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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday October 26 2017 | Issue 29
Crime Club
Karen Robinson
By Karen Robinson
It’s prizes season in the world of crime and thriller fiction. Tonight writers, publishers and fans will gather for the Crime Writers’ Association gala dinner and awards ceremony to salute the books chosen as the best of the year (or complain that the selection is hopelessly wrong, depending on whether their favourites get the gongs). I’m delighted to note that several of Crime Club’s top choices make it onto the shortlists: Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man is a contender for the Historical Dagger and the Gold Dagger for overall best book; Mick Herron also doubles his chances as Spook Street is on the Gold and the Steel Dagger (thrillers) lists. The shortlist for the best debut novel Dagger includes The Pictures, Guy Bolton’s impressive tale of vintage Hollywood, and Ali Land’s compelling psychological thriller Good Me, Bad Me. View all the shortlists at, place your bets — and check there tomorrow for the winners. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this latest edition of Crime Club, where you’ll find the winners of tomorrow, plus news and views, fun and prizes. Happy reading.

■ Find previous issues of Crime Club here
Karen Robinson
The Sunday Times
Q&A: Krysten Ritter
Krysten Ritter played Jane Margolis, Jesse Pinkman’s ill-fated girlfriend, in Breaking Bad and the lead character in Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Bonfire is her first novel

In Bonfire, Abby Williams goes back to the small town of her childhood to face down old demons. How much of your experience has gone into her?
I am fortunate that my past is not nearly as dark and haunted as Abby’s, but I did also grow up in a small town and relate to the feeling of regressing when you go home, having to face things you’ve left in the past. I used some personal feelings as a jumping off point, but Abby is fiction and she took on a life of her own pretty quickly.

And did you really know teenage girls who were as nasty and cruel as Abby’s contemporaries?
Thank God I do not personally know teenage girls like the ones I created in Bonfire. I have a young sister so I felt like I had a fresh point of view into what it’s like to be that age — but it was my horror at the Netflix documentary Audrie and Daisy that I think influenced my interest in exploring how girls are treated.

What was your primary motivation for writing the book?
It started as wanting to really explore a sense of place, and write a place that felt real to me. I wanted to explore small-town subterfuge. It felt like a really juicy character-driven area to play in. The idea of a crime that everyone works to hide — and the players involved — was the first real spark I had.

Who are your favourite writers?
I love and admire and am endlessly entertained by Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, Mary Kubica, and Tana French. I just tried to write a book like the ones that I love to read.

You have worked in film and TV: have their storytelling techniques influenced yours?
I have been in the business of storytelling for a very long time with acting, reading scripts, writing scripts, breaking down characters and working on development ideas with my company, Silent Machine. All of it has been a learning experience. I love going deep into character psychology and I have valuable on-the-job training every day. I also love working with other writers and in doing that — giving them notes, encouraging them to dig deeper and swing bigger — I have learned a lot about writing.

Do you think Bonfire would work best as a film or a TV series?
The original idea that I had was for a television series. But now that the book is written I can see it as a film as well! I would love to see Abby come to life beyond the page.

Tell us a joke.
The past, present, and future walk into a bar. It was tense.

Tell us a secret.
I just cheated and asked Siri for a joke.

Bonfire is published by Hutchinson on November 9. Buy it here / Read first chapter
The mysterious case of Poirot’s changing 'tache
The trailer for this November's film version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (MotOE) reveals an imaginative take on Hercule Poirot’s facial hair. Kenneth Branagh, who plays the Belgian detective, sports a thick silver walrus-style ‘tache with a matching “soul patch” on his chin. Is this really what the writer had in mind? Or is Branagh, who also directs, going for the Millennial audience with his (now a bit dated) hipster look?

Poirot’s sidekick, Captain Hastings, first described the finicky sleuth’s moustache as “very stiff and military”, and Christie added, in MotOE, that he was “muffled up to the ears ... nothing was visible but a pink-tipped nose and the two points of an upward curled moustache”. Which sounds a lot like David Suchet’s Poirot in the long-running ITV series, now the definitive model for many of us.

But check out these other screen versions: Albert Finney’s Poirot in 1974’s MotOE gets the upturned ends just right, six-time screen Poirot Peter Ustinov goes for a less dramatic hairy caterpillar across the top lip. In the poster for the 1931 film Alibi, based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Austin Trevor, the first actor to play Poirot on screen, appears in a rather loud tweed trilby and a clean-shaven upper lip. Horst Bollmann, in the 1973 German television version of Black Coffee, wears his facial hair unsculpted, while in 2001’s MotOE, Alfred Molina appears to favour a 1970s pimp style. Who's your favourite?

Pictured centre: Kenneth Branagh. Left, from top: David Suchet, Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov. Right, from top: Austin Trevor, Horst Bollmann and Alfred Molina
Looking ahead: our November picks
The Midnight Line by Lee Child
Bantam Press
Is Reacher going a bit … soft? In his 22nd outing he actually misses Chang, the closest he’s come to having a girlfriend, he co-operates closely with an ex-Feeb and he makes an error during a take-down that nearly costs his life. But it’s OK. True Reacherian qualities — super-smart reasoning and deduction, unswerving dedication to doing the right thing and the dazzling ability to administer deft simultaneous multiple butt-kickings — keep him on top action-hero form in the backwoods of Wyoming, fighting a new angle in American organised drugs crime.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
The Darkest Day by Hakan Nesser, translated by Sarah Death
The Swedish crime veteran freestyles into the first of his new series, extensively probing an excruciating family reunion and putting some wicked fun into dysfunctional. We’re nearly at page 200 before the philosophical Inspector Barbarotti ambles into view to investigate the disappearance of two of the unhappily gathered tribe. This “new direction” of Nesser’s was actually published in his home country a decade ago, so there are already plenty more Barbarotti books in the pipeline for English readers.
Read first chapter
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East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman
The prose could do with a bit of a polish, but Rahman’s story builds the tension to a heart-constricting climax as Jay, a small-time drug dealer and easy-going Hounslow Muslim, gets swept up into a jihadi network. The humdrum London life led by Jay and his fellow “Paks” (his word) slides easily into the global web that traps them — make the terror scarily real.
Read first chapter
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Sweetpea by CJ Skuse
HQ (new in paperback)
Meet Rhiannon: dutiful girlfriend, doting dog-owner, humble editorial assistant — and ruthless killer. She knows she’s a psychopath thanks to a personality quiz on Buzzfeed, but was it a childhood trauma that made her this way? Her uninhibitedly frank diary is filthy and funny, with a wonderful line in character assassination — and the story it unfolds gets ever darker. A compulsive read if you’re not on the prudish side.
Read first chapter
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The Mountain by Luca D’Andrea, translated by Howard Curtis
MacLehose Press
Hyped across Europe after cleaning up in foreign rights at the London Book Fair, this Italian bestseller has an American documentary-maker as its hero. Jeremiah Salinger tries to overcome the trauma of being the only survivor of a Dolomites mountain rescue by hunting a killer still at large, decades after his murder spree. The dramatic mountain setting looms ominously.
Read first chapter
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The Girl in the Fog by Donato Carrisi, translated by Howard Curtis
You wait ages for a thriller by an Italian bestselling superstar set in a remote mountain community, then two come along at once. Carrisi’s novel is dark and tricksy, with the impeccably dressed detective Vogel (well, he is Italian) employing his unusual approach to policing as he tries to find a missing teenager during a media frenzy. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Snare by Lilja Sigurdardottir, translated by Quentin Bates
Orenda Books
The seamy side of Iceland is uncovered in this lively and original debut as divorcee Sonja finds herself coerced into drug trafficking while her banker girlfriend Agla fends off a criminal investigation in the aftermath of the financial crash. Tense, edgy and delivering more than a few unexpected twists and turns. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Shadow Man by Margaret Kirk
Former Met detective Lukas Mahler has relocated to Inverness, and he is not fitting in. The tranquil Highland city is having a stats-busting spate of murders, including the brutal slaying of a local celebrity on the eve of her wedding, and Mahler must delve into family secrets and lies to work out how the killings might be connected. Great characters and setting, but there’s little surprise in the ending. Still, it’s a promising debut.
Read first chapter
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Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride
There’s serious wrongdoing going on in Aberdeen, but MacBride has chosen to play it mainly for laughs, sidelining DI Logan McRae — hero of 11 books — and giving centre stage to the inventively foul-mouthed and rebellious Roberta Steel, newly demoted to DS but undimmed in her energy and appetites. Laugh-out-loud comic set pieces interweave with crimes of raw depravity.
Read first chapter
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★ Star pick
In the Dark by Andreas Pfluger, translated by Shaun Whiteside
Head of Zeus
Elite agent Jenny Aaron was blinded in the line of duty, but her powers of perception have been honed and sharpened. Pfluger absorbs us into her world as she battles inner demons and sceptical colleagues to pursue an elusive serial killer. An impressive feat of writing that combines imagination, empathy and a rock-hard edge — and never fails in its duty to maintain the ratcheting tension of a first-rate thriller.
Read first chapter
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Death on the Canal by Anja de Jager
Another case for Amsterdam detective Lotte Meerman, who combines a disastrous love life with a tenacious approach to her job. It’s summer in the tourist-trap city and Lotte’s evening with her ex in a canalside bar takes a turn for the worse when a man is stabbed to death — a case that will lead into the city’s drug underworld and a moral dilemma. Read first chapter
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Can You Keep a Secret? by Karen Perry
The Irish duo who write as Karen Perry deliver a psychological thriller-lite that’s readably chick-lit in tone, even though the heroine is pushing 40. A soured schoolgirl friendship is at the heart of a dramatic mystery, and when a group of friends reunite in a spooky Irish stately home, the secrets soon come tumbling out.
Read first chapter
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The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally
Point Blank
The Booker-winning author of Schindler’s Ark has enlisted his daughter as writing partner for a series — this is the first — about a gentleman convict sleuth and his clever housekeeper sidekick in Australia’s penal colony days. Absorbing historical detail and sprightly plotting.
Read first chapter
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Corrupt justice in Auschwitz
Film-maker and novelist Chris Petit explains why he has set his latest thriller in Auschwitz

Pale Horse Riding is loosely based on the actual case of an SS prosecuting judge sent into the top-secret world of Auschwitz to uncover gold smuggling. It’s hard not to be struck by the absurdity of individual investigations being conducted when thousands were being murdered there daily.

In his introduction to the 2016 reissue of my novel The Psalm Killer, the tale of a 1980s Northern Irish serial killer, Alan Moore writes that perhaps only noir can navigate intractable black spots like the Belfast of that period, as “almost an obligation of the genre, though it’s rarely put to such a purpose”. As with Belfast and its deep politics, I tried to get the map of Auschwitz right, with protected enclaves showing how far away something needed to be for it to be psychologically discounted. There were plenty of safe desk jobs, a vast bureaucracy, and opportunities to look the other way, with societies to join, entertainments to hand, food of a high standard, with free Mattoni mineral water imported from Czechoslovakia by the SS, who ran the place.

The original enterprise was not death factories but agrarian and utopian, including herbal remedies and organic farming. The commandant’s wife’s gardening skills were admired; later, her husband complained about the ash falling on her roses. She was also a regular “shopper” in the huge shed known as “Canada”, stuffed with belongings stolen from those disembarking from the trains. It became the general sport of summer evenings to stroll down drunk to the goods yards to see what could be picked up in the way of souvenirs.

Corruption was the garrison’s other big secret, and, in a grotesque anomaly, it was prosecutable, whereas the mass killings were deemed extralegal. As for those pioneer serial killers, how did they come down after the job? Like a lot of us, by getting smashed, growing maudlin and complaining what bastard work it was. Venturing through the looking-glass into this grotesque other world, the more uncannily familiar it becomes: Auschwitz always was a commercial project, including ironworks, cattle breeding and a slaughterhouse. When it went into the business of mass extermination it became, with hardly a bat of the eyelid, a wholesale recycling centre. In this context, the biggest shock of Auschwitz today is its location: not at all hidden away, but bang on the town’s ring road where you would put an Aldi.

Pale Horse Riding by Chris Petit is published by Simon & Schuster on November 16. Buy it here / Read first chapter
American noir giveaway
If classic American noir is your bag, you probably already appreciate the efforts of Hard Case Crime to seek out and republish — with fabulously raunchy cover artwork — some absolute gems of the genre. The latest is the 1940s title Turn on the Heat by the legendary Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, in which sleuthing duo Bertha Cool and Donald Lam go in search of a missing woman. Hard Case is offering five Crime Club readers the chance to win Turn on the Heat and four more titles from the collection: Snatch by Gregory Mcdonald; Forever and a Death by Donald E Westlake; Soho Sins by Richard Vine; and Quarry’s Climax by Max Allan Collins. To be in with a chance, email your name and address to by Friday November 10, putting CRIME CLUB in the subject line.
Don’t mess with the morris
In Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins novels, police work with a diocesan exorcist to uncover contemporary crime in the Welsh borders — against a backdrop of dark, ancient folklore. And, he says, morris dancers fit right in

I like to think I can find something sinister in most aspects of rural life, but it was clear that morris dancing was going to take some work. When I was a kid, growing up near Wigan, it was the preserve of either little girls waving hankies or genial old blokes with flowers round their hats like summery Santas. It was not, in any respect, scary.

But then, neither were clowns, once.

“I remember thinking, when it was over, that there was a sense of real violence in the air,” a dancer told me. “Before you finish it’s important to dance clockwise in a circle to deal with the energy.”

He was talking about border morris, as practised on the Welsh border, where I live and where most of my novels are set. Border morris is not about flowers and hankies. It involves stout sticks and black faces. Nothing racist about the blacking-up — it was originally done to conceal the identities of the dancers from their regular employers when they went out dancing for money in winter, when there wasn’t much farm-work on offer.

Gradually, the dark seasonal aspects of the dance became its essence. The dancers would come out before sunrise, their faces blackened by soot from solstice fires, to arouse the dead earth. Or anything dead.

It’s still practised here on the border and elsewhere. I followed the dance, and the dance somehow led me to the location of my latest novel, All of a Winter’s Night. In the Herefordshire village of Kilpeck, near a strange church decorated with sometimes-pagan symbols, there is a ruined castle where archaeologists found the remains of the medieval game nine men’s morris, which may have links to the dance itself.

The signs were everywhere, supporting the suggestion that the earliest morris men were members of a priestly sect, linked to fertility and survival. I get approached occasionally by contemporary dancers in search of my sources. I tell them it’s all encoded in the novel.

All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman is published by Corvus in paperback on November 2. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Crime wave: the latest books news
Remember Shoestring? The last new episode of the local radio DJ-detective series was broadcast in 1980, and now, just 37 years later, the complete series one and two, with Trevor Eve as Eddie Shoestring, sleuthing phone-in host, are being released as a box set. To drum up some early interest in next year’s CrimeFest gathering of writers and fans, the organisers have teamed up with DVD publisher Network to offer two box-sets as prizes. To be in with a chance, you need to know this: which city do CrimeFest and Shoestring have in common? Send an email with your answer in the subject line to by October 31.

Take note. Bestselling American thriller writer Harlan Coben recently shared his top writing tips with the trade magazine Publishers Weekly. Here’s what he told them:
Working off my Rule 3, I’m going to skip boring you with a long introductory paragraph and get straight to it:
1 You can always fix bad pages. You can’t fix no pages.
So write. Just write. Try to turn off that voice of doom that paralyses you.
2 Never try to jump on a trend.
In part I say this because by the time you write it, the trend is over, but mostly I say it because you have to love what you’re writing and really believe in it.
3 Write like there is a knife against your throat.
The knife is right there and if you bore us, flick, you’re dead. Write with that kind of energy. Make every word count. The great Elmore Leonard said it best: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
4 The distance is nothing. It is only the first step that is difficult.
I don’t know who originally said this, but the first word you write each day is the hardest, the second word is the second hardest, and so on. Once you start, it does get easier.
5 There are days you just can’t write. Fill them with self-loathing.
What, snowflake, you wanted me to tell you it’s okay to feel this way? It’s not. On the days I’m not writing, I am wracked with guilt and self-hatred. If you’re not, try another profession.
Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben is published by Century.

First Edition, a new book club on Facebook hosted by the literary editors of The Times and The Sunday Times, is a forum for sharing news, opinions and recommendations from writers and readers. Crime and thriller fiction fans are most welcome, and on Monday from 11am I’ll be hosting a First Edition book clinic all about our favourite genres, so get in touch with your questions. Join us here.

The British Library is going international for a new title in its Crime Classics series of Golden Age revivals. Foreign Bodies, edited by Martin Edwards, is an anthology of 15 short stories from around the world, many translated for the first time. There are contributions by Palle Rosenkrantz, offering an early version of Scandi noir, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, “Bengal’s answer to Arthur Conan Doyle”, and Japan’s Keikichi Osaka, plus contributions from Hungary, Russia, Germany and France. The only woman writer in the collection is Mexico’s Maria Elvira Bermudez. Read her story, The Puzzle of the Broken Watch, here.
The Grisham guide to American lawyers
Oliver Johnson has been John Grisham’s UK editor for nearly 30 years. This is what he’s learnt about the American legal system

■ American lawyers take many roles: fixer, confidante, solicitor, barrister, bagman, thespian… they are there through the whole process and this is in itself leads to page-turning drama. In Grisham’s books, they can also be the victims: he killed off two Supreme Court judges at the start of The Pelican Brief, the film of which starred Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, pictured.

■ The legal stakes are high in the US. Class action cases against big business can be worth billions of dollars and, says Grisham, justice can be bought. Want to build a casino on Native American land? Buy a judge (The Whistler).

■ US juries are selected. Lawyers can run background checks on potential jurors before selection, meaning that attorneys know who to target. John Gotti, the former head of the Gambino crime family, was a huge fan of Grisham’s work. He also infamous for jury tampering and witness intimidation during the three trials in which he was acquitted in the 1980s. In The Runaway Jury, a juror promises to swing a verdict in favour of the plaintiff for $10m.

■ Capital punishment happens. Grisham has interrogated the process of judicial killing in The Chamber, where the execution protocol is detailed and disturbing. He has also written one non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, about the conviction and eventual acquittal of Ron Williamson on a capital murder charge. It is frequently the matter of a few dollars to run modern DNA tests to prove the innocence of a man or woman who has spent decades waiting for execution, as was the case with Williamson.

■ The little guy can fight back — in fiction, at least. In Grisham’s latest novel, The Rooster Bar, law students weighed down by impossible loans set up a fake legal firm to go after the Wall Street racketeer who owns both their bank and their useless college.

The Rooster Bar is published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 24. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Crime in the papers
Film review of Jo Nesbo's The Snowman

Crime roundup by Marcel Berlins

Book review of Dan Brown's Origin

Thriller roundup by John Dugdale
Alison Bruce backlist giveaway
Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew has been working his Cambridge beat for seven books now, dividing his time between current crimes and his mission to find out the truth about his grandfather’s death. To celebrate the new paperback edition of Cambridge Black, Bruce’s latest Goodhew title, publisher Constable is offering five Crime Club readers the chance to win all six of the backlist: Cambridge Blue, The Siren, The Calling, The Silence, The Backs and The Promise. For a chance to win, email your name and address to by November 10, putting CRIME CLUB in the subject line.
Crime bestsellers
1 Origin by Dan Brown
2 A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
3 Damaged by Martina Cole
4 A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
5 The Tiger's Prey by Wilbur Smith & Tom Harper
6 Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
7 The Romanov Ransom by Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell
8 Haunted by James Patterson
9 Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
10 Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben

Cross the Line by James Patterson
2 Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
3 The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
4 The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
5 The Whistler by John Grisham
6 Cold Blood by Andy McNab
7 Need You Dead by Peter James
8 The Angel by Katerina Diamond
9 Love Me Not by MJ Arlidge
10 Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Lists prepared and supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan, taken from the TCM for the four weeks ending 24/10/17
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