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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday July 25 2019 | Issue 50
Crime Club
Karen Robinson
By Karen Robinson
 
Sun’s out, guns out, as they probably don’t say in the genteel world of publishing. But since it’s a well known fact that red-hot crime and thriller action is the perfect companion for a relaxed billet on a sunlounger, there’s no shortage of great reading to while away the summer languor. You’ll find our pick of the best new releases in this month’s bulletin, which also marks a significant landmark: it’s Crime Club’s 50th edition. A “half-century” of great books, frank revelations from our favourite authors and some terrific prizes — a tradition we uphold in this issue, with a London hotel stay and a bumper nine-book set of prizes up for grabs .

■ Find previous issues of Crime Club here
Karen Robinson
The Sunday Times
 
Q&A: George Alagiah
 
How are you?
I’m as well as can be. The cancer keeps coming back but my doctors manage to find a way to impede its advance. I live from one scan to the next. Five and a bit years ago, when I was first diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, the thought that I might be enjoying the launch of my first novel seemed utterly fanciful. So, I’m in a good place.

What’s the most frightening situation you’ve ever faced as a foreign reporter?
One of the worst days was flying into Mogadishu, which was a patchwork of competing warlords, then finding out that our pilot had decided not to risk returning to take us back to Nairobi. We managed to get out by hitching (at a price) a lift on plane that was on the return leg of a drug run. We got on the plane amidst a shoot-out between rival drug gangs.

Was it boring to present the news on the BBC after years reporting from the world’s trouble spots?
No, it was time to move on. I had reached the point when I felt I had nothing new to say about conflicts and disasters. Also, once I had children, two sons, I found it increasingly difficult to cope with seeing the young victims of wars begun by adults.

Why did you write a thriller?
I don’t think I set out to write a thriller, I just got caught up in the story. I guess it’s what happens when you go with the flow, something that you can’t indulge in when presenting News at Six.

Unshackled from reporting facts, was it easier to write the South African story you wanted to tell in The Burning Land?
Over the years, my producers and I talked about doing a story on the sometimes illegal, often corrupt and always exploitative sale of land that belonged to powerless communities — people who might have farmed it for generations. Our attempts to muscle in on this highly secretive business came to nothing. In other words, we couldn’t prove the facts; we couldn’t film it. So yes, it was liberating to be able to write about something I knew to be true but had been unable to prove in a journalistic sense.

What were the biggest challenges of your first attempt at fiction?
I found the writing, the fluency, the description, relatively easy — although I guess my readers will be the judges of that. What was much tougher — and way out of my comfort zone — was plot and characterisation. It took me a while to know my characters intimately enough to understand what they would say, how they would respond to situations. I began to write instinctively, without a master plan, so there were lots of revisions to get the plot right.

Are the characters based on people you know?
Yes, mostly they are an amalgam of people I know. The “good guys” are drawn from the world of activism, people who are motivated by principle, not profit. I’ve met many of them, people who worked for charities like Oxfam or Fairtrade and human rights organisations. Men and women trying to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances.

Tell us a secret
One of the characters is a bit like me but if I told you which one it would not be a secret.

Tell us a joke
What did the cheese say to the mirror? Halloumi! (You shouldn’t have asked.)

The Burning Land by George Alagiah is published by Canongate on August 29. Read first chapter / Buy it here
London calling
 
London has a new festival: Capital Crime will take place from September 26-28 in the impressive surroundings of The Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden. Its organisers, bookseller David Headley of Goldsboro Books and novelist and screenwriter Adam Hamdy, have scored an impressive roster of writers for their innovative event, which will include Robert Harris, Anthony Horowitz, Kate Atkinson, and Ian Rankin talking to Don Winslow about “the human cost of crime”, plus a host of awards to be voted for by everyone who registers for the festival. Capital Crime is offering the chance for one Crime Club reader to win three nights in the newly refurbished Strand Palace Hotel for themselves and a plus-one, two full passes to the festival and an invitation to the green room to meet the writers. Enter here by Friday August 2. Winner will be picked at random. Full programme and booking details here.
Mickey’s back
 
Max Allan Collins remembers his friend Mickey Spillane

In July of 2006, at the age of 88, the last major mystery thriller writer of the 20th century left the building. Only a handful in the genre achieved such superstar status, but Spillane’s position is unique: reviled by many mainstream critics, despised and envied by a number of his contemporaries in the very field he revitalised, the creator of American private investigator Mike Hammer, who first appeared in 1947, had an impact not just on mystery and suspense fiction but popular culture in general.

The success of the paperback reprint editions of his startlingly violent and sexy novels jump-started the explosion of so-called “paperback originals”, launched by publisher Gold Medal Books, and his redefinition of the action hero as a tough guy who mercilessly executed villains and slept with beautiful, willing women remains influential, from Shaft to James Bond, from Jack Bauer to Jack Reacher.

As success raged around him, Mickey Spillane proved himself a showman and a marketing genius; he became as famous as his creation, appearing on book jackets with gun in hand and fedora on head. For 18 years, well past the peak of his publishing success, Spillane appeared as himself (and basically as Hammer) in the wildly successful Miller Lite commercials.

Now I’m delighted to present my edited versions of two never-before-published works by my brilliant friend. I found the manuscript of A Bullet for Satisfaction in Mickey’s files: rough-draft material, typed on the yellow paper Mickey preferred (he found it easy on the eye and it immediately identified a manuscript as unfinished). Written in tough-guy first-person, it has the themes, plotting techniques, melodramatic characterisation, hard-breathing sex and violent action so characteristic of Mickey’s earliest work. Written no later than the mid-1950s, it is a compendium of Gold Medal Books-era noir—a rogue cop, a corrupt town, sleazy bars and night spots, crooked politicians, a good girl or two, a bad girl or two, a friendship damaged by betrayal, and Spillane’s trademark vengeance theme.

A month or so before he died, Mickey sent me The Last Stand and told me of a few things he’d like to touch up — if he had the time. (My contribution has largely been carrying out Mickey’s instructions.) The Last Stand — like Satisfaction, not a Hammer story — represents the culmination of Mickey’s writing life, in which he was more interested in adventure than mystery — although from the beginning, Spillane heroes had been two-fisted adventurers. Also present, not surprisingly, is his dominant theme: vengeance. But in The Last Stand, it’s the brute called Big Arms who craves revenge, not hero Gillian, who is a man of a certain age at peace with himself, looking for neither trouble nor riches, though the love of a good woman does hold appeal.

This is an edited version of Max Allan Collins’s introduction to The Last Stand, which also contains A Bullet for Satisfaction, both by Mickey Spillane, published by Hard Case Crime. Read first chapter / Buy it here
Our August picks
What You Pay For by Claire Askew
Hodder & Stoughton
Ambitious second book by the author of last year’s outstanding debut All the Hidden Truths retains DI Helen Birch as its central character but widens the scope of the action. Half the police in Scotland have been drafted into a sting to nail a reviled gangland legend, but with their key informer on the lam it looks like Soloman, a picture of quiet evil, will walk. When Helen discovers the identity of their grass from inside the worst kinds of organised crime, she faces a terrible test of her loyalty.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
Bloomsbury
Campus-set psychological thriller sees fresher Jess swept up into lives more thrilling — and damaging — than her own. But the intellectual disruptions of Lorna, the darkly charismatic academic who leads a deep re-reading of Agatha Christie, have more effect on Jess than all the drink and drugs. Truths and lies emerge at a measured pace to a delicately twisted final reveal, with the odd knee-bend to the Christie oeuvre along the way.
Read first chapter
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How the Dead Speak by Val McDermid
Little, Brown
Latest instalment of the Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series has them further down in the dumps than they’ve ever been (no spoilers) as McDermid plaits several story skeins into a neatly connected plot involving, inter alia, nasty nuns and an even nastier mother. Jordan’s old team get to shine as she and Hill fight to survive. Brilliant new direction for a well loved pair of characters.
Read first chapter
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Devotion by Madeline Stevens
Faber & Faber
Edgy voyeurism sets the tone for this sexy-but-literary take on the lifestyle-envy psychological thriller. Ella, broke and lonely in New York, is hired by Lonnie — rich, beautiful, spoilt and bored — to look after baby William, and becomes obsessed with the capricious young wife. You know something awful is going to happen, but the episodes on the way take in some unexpected detours and risky role playing, as Lonnie seems to want something from Ella too.
Read first chapter
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★ Star pick
A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais
Simon & Schuster
You can always rely on Elvis Cole and Joe Pike for top-notch fun noir, as they sleuth their way round Los Angeles, invariably beating the local cops to the score. This tale opens with a Jack Reacher-esque set-up: Pike just happens to witness the kerb-side abduction of a young bank clerk, gives chase, whups the abductors’ asses big time — and then it starts to get complicated. The two men’s loyal friendship is nicely countered by an equally profound bond between two young women, who’ve already confided more to each other via text than Pike and Cole have told each other ever.
Read first chapter
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★ Star pick
Save Me from Dangerous Men by SA Lelchuk
Simon & Schuster
When she’s not advising customers on reading choices in her secondhand bookshop in un-gentrified Oakland, California, Nikki enjoys issuing righteous street justice, whether it be nailing a cheating husband bang to rights or persuading an abusive boyfriend to back off — and boy, is she persuasive. Hired to investigate an employee suspected of selling a firm’s tech secrets, she gets drawn into a deeper mystery and even deeper danger. Lucky for her, and us, she’s smart as paint and brave as a lioness.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Cabin by Jorn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce
Michael Joseph
William Wisting, one of Norway’s most popular fictional detectives, is called in to head a hush-hush investigation following a surprising discovery in a dead politician’s holiday home. Enlisting his unemployed-journalist daughter to ask questions where he can’t, he painstakingly builds a trail back to an airport heist, a long-missing young man and an unexpectedly shady side to the left-wing politico. Impeccably crafted police procedural.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Mathematical Bridge by Jim Kelly
Allison & Busby
Insomniac Cambridge detective inspector Eden Brooke opens this 1940-set crime thriller with a perilous nocturnal rescue attempt on the swirling waters of the Cam. It leads us into a dark mystery, involving the Irish republican movement, that gets unravelled by the sympathetic Brooke, who carries wounds from the First World War. Kelly creates an atmospheric setting among the dark byways of the university city. Read first chapter
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The Retreat by Sherri Smith
Titan Books
Who brings a gun to a wellness retreat? Katie, a washed-up former child star, her pals Carmen and Ariel, whose lives are tough and complicated, and Ellie, the loathed fiancée of Katie’s brother, find themselves in the company of a hilariously creepy guru — and an assortment of seekers of ayahuasca-enabled enlightenment. As the weekend starts to unravel in unexpectedly criminal and violent directions, Smith’s brilliantly deft character portraits crackle with humour and past mistakes catch up with them all. Terrific fun.
Read first chapter
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The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Century
A name-check for the heroine’s favourite eye-shadow brand early on in the proceedings does not bode well for anything better than a generic chick-lit goes noir. But Jewell lifts her boldly imaginative plot well above the run of the mill with this story of a young woman delving into her origins, weaving in the commentary of two characters from her past to make a wicked puzzle.
Read first chapter
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The Cinderella Plan by Abi Silver
Lightning Books
The set-up takes a while, explaining the current issues in the driverless-car industry, before legal team Judith Burton and Constance Lamb get to do their stuff — and switchback courtroom drama ensues. Was the man in the driving seat or the car itself responsible for the fatal accident? And is it the AI or the flaws of the humans involved in creating it that poses the greater danger? Tense thriller wrought from a cutting-edge subject.
Read first chapter
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City of Windows by Robert Pobi
Mulholland Books
Super-brainy Lucas Page can do the kind of calculations in his head that make him the Sherlock (modern telly version) of the FBI — and very handy when the bureau needs to work out the movements of an elusive but deadly sniper picking off Feebs and other law enforcers in New York. With an extended freezing snowstorm for added ambience, Lucas’s semi-bionic bod (artificial leg, arm and eye) and his Pitt-Joliesque adopted family add to the fun, as Pobi’s punchy prose bowls along breaking all the speed limits.
Read first chapter
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Win Millennium backlist
 
Stieg Larsson wrote the first three Millennium books, introducing the world to Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. He died in 2004. In 2015 David Lagercrantz took over the franchise and delivered three more original Salander stories. The publication by MacLehose Press of The Girl Who Lived Twice, translated by George Goulding, marks the end of Lagercrantz’s tenure, but is it the end of Lisbeth? The publisher’s tight-lipped about that, but in the meantime it is offering five Crime Club readers the chance to win the five books in the Millennium backlist: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and The Girl who played with Fire, all translated by Reg Keeland; and Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl who Takes an Eye for an Eye, both translated by George Goulding. Enter here by August 2. Winners will be chosen at random.
Order is restored in Mayhem Parva
 
Kate Saunders explains why she invited death in for tea

Death is not a comfortable thing to think about. Seven years ago, the death of my beautiful nineteen-year-old son smashed into my life like a wrecker’s ball, and if I think about it for more than a few seconds, I am sucked into a vortex of grief. I have secondary progressive MS, and my own death is starting to look scarily imminent, so I can’t think about that either.

But here is a mystery stranger than anything dreamt up by Christie or Sayers: why, when all my days are spent trying not to think about death, do I spend my days thinking about death? At my lowest point after my son died, I found my own form of cognitive behavioural therapy by writing detective stories. I revelled in poisons, in knife-wounds and gunshots and grisly, disfigured corpses. This was my escape, even my comfort. I couldn’t begin to work out why, until someone half-jokily described my novels as “Cosy Crime”.

There is nothing remotely “cosy” about any crime, let alone murder, but I knew what he meant. As the great PD James maintained, the classic detective-story is an intellectual puzzle that makes sense of chaos. The random horror of a killing is thoroughly dealt with and explained, and the reader feels safe in the knowledge that there will be no more ripples in the village pond — James called such novels “Order is Restored in Mayhem Parva”.

I have now admitted to myself that I take comfort from writing about the restoration of order. My books are set in the middle of the 19th century, and though I know perfectly well that the Victorian world was no more orderly than this one, I do find a kind of reassurance in that rigid social hierarchy.

Death — real, non-fictional death — brought me nothing but sorrow and fear, until I set a place for him at my table and invited him to tea. In my detective stories, I create a place where the bastard does as I tell him, and no more.

The Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is published by Bloomsbury on August 8. Read first chapter / Buy it here
Win Pascal Garnier books
 
Sly, twisty, witty, dark and short: Pascal Garnier’s unique French thrillers, often set around his home in the Ardèche, gained him a cult reputation among fans of the classiest noir. This month, Gallic Books publishes its latest English-language Garnier title, C’est la Vie, translated by Jane Aitken, and is offering five Crime Club readers the chance to win a copy. The prize also includes a set of Garnier’s full Gallic backlist in the form of its three-volume omnibus collection — an ideal way to bundle up those concise, sharp novels. Enter here by August 2. Winners will be chosen at random.
Crime wave: the latest books news
 
Ciao, Salvo: sad news came last week of the death of Andrea Camilleri, 93, Italian creator of Inspector Salvo Montalbano. The books — which he started writing when he was already pushing 70 — and then the TV dramas starring Luca Zingaretti (pictured), created a whole new tourism industry in his native Sicily, where fans pour in to the island to do the Montalbano tours. Shame, then, that they’re going to all the wrong places. Camilleri told me all about this, and his unique connection to Zingaretti, in his last interview, given to The Sunday Times earlier this year.

Bloody September: kicking off three weekends of crime writing festivals (see Capital Crime, above, and Bloody Scotland, below) is Noirwich, from September 12-15 in Norwich. Crime Club will be there on the Sunday to present Bloody Brunch, where you can sip a complimentary cocktail in the company of three historical crime writers — EC Fremantle, Alex Reeve and Laura Shepherd-Robinson — and enjoy Martin Walker’s recipes from his Dordogne-based Bruno series. One lucky Crime Club reader can win a pair of tickets to Bloody Brunch: enter here by Friday August 16. Winner will be picked at random. Full festival programme and booking details here.

Stirling effort: the historic Scottish city’s Bloody Scotland crime festival will host a fantastic collection of authors on the weekend of September 20-22. Crime Club readers have the chance to win one of five pairs of tickets to participate in the opening torchlight procession on Friday September 20, led by global giant of the thriller scene David Baldacci, and then attend his event at the Albert Halls. Five more readers can win two tickets to see bestseller Mark Billingham interview a newcomer to the trade: Richard Osman, the Pointless presenter whose debut crime novel will appear next year. Enter here by August 3. Winners will be picked at random. Full festival programme here.

Prize fight: the Staunch Book Prize, set up to award “a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”, has been controversial since its launch last year. Now writers have attacked claims on the award’s website that “fictional stereotypes” of attackers in rape cases could affect justice: jurors might be “reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men accused of rape, as they don’t fit the idea of a rapist they’ve internalised through the stories and images from popular culture”. Thriller author Angela Clarke, said: “I feel the organisers haven’t read many, if any, crime novels written in the last 10 years.” Author Sarah Hilary added: “Women are discouraged from going to the police in case we’re not believed, taught to expect resistance to our version of events, silenced by shame or fear. This prize reinforces those negative messages.” Bridget Lawless, the prize’s founder, said: “A number of writers have told me that the existence of Staunch has made them think more critically about what they’re writing.”

Crime in the papers
■ Mark Billingham finds murder fun, but investing in shares brings him out in a cold sweat, he tells York Membery
Read the full story

■ The best new thriller novels are full of lies, spies and megalomaniac machinations, says John Dugdale
Read the full story

Free audiobook from Times+
This month’s free audiobook is The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn. The story follows a recluse who tries to uncover the truth behind a horrifying event she witnesses from the home she hasn't left in 10 years. Download it here
Crime & thriller bestsellers
 
Hardbacks
1
Knife by Jo Nesbo
2 The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter
3 The Whisper Man by Alex North
4 The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan
5 Unsolved by James Patterson
6 Dead at First Sight by Peter James
7 Joe Country by Mick Herron
8 Hush Hush by James Patterson & Candice Fox
9 The Chain by Adrian McKinty
10 All That's Dead by Stuart MacBride

Paperbacks
1
The Reckoning by John Grisham
2 Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
3 In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
4 Careless Love by Peter Robinson
5 I Looked Away by Jane Corry
6 Target: Alex Cross by James Patterson
7 The President is Missing by President Bill Clinton & James Patterson
8 Past Tense by Lee Child
9 Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
10 An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Lists prepared and supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan, taken from the TCM for the four weeks ending 20/07/2019
 
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