Journalists make great protagonists, particularly in crime fiction. They have the skills to investigate, and we somehow grant them permission to ask intrusive questions. Unlike the police, they are not part of the official response to a crime so they are more free to go where their curiosity – and their convictions, or lack of – take them.
This selection also includes a few literary titles, where the focus of the story isn’t solving a crime, but rather on the role of the reporter and the tensions for a journalist-protagonist between reporting events and participating in them.
The Field of Blood by Denise Mina
This is the novel that introduced series protagonist Paddy Meehan. In this novel set in Glasgow 1981, she is a young aspiring journalist who gets her big break when the suspect in a child’s murder turns out to be her fiancé’s cousin.
I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s slow in getting going, with a lot of exposition about Paddy’s Catholic working-class family, but it does offer a fascinating insight into the city at that time and the very different world of print journalism in that period.
The Sculptress by Minette Walters
Journalists investigating a wrongful conviction is a popular theme in crime fiction. In The Sculptress, Rosalind Leigh is convinced that Olive Martin is innocent of the brutal murder and mutilation of her mother and sister, despite her guilty plea.
Olive is compellingly disturbing and was memorably played by Pauline Quirke in the BBC adaptation. And just as the truth is apparently revealed, the story resolved, justice done, Walters leaves you with a chilling hint of doubt.
A Place of Execution by Val McDermid
Like The Sculptress, A Place of Execution is looking back, this time at the unsolved disappearance of a child in 1963 in rural Derbyshire. Thirty years on, journalist Catherine Heathcote is working with lead detective George Bennett to tell his story. Then, just as her book is about to be published, he has a change of heart.
McDermid draws on her experience as a former journalist and the backdrop of the Moors murders to explore the way we mythologise crimes — and how that can interfere with finding the truth.
Read more of my reviews of Val McDermid novels
Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy’s epic novel follows a huge cast of characters through World War 2 (apparently she was unable to get funding for a research trip to Russia, or it might have been even longer) including Louise Kahan, who gives up her comfortable life as a New York novelist to become a war reporter.
Read my review of Gone to Soldiers
The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton
This was useful background reading for me when I was working on Brand New Friend as my protagonist’s wife is an Egyptian journalist.
It follows a group of activist bloggers, podcasters and photographers as they live through the Arab Spring and its aftermath. The style is impressionistic (I listened to the audiobook which perhaps heightened the fragmentary effect) switching between the points of view of the main characters and extracts from their reports and podcasts.
It is genuinely poignant as the characters move from hope to disillusionment, and argue among themselves about the best way forward against a repressive system, while dealing with personal loss.
For another interesting novel about a journalist reporting the Arab Spring, read my review of A Single Source by Peter Hanington
This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan
This Is How It Ends is another novel featuring new journalism. Ella is a campaigning blogger working with veteran activist Molly to stop the gentrification of a London tower block. They have just secured crowdfunding for a book about their work. But on the night of their celebration, a terrible event occurs.
The story of the event and its implications is cleverly told. Molly’s narration describes its aftermath, while Ella’s moves back into the past and shows how they came to be at this crisis. It’s a great thriller which also explores issues of belief, commitment and sacrifice with one of the most memorable twists I’ve read in a long time.
Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre
Clearly if you find yourself locked out of your flat, semi-naked and with a hangover the only sensible way back in is via the baroquely brutal murder scene in the flat below (complete with jobbie on the mantelpiece). Such was investigative journalist Jack Parlabane’s first appearance in the world. Parlabane had an instinct for danger, an unconventional approach to information gathering and a furious determination to take on institutions from the Thatcher government to the Catholic church.
A more subdued and reflective Jack Parlabane has enjoyed a new incarnation in the more character-driven (and supermarket friendly) later novels. It’s rather like Miss Marple coming back as a leather-clad, Uzi-waving vigilante, but despite that I quite like both Parlabanes.
Read more of my reviews of Christopher Brookmyre novels
Enjoyed this? Take a look at my crime novel Still You Sleep featuring journalists Tilda Green and Freddie Stone