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My Top Crime Reads of 2020

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I’m often asked where my love of crime fiction comes from, and why I’m interested in that genre. I’d reply that I was a fan of The Famous Five, or Nancy Drew Mysteries which is true but it wasn’t until the recent passing of that great British writer John Le Carre that a flood of memories came back to me. I remember mum and dad were always (and still are) avid readers but dad was the one who read spy novels, espionage and crime thrillers. I remember picking up Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and plowing my through it though I must only have been 12 or 13 and can’t have understood many of the words. I also remember vividly reading Catch 22. Even today, if either of us finds a truly compelling book we’ll share it or chat about it. It was dad that started my interest in serial killers too when I borrowed Zodiac by Robert Graysmith. I’m not even sure I knew what a serial killer was or even that they existed before then!

So I was on the road and interest in crime started at an early age. Fast forward to today, and I have the privilege of actually writing crime thrillers! I didn’t choose to write them in all honesty, I guess that my brain is flooded with so many questions about murder, violence and all that that entails it just came ‘naturally’ to me.

I started a course in Criminal Psychology back in 2017, and though I didn’t ‘officially’ complete it I did all the course work and it gave me a good grounding into the causes of crime, what circumstances could trigger someone to enter a life of crime and an understanding of how behaviour escalates. This is invaluable when I’m creating villanous characters. I also watch a lot of true crime programmes, listen to podcasts and read as many books about notorious (and lesser known) killers.

Now I’ve committed to writing full time, reading about criminals is no longer a guilty pleasure – it’s an essential, nay a necessity!

Last year my home library of various books grew exponentially, some for research purposes and others to try and understand those who work closely with criminals and in forensics to really get into their mindset.

Here I have listed a few that have helped me, along with those that I read ‘for fun.’

If you’ve read any of them then please do let me know, I’d be more than happy to discuss them.

Research

Forensics – The Anatomy of Crime
Val McDermid

I mean, if you’re going to learn what happens during a crime scene then there’s no better place to start than with the queen of crime fiction, Val McDermid.

In this book, Val is very open about the people she consults with for her books, and also cites real life cases breaking down the crime scene processes used by everything from the initial police involvement, through to the post mortem, DNA, digital forensics and also touches on the courtroom.

I learnt so much from reading this book, and it’s a favourite on my shelf with sticky notes poking out from nearly every page where I’ve used it to check something.

Unnatural Causes
Dr Richard Shepherd

I literally devoured this book in two sittings, it was at once fascinating, engaging and quite disturbing. The book is based on the professional life of top forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd. He details how he has helped to put serial killers behind bars, freed the innocent and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads. It’s all delivered in a very straight forward text, at times heart wrenching but always with such empathy and consideration for the victims.

Judicial System

In Your Defence
Sarah Langford

Bit of a different one for me, but it was recommended and I’m glad it was! Sarah details 11 heart-stopping cases that she has been involved with and details how the law dealt with the case and the perpetrator, from Sarah’s stance as a defence barrister.

What I truly enjoyed about this book, as gut wrenching as it was at times, was that you don’t need to have a law degree to read it. Sarah does such a fantastic job of telling the stories in a straightforward, non jargon way that it can be enjoyed by anyone.

The Prison Doctor
Dr Amanda Brown

This book was a surprise. Of course I read the blurb and some of the reviews beforehand but they didn’t do it justice in my opinion. To say this book was eye opening would be a massive understatement. As a middle class working girl, I’ve never had anything to do with the prison system and although I have a friend that works at an all female prison, for obvious reasons she doesn’t talk about what takes place inside. My only frame of reference was the TV shows (Bad Girls, Orange Is The New Black) which are so far from the true picture. I have watched Crime and Punishment (C4) but again, even though I thought that was hard hitting it was nothing compared to the experiences that Amanda describes in her boo. The care, compassion and understanding is nothing short of super human.

It’s most definitely a job that I could never do, and I’m grateful that we have people such as Dr Brown within a ruthless prison system.

Murderers

My Life with Murderers
David Wilson

David Wilson had spent his career working with the most violent criminals, men in particular as a criminal psychologist. This books tells his story from a young, idealistic prison governor to an expert criminologist and then professor. His experiences are unlike any other. He is frequently seen on TV and that’s where I first came across him. He has several books out along a similar theme but this is the first I’ve read. It’s more of a memoir than an autobiography but I was as intrigued with how David came to be where is today, as much as I was interested in the criminals he’s worked with (he refers to BTK as the almost ‘perfect’ psychopath!)

Ted Bundy – Conversations with a Killer
Stephen G. Michaud & Hugh Aynesworth

After my earlier obsession with the Zodiac killer, I moved onto Ted Bundy – who I still find fascinating. I’ve watched many, many documentaries and TV shows about him, as well as films (‘Exceedingly Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,’ was a masterpiece in my opinion.)

I have also watched the Netflix series of Conversations with a killer and all I will say is, read the book by all means but not in bed, at night! I have no idea why, maybe it was because the book is actual transcripts of real conversations so therefore you have to create the imagery and voices but I could not sleep after reading a couple of chapters. This has never happened to me before, but Ted Bundy was stood in my bedroom, having conversations with me as plain as the nose on my face! The authors do a fantastic job of asking penetrating questions but Ted Bundy also does an equally brilliant job of giving answers that taken at face value appear to be genuine and honest, but when you look at the context you can see he has his own agenda and manipulates the situation to serve his own purpose. Honestly, I am yet to finish the book!

Yorkshire Ripper – The Secret Murders
Chris Clark and Tim Tate

Now, I’m a Yorkshire girl. I’m 50 years old which means that whilst I wasn’t quite old enough for the killings to have an impact on me, I can remember the alarm around it and the newspaper stories. As with Bundy, I’ve watched several documentaries but this one, rightly, feels closer to home.

This particular book is written by a former police officer and a former journalist so the ideal combination to tell the ‘real’ story of the Ripper. For me, there were a few interesting insights into further potential victims that were overlooked or dismissed by the police simply because they didn’t have the resources that we have today. In fact, a lot of the systems that present in todays’ police service are as a result of what happened with the Ripper enquiry.

Anyway, back to the book. i enjoyed it, it was good to read another take on this well publicised case and I’d like to thank Chris for sending me a copy.

US Crime

Hands up, this one is a bit of fun! I am obsessed with Lieutenant Joe Kenda, a US cop of Homicide Hunter fame. Honestly, if there was a Mastermind challenge on the subject I would win hands down! I mean I own cups and t-shirts and everything!

I will find you
Detective Lt. Joe Kenda

Kenda has such a dry, wry sense of humour and it comes across in spades in this book. He talks about some of the cases he’s been involved in, from the gut wrenching to the hilarious. In truth, it’s just the written version of the show Homicide Hunters but for an obsessive like myself, it’s a must have!

So that’s all for now. I have read many more books than this, you can see my earlier blog post here

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