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Catriona McPherson

The Essential Reading List

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes: preposterous 1930s detective stories, set in the old country and featuring an aristocratic sleuth; modern comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in the new country; and, darker than both of those (which is not difficult), a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers.

Her books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She has just introduced a fresh character in the WWII-era, IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots. Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.

Books by me

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

In Place of Fear

"I wrote this as a love letter: to the NHS (in 2020), to my home city of Edinburgh (while I couldn't get back there) and to my working-class family history (see Book 3 below). Exploring the birth of the welfare state, the long shadow of WWII and the daily life of Edinburgh women at work was a joy from start to finish. I got to consider the difference between crime and sin, the nature of goodness and the limits of forgiveness too."

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The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

The Child Garden

"THE CHILD GARDEN is the story of Gloria Harkness, the mother of a profoundly disabled child, whose deeply lonely life is up-ended by a knock at the door of her isolated farmhose one stormy night. In it are my favourite characters I've ever written, and my favourite theme - the long reach of old secrets from an ill-remembered childhood. I think it's got a happy ending too, but readers don't always agree."

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Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains

"When I started writing historical detective stories, I plumped for a posh detective, since she would have the funds and the freedom to go racketing about solving crimes. But it was never the toffs that interested me. Here, in book five of the series, I send her downstairs in a grand house, undercover as a lady's maid, during the General Strike in 1926. This produced a book surprisingly ripe for discussion (as series mysteries go) since it brings up questions of class, class representation in fiction, the problem of nostalgia, and the place of world events inside novels. "

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Books that influenced me

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests

Sarah Waters

"Sarah Waters is one of the writers who made me want to write historical fiction, if I could do it the way she does it: as though written then, no whiff of the library, no ghost of Wikipedia. This searing account of the lives of a genteelmother and daughter in reduced circumstances after WWI would be great even if nothing happened. But plenty happens."

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Recitatif by Toni Morrison


Toni Morrison

"Speaking of secrets . . . this short little book would make a perfect companion read to any novel about childhood and its stranglehold on adulthood. The secret at the heart of Morrison's mini-masterpiece has kept readers and academics arguing since its first publication forty years ago."

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


Daphne du Maurier

"No list of books about the influence of class - not to mention housekeeping - would be complete without Rebecca. We read it as a romance when we're young (and daft), as a chiller/thriller when we're older and wiser, and no matter how many times I, personally, read it I still can't find the moment when I would have stopped the bus and got off before any of it happened. If I could write a plot this inevitable, I'd be proud."

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Personal favourites

Glamour Girls by Marty Wingate

Glamour Girls

Marty Wingate

"Glamour Girls takes place *in* the war years, just before the time of IN PLACE OF FEAR. It's a ripping yarn about the "ATAgirls" - Air Transpot Authority female pilots, who delivered planes all around the UK. The historical detail is as vivid as the human story, and I loved learning about an new aspect of British history via a romance."

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David Tung Can't Get a Girlfriend until He Gets into an Ivy League College by Ed Lin

David Tung Can't Get a Girlfriend until He Gets into an Ivy League College

Ed Lin

"When I was growing up, I went straight from Enid Blyton to Susan Howatch - there was no such thing as YA fiction. These days I treat myself to YA every now and then. Lin's funny and authentic look at the pressures of a Chinese-American teen in an uber-competitive school, not to mention his parents' near-crushing expectations for him, was a window into another world for me. It's hilarious but with quite a bite and a sharp take on modern American childhood."

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The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Home-Maker

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

"Trust me. This Persephone re-issue sounds unlikely to be a gripping read. It's about a married woman (the home-maker) in 1924, whose husband has an accident at work. But it's about the restrictions of gender roles, the double heart (dark and light) of marriage and family, and how the individual and the world of work chime or clash. It was a revelation to me and, when I met another person who had read it, we literally clutched one another's arms and squealed about how good it was. How rich and textured, how thought-provoking. You won't regret it. "

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The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias

The Devil Takes You Home

Gabino Iglesias

"Now for something completely different. This novel is in the same genre as mine - just - but it's galaxies away from anything I write. Nevertheless, I think it might be my 2023 book of the year. It's a horror-inflected noir crime novel about a desperate man taking on "one last job" and it pushed every boundary of what crime fiction can be, right to the end. I was particularly interested by the fact that it's staggeringly and upsettingly violent, but the violence is earned by the story and the themes, not at all gratuitous or entertaining. There an important discussion to be had, I think, about the difference."

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