True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

ingenious | ridiculously addictive | original | manipulative | voyeuristic-documentary

what it says on the cover …

‘What happens to those girls who go missing? What happens to the Zoe Nolans of the world?’

In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery.

Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011.

But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.

Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning.

PUBLISHED: 17th June 2021
SHELF: Fiction | Mystery | Thriller
AUTHOR: Joseph Knox
PUBLISHER: Doubleday / Penguin RandomHouse
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle | Paperback

my review

There is so much I want to write about this book … and yet I don’t want to say anything. Partly because I don’t quite know how to do it justice and partly because once I start writing I’ll find it almost impossible to kerb my tongue. And trust me you really don’t want that. There is twist after turn after bluff after revelation after lie in this superb book, page after page after page. Just … wow!!!!

True Crime Story is a bit of a change in direction for Joseph Knox; he’s an author whose books I hugely enjoy, so when I heard he was working on something new I basically stalked his Twitter feed for updates.  This new book still plays to the author’s strengths – crime genre, pacy and dangerous, precision writing – but this time he’s presenting his work as a metafictional epistolary.  

Woah there – a what??  

In a superb move, Joseph Knox has written a character into his book called  – wait for it – Joseph Knox. His bookish alter ego makes a fleeting appearance, albeit complete with a damning photo as part of a Facebook accusation made by one of the book’s other characters. It’s an accusation that throws the reader off-course a little; the man we trust in his real-life guise is suddenly appearing just a tad shady in the world of his book.  And that is the metafiction genius (official meaning: A style of prose narrative in which attention is directed to the process of fictive composition. The most obvious example of a metafictive work is a novel about a novelist writing a novel, with the protagonist sharing the name of the creator and each book having the same title.)

So, there’s that explanation. 

Now onto the ‘epistolary’ bit. In its strictest terms, this refers to a novel told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters.  In using this term I’ve stretched the interpretation of this a little, but True Crime Story is presented as a series of transcribed interview statements made by the main characters – suspects, even – in the case of the missing student, Zoe Nolan. It gives the book a voyeuristic-slash-documentary vibe; an ingenious contrivance that draws the reader inescapably in to the dark heart of the story. You’re not in the characters’ heads, but you’re seeing a version of the story that has been edited by the fictional people living it.  

And then there’s the emails that punctuate the end of each of chapter – emails between Evelyn Mitchell and Knox discussing the accounts of the characters, the direction the book is taking, and shining a bit of light on the relationship between these two characters.

This is very much a character-driven plot, but whilst it’s all about Zoe Nolan she’s the one character who makes absolutely no contribution to the story.  Instead, the narrative is in the hands of her friends and family, and a small number of individuals involved in a more official capacity. Everybody has a point to make, an axe to grind, an opinion that’s evolved and distorted in the ten years since Zoe vanished.  So, to try and express my excitement about this book, I’m framing my review around the characters as a way of (hopefully) inciting a similar reaction in you.

Zoe is an identical twin to Kim, and whilst the girls may look the same, the sibling relationship is pretty damn close to broken.  There’s no hatred, just reciprocated envy, distrust, and ill-feelings. It’s a fracture that stems from their toxic childhood, created by their obsessive and controlling father Robert (Rob), and their passive mother, Sally. It permeates the whole book, and makes it difficult to fully trust Kim’s account.  Having said that, she still came across to me as perhaps the most likeable member of Zoe’s family. We don’t hear so often from Sally, but Rob is a dominant and manipulative character who plays a big part in the direction of the plot; courting the media, ignoring police requests, and making statements that almost every other character debunks.

Then there’s Zoe’s uni friends – Andrew Flowers (the abrasive boyfriend), Fintan Murphy (the course mate), Liu Wai (Zoe’s flatmate), and Jai Mahmoud (Andrew’s housemate) – and a smattering of less central characters whose seemingly incidental accounts aren’t weighted with the bias and bickering of those given by Andrew, Liu, Fintan, Jai, and Kim. The statements were made to Knox’s friend, and struggling writer, Evelyn, and she’s chosen to transcribe them directly into her book, but rather than presenting her readers with one long narrative after another, she’s broken them up to reflect the differing perspectives and recollections of each individual. This decision gives rise to a plot with superb momentum, keeping the reader very much on their toes.  The deflection, the self-protection, conjecture, and inveigling all make for a sinuous mystery … one that convinces the reader they will be the one to spot that all-important nugget that cracks the case wide open. SO ridiculously addictive!

And then … yes, there’s more! … there’s the story within the story that plays out in the emails between Joseph and Evelyn, and the interjections by the publishers. It’s every bit as sinister, and compelling, and unspeakably brilliant, as what’s being uncovered in the missing person case.  

You’ll get a degree of clarity and closure as the book races towards its dramatic conclusion, but in a story that’s designed to toy with your perception of reality, there’s a degree of ‘not all stories have neat, happy endings’ that will leave you wondering.  Personally, I felt this was perfect, and completely in-keeping with the intent of the book, but not everyone likes dangling what-ifs.  It’s what you take from the story’s details that will shape your reaction to the ending.

Bra-flipping-vo! This is an incredible, rule-breaking masterpiece of a novel. The precision writing, formidable plotting, and inspired formattingare all hallmarks I’ve come to admire and enjoy so much from Joseph Knox, and yet he’s raised it to a whole new level of excellence. If you hadn’t got the impression thus far … I absolutely LOVED this book, I’ve worn out my thesaurus of superlatives in my effort to impress upon you that YOU NEED TO READ THIS!

Thank you to Joseph for sending me a signed, advance proof copy of True Crime Story in return for an impartial review. And thanks also to NetGalley and Doubleday for approving my request for a digital copy … proving you can’t have too much of a good thing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my honest review of this book.

If this book sounds like one you’d love to read too, here’s a selection of purchase links:
To support independent local bookshops, click ☞ here
To feed your Waterstones ‘plus’ loyalty card, click ☞ here
And of course, here is the ubiquitous Amazon link

author bio

image from

Joseph Knox was born and raised in and around Stoke and Manchester, where he worked in bars and bookshops before moving to London. He runs, writes and reads compulsively.

His debut novel ‘Sirens’ was a bestseller, published by Transworld in the UK in spring 2017. It is the first in a series featuring Detective Aiden Waits. The second book, ‘The Smiling Man’, was published in March 2018 and is a Sunday Times Bestseller, and the third instalment ‘The Sleepwalker’ published in July 2019 to equal acclaim.

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13 thoughts on “True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

    1. Oh Priscilla, it was soooo good. I lost a lot of sleep reading it because I just couldn’t put it down. The short bursts of text keep you thinking just one more, just one more. But the story itself was so cleverly executed.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Lovely to ‘meet’ another fan of this book. Wasn’t it brilliant?! Have you read JK’s other books too?
      Thank you for your kind words about my review. It was a tricky one to write without giving away too much. I’ve just followed your blog, and I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts now x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t actually but I’d like to after enjoying this so much. Obviously this seems to be a bit of a departure structure wise but I thought it was well plotted so would hope to see the same in other works.
        I know what you mean about not wanting to give too much away! I’ve tried to explain the plot of this when recommending it to friends and family but it’s a bit of a funny one to describe!
        Thanks for the follow! I’m hoping to find time to start working on the review tonight for posting this week. X

        Liked by 1 person

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