Thursday 21 March 2024

Big news on the dark fiction front - at last

Humble apologies for the lengthy time lapse since my last blog post. Its the usual explanation, Im afraid. Busy, busy, busy. So many books to write, so many looming deadlines and all that. However, today is quite important on the blogging front, as I have a major announcement to make regarding my future publishing plans. More about that further down.

In addition, because I
ve been working on several new projects at the same time since this year began, a new crime novel and a new horror novella among them, I thought Id cast my eye over ten authors who are well known in the professional field for writing both crime and horror, sometimes at the same time.

Just a quick reminder that I haven
t got time to do my detailed book reviews anymore. Sorry about that, but as I said earlier, there is just too much writing of my own that I need to get on top of. That said, I still read avidly, and so will be shoving in brief, thumbnail reviews or recommendations whenever a novel or collection impresses me. You’ll find a few of those at the bottom of today’s blog.

But first of all, my ...

Big news

I’m delighted to announce that, after some lengthy negotiating, I have signed a new two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer, who most of you will hopefully recognise as Amazon Publishing. 

Both of these upcoming novels will be stand-alone crime thrillers, the first one (tentatively) titled DEATH LIST, the second (tentatively) titled THE MURDER TOUR. I say ‘tentatively’ because though both of these projects have now been agreed on with my new publishers, titles are often working-titles at this stage, and are subject to last-minute change usually thanks for forces beyond the author’s control.

The first of the two, which I’m very excited about, is scheduled for publication in June 2025, with a final date still to be set for the second.

I can’t say too much about the second one yet, but this first one, DEATH LIST, takes us to a brand new location (for me, at least): the Isles of Scilly, the southwestern-most tip of the United Kingdom, and a famously beautiful spot, a group of over 200 islands, only five of them occupied, very rural, very remote, and very tranquil, though with wild Atlantic seas raging on all sides of them, and, buried deep in the Gulf Stream, their climate sometimes more akin to the subtropics than England’s temperate norm, anything can happen here - and in DEATH LIST it will. Trust me, it really will.

I’ve been developing this novel over quite a few months, so much so that the writing has been a smooth and enjoyable experience thus far. I trust and hope it will be an enjoyable read.

Much more about this one as publication day approaches.


I need to mention, by the way, because I’m fully aware that I owe it to a lot of my readers, that DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg, my most popular and enduring fictional character to date, does NOT figure in this new deal, though this does NOT mean the next Heck novel will not be appearing in the near future.

I’m aware that I’ve promised this before, but I’m absolutely adamant that the next Heck novel, which is already written and edited, will be appearing as soon as it’s possible for me to arrange it. I can’t divulge what kind of conversations I’m having about this at present, but I assure you they are under away.

And now, as promised ...


I've often said that crime/thriller fiction and horror fiction, while superficially very different from each other, are also horns on the same evil goat. I love that catch-all phrase, Dark Fiction. To me, it basically means anything scary, disturbing and/or twisted. And that can certainly cover a wealth of sins, ranging even into fantasy, science fiction and literary. Today though, I’m going to focus on ten authors who write (or wrote) both crime and horror fiction, sometimes enclosing them in the same piece of work, but mostly pursuing them as separate disciplines. Either way, giving everything possible on both counts, keeping their ink the deepest shade of red.

I’m purposely leaving out the mixed-genre’s most prominent purveyors. Everyone already knows that Edgar Allan Poe (as illustrated here by the monstrously talented Lewandrowsky), Arthur Conan Doyle, Dennis Wheatley, Bram Stoker and Stephen King happily and successfully double-hatted for decades when it came to producing both crime-thriller and horror fiction, so there’s nothing really to be gained from mentioning them here.

Instead, let’s focus, in no particular order, on ten writers who, while not exactly unknown, may yet to be discovered either by crime or horror fans, or maybe both ...

1. Agatha Christie

Hardly unheard of as popular authors go, it may nevertheless surprise many that the official Queen of Crime was also an occasional contributor to the ghost and horror pantheon. Undoubtedly best known for her vast range of crime novels, including the multiple investigations carried out by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) still regarded as one of the best crime novels ever written, she was also a dab hand when it came to penning the spooky stuff. Halloween Party (1969), recently filmed as A Haunting in Venice, certainly qualifies as a horror novel, as, at a push, does the superlatively titled Endless Night (1967), while it wouldn’t be much of a leap to proclaim the best-selling crime novel of all time, And Then There Were None (1939), the prototype slasher tale. However, for pure unadulterated horror, look no further than Christie’s two short story collections, The Hound of Death (1933) and The Last Seance (2019), both of which are packed with ghoulish goodies.

2. Daphne du Maurier

When one thinks of Daphne de Maurier these days, one tends automatically to think of classic Gothic melodramas like Jamaica Inn (1936), My Cousin Rachel (1951) and Frenchmans Creek (1941). But Du Maurier also ventured onto the dark side of fiction, often very effectively, regularly blurring the lines between thriller and horror. The most obvious example perhaps is Rebecca (1938), a psychological thriller in truth, but also famous as the ghost novel without a ghost. Yet, it was in the short form where Du Maurier most often dabbled in grimness. The most ground-breaking of her short stories is probably The Birds (1952), which we all know so well, but it’s run a close second and third by Dont Look Now (1971) and The Blue Lenses (1959).

3. Joe R Lansdale

It’s often been said that when it comes to Joe R Lansdale’s unique brand of hardboiled Southern Noir, the crime is often indivisible from the horror. At first glance, that’s almost certainly true, Man’s utter inhumanity to his neighbour often lying at the heart of both. It’s certainly the case in searing crime novels like The Bottoms (2000), Cold in July (1989) and Freezer Burn (1999), not to mention the Hap and Leonard series, in which two very different PIs team up to investigate a range of incredibly brutal crimes. But when he’s doing actual horror, hell ... Lansdale really does horror. The Nightrunners (1987) and Hells Bounty (2016) certainly classify as out-and-out horror novels, while some of Lansdale’s short stories - By Bizarre Hands (1988), On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks (1989) and Drive-in Date (1991), to name but three, are up there among some of the most horrific ever written.

4. Joyce Carol Oates

Another true mistress of the macabre is prolific literary author, Joyce Carol Oates, who to date has produced an incredibly diverse range of material, everything from novels to short stories, from stage plays to poetry. However, huge chunks of all of those reside in the darkness. It probably wouldn’t be true to say that Oates favours the traditional type of crime novel, the police procedural or archetypical mystery thriller, but again, crime - and quite often murderous crime - is a regular feature of her work. And as with so many others on this list, her thrillers, which are often strongly psychological, overlap into the world of horror, though all are notable for their deeper than usual analysis of the human condition. Some of her best thrillers to date include the novels, Snake Eyes (1992) and Zombie (1995), though perhaps the pick of her horror writing can be found in her short stories. Tales like The Ruins of Contracoeur (1999) and Face (2007) are truly chilling.

5. Sarah Pinborough

Though she is without doubt one of the most popular authors working in genre fiction today, Sarah Pinborough is a writer for whom the term ‘cross-genre’ could have been invented. She made a big name for herself in YA, but has also gone on to win huge acclaim for her adult-themed books, and screenplays. Again, the focus tends to be on the darker side of the human experience, but there is also much of the fantastic to be found in Pinborough’s fiction. Her Dog-Faced Gods (2011-2013) series, for example, is set in an alternative dystopian Britain, while the Fairy Tale (2013) series, though dark and transgressive, draws on many popular fairy tales. Meanwhile, her crime novel, Mayhem (2913), pursues the famous Victorian-era Torso Killer, but again with fantastical elements woven in, while more conventional seeming domestic thrillers like Behind Her Eyes (2017) and Insomnia (2022) benefit from unusual and even otherworldly denouements. Pinborough is also a veteran of much straightforward horror, as can be seen in earlier novels like The Hidden (2004) and Breeding Ground (2006).

6. Robert Bloch

There was a time when no horror anthology would appear on the bookshelves anywhere without containing at least one Robert Bloch contribution. A writer whose career spanned an amazing 60 years, Bloch was championed as a young author by none other than HP Lovecraft, though he rarely dipped into that specific Lovecraftian brand of cosmic horror, much preferring to focus on twisted psychology and manmade mayhem. That said, Bloch, who produced hundreds of pieces of work during his career, both short stories and novels, wrote a number of books that could only really be described as crime fiction, American Gothic (1974) for example, or Night of the Ripper (1984), he also wrote horror novels, Psycho (1959) perhaps the most obvious (yes, the same one that Hitchcock filmed), though again there was an element of cross-over there. Among his horror short stories, some of the most anthologised and certainly some of the most bone-chilling, include Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (1962) and The Night Before Christmas (1980).

7. Charles Birkin

Though Charles Birkin first came to prominence editing the famous Creeps anthologies of the 1930s, his heyday as a writer was after World War II. He is nearly always remembered as a horror writer, though he produced a huge volume of fiendishly unpleasant short stories, the ‘conte cruels’ as they used to be called, rather than supernatural tales, which straddled both the crime and the horror genres. Birkin was much less interested in ghosts and goblins than he was in mankind’s own capacity for madness and cruelty, often dealing with serial murder, torture and insanity. The great anthologist, Hugh Lamb, said of him: ‘If you are at all sensitive, leave him well alone’. In fact, given that he was writing in a relatively innocent age, many of the fictional situations he conjured up were almost unimaginable. In Kiss of Death (1964), a jilted lover stricken with leprosy determines to have one last night of passion with the woman who left him at the altar. In Green Fingers (1965), a concentration gamp guard’s mistress has no idea what he regularly buries in her garden even though it ensures that she wins lots of prizes at the horticultural festival. Much of his work is out of print today, but that’s not because (as is sometimes assumed) he’s been banned; it’s simply that time has moved on. However, many of his collections can still be acquired second-hand, but be warned: they are excessively dark and twisted.

8. John Connolly

The bulk of John Connolly's literary output to date concerns his blue-collar hero, Charlie Parker. There are 21 Parker novels to date (and counting). An ex-cop turned private investigator, Parker’s career appears to walk a tightrope between a Noirish world of gangsters, hitmen and serial killers and the realm of the out-and-out supernatural. Some folks in the world of publishing, conveniently forgetting John Connolly, might tell upcoming wannabes that you just can’t do this, that you can't blend such different genres together so seamlessly. Well, they need to check out outstanding cross-genre novels like A Game of Ghosts (2017) and The Whisperers (2010). Connolly has also gone full horror mode with the two collections of short stories he has published to date, Nocturnes (2004) and Night Music (2015), in which can be found some exceptional terror tales.

9. Peter James

Peter James is probably best known these days for his long-running Roy Grace crime series set in Brighton, the tired but good-hearted cop called constantly to investigate complex and often sadistic murder cases. Among the best of these are Dead Simple (2005) and Looking Good Dead (2006). The books dwell totally in the real world and are probably among the best examples of modern British detective fiction. But many may not know that James commenced his writing career penning horror, and by that, I mean real horror, as in the unashamedly supernatural variety. Early examples of this, all well worth checking out, include Sweet Heart (1990) and Prophecy (1992), though he hasn’t given up on the supernatural stuff yet. Much more recent full-blooded horror novels of his include The House on Cold Hill (2015) and The Secret of Cold Hill (2019). James has also published A Twist of the Knife (2014), a collection of crime and horror shorts containing several exquisite examples of the shortform bone-chiller.

10. Ira Levin

Beautifully described by Stephen King as ‘the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels,’ Ira Levin didn’t produce an immense body of work, though what he did turn out was distinguished by its quality. His first novel, A Kiss Before Dying (1953), which won the Edgar Award, is one of probably only two real crime novels of his, as it follows the career of an amoral young man and his quest to murder his way to the top of a corporate family, while the other, Sliver (1991), is a creepy murder mystery set in a modern day high-rise, though Levin added to his crime/thriller canon with the famous stage play, Deathtrap (1978). In horror terms, he will best be remembered for Rosemarys Baby (1967), which lit the blue touch-paper to an entire cycle of Satanic horror thrillers in the decade that followed. His other horrors were a little more off-the-wall, and perhaps could also be classified as science fiction, The Boys From Brazil (1976) seeing a war crimes investigator uncover a fiendish plot to clone Adolf Hitler, and more famously, The Stepford Wives (1972), in which the entire female population of a secluded town is replaced by identical but compliant androids. As you can see, Levin didn’t exactly produce a tidal wave of material, but he is still one of the greats.


As I’ve already said, I’ll be inserting these into future blogs whenever I have something to share. There won’t always be as many as this, but it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t at least refer you all to these latest works of dark fiction to have passed through my hands.

by Verity M Holloway (2023)

In 1917, two young misfits, shipped to a remote marshland retreat to keep them out of the trenches, become fearful that something strange and evil is lurking in the woods nearby. Remarkable and dazzling. Triumphant evocation of time and place, laced tight with strangeness and dread. Verity Holloway sets a new high bar for ghost story writers.
by Will Dean (2023)

A dead ship on the ocean dark; a conspiracy that seems too incredible to be true. Modern mystery thrillers don’t get much more mysterious or thrilling than this new one from Will Dean. 

Twists and turns galore fuelled by steadily intensifying terror. You cannot stop reading.

by Steve Alten (2021)

Another ocean-going roller coaster ride from Steve Alten. Exhilarating terror as primordial horrors battle modern tech in the abyssal depths, with many a cast member chomped. 

If you like your turquoise seascapes stained with crimson, this one’s for you.

by Celia Fremlin (1959)

Deceptively genteel psycho-thriller of the classic era. Celia Fremlin always possessed a devilishly sharp eye for people and places but here piles on the tension and terror. 

Witty as hell but deliciously dark too. Rises steadily to a nerve-tautening climax and a killer twist.
by Greig Beck (2018)

Jaws-type deep sea chiller, as an earthquake opens the door to an underground ocean environment and a beast of nightmare emerges. Impressively written and robustly researched. 

Quality techno-horror alternates with high adventure as Man’s most ancient nemesis churns him to chum.

by Christopher Harman (2023)

Robert Aickman meets Ramsey Campbell in this jarring collection of off-kilter tales. Suggestion triumphs over exposition, oddball characters lurk, half-seen horrors abound. 

Beautifully and concisely written, and thick with an atmosphere of doom. Another gorgeously packaged collection of nasty treats from Sarob.

by Ronald Malfi (2022)

Four novellas from Hell’s library. The ‘choose your own path’ adventure novel that morphs into terrifying reality. The gangland brothers whose mission to deliver a forbidden book pits them against nightmarish opponents. The children’s pop-up book that always means death for someone. The book with a mind (and soul) of its own. What else can I say? Malfi delivers again.
by Various (2024)

A father’s trip into a world of madness to rescue his lost son. The worn-out writer increasingly alarmed by the mysterious entity on the snow-clad roof. The badly behaved children in the Victorian nursery, and the governess who calls on Krampus to tame them. 

An absorbing trip into traditionally themed festive terror from a host of quality authors.

by Jeffrey Konvitz (1974)

Interesting horror novel of yesteryear. Not particularly great writing, but a Satanic chiller which, for once, does not concern itself with possession. 

Michael Winner’s 1977 adaptation worked in parts but was tasteless and controversial. I’d certainly be interested in seeing a remake, so long as they reduced the shock factor and upped the genuinely eerie mystery.

by Michael Stone and Gary Brucato (2019)

An absolute must for any crime, thriller and even horror writer’s bookshelf. Two eminent psychoanalysts scientifically quantify the nature and meaning of evil in the modern world. A deep dive into modern man’s propensity for viciousness and depravity, illustrated by hundreds of terrifying case studies. 

Strong stomachs are required, but the quest to pinpoint the causes of and find solutions for the most negative and destructive forces in ‘civilised’ humanity is admirable. Totally absorbing.

by Agatha Christie (1967)

An amoral chancer lucks into marriage with a pretty heiress, and together they build the house of their dreams in a stretch of idyllic woodland, which is reputedly cursed. What could go wrong? 

A famous chiller from Agatha Christie’s moody psychological era. Not as disturbing now as it was in ’67, when unreliable narration wasn’t a thing … but it’s not a long read, so it’s worth your time.

by Stephen King (2015)

Not so much horror, but certainly horrific. In the age of high school shootings and rustbelt America, the old master wreaks blood and chaos via the hand of a quietly deranged suburbanite, peeling back the layers of his fragile sanity while sending a typical band of misfits racing against time to thwart his maniac schemes. 

A tad leisurely in parts, but a gripping read overall.

by Alison Moore (2012)

A middle-aged man takes a Rhineland walking holiday to recuperate after the breakup of his marriage, and ruminates on his unhappy life, at the same time unaware that he is drifting into danger. Alison Moore’s debut novel, and a dark, dreamlike study of neglect, isolation and futility. 

Perfectly written (at 183 pages, an easy read), deeply thought-provoking and achingly sad.