#PitchCB is Curtis Brown’s monthly Twitter pitching party for authors looking for agents. This month (on Friday 26 August) we’re focusing on crime, thriller and mystery novels – and we’ve invited two of the UK’s leading editors to join in: Frankie Gray, Editorial Director at Transworld and Vicki Mellor, Deputy Publishing Director at Headline.
To help you refine your pitches, we asked Vicki, Frankie and the agents at Curtis Brown and C+W to tell us what they’re looking for in a crime, thriller or mystery story.
Vicki Mellor, Deputy Publishing Director for Fiction, Headline
My interests in the crime and thriller genre are wide-ranging; I love diverse, adrenaline-inducing and complex novels, being absorbed in the mystery, and shaken to my core by what people do to survive. I am happy to buy into every sub-genre – from gritty serial-killer thrillers to devastating police procedurals, rip-roaring archaeological adventures to twisted psychological suspense – as long as there are three elements: a killer hook, brilliantly engaging characterisation and a belief that the novel is just that little bit different from everything else that I am reading.
Frankie Gray, Editorial Director, Transworld
Nothing beats the pleasure of reading a crime thriller that grips, excites and compels me and there are a few things that help contribute to that feeling. The voice must feel 100 per cent authentic and believable if I’m to follow this character through their story, whether that’s the intensity of their toxic marriage, or the high-stakes drama of a police investigation. The classic tropes of the genre are well-trodden ground and I love when I read something that nods to these but still feels fresh and different, even if that’s only the subtlest difference in voice, plot, style or setting. In any fiction I seek to be taken out of my world for a time, and a crime thriller that offers that opportunity for immersion is tricky to resist, whether that’s through the sheer force of whistle-stop pace, or the claustrophobia of a vividly realised setting. It’s the ultimate escapism.
Susan Armstrong, C+W
Unique characters and an unusual crime are the driving forces I love to see in this genre. If a writer can pair a situation I’ve not seen before with a voice I’d follow regardless of the situation, then my interest is definitely piqued.
Felicity Blunt, Curtis Brown
I love suspense books that feel coolly original like Disclaimer and whose twists are earned throughout the text. The most important thing for me is to invest utterly in the characters of the piece. If their behaviour is believable then the story is believable. If not the whole inevitably falls apart and I’m left feeling dissatisfied and mildly incredulous! I represent the Estate of Daphne du Maurier and for me Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel laid the tracks for books like Gone Girl and many others in the suspense genre. I hoover up big complicated juicy thrillers like I Am Pilgrim or any Lee Child novel, also historical thrillers like Arianna Franklin’s The Mistress of the Art of Death, whose protagonist is both smart and complicated.
Catherine Cho, Curtis Brown
I would love to find an unusual mystery or thriller that plays with the genre, with a compelling hero/heroine.
Sheila Crowley, Curtis Brown
Number-one bestselling author Clare Mackintosh set the bar very high with her big twist debut I Let You Go and her follow up I See You, so my expectations are also very high. I want big twists in the thrillers I read, or to feel characters within the story could be you or me, putting me outside my comfort zone.
Emma Finn, C+W
I would love to find a female-led, UK-set crime in the vein of the Scandi dramas of the last few years – dark and suspenseful, with a strong sense of place – which brings together a compelling plot and a flawed, complicated protagonist I can really root for.
Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown
I am looking for a thriller or mystery that twists my perception of the world and is suspenseful in a dramatic way, yet so distinctive in its voice and use of character that I feel the writer is playing at the boundaries of the genre.
Lucy Morris, Curtis Brown
I’d love to find some brilliant suspense in the vein of Patricia Highsmith – light on the gore, and with a great setting. I’m also a sucker for a smart, tense psychological thriller, and recently I’ve loved Under the Harrow and Lie With Me.
Norah Perkins, Curtis Brown
I love crime and thrillers with a razor-sharp political or speculative edge. Think Lionel Davidson, China Mieville, Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Louise Erdrich… all writers who perform high-wire-acts of suspense while writing impeccable prose, and who tell me something new and complicated about the world. I’d love to receive more submissions from beyond our borders – particularly Central and South America. And a final note: unless you’re doing something subversive and completely brilliant, please don’t send me anything that starts with a dead girl in torn panties. I’m over it.
Richard Pike, Curtis Brown
I’m looking for thrillers with unreliable narrators and flawed relationships, which create drama from uncertainty over ‘what and why it happened’ as much as ‘whodunit’. I want a novel to stand alone, though I’d love to find a character that has return potential – not so much the traditional grizzled DCI with a dark secret, but perhaps a character from a more unusual or forensic background. And I’m keen to be taken to a place, or even historical period, not traditionally explored as a setting for crime.
Rebecca Ritchie, Curtis Brown
I’m currently looking for a psychological thriller that will pin me to my seat – either due to compelling action and plot, or because the relationships between the characters are so flawed, their actions driven by secrets and lies. And I’d love to find a novel with a twist so unexpected, authentic and convincing that it rivals Gone Girl.
Karolina Sutton, Curtis Brown
I’m looking for dark, atmospheric and unexpected settings, as well as compelling characters. Likeable or not, I want to be compelled by the characters and their motivations.
Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown
I’d like to find crime that plays with or defies the traditions of the genre, which has a strong sense of place and gripping storytelling – something that shares the qualities of Neil Cross’s Luther and earlier novels, Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook, or Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.
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