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Zaffre signs Marie Tierney’s debut crime novel Deadly Animals in major six-figure pre-empt

Zaffre, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, has pre-empted the stunning crime debut Deadly Animals by Marie Tierney in a major two-book deal for a six-figure sum. 

Ben Willis, publishing director, acquired world rights from Luigi Bonomi at LBA Books. It will be a key focus for the Bonnier Books UK rights team at London Book Fair this month and scheduled for publication in Spring 2024.

Set in early 80s South Birmingham, Deadly Animals is a unique and beautifully written crime novel about a small community’s descent into devastation and desperation – and the undying spirit of youth in the face of darkness.

Its protagonist, thirteen-year-old Ava Bonney, is unlike other children. Exceptionally bright, she has an obsessive interest in the rate at which dead animals decompose. The motorway she lives by regularly offers up roadkill, and in the dead of night Ava likes nothing better than to pull her latest discovery into her roadside den so she can study it.

But one day, when she arrives, she stumbles across the body of local teenager Mickey Grant. 

Detective Seth Delahaye is given the case, but Ava is not the sort of person to step back and let someone else take charge when kids like her are dying. She has dealt with bullies all her life – from stepdads to playground trolls. How hard can it be to find a killer? 

Marie Tierney said: ‘Thirteen-year-old Ava is a girl with unique perspectives and macabre interests. She knows she’ll never fit in so doesn’t try, and she survives her unhappy home and school life through her morbid studies. As a child, while out at night, I scared myself by imagining what I’d do if I found a human corpse, a murder victim; how I would feel. Would I ring the police, or leave it for someone else to find? That idea stayed with me – and it became the beginning of Ava’s story. I set the book in 1980s South Birmingham because it was a place of such contrasts and it still haunts my dreams, with its huge psychiatric hospitals, car factories, and ugly flyovers – all on the edge of beautiful countryside.’

Ben Willis stated: ‘Deadly Animals is a brilliant, heart-breaking and unique British crime story. Beautifully written, atmospheric and visceral, it has the heart of Belinda Bauer and all the darkness of Mo Hayder. Ava Bonney is a character you will want to follow to the ends of the earth, and Marie is fresh new voice you’ll need to come back to book after book.’

Deadly Animals was a finalist in the Daily Mail First Novel competition, selected by Peter James as his winner with the comment: ‘I found the writing crackling with energy and the story utterly mesmerizing. I feel this writer has huge talent.’ 

Marie Tierney is a biology teacher who works in Birmingham. Deadly Animals is her first novel and will be published in hardback, audio and eBook in Spring 2024.