The UK seems to be in turmoil after the EU referendum, with outies fighting with innies across the land. Cat has turned on dog, husband on wife, and fish has turned on frog. There’s been no shortage of online abuse, the atmosphere has been toxic for many weeks, and even the political parties seem to be fragmenting. There’s even been an assassination.
To offer a tiny bit of unity, or at least a distraction, we thought we’d celebrate something rather than debate Brexit. Let’s take a tour of the UK and pick out some of its greatest recent crime novels, set in some of the country’s biggest and finest cities. Are you with us? We’d love to know what your favourite British crime setting is, as well as your favourite British crime novel, so do let us know in the comments bar underneath this article.
Manchester – Next to Die by Neil White
Neil White is one of those authors who really capitalised on the rise of Kindle five or six years back, and when we first started Crime Fiction Lover in 2011 his book Cold Kill was at the top of the charts. Go on a jaunt to that once great hub of Victorian textile weaving, Manchester. It’s not the mills that are dark and satanic here, though, but rather the underhandedness of the cops as they get homicide detective Sam Parker to spy on his brother, Joe, a defence lawyer representing a crime bigwig. More than one creepy killer, a labyrinthine plot… there’s plenty to take your mind off Brexit here. Read our review. For something a little more street, try a book by Tom Benn.
Birmingham – Truth or Dare by Tania Carver
Referred to as Britain’s second city, Birmingham has a huge population and land area. It’s the sort of place where a serial killer can slip away into the night quite easily… which is what often happens in books by Tania Carver. Tania Carver is actually the pseudonym for author Martyn Waites and Truth or Dare gets our recommendation as it continues the story of DI Phil Brennan and his criminal psychologist wife Marina Esposito. A killer called the Law Giver is out there dishing out vigilante justice to people who’ve previously gotten off the hook. He makes the punishment fit the crime. Read our review.
Leeds – Dark Briggate Blues by Chris Nickson
The Yorkshire metropolis of Leeds – once a city of the finest woollens – has re-invented itself in the last two decades with glamorous shopping, lovely bars and restaurants, while never forgetting its history. How could it with author Chris Nickson having written several historical crime novels set during different periods, in the city. The funkiest must be Dark Briggate Blues, which has a noir-ish feel to it and is set in the 1950s. Dan Markham is a bit like Leeds’ own Mike Hammer and after serving in military intelligence he’s become a PI. What begins as an infidelity job turns into a murder case – the murder of the man Markham was surveilling! Read our review.
Glasgow – The Red Road by Denise Mina
Scotland not only wants to remain in the EU, but it has a very strong group of independent-minded crime authors who have been definitive in British mystery fiction for the past two decades. Denise Mina is a leader among them and has a trophy cabinet of awards to show for it. The Red Road is named after a precinct of high-rise flats, cutting edge when it was built, but which became an impoverished estate. As the brutalist buildings are being demolished, DI Alex Morrow is sifting through the case of a man wrongly convicted of killing Pinky Brown 20 years back, while the woman who did the deed is out there living a new life. Read our review. See also books by Malcolm Mackay for a trip into Glasgow’s underworld.
Liverpool – The Killing Pool by Kevin Sampson
Liverpool has seen good days and bad. It was a thriving 19th century port, receiving goods from the Caribbean, and became Britain’s most fashionable city in the 1960s. New trends in clothing and music arrived from America fresh off the boat and Liverpudlian teens absorbed them with relish. The closing of the docks left entire communities destitute. Recently, the city has been defined by its search for justice for the 96 football fans killed at Hillsborough. A very direct form of killing goes on in Kevin Sampson’s The Killing Pool, which opens with the discovery of a headless corpse, and jumps between timelines in the 80s, 90s and present-day as DI Billy McCartney goes in against Liverpool’s drug lords. It was one of our top books of 2013, so read the review here. For more Liverpool crime, read the books of Luca Veste.
Newcastle – The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah
With its docks and unique local dialect, Newcastle has just as much character as Liverpool, but being on the east coast there’s a bit less rain. The Murder Wall tours Newcastle and its environs with Mari Hannah – who worked in the city’s courts and probation service for many years – as our guide. It starts off with the double murder of a priest and a nun in a Northumbrian church, and then we’re on the swanky new quayside in Newcastle were a man’s been shot dead. Who is the murderer? Or is there more than one? Read our review here. Howard Linskey is another Newcastle author worth trying.
Nottingham – Shallow Waters by Rebecca Bradley
In the heart of the East Midlands, Nottingham and the surrounding area were once the stalking ground of that mythical thief, Robin Hood. His foe, the Sheriff of Nottingham, didn’t quite have the procedural nous of Rebecca Bradley’s DI Hannah Robbins, who first appears in this self-published novel. You’ll certainly see the dark side of this city on the Trent as Robbins deals with the murder of a teenage girl – found in a dumpster with signs of sexual abuse and torture. It’s graphic and unsettling, but the procedural side is spot on. Read our review.
Belfast – Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
With the UK so riven by political discord at the moment, it’s easy to overlook Belfast’s sectarian divide – something Adrian McKinty’s Catholic RUC detective Sean Duffy sidesteps with a fist and an elbow in each of the five novels in this, er… trilogy. I could tell you to read the first one, Cold Cold Ground, but on reflection Rain Dogs is the best of them. It’s a locked-room mystery, with a young woman journalist found dead in Carrickfergus Castle, even though the keep was thoroughly locked up and searched by its caretaker the night before she was found. Duffy’s case links some dodgy Finnish tech millionaires to a whorehouse, a young offenders home, and even the paedophile Jimmy Savile. It’s got rain. It’s got dogs. It’s even got Muhammad Ali. Read the review.
Cardiff – Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer
The Welsh capital boasts both the up-and-coming author Rosie Claverton, and Harry Bingham with his highly accomplished Fiona Griffiths series. However, the best book to take place in the vicinity of the famous Tiger Bay might just be Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer, purely for its unique qualities. You’ve got to respect Bauer for never falling into a series rut – she writes one-off originals that always astound. Here we have Patrick Fort, a teenager with Aspergers syndrome. Some people with Aspergers fixate on computer games, others obsessively collect Star Trek DVDs. Patrick’s forte is dead bodies. He’s fascinated by them and becomes an anatomy student at Cardiff University. While learning dissection, his finely tuned mind picks up an anomaly in the corpse which actually puts him in danger… Meanwhile, a former coma patient thinks they’ve seen a murder but can’t quite remember the details. It’s a bit like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but with human bodies. Read our review.
Bristol – The Chosen Dead by MR Hall
Giovanni Caboto, AKA John Cabot, was one of Bristol’s most famous residents when, in 1497 he sailed off to discover North America, about four hundred years after the Vikings landed there. Even back then immigrants were contributing to the economy. Today the city’s famous for its relaxed atmosphere, the Bristol Sound, and street artist Banksy. Let’s not forget MR Hall, though, a lawyer turned crime writer whose ‘babbers’ in writing terms include the ‘gurt lush’ crime novel The Chosen Dead. This is a forensics piece featuring coroner Jenny Cooper, and it involves the disappearance of a biotech big cheese from Arizona in the 80s, the defection of a Russian professor a few years later, and the apparent suicide of an aid worker in present-day Bristol. Also, a mystery disease kills the child of one of Cooper’s friends. Could all these disparate events be somehow linked? Well, jump onto the M32 to find out. Read the review.
London – Real Tigers by Mick Herron
Well, London is just as over-catered for in terms of crime novels as it is in terms of government investment. So we’re not putting it at the top of our list this time but we will tell you about a slightly surreal crime novel, which delves into the sub-genre of espionage. Real Tigers is part of Mick Herron’s Slough House series, and things get underway when a Father for Justice, dressed as Spider-Man, is thrown off the top of a London building by Batman. Then we have the abduction of a woman who was about to meet an old flame for a drink. River Cartwright of the Slough House team – a set of marginalised MI5 operatives – is sent a picture of the missing woman, who’s gagged and bound. Paper tigers, real tigers, espionage, counter-espionage, and all within a single security department. Read the review. We can also recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.
Edinburgh – Even Dogs in the Wild
From England’s capital, we take the flying Scotsman north to that Caledonian jewel, Edinburgh. Ian Rankin is the name when it comes to Edinburgh crime fiction and as we await his 21st Rebus novel, Rather Be the Devil, we’re going to recommend the 20th, Even Dogs in the Wild. It’s a testament to Rankin that he keeps his Rebus stories fresh and inventive, and has not only developed the characters over the last 30 years, but has added to the cast with fascinating new ones. Here, the surly Rebus has come out of retirement, and his longtime underworld adversary Big Ger Cafferty looks to be in danger – someone has put a bullet through his front window. Siobhan Clarke, formerly Rebus’ protege, calls him back in to help with the case. The canines in the title? Well the internal affairs man Malcolm Fox could use a lift and there’s also the matter of a little lost dog that adds a lighter touch to the story. Read the review.