In The Murder Bird, Joanna Hines again takes the theme of a crime having been originally perpetrated deep in the distant past. The players in this novel are still feeling the effects of that fatal act reverberating into the present day. Joanna Hines is a truly great novelist who has taken the form and woven an elegant crime element around this group of people who are portrayed as ‘normal’ and classed by Sam as family. Yet, by the end of the book, nobody is left unscathed.
I hate making direct comparisons, but Hines, along with great suspense writers like Celia Fremlin and Barbara Vine, can invoke menace without any necessity for things getting too ‘gory’. She can skilfully infuse any atmosphere with a sense of deepening dread.
During The Murder Bird, the reader often thinks he knows who has perpetrated the crime, but Ms. Hines leaves a neat final twist to the very last moment.
This was a fresh, gripping novel, which held a mirror up to a ‘normal’ everyday family - that turned out to be anything but!
Reviewed by: C. S.
1) How would you describe your books?
They are often described as psychological thrillers. Probably ‘mystery suspense’ is more accurate. I’m happy with either.
2) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
This is an impossible question!
3) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I am a lifelong fan of good fiction - and some of that happens to be crime. Since I’ve joined the ranks of crime writers, I have been reading more and am amazed at the variety that’s on offer. Right now, I’m a late discoverer of Ellmore Leonard, and admire his work for much the same reasons I admire the novels of Anne Tyler (quite different, and not a crime writer at all). They share a deceptive ease of style, a light touch, wonderful humour and great warmth towards their characters.
4) Who, in your eyes, is pushing the boundaries of crime fiction today – and why?
The answer to this one is a bit odd. It’s publishers who are pushing the boundaries and for strictly commercial reasons - crime sells! I know several writers who thought they’d written a straight novel, only to be told by their publishers that it came into the crime category. As a result the genre is growing huge and showing signs of fragmenting into a mass of sub genres: historical, noir, thriller, pet detectives - they’re all out there somewhere.
5) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
If this refers to my own work, then I’d have to say Dora’s Room. I had the title for months before it occurred to me that Dora’s room was an actual location. Now I can’t imagine what kind of a book it would have been without that. If we’re talking other people’s books, then Rebecca would be a strong contender. The final twist is unexpected and wholly plausible - not a common combination!
6) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Another impossible one, but I’ll try. How about the film based on a Chandler book where even the author couldn’t remember who killed the chauffeur? The Big Sleep. I think of that from time to time when my own plots threaten to get out of hand and I forget who did what, when, and who knows, and why, and where … Chandler’s forgetfulness is hugely reassuring.
7) Before venturing into crime writing, you had written some romance/historical novels. What made you make such a radical change in direction and focus on crime?
This is not so much a radical change, more a continuing parallel track. I’d worked on my first two novels, a psychological thriller and a historical romantic epic, off and on for years before the first book was published. After that, I alternated for a while. The last four books have all been contemporary crime, but there’s a historical demanding to be written before long. It has been suggested that I should combine them and write historical crime, but I’m not sure that would work. It feels as though the two ways of writing appeal to different parts of my writing self. Schizoid, obviously.
8) Where do you see Crime fiction going next?
If I knew the answer to that one … Who would have thought that a lady detective in Botswana would be such a hit? My hunch is that one has to write what feels most personally relevant, and hope that resonates with readers. Luckily, the reading public has a wonderful way of confounding all publishers’ best-laid plans and marketing strategies. It’s the unexpectedness that makes this such an exciting world to be involved with.