The Crime Readers' Association

Tiller Thrillers by Andy Griffee

25th March 2020

Just when you thought it was safe to go out on a canal, another Tiller-Thriller comes along.

At a time of plague and pestilence it is tempting to think that a peaceful cruise to remote and isolated locations might be the answer – especially if you are surrounded by water for most of the time. That was certainly the thinking behind ITV’s comedy-drama Zomboat last year when four youngsters chose a canal narrowboat for their escape from a zombie apocalypse which was engulfing Birmingham.  However, I beg to differ. Whilst the Canal and River Trust, the organisation which runs Britain’s 2,200 miles of canals, might urge us to believe ‘Life’s Better by Water’ my books continue to suggest there is a darker side to life on the towpath.

Canal Pushers

My debut crime mystery Canal Pushers was inspired by speculation that a serial-killer has been stalking the waterways of Greater Manchester. Since 2007 no less than 76 bodies have pulled from the city’s canals and in 17 cases coroner’s inquests recorded open verdicts. The deaths remain unexplained.

The same rumours have surfaced in other cities including Bristol and York – where with typical Northern humour a so-called ‘Yorkshire Dipper’ has been blamed for some recent drownings. The police continue to pour cold water on such speculation. And it is easy to imagine that accidents are all too likely on poorly lit, slippery towpaths at night, especially after a night out in a pub or nightclub.

But the stories inspired me to relocate a fictional sociopathic killer to the canals of the Midlands where I live and imagine him as a pretend fisherman, sitting silently in wait for his lone victims. My main character, a newly divorced journalist called Jack Johnson has been forced to become a ‘liveaboard’ due to his penniless circumstances and, after meeting up with a young war widow, Nina Wilde, the pair end up being hunted by the national media, a professional drugs gang and the Canal Pusher.

River Rats

The advantage of having a main character who lives on a boat is, of course, that he can move on and my sequel novel River Rats (published this April 2nd) sees Jack moored up in the centre of Bath. Once again, he gets into deep water with Nina after a local magistrate and heritage campaigner is found drowned in the city centre weir. Jack befriends a small community of other boat owners but quickly finds himself immersed in their fight against strong-arm tactics to move them on. Serbian hitmen, corrupt councillors, violent property developers and even a Hells Angels gang contrive to make life interesting for Jack and Nina again.

And once again, River Rats is inspired by true-life events on the riverbank. This time it was a continuing war of words between a group of liveaboards on the River Avon at Saltford near Bath and residents who lived nearby. The boat owners had taken advantage of new two-week moorings but many ended up trying to stay permanently. The moorings have been scrapped now but the story stuck in my mind and I was able to weave a web of fiction around it.

And now, it is time for Jack and Nina to move their 64 ft long boat, Jumping Jack Flash onto new waters. This time it will be the River Isis at Oxford and I fear they are going to be embroiled in some County Lines criminal activity – once again inspired by recent true-life activities in the city of dreaming spires. The third book in the Johnson and Wilde series will be out next year – once I have written it and come up with a title!

In the meantime, I hope anyone who enjoys a ripping crime mystery on waterside settings plus a bit of romance will give my books a go. Come on in, the water’s lovely.

Canal Pushers and River Rats (h/b) are available directly from and all good book retailers and both are also available as e-books. A paperback edition of Canal Pushers is to be released in May.

Andy Griffee, Author of the Johnson and Wilde crime mystery series.

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