If you are reading this in the future, you might look back at the time when the whole world went Coronavirus crazy with a shudder, or perhaps a smile as you recall the Blitz spirit and the funny memes and the way we all pulled together to help each other—when we weren’t fighting in the aisles of our local supermarket over toilet paper, that is. And it is in that spirit—of pulling together, not scrapping for Andrex—that I write this post.
Because book launches and events are not taking place in book shops and libraries at the moment. Instead, everyone has moved online. I’ve seen a lot of authors talking about running live events on Facebook, and as I have been doing just that since 2013, when I launched my book The Magpies with a bash at Mark Zuckerburg’s place, I thought it might be a good idea to share some wisdom I have gained along the way. I’ve made quite a few mistakes and, hopefully, learned from them. I’ve hosted a Facebook party for all ten of the books I’ve had published since 2013, plus a couple of extras including a Christmas party and some book discussion events.
This is not a technical help guide nor a ‘how to’ that walks you step by step through the process. These are plenty of guides like that on Google already.
Before I start, a little more about my experience. I have had a Facebook Page for eight years. First, it was a page for myself and Louise Voss, my co-author. Then I moved to Mark Edwards Books and started anew. By advertising this Facebook page everywhere I can—inside my books, on my Amazon author profile, on Twitter and Instagram, in email responses to readers—I have built the audience organically so I have a highly-engaged group of readers who always respond well to posts. If you don’t have a Facebook page, you should set one up right now. I know some authors use their personal profile to interact with readers and you could host your party on there, but I have always done mine via my page.
Right, here are some tips.
Set up an event
You will want to know how many people to expect at your party so you should set it up as an event. Give it a title that makes it very clear what it is, eg The Magpies Facebook Launch Party. Set the time and the time zone. I believe that Facebook should show people the start time that applies in their time zone but you will still get questions about it, so I always post a link to this time zone checker on my event page.
Spread the word
Once the event is set up, it should appear in the feeds of the people who have liked your page. I usually boost it to ensure the maximum amount of people who like my page and their friends see it.
You should announce the event everywhere you can. Send an announcement to your mailing list one to two weeks before, and then again on the day itself. Post the link anywhere you can. You want as many people to attend as possible.
Give your readers a reason to come
You’re competing with Netflix and the coronavirus newsfeed on The Guardian, so you need to give people a reason to give up an hour of their evening to watch you bang on about your book. I’m sure there will be some fans who just want to gaze at you and study the way your lips move, or the way the light reflects off your glasses, but most people want benefits.
They want prizes.
I have made the giveaway the central point of my parties since I started. In the olden days, I would give out prizes ad hoc as the party went along, but this led to chaos so now I do something that ensures more people sign up to come in the first place and that, once they are there, they enjoy it even more. I gather together all the prizes, take a photo and put a Big Giveaway post on my event page around a week before the big day. To enter, people have to leave a comment. I then—and this is the painful part—write all their names on pieces of card and put them into a bag. On the night, I announce each prize one by one and draw the winner’s name.
This is where having an assistant can be very useful! My daughter always joins in, drawing names from the hat and helping me organise who’s won what. (She also dances and chatters incessantly while I’m trying to be serious, but I think my readers like her more than they like me.)
Make sure you give people a deadline to enter that allows you plenty of time to write names on card. I get hundreds, sometimes thousands of entries, so often wish I had a team of elves to help me. Unfortunately, elves don’t exist.
What kind of prizes do I give out? Signed books, of course. But also pens (I get special pens made for each of my books), signed postcards, themed prizes that go along with the book . . . It’s nice to have a star prize (a helicopter ride around your estate, maybe, or perhaps you could offer naked cleaning for one lucky fan; it’s up to you) which you announce right at the end of the party to keep them watching.
It’s not just about swag
Your readers should want to hear you talk about your book. I always give people the opportunity to leave questions on a designated post on the event page, then I pick out the ones I want to answer (plus the names of the people who asked them) before the party. This is much easier than trying to respond to questions as they are fired at you via the comments on the video.
You should, however, try to keep an eye on the comments as they whizz past. People love it if you mention them and respond to what they’re saying—plus it’s polite. Hey, it’s a party, not a party political broadcast.
You could do a reading but you should keep it VERY short. Like, I don’t know, a paragraph. Maybe a sentence. I avoid readings just as I try to avoid clichés—like the plague.
Give them an exclusive
I always end my parties by revealing details about my next book. This is usually the first time I talk about it anywhere in public so there’s always the slight risk that readers will go ‘That sounds a bit crap’ but it hasn’t happened yet.
Make sure you tell competition winners where to send their addresses so you can send them their prizes. And post a list of winners on the event page. People will almost certainly ask you to do this because not everyone will be able to watch the video or won’t be able to keep up with the names being read out. Or maybe they’ll be distracted by a UFO flying past the window at the crucial moment. Weirder things have happened in 2020.
Wine is strongly encouraged
It’s a book launch. You need wine. Or maybe beer. Or absinthe if your book is set in France. I usually post on the page asking people what they’re drinking and raise a toast while I’m chatting. I also encourage virtual cakes.
Just don’t get drunk and slag off your publisher or sexually harass someone. That’s never cool.
Post the video to your page
When you end the Live video, it will ask you if you want to post it to your page. For God’s sake say yes. Your video will sit there forever and a lot of people will watch it later, when they’ve run out of Netflix series.
Make it fun!
Laugh. Be silly. Be personal. Give viewers a tour of your office or show them your party trick. Get a cat or dog involved. Tell jokes. Be sexy. Whatever it takes to keep eyes on the screen (okay, not whatever it takes; this isn’t Pornhub) and to make your readers tell their friends about it. If you make it fun, next time more people will come. It’s just like real life!
Finally, I’m going to go against what I said earlier and give you a couple of technical tips. First, host the live video on your main page, not in the event page. That will make it easier to find. Secondly, it’s possible to flip the camera so that when you hold up your book it won’t look like you’re standing in front of a mirror. Click the little screwdriver/spanner icon, and then the horizontal flip icon. Easy peasy.
And one final tip: make sure you have a good wifi connection!
You can watch my most recent Facebook Live party here.
And the event page is here.
That’s it. I hope it was useful. Please leave a comment and let me know. Enjoy your party—and don’t forget to wash your hands (even if you’re watching this in the post-Coronavirus future, you lucky so and so).
Oh my goth! This is me in 1989
This is an article I wrote for Female First Website on the 10 things I’d like my readers to know about me. It involves, goths, zombies and karaoke!
- I have my mum to thank for my warped imagination. After my parents divorced when I was nine, she used to let me stay up to keep her company. She’d fall asleep and I’d stay awake watching horror movies and all sorts of inappropriate TV. She also let me read her library copy of James Herbert’s The Fog. I’ve loved scary films and books ever since.
- I used to be a goth. I had dyed black hair which I would crimp and back-comb until I looked like a skinny version of The Cure’s Robert Smith. My friends and I hung out in a nightclub in Hastings called The Crypt, dancing to Sisters of Mercy songs and drinking snakebite and black because that’s what goths are supposed to drink. (At the time, we denied being goths. If anyone asked, we called ourselves ‘individuals’.)
- My worst job was in a food packing factory when I was a student. We made pickle, mincemeat and jelly babies. I used to sit on a conveyor belt picking out the black cornflakes. I wore eyeliner to work which went down really well with some of my more macho colleagues who took to calling me ‘Rambo’.
- I’ve been vegetarian for thirty years. Like many people of my generation, I went veggie after watching a documentary about The Smiths in 1987. My views and tastes have waxed and waned over the years but two things remain constant: my vegetarianism and love of Morrissey.
- I became a karaoke addict in Japan. I taught English conversation in Tokyo for a year and discovered that karaoke is probably the most fun activity in the world. I am a terrible microphone hog and show-off when it comes to karaoke. The moment I step into that room I transform from a mild-mannered writer into a wannabe rock and roll megastar.
- I am obsessed with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. It’s not only my favourite novel, it’s my favourite anything. A couple of years ago I saw Ms Tartt read from The Secret History (oh it was rapturous!) and afterwards, when I told her how much I loved her books she shook my hand. It was an effusive handshake and I floated home on a cloud of hero-worshipping wonder.
- I spend a lot of time daydreaming about how I would survive a zombie apocalypse. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead and have passed many happy hours figuring out a survival plan should the undead ever overrun Wolverhampton (no jokes, please). At the moment, this plan involves kayaking along the canal near where I live, even though I don’t know how to kayak and I’m not sure what I’ll do when I reach the first lock. Panic, probably.
- I have four children, one of whom lives in Australia. It’s hard, and I miss her terribly, but I owe the people who invented Skype a very large drink. Twenty years ago it would have been impossible for us to maintain such a long-distance relationship, but we chat every week – mostly about Doctor Who, which is her favourite programme, and which was my favourite at her age.
- I went to school with Stella McCartney. No, I didn’t go to a posh private school. Sir Paul sent his kids to the local comprehensive because he’s a man of the people, innit. Stella was in the year below me and I never spoke to her, so she would have no idea who I am and is unlikely to include ‘I went to school with Mark Edwards’ in an article like this. I used to have Paul McCartney’s autograph too (he bought his fruit and veg in my stepdad’s shop) but I lost it, which causes me great pain.
- It took me fifteen years of trying to get a book deal. I spent most of my twenties and early thirties writing countless books (I can’t actually remember how many) and although I secured an agent I still couldn’t get a deal. Finally, in 2011, after self-publishing two books with my friend Louise Voss and topping the Kindle charts, I got a deal. That didn’t work out but three years later I found another publisher and now I’m a full-time writer, doing what I always dreamed of.
To read the article on the website, click here.
Me with Louise Voss
Here, myself and Louise Voss talk to Harrogate International Festivals about our road to success.
We appeared in the 2012 Festival’s ‘Creative Thursday’ session ‘The Road to Publication – Success Stories.’
The paperback publication of Killing Cupid is proof that if you create something good enough and want something strongly enough, you can make it happen. Even if it takes a long time. This story is intended not just for writers but for anyone who has a dream of achieving something that is difficult to attain: whether your field is music or art or business; or even something in your personal life. Whatever you want to achieve, you can do it.
We started writing Killing Cupid ten years ago. Come Together by Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd had recently been a big hit, and we came up with the idea of writing something with the same structure – alternating male and female narrators – but instead of romantic comedy, we wanted to write a psychological thriller. We knew what the twist in the middle would be – it was our starting point – but we had no idea where the story would end up.
A few months after we started, I (Mark) moved to Japan to become an English teacher. I remember sitting on the floor of the guest house I stayed in during my first week there, the day after arriving, jet-lagged and bewildered, working on Killing Cupid. Over the coming months, Louise and I wrote it like a tag team, writing alternate chapters and sending them back and forth.
Halfway through writing it, Louise met up with a BBC TV producer who had liked Louise’s solo books but was looking for something darker. Louise showed her our work in progress and she loved it. The BBC optioned the book before it was finished. We were sure we were onto a winner.
About nine months after we started it, Killing Cupid was complete. However, Louise’s agent at that time wasn’t keen, but she agreed to submit it to publishers. We kept being told that because it was a mixture of thriller, romance and comedy, it would be too difficult to market. Everybody passed on it.
Still, we had the BBC option which was exciting in itself. The BBC hired a scriptwriter, took us out for dinner… Then silence. We didn’t hear anything for months. Many months. Finally, we were shown a treatment for the drama: they had changed everything: the plot, the characters, even the title. It bore no resemblance to the original novel. The while thing fell apart.
We then wrote Catch Your Death, deliberately making it more of a straightforward thriller, but this time we weren’t even able to find an agent. My former agent, who I had had a pretty good relationship with for years, rejected it with a single line: ‘Just not good enough.’ After a few months of trying, we gave up. It wasn’t worth the stress. We had good day jobs. I was starting to have kids. At the risk of sounding corny, we put the writing dream back in the drawer along with our old manuscripts. That was in 2006.
Fast forward to 2010. I started reading about a few authors in America who were making it big on Kindle and suggested to Louise that we give it a go. What did we have to lose? So we set about updating both the books, dragging them into a world where Facebook and broadband existed.
In February 2011, we put Killing Cupid on the Kindle store. On day 1, we sold 2 copies, to my mother in law and boss. Over the next few weeks we sold a few copies a day. And spent every evening after working blogging and networking like crazy to try to get people to know the book existed.
We’ve told this story lots, but it’s still exciting to tell it: after a few months of relentless pushing, and a very very slow crawl up the chart, Killing Cupid sat at No.2 on Amazon.co.uk.
And our other book, Catch Your Death, was No.1.
From there, we got an agent, who sent the manuscripts of both books out to publishers before the end of the week. We were all over the media, appearing live on BBC Breakfast and Sky News, the first of the British indie writers to hit the top spot.
The same day that we were on Sky News, we got an offer from HarperCollins, which we accepted. I was going to write ‘happily accepted’ but that would be a massive understatement. It was the moment I had dreamt of for a long time, and if you’re a writer, I bet you’ve had that fantasy too. The call telling you that you’ve got a book deal. It’s the literary equivalent of scoring the winning goal in a cup final.
So now, here we are, ten years after we first had this crazy idea to write a book about two crazy people, and Killing Cupid is finally in the shops. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, sitting there in WHSmith, crying out ‘Buy me!’ to passers by (as they head towards the massive table groaning under the weight of all the copies of 50 Shades of Grey).
It feels fantastic. Like after all this time, we’ve achieved something. Something that means a lot to us.
And it’s not just about achieving something and then resting. It’s about using it as a starting point and moving on. Because whenever you get something you’ve wished for, you will – if you are anything like us – want something more. In our case, it’s wanting to be able to keep doing this, to write more books, to find more readers, because it’s what we love doing. Killing Cupid has put us in the lucky position of being able to do that.
The publication of the paperback of Killing Cupid marks the end of the first phase for us. Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid have been so good to us, even though for a long time it seemed they would languish unread. Now, though, we can’t wait to get more books out there. The next one, All Fall Down, is being copy-edited now and will be out next February, and we are about to start writing our fourth book, Forward Slash.
Being writers is what we have both wanted to do for most of our adult lives. We did give up for a while. With hindsight, we could say we were biding our time and waiting for the right opportunity to come along. When it did, we seized the day. That’s what you have to do.
Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, an entrepreneur, a lover or a fighter.
Never give up.
To read the article on the website, click here.
For this blog, Liz Loves Books – The Wonderful World of Reading, I was asked why I write books. Here’s what I said. . .
Why We Write – Mark Edwards
When I was nine or ten years old, my mum left a copy of The Fog by James Herbert lying around. I think she even told me some of the things that happened in it. Intrigued, I picked it up and found myself reading about schoolboys butchering their teacher (the scene with the garden shears will stay with me forever) and various people running murderously amok. It was a bit of a change from the books I’d read before then, like The Wombles.
Around the same time, my parents got divorced and, wanting company, my mum let me stay up late. She would fall asleep on the sofa and I’d stay up watching late-night TV: Death Wish, the Hammer House of Horror TV series, Zoltan Hound of Dracula in which a vampiric pooch goes bonkers on a caravan park (sigh, they don’t make ’em like that any more). I also started to read 2000AD and other similar comics. Not long afterwards, the video revolution happened, and I was able to walk into my local video rental shop and hire such movies as City of the Living Dead and American Werewolf in London (I’m still slightly in love with Jenny Agutter after that shower scene).
Of course, I turned out to be a psychopath, roaming the streets of Hastings with a huge knife in my pocket and my own trained troupe of killer rats… Oh, not really. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t psychologically scarred at all by my early exposure to horror and mayhem. But it definitely had a lasting impact on my imagination and influenced my tastes for, well, the rest of my life.
As a teenager, I returned to James Herbert (terrible prose, great stories) and discovered Stephen King. I think the first King I read was Salem’s Lot, and over the next few years I read all of them – speeding through his back catalogue and buying every new book as it came out. It was around this time that I decided I wanted to be a writer. At school, I excelled in English while being rubbish at most other subjects. My English teachers would raise their eyebrows at my stories about werewolves and blood oozing from walls, but they always gave me good marks. I wanted to be a horror writer, unaware, and not caring, that it was almost impossible to make a living writing in that genre. I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. It was bloody awful. Thankfully, it is long lost but it was about a boy who finds a mysterious box that contains demonic powers. Like I said, bloody awful.
When I went to university, I started reading more literary stuff: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Bret Easton Ellis, William Boyd. Much of it was still pretty dark, but for the first time I discovered the pleasure of reading not only for the story but for the language. Story was still my main interest but by moving beyond the limits of the horror genre my eyes were opened to a whole new world of books and I became a full-on addict, filling my flat with contemporary fiction, cult classics and even the occasional proper classic (though I am still allergic to anything written pre-World War 2).
In 1992 I read the book that would have the biggest influence on me, the book that I still think is the greatest novel ever written: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I was utterly blown away, immersed in this incredible, atmospheric masterpiece for a week. I pressed it on all my friends, talked about it all the time. Suddenly, my ambition to be a writer was reborn. To make someone feel a fraction of the way I had felt when I read The Secret History…that was my dream. (As an aside, last year I heard Donna Tartt read from TSH at an event in London. Afterwards, I spoke to her and she shook my hand. I was trembling with excitement.)
I spent my twenties writing and trying to get published. I had the most horrible day jobs – answering complaints for the Child Support Agency and then Connex Rail. Writing was my escape, my weekends spent banging away on my Sharp Fontwriter, a cross between a typewriter and word processor on which you could only see three lines of text at a time and which took a week to print a manuscript. I couldn’t afford a computer (cue violins) until 1998 when I bought a blueberry iMac with a bank loan. I wrote and wrote. I got an agent but no publisher. The first drafts of The Magpies and What You Wish For were written during this period, along with a book called The Liberators which was, I admit, a copy of The Secret History set in London.
I didn’t really know what kind of books I was writing. I guess I would have called it contemporary fiction, with elements of horror and suspense. The Magpies was intended to be a non-supernatural horror novel; I was trying to emulate Stephen King, with terrifying things happening to normal people. But it was around this time that I started to read crime novels. Of course, I’d already read Thomas Harris, but I soon discovered James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and Michael Dibdin’s Inspector Zen novels. Books like The Poet and The Black Dahlia were a revelation. Utterly gripping, thrilling page-turners. There was a trend for psychological thriller films too at this time: Single White Female, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Unknowingly, I was getting closer to finding my genre.
After meeting Louise Voss, we set about writing Killing Cupid. This was the first thriller either of us had written, although it wasn’t purely a thriller – it had a lot of dark comedy in it – which made it hard to sell to publishers even though we managed to get it optioned by the BBC. A few years later, I read The Da Vinci Code (like Herbert, terrible prose, great story) and Catch Your Death was an attempt to emulate that kind of fast-paced, pure thriller. After writing Forward Slash with Louise and then re-writing The Magpies, I finally knew what kind of books I wanted to produce. Psychological thrillers on my own, but with dashes of horror, and police procedurals with Louise. Our next book is our first out-and-out police novel.
Now I mostly read crime and psychological thrillers. This is mainly because they are the kind of books that draw me – along with my other favourite genre, post-apocalyptic dystopian novels – but also because I think it’s important to keep up with what your peers are writing. Occasionally I will read a book that’s so good that I will feel like giving up, but mostly I am compelled to raise my game. I have come across some novelists who claim that they don’t have time to read. This is insane. Reading is the fuel that helps you write. How can you hope to be a good writer if you don’t read a lot? I read every day. Books are like oxygen, like food and drink. Reading a great book still makes me want to write, just like the first time I read Stephen King or Donna Tartt.
That, in the end, is why I write: because I love books.
To read the article on the website, click here.
Like my previous novels, The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, Follow You Home was inspired by something that happened to me when I was younger, an experience that I took and turned into something much scarier in order to entertain my readers.
When I was nineteen, my then-girlfriend and I scraped together our pennies so we could go Inter-Railing around Europe. We spent months planning our itinerary, intending to head on a whistle-stop tour of the continent that would last the entire summer. The budget was tight but we were going to have the time of our lives.
After spending a day in Brussels, we headed to Paris. From there, we took a night train south to Avignon. We went into a private compartment and shut the door. Exhausted after a day trudging around Paris and a sleepless night on a noisy campsite, we fell asleep.
When we woke up, the pouches we wore around our necks, which contained our Inter-Rail tickets, passports and money, had been stolen. We ran up and down the train but, of course, the thieves were long gone. The reality of the situation sunk in as we arrived in Avignon at dawn. Inter-Rail tickets are not replaceable. Our ‘grand tour’ was over before it had begun.
After struggling to overcome the language barrier, we reported the incident to some gendarmes and headed back to Avignon station. Fortunately, we had travellers’ cheques from Thomas Cook, who told us what we needed to do: we had to get to Marseille, where the British Consulate would give us a document that would allow us to travel home.
We hitch-hiked to Marseille, arriving late in the evening, the strong hot winds of the mistral swirling around us. We spent the night lying on the floor of the train station, drinking water from the taps in the public toilets, with no food… (I hope you have your violins out.) At one point, a shifty man approached and asked us if we would like him to buy us a hot meal. We refused and hid.
The next day, we got our documents from the Consulate and replaced our travellers’ cheques. We couldn’t leave France, except to go home, so decided to make the best of the situation. We hitch-hiked home, Marseille to Calais, 663 miles. It took two weeks. And apart from the nights spent lying beside the highway, the rides with men who fortunately didn’t turn out to be serial killers, and an unfortunate incident with a packet of laxatives on a campsite near Dijon, we had a pretty good time.
When we got home, the English papers were full of stories about French bandits gassing tourists on night trains, sending them to sleep so they could steal the passengers’ possessions at their leisure. Though this may have been typical British paranoia about the French.
Years later, when my publisher asked me jokily if I had any other disasters from my past, I immediately thought about that night on a train out of Paris. And an image came into my head: a couple on a night train, falling asleep and waking up to realise that something awful has happened – but with no idea that the worst, the absolute worst, is yet to come…
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I read a lot of novels, about two a week, and although I dip into other genres my favourite genre is the one I write in. I’ve read so many great thrillers and suspense novels over the last twenty years that choosing ten that I rank above the others was no easy task. I’m sure a few of my favourites have temporarily slipped my mind. But here are ten that made a big impact on me and that I heartily recommend to everyone who loves books that take us to the darker side of the street.
1. THE SECRET HISTORY, Donna Tartt – “I hope we’re all ready to leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime?” The Secret History is a literary thriller that tells the story of a group of Greek students at a New England college who set themselves apart from their fellows and are arrogant, snobbish and beautiful. Led by the strangely charismatic Henry, and enthralled by their elitist tutor Julian, the group commit a terrible crime and go on to plot the murder of one of their own, Bunny, because he threatens to expose them. The first half of the book leads towards this momentous event; the second half reveals the consequences – the guilt, the anguish and the fear of being caught. This perhaps makes it sound serious and gloomy, but it really isn’t. The book is fast-moving, drenched in atmosphere and contains some moments of pure comedy.
The Secret History is not merely my favourite mystery novel – I put it above my favourite album, movie, song, above everything. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m slightly obsessed with it. One of the highlights of my life so far was watching Donna Tartt talk about and read from it in London in 2014. Afterwards, she shook my hand. It was like a Rolling Stones fanatic meeting Mick Jagger. I loved The Goldfinch too, but I know that no matter how many books I read none will ever top The Secret History.
The rest of the books on this list are in no particular order.
2. THE TREATMENT, Mo Hayder – The second book in Hayder’s Jack Caffrey series, The Treatment is also the darkest. It’s the most terrifying, disturbing novel I’ve ever read. A family in south-east London are put through an unspeakable ordeal. Meanwhile, Detective Caffrey is trying to find out what happened to his brother who vanished years ago. This book is so dark that reading it is akin to having icy fingers scrape at your soul…and the experience was intensified for me by the fact that I lived in the area where it’s set. I saw the building in which the killer lived on my walk to work each morning. My children played in the park where a murder victim is found hanging from a tree. Since The Treatment, Mo Hayder has eased off a little on the horror, but the whole series is great, especially the latest entries, Poppet and Wolf (which works as a companion to The Treatment and resolves one of the mysteries left over from that book).
3. INTO THE DARKEST CORNER, Elizabeth Haynes – There have been loads of excellent psychological thrillers published over the last few years but Into the Darkest Corner remains my favourite. A woman with OCD is hiding out, recovering from a terrifying experience, unsure if she is safe…and, of course, she’s not. Haynes nails the psychological thriller here: a damaged, loveable heroine, a truly loathsome villain, her attempts to escape his clutches and rebuild her life. It’s jaw-droopingly good – scary, sexy and impossible to put down. Her subsequent novels have been excellent too but for me this is still her best.
4. RED DRAGON, Thomas Harris – It’s almost obligatory to include a Thomas Harris book in any list of top crime novels and this, the original serial killer thriller, is still hard to beat. Hannibal Lecter remains, with the possible exception of Lisbeth Salander, the greatest character in the genre, and many novelists are still making a living rewriting this book: the twisted killer with a warped back-story, the flawed but brilliant FBI profiler, the game of cat and mouse between the pair. It doesn’t matter if Harris never writes another book, his first two Hannibal books outshine the entire backlists of most writers.
5. THE CONCRETE BLONDE, Michael Connelly – The Harry Bosch series was the first cop series I got into. It’s been consistently brilliant for twenty years and this is my favourite, the novel in which all of the elements come together in perfect, pulse-pounding fusion. I still remember the sensation of reading it, back in the nineties, being completely unable to put it down, desperate to find out what happened next. Connelly writes such hard, clean prose and is a master when it comes to plotting. Bosch is a wonderful creation and the recent TV series was pretty excellent too.
6. THE BLACK DAHLIA, James Ellroy – I read this around the same time that I read The Concrete Blonde and was utterly blown away. It takes about forty pages to really get going but as soon as Elizabeth Short’s tortured, multilated body is found the novel takes off like a rocket, propelled by Elroy’s savage wit and the raw emotion that comes from the connection, in Elroy’s imagination, between the murders of the Black Dahlia and his own mother. The second book in the L.A. Quarter, The Big Nowhere, is even nastier and it’s difficult to choose between the two. L.A. Confidential is another masterpiece. After that, Ellroy’s sentences got shorter and the books got longer and longer, and he never quite recaptured the storytelling genius that made The Black Dahlia such a great read.
7. THE CRY, Helen Fitzgerald – And now for something completely different. Arguably it’s not really a mystery novel but The Cry features an event more terrible than any brutal murder or gangland slaying. A couple flying from the UK to Australia accidentally give their baby an overdose and, gripped by panic and horror, try to cover up what they’ve done. It sounds like a grim topic, and a lesser writer might have turned such a premise into a depressing read. But The Cry manages to be darkly funny about a completely unhumorous topic, and Fitzgerald produces a novel that is compelling, life-affirming and impossible to put down.
8. THE FOLLOWER, Jason Starr – Starr is a New York based writer who should be far more famous as all of his books are brilliant. His speciality is in creating an ordinary protagonist, usually one with a job he or she hates, stuck in a crappy relationship, who makes a terrible mistake and is then sent into a downward spiral of panic and disaster. Starr delights in making his messed-up characters suffer. The Follower was the first of his that I read, and is about a stalker and his victim, told from both their points of view. It’s creepy and very funny. All of his books are brilliant and if the TV adaptation of The Follower happens (Bret Easton Ellis, another of my favourite writers, is involved) it will hopefully catapult Starr into the big league.
9. GONE BABY GONE, Dennis Lehane – I’ve chosen this not just because Lehane is one of the greatest crime writers in the world, who crafts prose that would put many literary novelists to shame, but because it has what I think is the best ending of any novel I’ve read. Warning – SPOILERS AHEAD. (Skip to book 10 if you haven’t read Gone Baby Gone or seen the pretty-decent movie.) After a truly ghastly scene in which Kenzie and Gennaro discover the body of a child, but not the one they were looking for, they discover that little Amanda has been taken away from her deadbeat, junkie mother to be given a better life with a nice, affluent couple. Kenzie has to decide – give Amanda back to her mother or keep the nicer couple’s secret? The reader is willing him to do the latter…but Kenzie’s decision might make you want to throw the book across the room. There’s a follow-up too, Moonlight Mile, which was disappointing though still worth reading. But Gone Baby Gone is a stunning writer at the top of his game.
10. ROSEMARY’S BABY, Ira Levin – Imagine what it must be like to have written four perfect novels, two of which were made into movies that will remain in the public imagination forever: A Kiss Before Dying (noir with an unreliable narrator decades before Gone Girl), The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives and, best of all, Rosemary’s Baby. My book, The Magpies, has been compared to Rosemary’s Baby, but I didn’t read the book or watch the movie until after mine was published. At which point I rushed out to read everything else Levin had written. Everyone knows the premise of Rosemary’s Baby. A young couple move into a creepy old New York apartment block. Rosemary is pregnant. The people next door are…weird and Rosemary’s husband is willing to do anything to help his acting career. It’s acerbic and tense and contains one of the greatest lines ever written: “He has his father’s eyes.” Apparently there’s a sequel in which it’s all revealed to be a dream but I choose to ignore that. Why mess with perfection?