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The Times and Sunday Times
Tuesday October 26 2021 | Issue 104
Crime Club
By Mark Sanderson
 
Last month a computer game featuring a young Hercule Poirot was launched (Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases). Ian Rankin’s DIY detective show, Murder Island, is being shown on Channel 4 (the fourth part is on tonight at 9.15pm) and now no less an author than James Patterson is making his debut in the interactive arena. To mark the publication of the 29th Alex Cross thriller, Fear No Evil (Century, £20), on November 25, an event titled The Judge, the Jury, and James Patterson will take place on the evening of November 24 in a London court. Those present will be summoned as jurors to decide whether the psychologist Alex Cross can possibly be guilty of a gruesome triple murder. Patterson, his creator, will appear in a cameo role (for further information contact Edward.lemont@itsprettygreen.com). At this rate there’s going to be no time left for reading.
Mark Sanderson
Crime Club editor
 
Star pick
★ Star pick
The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston
Orenda, £14.99
A middle-aged actuary inherits an adventure park with consequences both farcical and fatal. Favourite sentence: “I’m not sure where my mouth is, but I can taste a mixture of sea salt and vanilla custard.”

You can read my review for this Saturday's Times by clicking the link below:
Find out more >
Antti Tuomainen on literary speeches
 
In the meantime, in a piece specially written for Crime Club, Antti Tuomainen (pictured) reveals that a Finnish author’s life can be stranger than fiction.

“Since you’re an expert, we’d like to invite you to be the main speaker at our annual gala.”

The request was, as such things tend to be to a person who spends most of his days alone in a room with imaginary people, immensely flattering. So, after my customary thinking period of three and a half seconds, I said: “Why, thank you, I will gladly be the main speaker at the Finland’s Actuary Union’s Christmas dinner.” Only after putting the phone down and taking a more sensible breath, did I ask myself the question that I have indeed asked so many times before — what on earth was I thinking, and, just as importantly, what on earth were they thinking?

Some background: in August 2020 I published a novel called Jäniskerroin (The Rabbit Factor in English) here in Finland. The main character of the book is Henri Koskinen, an insurance mathematician. Henri is a deeply rational person, basing all decisions and actions on logic, rationality and, of course, mathematics. (Consequently, he does run into all kinds of trouble.) To write the novel I did some research. I read books and acquainted myself with the terminology of mathematics, probabilities and statistics, among other numerical things. It is, however, safe to say that I did not become an expert. So, the original question remains: how am I going to survive 45 minutes on a podium?

Fortunately, as it happens, I have some previous experience of a similar matter. In 2016 I published a novel called The Man Who Died in which the protagonist, a mushroom entrepreneur, learns that he has been slowly poisoned over a long period of time and endeavours to find out by whom and why. Now, I know next to nothing about mushrooms, but for the book I built a fictional industry, the international mushroom business, and I also built a fictional factory where mushrooms were processed, packaged and sent on their merry way to, mostly, Japan. I must say, I was a bit nervous about the book’s reception and what people might say about its different aspects, including those mushrooms. But my nervousness soon abated because, after the book had been out for about three months, I got an enthusiastic interview request. From whom, you might ask. The Finnish Mushroom Magazine, of course. They wanted to talk to an expert.

So, all things considered and based on my own experience — the mushroom interview went without a hitch — I should be safe when talking to insurance mathematicians. And while my research into mathematics might not have made me an expert, it clearly did make me better in fiction. And also, in this fictional life, I seem to be very much in demand to provide important information on various matters.

Just wait till you read my book about world economics and nuclear reactors.
Competition
 
Five copies of The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen are up for grabs. Simply send the answer to the question below, with “Show Me The Bunny” in the subject line, to competitions@orendabooks.co.uk before 11.59pm on Monday November 1. The winners will be selected at random.

Who created Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom?
Page 99
 
Ford Madox Ford, friend of Joseph Conrad, novelist and literary critic, said: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Arbitrary, perhaps, but surprisingly accurate.

This week, a breathless scene from Better Off Dead by Lee and Andrew Child (Bantam, £20), published today. Reacher, for reasons best known to himself, has taken off his clothes and is playing dead inside a morgue.


I’d been inside for close to an hour when the refrigerator door opened. There was no notice. I suddenly sensed light. The rack rolled out. Smoothly and gently. The sheet was pulled back from my face. I heard a voice. It was nasal, and it gave hard edges to the word “Move”. The sheet was whipped off the rest of the way. I heard it settle on the floor. Then the nasal voice spoke again. I guessed it was Dendoncker. He questioned what had killed me. Dr Houllier replied. There was talk of my older wounds. The scars they’d left. What might have caused them. What else they knew about me.

Sixty seconds without a breath. Uncomfortable. But manageable.

The sheet covered me again. My body. Then my face. But before I could inhale it was torn back off. There was a debate about my pretend fake ID. My real ID. My real name. Questions and answers, back and forth. Then I felt Dendoncker come closer. I couldn’t see him but I knew he was staring at me.

Ninety seconds without a breath. I needed air. Badly. My lungs were starting to burn. My body was desperate to move.

I heard Dendoncker make a comment about me looking for him, not Michael. So he was narcissistic as well as paranoid. A charming combination. No wonder he didn’t play well with others. I heard papers rustle. More questions. Then talk about burning my passport. Dumping my body. Dendoncker’s voice was louder and sharper, like he was giving orders. It sounded like he was wrapping things up.

Two minutes without a breath. My lungs were done. I took a huge gulp of air. Pulled the tape off my eyes. And sat up.

You can read James Owen’s review of Better Off Dead here.
Picks of the week
Punishment of a Hunter by Yulia Yakovleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Pushkin Vertigo, £14.99
A serial killer is at work in 1930s Leningrad. Favourite line: “This is how we live, he thought. She’s lying and so am I.”

You can read my review by clicking the link below:
Find out more >
The Judge’s List by John Grisham
Hodder & Stoughton, £20
The idea that a judge could be a serial killer is an intriguing one, but I found the end of this broken-backed thriller very disappointing. Favourite sentence: “Watch out for rattlesnakes, copperheads, bears, and coyotes, not to mention some heavily armed Bubbas who don’t care for people of color.”

John Dugdale in The Sunday Times, however, thought otherwise. You can read his review by clicking the link below:
Find out more >
A Murder Inside by Frances Brody
Piatkus, £8.99
When former WPC Nell Lewis becomes governor of HMP Brackerley in Yorkshire in 1969 she hopes to transform it into a modern open prison for women. However, it’s not long before a man’s body is discovered in the grounds and an inmate goes missing. The drama in this opening instalment of a new series recalls Within These Walls (1974-78) — remember the lovely Googie Withers? — rather than Bad Girls (1999-2006), but it has a charm, and mystery, all of its own. Favourite sentence: “She was beginning to feel she had arrived not in a prison but at a circus.”
Find out more >
Downtime
 
An occasional series in which authors reveal what they like to do when not writing. This week, Ann Cleeves (pictured) goes walkies. The Long Call, an adaptation of her 2019 novel of the same name, is being broadcast on ITV each evening at 9pm.


I love writing. Sitting at my kitchen table and making up stories doesn’t seem like work. It’s an escape from the real world in the way that reading is. I don’t feel the need for downtime.

However, most days, I do feel the need to get up from the laptop on the kitchen table and to wander out into that real world. I’m lucky because in a few minutes I’m at the coast, at Cullercoats, known to the swimmers and paddleboarders as the Bay. I’ll buy a cup of coffee and sit looking down at the sea, before walking on north.

Soon, I can see the much longer beach at Whitley. It stretches all the way to St Mary’s lighthouse, but I turn inland at the white dome of Spanish City, and head towards Park View, the town’s main shopping street. It’s become quite bougie recently, with little bars and cafes, indie delis, arty craft shops. The transformation has taken some of us by surprise. A decade ago Whitley had the reputation for being a bit edgy, scruffy.

This is where I’ll bump into people I know. I love that the butcher knows me by name and that often a writer friend will be coming out of our new bookshop, The Bound. There’ll be more coffee and lots of chat. Then it’s back home to the laptop and to escape into the fiction again.
What to buy
Murder Maps USA by Adam Selzer
Thames & Hudson, £25
As Christmas approaches, this seasonal strand will suggest new titles that would make excellent gifts for crime lovers of all kinds. This week, what to buy… a ghoul.

This handsome volume, subtitled Crime Scenes Revisited: Bloodstains to Ballistics, aims to demonstrate “the slow birth of modern criminology and forensics” from 1865 to 1939. In other words, it visits the sites of murders committed between the American Civil War and the Second World War. The itinerary crosses 30 states from Massachusetts to California and includes Alaska. Some names, such as Lizzie Borden, Lucky Luciano, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, will be familiar, however most of them will not be recognised by God-fearing folk in Britain. The myriad images, although in black-and-white, are often horrific yet exert a lurid fascination. Personally, though, I could have done without the ones of dead children.
Find out more >
Last word
 
Congratulations to Anne Perry (pictured), who turns 83 on Thursday.

When she was 15 years old Juliet Hulme, as she was then known, helped her friend Pauline Parker to kill her mother with a brick and was convicted of murder in 1954. She spent five years in jail before being released. She later left New Zealand and changed her name to Anne Perry. Kate Winslet portrays her in the brilliant movie Heavenly Creatures (1994). Since 1979 she has published dozens of Victorian crime novels, many featuring police inspector Thomas Pitt or private investigator William Monk.

“Well, it’s not very difficult to hit someone on the head, if they trust you and are not expecting anything of the sort.” (The Hyde Park Headsman, 1994)

Image credit: Alejandro Garcia/EPA/Shutterstock
 
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