Crime Fiction

The Man of the Family

November 10, 2015 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Editors’ Choice: reviews of Jill Alexander Essbaum, Hausfrau, Rebecca Whitney, The Liar’s Chair, and Laura Lippman, After I’m Gone


Rebecca Whitney, writing in the Independent earlier this year, thoughtfully analyses the huge current appeal of domestic noir – our fascination with “the toxic marriage and its fall-out.” Several successful novels have fed this fascination by constructing ‘romance gone wrong’ plots in which a woman marries an intelligent, charismatic, chisel-featured homme fatale who, by the third act, has turned out to be a dangerous psychopath, multiple murderer and/or serial rapist. But what if the chosen partner is simply too dedicated to the role of the traditional husband – a man of business who is ambitious, overbearing, bossy and possessive?

In some of the most interesting recent examples of domestic noir, we follow the stories of women whose fates lie in the hands of such men, their lives distorted by a domineering partner who expects absolute fidelity. In two of the novels reviewed here, the man of the family not only forbids dissent but bullies and humiliates his wife, betraying her trust and driving her to desperation: Jill Alexander Essbaum, in her haunting psychological study, Hausfrau, conjures up a claustrophobic, repressive world in which a wife’s extreme submissiveness makes her “ill with inaction, a person sitting passively in a dark cinema”; Rebecca Whitney’s The Liar’s Chair is a tense, well-constructed domestic thriller that centres on the disintegrating relationship of an apparently prosperous, successful couple. Laura Lippman creates a more complex version of the unequal marriage in her wonderful, nuanced family drama, After I’m Gone, in which the patriarch is a criminal version of the forceful businessman. Having has “made his own game”, he will brook no challenge to the rules he plays by, and, when he absconds, the five women he leaves behind still lead lives dominated by the game he has created, in thrall to his myth and living in constant expectation that he will reach out or return to them.

Out of the Past

Out of the Past

May 27, 2015 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Editors’ Choice: reviews of Harriet Lane, Her, Amanda Jennings, The Judas Scar, and Daniel Woodrell, The Maid’s Version

past_slider_thumbThe protagonists of psychological thrillers are very often in thrall to the dark secrets of the past: characters go through their lives imprisoned by the past; or they take flight from it, imagining they can escape; or, just when they least expect it, someone from a former life resurfaces and threatens to destroy them. Harriet Lane’s superb, chilling novel Her begins with a chance meeting between two women whose lives were intertwined in the distant past. In Amanda Jennings’ gripping thriller The Judas Scar, the central relationship from the past is male rather than female, and, from the disturbing prologue on, the reader knows that male brutality and violence are at the core of both past and present narratives. Daniel Woodrell’s extraordinary piece of Southern noir, The Maid’s Version, gives us a past secret that is a communal tragedy rather than a private torment, and we hear the voices of an entire town as we try to untangle the lies and evasions that have proliferated in the decades following a dance hall explosion decades earlier. Read our reviews of Harriet Lane, Amanda Jennings and Daniel Woodrell.

Fevered Adolescence

Fevered Adolescence

May 21, 2015 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Editors’ Choice: reviews of Megan Abbott, The Fever and Tana French, The Secret Place

fevered_slider_thumbCrime fiction has often been accused of indulging in the clichés of the dangerous and the endangered woman – the femme fatale, the female victim. The degree to which such generalisations oversimplify the genre is apparent if one reads the steadily growing number of women crime writers who, from the 1940s on, have created subtle, diverse explorations of a great range of female protagonists – from damaged children and wilful teenagers to deceived partners, oppressed housewives, guilty mothers, tough businesswomen. Increasingly in the twenty-first century, psychological thrillers have given readers a chance to enter into the subjective perceptions of non-stereotypical women in ways that subvert and reappropriate some of the most familiar and time-honoured generic conventions.

Our focus here is on teen-centred crime fiction. Some of the most highly regarded contemporary female crime writers have written compellingly about teenage experience – Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Tana French. They represent transgression, resistance to constraints on female agency, dawning sexuality, and, above all, female friendship – being best friends and also, of course, betraying and destroying those friendships. Amongst recent novels, two of the outstanding examples of teen-centred psychological thrillers are Megan Abbott’s The Fever and Tana French’s The Secret Place. Read our reviews of Megan Abbott and Tana French.

The Secrets of Houses

The Secrets of Houses

May 13, 2015 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Editors’ Choice: reviews of Christobel Kent, The Crooked House; D.D. Johnston, The Secret Baby Room; Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train; and Liane Moriarty, The Last Anniversary

house_sliderthumbA mark of good crime fiction is that readers can intensely experience the spaces through which the characters move or in which they are trapped. Whether they are in urban mean streets or small towns, buildings are more than background or setting. They can generate the fears and desires that drive characters to commit crimes; they conceal secrets and retain the impress of crimes committed; protagonists may dread to enter them or feel a false sense of security when they lock the doors. Three excellent recent crime novels construct gripping narratives that centre on the manifold ways in which buildings are perceived, experienced and remembered. In Christobel Kent’s atmospheric novel, The Crooked House, the house of the title is a gothic embodiment of past terrors, containing the lost narrative of a murdered family; in D. D. Johnston’s forthcoming The Secret Baby Room, an almost equally gothic building, a derelict tower block, summons up the protagonist’s worst fears; and in Paula Hawkins’ tense thriller, The Girl on the Train, what we’re led to reflect on is the deceptive uniformity, the apparent interchangeability of suburban houses, so blank that it is easy to miss their role in concealing disastrous and violent acts. Also reviewed is a novel first published a few years ago (2006), Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, a playful, enthralling mix of romance and mystery, in which houses stimulate desire and feed the imaginative hunger for enigmas. Read our reviews of Christobel Kent, D.D. Johnston, Paula Hawkins, and Liane Moriarty.

Broken Societies

Broken Societies

May 9, 2015 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Editors’ Choice: reviews of Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters; Lynn Kostoff, Words to Die For; and Paul Johnston, The Black List

societies_slider_thumbThe noir thriller has proven itself capable of powerfully depicting the breakdown of society and the human consequences of political evils, lies and betrayals. Contemporary urban disintegration, violence and economic collapse are at the heart of Lauren Beukes’ complex novel, Broken Monsters. Equally fascinating – and equally relevant to the political experiences of our own time – are two pieces of historical noir, both of which anatomise the treacherous political decisions, the crimes, guilts and corrosive allegiances of earlier eras. Lynn Kostoff’s Words to Die For, set in the deregulated corporate world of the Reagan era, plays out at an individual level its compromises and cynical deceptions; Paul Johnston’s The Black Life, which partly takes place in modern-day Greece, also encompasses the horrors of Nazism and the holocaust. All three novels stand out in my recent reading and exemplify the best qualities of the outward-looking crime story, which, as Andrew Pepper argues (Unwilling Executioner, forthcoming from OUP), “remains the most politically-minded of all the literary genres.” Read our reviews of Lauren Beukes, Lynn Kostoff’ and Paul Johnston.


Summer Crime Conferences & Events 2014

May 30, 2014 in Conferences, Crime Fiction, News

Too Busy to Die, 1947Summer 2014 offers some great conferences, festivals and crime-related events.  There are, of course, two excellent annual events scheduled in Bristol and Harrogate, the Crimefest convention and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. In addition Crimeculture particularly recommends the Manchester ‘True Crime’ Conference (Call for Papers deadline 18th April), an inventive ‘Crime Story’ weekend in Newcastle, and, in Ohio, the Crime Studies Network’s ‘Evil Incarnate’ conference.

CRIMEFEST   Bristol, United Kingdom   15th – 18th May 2014 

Now established as one of the best annual crime events, the international crime fiction convention, Crimefest, has a Programme that includes panels on locked rooms, women as victims, the modern thriller, the paranormal, political thrillers, the hired gun, Euro noir, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, plus interviews with Nicci French, Lars Kepler, Yrsa Sigurdardottir – and much else.

Crime Story: Weekend Festival for Crime Writers and Readers   Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom   31st May – 1st June 2014

Spend a weekend getting under the skin of a fictional crime with top crime writers, criminologists, lawyers, police and forensics experts. See also the link on this page to the Northern Crime Competition.

True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology    Manchester, United Kingdom
   Saturday 7th June 2014

David Schmid is the keynote speaker at this fascinating interdisciplinary conference which will explore the genre in its myriad incarnations. The programme is now online at

David McWilliam, who is presenting at and co-running True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology, is interviewing Jean Murley on the Twisted Tales siteJean Murley’s first book was The Rise of True Crime: 20th Century Murder and American Popular Culture and she is currently working on a book about wrongful conviction in America, tentatively titled Collateral Damage: The Outrage of Wrongful Conviction: Eight Families’ Stories.

Queens of Crime Conference   Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London 12th – 13th June 2014  

Since the 1920s, women have been among the most prolific and influential authors of crime fiction. Some of the best-known heroes and anti-heroes of fiction are also women.  This conference will address the relationship of gender and genre, past and present, and the known and the unknown. Keynote speakers: Val McDermid and Dr Lee Horsley.

Evil Incarnate: Manifestations of Villains and Villainy   Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA   11th‐13th July 2014

The Crime Studies Network is a group devoted to the interdisciplinary study of representations of crime. In 2014, it is holding its first conference outside the UK. With keynote speakers from the disciplines of Religious Studies, Justice Administration and Film Studies, the conference asks what defines villainy and how villains are represented.

Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival   Harrogate, United Kingdom  17th -20th July 2014

“For one long, sultry, summer weekend the temperature in Harrogate rises whatever the weather as the world’s hottest celebration of crime writing swings into town.” This year’s festival has a stellar line-up, including Ann Cleeves, Robert Galbraith, Sophie Hannah, John Harvey, Lynda LaPlante, Laura Lippman, Peter May, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and S. J. Watson.

CrimeFest 2014

May 23, 2014 in Conferences, Crime Fiction, News

Sunny Bristol

As is traditional, Bristol was bathed in gorgeous sunshine just in time for its annual international crime fiction convention, CrimeFest: lovely weather for a bit of murder and mayhem!

I arrived on Saturday because of work, so I missed a few of the panels I’d been looking forward to, but I thought the ones I did manage to see on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were fantastic. Many intriguing insights into crime writing partnerships emerged from Maxim Jakubowski‘s interview with Nicci French and Lars Keplar. “Ideas for our books come out of our marriage…sometimes literally,” said Sean French of Nicci French, “When collaboration works, it’s a bit like folie à deux.”

Nicci French, Lars Keplar, Maxim Jakubowski

Nicci French, Lars Keplar, Maxim Jakubowski

I thought this was a wonderfully evocative (if somewhat scary) description of the collaborative writing process! We’ve long been fans of Nicci French’s stand-alones and were excited to hear more details of her/their series detective novels as well as Stalker, the latest offering in Lars Keplar’s Joona Linna series. 

Martyn Waites‘ interview with Mark Billingham was an entertaining event, full of banter between the two former roommates and lively discussion of everything from police procedurals to seafood slaughterers and dachshund detectives. There was a good deal more easygoing banter mixed in with quantities of hard liquor as the evening progressed and it was lovely to get a chance to catch up with old friends and chat to writers I’ve read or known on social media but never met in the flesh before.

Kevin & Yrsa

Kevin Wignall & Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

As hangovers abounded on Sunday morning (causing some writers to don their sunglasses indoors), I went to watch Kevin Wignall interview special guest author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Crimeculture are long-time fans of Kevin’s writing (both as a crime writer and as YA author K J Wignall), but neither of us had read Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s work before. I don’t know why, because it sounds brilliant and just our sort of thing. I hugely enjoyed this event – which careened from the bloodcurdling to the hilarious and back again – and was fascinated to hear about the influence of The Handbook of Infectious Tropical Diseases on Yrsa’s writing… not to mention Struwwelpeter, Father Christmas’s scary mother and “the charm of horrible things”.

I haven’t been to CrimeFest for a couple of years and was amazed at how much the convention has grown, with standing room only at many of the events. Despite the swell in numbers, I was happy to see that CrimeFest hadn’t lost the intimate, convivial atmosphere and easygoing vibe that made it such an enjoyable event when it first began.

Cross-Cultural Crime Fiction

August 14, 2013 in Articles, Crime Fiction, News, Reviews

Across_Cultures_thumbIncreasing numbers of contemporary books, articles and conference papers have been devoted to analysing crime and detective fiction within a wide variety of cross-cultural contexts.  Critics focus on the diversity of the genre and on the manifold ways in which generic tropes are being transformed as they take on different cultural and national identities.  Studies such as these shed light on one of the main reasons for the genre’s durability: as Kate Horsley writes in “Contemporary African Crime Fiction”, “Detective fiction has remained a resilient and versatile genre because of its capacity to raise difficult questions about corruption and moral failure.  It represents the investigation of individual crimes but can also work to expose the failures, traumas and brutalities of political and social life.”

This Autumn Crimeculture is featuring some of the best of the 2012-13 publications on cross-culture crime and detective fiction. The following books and articles are reviewed and highly recommended:

“Crime Across Cultures” issue of Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings (Volume 13 Number 1, 2013)

Peter Baker (ed), Detecting Detection: International Perspectives on the Uses of a Plot, Continuum, June 2012

Carolina Miranda, Barbara Pezzotti and Jean Anderson (eds), The Foreign in International Crime Writing: Transcultural Representations, Continuum, June 2012

Berit Åström, Katarina Gregersdotter and Tanya Horeck (eds), Rape in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Beyond: Contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone Crime Fiction, Palgrave Macmillan, October 2012

Boris Dralyuk, Western Crime Fiction Goes East: The Russian Pinkerton Craze 1907–1934, Brill: Leiden and Boston, October 2012

Lucy Andrew & Catherine Phelps  (eds), Crime Fiction in the City: Capital Crime (European Crime Fictions), University of Wales Press, April 2013

John Cullen Gruesser, Race, Gender and Empire in American Detective Fiction, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, forthcoming Fall/Winter 2013


Sherlock Holmes Flash-Fiction Competition Results

June 25, 2012 in Competition, Crime Fiction, News

Sherlock Holmes Competition


‘The Problem of the Overtired Undergrad’, Ari Scott-Zechlin

[Read our interview with Ari…]


‘Iustitia’, Tara Coffin

‘A Study in Iron’, Thomas Pinder


‘Nuremberg’, Ros Ballinger

‘Golden Blaze’, Rhys Barter

‘The Undead Detective’, Rhys Barter

‘Paul Wallace’, Sarah Borroum

‘Desert Island Dicks’, Paul Chiswick

‘One-Way Sherlock’, Dennis Mombauer

‘Dear Mr Spade’, Charles Rzepka

‘Ideal Holmes’, Alex Watts

The Sherlock Holmes Flash-Fiction Competition received over a hundred entries.  We greatly enjoyed reading all of the stories submitted.  Our judge, Sean Cregan, writes:

There are some good ones there! I had a hard time picking between ‘Iustitia’, ‘A Study In Iron’, and ‘The Problem Of The Overtired Undergrad’. I’m going to say ‘Undergrad’ just about takes it though.

It was very, very tight, but ‘Undergrad’ just edged it for me on the style and quality of the writing – there’s a couple of lovely turns of phrase in there. The conceptual switch is a nice one too, like a modern (and more grown-up) update of ‘Young Sherlock’ minus the ambulatory cream cakes, told from an outside point of view (and you can’t go wrong with a sly Mrs Hudson reference). Very tight field, very hard to pick, but this one shaded it.

The Competition:  Our Sherlock Holmes Flash Fiction Competition was part of an AudioGo promotion. We asked that stories be no longer than 400 words and that they should feature Holmes in another time and place or in a different genre, e.g. gothic, hardboiled, cyberpunk or sci-fi. The Crimeculture editorial team shortlisted a group of stories and Sean Cregan, author of explosive and brilliant cyberpunk novels The Levels and The Razor Gate, judged the overall winner and the runners-up. The shortlisted and winning writers will have their work published on the Crimeculture website during July.  The winning writer will be interviewed, published on Crimeculture and presented with a set of BBC Sherlock Holmes audiobook CDs; our two runners-up will also receive AudioGo prizes.

Read more about our judge and the Audiogo promotion.

Audiogo Logo

In May – July, Crimeculture is featuring Sherlock Holmes and classic detective fiction.  See our front page links to some of our past articles on detective fiction, and our new contributions:   Aysegul Kesirli’s  “Reading House M.D. as a Detective Drama,” which considers Gregory House in comparison to Holmes and to hard-boiled detectives; and Ashleigh Prosser’s ‘’The Genius Detective’ in classical detective fiction,” which discusses Poe’s Three Tales of Ratiocination and Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.

R. N. Morris and Michael Gregorio in conversation

March 20, 2012 in Crime Fiction, Interviews, News

R N Morris

About Roger Morris

Born in Manchester in 1960, R. N. Morris now lives in North London with his wife and two young children. His series of St. Petersburg novels revolving around the character of Porfiry Petrovich include A Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing, which was shortlisted for the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Novel and was Highly Commended in the CWA Ellis Peters Prize for Best Historical Crime Novel in 2008. A Razor Wrapped in Silk was publsihed in 2010, and his fourth book, The Cleansing Flames, was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger in 2011. He also wrote Taking Comfort which was published by Macmillan under the name Roger Morris in 2006. His latest novel, Summon Up The Blood, is published in April 2012. (see Faber and Faber Authors)

Visit  his website:

About Michael and Daniela Gregorio


Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio write together as Michael Gregorio. Daniela teaches philosophy; Michael is interested in the history of photography. They live in Spoleto, a small town in central Italy. They have created a series of crime novels whose central charater is the Prussian magistrate, Hanno Stiffeniis. The series includes Critique of Criminal Reason, Days of Atonement, A Visible Darkness and Unholy Awakening. (Faber and Faber Authors)

Visit their website:

Michael and Daniela: Did you always think that you would be a writer, Roger, and, if you did, what sort of a writer did you think that you would be?

Roger: Pretty much, yes. Writing stories was always my favourite activity at school. Even the way I played was story-based, making up convoluted scenarios for myself and my friends to act out. Telling stories is one of the ways we make sense of the world. We’re encouraged to do it as children and then at some point we switch to a more academic way of writing. Essays – based on facts. For me at least, at the school I went to, the imaginative, creative approach to writing – making stuff up – was discreetly put to one side. So it became something I pursued in private. For many years. Quite early on I took hold of the misguided idea that being a writer would be a great job. The misguided part was that it was a job at all, when actually it’s an obsession. You don’t turn up to work, work for a certain number of hours and get a pay cheque at the end of the month. In fact, you’re doing well if you’re getting paid at all. To answer the second part of your question, all I can say is that I didn’t particularly see myself as a crime writer. That came quite late on. If there is a spectrum with storyteller at one end and literary writer at the other, I have always thought of myself as being at the storyteller end. Fundamentally, that’s what it’s about for me, telling stories.

How about you two? Did you always see yourselves as writers, and if so what sort?

Gregorio Critique of Criminal ReasonMichael: I was a kid who always wrote smart formulaic essays in school. English and History? No problem. I read English at university, and fell in love with long novels. They were more fun than Anglo-Saxon, which I also studied. I always fancied writing a novel, but I never had the time. When I came to Italy in 1980, I started worrying about forgetting my English – I was trying so hard to learn Italian – and I began writing short stories, then novels set in Italy as I got more ambitious. Pretty soon Daniela was at it, as well. She’d always been a scribbler. She still has pre-school notepads covered in incomprehensible hieroglyphs! By the mid-1990s, Dani was teaching philosophy and reading horror – Stephen King, James Herbert – and she tried her hand at the genre, too, while I was diddling about with the Victorians and crime. One day she came up with an intriguing idea for a short story set in Prussia featuring her favourite philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and our joint ambition took off. Could we write a novel set in Königsberg in 1804, and if so, what kind of novel would it be? Read more…