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The Times and Sunday Times
Tuesday March 2 2021 | Issue 73
Crime Club
By Mark Sanderson
More good news: Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television is to adapt Walter Mosley’s novels featuring Easy Rawlins for the small screen. There are 15 of them — and some short stories. Rawlins, a war veteran turned private eye, has been portrayed on the big screen just once, by Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995). No doubt such a stroke of good fortune hasn’t fazed the philosophical author. He told an interviewer in 2010: “I used to worry about money and career and what was going to happen. How was I going succeed or fail in the world? And I thought about it enough that I’m no longer worried about it. I’m not... I don’t worry about what’s going to happen in my life.”
Mark Sanderson
Crime Club editor
Star pick
★ Star pick
Transient Desires by Donna Leon
Heinemann, £20
A significant event takes place on Thursday. No, not World Book Day, but the publication of the 30th case for Guido Brunetti. The Venetian detective was introduced in Death at La Fenice (1992) on page six: “Guido Brunetti, a commissario of police for the city, was the first through the door.” Now, 30 years on, he feels protective for those “who find themselves in trouble and don’t realize that they’re good. In the ethical sense… While other people don’t believe they are.”

You can read my review of Transient Desires at the link below.
Find out more >
How will we deal with Covid?
In a piece especially written for Crime Club below, Donna Leon discusses the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic presents to writers.

Most novelists will have to deal with Covid in their next book, perhaps even in their next books, and it will be a crap-shoot. The news we are getting these days changes with disheartening rapidity: one day Pfizer is the gold standard; next day it’s some other vaccine. One day we have to wear masks inside, while in some places we have to wear them outside as well.

Take the uncertainty of what we are ordered, or advised, to do and multiply it by a few hundred days: how about 365?

I’ve no idea how long it takes other writers to finish a novel. I usually begin in the late summer and give the first draft to my editor sometime in the spring: call it eight months, or think of another sort of human gestation and call it nine.

I am now every day barraged with facts, factoids, false news, mistaken numbers, misinterpreted statistics and lies. This mask is good, that one bad; this medicine is good, that one bad; the variants will get you if the original disease doesn’t.

But those of us who are at work on a new book are writing now about nine months on. The possibilities are limitless: we could all be dead or the disease could have disappeared completely. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could still be raging through the land, or we could all have experienced the Rapture, freeing us of the need to worry about the stock market.

Jokes aside, the problem remains that we don’t know how to present the world in which our novels will be set. I’ve no idea whether Italians will have returned to touching a stranger’s arm when asking for directions. Will friends kiss when meeting on the street? Will I be able to order a macchiato and a brioche and stand at the bar while having them? What public health standards will apply to one-night stands?

Novels can’t take place in a historical vacuum. The social and financial aftershocks of the pandemic are still going to be felt in a year’s time, perhaps in two. Children are going to have missed a year of school, many people a year of work. We’ve all been affected by Covid lethargy, and whether the disease is still with us or not we are still going to spend too much time talking about it. The details, the details, the details are impossible to predict.

The pandemic might work to a writer’s advantage: how often does a novelist have the opportunity to write about a shell-shocked society? How often does a central character have a constant bass note sounding in his or her mind, and how much will we have returned to normal life in a year’s time? As I said, it’s a crap-shoot.
Five copies of Transient Desires are up for grabs. Simply send the answer to the below question to The winners will be picked at random.

Who wrote the following verse?

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs:
A palace and a prison on each hand.
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand.
Picks of the week
Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison
Macmillan, £14.99
It’s always a good sign when an author chooses an epigraph from William McIlvanney, the godfather of tartan noir: “It was as if Glasgow couldn’t shut the wryness of its mouth even at the edge of the grave” (The Papers of Tony Veitch, 1983). This brilliant debut is set in 1932 when the city is still suffering the physical and psychological effects of the Great War. Inspector Jimmy Dreghorn and “Bonnie” Archie McDaid investigate the murder of a wealthy shipbuilder’s son whose body has been fished out of the Clyde. Meanwhile, razor gangs fight for a bigger slice of the action. Favourite line: “To say you’ve got a face like a well-skelped arse would be a compliment.”
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The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Pushkin Vertigo, £14.99
Patricia Cornwell and Joe Ide are among those who have exploited the potential of dissociative identity disorder: one suspect, several personalities — which, if any can be believed? Maxine Mei-Fung Chung is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist so it’s hardly surprising that her debut, which involves nasty goings-on at a London strip joint, almost feels credible. There are times when the sheer number of voices threatens to become confusing, but the central twist is magnificent. Favourite line: “There, staring back on the forty-nine-inch screen, I realize, is me.”
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Bound by Vanda Symon
Orenda, £8.99
After three previous cases Sam Shephard, New Zealand’s answer to Siobhan Clarke (as in Rebus and Clarke), is now a fully fledged detective and still hot for her colleague Paul Frost: “I marvelled at how my body could become so warm and tingly in all sorts of interesting places” (in this case, a lift). In a home invasion in Dunedin a businessman is killed in front of his wife. When Shephard dislikes the way the investigation is going she decides to take matters into her own hands. Favourite line: “Amazing how your standards could slip from black and white to an elegant shade of grey given enough provocation.”
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Page 99
Ford Madox Ford, novelist, literary critic and friend of Joseph Conrad, 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.

A double dose this week from James Patterson (pictured), one of the world’s most successful authors. So far he has sold more than 385 million copies — that’s more than Stephen King but fewer than Nora Roberts. I’m a huge fan of his Alex Cross thrillers, which he writes himself — the 29th is expected in November — but his many collaborations are just literary junk food: Plot Noodles. Why are they so popular? What am I missing?

The 21st novel in Patterson's Women’s Murder Club series, 21st Birthday, co-written by Maxine Paetro is published on Thursday. My swanky boxed proof copy is adorned with a lenticular print of a smoking candle.

I edged close enough to the deceased to see that she was partially covered with soil and leaves. But she was exposed enough that I could see she was naked. Her throat had been cut on an angle and her breasts had been sliced, in no discernible pattern. From where I was standing, only her profile was visible.

I stared up as a news chopper hovered overhead. Then Clapper drove up in his car, lights flashing.

Ready or not, this gruesome murder was about to go public.
21st Birthday by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro will be published on March 4.

At ten o’clock, everyone shushes as the local news comes on. The stunning anchor breathlessly relates the “breaking news” as a photo of little LaTisha pops up alongside her. Within seconds, the screen cuts to the press conference from earlier today — the mayor and the superintendent, several leaders of the African American community, and behind them, our team: the Wiz, Carla, Rodriguez and the two pale white guys, Sosh and me, as the bookends.

A cheer goes up. Elbows thrown my way. Sosh hollers out about the camera adding ten pounds. Someone asks if I lost my comb. They show us a couple of clips from the presser, the mayor taking credit for starting the Special Operations Section and saying “it’s time to heal,” a minister telling us “there’s more work to be done.” Then the anchor’s talking again as they run some footage without audio of the superintendent, Tristan Driscoll, at the mike.

Sosh doesn’t miss the opportunity to mimic the supe, his best Poindexter voice: “I’d just like everyone to know that I had absolutely nothing to do with the solving of this crime, and that I’m currently wearing ladies’ undergarments.”
The Red Book by James Patterson and David Ellis, a sequel to The Black Book (2017), will be published on April 1
Paperbacks of the week
Blunt Force by Lynda La Plante
Zaffre, £8.99
It’s now 30 years since DI Jane Tennison made her debut in Prime Suspect. Expect much hoopla. This prequel, set in the 1980s, has her booted out of the Flying Squad and into a copshop in Knightsbridge from where she investigates who might have bludgeoned a theatrical agent to death with a cricket bat. Lynda La Plante provides showbiz sleaze and shocks galore.
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Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah
HQ, £8.99
Zara Kaleel, a lawyer introduced in Take It Back (2019), takes on a case of male rape at an exclusive boarding school in north London. Was it a moment of madness or a premeditated assault? Kia Abdullah’s legal thrillers make John Grisham seem like a maiden aunt.
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Dead Head by CJ Skuse
HQ, £8.99
Rhiannon Lewis, aka the “Sweetpea Killer”, goes on a cruise to escape her bloody past in the UK. However, out of irritation more than anything else, she soon reverts to deadly type. CJ Skuse’s shameless send-ups of Jeff Lindsay’s series featuring Miami blood spatter expert Dexter Morgan shouldn’t work but they do.
Find out more >
Three sets of the Sweetpea series by CJ Skuse — Sweetpea, In Bloom and Dead Head — are up for grabs. Simply send the answer to the question below to before 11.59pm on Sunday, March 7. The winners will be picked at random.

What was the title of CJ Skuse’s stand-alone thriller, published last year, about a woman on the run who assumes a number of false identities — including those of a romance novelist and a chemotherapy patient?
World Book Day
As if I’d really ignore the worthwhile annual event! Its mission is “to promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own”. Holly Jackson (pictured) is one of the authors who have written a short book to be published at £1 on March 4. She describes below what it’s like to write crime fiction for young adults.

Writing crime fiction for the young adult market is particularly challenging and rewarding. Teenagers and young adults are so engaged and eagle-eyed it makes it difficult to hide clues in such a way that they don’t feel cheated. I have seen — and enjoyed — many a Twitter thread with readers’ wild and developing theories tweeted as they make their way through the story, falling for red herrings or picking up on subtle hints.

I write the sort of books I myself would have loved to read as a teen so I know better than to underestimate this audience. Most of them are likely to be already reading adult thrillers, as I was, so no shortcuts can be taken in terms of characterisation or complexity of plot. In fact, I think YA crime fiction sometimes needs to be even twistier than its adult counterparts: YA readers are so perceptive! I think social media has turned us all into armchair detectives and it’s getting harder to deceive people with wily author tricks.

I hope my book encourages those new to YA crime to explore further — magnifying glass and notebook at the ready. I had so much fun writing Kill Joy — a prequel to my series A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder — in which we follow Pip and her friends as they experience a night of murder. I hope readers will be swept up in the mystery just as much as Pip.

If my book whets their appetite for YA crime, there is plenty more to be enjoyed. I particularly recommend the work of Karen M McManus — The Cousins is her latest title — and I have recently loved The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe.
Last word
Congratulations to James Ellroy, who turns 73 on March 4. His LA Quartet — The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz — is one of the landmarks of American crime fiction. The Big Nowhere is one of the few novels that have made me gasp out loud.

“Dead people belong to the live people who claim them most obsessively.” (My Dark Places, 1996)
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