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Crime Club
Latest news and gossip from the world of crime fiction
Thursday, October 27 Issue 17

Welcome to the latest edition of Crime Club, which once again showcases the extraordinary depth and range of the crime and thriller writer's art. We have a fascinating interview with Pierre Lemaitre, a true French intellectual who can, nevertheless, spin plots that make you want to leave the lights on. You can giggle along with the inimitable author and grammar queen Lynne Truss as she shares her theories about cats (spoiler alert: they're not so cute). And veteran American pulp writer Lawrence Block reminisces about the golden age of identity fraud. There‘s a similarly impressive variety in our pick of November's best new books — Jack Reacher fans, rejoice! — and some fantastic giveaways, including a Rebus three-pack. Happy reading — but best leave the light on.

I hope you are continuing to enjoy Crime Club. Email me at karen.robinson@sunday-times.co.uk to let me know what you think.

Karen Robinson

■ Find previous issues of Crime Club here

 
Q&A: Pierre Lemaitre

Pierre Lemaitre, already twice winner of the Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger, won it again earlier this month for The Great Swindle, translated by Frank Wynne. The book, French title Au revoir là-haut, has also won France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt.

How did you feel about being awarded the Prix Goncourt (whose previous winners include Marcel Proust)?
I think I won for several reasons: the quality of the book first and foremost, I hope; the fact that its setting, the First World War, was à la mode at the time; and I think it permitted the literary establishment to recognise crime writing. There’s a fantastic galaxy of crime novelists in France now — though I’m sure each of them would have preferred to get the prize instead of me!

Why do you think the genre has become so popular?
Crime fiction allows the reader to channel a need for violence. Its success is notable in western democracies that have relative peace and have seen no war on their own soil for generations. It also allows the reader the satisfaction of seeing someone else punished for a crime he or she could have committed themselves. My book Alex sold over 600,000 copies in Japan. Why? Japanese women identified with the vengeance wreaked on men by a young woman who suffered violence within the family. Women in Japan are very badly treated: this allowed them to exorcise the misery they’re living.

Do you base your plots on real events?
I don’t copy real events but I think everything I write could happen or has already happened. I invent nothing original — as [French philosopher and literary theorist] Roland Barthes said: “The writer is someone who arranges quotes and removes the quotation marks”. We writers don’t invent, we write differently what we have already heard, seen, lived, thought and remembered.

How does your detective hero Camille Verhoeven fit into this approach?
What interests me most in fiction is point of view, to illuminate the same thing in a different way. So I was not looking to create a new Rebus or a new Wallander, I was searching for a character with a different view on the world, and that gave me the idea to make him very short. He doesn’t see a scene in the same way as taller people, for purely physical reasons, and his psychological outlook is a consequence of his diminished stature.

How much do you research police practice and procedure?
I don’t care about that. I’m not a documentary maker. Of course I try not to make stupid mistakes, I want the reader to think it’s plausible, but I have no interest in being exact.

What do you say to critics who question the level and intensity of the violence in your books?
When people ask me why there’s so much violence, I say: “It’s because of you!” What does the reader want? An assassin, a victim and punishment. Crime fans want that, not amour. The genre is structurally, genetically programmed for violence. And did you know that the majority of crime readers are women?

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne, is published in paperback by MacLehose Press on November 5. Buy it here / Read first chapter

 
THE PURRFECT CRIME

Lynne Truss is the author of Cat Out of Hell and the grammatical bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves

When I started to write about evil cats, I knew I couldn’t be breaking entirely new ground. On my own bookshelves was a collection called Mystery Cats (Buy it here), which brought together stories from such writers as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. The attraction of cats in mystery and horror stories is obvious: cats are clever, they give nothing away, they quickly resort to violence, they can gather incriminating information without attracting notice, and they are totally lacking in empathy. A friend of mine once helpfully explained that the only reason cats don’t routinely kill us is that they are just too small to manage it.

My new novel The Lunar Cats is a (comic) mystery with a supernatural element; in the world of this book and its predecessor, Cat Out of Hell (Buy it here), there are super-clever and long-lived uber-cats operating in the world under the control of Cat Masters. In this world, cats might very well be too small to kill us, but they remember a time when they had far more power — when a purr’s purpose was to hypnotise human prey, and the kneading motion in a person’s lap was all about neatly severing the femoral artery. A lot of things fall into place about cat behaviour once you understand their frustration at not being able to kill us any more — the way they look pissed off most of the time, for example, when we don’t obligingly fall down dead.

But the story is the main thing, of course. At the beginning of The Lunar Cats, retired librarian Alec Charlesworth is aware of four unrelated things: that cats have started digging up a churchyard in Bromley; that there might have been a literate cat on Captain Cook’s first voyage; that he has personally been attacked by a strange woman in Poundland; and that a beautiful little ginger kitten called Tetty has inveigled its way into his home. The rest of the book uncovers the connections between these four things. And in the course of reaching the solution (I hope), it teaches us never to look at kitty-cats in quite the same way again.

The Lunar Cats by Lynne Truss is published by Century on November 17. Buy it here / Read first chapter

 
LOOKING AHEAD: OUR NOVEMBER PICKS

★ STAR PICK ★ Night School by Lee Child

Bantam Press

Reacher’s 21st adventure is something of a prequel: it’s 1996 and, still in the US Army, he’s sent to Hamburg on a sensitive mission to nail a terrorist plot — once he’s figured out what it actually is. Young Reacher is not that different to his older self: super-smart and super-tough (knocks out four guys, then the eight who come back for revenge) with a beady eye on the killer details. Devotees will also relish the customary toe-curling sex scenes.

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

Quercus

Lively mix of 1950s showbiz and policing nostalgia as magician Max Mephisto and his old pal DI Edgar Stephens investigate a conspiracy with roots in their secret wartime work. The new Queen (spoiler alert) survives, obviously, so we’re firmly in “cosy” territory, but there are shards of flint spiking up among the daisies.

★ STAR PICK ★ Trespass by Anthony J Quinn

Head of Zeus

Celcius Day is in career limbo when a case of child abduction draws him into the world of Northern Ireland’s travellers and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman at the height of the Troubles. Beautiful writing about ugly events with a plot that’s pleasingly serpentine.

Death in the Tuscan Hills by Marco Vichi translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Hodder

Inspector Bordelli resigns from the Florence police force to seek a country retirement, but the detecting instincts die hard and he’s soon drawn into investigating an old suicide for one of his new neighbours. Thoughtful, depressed and angry, Bordelli has demons of his own — there will be many false and perilous steps on the road to that elusive rural idyll.

Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah

Macmillan

Detective-from-hell James Atkins reappears in DCI Kate Daniels’s life, apparently determined to undermine her murder investigation. As the facts of the case emerge — a young man found hanging on a gibbet — Kate is, as usual, stretched to the limits of her endurance.

★ STAR PICK ★ Don’t Turn Out the Lights by Bernard Minier translated by Alison Anderson

Mulholland

Minier is a master at destabilising his characters — and his readers — and this book puts Toulouse detective Martin Servaz through the wringer again as he tries to join the dots between a suicide and a stalker terrorising a young woman to the brink of madness. Minier uses his devastating plot twists for more than a gasp-inducing denouement (though he does that too) as Servaz endures another brush with true evil.

Crash Land by Doug Johnstone

Faber & Faber

Maddie crash lands (literally) into the life of Finn, a gentle creative type, and he’s immediately up to his neck in desire, deception and danger. Tension builds against the stark backdrop of Orkney in midwinter.

Hell is Empty by Conrad Williams

Titan Books

Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is still down and desperate and no closer to finding his missing daughter in book three of Williams’s series. If you like your detective fiction gritty, rough and raw, this one’s for you.

The Reykjavik Assignment by Adam LeBor

Head of Zeus

Imaginative take on geopolitics in which a top US diplomat has tried to poison the President while Iran has elected a female head of state. UN negotiator Yael has to use all her Mossad-trained chops to evade baddies intent on destabilising the world for their own political ends and to feed dastardly corporate greed. Lots of characters to keep track of, but the action never flags.

Rehab Run by Barbra Leslie

Titan Books

Second outing for madcap Canadian sleuth and crack-cocaine addict Danny, whose stint in rehab is rudely interrupted by a severed hand in the mailbox. Leslie manages an intelligent balance of light tone and dark deeds, with the undertow of crack’s siren song for added tension.

Stone Coffin by Kjell Eriksson translated by Paul Norlen

Allison & Busby

Once attuned to the juddering literary style (or translation?) you can relish a solid Swedish procedural — number seven in Eriksson’s Inspector Ann Lindell series — that mingles shocking developments with sensitive characterisation.

The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

No Exit Press

Dutch detective Henk van der Pol may only be a few months off retirement from the force, but as he tells this perilous tale of people trafficking, prostitution and official cover-ups it’s clear he’s not ready to hang up his warrant card — however much some colleagues may want him to.

★ STAR PICK ★ NON-FICTION The Murder of Sonny Liston by Shaun Assael

Macmillan

Boxer Sonny Liston dealt drugs in Las Vegas before his wife found him dead, apparently from an overdose, in early 1971. Assael paints a vivid picture of the lawless desert town blooming into a gambling and entertainment mecca as he delves into Liston’s own complicated life there — among drug lords, mobsters, promoters, hoteliers and an aggrieved black community. Well researched and as gripping as the best noir fiction.

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

Simon & Schuster

The 1981 smash-hit Gorky Park was Cruz Smith’s breakthrough novel, featuring Soviet copper Arkady Renko. It still defines him for many readers, though he’s produced a steady stream of non-Russian thrillers since. This one is an atmospheric and romantic take on the Second World War endgame as played out in Venice and the Fascist stronghold of Salo, where Venetian fisherman Cenzo goes on a dangerous quest for a missing Jewish girl.

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated by David Hackston

Orenda

Anna, an investigator with the Finnish police, returns to her native Balkan village for a holiday to stay with her mother and is immediately drawn into a murder inquiry, revealing unhealed ethnic wounds, a dark family secret and sprawling corruption. Euro-crime at its most inclusive by one of Finland’s rising stars.

 
Criminal Utterance

“We think about death through crime writing — this has become the space in which we address our deepest fears and anxieties and, at the same time, we look for the consolation, justice and closure that is found wanting in real life”
 
IAN RANKIN GIVEAWAY

It's approaching 30 years since Edinburgh detective John Rebus made his 1987 print debut in Knots and Crosses, and he’s not finished yet. To celebrate the publication of Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel, Rather Be The Devil (Buy it here / Read first chapter), Orion is offering 10 Crime Club readers the chance to win three of the backlist: Black and Blue, Exit Music and Standing in Another Man’s Grave. Enter here.

Ian Rankin is embarking on a national book tour: details here.

 
Identity fraud's golden age

Lawrence Block’s Sinner Man was published in 1966, and then he completely lost track of it — probably because the publisher changed the title to Savage Lover and his name to Sheldon Lord. When a second-hand copy came his way a few years ago, Block set about revising it for a new publication. Fifty years on, he realised that American life had changed since he penned the story of a man who adopts a completely new identity to pursue a life in the mob…

It would have been the mid-1950s when I got my social security card, and all I did was take the bus downtown to the appropriate government office and fill out a form. The card I was given said right on it “Not to be Used for Identification Purposes,” and I can see why, because they gave it to me without my having to make even a token effort to prove who I was.

And I went back to pick one up for my friend Tommy Manford. During my junior year in high school, I had acquired a new wallet. It came with a couple of cards in it, one a piece of dummy ID in the name of Thomas B Manford. So over the next few months I picked up other pieces of ID for Tom, including a social security card. Late in my senior year, when the elections of class officers were held, a few of us got the word out. For Class Historian, we told everybody, vote for Tom Manford. He was a really great guy, and he’d do a hell of a job. He won.

Buffalo is where I got my card, and Tom Manford’s, and where Nat Crowley, hero of Sinner Man, got his. And yes, it wouldn’t be that simple nowadays. Just yesterday I went to a midtown medical office in Madison Avenue, and they wanted to see a driver’s licence, and took my palm print and photograph — just so no future impostor could pass himself off as me and filch urine specimens.

It’s hard to believe it used to be so easy.

This is an edited extract from Lawrence Block’s afterword to the new edition of Sinner Man, published by Hard Case Crime on November 22. Buy it here / Read first chapter

 
Peter James TV

Following the Pan paperback release of Love You Dead, his latest Roy Grace novel (Buy it here / Read first chapter), Peter James is keeping busy, presiding over the official launch of his YouTube channel, Peter James TV. Highlights include “Authors Studio — Meet the Masters” in which James interviews some of the greatest and most fascinating names in crime and thriller writing. The video above was made exclusively for Crime Club readers and contains revealing Q&A sessions with Jeffery Deaver and Clare Mackintosh.

Subscribe to Peter James TV on YouTube

 
CRIME WAVE: THE LATEST BOOKS NEWS

Full circle: shut in at home, bored and restless, our heroine witnesses “a shocking act of violence” in a neighbouring apartment — so starts The Woman in the Window. Sound familiar? Alfred Hitchcock based Rear Window on It Had to Be Murder, a short story by Cornell Woolrich. But while the 1954 film, that starred James Stewart as the housebound voyeur and Grace Kelly as his glamorous love interest, is in the cinema pantheon, who remembers Woolrich? Probably not Daniel Mallory, executive editor at US publisher William Morrow, and author of The Woman in the Window, due out next year with film rights already sold to Fox 2000, whose spokesman said: “It provides such an exceptional tapestry for adaptation to film”. I wonder if that’s what Hitch said to Woolrich.

He writes, he scores! Football fans will doubtless be following the career of Steve Bruce, former manager of, inter alia, Hull City and Huddersfield Town, as he eases into the guv’nor’s dugout at Villa Park. But they might not be aware that the talk on the fan site thesetpieces.com is of his three mystery novels — Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender! — published at the turn of the millennium. They feature football manager Steve Barnes of Leddersford Town (see what he did there?) battling Yugoslavian warlords, lesbian prostitutes, Nazi hunters, spies — and rolling up in his “XJ8, 3.2, sports version, V-reg” Jag, just in time to see his team to victory in the last game of the season. Reviewers were not kind — “One of the most poorly written books I have ever read” — and even his own publisher conceded: “Steve’s not TS Eliot or Samuel Becket.” The reviews of Seamas O’Reilly at thesetpieces.com are hilarious dissections of Bruce’s oeuvre. Still, if you want to buy a copy of Striker! it’ll cost you £250 on eBay.

More sports news: snooker genius Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first novel comes out in November. Framed is set in 1980s Soho, where a vicious gang war between London’s two top crime families spells trouble for young Frankie’s plans to stage an important snooker tournament. But can a steady hand and a deadly eye for the ivory spheres translate into literary genius? Buy it here / Read first chapter

Who? Haylen Beck is being compared to Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn by publisher Harvill Secker, almost breathless with excitement at having secured a debut psychological thriller — publishing director Liz Foley says Beck’s writing is “heart-stopping”. Here and Gone, out next spring, begins when abused wife Audra has her children abducted on an Arizona highway, so it’s a long way from Northern Ireland, where Stuart Neville — aka Haylen Beck — is from and which has provided a fine atmospheric setting for his previous books. Neville has adopted the gender-fluid moniker to tell stories “inspired by my travels in America” — though it might also be a canny move by his publisher to position the burly Ulsterman, who sports a trademark beard, closer to the bestselling queens of grip lit.

Get out more: a stylish bar, the chance to meet four riveting crime writers, ask them about their work and get them to sign their books for you over a drink — not a bad way to spend a Monday evening. Goldsboro Books’ First Mondays get-togethers are gaining a reputation with fans, and the November 7 event at Library in St Martin’s Lane won’t disappoint. Belinda Bauer will talk about her serial-killer-thriller The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press; Buy it here / Read first chapter) and screenwriter Adam Hamdy won’t give away the ending of his gripping first novel Pendulum (Headline; Buy it here / Read first chapter). You’ll be able to grill Jenny Blackhurst about the secrets of the psychiatrist’s consulting room revealed in Before I Let You In (Headline; Buy it here / Read first chapter) and Cathi Unsworth will make sure the mood stays noir as she discusses Without the Moon, based on a real 1942 murder case (Serpent's Tail; Buy it here / Read first chapter). Tickets, just £5, including a glass of wine, are available here.

Northern darks: want to know which new writers will have us in their chilling grip in the next couple of years? Head to Iceland Noir in Reykjavik on November 17-20 where the line up of more than 50 crime writers will include various debut authors — as well as established stars of the genre Val McDermid, Helen Cadbury and David Mark. Icelandic first-timers include Oskar Gudmundsson, whose novel Hilma has already won an award, Kristjan Atli Ragnarsson. Ingvi Thor Kormaksson and Hildur Sif Thorarensen “are also names to watch, when they do get snapped up by English language publishers”, says Quentin Bates, one of the organisers, whose Thin Ice, set in Iceland, is published by Constable (Buy it here). “Nordic crime fiction is no passing fad,” he says. “There is plenty of talent waiting to make it into English with a highly imaginative and original take on what we thought we already knew all about.” For details and to book for Iceland Noir visit icelandnoir.is .

Pat on the back, not stab in the back: Daggers all round for the ten winners of the Crime Writers’ Association annual prizes, awarded at a lively dinner in London earlier this month. American author Bill Beverly scooped awards in two categories — best crime novel and best newcomer — for his novel Dodgers. Elly Griffiths, in her fourth year on the shortlist, finally grasped the Dagger in the Library, voted for by readers. Look here for full details of all the winners.

What's on
Crime writers are covering the country in November. Here’s a selection of events, possibly at a library or bookshop near you:
November 2 Meet Ben Aaronovitch who will be signing copies of The Hanging Tree, his new Rivers of London adventure. Waterstones Sheffield, 12.30pm; Waterstones Manchester Deansgate, 7pm. Full details
November 3 Panel discussion with Helen Cadbury, Sarah Ward and Michael Wood. Worksop Library, 7.30pm, tickets £4. Full details
November 15 Christina James talks about her new DI Yates novel. Bookmark, Spalding, 7pm, tickets £5. Full details
November 17 Daniel Shand launches his thriller, Fallow. Waterstones, Princes Street, Edinburgh, 6.30pm. Full details
November 19 Crime Writers and Coppers with Lisa Cutts and Simon Booker. Café Collective, Folkestone, 3pm. Full details
November 24 Golden Age of Crime evening with writers including Susan Moody. Heffers, Cambridge, 6.30pm, tickets £5. Full details
November 24 No Exit Press evening with mulled wine, mince pies and writers Robert Olen Butler, Barry Forshaw, Howard Linskey, Leigh Russell and Peter Murphy. Harpenden Books, 6pm. Booking advised

 
Classic spy giveaway

From 1960 to 1994 Lionel Davidson wrote spy novels that combined intricate plots with tongue-in-cheek humour, winning him the admiration of authors including Graham Greene and Rebecca West. Faber & Faber is republishing some of these titles and to mark the release of the latest, A Long Way to Shiloh, it is giving 20 sets of three titles from the backlist to Crime Club readers: The Night of Wenceslas, The Rose of Tibet and Kolymsky Heights. To be entered into the draw, email your name and address to lioneldavidsoncompetition@faber.co.uk with “Lionel Davidson” in subject line by November 11.

A Long Way to Shiloh is published by Faber & Faber on November 3. Buy it here / Read first chapter

 
BODIES OF WORK

Historical crime writer Robin Blake discovers how they did forensics — before forensics

When my fictional Georgian coroner, Titus Cragg of Preston, investigates a death, he not only interviews witnesses but studies the material facts of the case and makes deductions towards a conclusion. He is, in effect, practising a primitive form of forensic science. Yet he must also reckon with a vast residue of pre-scientific lore, folk tradition and superstition.

Trial by fire or water had long disappeared by the 18th century, but the “bleeding corpse trial” was still in occasional use. Suspects would be made to shake the dead body’s hand and, if its wounds bled anew, they would immediately be taken up for murder. Those who reported seeing a victim’s ghost would also fall under suspicion — here Cragg will look more closely, in case such visions are the psychological side-effects of guilt.

Historically coroners have always made a careful examination of the body and its posture in death. Wounds were carefully measured, though the coroner would also record observations such as the expression on the victim’s face: a placid appearance might rule out violent murder whereas a rictus of stark terror made an open-and-shut case for a homicidal attack.

One forensic experiment, devised in the late 17th century, was at least quasi-scientific. It was used to discover whether a new-born baby had died before or after emerging from the womb. A piece of its lung was dropped into water. If it sank, that was taken to mean the lung had never been inflated; if it floated, it was assumed that the baby had breathed before it died. This test remained in use for much of the 18th century.

In the Georgian period the rise of “natural philosophy”, based purely on observation and experiment, increasingly trumped the older beliefs. Coroners like Cragg were working at the very cutting edge of change between traditional and scientific forensics.

The paperback edition of Skin and Bone by Robin Blake, the fourth Cragg and Fidelis mystery, is published by Constable on November 3. Buy it here / Read first chapter

 
Crime in the papers

Copping the worst of Deep South bigotry

Marcel Berlins' crime roundup

Picture: Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

Classic murder mystery with a cunning twist

Joan Smith's crime roundup, including Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders

Absolute corruption

John Dugdale's thrillers roundup

 
Kathy Reichs GIVEAWAY

The Bone Collection (William Heinemann) is Kathy Reichs’s debut book of stories and includes a prequel to her very first novel, Déjà Dead, which reveals how Temperance Brennan first became a forensic anthropologist. To mark the publication of The Bone Collection (Buy it here), Heinemann is giving away 10 sets of four of the Brennan backlist — Flash and Bones, Bones are Forever, Bones Never Lie and Speaking in Bones. For a chance to win, email your name and address to reichscontest@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk by November 11.

 
Crime bestsellers

Hardbacks
  1. Betrayal

    Martina Cole

  2. The Wrong Side of Goodbye

    Michael Connelly

  3. Holding

    Graham Norton

  4. Magpie Murders

    Anthony Horowitz

  5. Home

    Harlan Coben

  6. Pirate

    Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell

  7. Chaos

    Patricia Cornwell

  8. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

    PD James

  9. Cold Earth

    Ann Cleeves

  10. I See You

    Clare Mackintosh

Paperbacks
  1. The Girl on the Train

    Paula Hawkins

  2. Inferno

    Dan Brown

  3. Missing, Presumed

    Susie Steiner

  4. Cross Justice

    James Patterson

  5. The Crossing

    Michael Connelly

  6. Never Go Back

    Lee Child

  7. The Widow

    Fiona Barton

  8. Orphan X

    Gregg Hurwitz

  9. Far from True

    Linwood Barclay

  10. Strangers

    Paul Finch

 
Free ebook

You have until midnight on October 31 to download your free ebook of Len Deighton's classic spy thriller Berlin Game.