Welcome to…Twelve Days of Criminal Christmas Content
Over the next 12 days, bestselling crime and thriller authors will reveal what they’ll be reading over the festive period. From Val McDermid and Mark Billingham to Jessica Fellowes and M.W.Craven, we have a cracking treat in store for you… Starting with the Queen of Crime herself, Val McDermid.
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a recommendation from the Queen of Crime, Val McDermid who is not perched in a pear tree but providing a fantastic read from dear Scotland.
“The book I’ve been saving for Christmas is Funny You Should Ask . . . by the QI Elves. It’s a collection of answers to the bizarre and downright weird questions posed by listeners to the Zoe Ball show. Now, I love a bit of random information to drop into conversations or quizzes, so this is right up my street. (Though it may lead to divorce by Boxing Day when I say for the 73rd time, ‘Wow, listen to this, it’s amazing!’) I mean, did you know that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘run’ has 645 definitions? And that’s just the verb . . .”
- – Val McDermid
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two little doves in the form of Chris Brookmyre and… The Cut.
“This Christmas I shall be treating myself to the latest offering from the fabulous Chris Brookmyre. It’s an advance copy (because I’ve somehow managed to wangle my way on to the ‘nice’ list) of his new novel, The Cut. Brookmyre is one of those annoyingly brilliant sorts who never writes the same book twice, so I have almost no idea what to expect. It might be a blackly funny satire or a tense police procedural or a twisty psychological thriller. It might even be a crime novel set in space (he’s done that before). All I know for sure is that I won’t be able to put it down long enough to grab a mince pie, pull on my Christmas jumper or watch The Great Escape for the umpteenth time. At this time of peace, goodwill and socks to all men, so many things are uncertain. We might have snow. We might get through the festivities without a family row. Who know, the sprouts might all get eaten for once. But I know that Santa Brookmyre won’t let me down.”
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three Cumbrian nuggets of festive cheer from M.W. Craven
I’m a pain in the arse to buy presents for. There, I’ve said it. I alternate between not wanting anything and asking for things no normal adult should want to own. Because of this Mrs C gets increasingly inventive (and lets face it, desperate) hence the spy pen and the wand thing to change the TV channel. The former, is like having a bonfire in your garden, I wasn’t entirely convinced was legal, and the latter was bafflingly complicated. But books have always been a safe bet. The result of this is, between September and December I’m prohibited from buying any. (I used to get around this by asking friendly publicists and editors for advance copies, then pretending they were unsolicited, but Mrs C quickly grew wise to this trick.)
All well and good, and I’m usually happy going along to get along, except for one thing: the book buying embargo always coincides with the new Michael Connelly, my favourite crime author. For years now I’ve had to wait until three months or so after publication before I finally get my hands on a copy. This Christmas will be exactly the same. I’ll wear my paper hat and I’ll pretend to enjoy my turkey, all the while impatiently waiting until it’s socially acceptable to dive into The Law of Innocence. We’ve already had Fair Warning this year, so Michael’s spoiling us a bit, but this is the book I’m looking forward to above all others. It’s a Mickey Haller story, but this time the Lincoln lawyer is defending himself against a murder charge after a former client is found dead in the boot of his car. Can’t wait.
Otherwise, Christmas sees me reading books I’ve specifically saved for the festive season. This year’s treasure trove includes The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (I absolutely loved The Night Circus), The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke.
P.S. Mrs C has just reminded me I bought her a candle making kit one year, so it’s not an entirely one-way street . . .
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four calls from Mr Craig Russell telling us what he’ll be doing and reading over Christmas
I do take Christmas off. It’s about the only break in my writing schedule and I tend to catch up with all of the stuff I’ve accumulated over the year. Most of what I read throughout the year has some connection, though often tangential, to my writing. The result is that a lot of my ‘pleasure’ reading has to take the back seat. It means that there are a lot of books waiting for me with uncracked spine impatience.
I have to admit to loving Folio Society editions and a couple have a habit of finding their way onto Santa’s list. One of my Folio Society collection is Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man‑the book based on the landmark TV series. I was sixteen years old when The Ascent of Man was first screened and it had a profound effect on me, particularly my understanding of the relationship between science and culture. Obviously, the state of our knowledge has advanced since the 1970s, but Bronowski’s vivid and articulate embracing of science, history, philosophy and culture, and his warnings about the wrong paths we could take, remain as valid today as they did then.
Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Other Stories is another delight that awaits. I read this years ago but lost my copy. I now have a brand-new edition waiting to be delved into. I have been saving The Point of No Return, by the hugely talented Neil Broadfoot, and I’ll be devouring that before Christmas dinner.
One of the privileges of being a writer is that I often receive advance reader copies or proofs of novels that are soon to come out. I will be reading two over the Christmas break and, from what I’ve read so far, they’re both absolute belters: Blood Ties, by Brian McGilloway, and Edge of The Grave, by Robbie Morrison.
And I’ll just have to see what Santa brings …
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me some golden book and film recommendations from the award-winning author Chris Brookmyre
The book I’m most looking forward to reading over Christmas is Alright Alright Alright: An Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused by Melissa Maerz. Dazed and Confused is one of my favourite movies, a film that has so many memorable characters, beautifully observed moments and an absolutely killer soundtrack. Back in 1996 I even named one of the scientists in in Not the End of the World Mitch Kramer after Wiley Wiggins’ character. It is a film I have come back to it again and again over the twenty-five years since I first saw it, owning it on every format – VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray. It is the movie that launched the careers of Matthew McConnaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg, to name but a few (and though if you blink you’ll miss her, it was also Rene Zelleweger’s screen debut). So when I saw that there was an oral history of the film it was the first thing I put on my Christmas list. I am really looking forward to submerging myself in the world of the film, and in particular to the fact that reading the book will inevitably prime me to watch the film again with the fresh perspective of knowing the inside stories.
On the sixth day of Christmas Cath Staincliffe provided six reading recommendations.
My authors of Christmas are:
The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood who won the CWA John Creasey New Blood dagger. Its premise of a homeless veteran drawn into investigating a crime is very appealing, as is its Newcastle location.
Young writer Daisy Johnsons’ second novel, gothic thriller Sisters, sounds like it will be just as weird, wonderful and accomplished as her first. July and September move with their mother to an old family house and things begin to change… Described as visceral, lyrical and terrifying. Perfect holiday fare.
I devoured Tayari Jones’ last two titles and now I’m going through her backlist. Leaving Atlanta is set at the time when African American children were disappearing in the city. Twenty-nine would be found murdered by 1982. This novel charts the story of three nine-year-old friends navigating a very scary world.
Dystopian fiction is a genre I relish and Booker short-listed The New Wilderness by Diane Cook tackles the horror of climate change through a mother and daughter’s struggle to survive beyond the city.
By contrast Tangerine by Christine Mangan will transport me to the steamy heat of 1950s Tangier in a story of obsession that has been likened to the work of Patricia Highsmith.
This year I discovered Ann Patchett (I know!) so am steadily reading my way through her work. Her writing about relationships, about families, is pitch perfect and addictive. Next up is Commonwealth.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me the author of Seven Lies, Elizabeth Kay who told me all about how she spends Christmas and what she loves reading.
The week between Christmas and New Year (which has always been called ‘The Week of Sundays’ in my house) is an annual highlight for me: long walks, leftovers, board games, and hours spent beneath blankets reading. I would normally enjoy seeing friends throughout the week too, but I might be glad of the extra reading time this year!
I’m very much looking forward to reading Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. I loved her first thriller, and I’ve heard such fantastic things about this one too. And I’ve been saving Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club for a quiet afternoon with no distractions. I’m also keen to read some fantastic non-fiction. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry and Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri are both on my Christmas list. And I’ve been fortunate to receive a few early copies of books publishing in 2021, including The Push by Ashley Audrain and Girl A by Abigail Dean. I’ve heard great things about both and so they are firmly at the top of the reading pile too.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 8 book recommendations milked from Brian McGilloway
I’ve quite a few books that have gathered up on my TBR pile that I’m looking forward to getting stuck into over Christmas. First up is C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold, a story about two immigrant
children, orphaned in the American West in the 19th century, trying to find their place. Following that, I’ve the fantasy novel The Way Back by Gavriel Savit and These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, a reworking of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai.
In the crime field, two Northern Irish writers have books out at the start of next year I’m looking forward to reading. Fellow Derry author Claire Allan’s Ask No Questions is set in my native city at Hallowe’en. Claire’s move into crime writing a few years back is paying dividends for her and she just goes from strength to strength. Derry boasts the best Hallowe’en festivities in the world, according to USA Today, so a crime novel set in the midst of it is a great idea. Likewise, Sharon Dempsey’s Little Bird was a terrific crime debut, so I’m expecting great things from her new one, Who Took Eden Mulligan.
I’ve also been holding off on two perennial favourites of mine just for the holidays. John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, The Dirty South, is a definite must. I’ve been reading the Parker series from the start and John, for me, is one of the best crime writers around at the moment. I’ve also held off on Ian Rankin’s newest Rebus, Song for the Dark Times, until I’ve time to really savour it. Ian’s writing inspired my own and each new Rebus always feels like meeting again with an old and trusted friend. I’m very much looking forward to the reacquaintance.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me … a Christmas Egg?! Read more to find out what excited Peter Lovesey
Of all the Christmases I remember, this will surely be the quietest, so there is certainly time for reading, or re-reading. My choice is The Christmas Egg, by Mary Kelly, first published in 1958 but recently reissued as a British Library paperback. The writer was a Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger winner in 1961 with The Spoilt Kill, and I like her books because she was not afraid to play with the crime genre. Part whodunit, part thriller, The Christmas Egg had a curious origin. By mistake the author was sent some books on Russian themes intended for review by a writer with a similar name, Marie-Noële Kelly, who was the wife of the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Becoming fascinated by one that featured the ornamental gold eggs created for the Tsars by Carl Fabergé, Mary Kelly – who enjoyed research far more than the chore of putting words on paper – visited an auction house and found inspiration by actually handling one of these beautiful objets d’art. She starts the book with a break-in and the murder of an elderly Russian princess in Islington in the 1950s and hands the investigation to the sleuth from her two previous books, Inspector Brett Nightingale. He is well-named because, like Mary Kelly herself, he sings opera at an amateur level and the plot also involves a private recording by the Polish tenor, Jean de Reszke. The action is packed into three days over Christmas and moves inexorably to a chase across snow-covered marshland in Kent. To say any more would be a spoiler. With sparkle, music, mystery and plenty of the white stuff, what more could anyone want for a Christmas read?
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…some banging crime and thriller picks from author Jess Fellowes.
That weird week between Christmas and New Year, when no one knows what day of the week it is and it’s completely OK to eat Quality Street for breakfast, is my favourite time for curling up and reading for hours at a stretch, a mix of comfort reads and something brand new.
Although I’ve read it three times already, I want to return again to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The writing within it both inspires and awes me: his mastery of the English language and the lightness with which he wears his (undoubtedly copious) research of life in an English country house just before and after the second world war, is extraordinary. It was the book that gave me hope that a modern author could capture that era, as I have attempted to do in my crime series, The Mitford Murders. I’ll read it again this Christmas, to keep me going until his new book, Klara and the Sun, is out in March 2021.
I’ll also dip into the paperback of Daisy Waugh’s In the Crypt with a Candlestick, a riot of wit and verve that satirises the English upper classes and whodunnits of the 1930s but all set in the present day. I’ve read it only very recently but I already know I’ll be going back to it time and again when I need a giggle.
For something with a Christmas atmosphere, I’m treating myself to Val McDermid’s Christmas is Murder, a new collection of short stories. No one is sharper than McDermid and I shiver with thrilled anticipation at the thought of her slicing through the mince pies and brandy butter with a blood-stained knife. Merry Christmas one and all!
On the eleventh day of Christmas Kate Ellis pipes up to tell us what books she’ll be indulging in over the festive season.
2020 has been a strange and rather depressing year and settling down with a good book has been one of the few things we’ve been able to look forward to. In between working on my own books (and watching old episodes of detective series such as Midsomer Murders and Poirot – a good old fashioned murder is so comforting at a time like this!) my reading taste has inclined towards books I know will be satisfying and engrossing while not being too heavy and disturbing (perhaps something that even makes me smile). This has meant no terrifying stalkers or torturers; definitely nothing that falls into the ‘noir’ category.
I tend to read last thing at night (after a busy day spent writing) and I’ve really been enjoying the ‘Herring’ novels by L C Tyler and the Bryant and May mysteries by Christopher Fowler; both series are crime with a liberal sprinkling of humour. During lockdown I’ve also read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy and, being passionately interested in history, it’s been a welcome distraction to travel back in time to the court of Henry VIII.
To return to crime, I’ve always found that reading the books of Peter Lovesey is a real treat; I’ve just finished Another One Goes Tonight, which was one of those books you try to read slowly because you never want it to end.
I’m afraid my Christmas reading will consist of more crime. I’ve lined up a little reward for myself in the form of Kate Atkinson’s latest Jackson Brodie mystery Big Sky. I really like her writing style and her humour and, as I loved all her other Jackson Brodie books, I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one too. I also have an unread Bryant and May book ready for when I finish Big Sky and I’ll also be dipping into The Detection Club’s latest publication, Howdunit, full of wisdom, observations and advice from past and present members of that illustrious club (including myself, I add modestly).
I hope everyone has a good Christmas – and Happy Reading.
On the twelfth day of Christmas Jacob Ross leaps in to tell us that he’s looking forward to some binge-reading over the festive period.
I tend to acquire books throughout the year and settle down to rather focused binge-reading sessions over the Christmas period.
I’m especially looking forward to my end-of-year ‘Crime Pile’.
Val McDermid’s books are always on my list. Interestingly, I came to her novels through her non-fiction writing on Forensics, especially Anatomy of Crime which I return to time and again. For most of my writing career, I’ve had a long and fractious relationship with the short story and was especially interested in McDermid’s new collection — Christmas is Murder. I’m keen to see what she does with this little beast of a form.
Mark Billingham’s Sleepyhead was one of those crime novels which, for some reason, found permanent residence in my head. I began reading his new Tom Thorne thriller, Cry Baby, in September, then decided I wanted to give the book quality time and so deferred it to December.
I especially admire what Scottish crime writers do with narrative, their ability to offer us a three-dimensional sense of place, character and atmosphere. I can say the same for JD Kirk’s, Blood and Treachery. There is so much more happening in these novels outside of the crime itself.
Ian Rankin’s, Rebus fascinates me. Rebus is getting older, has a different set of personal priorities and preoccupations as he ages; and is constrained to find a different way of doing things. I love Rankin’s conscious approach to character evolution, and can’t wait to get down to his most recent Rebus offering, A Song for the Dark Times.
Apart from that, there is food and wine and a different kind of isolation that this December lockdown brings.
A big thank you to all our brilliant crime authors for taking part!
We wish you all a criminally good Christmas!