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Old, New, Borrowed, Blue: Joseph Knox Recommends Four Books Every Crime Fiction Lover Should Read

Posted on 19th January 2018 by Martha Greengrass

Described by The Times as a book that "jumps straight into the top league of English noir", Joseph Knox's electrifying debut, Sirens is hypnotic reading, plunging readers headlong into the malevolent urban sprawl of Manchester’s criminal underbelly. Our Thriller of the Month for January, Sirens is a novel honed by Knox’s experience drawn from the bars and nightlife of the city, fused with his voracious hunger for the very best crime fiction. Who better then to suggest a trousseau of criminal delights? Here he selects an unmissable quartet: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

After almost a decade of red pen and rewriting, Sirens, my first novel, was finally released in 2017.  

In the months since, I’ve been shoved, knock-kneed onto festival stages to try and explain myself to readers. I’ve gone drink-for-drink with crime fiction legends and just about lived to tell the tale. I’ve read my first one-star reviews and committed them all to memory…

And I’ve had quiet, impassioned letters from one or two kind souls, saying they felt like the book was written just for them.

Of everything 2017 had in store for me, that final point was the one which really hit home. Mainly because I know the feeling so well, of being caught at the right time in the right place by the right author, and feeling my course being subtly altered.

As a bookseller both before and after the writing of Sirens, I thought I’d try and pay it forward, compiling a brief list of some of those books, those lightning bolts that struck and sent me, electrified, a little further on my way.

Something Old

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The second Shardlake novel in C. J. Sansom's remarkable historical crime series brings Shardlake once again into contact with the king's chief minister - and a new assignment. A hunt for a murderer plunges him into the heart of a different kind of trail, the search for Greek Fire and a weapon with the power to change the fate of the world.
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I’d never call Mr Sansom or his book old, but given that he writes historical mystery-thrillers, this seemed appropriate. Dark Fire is the second in his astonishing Shardlake series, which sees a hunchback lawyer cajoled, threatened and blackmailed by Thomas Cromwell into an investigation which will take him, quaking, to the very feet of King Henry VIII. The plot is satisfyingly bleak, punctuated with shocking violence and weaves a confounding mystery through a rich historical background to an almost desolating conclusion. 

Something New

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William Watt wants answers about his family's murder. Peter Manuel has them. But Peter Manuel is a liar. William Watt is an ordinary businessman, a fool, a social climber. Peter Manuel is a famous liar, a rapist, a criminal. He claims he can get hold of the gun used to murder Watt's family.

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Not only a new book, but something fresh for crime fiction. Denise Mina writes a fictional account of the real-life Peter Manuel, Scotland’s worst serial killer. Of course, from a writer as critically acclaimed and revered as Mina, the prose itself is exceptional – and the dialogue and character sketches place you immediately in a gruff 1950s Glasgow that courses with charm and menace in equal measure. Perhaps not a place you’d like to stay in, but by God visiting’s fun…

Angry, vital and unputdownable, its themes of self-deception resonate long after the final page. This felt like crime fiction at its very best.

Something Borrowed

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Down-and-out drunk Terry Lennox has a problem: his millionaire wife is dead and he needs to get out of LA fast. So he turns to his only friend in the world: Philip Marlowe, Private Investigator. He's willing to help a man down on his luck, but later, Lennox commits suicide in Mexico and things start to turn nasty.
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Every author has their first real hero, and Chandler was mine. In the years since I’ve drifted more towards the stark, border-line nihilism of his own hero, Dashiel Hammett, more towards the psychological depth of his greatest successor, Ross MacDonald, even towards the overwhelming darkness and grandiose world-building of the big name that came after him, James Ellroy.

But Chandler, for me, was first. It would be impossible to imagine Aidan’s first person narration, cynicism and shop-soiled brand of heroism without having read and re-read the Philip Marlowe novels cover-to-cover. The Long Goodbye, with the devastating betrayal at its centre, stands head and shoulders above the rest. 

Something Blue

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The 8th Inspector Rebus novel from the No.1 bestselling, award-winning author. Rebus is juggling four cases trying to nail one killer - who might just lead back to the infamous Bible John. With reporters breathing down his neck, just one mistake is likely to mean an unpleasant and not particularly speedy death or, worse still, losing his job.

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What a writer, what a series, what a book. Black and Blue is the 8th Rebus novel, Rankin’s favourite of his own works, and a great starting point for new readers overwhelmed by a large backlist. I remember reading it so clearly, in the boozy drizzle of a Mancunian winter. Absolutely freezing cold with a broken boiler and not a penny to my name, wrapped in a bed sheet, watching my breath in the air, TEARING through the pages. 

Rankin tells a serial killer story here like no other and, in a move that perhaps predicted and ensured his longevity, absolutely never takes the obvious, easy route. Sometimes cinematic is a word which, when applied to novels, can feel belittling. In this case it seems only fitting. As we race through four intersecting plotlines, as Rebus’s own past and temper catches up with him, and as he begins to get some sense of quite what he’s up against, the book becomes thrilling in a very special way. It feels vital and new, forcing itself into the back of your brain like a bullet to the head.

Don't miss Joseph Knox's thrilling follow-up to Sirens, The Smiling Man, published in hardback on 8 March 2018 and available to pre-order now.

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