National Crime Reading Month

Celebrating National Crime Reading Month 2023

I’m taking a moment to catch my breath and look back over National Crime Reading Month and it feels like it is getting better and better each year.   This is the first year I’ve been directly involved with the campaign and, for me, there was a real buzz about it even before the start.  It felt like jumping on a train which was already moving as authors, libraries, media, bookshops big and small were eager to know more about and celebrate crime fiction. Of course, I quickly realised that Sam Blake and other colleagues from the Crime Writers Association (CWA) and the Reading Agency had already laid the tracks.  In fact they probably built the train.

We kicked off with simultaneous launches in London, Belfast and Edinburgh.  It seems like more than a month ago now but launch events alone brought almost 300 crime lovers together with some of the UK’s biggest authors – Steve Cavanagh’s star-studded online event reached another 150.  Most importantly, readers attended in numbers too and I believe they caught the same sense of excitement as I did.

There have been over 150 events listed at crimereading.com from Scotland to the Channel Islands, online and in person including workshops, talks, panel events, crime board game sessions (what a fabulous idea) with huge support from libraries – there was ‘literally’ something for everyone.

I know this has only been possible due to the incredible energy and positivity (and courage) of crime fiction authors going out there online or in person to talk to readers about their books.  I can speak personally about the courage part of this equation as this has also been my first year of running author events myself.  On an impulse, I went into my county library and asked what they were planning for NCRM.  It was gloomy old February and it all seemed a long way off but they knew about the campaign and had some ideas. Maybe my surprise visit (surprise to me as well) encouraged these ideas into being a plan.

This seems a good point to give a shout out to all libraries and librarians as they have shown their support in so many ways.  From book displays to chocolate biscuits; in facilitating events and in their warm support for nervous authors. My own events at Worcerstershire libraries included all four of these elements.  I was bowled over by knowledgeable crime readers who put us through our paces at Malvern Library where I was on a panel with Jacquie Rogers, Duncan Peberdy and Sarah Hawkswood.  We fielded lots of informed questions from the enthusiastic crime reading fraternity and expert librarians.  And I haven’t forgotten the crime reading club in Worcestershire who told me with a twinkle that they give their authors a score out of ten!

Our ambassadors have done a fantastic job of promoting events and supporting other authors.  In being involved with the ambassadors and the CWA, I’ve felt even more part of a crime-writing community and witnessed firsthand authors’ generosity and warmth.  An example of this is the Waterstones blog, which you can also read on the website, in which authors recommend their own favourite crime books.  We have a link on the site to the Waterstones recommended reads plus podcasts and posts so readers can read/watch back after June.

There were plenty of online events too, enabling more people to attend – even across continents. I confess to a favourite online session.  Emma Christie is one of our Scottish ambassadors and has been running online sessions all month from her camper van as she tours Albania.  The one I attended had the theme of writing about remote locations, which seemed appropriate, and Emma has showcased a wide range of Scottish crime fiction talent in her sessions.  Emma admits that it’s been a challenge at times to host events from the campervan.  But, she adds, ‘it’s very apt as well. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you’ll find crime fiction and crime fiction writers!’  You can see examples of events – including some videos of these and other online sessions at crimereading.com

This year we decided to highlight the many subgenres within ‘crime’. We made a conscious decision to be as inclusive as we can.  In every sense.  Although there is definitely more we can do on this next year, I’m proud of the range of people and their books that were on show.  We involved all the Chapters in the CWA and had a magnificent response from members plus of course other authors, the libraries, independent bookshops and Waterstones nationwide.

I have to tell you about another first.  This year, a school got on board in spreading an interest in crime fiction. In Yavneh College in Borehamwood, librarians ran a series of crime-related events. Students were treated to a crime-themed ‘books and biscuits’, a regular lunchtime reading event for years 7-11s. They ran their first ever school-wide ‘murder mystery’ with clues in the library and beyond to work out whodunnit. The CWA’s Abi Silver was invited to speak on different types of crime fiction; psychologist Brendi Waks ran a fascinating session on psychopaths for sixth formers and Carl Woolf, criminal advocate, discussed his murder cases. They said, ‘We have made book displays, including crime fiction, psychology and true crime, and there is a real buzz amongst our students!’  Again this gives us inspiration for next year.

National Crime Reading Month cultimates with the Daggers, the CWA’s internationally recognised awards held on 6th July in London when the best of crime writing is recognised.

For me, I’ve found that it’s exciting to get out there and meet readers, who gave me all sorts of insights and ideas about what they love to read.  I feel even more part of a crime-writing and reading community, who are generous and informed and who are themselves supported by some great organisations such as LoveReading.com, the Crime Writers Association and the Reading Agency.  With this sort of track record, I’ve got to believe NCRM 2024 will continue to inspire and include on an even bigger scale.

(c) Linda Mather

Linda Mather, author of the Jo Hughes murder mysteries available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09NJMX371

Find me on Twitter @ILindaMather and Instagram @lindamather.writer


Dreda Say Mitchell MBE and Louise Candlish, both Quick Reads authors, in conversation with Abir Mukherjee at the launch on National Crime Reading Month in Waterstones Piccadilly.

Steve Cavanagh and friends discuss their inspirational reads

Watch bestselling thriller writer and NCRM Ambassador Steve Cavanagh host a panel of crime authors to kick off National Crime Reading Month 2023!

CWA and Reading Agency hail National Crime Reading Month as the biggest to date

National Crime Reading Month (NCRM), has been hailed as the biggest campaign to date, with over 100 crime fiction events hosted across the UK and Ireland this June.

A HUGE thank you from the NCRM team to everyone who got involved!

Ambassadors of NCRM include giants of the genre Ian Rankin, Anthony Horowitz and L J Ross, who helped amplify the campaign in the media reaching an online audience of over 80 million; features ran in the Telegraph and across BBC radio, with a Twitter campaign #PickUpAPageTurner.

The successful month coincides with the news that the genre dominates Amazon book sales.

Amazon announced Lee Child’s Jack Reacher titles are the bestselling book series of all time, followed by self-published author L J Ross, the Roy Grace books by Peter James, and the Detective Kim Stone Crime thrillers by Angela Marsons. Harry Potter books came in fifth.

The major initiative by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), ran in partnership with the charity, The Reading Agency, to get the nation reading. NCRM culminated in the prestigious CWA Dagger Awards, announced on 29 June.

The campaign was led by CWA board member and NCRM director, the bestselling crime writer, Sam Blake.

Sam said: “After flagship launch events in London, Dublin and Cork, NCRM was embraced online and off by libraries, bookshops, bloggers, writers and readers. It shows the incredible appetite for this genre, and the positive role it can play in encouraging reading. Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity was a touchstone of the project, and online events, podcasts and interviews are still available on the NCRM website.”

One in six adults in the UK struggle with reading and one in three adults do not regularly read for pleasure. England ranks 23rd out of 23 OECD nations for literacy level amongst 16–19-year-olds, and studies have shown that those who do read for pleasure have higher levels of self-esteem and a greater ability to cope with difficult situations.

A number of crime authors feature in The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads series, including NCRM ambassadors, the authors MW Craven and Vaseem Khan.

Maxim Jakubowski, Chair of the CWA, said: “National Crime Reading Month is all about bringing new books to readers and new readers to pacy exciting books that will keep them reading.”

Appointing regional ambassadors across the UK, to support the CWA’s own bookshop and library ambassadors, ensured that events ran from Cornwall to Scotland, as well as in Ireland, north and south.

Ambassadors include authors Steve Cavanagh, MW Craven, Elly Griffiths, Alis Hawkins, Anthony Horowitz, Vaseem Khan, Nadine Matheson, Louise Phillips, Ian Rankin, LJ Ross, Robin Stevens and Sarah Ward.

Sam added: “As our ambassador Anthony Horowitz, who has written over 40 books including the bestselling Alex Rider teen spy series, said: ‘National Crime Reading Month is a great idea. Really there should be twelve of them a year.’”

To catch up on any NCRM interviews, podcasts and content, go to our homepage!

Twitter #PickUpAPagerTurner Crime Short Story Challenge: The Shortlist

We had a fabulous reaction to our Twitter #PickUpAPagerTurner Crime Short Story Challenge, with some brilliant entries. Judges Vaseem Khan, Stella Oni and Sam Blake had a tough time chosing the shortlisted 12. Now Literary Agent Simon Trewin will chose the winner!

Here are the shortlisted stories:

Victoria Selman @VictoriaSelman

@the_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner The man comes home, shrugs off his jacket with a sigh. Another long day. ‘Take a weight off,’ his wife says. Hands him a beer. In the grate, is a note. The words ground to ash: ‘She knows…’ ‘My saviour,’ the man says. Drinks. His wife only smiles.


Jill Cucchi (Editor | Translator | Archaeologist) @JillCucchi

It was the teapot that disturbed him. Handle to the left. Small crack in the spout. Everything about the crime scene was spotless. But this? This didn’t fit. And if it didn’t fit, it meant she knew. And if she knew, it meant he was a dead man walking. @The_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner


Anne Hamilton @AnneHamilton7

#pickupapageturner @The_CWA She’s come back, after 2 missing months. She looks like Nell, sounds like her, acts like her. But it’s not Nell. Why can no-one else see it’s not Nell? Her eyes worry me. Wide and blank, with that mottled hue of the sea on the day I drowned her.


G.E.MAGEE @rivuletsofblack

“Aw young love” sighed the waiter. The couple were in a world of their own; laughing, holding hands, intimately sharing dessert. She gazed at her perfect lover; the handsome doctor. He held her gaze, his perfect lady; a heart donor for his dying wife. #PickUpAPageTurner @The_CWA


Nicola McEntee @mcentee_nicola

Rob sobered up as his head hit the steering wheel. Feeling a sense of déjà vu, he slowly glanced in the rear view mirror. 3 dead nuns, stared opened eyed. He didn’t own a car or drive. A phone began ranging in his pocket, only these weren’t his clothes @The_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner


Simon Bewick @SimonBewick

The envelope arrived Monday. “Bring $1 million to Green’s Warehouse Noon Saturday or the kid gets it.” The cop stationed at the mansion read it and sighed, wondering how to tell the parents. Behind him the TV droned on about the mail strike ending. It hadn’t been well advertised


Rutholearywriter @rutholearywrite

@The_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner Josie looks at the photo of the old woman one last time before burning it. Looking in the mirror, she straightens her home help uniform impressed with her disguise. No revolver needed this time. Madame Lafayette’s old thin neck will snap like a twig.


CM Shevlin @cmshevlin

I have a secret. Do you want to hear it? Shhh now. Real quiet. If you’re good, I’ll take the blindfold off. Oh, such pretty blue eyes. Ready? I don’t really care about the ransom. I’m not going to let you go even if they do pay it…#PickupAPageTurner @The_CWA


Allie Nickell @alliethinks

She’d been watching the gang for a while, and when one of them dipped hand into bag, she was on her feet, shouting to warn the victim. All the fuss after an attempted theft made it the best time for a helpful, middle-aged woman to bag a wallet or two. #PickUpAPageTurner @The_CWA


Jenny Darmody @Jenny_Darmody

The postman hands me a large brown envelope. “Lovely morning,” he says and I smile back, careful to hide my bloodstained arm. Once he leaves, I return to the body in the kitchen. “Look honey,” I say as I open the post. “Your new will arrived.” @the_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner


N0mad @tr1be77

Guilty as charged. The judge sent me down. The justice machine creaked forward. The victim remained dead. The family raised a fist. The wife shed a tear. The lawyer rubbed his hands. The clerk went to the pub. And a guilty man walked free. @the_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner


Fino @DaSpooney

#PickUpAPageTurner @The_CWA Sleeping in my car since the last protest march. Loved that chaotic protest – got close to women. Intimidate, grope, legit baton drawn. But a mistake to follow that girl afterwards. Being a cop won’t save me this time – not with her body in the boot.


Bookishly Optimistic @BookishlyOptim1

She watched him over her glass of wine, silently willing him to drink up,right to the end, every last poisonous drop. She smiled salaciously as she killed him. Not knowing that he  doing the. exact. same. thing @The_CWA #PickUpAPageTurner


And out winner, as chosen by Literary Agent Simon Trewin is:

G.E.MAGEE @rivuletsofblack

“Aw young love” sighed the waiter. The couple were in a world of their own; laughing, holding hands, intimately sharing dessert. She gazed at her perfect lover; the handsome doctor. He held her gaze, his perfect lady; a heart donor for his dying wife. #PickUpAPageTurner @The_CWA

Congratulations to everyone and a huge thanks to all the writers who got involved and kept Twitter reading crime!

Murder Mysteries Are My Comfort Food

by Robin Stevens

In the first months of the pandemic, I stopped being able to do much of anything. I wandered blankly through my life, being extremely calm and sensible and placing orders for two blueberry bushes, 100 tortillas and a 3kg tub of hummus. A lot of things sounded like good ideas in March and April 2020 that in retrospect were not.

I also spent a lot of time lying in a hammock and reading. I tried a lot of different books, but it turned out that the only thing I was actually able to focus on was crime fiction. I read The Moonstone, The Murder on the Links and The Body in the Library (I tried to read The Mirror Crack’d but gave up because … well, if you know you know). Then I moved on to more recent mysteries – Sadie, Rules for Perfect Murders, One Of Us is Next.

On paper (sorry), it does not make sense that, at one of the darkest moments in all of our lives, I sought refuge in murder mysteries. A lot is said, and rightly, about the comforting power of books. They are windows on other worlds, passports to distant places, marvellous escapes. The idea of escaping to a story where lots of people die does not immediately sound much fun. But what I have known for years, and what I proved (unfortunately) in spring 2020, is that there’s nothing more comforting than murder.

The world of a murder mystery might seem violent, random and cruel, but there’s really nothing more carefully balanced and rule-bound. For the story to work, only the victims selected by the author can die. Only the murderer or murderers can kill them. And the culprits must always be caught by the detective or detectives, or in some other way unmasked before the readers. A pandemic, a war, a pointless twist-of-fate accident – none of those things can be allowed to happen in a crime novel, or if they do happen they must somehow tie into the overarching plot. A crime novel concerns itself only with solveable, human-size problems – it exists in a universe where justice exists, where wrongdoers are punished, where the good are rewarded. There is nothing more like fantasy than a well-plotted murder mystery.

The idea that murder mysteries are comforting is, of course, not a new thesis, and it’s also something that’s fascinatingly easy to prove. Although crime and murder are perennially interesting to human beings, it’s possible to tie boomtimes for crime fiction to historical moments of particular crisis. The ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction in the UK, in the 20s and 30s, came after the singular devastations of the first world war and the 1918 flu pandemic. Faced with so much desperate, meaningless loss, readers wanted to see deaths treated as something important, something that could be fixed and solved and made whole again. And writers wanted to create heroes who could make sense of the senseless, who had not just survived but overcome the terrors of war. Dorothy Sayers’ detective Wimsey suffers from shellshock, and Poirot was partly created from Christie’s experiences of Belgian refugees near her home – and in the books they star in they are almost godlike figures, able to distinguish right from wrong, to reassure, and ultimately to make safe.

My detectives Daisy and Hazel were invented in the 2010s, but they exist in a 1930s world, and they fulfil all the same functions of reassurance and truth-telling for both their readers and for their author. I created them because I needed a place of safety and certainty, and their stories have become safe places for thousands of readers. And we need those safe places now more than ever.

I am not surprised to see the period we are living through – conflict all around us, a pandemic that we fear to mention but that nonetheless weighs on our every action – becoming a new golden age of detective fiction. In the chaos of the real world we need the certainty, the repetition and the boundaries of genre fiction, and we especially need the kind of care and sense of safety that only a really good murder mystery can give. I am so proud to be able to give that to my readers – I don’t think that there is a higher honour than to have written books that can be with people at the moment they need comfort the most.

On the Pleasure of Dread

by Liza Costello

My second novel Crookedwood began on some level, years ago, when I passed a signpost for a place called Crookedwood. That may sound like a bad writing joke but it’s true. The real Crookedwood is a village in the Irish midlands, but back then I’d never even passed through it. The name alone was enough to worm its way into me, with its evocation of a dark and knotted heart, until the only thing to do was write it back out.

It wasn’t the first time a piece of fiction began for me with a disquieting place. My first novel The Estate took root the day my late father and I, on an aimless midlands drive during the recession, found ourselves in an eery ghost estate, the only sound the erratic chirping of birds. But I suppose it’s no surprise that a writer of psychological thrillers should get their inspiration from unsettling places. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and this form’s forebear, the Gothic novel, was about nothing if not about creeping the reader out and thus summoning that delicious feeling of dread when something seems to be glimpsed in the shadows. In The Mysteries of Udolpho and in Dracula, dread-inducing medieval castles do this work, as does the psychiatric hospital in Denis Lehane’s Shutter Island, with its web of corridors leading to locked doors – something used to full effect in Scorcese’s adaptation. In My Sister: The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s portrayal of the city of Lagos creates an equally oppressive and unsettling atmosphere, with its incessant traffic jams and rain. Whether penned in the nineteenth century or last year, the whole point in suspense novels is to ratchet up the ‘shivery delights and pernicious unease’ as someone once nailed the pleasure we get from such stories. As Hitchcock once said, ‘Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have on waking from a nightmare’.

It is Radcliffe’s Udolpho that provides the epigraph to Crookedwood. ‘She listened anxiously,’ the line reads. ‘The sounds were distant, and seemed to come from a remote part of the woods.’ Sarah, the protagonist, finds herself drawn back to the woods that border the family farm for reasons she doesn’t understand. And when that leads to trouble, instead of doing the sensible thing and giving home, not to mention the woods, a wide berth for a while, she keeps returning. It’s as though on some level she knows what she doesn’t yet understand – that not only has she stumbled upon the town’s rotten core, but her actions are also serving to loosen long-buried events of her past. And the more these memories are disturbed, the less control she has over her behaviour. Even as she realises her actions threaten her very survival, she keeps going back. The mind, she is learning, has a mind of its own, greater and deeper than the thin sliver we call consciousness.

Reading a psychological thriller/Gothic novel means following a character though her actions that lead her (and therefore us) closer and closer to an inexplicable source of dread. I can’t help feeling that in doing so, we are equipping ourselves with a kind of knowledge, shadowy and flitting, one that cannot be gained outside of fiction, and that is even to be found – or maybe especially – in those stories where the danger seems to be lurking right where she’s supposed to be safest. I won’t be the first to speculate that our need for such stories is a premordial one, as intrinsic to being human as breathing. That it comes from when we actually lived in woods, among wild creatures that really did flit half-glimpsed in the shadows, and our survival depended on perceiving them before we fully registered their presence. We may now have houses and laws and rights, but dangers are always lurking somewhere out there, unpredictable or brutal or both. As Stephen King once said, ‘We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones’.

Liza Costello is from the Irish midlands, where she and her family recently returned to live, in the same seventies bungalow in which she grew up. Her short stories and poetry have been published in places like Mslexia, The Stinging Fly, The Irish Independent and The Manchester Review. She has been shortlisted for the RTE Radio 1 Short Story Prize, among other Irish writing awards, and came joint second for the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award for an unpublished collection. Her first novel was originally published as an Audible Original, where it was chosen as a crime and thriller book of the month, before Hachette Ireland released the print version in 2021. Her second novel Crookedwood will be released this June.

Memories of Marshalswick Library: A World of Possibility

by Sam Blake

The world has changed a lot since I was a child, but one thing that has remained the same is the possibility and the excitement I feel every time I open a book.

Like Polaroid snaps, my memories of childhood are partial images – blurred at the edges – but like Polaroids, my memories are full colour. Some of the earliest are of Skyswood School in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, and Sandpit Lane where I grew up. They are disjointed and patchy, like someone tipped the album upside down and the memories floated out of it, landing in a jumble on the floor, but as I sort through them to write this I know they are all very happy, and now I come to think of it, in almost every one of them, the sun is shining. And they are dominated by books.

Some of my strongest memories are of browsing the shelves in Marshalswick Library. But first the excitement of a library trip, of the incredibly heavy double glass doors, of handing up a huge pile of books, already consumed, to be checked in. Books had tickets then, slips of card in a pocket in the front that went into a little cardboard ‘envelope’ with our details on it, the return date stamped on the front of the pocket. We had library cards for ourselves but also other members of the family, shadowy relatives who allowed us to take out the number of books we needed to keep us going for a week. Even so, choosing was always deliciously difficult.

I can still show you where the children’s section was, where I found Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse and Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I barely watched TV as a child, but read insatiably, captured by the worlds inside the covers. I’m a writer, and like many writers my childhood imagination was fed by Enid Blyton, my love of mystery starting with the Famous Five. A good book will transport you to another world, with images that stay with you long after you have put it down – that’s what I strive for in my writing, and is the thing I love in a good book. Whenever anyone mentions geraniums I still, immediately, see the sea of pink flowers in The Little White Horse. But it wasn’t just fiction, I had a fascination for snakes, for ponds, for space, and read every book available on each subject, the wonderful libraries often requesting books from other branches to keep me going.

I live in Ireland now, at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains, and recently we had a national #IrelandReads day – I was chatting online to my local librarian and the library book group and realised how similar my local library here in Ballywaltrim is to Marshalswick. A small local library, it even has those heavy glass doors!

The entrances to many libraries are automated now, but the world inside hasn’t changed since I was a child. The warm nurturing atmosphere, the quiet, hushed whispers as librarians show the next generation of bestselling authors the opportunities on each shelf. Libraries are magic kingdoms of possibility and librarians the curators of imagination, as Stephen King says. ‘Books are uniquely portable magic.’