HERE'S a prospect to relish: doughty Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in conversation with the queen of crime writers Val McDermid at Agatha Christie's old haunt in Harrogate.

The event, of course, is the Theakston Old Peculier Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, which runs from July 18 to 21 this year. The venue is the Old Swan Hotel, to which Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926, resulting in a public furore. And expect the conversation to get dark, twisty and murderous.

This year's event has a glittering line-up of big names. If McDermid and Sturgeon don't do it for you, how about a TV panel featuring Jed Mercurio, writer of the smash-hit BBC hits The Bodyguard and Line of Duty?

Then there's Jo Nesbo, who will be in Harrogate to launch his new Harry Hole thriller Knife, plus a string of other top-notch crime writers - Ian Rankin, James Patterson, Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben, Eva Dolan and many more.

Mari Hannah, the award-winning author who is reader-in-residence at the festival, said: “The programming committee has a reputation for attracting the finest crime writers to the festival from around the world and we’ve done it again. The response to this year’s line-up has been incredible.” We're not surprised...

The opening night, as usual, will feature the crime-writing equivalent of The Oscars, with the 15th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award hosted by Mark Lawson.

In all, something like 90 authors from around the world will be taking part in this year's festival, from Australia’s hottest author Jane Harper to Scottish writer Denise Mina, and Alex North, the pseudonym behind The Whisper Man, which is pitched as 2019’s biggest thriller.

Val McDermid’s annual New Blood panel, meanwhile, one of the most anticipated events in publishing, features four hand-picked debuts selected by the queen of crime. Her 2019 picks are Gytha Lodge’s She Lies in Wait, Holly Watt’s To the Lions, Chris Hammer’s Scrublands, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer.

Stephen Lewis

The 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate from July 18-2. Box office: 01423 562 303,