NB Magazine takes a look at a new crime imprint and there’s plenty of mystery, thrills and murder to get your teeth into.

Hopefully bookshops reopening means things are looking up again for publishers and readers, it’s been a tough few months for us all. Viper Books, the new crime imprint from Serpent’s Tail, had just released their first few titles when Covid-19 hit but the show goes on. This month Viper released a deliciously creepy new thriller by David Jackson The Resident. Senior Commissioning Editor, Miranda Jewess, responsible for Viper Books, describes The Resident as ‘a book about a serial killer living in an attic space across several homes; it’s so much fun, very enjoyable… It was easy to get quotes for The Resident and David is the nicest guy in the world.’ So let’s start there:

There’s a serial killer on the run and he’s hiding in your house.
Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet…

Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him.

After months of preparation Viper Books was launched last November.

           Many readers will recognise Tina Baker, here in glorious costume, from her TV work but her first novel will be released by Viper it early 2021, (more on that later).

Imagine having a job where the first four months consist of reading books and selecting titles you want to publish? That was Miranda Jewess. Miranda was appointed to manage the Serpent’s Tail crime list but saw the need for a new tailored imprint. The aim is to publish ten titles in the first full year, most in hardback. So Viper was born, Miranda has selected over twenty titles now which will establish the identity of the imprint for readers. I asked her what she looking for in a Viper book?

MJ: ‘It doesn’t have to be literary but it does have to be well written for the type of book it is. It could be a beautiful high concept novel or a police procedural, something upmarket, perhaps with social commentary. We’re publishing two titles by Australian author Garry Disher, and historical crime is of interest but ‘no dead Victorian prostitutes’, something a bit different, transgressive, in keeping with Serpent’s Tail ethos. It’s about the quality, if there isn’t something about it that keeps you reading past the first chapter, whether that’s the hook, the writing, or the characters, then for me you’re not doing you’re job properly. There has to be something that grabs, that keeps you going.’

Miranda came to Viper with several years experience in publishing, everything from military books to sci-fi. Her enthusiasm for crime fiction fired by her father reading Sherlock Holmes to her at age FOUR! The first Viper novel was released in February:

A Famished Heart Nicola Smith was praised by crime superstars Jo Spain and Denise Mina and reviewed very favourably on NB Magazine (https://nbmagazine.co.uk/a-famished-heart-by-nicola-white/). The novel feature Detectives Swan and Considine and is set in Dublin in 1982. It’s part police procedural, part psychological drama dealing with religion, drugs, republicanism, family trauma and a dark haunting past.

PB comment: White has written a disturbing and atmospheric tale. More Swan and Considine novels will follow this was a really strong start to a series.

The Broken Ones Ren Richards (March)

Nell didn’t know if she loved her baby… but did she kill her?
A bestselling true crime writer, Nell tells other people’s stories. But there is one story she won’t tell. Ten years ago, she was a teenage mother with a four-year-old she found desperately hard to love. Then the little girl disappeared.
As Nell begins to interview the subject of her next book, a woman convicted of murdering her twin sister, it becomes clear that someone has uncovered her true identity. And they know that Nell didn’t tell the truth about the day her daughter vanished…

I’m curious how Miranda selects a manuscript:

‘The older I get the less patient I get but I have a feeling for a good read. It’s very much I get to ten percent and I know if I want to buy it, I’ll always give it twenty percent. We have a full list now, I don’t need to buy books I think ‘oh that’s good enough’.’

Serpent’s Tail have a reputation for radical crime fiction that is eclectic, original and transgressive, the back list includes: Jean-Patrick Manchette, David Peace, Attica Locke, Derek Raymond and Adrian McKinty. Viper Books will be looking to echo those values but add more popular mainstream crime fiction too. Viper want the cachet of being seen as an imprint that does consistently high quality crime fiction across a range of genre.

Viper did a two book deal with Garry Disher, the first of which Bitter Wash Road came out in April. This shows the ambition of Viper, Disher is a fine Antipodean writer, his lack of success in the UK to date is mystifying, perhaps that will change now. Bitter Wash Road features Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen, a disgraced metropolitan cop/whistle blower expecting a bullet in the back from his disgruntled former colleagues anytime now. He investigates the death of a girl that could be connected to a couple of rapist murderers on the run.

PB comment: Taut and pacy, an exposé of a one horse town in a failing farming community with more crime than a single cop can handle. There are several themes embedded in the novel; racism, poverty and isolation among them. This is classy antipodean noir and the follow up Peace will follow in October.

So clearly there’s going to be an international element to the Viper list, so what about literature in translation, will foreign language titles feature?

‘I like to publish the right novel, something that hits the spot. It’s harder to publish in translation because the writer is not on the ground, which makes attendance at conventions and literary events more complex. There’s also a question of whether they speak English; except for Scandinavians, they speak English better than I do. I would love to find a great new voice in translation but haven’t found one I’m desperate to buy yet. I won’t buy just to fill up the list.’

What about marketing:

‘We are not going to be able to put up poster campaigns for each of our books, or adverts on TFL, We haven’t got that budget. That’s why each book has to be distinctive, each book has to have a strong pitch and the ‘package’ has to be stand out. A good example is Call Me Mummy, that’s a very intelligent but also visceral and sometimes funny domestic noir, but it’s got a very easy pitch and Tina Baker has got a great background story and that’s a great package for us to sell.’

The May offering also has an easy sell:

Who We Were by B.M. Carroll.

PB comment: This novel is right on trend and is a very good psychological novel, a smorgasbord of hurt and suffering and delicious, delicious revenge.

It all starts with an invitation to a twenty year class reunion at Macquarie High. One person intends to make this the most memorable reunion ever:

“It’s happening. Their shallow lives will be blown apart. And they’ll be sorry. Finally.”

The year book reveals the hopes and dreams of the class. Fate didn’t always deliver, real life rarely ran like clock work. Among the thwarted lives lie deadly secrets and a dark past that is about to explore in the present. Who We Were is wicked and darkly comic, the characters are brilliantly drawn. It’s all about perceptions and grievances.

Social media and bloggers are all important in spreading word of mouth for Viper:

‘I love bloggers, I don’t know how they find the time and I’m in awe of how much they read. It’s always been key to us to have their help online to reach a new readership. We do a lot in print and Twitter advertising and so on, as the list grows we have campaigns coming up that we will put serious money behind but there’s a huge place for word of mouth.’

How does Miranda feel about debut authors?

‘I’ve got a lot to those but that’s just the way it happened. I mean, [if you take the Viper sampler for 2021], all of the authors are experienced writers but these are debut novels. Tina is a journalist and Vicky too, for many years. I would say I love debuts but as yet I’ve not published somebody who’s never had their words out there in some capacity.’

Series or stand alone?

Series are harder these days, that’s why publishers are going for the one off thrillers and why so many people who build their careers as serial writers are now writing stand-alones. It’s harder to make money, the law of diminishing returns, unless you’re one of the chosen few.’

Viper authors usually get a two book deal and, as in the case with Nicola Smith, they are open to the right kind of series.

So what’s coming up?

A Ruined Girl Kate Simants (August).

Two boys loved her. But such one killed her?
On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob’s younger brother and Paige’s confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children’s homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her.
Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren’s obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart…

Peace Garry Disher (October)

An act of inexplicable cruelty. A family destroyed.
Constable Paul Hirschhausen runs a one-cop station in the dry farming country south of the Flinders Ranges. He’s still new in town but his community work – welfare checks and a light touch – is starting to pay off. Now Christmas is here and, apart from a grass fire, two boys stealing a vehicle, and Brenda Flann entering the front bar of the pub without exiting her car, Hirsch’s life has been peaceful.
Until he’s called to an incident on Kitchener Street, a strange and vicious attack that sickens the community. And when the Sydney police ask him to look in on a family living on a forgotten back road, it doesn’t look like a season of goodwill at all…

And a brief comment from Miranda on how Covid-19 affected Viper:

Covid-19 has been really challenging, as the whole industry had to adjust to new ways of selling and promotion, and so much of our outreach had to move online incredibly quickly. But it’s been wonderful to see so many festivals doing amazing online events, and if anything that’s made them more inclusive, they’re not just for those who can afford – or are able – to travel to them. And we’re hugely appreciative of all the readers who have continued to buy our books online, both from the major and indie retailers. We’re very excited to see bookshops open up again, of course. And so long as booksellers feel safe, we’re grateful to have their expertise, because there’s no substitute when it comes to finding the right book for the right reader.’

Now you know quite a lot about Viper this year but here’s a little peak at what 2021 holds:

Call Me Mummy Tina Baker

Blurb: Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want … except for a little daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does want anyone would do. She takes her. But little foul mouthed Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for. Meanwhile Kim is demonised by social media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to lose Tonya and ought to have her other children taken too. Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is the five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle …

PB comment: (based on reading a brief excerpt) Atmospheric and creepy, evocative of longing and loss, challenges pre-conceptions and the judgements we make of mothers. I loved this line from Tonya, (a bit of humour and a portend of things to come, excuse the swear word):

“I have a coleslaw. The woman says not to put my tongue on it. Fuck off, woman. You ain’t my mum.”

Miranda Jewess: ‘Call me mummy is extraordinary hopeful, emotional, with a great ending.’

The Plague Letters V L Valentine

The blurb: London 1665. Hidden within a growing pile of corpses, one victim of the pestilence stands out, a young woman with a shorn head and pieces of twine delicately tied around each ankle. Symon Patrick, rector of St. Paul’s Covent Garden, cannot say exactly why this corpse amongst many should give him pause. Longing to do good, he joins a group of medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague, each man more peculiar than the next. But there is another who is performing his own terrible experiment upon unwilling plague-ridden subjects.

It is Penelope – Symon’s unwanted yet unremovable addition to the household – who may yet shed light on the matter. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the house of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

PB comment: The excerpt concentrates on setting the scene, it’s credible and intriguing but I can’t really say much more yet…

The Appeal Janice Gallery

The blurb: someone was murdered someone went to prison and everyone’s a suspect can you discover the truth.?

Dear Reader,

Enclose are documents relating to the events surrounding the appeal for two-year-old Poppy Reswick experimental cancer treatment. As a result, a member of the Fairways players drama group was murdered. Another member is currently in prison for the crime. We have reason to suspect that they are innocent, and that there were far darker secrets that have yet to be revealed. We believe that the killer has given themselves away. It’s there in writing, hidden in the emails, texts, and letters. Will you accept the challenge? Can you discover the truth? Do you dare?

JM: ‘I’ve never read anything like it in an epistolary novel. It’s like The Archers with murder and it’s all about secondary characters telling the story…’

There were lots of positive things going on in crime fiction before the lock down the arrival of Viper Books was one of them. More power to their collective elbow for the future.

Written and Edited by Paul Burke