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A mix of writers old and new will do battle in this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious crime writing prizes in the country. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London which imagines magical mayhem in the Metropolitan police force goes head to head with SJ Watson’s smash hit debut Before I Go To Sleep and Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6. And, amongst many others, power-house authors John Connolly, Ian Rankin, Robert Harris, and Val McDermid are represented by The Burning Soul, The Impossible Dead, The Fear Index, and The Retribution respectively.

Now in its eighth year, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, in partnership with Asda, and in association with the Daily Mirror, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1st June 2011 to 31st May 2012.

The longlist in full:

· Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)

· Darkside by Belinda Bauer (Corgi)

· Now You See Me by SJ Bolton (Corgi)

· Where the Bodies Are Buried by Chris Brookmyre (Abacus)

· The Burning Soul by John Connolly (Hodder Paperback)

· The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster)

· The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris (Corvus)

· Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler (Bantam)

· Blue Monday by Nicci French (Michael Joseph)

· The Fear Index by Robert Harris (Arrow)

· The Retribution by Val McDermid (Sphere)

· The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina (Orion)

· Black Flowers by Steve Mosby (Orion)

· Collusion by Stuart Neville (Vintage)

· The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin (Orion)

· Mice by Gordon Reece (Pan Books)

· Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)

· Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson (Black Swan)

The longlist will then be whittled down to a shortlist of six titles which will be announced on Thursday 5th July.

The overall winner will be decided by a panel of experts which this year comprises of DI Tom Thorne actor David Morrissey, Festival chair Mark Billingham, journalist and crime novelist Henry Sutton, Ruth Lewis, Fiction Buyer at Asda, and Simon Theakston, Executive Director of T&R Theakston Ltd; as well as members of the public. The public vote opens on Thursday 5th July and closes on Tuesday 17th July at www.theakstons.co.uk.

The winner of the prize will be announced by broadcaster and festival regular Mark Lawson on Thursday 19th July, opening night of the tenth annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. The winner will receive a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

It is fair to say that I have been a bit addicted to Joe Abercrombie’s work lately [!], so here is a teaser trailer for his forthcoming novel, Red Country.

Here is a little bit about the book:

Shy South comes home to her farm to find a blackened shell, her brother and sister stolen, and knows she’ll have to go back to bad old ways if she’s ever to see them again. She sets off in pursuit with only her cowardly old step-father Lamb for company. But it turns out he’s hiding a bloody past of his own. None bloodier. Their journey will take them across the lawless plains, to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feuds, duels, and massacres, high into unmapped mountains to a reckoning with ancient enemies, and force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, a man no one should ever have to trust…

And pay attention to the bloody handprints when you watch the teaser trailer…I shall say not more!

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Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Heroes

Publisher: Gollancz

Paperback: 610 pages

ISBN: 978-0-575-08385-1

Price: £8.99

Publication Date: 10/05/2012

For a novel that is overflowing with characters and action it is somewhat of an irony that The Heroes of the title refers not to any of the soldiers or warriors who inhabit the book’s pages, but rather to a ring of stones that will become the centerpiece for the three-day battle around which Abercrombie focuses his fifth novel in The First Law universe [Northern lore has it that the ring of stones mark the burial places of heroes of old].

And, as the battle ebbs and flows over those three days, you begin to realise that there are no heroes in this book. For this conflict is one of total and utter pointlessness, one in which lives are lost and destroyed for no discernible reason. There is no reason to fight this battle. No land or gold to be had. Only some crops and a scattering of farms. Worse than this, it is a battle being fought merely in order that a more important battle can be fought somewhere else and at another time.

In many ways this novel is an indictment of war and the haplessness of officers and commanders who sacrifice the lives of their soldiers through their pure incompetence. And yet, at the same time [and I don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty for saying this], The Heroes is fast-paced and bloody and a hugely entertaining read that I went through in only a couple of days.

The cast of characters is massive, but once again Abercrombie shows himself to be a dab hand at showing readers new sides to characters that have previously served as minor figures in the previous novels set in the world of The First Law. So, in The Heroes one of the major Point-of-View figures is ‘Prince’ Calder, who was last seen in Last Argument of Kings, lurking in the shadows with a flatbow as The Bloody-Nine fought for his life. And yet in The Heroes, despite being fairly unlikeable to start with, Calder evolves. In many ways he can be seen as very similar to Jezal dan Luthar from The First Law trilogy, in the manner that he starts out as a self-centred fool and evolves [well, a bit!].

Then there is Bremer dan Gorst, who has appeared briefly in all of Abercrombie’s novels to date – but always as an adjunct to far more important characters and events. Here, after events in Best Served Cold, he finds himself in disgrace and sent away from his place beside the King of the Union to be with the army. Burning with guilt and resentment, Gorst is desperate to prove his mettle and gain himself redemption, and thus flings himself recklessly into battle [and trying to be a ‘hero’].

They are fantastically well done, and it was great to see them being fleshed-out in this novel. Being completely honest though, what I loved most about this book was the way in which the reader gets to see other old characters through the eyes of these new Point-of-View characters – so The Dogman, Black Dow, Yoru Sulfur and Bayaz, all make appearances and it is interesting to see how others perceive them and to look at them in a new light.

And this most applied to my favourite character from the earlier books, Caul Shivers. Shivers started off life in The First Law universe as a fairly laid-back figure [literally. In his first appearance in Before They Are Hanged he was lazing in a tree when he met the Dogman!]. And over the course of Best Served Cold he tried to become a better man. But now, horribly scarred and with a metal eye and a croaky whisper for a voice, he could well be the cruelest character in all of Abercrombie’s books – which is really saying something.

Having seen him as a main Point-of-View character before, it is fascinating to see the fear that he inspires in other people in The Heroes. And, so brutal is he at points in this novel, that I started to wonder whether my previous attachment to him as a character was clouding my judgement of him in this book!

And this is where I do wonder at the idea of calling this a standalone novel. Yes, it is undoubtedly a self-contained novel that can be read, and enjoyed immensely, without having read the previous books. But, just like with his previous novel, Best Served Cold, I really do think that you miss a lot of the nuances, in-jokes [there is still a refusal to name the King of the Union and there were a couple of tantalizing mentions of a major character from Best Served Cold who I hope will be returning soon – well, three to be exact] and the brilliance of the world that Abercrombie has created if you haven’t read the books that came before this one .

However, that isn’t to say that this doesn’t work on its own – because it really does. Looking at it on its own, I can assure you that this is a dazzling and captivating fantasy novel that really puts you at the heart of the violence and action. You can really see Abercrombie growing as a writer and trying out really exciting and innovative new techniques which made this novel feel really fresh to read, especially for someone like me who has read a lot in the genre over the years.

One example of this originality of approach comes in the first major battle sequence, where Abercrombie selects a character and shows the battle through their eyes. Right up until the point that they are killed. Then he moves to the view-point of the person who killed them, and follows them until their death. And so on. It is really clever as an idea, but it is made to work by the way in which Abercrombie is able to make us relate to these characters, even though they are very minor, and also makes us able to feel their fear in the swirling, chaotic mass of the battlefield.

And this, once again, is what makes Abercrombie so good. The characterisation is detailed and believable, with some of the characters learning and evolving from their experiences, whilst others appear to learn precisely nothing from the violence and slaughter. And the battle scenes are a delight [although probably not for the legion of, fictional, figures who meet the Great Leveller in this novel]. It’s definitely a hefty book, but I couldn’t put it down and am now hankering for my next fix of the world of The First Law.

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Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: Best Served Cold

Publisher: Gollancz

Paperback: 662 pages

ISBN: 978-0-575-08248-9

Price: £8.99

Publication Date: 01/06/2010

Revenge, as the title of Joe Abercrombie’s fourth novel would suggest, is a dish best served cold. Except that, this being an Abercrombie novel, and one set in the morally ambiguous [to put it extremely mildly] First Law universe, cold is somewhat of an understatement. Revenge is everywhere in Best Served Cold – from drowning to poisoning to garrotting and general massacres, it is delivered in frequently ingenious and blood-soaked ways.

The central character around whom this carnage tends to coalesce, is mercenary general Monzcarro Murcatto – Monza to her friends [well, it would be, if she had any]; The Snake of Talins and The Butcher of Caprile to those who aren’t quite so enamoured of her and her military ‘methods’.

When her beloved brother is murdered and she is betrayed and abandoned for dead by her employer, Monza is left with only a burning desire to exact vengeance on the seven people she holds responsible. It’s like a very bloody, very brutal version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Continue Reading »

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Author: Eowyn Ivey

Title: The Snow Child

Publisher: Headline Review

Hardback: 404 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7553-8052-7

Price: £14.99

Publication Date: 01/02/2012

Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel is a thing of rare beauty and glittering brilliance that elegantly and effortlessly blends the real and the fantastical to create a tender story of tugs at the reader’s emotions.

Set against the harsh and uncompromising backdrop of 1920s Alaska, the plot revolves around its two principle protagonists, Jack and Mabel – an aging and childless couple feeling the strain as the Alaskan winter descends. Mabel, still grieving from a stillbirth ten years previous, feels isolated and alone. Jack, desperately trying to eke out a living for the couple, never smiles and rarely talks.

One night, as the snow falls around their cabin, and in a rare moment of playfulness and togetherness they decide to build a small child from snow – giving the child a scarf and mittens, and sculpting her face into that of a little girl. But the next morning they discover that the snow child has disappeared, and in its place they find only a small pile of snow and a set of footprints leading away from their cabin. And, as they soon discover, the snow child seems to have been replaced by a small, blonde-haired girl. One who will shape their lives in very different ways in the time to come. Continue Reading »

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Author: Elmore Leonard

Title: Raylan

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Hardback: 263 pages

ISBN: 978-0-297-86753-1

Price: £18.99

Publication Date: 16/02/2012

It’s not often that a novel can use the first name of its principal protagonist for its title, but in the case of Elmore Leonard’s US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens normal rules don’t apply. From his first appearance in Pronto [1993], to his next outing in Riding the Rap [1995], before taking centre stage in the 2002 short story ‘Fire in the Hole’ – on which the television series, Justified, was based – Raylan has always been ineffably cool.

Yes, in Pronto and Riding the Rap he was somewhat of a hick, but in ‘Fire in the Hole’ and Raylan he has matured into a character that holds the reader’s attention. Maybe it is his attire – cowboy boots and hat – and his Southern good manners. Or the fact that he is a throwback to a bygone age – a quick-draw lawman. Or just that he gets to say some wonderfully laconic lines – at one point in Raylan he describes Ava Crowder as looking like “a double-dip ice-cream cone in that yella dress.” Continue Reading »

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Author: Stuart Neville

Title: Stolen Souls

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Trade Paperback: 312 pages

ISBN: 978-1-846-55452-0

Price: £12.99

Publication Date: 26/01/2012

It’s not very often that you find a novel that grabs you by the neck and won’t let go. You know, the type of book that you settle down with, only intending to read a few chapters of before bed, and which is so compelling that you end up surfacing from it hours later as you turn the last page. Well, Stuart Neville’s latest novel, Stolen Souls, is exactly that kind of book.

Clammy, claustrophobic and filled with suspense, Neville has produced a taut novel that never lets up. It is a thriller of the highest order.

From the grisly opening scene in a small Belfast bedroom, where a young Ukrainian sex slave, Galya Petrova, murders the Lithuanian trafficker who is about to rape her, Stolen Souls grips like a vice and refuses to let go until the final page has turned.  And at the centre of it all is Galya. Tricked into leaving her homeland in search of work, she has been trafficked into prostitution. And, when she manages to escape from her captors but finds herself alone and on the run from the brutal henchmen of a ruthless criminal, Arturas Strazdas – who wants to extract his revenge upon the ‘property’ that killed his little brother. Continue Reading »

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Author: Carol O’Connell

Title: The Chalk Girl

Publisher: Headline

Hardback: 448 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7553-8538-6

Price: £19.99

Publication Date: 17/01/2012

Carol O’Connell has never been what you would call a prolific author. It is two and a half years since her last novel – the brilliant, spellbinding Bone By Bone – was published. And it has been almost four years since her last Kathy Mallory book [2008’s Shark Music].

So, for me – a self-confessed O’Connell addict – the release of a new novel featuring the inimitable Kathy Mallory is something to be savoured. A beautiful sociopathic NYPD detective, Kathy [never, ever Kathleen!] is – as the shoutline on The Chalk Girl’s cover makes clear – a prototype and forerunner for Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. Like Salander, Kathy is a constant outsider – unable to relate to those around her or feel empathy. Continue Reading »

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Author: Karen Rose

Title: No One Left To Tell

Publisher: Headline

Hardback: 534 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7553-7394-9

Price: £16.99

Publication Date: 05/01/2012

It wasn’t until I had read about fifty pages of Karen Rose’s latest novel, No One Left To Tell, that I was finally able to scratch the nagging mental itch that had been plaguing me since I had opened the book.

Rose’s novels aren’t a series. At least not in the conventional crime fiction sense. But, occasionally, there is overlap between books – usually in the form of a character from one book reappearing in another novel. And, as I was reading No One Left To Tell, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I recognised its heroine – and principal protagonist – the beautiful martial arts expert and aspiring PI Paige Holden from somewhere else.

Try as I might though, I could not work out why she was so familiar. And it was starting to annoy me… Continue Reading »

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Author: Jon Ronson

Title: The Psychopath Test

Publisher: Picador

Hardback: 287 pages

ISBN: 978-0-330-49226-3

Price: £16.99

Publication Date: 03/06/2011

Having finished Jon Ronson’s latest book, The Psychopath Test, I quickly realized that, as Ronson himself had done in his book, I was becoming somewhat of an amateur witchfinder-general of the psychopath-spotting world. Armed with my rudimentary knowledge of Robert D. Hare’s PCL-R Test [Psychopathy Checklist-Revised – a 20-step psychopath checklist which gives individuals scores between zero and forty; the higher the score, the more psychopathic the person], gleaned from the pages of Ronson’s book, I had begun to run through many of my family and friends, scoring them according to Hare’s test with trigger-happy zest as I ticked off each part of the checklist that applied to them!

And then, little-by-little, I realised that I had stumbled straight into the trap that I had read Ronson stumbling into only a short time before. Because Hare’s checklist is so seductively simple and easy to understand that it reels you in before you know it. Much like the title of this book. Continue Reading »

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