Harrogate Dispatches #3: New Blood Panel With Val McDermid


I say it every year, but the New Blood panel, hosted by Val McDermid, is one of the highlights of the festival. Why? Well, as a fan of crime fiction it’s always interesting to hear panellists talk about their work – and not least debut writers – who present a raw, often unvarnished and unrehearsed version of their journey to publication. This year’s panel was another cracker.

In the capable hands of McDermid, who’s always such a fantastically supportive and genuinely enthusiastic supporter of young, fresh talent, the panel comprised Fiona Cummins, Joseph Knox, Jane Harper and Kristen Lepionka. Here’s a short bit of info on each book:

Fiona Cummins
He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he’s just like anyone else. But in the other, he is the caretaker of his family’s macabre museum. Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt. Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs. What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey’s father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions. Set in London’s Blackheath, Rattle explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge. It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it’s also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.

Joseph Knox
When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realises Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?

The Dry
Jane Harper
In the small town of Kiewarra, it hasn’t rained for two years. Swept up in the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, the town crackles with seething malice and unvoiced grudges. Tensions in the community are at breaking point when three members of the Hadler family are suddenly brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty but is he just an easy scapegoat? Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

The Last Place You Look
Kristen Lepionka
A beautiful blonde teenager, Sarah Cook disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. As his execution nears, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look at this cold case.Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane is drawn to the story of Sarah’s disappearance, especially when she suspects a link between it and one of her father’s unsolved murder cases. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that she can save Brad’s life and her own.

So those were the books and authors – hand-picked by McDermid – and each one is starkly different in terms of setting and tone. Sirens, for instance, is a fantastic Manchester-based noir, which feels at once familiar and fresh; Rattle is a terrifying serial killer story with a seriously macabre modus operandi; The Dry is an atmospheric thriller set in a sweltering Australian town; and The Last Place You Look breaths new life into the often-neglected PI genre.

It’s always interesting to hear how these authors got started. For Cummins, a series of family tragedies compelled her to give up the day job as a showbiz journalist and give writing a real crack. Nothing like some horrific personal circumstance to focus the mind and give perspective. Knox, on the other hand, had worked in a bar in Manchester and, because of a history of insomnia, had paced the streets at night, feeling the city throb and hum in the early hours and breathing in its atmosphere. Cummins and Harper had both undergone writing courses to help hone their skills.

Another inspirational, interesting panel.

NB: I write this really quickly, so forgive any typos and strangely-written sentences


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