Author of the Month

Name: M.W. Craven

First Novel: Born in a Burial Gown

Most Recent Book: The Puppet Show

'...catches the reader by the throat from the first page and only releases them on the last..'

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District's prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he's ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive...

‘The Puppet Show’ catches the reader by the throat from the first page and only releases them on the last. Stacked throughout with engaging characters, twisted characters and a plot that never lets you catch your breath, it is dark, delightful and compulsive reading.

Washington Poe is a wonderful lead and he ticks enough boxes to have readers cheering him on while wondering about the unticked boxes. Strong-minded, determined and more than a little renegade with his actions, the marvellous Tilly Bradshaw is the perfect foil for him. Poe’s opposite in so many ways, Tilly brings a heart to that story that’s often missing from novels featuring cops who do things their own way.

The prose is evocative and paints pictures, not just of the Cumbrian setting, but of the actions taken by the most heinous of killers. Sometimes I was reminded of days in the Lake District and at others I was wincing for the victims.

Craven’s plotting is excellent as he took me on a mystery tour, giving me enough clues to work out where the plot was going only to make a sudden turn, which left me revising my thinking.

This is a brilliant start to what promises to be a fantastic series, buy it now or kick yourself for missing out.

Reviewed by: G.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You have captured the beauty and wildness of Cumbria and the Lake District in ‘The Puppet Show’. How much did you have to research the locations used?
Not a huge amount to be honest as the locations I use in ‘The Puppet Show’ are all ones I’m familiar with. We used to have our staff conferences at the Shap Wells Hotel when I was a probation officer, so I knew it pretty well and was aware it used to be a POW camp. I contacted the hotel manager and he was kind enough to show me round the bits I hadn’t seen. In my later years with probation I worked at a senior level and used to regularly attend multi-agency meetings, so I was already familiar with the layouts of Cumbria police HQ and most of the divisional police stations. I had to research some of the stone circles but that was easy enough to do – the fact that academics the world over still don’t know what purpose stone circles served, helped rather than hindered.
2) Poe lives in a cottage that is almost inaccessible except by foot. Why did you choose to give him this home?
William Wordsworth once said: “Let then the beauty be undisfigured” and I kind of agree with him. I know that welcoming the 18 million tourists who visit the Lakes each year is the only way the county can survive, but if you go up Cat Bells in the height of summer it can look like the final whistle has just sounded at St James Park. As an antidote to that I shoved Poe into what is probably the most inhospitable part of Cumbria: Shap Fell. Two miles from his nearest neighbour, he has to draw his own water from the ground, cut his own fuel and live without most of what we would consider essential luxuries. Would I live there? Yes, definitely. When I watch documentaries I am drawn to the ones depicting people who live on the edge: Mountain Men, Swamp People, The Last Alaskans, River People that type of thing. I like the idea of taking responsibility for your own food and shelter. Not practical in the UK, obviously (some of the crofters in northern Scotland get pretty close though), but through Poe I get to live vicariously. Would my wife move with me? The jury’s still out on that one…
3) While Poe is something of a renegade, you still manage to get a lot of police procedure into the novel. How do you go about finding out the correct procedures?
A lot of the procedures are based on things I picked up during my time with probation. The Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras for example, came from a joint police-probation operation where a sex offender was tracked from Carlisle down to the south coast to see if he was breaching the terms of his licence. When things like that happen you can’t help picking up some of the language and, if you’re anything like me, you’re writing it all down anyway! But, to be honest, I purposefully made Poe, Tilly and Steph Flynn part of the NCA’s Serious Crime Analysis Section (the NCA unit charged with advising territorial police forces on serial killers and rapists and apparently motiveless crimes) so I didn’t have to get bogged down in too much procedural stuff. They are part of the investigation but always on the periphery, able to do their own thing. The massive machine that is a murder investigation is too unwieldy to write about with any realism, but having them outwith the main team means I can write a UK police procedural without bogged down too much.
4) Tilly Bradshaw is a delightful character and her quirkiness makes her very endearing, what inspired you to create such a character?
Tilly came about as a by-product of working out the backstory to Poe’s first name. Originally, she hadn’t been written as naive and innocent but when Poe became darker than I’d intended, I needed her to counterbalance that. The result, I think, works well and they compliment each other, but it also allows them enough room to grow individually.
5) How did you research the different aspects of Tilly’s personality?
Tilly is a mash up of a whole bunch of people I know, a bunch of TV characters and not a little bit of invention. I have purposefully omitted any reference to any condition she may or may not have and encourage readers to see her as they want to see her. It’s already the question I’m asked most. My response is there’s no right or wrong answer – Tilly is whoever you want her to be.
6) Will we be seeing more of Poe and Tilly?
Absolutely. The second in the series, ‘Black Summer’, where a girl turns up at a police station alive and well despite Poe having helped convict her father of her murder six years earlier, is in the bag and will be out this June. The central question: how can someone be both alive and dead at the same time, is asked in the first few pages but not answered until the end.
7) The titles of your books are always very distinct and original. How hard is it to keep coming up with unique titles?
I’m a big music lover and, apart from writing, my other big passion is attending gigs. When they fit I try to use song titles from bands I like. I’ve used songs from Cradle of Filth in the past. ‘The Puppet Show’ was taken from a Sisters of Mercy bootleg album called ‘Enjoy The Puppet Show’. A Poe book scheduled for release in 2021 might be named after The Anti-Nowhere League’s ‘The Thirteen-Rat Theory’.
8) Which are your favourite three crime fiction novels and why have you chosen them?
The Poet by Michael Connelly. I know there are other great serial killer books out there, and I know Harry Bosch’s fans are legion (and I include myself in that number), but for me The Poet has it all: an unconventional protagonist, the FBI BAU doing their thing, a plot that corkscrews all over the place and a shocking twist that I didn’t see coming.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron. I’ve never read a book with a protagonist like Jackson Lamb. He’s foul, rude, fat and greasy, and utterly compelling. The plots of Mick’s books are clever, satirical and relevant. And his prose is faultless; whether he’s describing a terrorist beheading plot or the ancient heating system at Slough House, it’s either laugh-out-loud funny or jaw-achingly beautiful.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. Along with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Sam Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, is my favourite fictional cop and Night Watch is my favourite book to feature him. Vimes is grumpy, tenacious and he doesn’t suffer fools. His team, put together over many books, is loyal and hard working, but in Night Watch we see a different side to some of them as Vimes chases a serial killer back through time where he meets his naïve younger self (who he also has to keep alive) and the cast we know so well, only thirty-odd years earlier…

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