Mitzi Szereto’s (author of The Best New True Crime Stories) recent true crime book is on clearance for the remaining summer.
It was great to see Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham receive awards for their outstanding contributions to crime fiction at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate at the weekend. Before the festival was even over Mantle announced the acquisition of The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont. The novel, narrated by the mistress of Agatha’s husband, reimagines the events of 1926 in which the famous author disappeared only to be found, 11 days later, at the Swan hotel in Harrogate. It will not be published until January. And if you think that’s jumping the gun, I received a proof copy of Stuart Neville’s The House of Ashes from Zaffre this week. Publication is scheduled for February 10.
★ STAR PICK
The Doll by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, trans. Victoria CribbHodder & Stoughton £16.99Detective Huldar and psychologist Freyja’s latest collaboration begins with the discovery of a grotesque doll fished from the sea around Iceland. Instead of throwing it back in the water, an indulgent mother lets her daughter keep it and later posts a picture of the toy on social media. Within 24 hours the mother is dead and the doll has disappeared. More nasty things are exposed in a complex tale that is just as creepy as the Daphne du Maurier tale of the same name. Favorite line: “Her voice was so hoarse she sounded like a chain-smoker who inhaled sand for kicks.”
Below, in a piece specially written for Crime Club, Yrsa Sigurdardottir reveals the inspiration for her fishy story. Yrsa Sigurdardottir on the inspiration for her new novel
Yrsa Sigurdardottir on the inspiration for her new novel
ears ago I was sent a photo from a reader in Norway. This reader had Icelandic roots and the photo was taken by a relative of hers living in Iceland. The message with the photo read: “I thought you might appreciate this image.” And sure enough, I did. Very much.
The photo was of a doll that had come into the net of a fishing trawler off the coast of Iceland. It had obviously been in the sea for years, covered in small barnacles and sea worms, a victim of fouling that altered its visage from cute to creepy. What remained of the doll’s hair was matted while the bald patches sported rows of holes where hair plugs had fallen out. One eye was crusted shut, the other open and staring. What’s not to like?
My original idea was to use it whenever the urge to write a horror novel overtook the urge to write crime. But every time I looked at the photo, the horror concept felt stale. It had already been done to death: remember Chucky and Annabelle and Billy the ventriloquist’s doll? Although those evil dolls are movie characters, it still felt unimaginative to cast my gorgeously awful doll in a similar role in a book.
The Doll is not a horror story. It touches on horrible subjects, but the doll is not walking around or standing at the end of anyone’s bed when they wake up in the middle of the night. I wanted to find a way to use the doll in a crime novel. How could its discovery act as the catalyst for a series of events that ends in a murder or two?
One of the first decisions I had to make was how the doll had ended up in the ocean. I have first-hand experience of the trauma experienced by a child following such a loss: my daughter forgot her favourite doll at a foreign airport. I tried getting it back but was told it had probably been removed by security, taken to a bomb chamber and then blown up.
Did I tell her that? Of course not. The edited version of events was that the doll had been taken to an orphanage and given to a very sad child that had no doll. Not particularly inventive but infinitely superior to the truth.
Ultimately, The Doll is a horrific crime story that involves addiction, children broken by the welfare system and an evil deed that has gathered dust — but not enough to keep it hidden for ever.
As for the doll in the photo: it was kept on board the trawler that retrieved it from the water. A novelty item, it sat splay-legged up on the deck, watching the goings-on at sea through its single, dead eye. Until one day it disappeared. All by itself.
Ford Madox Ford, novelist, literary critic andfriend 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.
This week a scene from Dog Rose Dirt (HarperCollins £14.99) by Jen Williams, which was published on Thursday. Former journalist Heather Evans is interviewing Michael Reave, a serial killer known as the Red Wolf, in HM Prison Belmarsh.
Images of whytewitch’s paintings were next, and the one of the figure in the red coat emerging from the woods went skittering across the slippery pile, almost landing in his lap. Michael Reave looked down at it, and abruptly he was yanking on the chain around his wrists, pulling hard enough that Heather felt the bolted table jump under her hands. She yelped and scrambled back even as Reave was standing, still repeatedly yanking on the chain, apparently trying to pull the whole thing up by the roots.
DC Turner’s hand was on her shoulder, gripping it none too gently, and before she really knew what was happening, she was being propelled out of the room. Just before the door slammed shut, she saw the two guards moving in towards Reave, and she caught the expression on his face; he was furious, points of colour high on his cheeks. And then the view was cut off.
Abruptly, Heather realized her legs weren’t holding her up properly, and she fell against the wall. DC Turner was glaring at her and rubbing the back of his neck.
“I think that’s going to be your lot, Miss Evans.”
“I… What happened?” It was difficult to breathe — she felt roughly the same as the time a car had turned a corner unexpectedly on Peckham High Street and nearly run her over. His sudden eruption from calm boredom to violent rage had made her dizzy.
“You pissed him off.” Turner shrugged. “You can’t predict people like that, love, so don’t feel bad about it.”
“But we were getting somewhere!”
“It costs money, stuff like this. Did you know that? I didn’t expect you would.” He curled his lip, then made an effort to arrange his features into a sympathetic expression. “Me watching over you, those guards in there. We’ve all got better things we could be doing — me especially, given we’ve got another nutter like him on the loose.”
Picks of the week
The Secret Life of Writers by Guillaume Musso, trans. Vineet LalWeidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99Sick of suspense novels set on islands? You won’t have read one as good as this. More than 20 years ago famous author Nathan Fawles (John Fowles?) gave up writing and retreated to a sun-kissed isle off the coast of France. Since then he hasn’t spoken to the press but pushy journo Mathilde Monney is determined to be the one who breaks the silence of the magus. Her arrival, however, coincides with the discovery of a body on the beach. Musso is a consistently inventive and intriguing writer who, in this metafictional romp, turns the conventions of Agatha Christie and co inside out. Favourite line: “Even if I’m a murderer, you can’t do anything about my books.”
Godspeed by Nickolas ButlerFaber £14.99Builders Bart, Cole and Teddy are fortysomething friends who take on an almost impossible task: to complete a West Coast lawyer’s swanky mountain retreat in Wyoming in just four months (and thereby earn a six-figure Christmas bonus). But why did the previous contractors quit? And what was the nature of the accident that killed one of the workers? After a slow start, Godspeed becomes a tense and twisting tale of class conflict and battling buddies that ends in spectacular fashion. Favorite line: “How long, he wondered, until the first stone was thrown at all those inviting walls of glass?”
Accra Noir by Nana-Ama Danquah (editor)Cassava Republic £12.99A fascinating baker’s dozen of short stories that reveals the Ghana tourists rarely get to see — even if they could travel there. Highlights include Shape-Shifters by Adjoa Twum, The Labadi Sunshine Bar by Billie McTernan and The Boy Who Wasn’t There by Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh. A companion volume, Addis Ababa Noir (Cassava Republic £12.99) edited by Maaza Mengiste, will be published next month. Favorite line (from Fantasia in Fans and Flat Screens by Kofi Blankson Ocansey): “At a certain time, the Europeans who succumbed to malaria, and weren’t important enough to be pickled and potted for the return trip to Shropshire, were interred in this field, a cozy spot dotted with tombstones, crosses, angels on pedestals, and a monument commemorating the valiant British lost in some campaign.”
An occasional series in which authors reveal what they like to do when not writing. This week Abi Silver, whose latest novel featuring legal eagles Judith Burton and Constance Lamb, The Midas Game (Lightning Books, £8.99), is published next week, picks up her secateurs.
My favourite photo of my late father was taken when he was in the back garden, hair dishevelled, leaning on his trusty rake. It was how he would spend most Sundays when I was a child, come rain or shine, tending his beloved peonies and dahlias.
Now, some decades later, as I immerse myself in slashing at sprawling bamboo that has tunnelled its way in from next door and taken root in our flowerbeds, or tearing up handfuls of common hogweed that threatens to overwhelm the perennials, I finally understand the attraction. Gardening is the perfect antidote to any form of sedentary or cerebral day job. But more than that, it’s a cure for writer’s block and, in general, a pretty good companion to the writing life. You spend all day sitting at a keyboard, wrestling with ideas, taking only the shortest of breaks to stretch out your shoulders and suddenly find your brain is a desert. However, if you’re brave enough to put down one set of tools, pick up another and step through the back door, the creative juices will start to flow again.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t just extract things from the soil; I also sow and plant and trim and fertilise. Otherwise, there’d be nothing pleasing to see out of the window. But nothing compares with the thrill of hacking away at a thick, woody stem, or the pleasure of snipping at the fleshy tendrils of a smothering vine with lopper, saw, scythe or secateurs.
Now if only I could find room for such sharp implements in my writing…
Five copies of The Midas Game by Abi Silver are up for grabs. Simply send the answer to the question below, with “Silver Prize” in the subject line, to Amber.Choudhary@midaspr.co.uk before 11.59 pm on Monday, August 2. The winners will be selected at random.
Midas ruled which ancient kingdom in Anatolia?
Before, I kid you not, the autumn avalanche of crime fiction begins next week, here are some recent titles of note that, in a parallel universe, have deservedly received greater consideration.
Castle Shade by Laurie R King (Allison & Busby £19.99)
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, in their 17th adventure, come to the aid of Queen Marie of Roumania, a granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II. Ian Strathcarron’s A Case of Royal Blackmail by Sherlock Holmes (Affable Media £7.50) is set in July 1879 — 18 months before the great detective met Dr Watson.
Windhall by Ava Barry (Pegasus Books £18.66)
A present-day journalist investigates the 1948 murder of actress Eleanor Hayes whose mangled body was found in the rose garden at Windhall, the home of Hollywood director Theodore Langley. Highly recommended.
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (Berkley £12.99)
A wayward but engaging debut — the first in a planned series of historical mysteries — in which Louise, a young gay black woman, bravely searches for a killer of black girls in a vividly evoked 1920s Harlem.
The Best New True Crime Stories by Mitzi Szereto (editor) (Mango £16.95)
A collection of 14 original accounts of real-life “well-mannered Crooks, Rogues & Criminals”. “They Wanted Something for Nothing”: The Many Cons of the Yellow Kid, for example, about the less than glittering career of Joseph Weil, is written by Dean Jobb. His excellent non-fiction book The Case of the Murderous Dr Cream (Algonquin £21.99) has just been published. You can read my review here.
Reissue of the week
The Blood of Crows by Caro RamsayBlackthorn £8.99First published in 2012, this gruesome novel — the fourth to feature Detective Inspector Colin Anderson and Detective Sergeant Winifred “Freddie” Costello — involves kidnapping, torture, being burnt alive and suicide. When a paedophile’s conviction is overturned, Anderson himself is placed under investigation. Meanwhile, an evil genius dubbed “The Puppeteer” is causing mayhem in Glasgow.
Five sets of the first four Anderson & Costello mysteries — Absolution, Singing to the Dead, Dark Water and The Blood of Crows — are up for grabs. Simply send the answer to the question below, with “Blood of Crows” in the subject line, to firstname.lastname@example.org before 11.59 pm on Monday, August 2. The winners will be selected at random.
What is the most popular collective noun for a group of crows?
Chester Himes, the creator of Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, was born on July 29, 1909.
“What I really need is a dead man.” (Blind Man with a Pistol, 1969)
Image credit: Corbis
Well-Mannered Crooks, Rogues & Criminals
From mild mannered coworkers to doting parents. Some might be your jack-of-all-trades friend, or others might be your family member with an altruistic persona. The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks & Criminals takes you deeper into the unconventional criminal’s psyche. The ones where their most prominent feature isn’t a bloodied knife, but a bright smile and warm gaze meant to lure their next victim.
Meet the real killers. You’ve heard about John Wayne Gacy. You’ve read about Jeffrey Dahmer. You’ve delved into the Ted Bundy fascination. It’s time for you to meet the infamous Naún Briones, who struck fear into the hearts of the rich, and Freddie Brenman, a notorious street-fighter with mysterious ties to the Dillinger Gang. You’ll find yourself realizing that being nice and friendly is a killer combination.
Edited by acclaimed author and anthologist Mitzi Szereto, The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks & Criminals reveals all-new accounts of true crime stories featuring serial killers from the contemporary to the depression-era. The international list of contributors includes award-winning crime writers, true-crime podcasters, journalists, and experts in the dark crimes field such as Tom Larsen, David Blumenfeld, and Anthony Ferguson.