In Association with

Author of the Month

Name: Frances Fyfield

First book: A Question of Guilt

Most Recent Book: Safer than Houses

‘…like Highsmith, Fyfield is more interested in her characters and the depths they would be willing to plunge in to under certain circumstances.’


Sarah Fortune lives in a flat that was given to her by a kindly judge in his will. She can’t imagine why he displayed such a kind gesture, but she now enjoys the life that a mortgage life brings her. However, she has started receiving missives stating that the apartment does not belong to her and that the writer of these crude letters should be the real occupant of the flat.

At the same time, a man called Henry is being tormented by his neighbour, a dreadful woman who lives in the flat above his called Celia Hornby. She creates noises at unsuitable hours, marks the landing carpet and harasses him in ways that make Henry cringe and curl up like a baby, wishing the vile woman away.

Soon, Henry and Sarah meet and decide that they should swap apartments to escape their own little drama and also for Sarah to possible confront Celia about making Henry’s like such a misery. However, Sarah soon finds out who has been sending her the letters and it seems that an echo of an old enemy has come back in to her life. But that is not the only thing. Someone is playing with fire, quite literally, and someone is definitely going to get his or her fingers burned!



One approaches a Fyfield book not expecting to have the usual murder, investigation and then the end revelation when the murderer is revealed. Frances Fyfield is more interested in the people who occupy her novels and what events they bring about by their own hand.

Safer Than Houses is peopled with the same souls who have been with Sarah for some time. Dulcie has known Sarah from the beginning and brings a very humane feel to the story. She is at times strong, but then can also be as weak as a kitten and all the more loveable for it. The character I really warmed to was the arsonist; Alan and I do hope that he and his little insecurities will be in the next Sarah Fortune novel.

I always associate Fyfield with the wonderful crime writer, Patricia Highsmith. Like Highsmith, Fyfield is more interested in her characters and the depths they would be willing to plunge in to under certain circumstances, usually of their own devising. She beautifully describes Sarah as a woman who uses sex to get her advantage but never makes you think that Sarah is a slut. The novel goes along subtlety and the writing, as always with Fyfield, is first class. Another quirky, yet satisfying stage in the misfortunes of Sarah Fortune.

Reviewed By C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) How would you describe the kinds of books you write?

Non conventional, character led thrillers, very English, often with a legal background. Hugely based on London, and the Sea. Oh, and paintings and Interiors.

2) What is your favourite crime read of all time?

Impossible to say. Ross Thomas? Raymond Chandler? Simenon? PD James?

3) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?

I’m not a crime fan any more than a fan of all fiction. I have a BA in English Literature, and an LLB in Law. I read anything and everything. Crime is better than most fiction, because at least it follows the imperative to tell a good, strong story, and does it best. ‘We must have blood’ said Dickens. I admire the best writers from any genre, but in this one, Chandler for the wit, Simenon for the pathos, and PD James for the prose. Also Anthony Trollope, Dickens, and Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, who taught me all about suspense and reading under the bed clothes. Anyone who writes a good story well, will do for me.

4) Who, in your eyes, is pushing the boundaries of crime fiction today – and why?

Christopher Brookmyre does. For proving that Crime Fiction works best with a combination of glorious imagination, horror and well as wisdom and marvellous prose. Mark Billingham, also, and Reginald Hill, who made it into an erudite, questioning Art form, long ago. Minette Walters always refreshes with suprises.

5) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?

‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins.

6) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?

Black and White, sepia, anything. It’s the shades which count, and leave room for imagination. Grisham works really well on screen, though, but I think some of the greatest crime movies can be those made for the screen, rather than adapted. Ok, Chandler in black and white works best for me.

7) Some of the West and Bailey novels were transferred to T.V. Do you think the adaptations were faithful to the books? Were the actors who played the main protagonists close to how you perceived them in your mind?

You don’t transfer a book to TV, someone reinvents it. I’ve had several done on TV. The first was long ago, when Helen was played by Cherie Lunghi, who was pretty close. Then one with Juliet Stephenson and Jim Calvert, which was brilliant. (Trial be Fire, available from Amazon. Then a series of three, featuring Amanda Burton.
Fine, but not my Helen West. All my fictional leading ladies have to be capable of giggling, sometimes.

8 ) Do you think that you will write another West and Bailey one day?

Nope. Something featuring one or other one them, yes. They were there for their individual characters. There are other characters, just as important to me, aching to have space.

9) You are a criminal lawyer. How much of what you deal with on a professional basis goes in to the plots of your novels?

I have dealt with death and murder, one way and another, over many years. My father was a doctor, whose expertise was curative, pre operative anaesthesia. I became a criminal lawyer, but death was already tea time talk when I was small. In the beginning, I wanted to write about the impact of violence, and the innocence of victims. As a criminal lawyer, I was most inspired by photos of the dead, equally inspired by the kindness of human beings and the black humour which attends tragedy. Now, whatever my experience, I want to write characters who charm, as well as alarm. Because that’s real life.

10) Where do you see Crime fiction going next?

Anywhere it wants. I hope the next generation concentrates on quality as well as sensation. It’s the quiet ones, who write good prose, those are the ones to watch.