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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday February 28 2019 | Issue 45
Crime Club
Karen Robinson
By Karen Robinson
We think we know our favourite crime writers. They talk frankly at festivals, on TV and on radio shows. But what if the persona they project is as big a fabrication as their fictional characters? Dan Mallory, also known as AJ Finn, whose debut thriller The Woman in the Window rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists in several countries, was recently exposed as a “pyrotechnic fibber”. The author had built his publishing career by saying, inter alia, that his mother had died (she hadn’t), that he had a brain tumour (he didn’t), and by pretending to be his own brother in emails to his employer. But has the scandal harmed AJ Finn’s book sales? Check out our crime bestseller lists, below, to find out.

■ Find previous issues of Crime Club here
Karen Robinson
The Sunday Times
Q&A: Alexander McCall Smith
What is Scandi Blanc?
Scandi Blanc is the opposite of Scandi Noir. Scandi Noir has a very high body count and is, as the name suggests, somewhat gloomy in a Swedish sort of way. My version of Nordic crime, Scandi Blanc, has no bodies and the misdeeds with which it is concerned are rather minor. My new thriller is, however, very Scandinavian in its intensity and in its weather.

How did you come up with your Swedish characters’ names? There seems to be a nod to the Dragon Tattoo series — or are there just not that many names in Sweden?
The names are not meant to refer to any existing characters in Scandinavian fiction. Blomquist is just such a wonderful name that I had to use it. I think there are many Blomquists in Sweden and, if I am wrong, there should be.

What made you want to write about Sweden?
I admire the Scandinavian countries and I like the rationality and good manners in Sweden. Sweden is not a loud country. It may have its problems, particularly today, but in my mind it stands for a certain rationality and courtesy. I also admire the egalitarian nature of its society.

Should real police forces have a “Department of Sensitive Crimes”?
I am not sure about that, but I think real police forces would enjoy having someone like Ulf Varg seconded to them from time to time. He could teach them a bit about introspection and how to combine an interest in crime with an interest in Nordic art.

What emotions do you want your new book to inspire in readers?
The main emotion I wish to inspire is a longing — an impossible longing — to be Swedish.

Tell us a secret
I can’t speak Swedish.

Tell us a joke
I have written about Sweden.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith is published by Little, Brown on March 7. Read first chapter / Buy it here

■ Read an exclusive series of short stories written by Alexander McCall Smith for The Sunday Times, inspired by archive photographs: Sphinx; Meeting Bible John; Maternal Designs; Zeugma; Blackmail; Coming Down from the Hill
Around town in the Age of Anxiety
In the Roaring Forties, the Copacabana was the place for Beat poets, jazz musicians, artists and actors to rub shoulders — with gangsters. Ray Celestin paints an electric picture of New York

The year 1947 was one of artistic watersheds and landmarks: in cinema, music, theatre, art and literature, old forms were being broken down and new movements were being born. In New York, almost all of these developments happened in a remarkable concentration of time and place: Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning were in the city helping to found abstract expressionism (the first truly American art movement); Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were codifying bebop in jazz clubs on 52nd Street; Elia Kazan was founding the Actors Studio in Hell’s Kitchen; Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, et al were forming the Beat Generation in dives uptown; and the seed of post-war counter-culture was germinating as dropouts and misfits gathered in Greenwich Village. All the while, WH Auden was writing a poem set in a 3rd Avenue bar — The Age of Anxiety — that would give the era its name.

This was also the time that film noir reached its zenith, with a series of masterpieces shot on the city’s streets. Jules Dassin’s The Naked City and Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City are just two of the movies that capture the real-life buzz of the Big Apple’s streets during that dizzying time.

And the American Mafia, headquartered in New York, was also experiencing its golden age. Under the leadership of Frank Costello the mob came into more money and power than it had before, or since. Oddly, Costello is the link between these two worlds. One of the inspirations for The Godfather, he spent much of his time consorting with the city’s artistic avant-garde, even going so far as to visit a therapist, 50 years before Tony Soprano had the same idea. Costello was also the secret joint owner of The Copacabana, New York’s premier nightspot, where the world’s biggest celebrities rubbed shoulders with the country’s biggest crooks. If anywhere typified the whirlwind that was New York in 1947, it was “The Copa”.

This is the backdrop for The Mobster’s Lament, my new novel. A world of rainy nights, neon lights, basement jazz clubs, artist’s lofts, bombshell blondes and wise-guy detectives. A New York that was not only the height of both western culture and mob culture, but the noir city par excellence.

The Mobster’s Lament by Ray Celestin is published by Mantle on March 21. Read first chapter / Buy it here

Photograph: the Copacabana and, inset, Frank Costello (Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy)
Victorian scandal with Carolyn Kirby: win tickets
The Victorian setting of Carolyn Kirby’s The Conviction of Cora Burns (No Exit Press) is both familiar and strange, as workhouse-raised Cora stumbles into a world of mysterious science and sinister experimentation. On March 25, Kirby will speak at Victorian Scientists and Scandals in Birmingham, the location of her novel, about real-life figures that inspired her, including scientist Francis Galton and investigative journalist WT Stead (both pictured). Three Crime Club readers can win two tickets to the event and a signed first edition of the book. Enter here by March 4. Winners will be picked at random.
Our March picks
A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle
No Exit Press
Boyle is back on the ground he covered in Gravesend, his impressive debut — but the mood has lightened. Now, the grimy outer New York suburbs are the backdrop to a laugh-out-loud farce, engineered as meticulously as a Swiss watch and running on dialogue that few writers could match. The cast still comes from the ranks of criminals and losers, with two retired porn stars and a bolshy teenager calling the shots. First class.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
Point Blank
The story of Lola, the Latina Los Angeles drug kingpin, reaches its second book, taking the narco novel into unfamiliar areas: family ties and female friendship. But it’s still a tough, violent world, and Lola must outsmart friend, foe and lover to remain on top. Long may she reign.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Freefall by Jessica Barry
Harvill Secker
The female perspective takes on more new territory, this time the American Rockies, in a cleverly constructed thriller that has Ally staggering from a plane crash and needing all her survivalist skills to elude pursuit by “the Man”. Thousands of miles away, her mother Maggie starts to investigate her daughter’s life, only to uncover the secrets the Man wants hidden. Nuanced character development is sacrificed to action and intrigue, but the mother-daughter angle is strong.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Don’t Send Flowers by Martin Solares, translated by Heather Cleary
Grove Press
Mexican narco-lit that’s up to its elbows in gore, spinning a shock-a-block tale of a kidnapping and its consequences in a community almost destroyed by warring drug factions. The violence is off the scale (though based on true events), and the characters are at once warped and sympathetic.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon
William Heinemann
Commissario Brunetti’s latest outing comes in this low-key Venetian chamber piece, composed largely of delicate gossip in palazzo salons and intimate domestic moments. There isn’t even a crime to investigate until more than halfway through, but for fans of Leon’s perceptive examination of Venetian society and morals, less is definitely more on this occasion.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Black Souls by Gioacchino Criaco translated by Hillary Gulley
Soho Crime
Acclaimed 2008 debut by a Calabrian shepherd’s son — turned Milan lawyer — about three lads growing up in a world where the shadowy forms of the ’Ndrangheta, the local mafia, hold sway in their poverty-stricken lives. The boys take the only options open to bright kids who don’t want to remain poor — and the reader’s pity for their fates is as strong as the horror at their actions. Powerful, haunting and lyrical, with an insider’s true and tender understanding of the world he escaped.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Run Away by Harlan Coben
Buckle up, it’s another classic Coben runaway train ride, with a plot that hurtles along, scattering surprises and twists in its path without ever quite coming off the rails. The story starts with a prosperous Manhattan father spotting his runaway junkie daughter busking in Central Park, then pivots on one of the most popular hobbies of the internet age — to fascinating effect.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Accidental Agent by Alan Judd
Simon & Schuster
Here’s Brexit: the spy thriller. With his usual elegant prose, Judd puts a British agent at the heart of EU negotiations leaking vital information to his British handler — which could be terribly awkward if the other side found out. What’s more, MI6 boss Charles Thoroughgood has to worry about a jihadi terror suspect a little too close to home. Propelled by measured, serpentine dialogue between British spymasters, mandarins and cabinet ministers, it’s riveting stuff. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
Michael Joseph
This double-timeline debut takes a not-uncommon set-up: the disappearance of a teenager comes back to haunt her group of friends 30 years on. The prose could do with a bit of a polish, but the hidden complications of the characters’ relationships with each other and with the copper leading the investigation are supple enough to keep the pages turning.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated by Don Bartlett
Orenda Books
Skilfully juggling three Oslo timelines — in 1942, 1967 and 2015 — Dahl starts his story with Germany’s occupation of Norway and the work of those who tried to resist, then brings his characters forward to a post-war unravelling of what really happened in those dangerous days — and the traumatic rewriting of personal stories.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Silver Road by Stina Jackson, translated by Susan Beard
It was summertime in northern Sweden, when the sun doesn’t set, that Lelle’s teenage daughter disappeared three years ago. As he obsessively searches the sprawling forests for some sign of her, in another part of the woods young Meja senses danger. Beautifully written, haunting and intense. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Bothy by Trevor Mark Thomas
In Mark Thomas's intensely gritty debut, Tom hides out in an isolated Yorkshire moors pub to escape his dead girlfriend’s criminal family, but sanctuary eludes him — what can he do to survive? Grim northern realism painted with heart and humour. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Crimewave: the latest books news
Noir-portunity knocks: Belfast’s annual crime festival, now in its second year, delights in the name Noireland. Over the weekend of March 8-10, guests including Anthony Horowitz, Ann Cleeves and Adrian McKinty will be part of a programme of screenings, walking tours and discussions — and Adrian Dunbar, who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings in Line of Duty (series five due later this year), will be reading an exclusive extract from John Connolly’s forthcoming thriller. Full details at
One lucky Crime Club reader can win a pair of tickets to this sold-out event by answering this question: where is Line of Duty filmed? Enter here by March 4

■ Helping hand: Harriet Tyce, whose debut thriller Blood Orange was published earlier this month, is paying for a student from a low-income household to take City University’s year-long course, The Novel Studio, which has run since 2004. Its annual intake of 15 students develop their novels with the help of professional writers and editors. Though a debut novelist, she can probably afford to be generous. Blood Orange has just been picked up by World Productions — the TV producer responsible for the hit TV show Bodyguard.

■ Immortal sleuths: The Times Literary Supplement’s recent quest for public statues depicting fictional characters includes just one hero from crime fiction: Gunnar Staalesen’s private detective Varg Veum, in Bergen, Norway, where “life-size in bronze, he leans against an office block door”. I’ve tracked down another in Porto Empedocle, Sicily. An arresting life-size bronze with one arm casually resting on a lamppost portrays Inspector Salvo Montalbano, hero of Andrea Camilleri’s tough but tender thriller series, where the town is reimagined as Vigata. Are there any more? And if not, why not? How about Rebus loitering outside an Edinburgh pub, or Vera staring moodily out from the Northumberland coast?

■ Die laughing: homage to the greats of detective fiction comes in many forms, but the show Murder She Didn’t Write is probably the least reverent — and the funniest. The cast take suggestions for a Golden Age crime scenario from the audience, then use quick quips and physical comedy to improvise a set-up, characters and a crime before the perpetrator is unmasked. The show is on a UK tour until March 30 and plays Leicester Square Theatre every month until May 19, with more dates listed here. Its producers, Something for the Weekend, are offering three Crime Club readers the chance to win a pair of tickets to a production near them. Enter here by March 4 using the password TIMES. Winners will be picked at random.

Street smart: if you’re burning to get your crime novel published, don’t walk on past the next Big Issue seller. Publisher Avon has just announced a partnership with the magazine to find the next big thing in crime fiction. Helen Huthwaite, publishing director at Avon, wants submissions that “deliver heart-stopping writing and nail-shredding suspense”, so no pressure. The winner will get a two-book deal with the publisher. For details, see — or buy the Big Issue.
Crime in the papers
■ The author Nico Walker wrote his debut novel, Cherry, while jailed for bank robbery, says Ben Machell
Read the full story

■ The Border is a stupendous conclusion to Don Winslow’s drug-war trilogy, says John Dugdale
Read the full story

■ The crowd-sourcing serial killer in Death Notice by Zhou Haohui is unusually devious, says Joan Smith
Read the full story

■ The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was February’s top crime read, says Marcel Berlins
Read the full story

John Dugdale finds hints of a flinty Ruth Rendell in his pick of the best new thrillers
Read the full story

■ A Japanese locked-room mystery and a new Jane Harper lead Joan Smith’s roundup of the best new crime novels
Read the full story

■ Must reads — crime fiction and thrillers. Our picks of the recent suspense novels, by Joan Smith and John Dugdale
Read the full story
Win four DS Lorimer books
Alex Gray has been writing her DS Lorimer thrillers, set in her native Glasgow since the turn of the century. The Stalker is her 16th novel in the series. Publisher Sphere is offering four Crime Club readers the chance to win four of the Lorimer backlist: Only the Dead Can Tell, Still Dark, The Darkest Goodbye, and Keep the Midnight Out. Enter here by March 15. Winners will be picked at random.
Fiends like these
Don’t mess with Mel McGrath — the author thought long and hard about murderous grudges when she wrote her latest novel, The Guilty Party

“True friends stab you in the front”, wrote Oscar Wilde. But the stab in the back is crime fiction’s richest terrain — and no one delivers a more deadly blow than an old friend gone rogue. Toxic friendships are a gift to crime writers, and they’re such fertile soil because there’s not one of us who hasn’t had murderous thoughts about a friend who’s done us wrong. So be the first to deliver the coup de grâce by following this handy guide.

It’s time to murder your friend when…
■ They accumulate wealth but no new weight or wrinkles — you begin to fear that the magic “Dorian Gray” portrait in their attic might be you.

■ They invite you for dinner in order to stealth-show you their holiday photos.

■ Their dull new partner suggests a double date at a swingers’ club because “it’ll be such fun”.

■ They greet your partner with a kiss on the lips.

■ You’ve had freaky dreams about them involving inappropriate sex or where they’ve featured as the undead.

■ They start collections of things, especially Cuban cigars, mid-century ceramics or “vintage” anything — the start of a long slow slide to the grave. All you’ll be doing is speeding up the process. Think of it as a favour.

The Guilty Party, Mel McGrath’s psychological thriller which revolves around a group of toxic friends, is published by HQ on March 7. Read first chapter / Buy it here
Cold War espionage weekend in Berlin with Ben Macintyre
Discover why Berlin became a defining symbol of the Cold War on this thrilling short break, which includes espionage insights from historian, author, Times columnist and associate editor Ben Macintyre. Spaces are limited, so book now. Full details here.
Crime & thriller bestsellers
The Sting by Kimberley Chambers
2 The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
3 Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz
4 The House Next Door by James Patterson
5 The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
6 The Lost Man by Jane Harper
7 Past Tense by Lee Child
8 The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
9 The Edge by Jessie Keane
10 The Rumour by Lesley Kara

1 Broken Ground by Val McDermid
2 Watching You by Lisa Jewell
3 The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn
4 The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride
5 Murder Mile by Lynda La Plante
6 Believe Me by JP Delaney
7 Liar Liar by James Patterson & Candice Fox
8 Accidental Heroes by Danielle Steel
9 Need To Know by Karen Cleveland
10 Texas Ranger by James Patterson
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