No mystery crime is the biggest-selling genre in books | Sophie Hannah

Sales of crime novels in the UK have soared, overtaking general fiction for the first time. But this thrilling genre can be a comfort, too, says the creator of detectives Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse

It has happened at last! Finally, the literary world is a meritocracy! Crime fiction – which I first became aware of as the Best Genre Ever when I read my first Enid Blyton mystery at six years old – is now officially the UK’s bestselling genre. Nielsen Bookscan data at the London book fair has revealed that crime novels in 2017, for the first time since Nielsen’s records began, sold more than the category rather vaguely labelled “general and literary fiction”. Crime sales of have increased by 19% since 2015 to 18.7m, compared to the 18.1m fiction books sold in 2017.

This might be the first time that the genre I write, read ...

Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy review – Inspector Alleyn returns

This skilfully completed ‘continuation novel’, set in a New Zealand hospital, is an exquisite reminder of the brilliance of Marsh’s London detective

Money in the Morgue is a particular kind of crime novel: a traditional golden age-style crime novel that also falls into the subgenre of “continuation novel”, written by Stella Duffy and featuring Ngaio Marsh’s beloved detective, Inspector Roderick Alleyn of the Metropolitan Police.

Marsh wrote 32 novels featuring Alleyn, including A Man Lay Dead (1934), Surfeit of Lampreys (1941) and Death and the Dancing Footman (1942). These and other novels earned her a reputation as one of the four golden age crime queens, alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham. Although these writers are often lumped together, they were very different in their approaches. Christie put the puzzle and psychology first, whereas Marsh focused on weaving a mystery around carefully detailed and lovingly realised settings, and the ...

A prize for thrillers with no violence against women? That’s not progressive

Ignoring brutality may sound like a good idea but it won’t make it go away – we should challenge prejudice, not celebrate it

Between 2008 and 2012, I was a judge for the Eric Gregory award for poets under the age of 30. The prize was founded with the aim of encouraging young poets. Who could possibly object? One person did: a friend of mine in his 60s, who grimaced when he heard I was judging the prize. “Why is all the encouragement directed at young writers?” he asked. “What about those of us who first get published in our 50s?”

It’s true that older writers also deserve support – happily, there is the McKitterick prize, awarded annually for a first novel written by someone over 40 – but no one could reasonably claim that those wishing to bolster young poets seek actively to discourage older ones; even ...

Poirot is a show-off, but he’s brilliant. That’s why I brought him back to life

As Murder on the Orient Express brings vintage Agatha Christie back to our cinemas, novelist Sophie Hannah tells how she resurrected the brilliant Belgian detective on the page

When I heard that Kenneth Branagh was to star as Hercule Poirot in a new Hollywood film of Murder on the Orient Express, I was quietly pleased. Branagh is a brilliant actor, and I had a sense that he would be a great Poirot. There have already been several – David Suchet, Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney were excellent in their different ways – and I looked forward to seeing Branagh join their ranks.

Well, on Thursday night I did, at the Royal Albert Hall, for the movie’s world premiere. It was an impressive and lavish event attended by thousands. The smartest character, of course, was the immaculately dressed Belgian genius, Hercule Poirot. I soon saw that I’d been right to ...

Will the latest Agatha Christie adaptation be a Boxing Day hit?

An early short story by the queen of crime, The Witness for the Prosecution, will be broadcast on 26 and 27 December on BBC1 All over the country, Agatha Christie fans are facing a festive dilemma: how to make sure their relatives go to bed before 9pm on Boxing Day ahead of the first episode of The Witness for the Prosecution, the BBC’s new version of Christie’s brilliant short story that she later rewrote as a play. Why not watch it with one’s relatives, who might also be Christie fans? Don’t be daft! All true Christie fans know that even those family members who claim also to be fans might think it’s acceptable to chat, pass mince pies back and forth, or play whispered charades during the dialogue-free moments – and that simply won’t do. Continue reading...

Grip-lit? Psychological thrillers were around long before Gone Girl

Is the popularity of dark crime fiction written by women really the sign of a game-changing new genre? Only if you have forgotten PD James, Ruth Rendell, Daphne du Maurier ... “So what do you think of this new phenomenon of psychological thrillers by women?” the interviewer asked me. “You know … Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train. The sudden popularity of this sort of book is a real game-changer for the literary world, wouldn’t you agree?” “Well, I’m not sure, actually,” I said. “I think there have always been psychological thrillers – certainly for as long as I’ve been around.” Continue reading...

Agatha Christie: with drugs, violence and swearing, will the qeeen of crime recapture Christmas?

And Then There Were None is the bestselling mystery novel of all time. The new BBC adaptation could also be the TV event of the year A new three-part BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None is imminent. I’d have preferred it to be in 10 parts (to correspond with the number of suspicious deaths in the story), but I understand: one is not allowed to occupy more than 10 hours of screen time unless one is a Scandinavian in a woolly jumper. So be it. As a longstanding Agatha Christie lover, I can’t wait. I was more excited about the new And Then There Were None than I was about Christmas Day. Hours of menacing and twisty viewing pleasure. Boxing Day, in our house, is already referred to as And Then There Were None day, and I predict that this will soon become None day for short. “A ...

The Tennis Church – an original short story for Christmas by Sophie Hannah

For Charlie, Christmas with the parents-in-law was something to grin and bear. But an encounter with a long‑lost friend would show her selflessness in a different light

Sophie Hannah: ‘There are people who think a crime novel can’t be proper literature… that’s a shame for them’

“I haven’t disappeared,” said the voice on the other end of the line. No hello, no introduction, nothing.

“Pardon?” said Charlie Zailer. She never normally answered the home phone. Surely nobody below the age of 70 bothered with their landline these days? Charlie had given up doing so as soon as she’d realised that it was always one of those vacuous recorded voices saying something about insurance. Also, the cord had become progressively more tangled, which meant – after about two years, during which it had come to resemble a knotted plastic cyst – that you had to lay your cheek against ...