my editor earlier this week. It’s always a strangely anti-climactic moment: you wrestle with the book; you dream of finishing it; and when it actually happens … it kind of feels like nothing at all.

But it’s good to get it sent. As always, I’m expecting there to be changes in the next draft (if nothing else, there are a couple of bits I know I personally want another run at), but in general I think it’s okay. Or at least, I’m not unhappy with it for this stage in the process.

90,000 words, anyway. Serial killers. Grief and love. Stories within stories. Twists and turns. Tears before bedtime. You know the drill by now.

2. I know who did it

It’s a real pleasure to report that I Know Who Did It will be coming out through Pegasus this September in the US, with a new title – The Reckoning On Cane Hill – and, as you can see to the left there, a nice new cover. From my point of view, Pegasus have been fantastic to work with, previously publishing both Dark Room (as The Murder Code) and The Nightmare Place, and I’m thrilled they’re going with this one too. The title change, if you’re interested, may be the first time anybody’s been worried I might be confused with O J Simpson.

I’m also very pleased that it has been taken on by Lithuanian publisher Sofoklis, who liked the book so much that they took The 50/50 Killer too. (IKWDI is a sequel to 50/50, although both work as standalones). I’ll post more about that as and when I know more detail.

3. a night of crime

I had a great time attending this evening down in London in February, as Orion gathered ten of its crime writers together and let them loose in a swanky room full of journalists, bloggers and – we’re all adults here, so let’s be frank – a vast amount of booze. It was a really fun event. As part of it, all ten of us were required to give a one minute pitch about our latest book. And as what might be described as the opposite of an act of kindness, these pitches were filmed. Shotsmag Confidential has the videos, along with a comprehensive report on proceedings. Thanks to everyone who organised it and everyone who came along.

4. some interesting links

There have been several that I’ve failed to take note of over the past couple of months, but here are a few.

I really enjoyed this article on disguised drinking dens. It resonates with that sensation we all have from time to time that there are secrets hidden in the cities around us. Because, of course, there are.

This is an older article on the Tamám Shud mystery, but new to me. A year or so back, I moderated a panel on how realistic crime fiction was, and I broke it up by presenting the authors and audience with strange and bizarre scenarios and asking them to decide whether they were real or made-up. This was one of the examples I used.

This long read on the ‘death of a troll’ is intriguing, twisty and very much worth your time.

And finally, this article on the unsolved case of the Long Island serial killer is fascinating and disturbing in equal measures, and a good piece of true crime writing.

onwards and upwards

Posted by on January 20th, 2016

Okay – some quick updates as to what’s going on with me.

1. I Know Who Did It

My ninth book came out last September, and I’m generally very pleased with the reception it’s had. I’ve collated most of the reviews I’ve found on the page for the book here, and they’re pretty much universally positive. For what these things are worth, at the time of writing, it has average scores of 4.5 on Amazon and 4.32 on Goodreads. It was also really nice to see it hit a few ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year, including The Times here(£), Vicky Newham’s here and For Winter Nights here.

I’ve no idea how well it’s sold as yet, but I suspect it’s more or less in line with my previous books, which, as always, doesn’t amount to world-beating figures. But there seems to be a lot of good will for the book out there, and hopefully more people will discover and enjoy it when the paperback comes out (which I think is currently scheduled for June).

In the meantime, a massive thank you to all the people out there who have bought it, enjoyed it, reviewed it and commented on it either online or in person to me. It means a great deal to me, I promise.

2. The Next Book

The next book – Book 10! – is what is currently occupying most of my waking hours. The working title is The Red River, but that will likely change, as it sounds a little too much like a Western. And the book isn’t a Western, of course. It’s the usual mix of psychological thriller, police procedural and … well, I don’t know how to put this. Slight weirdness? Maybe. Regardless, while it’s too early to say what it’s about right now, imagining a cross between The 50/50 Killer and Black Flowers will give you some idea of what to expect. A serial killer story, basically, but one that’s also about stories themselves.

It’s due to be delivered by the end of February, so I’m flat out on that at the moment. The current word count stands at about 60k, which sounds a little slack, but: a) there were a couple of false starts; and b) I was always the type to desperately cram most of my revision in the night before the exam, and that’s generally how I write too. So I’m pretty happy with that progress, and I’m enjoying seeing all the fragmented ideas and chapters beginning to come together pretty well right now.

3. Yeah, about the Leather thing…

So. Yes. I’m not going to bang on about this too much – or at least, not for the moment – but it would seem remiss and even odd not to mention what’s happened in an update. Following my last post, the author Jeremy Duns wrote a blog of his own about Stephen Leather, which received a great deal of attention, including coverage in the Independent, Guardian and Times. I was pleased to read the initial response from Hachette (our mutual publisher), and while Leather hasn’t publicly responded to any of the allegations yet, I’m also pleased to report that the site has at least been taken offline for the moment. So that’s a good start.

4. Some interesting links

And finally, since I’m going to try and blog a bit more this year, I thought I’d flag up any articles or posts that I’ve found particularly interesting recently. If nothing else, it means I won’t lose them.

I found this two part piece on The Tragic Tale of Mt Everest’s Most Famous Dead Body fascinating and moving. At first, there was something almost bizarrely intriguing about an environment so extreme that a dead body might be used as a waypoint – an actual landmark – but then both parts of the article do a good job of humanising the individuals involved and exploring the mindsets of the people driven to risk, and often lose, their lives attempting the climb.

And secondly, A Brief History Of Books That Do Not Exist, a great article that appeals to me for a load of probably very obvious reasons.

Posted by on January 4th, 2016

In the weeks before Christmas, this site about me finally went live.

I say finally because the web address was bought some time ago, but the site itself has only just been populated. It’s a site dedicated to exposing my bad language on Twitter, and encouraging people not to buy my books on that basis. I am “a vile and unpleasant little man”, apparently. To which I can only say: look – vile and unpleasant I may well be but, at six foot three and over fifteen stone, you’ll forgive me for taking umbrage at that “little”.

But no, seriously, I swear a bit on social media (although not nearly as much as that site implies; it’s all been culled – amazingly; almost psychotically flatteringly – from tweets going back to 2009), and I make no apologies for my language. Picture me shrugging right now – it’s a fucking enormous shrug, trust me. I swear. You swear. He, she or it swears.

Anyway. It’s reasonably clear that bestselling author, ebook superstar and fellow Hachette author Stephen Leather is responsible for this website. I won’t say how I know that; I’ll save all the screenshotted internet incompetence for later potential laughs. But I’m amused that, following his vague baseball bat threat last May, he promised to ignore me (as I then did him) and yet, clearly, he can’t. I’m also amused that he still doesn’t have the courage to attach his name to his activities. How pathetic. Three and a half fucking years ago, it was revealed how he cyberbullied a writer named Steve Roach into submission. Three and a half fucking years later, he’s still imagining the same tactics will work on me. They won’t. When I saw the obsessive content of the site, I laughed. When it was briefly replaced by an advert for acne cream, I laughed even harder.

It was actually a wonderful Christmas present. I’m looking forward to a lot more laughter in 2016.

my five favourite books of 2015

Posted by on January 3rd, 2016

It has – once again – been a lacklustre year for me in terms of reading: 22 books read in 2015 in total, which is a much smaller number than I would like. So I feel a little … guilty, almost, in selecting a top five. It doesn’t feel earned. I’m going to anyway, obviously, but I’ll be having some stern words with myself and attempting to correct this in the year ahead.

In the meantime, these were my five favourite books of 2015. They’re in no particular order, and they’re presented with the usual caveat that my favourites do not necessarily overlap perfectly with what I thought was best. Best is a trickier term to pin down; favourites is considerably easier. But even then, it was difficult to choose. There are several other books that could easily have made this list.


Here we are…

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, by Claire North

Harry August is born in the early 1900s in difficult circumstances. He lives a relatively undistinguished life until his first death in 1989. At that point, he is born again – into the exact same circumstances, and with the full knowledge of the life he led before. That second life understandably does not go well, but as his lives pass, he makes contact with the supportive Cronus Club, and realises he is a ‘kalachakra’: one of many individuals who relive their lives thousands of times over without forgetting the previous ones. Harry learns to explore and exploit this ability until, at the end of his eleventh life, he receives a message from a little girl about the state of the future.

There are almost too many joys to be found in this novel. It is beautifully written, for one, but the real fun is in the exploration: the way it takes a single, relatively simple idea and runs with it, following every aspect of the concept to its natural limits. And so – of course – it is possible for ideas and messages to be passed back and forth through time over eons, either as warnings or as jokes. It feels obvious and natural that secret clubs and communities of such individuals will evolve, that rules will be established and that shortcuts and helplines will be created. It’s the ultimate secret society, and the idea is fleshed out and made real. So it’s the world, filled to its edges, that enchanted me here, even more so than the plot (which is rewarding and clever) and the depth of character (which is great). I was trying to think why I responded so positively to it all, and I realised I can give it the highest compliment: it reminded me of reading The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones for the first time as a teenager. That was the first time I was this transfixed by a world so simultaneously neverending and wonderful and sad and moving. A fantastic book.

The Way Inn, by Will Wiles

Neil Double is a professional conference attendee. He’s happy to be paid to replace you at all those boring, anonymous business conferences you can’t be bothered to go to but your work says that you should. He loves all the badges and tote bags and random people. And most of all, he loves The Way Inn: the chain of cheap, identikit hotels that make him feel at home (or at least in exactly the same place) wherever he might be in the world. But on his latest assignment – at a conference for conference organisers – he meets a strange woman in the hotel, and follows her into the increasingly surreal netherworld that lies below the surface of the Way Inn chain.

What starts off as a wonderfully funny satire on the culture in question (anybody who’s attended a conference or stayed in a similar hotel will laugh frequently, generally in painful recognition) descends quickly into a kind of (still very funny) Lovecraftian horror. This book puts the ‘psycho’ into ‘psychogeography’. An awful description, I know – but really, not far off. From the moment Double meets the mysterious woman, who is trying to photograph all the abstract art in the various hotels and find meaningful patterns in them, you know you’re in safe hands, and the feeling never falters. Filled with great one-liners and set-pieces, and ultimately real feeling, it’s a pitch perfect novel. Like Harry August above, The Way Inn stretches and explores its crazy conceit to its limits, while still managing a very human landing.

The Death House, by Sarah Pinborough

The Death House has hit a fair number of ‘Best of 2015’ lists – and for good reason – but in many cases, the genre of the book has been touched on. Is it SF, for example? Or perhaps horror? Is it YA? What exactly is it? But Pinborough is a prolific writer who has spent years flitting successfully between many different genres, and who now seems to have found her feet combining aspects of whichever ones she wants into beautifully crafted stories that defy genre expectations and simply work on their own terms. So the truth is that this is just a Sarah Pinborough novel.

It’s a futuristic setting: the ‘Death House’ is a hospital-cum-boarding-school to which children who have been identified as defective in some way are taken by force. When they show signs of illness, they are taken to the Sanitorium, from which they never return. The main characters are Toby, a teenage boy, and Clara, the teenage girl whose arrival transforms his world. But there are many others. The relationships are skillfully drawn: none of these teenagers are heroic, as such, and many of the expected confrontations play out in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Obviously, the Death House is a metaphor for life itself – we’re all stuck with each other; we’re all about to die at any time – and as the tagline suggests: “Everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.” There are no happy endings in life; there are just happy, if transient, presents. And just as the novel explores the cruelty and uncertainty of the situation, it also conjures up several moving and beautiful moments that reinforce that point.

Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell

I wrote about this for The Murder Room:

“Abducted children are a long-standing trope in crime fiction, and it’s easy to understand why: a missing child immediately creates urgency and tension and a mystery to be solved, along with intense emotional engagement. The trope seems very popular right now, but if Pretty Is – the excellent debut novel by Maggie Mitchell – sounds at first like it will be ploughing familiar territory, it swiftly becomes clear that it’s working much more fertile and interesting ground…”

Read my full thoughts here.

Viral, by Helen FitzGerald

This is the third year that one of Helen FitzGerald’s books has appeared on my list of favourites, and yet the population at large still somehow refuses to give her the huge sales figures her work deserves. Go figure. But perhaps that will change in February, when Viral is released, because from its attention-grabbing first line, through a story drawn straight from the headlines, it’s a novel that plays to all of FitzGerald’s strengths, and which is engaging and charming to the very end. (More of which in a moment).

Su-Jin is a strait-laced seventeen year old Korean girl, adopted as an infant by the Oliphant-Brotheridge family. On a holiday to Magaluf with her infinitely more experienced sister, Leah, and her friends, Su-Jin gets drunk and is filmed performing a sex act on a number of men in a nightclub. The video goes viral. Su-Jin is villified by the media and her life is gradually destroyed. As her mother, Ruth – a respected court judge – seeks justice here, Su-Jin goes into hiding from the hounding press attention abroad, and then on the run.

The anger here, at least to start with, is palpable. We’ve all seen similar online stories be appropriated by the media, with the attention and blame generally focused on the drunk women in question rather than the men participating or the people filming. Here, FitzGerald tells the story from the other side (and indeed, the right side). But that’s really just the starting point for a tale of a young woman learning to reject various pressures to conform to expectations, whether social or familial, and instead using a moment of personal trauma as a springboard to leap out into the world and form her own identity on her own terms. Stylishly written, this is an incredibly funny novel, and ultimately a very touching one. That first sentence is certainly memorable – I’ll leave it to you to discover it – but it’s a testament to the strengths of the story in between that the last sentence, beautifully judged, is the one that will stay with you.