How do you choose titles for your crime novels?

I'm often asked how I come up with titles for my crime novels and the answer is sometimes with great difficulty. However some titles can come instantly, almost the moment the novel hits the page although that is rare. Dead Man's Wharf was one such case.

Dead Man's Wharf, the fourth in the DI Andy Horton series Horton and Cantelli are called to a nursing home where an elderly resident, suffering from dementia, claims she's been attacked by an intruder. Horton is ready to dismiss it as senile ramblings until he discovers that her room-mate has died, the dead woman's belongings are missing and her son, convicted for armed robbery, has been found dead in his cell. Coupled with a series of threatening telephone calls to a television personality, and a mother's conviction that her son's death on Christmas Eve was no accident, Horton finds he is caught up in a complex investigation that has far-reaching international implications. The action takes place around Portsmouth and around a wharf, hence the title.

Locations and the appearance of the body can prompt a title

The location and scene of the murder in the novel can often prompt the title as in A Killing Coast where a body is found floating in the sea off Portsmouth harbour close to one of the ancient forts. But the action also takes place around the stunning coastal bays of the Isle of Wight, hence the title. 

Then there is Undercurrent where the body of a naval historian is found in the bottom of number one dock in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. In this novel there is a sinister undercurrent running through the story that goes deep into the past.

Shroud of Evil, the latest in the DI Andy Horton series, the body of a man is found washed up on a beach on the Isle of Wight wrapped in a shroud.

And then there is Death Lies Beneath, the eighth in the Horton series, when a woman's body is found on a sunken barge just off a disused quayside in Portsmouth.



The main character's actions can also conjure up a title

For example in my thriller novel, In For The Kill, the hero, Alex Albury, newly released from prison after serving a sentence for a crime he didn't commit, is out to find the man who framed him and seek revenge.  He is in for the kill.

Some titles are like pregnancy, taking months to develop and even when the novel is finished I might still have no idea for a suitable title

With the Horton novels, set against the backdrop of the sea in the Solent area (Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight) there also has to be a marine element - Undercurrent, Footsteps on the Shore, Blood on the Sand... see what I mean? So I am limited to some extent but it's a challenge and good fun.

The title must also suit the novel. It needs to reflect the mood of the book, as well as its structure and tone. 

Readers can sometimes choose a book because of its title, coupled with the look of the cover, especially if it is a new author for them, and one that hasn't necessarily been recommended by someone. If the book becomes a treasured one then the title will stick, even if the name of the author has been forgotten.  Let's hope not the latter!


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