Author of the Month

Name: Dreda Say Mitchell

First Novel: Running Hot

Most Recent Book: Killer Tune

'Killer Tune heralds a new direction in crime fiction…'

The newest Rap artist on the circuit is Lord Tribulation (LT for short). He is a singing sensation who is on the threshold of a new recording contract and becoming the influential singer of the moment. When a young boy fire bombs a house and brings LT’s concert to a premature end, questions are asked at all levels - from the general public to the House of Commons - whether these artists, and their inflammatory lyrics which they believe lead youngsters to commit crimes, should be allowed star status.

As the pressure builds LT has to come to terms with the fact that his father, King Stir It Up (a well known singer of his time) has died under mysterious circumstances. With the arrival of Bernie, LT’s long lost love who walked out of his life fifteen years ago, they begin to walk through a labyrinth of clues left by The King and the lies and silence of others who are out to stop them both finding out the devastating truth of what happened way back in 1976.

The journey is one that will question LT’s total belief in his father - the man who surrounded him with love and music from an early age. Soon, LT is under threat himself. Danger - and the truth - could be nearer than he thinks.

This is a brilliantly innovative book which focuses and encapsulates everything that music stands for. Even the chapters are titled like song tracks so the reader feels as though they are listening to the album of two men’s lives from different generations. Say Mitchell wonderfully brings to life the euphoria of the Notting Hill carnival from 1976 and the terrifying realism of racism that blighted some parts of London. Some of the issues dealing with race are certainly difficult to swallow. Did that really happened only thirty years ago? One can only give a sigh of relief that things have certainly changed in major ways - and for the better.

The action that takes in the present is always gripping. The two main protagonists find several tapes that The King has left for his son, hidden so that the story can be told without hindrance from others who want the revelations kept secret. Say Mitchell writes this cat and mouse part of the story extremely well so that you really want to keep turning those pages.

Dreda Say Mitchell is a sparkling, original and definitive new voice – and a welcome addition in the arena of crime writing. It would be a sin to keep this woman’s brilliant writing under wraps and not share it with everyone. Her writing is smooth and very ‘urban’, showing a side to London which isn’t always attractive but is often something to be admired. Say Mitchell is certainly not worried about upsetting the few to entertain and educate the masses. She obviously concentrates on issues that she is passionate about – and that is to be admired. Killer Tune heralds a new direction in crime fiction and one you would be well advised to read before all the pale imitations jump on board.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
Someone once described my work as grit-lit. I like to think this means that my work explores the gritty, edgy world of people who get mixed up in the criminal Underworld. As I grew up on a very interesting housing estate in the East End of London I’ve just always been fascinated with what crime tells me about society. I think crime is an excellent barometer for measuring the society we live in.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you usually prefer series or standalone?
This depends on my mood. Most of the time I adore anything that is pacey, entertaining, but underneath the crime story is an exploration about some of the key issues in the world we live in. Other times I want pure escapism and love reading thrillers that take me by the scruff of the neck and drag me along for a wonderful and memorable ride.
3) It seems that crime fiction is exploding in popularity at the moment. Why do you think that the crime genre has become so successful in recent years, and did this affect your decision to write in this area?
The one thing that crime writers do well is telling a story. Since the beginning of time humans have loved a good old story. The reading public love stories that are exciting and entertaining and no one does it better than a crime writer.

When I started writing my first novel, Running Hot, I never consciously thought that I was writing a crime novel. I was writing a story about a young man who had been given seven days to get out of the underworld – will he or won’t he make it? It was only after publication that my publishers realised we had a crime story on our hands. The crime genre lends itself to the type of stories I want to write. I’ve had a massive amount of support from the crime writing community – the greatest bunch of people you will ever meet – so I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.
4) Do you agree that sensational levels of blood and gore or focus on dull police procedural details might be said to have swamped the basic necessity for a good storyline in many recent crime novels?
A police investigation and loads of blood can really add to the excitement and tension in a book, but it all dependents on how the author chooses to do it. An effective writer exploits them to engage the reader and keep them turning the pages. To put gore and the minutiae of procedure before a cracking good story won’t keep the attention of the reading public for long.
5) One of the main themes in Killer Tune is the debate over inflammatory lyrics in some of today’s popular songs influencing young people. What is your take on this?
If we banned the music would all of the issues go away? For me the answer is a resounding no. Certainly lyrics can be as potent and as powerful as words coming from the mouth of a politician, a preacher, a teacher, etc, but to blame them for the problems facing our youth today is too narrow. We need to place our young people in the context of the society they live in and it’s only when we begin to match up all the dots that the true picture of how we can tackle these issues begins to form.
6) Music and lyrics are key elements to the storyline and you use the music theme to influence the structure of the book. Did you particularly want to stretch the boundaries of the traditional crime novel by doing this?
When I write I always start with the question ‘What type of story is this?’ And then I try to use this as a way of helping me structure the book. Killer Tune is a story about two musicians, a father and son and set now and in 1976, so it I wanted a way of structuring the book in two parts. Then I started thinking of all those classic double albums we had years ago, such as Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece Song In The Key Of Life and in one of those ping moments I realised that the novel could be structured as a double album. And instead of chapter headings let’s give it song track titles. As the crime writing genre is a huge area it naturally gives the author the scope for being innovative.
7) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffrey Deaver. A masterly lesson on how to deceive the reader.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy.
The big screen has heavily influenced me, so can I also mention Double Indemnity, (a classic script by Raymond Chandler) and The usual Suspects.
9) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Definitely. I love anything by writers Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, George Pelecanos, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. They not only tell riveting stories but also give you an insight into the world now and in the past.
10) What is your favourite crime/mystery/thriller read of all time?
The Real Cool Killers – Chester Himes.