View in your browser
The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday June 29 2017 | Issue 25
Crime Club
Karen Robinson
By Karen Robinson
Crime Club is celebrating an anniversary. The first bulletin appeared two years ago, and in our monthly dispatches about the cream of crime and thriller fiction, we’ve reviewed hundreds of new titles, had the best names in the genres writing for us and given readers the chance to win some great books. We’ve even hosted brilliant Crime Club events for readers to meet their literary favourites (see below for details of the next one with Lee Child and Karin Slaughter). And having featured writers from Japan, Mexico, The Philippines and of course Scandinavia — as well as home-grown talent — we’re confident that he world of crime-writing will continue to amaze and delight.

It’s getting harder to find the good old grumpy detective stories amid the growing numbers of grip-lit titles: psychological thrillers with unreliable, usually female, narrators are still having their day, though apparently cosy crime is due a renaissance. Crime Club’s aim is to identify the most interesting work out there, whatever the subgenre, and make sure you know about it.

Look here for the archive of all the crime club bulletins, and read on for reviews, news, giveaways and fascinating insights into the minds of some great crime writers.
Karen Robinson
The Sunday Times
Q&A: Robert Thorogood
The creator of the BBC TV show Death in Paradise — series 7 will be broadcast next year — also writes the Death in Paradise mysteries

Which came first, the books or the TV shows?
I came up with the idea of doing Death in Paradise as a TV show first. But I couldn’t find any TV production company that was prepared to buy it. I entered a scriptwriting competition that the legendary TV writer Tony Jordan had set up with his new production company, Red Planet Pictures. I got into the finals and took my chance to pitch him my “Untitled Copper In The Caribbean” idea. He loved it, and convinced the BBC to make the show.

Where did the idea — of a British detective seconded to a Caribbean island — come from?
In 2007 the Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer died in suspicious circumstances in the Caribbean and the Met Police in London sent out a British policeman to head up the investigation (Woolmer was a British citizen). As soon as I read that, it was like a lightbulb going on in my head.

How are the books different to the TV shows?
I love writing the TV show, but you’re always constrained by budgets (we generally can’t afford more than four or five suspects per episode), and by the fact that each story has to fit into 60 minutes. So I started writing standalone Death in Paradise novels, taking all my favourite characters and putting them in a murder mystery that could expand over a longer time frame, involve more characters and have many more twists and turns than we have time for in a TV episode.

The stories are set on a fictional island — how do you tackle the political and racial issues of post-colonialism?
I just write stories about people — and the heroes of my stories are the islanders, who help DI Richard Poole. It helps that he’s a laughable Englishman — as is DI Humphrey Goodman, played by Kris Marshall, pictured centre, who replaced DI Poole on television after series 3. It gives those around them plenty of opportunity to mock, and it corrects the power balance, since they’re the ones supposedly in charge.

Tell us a secret
David Mitchell was originally attached to play Richard Poole but when we got greenlit to make the show by the BBC, he politely turned the part down. It subsequently transpired he had just met his future wife, and he quite understandably didn’t want to jeopardise their relationship by vanishing to the Caribbean for months at a time.

Tell us a joke
Dwayne Myers, the heart of community policing on the island, tells the best jokes on Saint-Marie. I’ll leave that to him.

Death Knocks Twice by Robert Thorogood is published by HQ (Buy it here / Read first chapter). For more Caribbean detective fun, try Paula Lennon’s debut Murder in Montego Bay published by Jacaranda Books (Buy it here / Read first chapter), set on her home island of Jamaica
Getting to know a psychopath
Helen Fields, a former criminal barrister, reflects on spending quality time with some of the UK’s most disturbed and depraved individuals

I stood in a corner of the cell, eight foot by six, in the court basement. I was seven months pregnant and the prison guards had advised me that it was too dangerous to enter. They were probably right, but it was all about maintaining my professional barrister facade, and I wasn’t going to admit being afraid of anyone.

My client had stabbed someone. Then he had sat down and continued to watch television. He was being held in a high security unit and was regarded as unstable. In spite of the distance I’d tried to put between us, he wanted to talk to me close up, really close up, standing in my face. Looking back, I think you work with psychopaths by mirroring their behaviour. I responded to his smiles with even warmer ones. I laughed at his jokes, toughened up my own language when he went out of his way to shock me. I refused to be the least bit openly disturbed by his maniacal behaviour.

And I kept my baby bump covered by my robes every second I was in there. Then he spent 15 minutes talking about the brand of hair gel he needed. That’s the thing I remember most. The crack in his personality. That singular, strange want.

About the same time I was prosecuting a prolific sex attacker who showed no remorse and was manipulative in the extreme. He was utterly repulsive, brutally assaulting girls he had a semi-professional relationship with. But he was completely obsessed by Starlight Express. He would escort the girls to the show before inflicting horrors on them on the way home. By my estimate he must have seen the musical 20 times.

These are things we don’t know, don’t see, don’t hear about. These cracks in the concrete personalities of psychopaths. Writing about them is what brings such characters to life — more than ingenious torture, more than standardised lack of empathy — and those cracks are the pathways to getting inside the head of a psychopath. Only trust me, better in books than in real life.

Perfect Prey by Helen Fields is published by Avon (Buy it here / Read first chapter)
Looking ahead: our July picks
The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Renée Ballard works the LAPD overnight shift and career dustbin. It takes a while to get the measure of Connelly’s brand-new leading lady — she is semi-homeless, and an instinctive loner — but once she gets on a case, she won’t give up, whoever she might piss off on the way. She’s no people pleaser when it comes to her bosses — who sometimes seem to be a bigger threat to her than the crazy crims out there in the mean streets, dark corners and dead-end alleys of Los Angeles. Already looking forward to Renee’s next adventure. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
An Act of Silence by Colette McBeth
When the son of a disgraced high-ranking politician is accused of murder, old secrets and lies return to torment his mother. It throws a chilling light on just how brazenly power could be abused at the top echelons of society, and the suffering such impunity can bring down on the most vulnerable — all packaged up in a brisk and imaginative plot.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Down for the Count by Martin Holmen, translated by Henning Koch
Pushkin Vertigo
Identified by Val McDermid — and Crime Club — as a brilliant new talent when Clinch appeared last year, Holmen returns with the second of his Chandleresque Harry Kvist trilogy. It’s November 1935 and Nazi ideology is already catching on in Stockholm. Gay ex-boxer Kvist is fresh out of jail and doggedly on the trail of the killer of his best friend. It leads him into the very heart of the state, where his enemies won’t play by whatever the Swedish version of Queensberry rules is. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
No Exit Press
There’s much to admire in this well-plotted Canadian debut that has uneasy detective duo Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty delving into the death of a wealthy retiree, and finding the trail leads back to the 1990s conflict in former Yugoslavia. The writing is sensitive and powerful, giving due weight to the war’s almost unspeakable horrors, while also having some fun as stolid, hockey-playing Getty’s hackles rise when seductively pneumatic suspects, witnesses and colleagues catch her boss’s eye. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Silent Girl by Michael Hjorth & Hans Rosenfeldt, translated by Marlaine Delargy
Sebastian Bergman, “promiscuous, narcissistic criminal psychologist”, is also “impossible, rude and patronising” — at least that’s what his detective daughter Vanja thinks. So it’s not all going to go smoothly when he’s brought in to help police find a young witness to the cold-blooded shooting of a family in their idyllic Swedish home. Solid plotting and some angsty relationships deliver classy Scandi det-fic.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath
Cat’s life is devastated by a human bombshell — Ruby, her husband’s lovechild — at the start of this compulsively readable psychological thriller. Child psychopathy, the London riots and Cat’s own potential mental instability play out in skillfully handled counterpoint to reveal secrets that build to a rattling climax. One for the beach bag.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
My Name Is Nobody by Matthew Richardson
Michael Joseph
Pleasingly convoluted spy saga, the first outing for MI6 operative Solomon Vine (multiple aliases also available), which combines immaculate Cold War tradecraft with modern tech savvy as our maverick hero comes up against a Le Carré-esque Establishment while trying to find a mole and head off a terrorist atrocity. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Fateful Mornings by Tom Bouman
Faber & Faber
Cop Henry Farrell finds his easy beat in rural Pennsylvania’s heroin-and-meth-belt getting complicated, dark and dirty as murders pile up — and the locals clam up. Bouman shows an insider’s understanding of the territory and creates his characters with understated economy and vitality. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy
The disruption of Martha and Laurie’s rural family idyll comes from long ago and far away, as these two admirably strong female characters find themselves challenged by secrets they believed to be safely buried. In her first crime novel for 12 years, acclaimed novelist and playwright Duffy writes with a judicious combination of power and subtlety, to create a haunting tale that lingers in the memory. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Safe by Ryan Gattis
Ghost is a ex-junkie safecracker with a Robin Hood complex; Glasses is an enforcer for a Los Angeles drugs kingpin but wants a better life for his family. The narration, its clarity and power enhanced by slang-filled Latino demotic, switches between these two charismatic characters as their stories entwine towards a nail-biting standoff. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Pinocchio Brief by Abi Silver
Lightning Books
There’s fascinating interplay between Raymond, a strange schoolboy accused of murder, Judith, a wary veteran lawyer, and Constance, a keen young solicitor, as they come together for his trial — the introduction of an innovative lie-detector could expose more than one of them.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Freedom Broker by KJ Howe
So fast-moving there’s no time to ponder the improbabilities as Thea, a trained kidnap-buster, heiress and — an original touch — diabetic, rolls with the punches of a plot involving a made-up African country, drug cartels, arms dealers, oil reserves, Chinese business interests and, of course, a kidnapping. A second prodigious female agent, from the US government, further energises the action.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The original desperate housewife
Laura Wilson delights in the rediscovery of an early mistress of domestic noir

Celia Fremlin’s métier was psychological suspense in a domestic setting; no Grand Guignol or melodrama, but something a thousand times creepier and more insidious in its small-scale suburban gentility. Published in 1958, The Hours Before Dawn was the first of her 16 books. In the preface to the 1988 edition, she wrote that it had been inspired by her experience, with her second baby, of sleepless nights and subsequent exhaustion.

The simple plea in the first sentence — “I’d give anything — anything — for a night’s sleep,” — takes us straight to the heart of the sleep deprivation bordering on torture that is often the lot of mothers with young babies. Louise Henderson, harassed parent of two primary-school-age girls as well as screaming infant Michael, struggles to service the needs of her family, keep things on an even keel with husband Mark, keep the noise down for the neighbours and keep up appearances in middle-class London. Ears ringing with well-meant advice and war stories of other mothers, she struggles on, uncomplaining, despite her growing depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Michael’s arrival has necessitated taking in a lodger, the respectable spinster schoolmistress Vera Brandon. Soon after her arrival, Louise begins to wonder if she’s imagining things: is Miss Brandon creeping about the house and spying on them? Is she making a play for Mark? Has she met her somewhere before? With a series of incidents for which there might — or might not — be an innocent explanation, Fremlin expertly ratchets up the tension, notch by notch, as Louise’s imagination becomes ever more febrile . . . or does it?

Tightly plotted and admirably concise, Fremlin’s fiction is characterised by precise observation and the inclusion of small, telling details — skills surely honed by her time working for the Mass Observation movement during the Second World War — which ensures that all of her characters, including the children, are fully formed and pitch-perfect. More surprising, perhaps, as well as wholly delightful, is the wit — effortless, acerbic and just enough of it — that gives her work its distinctive and memorable pungency.

This is an edited version of Laura Wilson’s introduction to The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin, published by Faber & Faber on July 6. Buy it here / Read first chapter

The Wrong Girl by Laura Wilson is published by Quercus (Buy it here / Read first chapter)
Enter our lucky dip
Bookdonors is a community interest company that buys over 6m books a year from Scottish charity shops and sells them on for low prices on its website To mark its sponsorship of this year’s Bloody Scotland crime writing festival in Stirling, September 8-10, Bookdonors is offering 10 Crime Club readers the chance to win a bundle of five pre-loved crime and thriller titles, picked at random from its stocks of work by great crime writers. To enter, email your name and address to, with “Bundle” in the subject line, by Friday July 14. Download the full Bloody Scotland programme here.
Learning the dark arts
Kristen Lepionka's latest skill has opened new doors in her crime writing

Lock-picking always looks so easy in the movies. With a single bobby pin or paperclip, our heroine can get any door open in mere seconds. In reality, it’s not that simple. So to make sure private investigator Roxane Weary, the protagonist in my novel The Last Place You Look, can trespass through locked doors with ease, I went to class. Lock-picking class. At a workshop by Locksport International, I learned all about this delicate art, including things that Hollywood often gets wrong — like that single paperclip I was talking about. You really need two tools to open a lock: a pick, and a tension wrench.

Here’s how it works. Your garden variety front door lock — a pin and tumbler lock — consists of a series of vertical pins that are lined up in a matching series of holes drilled into the top of a larger cylinder (which contains a keyhole at the end). The pins prevent the cylinder from turning. But, if you push those pins up and out of the cylinder, it will open freely. Each lock has pins of different heights, which is where those jagged edges on your keys come in — their purpose is to move the pins up and out of the cylinder, a point called the shear line. Our first tool, the pick, is used to simulate this.

But you can’t open a locked door just by inserting a key and standing there watching, right? You have to turn the key too. Hence the second tool. While the pick mimics the jagged edge on your key, and the L-shaped tension wrench provides the turning motion. As soon as the pins are lifted above the shear line, the tension wrench is able to twist the lock open.

So the next time you watch a movie where a character picks a lock, take a look at how they’re doing it. And check out Locksport International for more information on the exciting world of hobby and competitive lock-picking — it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating how to pick a lock.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka is published by Faber & Faber in July. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Crime in the papers
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards
Read the full story >
Summer reading: the best thrillers and crime books of 2017
Read the full story >
Crime roundup by Marcel Berlins
Read the full story >
Joan Smith's crime roundup, starting with Mark Billingham’s ground-breaking take on “honour” crimes
Read the full story >
Crime wave: the latest books news
Festival fireworks: I’m looking forward to introducing a Crime Club event at Noirwich, the Norwich-based crime-writing festival, on September 14-17. Age of Extremes: A Bloody Talk by Arne Dahl (pictured) will be a highlight of the star-packed festival, where you can also meet Val McDermid, Anthony Horowitz, Mark Billingham and Martina Cole, among others, and join discussions on “Nasty Women”, “North Sea Noir”, post-Trump crime and even the plague. Dahl’s new book, Watching You, translated by Neil Smith and published by Harvill Secker (Buy it here / Read first chapter) introduces a brand-new Swedish crime team, lead by detective Sam Berger. Join me at Noirwich to learn the secrets of his bestselling success. You can find the full programme and booking details here.

Get it right:
Brian Price, chemist, biologist and long-time crime-fiction fan, gets very annoyed when novelists make mistakes about the deployment and effects of poisons, explosives, firearms and knockout drugs. Well, now they have no excuse, as Price has set up the free website for authors to consult before their characters make a massive, credibility-busting blunder. Look out for him at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 July. He’ll be the one wearing the “getting the science right” badge and attracting an orderly (we hope) queue of writers with a penchant for accuracy.

Vital statistics of 30 30 30: that’s 30 days celebrating 30 books over 30 years by Peter Robinson, creator of stalwart detective DCI Alan Banks. His first title, Gallows View, was published in 1987, and this July Hodder & Stoughton publishes book number 30, Sleeping in the Ground (Buy it here / Read first chapter), which sees Banks investigating a mass shooting at a quiet wedding in the Yorkshire Dales, and in reflective mood as he looks back over his life. If you want to hear Robinson talking about Banks’s long fictional career, you can do so at one of 30 events taking place nationwide, starting on July 11 in Rothwell, West Yorkshire. See the full programme here.

Don’t miss it: there’s still time to book your place at the Crime Club event on July 19 which will bring Lee Child, Karin Slaughter and SJ Parris on stage together in London. What will the creator of the peerless Jack Reacher, the undisputed queen of suspense fiction and a mega-selling historical crime novelist have to talk about? Child’s amazing run of Reacher titles and Parris’s way of making the past come to life could well be on the agenda. As might Slaughter’s new book, The Good Daughter, published by HarperCollins (Buy it here / Read first chapter), a gripping tale of twin sisters and small town secrets. Book here.

Listen up: Audiobook publishers Audible has launched a £10,000 prize for unpublished writers. The Audible New Writing Grant: The Crime Edition invites crime writers to submit an unpublished thriller of 50,000 words or more to a panel including writer Sharon Bolton, critic Jake Kerridge and audio narrator Clare Corbett (The Girl on The Train and The Widow), who has advice for authors angling for the audio-only publishing deal: “Writers should think about how they would naturally speak — we rarely talk as formally as we write and rhythm is really important. A bit of variety in sentence length and structure will hold a listener’s attention and leaving space for silence is central to tension-building.” You’ll find details of how to enter here.
Tim Weaver giveaway
Tim Weaver writes about missing people — the kind that his investigator David Raker has real trouble tracking down. In his new book, I am Missing, published by Michael Joseph (Buy it here / Read first chapter) Raker faces his toughest challenge yet: can he establish the identity of a man who remembers nothing at all about who he is or where he came from? Michael Joseph is offering 10 Crime Club readers the chance to win three Raker adventures: Vanished, Broken Heart and What Remains. To enter, email your name and address to by Friday July 14; put “Raker” in the subject line.
Crime bestsellers
1 Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
2 No Middle Name by Lee Child
3 Camino Island by John Grisham
4 Need You Dead by Peter James
5 Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham
6 Murder Games by James Patterson
7 Nighthawk by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown
8 Exile by James Swallow
9 Monster in the Closet by Karen Rose
10 The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

1 The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
2 When the Music's Over by Peter Robinson
3 Hidden Killers by Lynda La Plante
4 Night School by Lee Child
5 I See You by Clare Mackintosh
6 Bullseye by James Patterson
7 The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
8 Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin
9 Home by Harlan Coben
10 The Dry by Jane Harper

Lists prepared and supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan, taken from the TCM for the four weeks ending 27/06/17

This email is from a member of the News UK group. News Corp UK & Ireland Limited, with its registered office at 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF, United Kingdom is the holding company for the News UK Group and is registered in England No. 81701. VAT number GB 243 8054 69.

To see our privacy policy, click here.