The shortlist for 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking readers on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.
The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men.
Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers, 18 to 44-year-olds.
Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26 per cent say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.
Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected New Blood’ panel, Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection. The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy.
The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House.
A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the role of Jackson Lamb.
Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title with Smoke and Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945.
Accountant turned bestseller Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham and Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke and Ashes - the third instalment - is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.
Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starring Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013.
Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’s time as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.
Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain - for which he picks up his second Theakston nod - he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet.
Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.
The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year.
Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live - and die - in the unforgiving outback and is a moving - particularly topical - study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.
The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is ...My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan BraithwaiteWorst Case Scenario by Helen FitzgeraldThe Lost Man by Jane HarperJoe Country by Mick HerronThe Chain by Adrian McKintySmoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee
T&R Theakston Executive director Simon Theakston said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits.”
The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open
The public vote for the winner is now available at www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com site with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday July 23 marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate,