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The Times and Sunday Times
Thursday January 25 2018 | Issue 32
Crime Club
Karen Robinson
By Karen Robinson
The other day a well-known crime-writer told me about how one reviewer of her latest book, a chilling psychological thriller with a fiendishly complex plot, opined, apparently with a straight face, that “you couldn’t make it up”. “But I did make it up! That’s what novelists do”, she wailed. I said she should take the review as a compliment on the credibility of her characters and setting. Our favourite crime writers are the ones whose worlds we can believe in, and that sometimes comes from the skilful way they assimilate huge amounts of specialist research into their fiction. In this month’s Crime Club, two writers reveal their deep knowledge of two vastly different worlds — the Italian mafia and ghost stories in the age of internet memes — reminding us again of the wide scope of crime and thriller fiction. And our pick of the best titles out in February allows us to immerse ourselves in locations as diverse as South Africa, Mexico, the Australian bush and 1960s Berlin — without going any further than the local bookshop. Happy reading.

■ Find previous issues of Crime Club here
Karen Robinson
The Sunday Times
Q&A: Fiona Cummins
You’ve made the switch from journalism to fiction, publishing Rattle last year and now The Collector. What are the biggest differences between the two ways of writing?
Now I’m the one who’s exposed. When I worked for the Daily Mirror, the stories were about other people, often during the most difficult period of their life. Now people can judge me and my work. But journalism had made sure I don’t feel precious about my writing, I’m used to being edited and am happy to take guidance to make my work more powerful and effective.

You took a creative writing course at the Faber Academy. What did it teach you?
I was attracted by the opportunity it offered to meet agents and publishers, but it was a tough decision as to whether I could afford the course — it cost more than £3,000 in 2013. The single most useful piece of advice I got was: finish what you started. It was an epiphany — don’t abandon something because it’s not perfect, keep going, get to the end — then you can go back and revise it, and the end will inform the beginning. It’s so obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to me.

What has your reading taught you about writing?
It’s important to have an emotional connection — that’s what I look for in a book. And it’s what I was seeking when I was writing Rattle and The Collector, which are both about the fear of losing a loved one. Eva Dolan, Susie Steiner, Val McDermid — all have that universality of experience of grief, fear, loss and the making of human connections in small ways, shown in the nuances of behaviour. I liked Will Dean’s Dark Pines for the same reasons.

But you obviously want to scare people. How do you make the Bone Collector — who appears in both of your novels — do that?
He’s not a caricature. All of us, the good people with honesty and integrity, have darker thoughts that we wouldn’t want other people to see. People who do dark and awful things still love someone, still care about something. Even someone doing the most awful things will have a connection — the Bone Collector has a wife he loves.

In Rattle, the Bone Collector targets a boy with a rare disease. Did you think you risked alienating readers by focusing the story on a sick child?
A lot of people do hate the idea of children being involved, but bad things do happen to children. Through my writing I was processing my own fear about my son’s ill health (he’s fine now). What I wanted to think about in my fiction was the pathos of the child’s father being desperate to save his life but knowing he will die. But it was really important that the disability was not the story — the two families and how they react to devastating circumstances is at the heart of the book. Ultimately people read books to be swept up by a situation.

Tell us a secret.
I once played football against the England women’s team — we lost 15-nil.

Tell us a joke.
See above.

The Collector by Fiona Cummins is published by Macmillan on February 22. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Looking ahead: our February picks
Apostle Lodge by Paul Mendelson
The standard psycho serial killer comes with a twist in Mendelson’s Cape Town, which steams in a heat wave as Colonel Vaughn de Vries struggles to trap the murderer before he claims more victims. Meanwhile, the investigation of a terror attack in the heart of the city exposes the convoluted world of South African power politics. Strong stuff. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Back Up by Paul Colize, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie
Point Blank
An Irish journalist investigates the simultaneous deaths of all four members of a Berlin-based British rock band in 1967, and a homeless man in Brussels with locked-in syndrome — who only responds to videos of U2. Belgian bestselling thriller presents a close-up view of the early London rock scene, plus an audacious proposition about the awesome power of rock. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen
Titan Books
Scarred from her ordeal as the last (and luckiest) victim of one of those serial killers with artistic pretensions, Ellery is now a small-town cop, seeing an ominous pattern in local disappearances. She summons the FBI agent that saved her life 14 years earlier — who is now somewhat damaged himself — for a venture that revisits the past while uncovering real and present danger. Accomplished debut from American TV journalist.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Tiina Nunnally
The death of a little girl, in the exact same spot of forest that saw another child meet a similar fate 30 years earlier, shocks everyone in provincial Fjallbacka, from the cops to the teens to the asylum seekers — and a famous film star. But how are they connected to the harsh tale of another child from 350 years ago? The queen of Swedish noir delivers a hulking doorstop, taking nearly 600 pages to weave a compelling portrait of a place and its people struggling under the weight of too many secrets.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Raven Books
The setting is pure Golden Age: a big house with four-posters and servants. But the plot is more of a mind-bending puzzle than usual. Each day one man becomes a different character — doctor, butler, banker — and witnesses a murder. What’s going on?
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Righteous by Joe Ide
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Isaiah Quintabe puts the Holmes into homeboy. The inspired ghetto incarnation of Sherlock is South LA’s go-to brother for problems that the law can’t solve (all of them). The ambitious plot of Isaiah’s second adventure takes in Las Vegas, Chinese gangs and the unsolved murder of his brother — and puts him and his sidekick Dodson in peril that only his super-sharp cerebrations can get them out of.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
Green Sun by Kent Anderson
Mulholland Books
As Hanson patrols 1980s Oakland, his observations on the rotten policing of the town’s desperate ghetto lives are vividly acute. Even if the plot, which inevitably involves the local drugs kingpin, takes its own good time to show up, the honesty is blistering. Anderson was, like his maverick hero, a Vietnam vet, an Oakland cop and an English lecturer — experiences that give this fiction the compelling authenticity other writers strive for.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Little, Brown
Melbourne cop Aaron Falke, whom we first met last year in Harper’s bestselling debut The Dry, gets involved when a corporate bonding trip to the outback loses one of its members. Clever juggling of timeframes and viewpoints, with much to suspect and a possible serial killer on the loose in a powerfully intimidating landscape.
Read first chapter
Buy this book >
★ Star pick
London Rules by Mick Herron
John Murray
Jackson Lamb — subtle of brain but outrageously gross in almost every other way — still rules over his band of misfit agents in this fifth title in Herron’s hilarious take on the contemporary spy thriller. Based at decrepit Slough House, dumping ground for the security services’ awkward squad, his team get the jump on their disdainful colleagues when a weird terrorist plot starts to play out. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Deeply personal novel by venerated Japanese writer recalls his experience as a journalist covering a 1985 plane crash that killed 520 people, and his final reckoning with its personal and professional repercussions 17 years later. Slowly and carefully, Yuuki’s distress — and the astoundingly complex politics of his newsroom — draw us into this meditative catharsis. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Blue Night by Simone Buchholz, translated by Rachel Ward
By turns lyrical and pithy, this adventure set in the melting pot of contemporary Hamburg has a plot and a sensibility that both owe something to mind-altering substances. Disgraced state prosecutor Chastity Riley chases round the dive bars of the port city pursuing and being pursued by a beguiling cast of cops, criminals and chums, delivering scalding one-liners as she goes. Lots of fun. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
The Execution of Justice by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, translated by John E Woods
Pushkin Vertigo
Reissue of a 1985 mystery by the Swiss master of the astounding plot. This one starts with a bang-to-rights crime — a Zurich bigwig shoots someone dead in broad daylight — and gets more murky and more morally complex from there. Read first chapter
Buy this book >
Elmer Mendoza giveaway
With its ongoing narco wars, in which savage cartels appear hell-bent on destroying Mexican society, the country can at least count itself lucky that it has a writer of blazing literary talent to provide a (lightly) fictionalised account of the frightening and miserable situation there. Elmer Mendoza, author and academic, has been dubbed the founding father of “narco-lit” for novels that expose the way the drugs trade has systematically corrupted his country. To celebrate the UK publication of Name of the Dog, his third narco novel, translated by Mark Fried, MacLehose Press is offering five Crime Club readers the chance to win the new title plus the previous two: Silver Bullets and The Acid Test, also translated by Mark Fried. Enter here by February 9.
Ghost stories for millennials
Matt Wesolowski delves into the spookiest corners of the internet

Like all games, there are rules. Like all rules, the breaking of them is to invoke consequences. “Dire or fatal”, “Play at your own risk”, you are warned.

Obscure blog sites and forums hold the instructions to interactive online fantasies such as The Elevator Game, which briefly came to notoriety with the death of Canadian student Elisa Lam, who had allegedly been playing it before she was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel water tank in 2013. This did not dent its online popularity — quite the reverse.

The origins of these games are nebulous, born of ritualistic whispers and playground chants floating in our collective consciousness long before the internet. Children’s incantations such as “Bloody Mary” — to summon a ghost — have been replaced by Subreddit forum posts and Tumblr. Still the same whispers, still the same chants, but now infused with other cultures: The Little Finger Game and Daruma San (The Bath Game) from Japan, El Juego Del Libro Rojo (The Red Book Game) from Mexico. Apparently the most dangerous of all is The Hooded Man — but no one knows where that comes from.

These games sit astride a hierarchy of peril. The testament and proclamations of this danger has spread online like the fronds of time-lapse forests:
“I did the Hooded Man ritual. Help, I think something has gone wrong.”
“I’m not doing that ritual again. Not after this.”
“A guy I became good friends with online did this ritual exactly 27 days ago … I haven’t heard from him in 27 days.”

Each game has its own complex rituals, from simply reading a story (The Little Finger Game) to tying rope to an old-fashioned rotary phone and setting fire to it (The Hooded Man). Many promise a trip to another dimension — without the aid of drugs. They’re all about escaping, sometimes even leaving your screen to take a mystery taxi driven by the Hooded Man. Sat in the dark before the baleful glare of your screen, you can spend hours reading the accounts of those who have performed these eldritch enactments — or say they have, at least. They counted to 13, spoke the accursed numbers into a rotary phone, climbed into the cab’s empty back seat, locked the cab door and went to sleep …

There are no documented cases of people coming to harm — even in the back of the Hooded Man’s taxi — and there is a whole global community around these games, telling each other stories. That’s what drew me to them — to discover how far people will go to test their fear and the boundaries of their imagination.

Do they believe there is real danger here? It’s just a kid’s game, right? But would you dare to try it?

Hydra by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books on January 15. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Elly Griffiths giveaway
Forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway deserves a holiday. After nine books by Elly Griffiths in which her investigations into Norfolk murders have led back to troubling secrets buried deep in the past, she’s off to Italy in The Dark Angel, her 10th adventure. But she finds old bones — and her cop sidekick Harry Nelson — under the Italian sun, and dark mysteries that go back to the Second World War, and even the Romans. To celebrate the new book, Quercus is offering two Crime Club readers the chance to win all nine titles in its Galloway backlist. To enter, email your name and address to by February 9, putting “Crime Club” in the subject line. If you’d like to meet Elly Griffiths on her February 8-22 book tour, you can find all the dates and venues listed here.
Crime wave: the latest books news
Hammer time Ahead of the March release of the movie version, Pushkin Vertigo is reissuing Jonathan Ames’ 2013 hit-man thriller You Were Never Really Here. The film won awards at Cannes last year for Joaquin Phoenix as troubled loner Joe, and for director Lynne Ramsay’s screenplay. The short, brutal film (Joe’s weapon of choice is a hammer) is just 85 minutes long, which is about the same time it takes to read the book — a tiny masterpiece of suffering, violence, corruption and redemption in New York. Read first chapter / Watch the trailer

Free download You’ve got till next Wednesday, January 31, to download the ebook of Conspiracy by SJ Parris. It’s the fifth of her historical thrillers featuring Giordano Bruno, 16th-century heretical monk, philosopher and spy, this time investigating murder and intrigue at the French court and finding Catherine de Medici a very powerful enemy. You can download the free ebook — which is only available to Times subscribers — here.

Anything but the girl If you’re hoping that the trend for thrillers with “girl” titles is finally on the wane, expect to be disappointed. In thrall to the success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on The Train, publishers went girl-crazy. The grip-lit girls came at us in a steady stream — most recently Girl in Snow by American Danya Kukafka — and it ain’t over yet. Pan Macmillan has announced its lead thriller title for January 2019: a “suspenseful” work by delightfully named American writer Kelsey Rae Dimberg. It’s called Girls in White Dresses.

Scotland calling The crime festival season is starting early this year. Crime Club will bring you news of 2018’s major get-togethers of top crime writers and their fans, with special access and ticket offers, as the dates approach. First up is a new event at Glamis Castle near Dundee on February 24. The readers and writers who foregather at the historic pile will get to disport themselves in grand areas of the castle that are not generally open to the public. Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Alex Gray, Caro Ramsay, Douglas Skelton, Craig Robertson, Lin Anderson, Frank Muir and Denise Mina are among those who will host writer events and writing workshops. Full details here.

Is this the year you go from reader to writer? Time to get on with it, if you want a stab at the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, which requires you to submit the opening of a crime novel — not exceeding 3,000 words — and a synopsis of 500-1,000 words. All shortlisted writers will receive feedback from the judges and have their entries shown to agents and editors. Find details here. The closing date of February 28 is also the deadline for the CWA’s Margery Allingham Short Story Competition, for an unpublished story that fits Margery’s definition of what makes a great mystery: “Box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.” If you think you can do that in fewer than 3,500 words, find details of how to enter here. The prize is £500 and two passes to CrimeFest in Bristol, where the winner will be announced. The winning story will be published on the CWA website and in The Bottle Street Gazette, the Margery Allingham Society journal.

How long is too long? Publisher Text thinks that 900 pages is OK for a police procedural — in which the murder of a young woman is investigated by Inspector Ada Rochniewicz, who lives alone with her cat — and has bought English language rights to Fog by Polish author Kaja Malanowska. The translation will take Bill Johnston until next year to complete and the mega-tome is due out in 2020. It was a bestseller in Poland, so maybe British buyers can be persuaded to go in for the long haul. Ada and her team “are under pressure to close the case quickly”, though that’s hardly likely, is it?
Thomas Enger giveaway
The publication of Killed by Norwegian Thomas Enger, translated by Kari Dickson, brings to a close one of the most exciting, unusual and intense Scandi noir series of recent years. Journalist Henning Juul has been repeatedly put through the wringer emotionally and professionally — as this fifth Juul thriller unfolds, will his demons finally get the better of him, will he even survive? Orenda Books, publisher of Killed, and Faber & Faber, who brought out earlier titles, have teamed up to offer five Crime Club readers the chance to win the first four books of the series: Burned, Pierced and Scarred, all translated by Charlotte Barslund, and Cursed, translated by Kari Dickson. To enter, email your name and address to by February 9, putting “Crime Club” in the subject line.
Fighting terrorism? Call the mafia
Nadia Dalbuono sets the scene for the latest outing of her Italian detective, Leone Scamarcio

My new book is entitled The Extremist and centres around a hostage-taking in Rome perpetrated by apparent jihadis — yet many Italians might argue that it depicts an unlikely scenario. Although the peninsula has its fair share of problems, one modern nightmare it hasn’t yet been blighted with is Islamic terror — in fact, there have been no major terror attacks on Italian soil since the 1980s.

There are several potential explanations for this, but according to Isis itself, the real deterrent is the mafia. With estimated cash reserves of €65bn, the Italian mafia’s image is now that of smart businessmen concerned with logistics and waste disposal, rather like the Russian crime family in the TV drama McMafia. It’s a far cry from the gun-toting hoodlums of old — but they’ll still stop at nothing to preserve their ability to control and intimidate their countrymen, and Isis knows it. In an unsophisticated online leaflet entitled The Black Flags from Rome, Isis laments: “There is no doubt that if Muslims want to take over Italy, the Islamic State European fighters will have to ally with other militias to fight the mafia before the conquest of Rome.” Police snipers or soldiers with machine guns aren’t worth a mention — the critical factor is the mob.

Indeed, after the 2015 Bataclan massacre in Paris it was said that Toto Riina, a Sicilian mafia godfather, suggested to the authorities that if they really wanted to prevent an Isis attack, they should release him from the maximum security prison he’d been held in since the 1990s so that he could handle it himself. “Ci penso io”, he declared. With his vast web of informants, associates, soldiers and lieutenants, some might say Riina had far wider resources at his disposal than the Italian state itself.

Similarly, last year Giovanni Gambino, a key figure in the Sicilian-New York Gambino crime clan, told reporters: “We will make sure our friends and families are protected from extremists and terrorists, especially the brutal, psychopathic organisation that calls itself Islamic State.”

This sentiment is now being echoed in bars and homes around Italy. Countless times, I’ve heard it said: “Such attacks would be impossible in Naples. The Camorra [the Neapolitan mafia] would never leave their people undefended.” From its earliest days in 18th-century Sicily, the mafia has profited on the back of the adage “Better the devil you know”. You pay your protection money in order to ensure your oppressors remain the same. In this new climate of terror, it’s a transaction many Italians seem more prepared to accept.

The Extremist by Nadia Dalbuono is published by Scribe UK on February 8. Buy it here / Read first chapter
Crime in the papers
Will Dean on the Swedish country pile where he wrote his first Scandi noir novel
Crime roundup by Marcel Berlins
Be afraid — thrillers pile up in Goosebump January
Crime roundup by Joan Smith
Crime bestsellers
Origin by Dan Brown
2 The Midnight Line by Lee Child
3 Life of Crime by Kimberley Chambers
4 I'll Keep You Safe by Peter May
5 The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
6 A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
7 Damaged by Martina Cole
8 A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
9 Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
10 Save Me by Mandasue Heller

No Middle Name by Lee Child
2 The Thirst by Jo Nesbo
3 Camino Island by John Grisham
4 The Black Book by James Patterson
5 Close to Home by Cara Hunter
6 The Child by Fiona Barton
7 The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
8 The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
9 Murder Games by James Patterson
10 Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Lists prepared and supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan, taken from the TCM for the four weeks ending 24/01/18
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