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The Times and Sunday Times
Tuesday February 2 2021 | Issue 69
Crime Club
By Mark Sanderson
More than 20 crime novels are published for the first time this week, most of them on Thursday. So far, I’m aware of just two that are due next week. This is madness! Why can’t publishers talk to each other and stagger their releases? There would then be less chance of deserving titles being overlooked. No danger of that here, though. In general the books featured in Crime Club are published the week it is sent out, but, occasionally, a little flexibility with publication dates is necessary. Still, as Mae West said: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
Mark Sanderson
Crime Club editor
Star pick
★ Star pick
The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths
Quercus, £20
Follow the link below to read my review of the 13th Dr Ruth Galloway novel, which will be published in print in The Times on Saturday (“Galloway now seems as real as Marple and Morse”) — along with reviews of work by Walter Mosley, Stina Jackson, Femi Kayode and Guillermo Martínez. And scroll down to read a piece by Elly Griffiths written especially for Crime Club.
Find out more >
Elly Griffiths on the dread power of number 13
To paraphrase Michael Scott from The Office, writes Elly Griffiths (pictured): “I’m not superstitious, but I am somewhat stitious.” I could not consider ending the Dr Ruth Galloway series on number 13. Why not? Why is this number considered so unlucky? There’s even a word for fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia.

There are ancient roots to this phobia. Perhaps the oldest known avoidance of 13 can be found in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi, written in approximately 1760BC. The laws are numbered, but the number after 12 is omitted, just as hospitals, hotels and apartment blocks today often don’t have a 13th floor. In Viking mythology, Loki the trickster is said to be the 13th god.

The number also gets a bad press in Christian scripture. Thirteen people sat down to the Last Supper, 12 apostles and Jesus. The first to leave the table was Judas the betrayer. Even now it’s considered unlucky to have “13 at the table” (very unlucky, not to say illegal, in Covid times, of course).

Perhaps 13 is cursed because 12 is such a ubiquitous goody-goody number. There are 12 hours on an analogue clock, 12 months in a year. There were 12 apostles and 12 days of Christmas. A court jury consists of 12 people. Somehow adding an extra digit to this perfect one/two just seems wrong. Has there ever been a more sinister beginning to a book than the clocks striking 13 in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four? In his brilliant courtroom thriller Thirteen Steve Cavanagh plays with the idea of there being an additional person on the jury: the killer. Thirteen is the beginning of the teens and we all know how nightmarish they can be.

But 13 is not unlucky everywhere. In mathematics it’s a prime number and a “happy number”. Apparently, this means that it eventually reaches one when replaced by the sum of the square of each digit, but don’t ask me to explain because I suffer from arithmophobia. Thirteen is considered lucky in Italy because it’s Saint Anthony’s number. Anthony of Padua supposedly died on June 13, 1231, which doesn’t seem particularly lucky to me, but the number is said to bring good fortune in all areas of life. The Italian expression fare tredici, literally “make thirteen”, means to hit the jackpot. Perhaps I should revert to my Italian heritage and consider The Night Hawks my luckiest book.
Three lucky readers will win sets of the first five Ruth Galloway mysteries: The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone, The House at Sea’s End, A Room Full of Bones and Dying Fall. Simply send the answer to the following question to

The winners will be selected at random.

What is the name of Dr Galloway’s daughter? (It has four letters — not five!)
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, an appetiser from Slough House by Mick Herron (John Murray, £14.99), the latest instalment of a series that I call Carry On Le Carré. If you haven’t read him you really should.

Before the light had left the day, Diana was occupying a bench with her back to the Globe, looking out on the Thames. The bench was an old favourite, smack in the middle of a twelve-yard stretch unmonitored by CCTV, and she’d recently had its USP refreshed, this being a foul splash of birdshit covering most of its length; a plastic transfer, but realistic enough to ensure no one ever sat here. It was also somewhere she would smoke, a habit she rarely indulged in with others present. It was hard to say which of the two, fag or faeces, passing tourists found more offensive.

Sometimes, at moments like this
feeling the day’s first charge of nicotine; watching the endless river heading home she could allow her mind to empty, and simply feel alive. Today, though, that wasn’t going to happen. She’d been fizzing for hours.

“Ah. A beautiful woman indulging in vice. Is there any more arousing sight?”

If Peter Judd appreciated the specifics of a clandestine meeting, he went out of his way to challenge them.

Diana peeled the transfer away, allowing him to sit, and as he lowered his carefully tailored bulk onto the bench, he said, “A summons. An urgent summons, no less. Who’s been putting sand in your Vaseline, Diana?”
Our picks
Repentance by Eloísa Díaz
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99)
Inspector Joaquín Alzada’s activist brother, Jorge, disappeared in 1981. Joaquín and his wife have brought up Jorge's son as if he were their own. Twenty years on, the world-weary cop is ready to retire, but the parlous state of the Argentine economy means there is no money to pay his pension. The day after a young woman’s body is found in a skip, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Buenos Aires is reported missing. Can he find out what has happened — and protect his nephew from the awful truth? This is an astonishingly assured first novel, written in English by a Spanish lawyer, that is both funny and moving.
Favourite line: “That’s how you know you’re getting old: revolutionaries inspire tenderness in you.”

Spoils of the Dead by Dana Stabenow
(Head of Zeus, £18.99)
Every time I see this Alaskan author’s name I read it as “stab me now”. Born in Anchorage, Stabenow is best known for her series featuring the Aleutian investigator Kate Shugak. Her latest novel, the fifth to feature Trooper Liam Campbell, involves the skulduggery surrounding the death of an archaeologist who claimed to be about to unearth something significant. Some may find it a little “cosy”, but there’s no shortage of outlandish local colour.
Favourite line: “He saw them and waved hello with his penis, creating a sparkly arc that showered the pit bull barking ferociously at them from the yard below.”

The Downstairs Neighbour by Helen Cooper
(Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99)
The air is thick with the sound of chickens coming home to roost in this promising domestic noir debut. The roost in question is a townhouse in southwest London that has been converted into three flats. The Harlows — Paul, Steph and their daughter, Freya — live on the upper two floors; nosy, neurotic Emma lurks on the first floor; and Chris, a secretive driving instructor, owns the garden flat. All hell breaks loose when Freya goes missing. Favourite line: “That fear was rising, same as when the egg had slopped out of the book: a dread of being targeted.”
One of the characters in The Downstairs Neighbour is called Daniel Sanderson. To come across your own name in a book always gives you a jolt. There’s a Sanderson in A Maggot by John Fowles. I’ll never forget the double-take he gave me in 1985 when I asked him to inscribe the novel to me at a signing in Hatchards. After more than 30 years of reviewing, some of the mentions have, of course, been deliberate. Jake Arnott, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver (who killed me) have acknowledged kind reviews by borrowing my surname. Best of all, Ruth Rendell in Dark Corners, her last novel, has Mr Sanderson bring his two poodles into the vet’s. Pride in such fond trivialities inevitably leads to a fall. Last year I was over the moon to discover a Michael Sanderson in Ian Rankin’s A Song for the Dark Times. However, when I thanked him, the creator of Rebus insisted it was pure coincidence. He had, in fact, taken the name from his local butcher.
Paperback of the week
Can You See Me Now? by Trisha Sakhlecha
(Pan, £8.99)
Trisha Sakhlecha’s impressive second novel was inspired by a national outcry in her native India. “Put a bunch of bored, over-privileged teenagers in a school with rules that are more repressive than a fascist regime and you’ll get more scandal and gossip in an hour than in an entire season of reality TV.” Scroll down to read the author on why she chose to write about it.
The online sex scandal that inspired Trisha Sakhlecha
One year after I graduated, writes Trisha Sakhlecha, my high school became the setting for India’s first and possibly most infamous sex scandal on social media.

A grainy video shot on a mobile phone and shared via MMS — the only way to send a video between mobile phones back then — ripped through Delhi’s school circuit and ended up on an online auction site. The two-and-a-half-minute video featured a teenage pair from Delhi Public School, one of the city’s most exclusive private schools, engaging in oral sex. The boy shot the video. His face was never seen; the girl’s was.

The video went viral, and it forced the country to confront a carefully buried truth: Indian teenagers — that’s to say, supposedly prim Indian girls — had boyfriends and sex lives! As parents and teachers were forced to acknowledge that they were rather ignorant about what teenagers got up to, a pervasive fear took hold of the nation. How were they to control teenage girls, keep them away from boys, and prevent them from getting into trouble?

Almost overnight, new rules came into force in schools and colleges: mobile phones, short skirts and mixing with boys after class were all banned. There were so many things that I didn’t quite understand and my confusion only fuelled my anger.

The scandal was all anyone could talk about for months — and yet no one brought up the question of consent or considered the psychological impact of blaming and shaming the girl. I heard that the girl and her family left the country, but the boy simply transferred to a different, equally exclusive school in Delhi. The unfairness of it all left me reeling.

As adults we are haunted by our adolescence. We look for ways to go back and make sense of the moments that decided who we were and dictated who we were going to be. So when I began to plan my second novel, it was this scandal, and the lingering sense of injustice it provoked, that concerned me.

Although I set part of the novel in a school not dissimilar to the one I attended, I didn’t want to recreate the scandal itself. I was far more interested in dissecting the dynamics that might have allowed it to occur in the first place. I decided to juxtapose the claustrophobia of an intense teenage friendship with the story of a young politician determined to create change.

The result, I hope, is not only a psychological thriller that keeps you up long past your bedtime, but also a story of power, privilege and entitlement — and what happens when teenage restlessness and ambition collide.
Three copies of Can You See Me Now? are up for grabs. Send your answer to the question below to

The winners will be picked at random.

Which two states entirely surround the National Capital Territory of Delhi?
Last year, to celebrate its 90th year of existence, Martin Edwards, president of the Detection Club, strung together pearls of wisdom from 90 past and present members of the club: everyone from Margery Allingham to Alexander McCall Smith. The result was Howdunit (HarperCollins, £25), “ a masterclass in crime fiction”.

This week Mark Billingham (pictured), in his piece Character from Suspense, discusses the “reveal”:

"I quickly discovered that a joke and a crime novel work in very much the same way. The comedian leads their audience along the garden path. The audience allow themselves to be led, because they know what’s coming, or at least they think they do, until they get hit from a direction they were not expecting.

My grandfather died recently. He just slipped away… sitting in his chair. He went very peacefully… unlike the passengers on his bus.


My wife and I have a very spontaneous love life. The other day we just took our clothes off and did it on top of a freezer! I don’t think they’ll let us back into Sainsbury’s again."
Last word
Margaret Millar, the creator of Inspector Sands — now familiar to commuters across the land; every security alert on the Tannoy starts: “Would Inspector Sands…” — was born on February 5, 1915. Her greatest works include Beast in View (1955), An Air That Kills (1957) and A Stranger in My Grave (1960).

“I wish people would quit telling me to think. I think. Thinking’s easy. It’s not thinking that’s hard.”
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