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Thursday, December 31 Issue 7

It looks like we’re in for a fantastic year of crime and thriller fiction, if January's crop of new books is any guide. So it’s my pleasure to bring you the best of the coming year’s new writing (well, so far), from established favourites and blazing new talent, with the chance to read sample chapters. Also in this edition of Crime Club, top writers share fascinating insights into the way the real world makes it into their work: read Robert Crais on creating a canine character, David Mark on a heartbreaking encounter with a murder victim's father and Phil Redmond (of Brookside and Hollyoaks) on the truth that TV can't show — the reason he's written his first crime novel.

There's also the chance to meet some great writers at events in February and March, and the latest news and gossip from the world of crime publishing. Read it all here now, and do give me your feedback HERE.

With best wishes for a happy new year,

Karen Robinson

Scene of the crime

For most people, Peterborough is a brief pause on the East Coast Main Line, an unglamorous post-industrial city on the edge of thousands of acres of sparsely populated fenland. Not the obvious setting for a crime series, but I didn't want to write an obvious series.

Basing my stories on the investigations of a hate crime police unit demanded a location where racial and ideological tensions are running high, and Peterborough, with its economic migrants drawn by opportunities in the nearby agricultural and food-processing industries, seemed to fit the bill. Here was a medium-size city with underfunded public services, insufficient housing stock, an already diverse population and a growing ultra-right political presence. A fertile breeding ground for exploitation and criminality.

In larger cities, issues of difference and prejudice can get lost, but in the country's neglected heartland they are amplified. Peterborough becomes an anywhere UK of terrace-lined streets, anonymous factory units and office blocks, with communities close-packed yet isolated from and suspicious of each other. This is the city you won't see from the train windows — but you will recognise it.

The research for Long Way Home and Tell No Tales took me into a world of dilapidated multiple-occupancy houses and meetings with gangmasters who exposed a shadow economy rife with theft, intimidation and violence. It's a world existing within sight of Peterborough's beautiful gothic cathedral, where gangster-businessmen hold sway and the police are unwelcome, even in the aftermath of murder.

My latest book, After You Die, moves away from Peterborough's toughest streets, out to an affluent stone and thatch village geographically close but distant in every other sense. Except one: despite the pretty pubs and the paddock land, hate and murder will always find a way in.

Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan is published by Vintage on January 8. Buy it here

After You Die by Eva Dolan is published by Harvill Secker on January 21. Buy it here / Read first chapter

Robert Crais
Q.What inspired you to become a crime writer?
A.What I write reflects my taste as a reader — smart, fast-paced thrillers and crime novels with complex characters. Now, I write books that are exactly what I most enjoy reading.
Q.Los Angeles has a rich fictional history of detectives and private eyes. How have you carved out your own niche?
A.By being myself and writing about the things that interest me. That's all any writer has to offer. My world view, my attitude, my passion.
Q.Where do you find your plot ideas?
A.Story ideas come from characters, and the inspiration for characters usually grows from situations and people I've seen or read about. Like the Amy Breslyn character in The Promise — the mother whose son was killed in a terrorist bombing. I was reading about the chaos in Nigeria when she came to me.
Q.Pike and Cole were in Vietnam together: how relevant is that to them?
A.They were both blooded in violent combat at a young age. They understand savagery and their own limits. They understand fear and loss. This experience gave them the tools to face life on their own terms.
Q.Cole has a lively turn of phrase, Pike is reluctant to utter more than a monosyllable. Whose dialogue is easier to write?
A.Pike is usually more difficult to write. He's very internal, and very careful with what he says. I have to dig deep when I’m writing Pike. Each word has meaning.
Q.One character in The Promise is a dog — Maggie the German shepherd, who sniffs out explosives. How hard was it to capture her ‘voice’?
A.I did such a huge amount of research into canine cognition, perception, and behavior, that it was quite easy to slip into Maggie’s voice. Dogs are simple, and pure. They want to be fed, and they want to play.  Sniffing out explosives and searching for a hidden murderer are play to the dog, which leads to a reward from the handler. Past these basic needs, they do what they do to please us or save us.  
Q.Who are your current favourite writers?
A.There are so many. Lee Child and Michael Connelly. Gregg Hurwitz. Val McDermid, Anne Perry, and Ian Rankin. The list goes on.

The Promise by Robert Crais is published by Orion on January 14 . Buy it here / Read first chapter
Looking ahead: our January picks
I'm Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork, translated by Charlotte Barslund


This assured multi-character debut from Norwegian crime sensation Bjork maintains the can't-put-it-down factor as chain-smoking Oslo detective Holger Munch and his suicidal sidekick Mia Krüger try to stop a killer who targets six-year-old girls.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

The Widow by Fiona Barton


Hyped as 2016’s The Girl on the Train, this debut from ex-journalist Barton delivers a taut psychological triangle, as pushy tabloid reporter Kate and dogged DI Sparkes close in on the truth about Jean's recently deceased husband: was he involved in a notorious child abduction — and how much did she know?

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Fever City by Tim Baker

Faber & Faber

Dense and complicated thriller with a fictional crime at its heart delves into the JFK assassination with walk-on parts for real-life figures from Marilyn Monroe to Richard Nixon. Half a century on from Dallas, the son of a 1960s LA private detective tries to piece it all together. An inventive take on the great American conspiracy theory, but you have to concentrate.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Rebound by Aga Lesiewicz


Girl-about-town Anna has her life torn apart piece by piece after she meets a handsome stranger on Hampstead Heath. She knows something doesn’t add up but she can’t stop herself. A tense, sexy page-turner.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Victim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles

Head of Zeus

Swedish detective Fabian Risk returns to his home town to solve the murder of his schoolmate and a chain of killings ensues — the victims all former pupils from the same class. Ahnhem's debut recalls Mankell at his best in its whip-smart observations, flawed but endearing characters and gruesome appeal.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland

Text Publishing

Welcome to sunny Sydney — the side tourists don't see, of drug-dealing biker gangs and crooked financiers. Homicide detective Harry Belltree already has a troubled life and now has to deal with his brother-in-law's murder. Pacy and direct.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

NEW IN PAPERBACK Murder, DC by Neely Tucker


Second outing for Washington DC reporter Sully Carter. The smart-talking boozehound braves political power-brokers and violent drug dealers to find out why the scion of the city’s most influential African-American dynasty came to be found dead in the Potomac River.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo, translated by Isabelle Kaufeler


A series of creepy murders takes high-flying detective Amaia Salazar back to her family's Basque village and troubling childhood memories. Ancient superstitions about witches and forest creatures add confusion to the investigation in this atmospheric translation, though the action is too often obstructed by Wikipediesque chunks of local history.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

The Night Charter by Sam Hawken


Camaro Espinoza’s simple life running Miami boat charters is disrupted by the arrival of some lowlifes who want her to smuggle a refugee from Cuba. Once back on dry land, the Iraq veteran needs all her guts and guile as the bullets start flying. Enjoyable romp in steamy Florida. 

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty

Serpent’s Tail

We're in 1980s Belfast and detective Sean Duffy, on his fifth outing and freshly dumped by his girlfriend for being too old, is faced with a ‘locked room’ murder — Duffy rejects the consensus that the young English journo killed herself. The story he uncovers takes intricate turns, including an encounter with a real-life celebrity paedophile.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Coffin Road by Peter May


The author of the acclaimed Lewis Trilogy looks to the Outer Hebrides for this standalone thriller, which opens with a man being washed up on a deserted Harris beach with no memory of who he is. Grim truths are reached in this engrossing read by a master of Scottish crime. 

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus

Duckworth Overlook

Berlin 1938: British military attache Noel Macrae finds a Jewish-run brothel, enthusiastically patronised by the Nazi high command, to be an excellent source of intelligence in this atmospheric thriller. Deploys extensive historical research (the brothel really existed) in the service of a rattling tale of espionage with the highest stakes.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell

Soho Crime

The discovery of a loaded gun on a Tokyo riverbank sends a young man into a troubled obsession with the idea of using it. Powerful existential thriller by Japanese literary darling.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

In the Cold Dark Ground by Stuart MacBride


Fans of Aberdeen copper Logan McRae's sour take on life (not surprising, given his current situation: firmly in the pocket of organised crime) will enjoy his latest adventure, which combines hearty helpings of violence, danger, corruption and some of the funniest dialogue in the annals of police fiction. Another treat from MacBride.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

Cut Me In by Ed McBain

Hard Case Crime

Classic hard-boiled New York noir, in print for the first time in 60 years. It romps along on a fast-moving tide of hot broads, strong liquor, dead bodies and snappy dialogue, as our not-entirely-gentlemanly literary agent narrator tries to find out who killed his partner and swiped a million-dollar contract. Interesting for its period charm, though charm’s not exactly the word.

Read the first chapter >

Buy >

An expensive habit

Phil Redmond is a television producer, screenwriter and novelist who created shows including Brookside, Hollyoaks and Grange Hill

In television drama, there are essentially three types of crime. Characters doing harm to each other. Stealing from each other. Or vandalising each other’s property. Like births, deaths and marriages, they are the backbone of many long-running storylines. But there is often a better story that can’t be told. The off-camera fight with regulators over what you can and can’t show. It is generally OK to show all the harrowing crimes — including prostitution and punishment killings — but it is difficult to illustrate that a lot of people derive pleasure from recreational drugs. In terms of social policy, this is a crime in its own right.

Despite increasingly draconian laws, the use of illegal substances shows no sign of abating. The only logical conclusion is that, whether through choice or social circumstance, a large number of people are prepared to ignore prohibition. The National Crime Agency estimates that drug supply costs the UK more than £10bn per annum. It is a big social issue, exacerbated by politicians too afraid of public opinion to realise that, over time, society has learnt to regulate two other social but lethal drugs: alcohol and tobacco.

This has been done not through laissez-faire decriminalisation, but controlled regulation, which includes educating young people. Is it not time that we adopted a similar approach to anti-drugs policy and license reputable brewers and pharmacies to sell quality-controlled recreational drugs, then tax the proceeds and put that £10bn to better use? That way we might stand a chance of fighting all drug-related crime.

Highbridge by Phil Redmond is published by Century on January 14. Buy it here


■ Exciting times for Norwegian thriller superstar Jo Nesbo Actor Michael Fassbender is confirmed to star as Harry Hole in the film adaptation of Nesbo’s global bestseller The Snowman, which will be shot entirely on location in Norway. Another Nesbo title, Blood on Snow, could deliver a Grammy for kick-ass rock’n’roll singer-songwriter Patti Smith (pictured), whose reading of the violent action caper has been nominated for best spoken word album. The New York Times praised her ‘gravelly, androgynous voice’ and Nesbo called her performance ‘absolutely gorgeous’.

LISTEN HERE Patti Smith’s Grammy-nominated reading of Blood on Snow (extract). Listen / Download

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo, translated by Neil Smith, is out in paperback and unabridged audiobook from Vintage on January 14. Buy it here

■ Book your tickets Jason Matthews was in the CIA for 30 years, which means his spy thriller Palace of Treason (out on January 28. Buy it here / Read first chapter) has insider detail as well as adrenalin-pumping action. Join us for a drinks reception with Jason and his wife Suzanne (also a CIA veteran) on the top floor of the News Building, near London Bridge station, on February 8. They will be joined by the celebrated British writer Charles Cumming. Book tickets

■ The new Vera: see it first Two lucky Crime Club members can each win a pair of tickets to an exclusive screening of ITV's adaptation of Ann Cleeves's latest Vera novel, The Moth Catcher, which airs in February. The event will take place on February 4 at The Courthouse Hotel, Soho, with a drinks reception, private screening and Q&A with Cleeves, the cast and crew. The winners will also receive a copy of The Moth Catcher signed by Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn, who plays Vera. Enter here

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves is published in paperback by Pan on January 14. Buy it here / Read first chapter

■ Point Blank range Can we get enough crime fiction? Apparently not, so Oneworld, publisher of the 2015 Booker winner, Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings, is launching Point Blank, an imprint dedicated to offering “an unusual take on a familiar crime genre”. Titles promised for 2016 include Chinese noir and 'birder murders' starring an ornithologically-obsessed Norfolk detective.

■ Drinks, canapes, a goodie bag and cracking conversation Get them all at the next Crime Club event in London on March 3 when Sophie Hannah, undisputed queen of the psychological thriller, will be on stage at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room, in Leicester Square. With her will be David Mark, whose gritty police procedurals delve into the murky side of Hull. Reserve your tickets

■ Fans of prolific American yarn-spinner Joe R Lansdale are in for a treat “2016,” says Ruth Tross at Mulholland Books “will be the year of Hap and Leonard”. It kicks off in February with Honky Tonk Samurai, the latest title in his series featuring the unusual East Texas sleuthing duo (white trash rebel and gay black Republican). Tross says there will be reissues of earlier titles through the year. Six episodes of a new H&L TV series starring James Purefoy and Michael K Williams will air on the American cable channel SundanceTV soon.

■ Have you got cash in the attic — or on the bookshelf? Geoff Duffield, creative director at Pan Macmillan, recently spotted a copy of Billionaire, Peter James's 1983 high-finance thriller, for sale online priced £250. Parsimonious James fans who'd like to read it will only have to pay £7.99 when Pan reissues it in paperback next month. Buy it here

Criminal Utterance

“Shedding a tear at news of Willie McIlvanney's death. His writing meant so much to me when I was growing up. RIP”

Scotland’s first minister — and devoted crime fan — Nicola Sturgeon tweets on the death of William McIlvanney, often described as ‘the godfather of tartan noir’

Honouring the victims

The former journalist David Mark, author of the DS McAvoy series, explains how a meeting with a murdered girl’s father left him feeling a duty to the dead

He was a father more than a dad. Broad-shouldered, grey-haired. He had the sort of large, talented hands that could fix broken toys or apply a plaster to a grazed knee with equal dexterity. He had an air of solidity about him; that warm, peaceful scent of laundered clothes and wood shavings. His name was Ray. He was sitting with me in a boxy meeting room at Hull Crown Court: letting a stranger use his heart as an inkwell.

“I wish you’d met her,” he said, in the raspy voice of somebody who had spent months not letting themselves cry. “I wish he’d known her too. Not the girl he killed — the soul he took…” It was hard to meet his eyes. I just concentrated on my notebook. Scribbled down his memories. I almost put a hand on his when he told me how he used to hold her up and sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart to her when she was little. I don’t think he needed me in the room. He just wanted to talk. Talk about her. About his girl: abducted, raped and stabbed to death.

A decade on, I carry Ray and his daughter with me. The enormity of Ray’s sorrow; that air of dignified annihilation. The regret; the emptiness; the absence of a person who should be here. I carry them all as I write my books. Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy catches fictional killers, but the emotions that suffuse my books are real. Each killer I create, each soul touched by tragedy, each copper who makes a promise to the dead: they all filter through Ray and his murdered girl.

I hope it makes for more authentic books. I hope the act of writing gives me a place for some of the darkness I’ve waded in. More than anything, I hope it does justice to a life snatched too soon. My books are fiction, but each tear shed on the page holds up a mirror to those shed by the families of the taken. I hope I do them honour.

Dead Pretty by David Mark is published by Mulholland on January 28. Buy it here / Read first chapter

Crime in the papers

This year’s best crime books

Marcel Berlins picks his seven favourite novels of 2015

Read here

William McIlvanney: obituary

Doyen of Scottish crime fiction who also articulated the struggle for independence

Read here

Genre in the dock

John Banville is a novelist and screenwriter who, writing as Benjamin Black, is the author of seven books featuring surly Dublin pathologist Quirke, played by Gabriel Byrne (pictured) in the BBC’s 2014 adaptation

To me, there are only two kinds of books: good ones, and ones that are not good — I hesitate to say “bad”, since even the worst writing is fiendishly hard to do. My ideal bookshop would make no distinction between genres and arrange its stock alphabetically. In the 1970s I wrote a novel based on the life of Copernicus, and had completed a third of it before it occurred to me that it would be regarded as a historical novel. But when does the past become history?

One can find good writing in any form — the first dishwasher I bought came with an instruction booklet written in impeccable, lucid English that was a pleasure to read. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper and the crime novelist Raymond Chandler were two of the great prose stylists of the 20th century, though their work could hardly be more dissimilar.

A crime novel differs from mainstream novels in only one thing: a crime novel must have a crime in it. This is a restriction on the novelist’s freedom, and so it is one of my ambitions to write a Benjamin Black book in which no crime is committed. I nearly did it in my novel Elegy for April, and one day I may reintroduce the eponymous, elegised April Latimer, showing her to be alive and well and living in Argentina. Thus I shall have created a new genre: the crimeless crime novel.

Even the Dead by Benjamin Black is published by Penguin. Buy it here / Read first chapter

Crime bestsellers
  1. The Girl on the Train

    Paula Hawkins

  2. Even Dogs in the Wild

    Ian Rankin

  3. Make Me

    Lee Child

  4. Get Even

    Martina Cole

  5. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

    Stephen King

  6. Rogue Lawyer

    John Grisham

  7. Cross Justice

    James Patterson

  8. Career of Evil

    Robert Galbraith

  9. Golden Lion

    Wilbur Smith & Giles Kristian

  10. Depraved Heart

    Patricia Cornwell

  1. You are Dead

    Peter James

  2. Memory Man

    David Baldacci

  3. Havana Storm

    Clive Cussler & Dirk Cussler

  4. Moriarty

    Anthony Horowitz

  5. Hope to Die

    James Patterson

  6. The Ice Twins

    SK Tremayne

  7. I Let You Go

    Clare Mackintosh

  8. The Burning Room

    Michael Connelly

  9. Kind Worth Killing

    Peter Swanson

  10. For Valour

    Andy McNab

Lists prepared and supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan, taken from the TCM for the four weeks ending 22/12/15
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