Cosy crime and Greek myth retellings: the Waterstones book of the year shortlist

There’s a sleepy town, a murder and multiple twists, but the latest slice of cosy crime heading for the bestseller charts isn’t by Richard Osman, but from newcomer Janice Hallett, who has just been tipped for the top by Waterstones.

Hallett’s The Appeal, in which law students Charlotte and Femi investigate a mystery in the sleepy town of Lower Lockwood, dealing with everything from an amateur dramatic society’s disastrous staging of All My Sons to a dodgy charity appeal for a child’s medical treatment, has been shortlisted for the Waterstones book of the year award. It is one of 13 titles in the running for the prize, for which books are nominated by Waterstones booksellers. Buyer Bea Carvalho said it had been a “real word of mouth hit” for the UK’s largest book chain.

“We were all just absolutely obsessed with it when it arrived in hardback in January, but it was published when the shops were shut and we didn’t have much of an opportunity to talk about it. So we made it our thriller of the month in July and it’s been our bestselling title in that slot ever,” said Carvalho.

Osman’s two cosy crime novels have helped bring “renewed interest” to the genre, she added. “There’s something oddly very comforting about crime fiction and its structure, being presented with a mystery to be solved and knowing that by the end, after a person dies, there will be some kind of resolution in these uncertain times.”

Hallett, a screenwriter before she turned to fiction, defined “cosy crime” as a genre that “reduces the horror, and amplifies the mystery,” creating a “safe space to consider and to explore the very worst experiences of humanity”.

“You also find yourself in a world where problems are solved,” the debut novelist added. “You’ve got a puzzle, and you’ve got the solution. And in real life it’s not quite that simple. So it’s quite a comfy world”.

The 13 titles competing for the Waterstones book of the year award include three fresh takes on mythology: Ariadne, Jennifer Saint’s debut novel retelling the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from the princess’s perspective; Charlotte Higgins’ Greek Myths, a reinterpretation of the ancient stories in which female characters take centre stage; and Amy Jeffs’ Storyland, an illustrated exploration of Britain’s mythology.

“There’s something really timeless and universal about those familiar stories that is quite comforting in uncertain times. And the trends for authors revisiting those stories for a contemporary audience has been incredibly popular recently,” said Carvalho.

“These stories are falling into the hands of a very diverse array of authors at the moment, and that’s giving them a new life, ” agreed Jeffs, pointing to books from Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad to more recent works by Madeline Miller, Monique Roffey and Natalie Haynes. “And maybe in difficult times, that freshness and that inspiration, and just a really good story, is something we yearn for.”

The Waterstones shortlist also features Paul McCartney’s story of his life told through 154 songs, The Lyrics, Marcus Rashford’s guide to unlocking potential for children, You Are a Champion, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel since he won the Nobel prize, Klara and the Sun. Waterstones retail director Luke Taylor described the nominations from booksellers as “eclectic and diverse”, and “a true reflection of our booksellers’ passion for sharing outstanding books with readers”. The winner will be announced on 2 December, chosen by a Waterstones panel.

Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori; illustrated by Lucille Clerc (Orion Publishing)

The Appeal by Janice Hallett (Viper)

Greek Myths by Charlotte Higgins, illustrated by Chris Ofili (Vintage Publishing)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber&Faber)

Storyland by Amy Jeffs (Quercus)

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney, edited by Paul Muldoon (Allen Lane)

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston (Illustrator) (Hachette)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Penguin Books)

You Are a Champion by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka (Pan Macmillan)

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Headline)

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Simon & Schuster)

Amur River by Colin Thubron (Vintage Publishing)

British Museum: History of the World in 25 Cities by Tracey Turner (author), Libby VanderPloeg (illustrator) and Andrew Donkin (author) (Nosy Crow)

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