Tag Archives: crime novel

Criminal Classics – John Rickards


John Rickards writes books and tells lies and if you call him Sean Cregan he’ll usually answer.  He blogs at The Nameless Horror, where you can – and definitely should – get copies of his books, including the outstanding dystopian actioner All You Leave Behind.

John’s pick is The Killing Jar, by Nicola Monaghan…




If I was to outline the basic elements of a story like so: child of a smack-addict prostitute on a council estate, slow rise up the local shitty crime ladder from helping mum’s clients hide their stashes to dealing speed to schoolkids, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, desire to either rise to the top or get out entirely, blah blah blah, you might be expecting one of those terribly worthy inner-city London dramas on Channel 4.

But this is not that. This is set in Nottingham.

Joking aside, it’s a world apart. In fact, The Killing Jar is something that most of this type of story should really aspire to. I’m aware that I’m in the minority, but I hated Requiem For A Dream. Awful characters failing to do much and getting ludicrously ruined because DRUGS ARE BAD. Lose an arm, have ECT, bring out the dildo. Roll credits. Hated it. This, this right here, is what Requiem could and should have been. It covers, superficially, similar ground, but does so with far more grace, nuance and grounding. Those involved are sympathetic (though, as in real life, never entirely so), and their lives feel genuine.

The main character, Kerrie-Ann, like the supporting cast, has proper, realistic depth to her, neither a hero nor a villain, victim or abuser, but both by turns. Her story is horribly miserable — the potted version has her mum vanish, leaving her to look after herself and her little brother, her getting involved with her boyfriend’s shitty estate criminal family doing petty stuff (and selling speed to kids at school), before he and her establish themselves as up-and-comer pill suppliers for the local rave scene, a move which eventually turns bad. She has a (genuinely harrowing) induced miscarriage at, as I recall, 16, because she didn’t quit her pill-popping, drink and coke ways, trying to kid herself she wasn’t pregnant, cleans up her act but loses her little brother to the crappy life she’s surrounded by, and her boyfriend turns into an abusive cock with violent tendencies and wild, drug-induced mood swings.

Awful stuff, no? But the book, written in the most unaffected local speech I think I’ve read in text, never gets sucked into EverythingIsBadsville. There are flashes of brightness, better days and good spells. No one, even the boyfriend, is completely awful, because by and large people aren’t. The estate isn’t a hell hole but a home and a community, even if everyone in it knows it’s pretty lousy, because that’s how they are. The drugs are mostly just drugs rather than the ultimate evil, because that’s what they are. And the ending, which I won’t spoil suffice it to say that it looks like she’s going to do one thing when her brother’s run, beyond her ability to save, and she’s had enough of the boyfriend, only to change her mind and do something completely different, is gently and welcomingly upbeat.

This is proper, real social fiction, beautifully told. It was also Monaghan’s debut. I can’t understand why it didn’t make more waves, but it certainly deserves a look from anyone with any interest in modern urban life or who thinks that the Daily Mail’s portraits of poor city culture or estate life are chillingly accurate.


– John Rickards


The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.


Criminal Classics – Steve Mosby


Steve Mosby is the author of six excellent crime novels, with his seventh, Dark Room, out in July from Orion.  He blogs at The Left Room and can be found most days on Twitter, providing erudite social commentary and dirty jokes.

Steve’s Criminal Classic is The Pledge byFriedrich Durrenmatt…




The bare bones and plot beats of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s novel The Pledge will be immediately familiar to fans of detective fiction. A little girl is murdered; the inspector in charge of the investigation, Matthai, is a precise man of logic and something of a genius, but is disliked by his colleagues and on the verge of transfer; alone in believing they have arrested the wrong man, he leaves the police and begins a painstaking personal search to unearth the serial killer he believes is really responsible… So far, so conventional. But taken as a whole, The Pledge is anything but.

The bulk of Matthai’s story is framed as a conversation between a former police chief and a crime writer, the former seeking to illustrate how detective work in the real world is entirely different from its portrayal in fiction. The title can be understood in two ways. Most obviously, it refers to the promise Matthai makes to the girl’s parents that he will find their daughter’s killer (another familiar trope). But the book’s subtitle is “Requiem for the Detective Novel”, and ‘pledge’ also nods to the implicit promise of the traditional detective story: that a careful application of logic will solve the puzzle; that order will be restored and justice done.  In this sense, what is pledged is that the reader will be removed from their comfort zone but ultimately returned.

Here, Matthai’s meticulous logic, rather than leading him to uncover the truth and catch the killer, is subverted by a cruel twist of fate entirely beyond his control. In the meantime, his search has become an obsession that will ultimately destroy his life and the lives of others. His pledge is broken – but the promise of the traditional detective story also remains unfulfilled. Where hardboiled fiction attacked the narrative from the streets, here Durrenmatt swings at it from a more existential angle, presenting the real world as a puzzle far too chaotic and unpredictable for even the smartest fictional sleuth to solve.

And yet, for all the bleakness of the ending, The Pledge is both satisfying and thought-provoking. The reader understands that although one puzzle has been set up and left unresolved (at least to Matthai), something larger and more interesting has been hinted at, and that is more than enough.

And to allay concerns, we should probably note: over fifty years later, the traditional detective novel remains alive and well, still puzzling away.


– Steve Mosby


The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.

Criminal Classics – Paul D. Brazill

Paul D. Brazill is the Spinetingler nominated author of 13 Shots of Noir, a dark and gritty collection of short fiction.  His blog You Would Say That is a den of unparalleled criminality.

Here’s Paul on Albert Camus’ The Fall…


I have no friends, I only have accomplices now. On the other hand, my accomplices are more numerous than my friends: they are the human race.’

Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a former big shot Parisian lawyer, and self-proclaimed ‘judge-penitent’, sits in Mexico City, a smoky, pokey bar in the murky depths of Amsterdam’s red-light district. And he tells a fellow Frenchman about the time when, given the chance to save a young woman’s life, he did nothing. And his subsequent fall from grace.

Camus’ The Fall is a stylishly written series of monologues about the desensitising nature of modern life, guilt, ‘the fundamental duplicity of the human being’, responsibility and more. And it’s a right riveting read, it really is. The intimacy of Clamence’s barfly confession drags you along as we hear how, like a true noir protagonist, his life spirals further down from Parisian high life to Amsterdam’s fog and neon soaked, underbelly.

The Fall was Camus last work of fiction, published in 1956, four years before he died. At 146 pages is a short, bitter and hard-hitting espresso that will give more than a few jolts during a sleepless night.

Bang, bang The mighty Fall!


– Paul D. Brazill


The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.

Criminal Classics – Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie is the co-founder of Blasted Heath, the punkiest digital-only publishers around, and author of some seriously impressive crime novels, including the freshly kindlefied Savage Night.

Here’s the man himself on Georges Simenon’s The Blue Room…

A few words first on the ‘literary fiction’ versus ‘crime fiction’ debate, if I may. I think this is actually about literary fiction versus commercial fiction, and genre is something of a red herring. You can see that with Georges Simenon’s work, with his Maigret detective novels falling into the commercial fiction category (indeed referred to in French as his roman populaires) and his roman durs (‘hard novels’) falling on the more literary side of the fence.

The Blue Room is one of those roman durs.

It’s a psychological thriller about a couple having a steamy affair that leads to no good. What’s of particular interest here is Simenon’s technique. In Robert Olen Butler’s book on the craft of writing, From Where We Dream, he advocates that the writer avoid summary narrative entirely, only ever using dialogue and immediate sensory experiences to drive the narrative.

The Blue Room, written forty years earlier, is a prototype for such a literary style. Occasional dialogue aside, the text of the book recounts one sensory experience after another. There’s some reflection and minimal exposition, but nonetheless, from a technical point of view, it’s every bit as mind-blowing as, say, the relentlessly behaviourist approach of that other great stylist, Dashiell Hammett.

– Allan Guthrie