Like so many of life’s wonders, Capital Crime was conceived in the back of a New York taxi cab. The idea came to David Headley and Adam Hamdy while they were attending Thriller Fest. A world-class city like London needed its own high-profile crime fiction festival and they were going to be the ones who delivered it. That taxi should be tracked down and given a blue plaque. I can picture it now amongst the discarded crisp wrappers and wads of chewing gum, the whiff of last night’s debauchery still lingering in the air – Capital Crime was conceived here!
This particular meeting-of-the-minds happened just 14 short months ago in July 2018. The fact that they organised an event as seamless as Capital Crime in such a brief period is nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps that conception was immaculate after all. They must have assembled a great team. I thank them all.
The buzz was palpable as that first trickle of tweets announcing the new festival soon became a flood. Dates were announced. Sponsors found. The venue settled. The authors on the guest list kept getting bigger and bigger – Kate Atkinson, Martina Cole, Ann Cleeves, John Connolly, Robert Harris, Anthony Horowitz, Peter James, Lynda La Plante, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin and Don Winslow to name but a few.
Yet David Headley appeared to be remarkably calm whenever I encountered him over the past year. A handsome duck with a well-groomed quiff and a mischievous grin comes to mind. I can only imagine how fast those brogue-bedecked flippers were paddling beneath the surface. If I were ever to get married again (please laugh with me), I’d want the Capital Crime team to take over the planning. The guest list wouldn’t even have to change all that much as most of my favourite people were there. The venue was fabulous; the drinks and conversation flowing. And as an added bonus, books are the perfect wedding gift. All we’d need is a cake, a caterer, and alas, a groom.
I’ve been to my fair share of crime fiction festivals, both here in the UK and abroad. The venue plays a key role in their success and De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms were the perfect choice. The 700-seat Grand Hall and Edinburgh Suite were connected by a spacious circular bar with the nicest serving staff in central London. The book room and signing area were also well thought out with plenty of room for queues and lots of merchandise on offer. Downstairs, there were quiet little nooks for quick lunches and clandestine conversations, and the cloakroom was a great place to safely store all those books we were buying. I feel I should mention the women’s toilets as I met so many lovely authors there. They were easily the nicest loos I’ve ever encountered at any crime fiction festival. Details. Details. Details.
Over the course of the festival I attended 11 panels, each with its unique take on the crime fiction genre. I always love supporting authors I know, but there were quite a few new faces, many of whom inspired me to buy their books. Overall the quality was high, but some of the panels stood out on personal level.
Putting Ian Rankin and Don Winslow on the same stage for ‘The Human Cost of Crime’ was an inspired pairing. Their insight into both the craft of writing crime and the minds of criminals and their victims is extraordinary. They possess that pitch-perfect balance of laid-back intelligence, empathy, and total disregard for authority. Winslow is one of those brave authors using his Twitter platform to take on Trump and his far-right agenda. It was nice to finally see him working his magic in person.
I also very much enjoyed a panel featuring historic crime fiction entitled ‘Torn from History’. Moderated by Anna Mazzola, the panel included Simon Mayo, Kate Mosse and Antonia Hodgson. It’s always lovely to listen to intelligent writers talk about the inspiration behind their novels. Plus, history is full of great stories. I could have listened all day.
‘Is Crime Fiction a Problem for Feminists?’ featuring Killer Women Sarah Hilary, Julia Crouch, Amanda Jennings, Colette McBeth, and Kate Rhodes took place in the Edinburgh Suite. The conversation was lively, engaging, and unapologetically feminist. These women aren’t settling for the status quo, and I for one applaud their efforts to level the playing field.
Saturday morning started bright, early, and full of coffee-fuelled energy with ‘When Women Make Murderers’. It was a fantastic discussion between Fiona Cummins, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, C.J. Tudor, Olivia Kiernan, and Amy McLellan. Travelling halfway across London to attend a 9.30am panel when one is sleep-deprived and ever-so-slightly hungover is a labour of love, so it was wonderful to see a group of writers I admire so much on one stage.
Then it was on to Iceland, Finland and the forests of Sweden for a cold slice of Scandi Noir in a panel called ‘Chilled to the Bone’. Karen Sullivan kept the questions coming – with varying degrees of success as it was clear her panellists Ragnar Jónasson, Will Dean, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Antti Tuomainen are a little like their characters, more used to going rogue.
Dreda Say Mitchell, Steph Marland, Amer Anwar, and M.W. Craven discussed ‘Britain’s Toughest Streets’ with David Mark. Dreda made an impassioned plea for greater diversity in the traditional publishing community. The ensuing discussion about the welcome she received on the digital side of the industry gave us all a lot to think about. Steph Marland’s latest novel follows a group of urban explorers who stumble across a murderer. Sure to be creepy, it’s going right to the top of my ‘to be read’ pile.
A Saturday afternoon panel aptly entitled ‘The Wrong Side of the Law’ was surprisingly amusing. I’ve had my fair share of dealings with lawyers over the years, but I’ve never known them to be this funny. Expertly moderated by Ayo Onatade, the panel featured Harriet Tyce, Steve Cavanagh, Imran Mahmood and Tony Kent. Cavanagh’s story about his ‘armless’ client had us all in stitches, while his story about the cops who took a 15-year-old miscreant out for Christmas dinner had us in tears.
Mickey Spillane once said, “The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.” The same could be said for Capital Crime. The festival was a huge success from the opening notes on Thursday evening to the moment the last drink was served on Saturday night. I’m guessing David Headley and Adam Hamdy will rest easy during their next taxi ride through New York. A huge thank you to them, the sponsors, and Lizzie Curle, the festival manager. You’ve done London proud!
The inaugural Capital Crime festival took place from Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 September 2019. For more info, and to sign up for details of next year’s festival, visit capitalcrime.org.