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Death Can’t Take a Joke

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Crime Scene

Louise Phillips

Death Can't take a jokeToday is publication day for ‘Death Can’t Take a Joke’ by Anya Lipska, the second Kiszka and Kershaw crime thriller.  Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska was chosen by Val McDermid for the prestigious New Blood Panel at the 2013 Harrogate Crime Festival, and her second in the series is drawing praise as another intelligent detective thriller and a glimpse into the hidden world of London’s Polish community.



I got chatting with Anya last week and I had the opportunity to ask her why writing crime became so compelling for her, a little about the inspiration behind the latest novel, and what key advice she would give to new writers,..


When I was about eleven or twelve, while rifling through my father’s secret stash of contraband reading material one day, I stumbled across The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and soon became secretly addicted to his characters’ cool dialogue and the dark-but-sexy depiction of 30s Los Angeles. It showed me, perhaps for the first time, how immersive – and how memorable – really good crime writing can be. It wouldn’t have occurred to me at the time, but I think it also demonstrates how a really well-crafted crime novel or thriller is able to deal with life’s great themes – love, loss, betrayal, the meaning of honour… – in a way that’s just as illuminating as the literary novel.


When I wrote the first in the series, Where the Devil Can’t Go, I’d been thinking about writing a crime novel for a long time, but I didn’t want to produce a straightforward London-based police procedural and was struggling to find a setting that inspired me. Eventually, it dawned on me that it was right under my nose – my husband is Polish, and we live in East London, which is home to a huge population of recently arrived Poles. The idea of setting my story in a community that most Brits know scarcely anything about was really appealing and as I developed the book’s central characters – a Polish émigré private eye and a young East End female police detective – I saw the possibilities of using each as a prism through which to view the other’s culture.  I think that, as a genre, crime has the potential to make ‘difficult’ subjects more accessible and appealing: I don’t think so many people would have picked up a book set among London’s Poles which delves into Polish culture and history, had they not been promised a nail-biting murder mystery with twists and turns.


Would-be writers are often advised to ‘write what you know about’ but I’d say just the opposite. I think I’d have found it near impossible to find a fresh and insightful way in to writing about English culture because when you already know so much, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. But when I dug into Polish culture and history, and the life of the émigré, I found it relatively easy to work out what a reader might find interesting and enlightening because I was approaching it afresh, just as they would.

So I would say do some research into a topic or setting that you know very little about, but which intrigues you, and inspiration will follow.”


When masked men brutally stab one of his closest friends to death, Janusz Kiszka – fixer to East London’s Poles – must dig deep into London’s criminal underbelly to track down the killers and deliver justice.

Shadowing a beautiful Ukrainian girl he believes could solve the mystery, Kiszka soon finds himself skating dangerously close to her ruthless ‘businessman’ boyfriend. Meanwhile, his old nemesis, rookie police detective Natalie Kershaw is struggling to identify a mystery suicide, a Pole who jumped off the top of Canary Wharf Tower. But all is not what it seems…

Sparks fly as Kiszka and Kershaw’s paths cross for a second time, but they must call a truce when their separate investigations call for a journey to Poland’s wintry eastern borders…




If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.

Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.

I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.

And I realise the somebody is me.

Chapter One

Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.

Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.

Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.

As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.

Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.

Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.

Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.








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