Best-selling authors Aric Davis and Marcus Sakey, discuss why Stephen King is an iconic mystery, thriller and suspense writer in a Kindle Most Wanted interview with Reed Farrel Coleman.
Best-selling authors Aric Davis and Marcus Sakey, discuss why Stephen King is an iconic mystery, thriller and suspense writer in a Kindle Most Wanted interview with Reed Farrel Coleman.
It’s that time of the year when fall begins to transition from crisp to biting, and all I want to do is curl up with a warm drink and book. Inevitably the chill in the air and shortened days lead me to fantasies of anywhere but in Seattle, and stories other than my own. To help us all prepare for the sudden urge to read thrilling tales set in far off lands, our editors have compiled a list of some of their recommendations for great international crime fiction.
Old Gold, Birmingham England: Can’t get enough of the Netflix hit crime drama “Peaky Blinders”? Old Gold puts you in the exact same world of British organized crime, only 100 years later. For all of us who love gritty and suspenseful British PIs.
The Fifth Knight, Medieval England: To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Changing place and time is such satisfying escapism, and this book nails it!
The Adversary, Amsterdam: Former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen walks into a dark apartment in Amsterdam and discovers the hacker he has been hunting, Black Vector, is dead. Framed for the murder and transporting terrifying computer virus, Bruen must stay ahead of the FBI and CIA in a race across Europe.
Faceless Killers, Sweden: It was a senselessly violent crime: on a cold night in a remote Swedish farmhouse an elderly farmer is bludgeoned to death, and his wife is left to die with a noose around her neck. Ystad police Inspector Kurt Wallander must discover the truth before the mysterious crime acts as the match that could inflame Sweden’s already smoldering anti-immigrant sentiments.
Circle of Bones, the Caribbean: Sex, adventure, sun, archeology, shipwrecks, mystery, and intrigue? If you really want to escape the monotony of the season, check out this breathless nautical thriller that spans decades to imagine a fascinating answer to the real-life mystery of the vanished French sub Surcouf.
Pago Pago Tango, American Samoa: There is something claustrophobic about crimes on remote small i islands. No one is a stranger and secrets are widely known, but never discussed. Detective Sergeant Apelu Soifua finds himself in a tangled trail between cultures, dead bodies, hidden codes, and a string of lies on his hunt for the ugly truth behind a series of crimes buried at the heart of paradise.
Rain Girl, Germany: Veteran homicide detective Franza Oberwieser prefers her job in the winter. Summer is for growing, not for dying. So when the body of a beautiful young woman is found on the autobahn, dressed in a glittering party dress and bathed in June rain, Franza is determined to give her justice.
The Scribe, Medieval Spain: A fugitive in the wilderness, beautiful young Theresa is forced to rely on her bravery, her uncommon education, and the compassion of strangers. When she encounters Alcuin of York, a wise and influential monk with close ties to Charlemagne, she sets off on an adventure that will change her life – and history.
Central and South America:
Blood Makes Noise, Argentina: Sixteen years after CIA agent Michael Suslov’s failed mission to transport the corpse of Eva Peron to a new hiding place in the wake of her husband's fall from power, the Argentine military needs his help to bring her remains back home. Heart-pounding and thought provoking, this mix of history and fiction helped us cope with our Seattle Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Ready To Kill, Nicaragua: When a mysterious note referencing a top-secret US operation is tossed over the wall of the embassy in Nicaragua, Nathan comes out of retirement to face down his own demons of his past lurking in the jungle, and to square off with a ruthless killer who learned from the best: Nathan himself.
Because We Are, Haiti: Set in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake and following ten-year-old orphan Libète and Jak as they seek justice in an unjust world. When a local woman and child are found dead and no one seems to care, they find themselves plunged into a dangerous, far-reaching plot that will change life irrevocably and threaten everything they holds dear.
Dove Season, Mexico Borderlands: Drinking a lot and hanging around in the desert, what could possibly go wrong? Apparently a lot of things, but just to get you started: dead bodies, bar fights, tussles with Mexican organized crime, and fart jokes. If you are looking for the hilarious ride of your life to distract you from your turkey-induced food-coma, this one will keep you awake!
I am tempted to suggest - a sense of location. From the window of my London home, every day of the year I can see hordes of tourists flocking to 221B Baker Street in search of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.
But Arthur Conan Doyle’s foggy Victorian London is, in all honesty, no more brilliantly evoked than the small-town Georgia of Karin Slaughter or the Los Angeles of James Ellroy or the Boston of Dennis Lehane.
All great crime writing has a strong sense of place.
Then perhaps what makes British crime different is the eccentricity of our detectives? Certainly British crime abounds with singular sleuths – often “consulting detectives”, in the grand tradition of Sherlock Holmes.
From Agatha Christie’s elderly Miss Marple to Cormoran Strike – the one-legged, lovesick romantic of The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, the latest star of British crime writing – who also writes as J.K. Rowling.
But these Brit crime-busters are, in the end, no more unique than James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux or Patricia Cornwell’s Dr Kay Scarpetta or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. All crime writers are steeped in the lore and tradition of the genre. And yet all great heroes have to be completely original.
I have heard it suggested that what really separate British and US crime fiction is that the American taste for violence is more mild than British. I just don’t buy it. No country that gave the world Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter can claim to have a delicate stomach.
Raymond Chandler, perhaps the quintessential American crime writer, was perfectly placed to gauge the difference between British and American crime.
Born in America but educated in England, Chandler returned to States after fighting with the Canadian Army in World War One. He had no doubts about what was unique about British crime fiction – the Brits were phoney and dull.
Chandler believed that Agatha Christie and her many imitators had turned murder into a parlour game with all those whodunnits of Cheesecake Manor. Chandler hailed his hero Dashiell Hammett as the man who gave crime fiction back to “people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life.” Out of the drawing room and into the city streets.
Dashiell Hammett and Agatha Christie were direct contemporaries and it is true that there were light years between Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and Agatha’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? As Edmund Wilson famously said in the New Yorker – who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?
But for a century British and American crime have been converging. Our world grows smaller. It is surely no coincidence that one of the most successful writers on either side of the Atlantic is Lee Child – an Englishman who lives in New York. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is every inch a US male but he was raised on military bases around the world. Reacher looks at America with a stranger’s eyes and yet nobody ever saw those bus stations and all-night diners and lonely roads more clearly.
Yes, we all carry a sense of home with us. I am a London writer and the hero of my novel The Murder Man is Max Wolfe, a young London detective lives with his 5-year-old daughter Scout in a loft overlooking Smithfield, the great London meat market. Max buys his morning triple espresso in Bar Italia, a café in the backstreets of Soho, London’s old red light district. He works in the Homicide Department at West End Central, 27 Savile Row – a few doors down the street from where the Beatles played their last gig on the roof of number 1 Savile Row. London is in my blood and it runs in the veins of Detective Max Wolfe.
But if The Murder Man is steeped in a love of my city it is also the product of my all-American influences – from Chandler to Thomas Harris to Elmore Leonard to James Lee Burke to Karin Slaughter to Jeffrey Deaver to Lee Child.
A hundred years on from Miss Marples investigating the dirty doings at Cheesecake Manor, British and American crime fiction now share infinitely more than divides them. Indeed, sometimes it is hard to tell them apart.
And crime, as always, taps into our most elemental fears and desires. Raymond Chandler said it best. “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
We all speak American now.
TOP FIVE BRITISH CRIME NOVELS
Number One: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
More than a century after publication, the third Sherlock Holmes novel retains its strange power. A brilliant detective, a willing sidekick, a horrific crime. And hovering over the proceedings, a curse that fell upon “a monstrously evil man.”
Number Two: The Murder Room by P. D. James
Now 94 years old, James is the supreme master of British crime fiction. A writer with experience of the real world, she has served as a judge, worked for the police and the government. Finely wrought characters, baffling crimes and in her hero Adam Dalgliesh, an uncomplicated, old-fashioned goodness. There is no moral ambiguity in James. For all the flawless prose, this is a tale of good versus evil.
Number Three: Night and The City by Gerald Kersh.
London’s Soho between the two world wars – illegal drinking clubs and cutthroat razors, crimes committed incompetently for small sums of money. As a portrait of the banality of crime – and the stupidity of many career criminals – Night and the City (filmed with Richard Widmark) foreshadows all the lowlife classics that came later, from the novels of Elmore Leonard to Fargo on screens of all sizes.
Number Four: The Wire in The Blood by Val McDermid
McDermid has been compared to Thomas Harris but she is closer to Patricia Cornwell – no stranger to real dead bodies, she knows what it feels like to hold a human heart in her hands. The Wire in the Blood features Dr Tony Hill, head of the National Profiling Task Force, on the trail of a serial kidnapper and discovering the hunter can sometimes be captured by the game.
Number Five: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household.
Is Rogue Male a really crime novel? It hovers on the border between crime and thriller. But with action this good – who cares? And it does start with an attempted murder – perhaps the ultimate attempted murder - an upper class Englishman who has Adolf Hitler in the telescopic sights of his hunting rifle. That’s the first sentence. What follows is the greatest thriller ever written, and a major influence on First Blood by David Morrell – the literary debut of Rambo.
French Pastry Murder came about when friends I was chatting with at a Christmas party mentioned they’d just returned from France where they’d stayed in an apartment with “the only king size bed in Paris.”
I had been to Paris before and was familiar with the compact size of French hotel rooms, so I was very interested in this apartment big enough to accommodate a king size bed. We checked it out and it was true, the apartment looked quite nice on the internet and we made a reservation for March, the time of year when my husband and I like to travel.
Our apartment was not at all like the sleek, modern apartment Lucy and her friends had in the book, it was absolutely charming with French doors looking out on a courtyard paved with cobblestones, a modern bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. The kitchen was probably smaller than that king sized bed!
We had a lovely time, pretending we actually lived in Paris. We found a shortcut through the Place des Vosges that got us to the Monoprix grocery (where we bought wonderful Poilânebread), we walked all over Le Marais, and we grew familiar with our two neighborhood Metro stations. We took the train out of town to Fontainebleau, where we saw Napoleon’s campaign tent and then spent a sunny afternoon on a café terrace next to a carousel.
Every night I faithfully wrote down the activities of the day and my impressions, saving it all for French Pastry Murder. I also drew on earlier trips to Paris for scenes in the book, like the time my poor husband couldn’t get out of a Metro train because it was too crowded and was carried away without me. I waited very nervously for him to switch to a train going the other way to get back to the station, just like Lucy waited for Bill. My husband also likes to order food he sees on other patrons enjoying in cafés, which has resulted in some pretty exotic meals for him, and an amusing episode in the book for me.
Our trips to Paris have been blessedly free of crime, which was not the case for poor Lucy, Bill and their friends. While I couldn’t say I’ve found Parisians to be terribly warm and fuzzy, I would say they are pretty much like New Yorkers or Londoners, or the citizens of any city that attracts a lot of visitors. I must confess my knowledge of the notorious police headquarters on the Quai des Orfèvres comes entirely from the Internet, thank goodness!
Although a home-grown Brit, I’ve always preferred American crime fiction to the traditional English detective story.
The defining difference, for me, between English and American crime novels, is that in the typical English novel, the principal victim is dead by the end of Chapter One, whereas in the typical American one the victim is alive and in deadly peril. My earliest crime readings were Conan Doyle – I was fascinated by the characters of Homes and Watson – and Agatha Christie, who I found interesting but ultimately stultifying. Neither Poirot nor Miss Marple ever seemed affected by the murders they encountered, and the books were more about the mechanics of solving the puzzle than the human nature of the characters.
It was my discovery first of the hardboiled US writer Ed McBain, then Joseph Wambaugh, Elmore Leonard, followed by early James Patterson and Michael Connelly, all of whose works I devoured, that was to totally change my view on the crime novel. Their work enthralled and inspired me. They made me realize that crime fiction was what I wanted to write, but in a thriller rather than police procedural format – and they showed me how.
But first I have to credit Brighton Rock - Graham Greene as the novel that truly changed my life. Set in my home city of Brighton, it was the first crime novel I read in which the villains were the central characters: A bunch of nasty, middle-aged losers headed by a teenage gangster and killer, Pinkie, who is at the same time a devout Catholic, terrified of eternal damnation. The police hardly appear at all, in this immensely powerful page-turner. As well as one of the cleverest and psychologically darkest endings it has one of the most gripping opening lines in all fiction: “Within three hours of arriving in Brighton, Hale knew they meant to murder him.” And yes, he is still alive at the end of Chapter One!!
The Silence of The Lambs – Thomas Harris This was the game-changer for detective fiction around the globe. No longer did crime thrillers have to be about good versus evil – here we had a new dimension in the brilliantly portrayed Hannibal Lecter helping Clarice Starling in the hunt for Buffalo Bill, of bad versus evil.
Alex – Pierre Lemaitre I finished this very haunting crime novel a couple of months ago. Commandant Camille Verhœven is a wonderfully engaging detective, but what elevates this novel into one of my favourites of all time is the sheer genius of the author in twist after twist, like layers of onion skin peeling away to reveal the ultimate, and hugely satisfying, truth.
Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard Characters, characters, characters. Elmore Leonard’s characters are just so vivid, so engaging, you don’t even need plot. You could have a group of his characters reading the phone directory for three hundred pages and you’d still be gripped. This is my favourite of many favourites of his work.
Along Came A Spider – James Patterson All of us love truly scarily intelligent villains with charisma, and Gary Sonejii is one of the most mesmerizing and utterly compelling – and credible - monsters I’ve ever read. Equally, Alex Cross, is profoundly endearing and the very living embodiment of Raymond Chandler’s maxim of “Down mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
Robert Dugoni shares an overview of his new book My Sister's Grave in 15 seconds.
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline discusses her new book, Betrayed, and how she portrays justice in all of her books.
I have written twenty-four novels, and all of them involve justice.
I'm passionate about justice, but I'm not sure why. You might think it's because I was a lawyer, but it’s the other way around.
I became a lawyer because I was interested in justice.
And that's when I learned that law doesn't always lead to justice.
On the contrary, I learned that law can even thwart justice.
So then I became a writer and began a lifelong quest to explore the nature of justice. I wanted to understand the true meaning of justice, to suss out whether it was the same thing as fairness, punishment, moral rightness, or simply a happy ending.
Now that's an inquiry that can put you to sleep if it sounds like legal philosophy, but not if it's the thematic underpinning of a whopping good story that you're not able to put down.
And that’s my goal, every novel. To write a book that simply is impossible to put down, one that will keep you thinking, make you cry, make you laugh, or even haunt you for time.
And so my books involve all manner of justice.
Sometimes in my books, justice is literal, in that a bad guy is called to account for a crime, and for those, I write the Rosato & DiNunzio series, the new spinoff of the Rosato & Associates series. In the series, four women lawyers in the same law firm use their wits, bravery, legal expertise, and excellent sense of humor to find justice for their clients, their family members, friends, and generally for anybody in the tri-state area.
My characters are very busy.
And often busybodies.
But they're funny, smart, and braver than they understand, like most women, and where justice is concerned, they are not picky about whether they get paid or not.
Which is very much the issue in my most recent entry in this series, BETRAYED. In the novel, lawyer Judy Carrier is trying to find the killer of a friend of her beloved aunt, but ends up in a fight with the boss when she wants to take the case without charging a fee.
Judy thinks justice should be free.
Good luck with that.
By the way, the fact that the main characters in Rosato are women doesn't mean that these books are written for women. Many of my readers are men, and I don't view myself as writing for a set of reproductive organs.
I'm writing for your heart.
And your soul.
Which brings me to the emotional justice that grounds my standalone novels, like KEEP QUIET. The main characters in those novels aren't lawyers, but are pediatricians, army surgeons, journalists, and stay-at-home moms, all of whom find themselves in a position in their everyday life that they never could have anticipated - and one which will involve them confronting what justice really means, to them.
For example, in the forthcoming EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES, a hospital psychiatrist is called on an emergency consult with a troubled young man who has obsessive thoughts about a young woman. The psychiatrist must decide whether his patient presents a danger to a woman, in which case he must warn her or the police. That decision necessarily involves feelings about justice, rightness, morality, and law.
Not all of us will have to deal with a question like that.
But you never know where your life will lead.
Fiction about justice gets us thinking about right and wrong, moral and immoral, fairness and unfairness.
And occasionally, a happy ending.
Marti Green, talks to Kindle Most Wanted about innocent prisoners being freed, and how her real life experiences fuel her new legal thriller Presumption of Guilt.
If you watch any national news lately you know the headlines are full of stories like Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown who were recently found innocent of a crime for which they had been convicted and already served 31 years in prison. Because I write about a fictional group called “The Help Innocent Prisoners Project” I'm regularly asked "How do you come up with ideas for a book?" The answer is that they come from my imagination, although my imagination is fueled by my work experiences and real cases that I then mold into something new.
It was an early work experience, prior to attending law school,that inspired me to write my first book, Unintended Consequences. My job as a counselor for the New York State Office of Drug Abuse Services was to evaluate drug abusers who had criminal cases pending, determine what program would best help them recover from their drug dependency, and recommend sentencing alternatives to incarceration. As a result, I worked closely with probation departments and judges. In most cases, my clients readily admitted their culpability after conviction. In a few, they were steadfast in maintaining their innocence. I learned that in the criminal court system, maintaining innocence after a conviction often resulted in a recommendation for a harsher sentence. The reason? Once a jury determined guilt, a defendant who failed to acknowledge his or her guilt was deemed unrepentant. From those days, I have always been interested in the plight of an innocent person convicted of a crime. It was natural, then, once I decided to write a legal thriller, to write about such a situation.
It was my fascination with a real murder case, however, that provided the concept for Presumption of Guilt, which opens with a teenage girl who is convicted of the murder of her parents. About twenty years ago, a seventeen year old boy in my community was arrested for the murder of his well-to-do parents. The region's newspapers and local television stations followed the story from his arrest through the trial and I followed it avidly.
According to the teenager, he awoke to find his mother in her bedroom, bludgeoned to death, and his father in his study, also bludgeoned and unconscious but still alive. When the police arrived, they immediately focused in on the son as a suspect and brought him down to the precinct for questioning. No family member or attorney was present with him. He repeatedly denied harming his parents and after several hours, the interrogator left the room. When he returned, he told the teen that his father had regained consciousness and said his son had attacked him. (In fact, his father had already died at that point). Upon hearing this, the teen said that he didn't remember doing it, but if his father said he had, then he must have. That quasi-confession resulted in his conviction and sentence of consecutive terms of twenty-five years to life (New York State doesn't have a death penalty).
At the time of the events, I was convinced that the son hadn't murdered his parents. He had to have been in a state of shock after finding his mother dead and his father near dead. He refused to sign a written confession and recanted shortly after. Most importantly, there was no forensic evidence tying him to the crime and the motive ascribed to him (that he was angry at his father's refusal to buy him a car) seemed far-fetched to me. Over the years, I often thought of the young man. Seventeen years after his incarceration, new facts came to light that pointed the finger at two other men, one of whom had allegedly admitted to several people over the years, including his son, that he'd murdered the couple. The young man was finally released from prison. When it came time to write my next book, I took the barest facts of that case - a teenager accused of killing his parents and a confession - and spun it into the tale that became Presumption of Guilt.
Darynda Jones, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of “Seventh Grave and No Body,” shares with us her top five favorite women sleuths.
Women sleuths are my favorite kind of sleuths to read. I think it’s because of their (oftentimes) total lack of confidence that ultimately leads to a brilliance that surprises even themselves. They can be just as tough and hardboiled as their male counterparts, but they’re not afraid to stumble and to learn from their mistakes. We all make bad decisions, and it’s these decisions (and what we do afterward) that define who we are. These series are evidence of that. Here are five of my absolute favorites in no particular order.
Set in the island culture of South Carolina, Liz Talbot is a PI whose charm and tenacity will win over even the staunchest readers. Susan’s mysteries are full of intrigue, hijinks, and that twisted sense of humor that can only come from a Southern-born writer. I absolutely love this series.
Sue Grafton has been a staple for years. I cut my teeth reading her mysteries and have loved them one and all. Kinsey Millhone is a former cop who leaves the force to become a PI. She has issues galore, and that’s what makes her, and her cases, so interesting. So real and down-to-earth. I highly recommend this series to any fan of mystery.
Oh, my gosh. What can I say about Bobbie Faye Sumrall? You know that cousin you have who is clumsy, always in trouble, rarely reverent, and you never quite know where her marbles went? Yeah, that’s Bobbie Faye. These books are so fun and so full of life, razor-sharp wit, and the craziest situations you can imagine, that they are an absolute must read. Just don’t drink anything while reading. They are a choking hazard.
Tara Holloway is actually an IRS agent. She works in the Treasury Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit. In Tara’s first book, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure (an RWA Golden Heart-winning manuscript) she is chasing down an ice-cream vendor who is selling narcotics out of his ice-cream truck and failing to report his illegal income on his taxes. THAT! I laughed at the premise of this book, at the hijinks and the tenacity of Tara. Diane created a winner with this series, and I hope you will enjoy Tara’s imaginative world, and her romantic quandaries along the way.
Cue the song Nobody Does it Better. That is the magnificent Queen of Mystery: Agatha Christie. Even today, her works have the intrigue and ingenuity to keep an audience glued to the page. She is witty, clever, and sharp-minded, as are her sleuths. Miss Marple is no exception. The Miss Marple series has been my very favorite for decades. I first read her in middle school and I marveled at how she always solved what seemed like the unsolvable, and she did it with such grace and style. If I could have dinner with anyone, Agatha Christie would be at the top of my list.