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Criminal Fiction: The best of the quintessential interviews

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Daneet Steffens is taking a well-earned month off. But don’t worry — you can still get your Criminal Fiction fix. Browse the archives for more than a year’s worth of recommendations; Daneet casts a wide net, and every column is a gem: a handful of smart short reviews and an interview with a writer of note, topped by a recap of genre news, a list of essential articles, or a podcast worth your time (follow her on Twitter for a constant feed of the same great stuff).

Here are just a few of our favorite “quintessential interviews”:

  • Ruth Ware: "I love a pub with a proper beer garden."
  • Elizabeth George: "I write in silence unless my dog starts barking."
  • Dennis Lehane: "There are at least 700 songs on my Infinite Writing Playlist."
  • Chris Holm: "I’m fascinated by what drives good people to do bad things. By how bad one can be without becoming irredeemable. By the slipperiness of identity and what we consider to be our essential selves."
  • Justine Larbalestier: "Never have more than one psychopath: it strains credibility."
  • Lori Rader-Day: "What people whisper about is what they care about."

See you next month!

Criminal Fiction: Year ending

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

December heralds best-of-year lists; when it comes to crime fiction, here are a few of my favorites from Irish critic Declan Burke, The New York Times’s Marilyn Stasio, and The Guardian’s Mark Lawson.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

I love the concept of the Lawrence Block-edited anthologies In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper and Alive in Shape and Color: 16 Paintings by Great Artists and the Stories They Inspired, and I like the implementation even better. For the latter, Lawrence Block organized the participation of a stellar lineup of writers — including Sarah Weinman, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Nicholas Christopher, Jeffery Deaver and Joyce Carol Oates — and the outcome is a bevy of cool and canny tales that embrace – to name just a few of the topics – art heists, familial relationships, historical intrigue and the seemingly straightforward interactions on a good old-fashioned crime scene. Dip in, dip out, and then dip in yet again. Multiple treasures here.

It’s a turn for the history books when a skeleton is discovered wearing 16th Century garb in Peter Lovesey’s Beau Death (Soho): Bath-based Chief Inspector Peter Diamond considers that he may have an age-old mystery on his hands, one involving the city’s most controversial iconic figure, Beau Nash. Diamond’s wry sense of humor stands him in good stead — especially when dealing with the eccentric, arrogant members of a historical society — and the intra-police interactions during the investigation are as enjoyable as the slightly madcap mystery at hand.

In Signal Loss (Soho), a gloriously gritty Australian-based police procedural, Garry Disher juggles multiple ongoing crime-story strands, leading his detectives on several not-so-merry chases across a dusty, rural backwater. There’s a deeply disturbing meth problem, cold-blooded murder and black-hearted deception — not to mention a slimy serial rapist on the loose. Sergeant Ellen Destry and Inspector Hal Challis and their teams have their hands full, and a striking opening scenario offers up a ghoulish Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd — that entertainingly deadly duo of Diamonds Are Forever fame — partnership for the 21st century.

By far the best thing about Jack Reacher novels is that way in which they begin with utter simplicity – Reacher coming across a West Point class ring in a pawnshop, for example – which then evolves into tales of wonderful complexities. The Midnight Line (Delacorte Press) is the perfect example, as Reacher, that class ring in pocket, wends his way across South Dakota and Wyoming, taking in the majestic landscape, collecting friends and enemies along the way, while demonstrating a most impressive use of a tumble dryer. ’Nuff said.

The Quintessential Interview: Joanna Schaffhausen

Joanna Schaffhausen’s creepy debut features Ellery Hathaway, a small-town cop who, in years ago, was the sole survivor of a serial killer. Even with her tormentor behind bars, Ellery’s living nightmare returns: for three years running now, someone has vanished from her new hometown, right around Ellery’s birthday. A cunning police procedural as well as a grisly murder mystery by the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel winner, The Vanishing Season is one seriously chilling chiller.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

  1. True crime stories
  2. Reading great writers across all genres
  3. Travel
  4. Family — the ties that bind in good and bad ways
  5. Neuroscience/psychology — all studies of the weird human brain

Top five places to write?

  1. With my laptop on the bed
  2. On the train (my commute is 3 hours a day)
  3. In my head
  4. At the library where it’s quiet
  5. In front of a roaring fire

Top five favorite authors?

  1. Shakespeare
  2. Fredrik Backman
  3. Jhumpa Lahiri
  4. Liane Moriarty
  5. Ed McBain

Top five tunes to write to?

This would be silence, silence, silence, silence, and silence. I love music but I’m an active listener. If I’m busy paying attention to the songs, I can’t hear the voices in my head. That said, here are five songs I find inspiring as a writer:

  1. The Hamilton soundtrack
  2. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
  3. “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan
  4. “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers
  5. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper

Top five hometown spots?

  1. Boston’s Museum of Science
  2. The Harbor Islands
  3. Fenway Park
  4. Top of the Hub
  5. Sanders Theatre in Harvard Square

Criminal Fiction: Winter in review

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Winter’s shorter days are a terrific time to dig into writer interviews, old and new. One of my favorite bookish series is the New York Times’ "By the Book" column, which embraces a rich selection of crime-fiction authors including Louise Penny, Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Paula Hawkins, and Philip Kerr.

And it’s in a different format and less high-profile, but the fall issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine has a fascinating interview with Chester Himes biographer Lawrence Jackson.

Finally, as someone who got to visit the first two UNESCO Cities of Literature, Edinburgh and Melbourne, on a wonderful work trip and appreciating what this particular recognition entails, it’s terrifically exciting to see Seattle welcomed into that particular fold.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s debut novel, Heather, the Totality (Little, Brown), may be slim but it packs a substantial punch. This is a tale in which every character — the eponymous Heather, her parents Mark and Karen, and a dude from the other side of the tracks, Bobby — has an oddly creepy element to them, so as a reader, there’s nowhere to hide. It is also a trenchant reminder of the critical damage an excess of obsessiveness can do, no matter who you are or what your intent might be.

A lonely man hangs out in his local bar, in Roddy Doyle’s Smile (Viking), bathed in memories of his no-longer-existent happy, indulgent relationship. He was a writer, a music critic; she succeeds as a celebrity chef, television series and all. As the book opens, he’s hit rock bottom, keeping a bar-stool warm, when someone from his past recognizes him and strikes up a conversation. Where that conversation goes in this novel of psychological suspense may or may not surprise you, but Doyle’s portrayal of a loving, intimate, empathetic relationship and its original inspiration — the longing of a human heart — will stick in your mind long after the final page.

Mma Ramotswe, she of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gabarone, Botswana, gets caught up in multiple intriguing mysteries in Alexander McCall Smith’s The House of Unexpected Sisters (Pantheon). Why was a hardworking employee suddenly fired — and was it even legally done? Why is someone from Mma Ramotswe’s past turning up like a bad penny? And who is the mystery lady who shares Mma Ramotswe’s name? Ably abetted by her partner-in-crime Mma Makutsi, as well as by friends and family, and armed as always with wisdoms from Clovis Anderson’s The Principles of Private Detection, Ramotswe brings a curious mind and an attentive heart to her work, not to mention plenty cups of comforting redbush tea.

In her acknowledgements, Winnie M Li makes it abundantly clear that her debut novel Dark Chapter (Polis), which begins with the rape of an adult woman, Vivian, by a teenage boy, Johnny, is drawn from personal experience. If anything, this makes the story — which, while nerve-shreddingly explicit in terms of the assault, focuses primarily on the aftermath for both the woman and the boy — all the more raw in its intensity. Despite wandering into stereotype-territory at times, Li’s also produced a riveting, highly empathetic read, one that recently won the UK’s prestigious Not the Booker prize.

The Quintessential Interview: Jon McGregor

On a cold winter’s day, a young girl goes missing near a rural English village. Through the searches and the perpetually open police investigation, her parents seen as both despairing and under suspicion, McGregor delineates the lives and times of the locals: villagers fall in and out of love, lose their jobs and gain new ones; flocks of birds fly south and return, badgers settle in their setts, and newborn foxes tumble over each other in their dens. In Reservoir 13, McGregor, a terrific novelist with the pen of a poet, has woven a mesmerizing tapestry, a tale not so much about a mystery, as about the sometimes-lingering repercussions that a crime can have on the community around it and the inexorable passage of time. McGregor is based at the University of Nottingham, where he also edits the excellent epistolary literary journal The Letters Page.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

  • For this book in particular, Tom Drury and John McGahern were high on the list
  • Readers who got what I was trying to do last time
  • Readers who didn't get what I was trying to do last time
  • The fear of alternative employment
  • Also, coffee

Top five places to write?

  • Anywhere with a flat surface, some background noise, and good coffee
  • The Specialty Coffee Shop in Nottingham
  • Cartwheel Coffee in Nottingham
  • Bromley House Library in Nottingham
  • Long-distance trains if I've packed a flask of good coffee

Top five favorite authors?

  • Lydia Davis
  • Alice Oswald
  • Tom Drury
  • Yiyun Li
  • Donald Barthelme

Top five tunes to write to?

  • Diamond Mine by Jon Hopkins and King Creosote
  • Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upwards by The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band.
  • Shakkei by Origamibiro
  • Forty Part Motet by Thomas Tallis
  • You Are the One I Pick by Felix (fyi these are all albums but if I had to keep getting up to change tracks I would never get any writing done)

Top five hometown spots?

  • Broadway Cinema for films and food and bumping into people
  • Specialty Coffee and Cartwheel Coffee for amazingly good coffee
  • Iberico World Tapas for fine tapas and a place to go with the best company
  • Sherwood Forest for getting back in touch with the trees and pretending to be an outlaw
  • The Pillar Box for excellent gin and raconteuring

Criminal Fiction: a door closes

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

It’s already been acknowledged on these pages, but I, along with a zillion others, was sad to see the Seattle Mystery Bookshop shutter its doors. While it’s hardly an unusual tale for an independent shop these days, I appreciated the business’ detailed and often thought-provoking blog, and appreciated, even more, the final post. We’ll miss you, Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We’ll miss you.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

The latest Vera Stanhope mystery, The Seagull by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur), holds a particularly tasty treat: a welcome and more intensive glimpse of the life and times of Vera’s father, Hector. An avid bird-and-egg collector — not entirely legally, mind — Hector ran around with an unsavory but untouchable bunch, including a high-level police officer, a wily wheeler-dealer dude, and a posh gentleman known only as “the Prof.” He also, as it turns out, managed to be an even grumpier grump than Vera, outshining her curmudgeonly reputation on several counts. Vera handles the family baggage surprisingly well as she delves into a long-hidden unsolved mystery, tackling old-school corruption, organized crime, and a local town’s earlier heyday as a seaside resort.

Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, with its heart-stopping twists and highly unreliable narrators, was one of this year’s most whiplash-inducing, adult psychological-suspense novels. With 13 Minutes (Flatiron), Pinborough returns to her YA stomping grounds, and spins teenagers’ tenterhooks and the toxicity of high school into a mind-teasing thriller. Natasha, Hayley, and Jenny are the Barbies, their version of similar cliques portrayed cinematically in Mean Girls and Heathers. But when Tasha nearly drowns and re-friends her childhood bestie, Becca, the stage is set for teen-angst-fuelled intrigue, sex, drugs, and, perhaps, even murder. Just for fun, cast the characters with your preferred actors — film rights have already been sold to Netflix.

The holiday-infused collection The Usual Santas (Soho Crime), gathers the cream of Soho’s international crime-writing crop, from Stuart Neville and Cara Black, to Helene Tursten and Ed Lin. There’s a canny little heist scene in Cuba from Teresa Dovalpage; a tale of heart-freezing revenge in Manhattan’s Chinatown by Henry Chang; a highly-debatable good-deed-done tale in a remote American ski hamlet by Tod Goldberg; a trip to 16th Century Italy by Gary Corby; and a visit to Jane Austen’s Bath by Stephanie Barron. With a festive multitude of short-story gems to choose from, the honor of best line resides in the book’s eponymous narrative from spy-writing master Mick Herron, in which a plethora of shopping-center Santas, whooping it up on Christmas Eve, realize that something is not quite right: “There’s an elf behind this,” said [one of the Santas]. “Mark my words.”

Julia Keller tackles one of the biggest crimes currently being committed in America in Fast Falls the Night (Minotaur). The devastating, destructive opioid crisis drives this novel, localized in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, but recognizable across the country. Over a single night and day, as multiple victims succumb to an often-fatal batch of heroin, Prosecutor Bell Elkins and her colleagues race against time to discover the source. Keller delineates the infinite and highly personal experiences impacted by drug addiction – in a town this small, no one is unaffected — as she captures the hopelessness, the stifling, dead-end atmosphere of the situation, and the determination of a bold few to address the crisis while secreting several mysteries of their own.

Amber Patterson is onto a good thing in The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (Harper). She’s insinuated herself into the life of the outrageously wealthy Mrs. Daphne Parrish by devious means, angling to replace her as the next Mrs. Parrish ASAP. What stands in her way? Just two suspicious young daughters, Bella and Tallulah, and the conscience of Daphne’s husband, Mr. Jackson Parrish, who clearly adores his wife. In the Parrish family’s opulent, water-front mansion, in their luxurious Manhattan apartment, in Jackson’s beloved motorboat – everywhere the family turns, there Amber is, transforming herself from mousy and timid to glam and glorious, right before their eyes. The latest in a wildly proliferating line of sociopathic characters convinced they are smarter than everyone around them, this is a pleasurably soap-opera-ish thriller from two sisters, Lynne and Valerie Constantine, who clearly had a good deal of fun putting this tale together.

The Quintessential Interview: Joe Ide

Private eye Isaiah Quintabe’s beat is a rough-and-ready L.A. neighborhood; his best friend and sort-of-partner, Dodson, is about to become a father; and IQ’s determination to solve the decade-old homicide of his older brother is gathering heat. Thus opens Righteous (Mulholland Books), Joe Ide’s second fiery IQ novel in which, to add grist to the investigative mill, Sarita, his brother’s former girlfriend, reaches out for his help, generating an inquiry that encompasses the seamier underbelly of Las Vegas as well as inter-gang warfare. IQ’s smarts serve him in good stead, and it’s excellent fun to watch sidekick Dodson’s resolution to keep up. The other latest reason that Joe Ide is in the news: IQ, Ide and Isaiah’s debut, just won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

  • Walter Mosley. The original cool breeze. He taught me that it was possible to write a book about an environment like ours and people like the ones we knew, and that there was a readership who would enjoy it. Also, he created Easy Rawlins, the second, original cool breeze. Mosley also taught me that you can wear a fedora and a T-shirt to a black-tie event.
  • Elmore Leonard because he writes about lowlifes that are so real they slap you in the face and his dialogue is the best ever.
  • John le Carré. I love his precision and intricacy and the tension he creates without violence. He also came up with my third favorite character of all time, just behind Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Robin: the quixotic, emotionally disabled, brilliant George Smiley.
  • Don Winslow. He’s just good, that’s all.
  • And a tie between Janet Fitch and Mary Karr. Mary Karr for her hilarious, tragic, trailer-trash, so-true-it-hurts biographies, and the writing, the writing. And Janet Fitch for her deeply felt quintessential L.A. novels about quintessential LA characters and the writing, the writing.

Top five places to write?

There are only two. My study with the shutters closed and the door shut and ear plugs in my ears, and the dog underneath the desk as a foot rest. And my outdoor office: a wooden table in the shade of the maple tree and underneath the hummingbird feeder where I am occasionally interrupted by my friend, Hummie (I’m good with names) who is quite used to me now, the dog lying in the cool, damp spot underneath the ferns.

Top five favorite authors?

Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, John le Carré, Hunter S. Thompson and A.A. Milne.

Top five tunes to write to?

No music. I’ll sing along or bob my head or tap my foot and I have enough trouble focusing as it is.

Top five hometown spots?

At the moment, Tacos Por Favor; Petty Cash Taqueria; Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla; Sushi Sasabune; and the park along the bluffs in the Palisades overlooking Santa Monica Bay.

Criminal Fiction: killer podcasts

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Photo credit: Paul Reich. L to R: Veste, Billingham, Dolan, Rankin, Neville, Cavanagh.

Kudos to Denise Mina for winning Bloody Scotland’s McIlvanney Prize for the best Scottish Crime book of the year. Her terrific The Long Drop is a beautifully-paced, novelistic slice of 1950s Glasgow, as well as an astute re-imagining of a real-life crime that riveted the city (and, to some extent, still does). Cheekier kudos are due to the Two Crime Writers and A Microphone podcasters Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste, and their festival live-event featuring a cast of crime-fiction gold: Ian Rankin, Eva Dolan, Mark Billingham, and Stuart Neville. Catch the hilarious, expletive-strewn outcome here, with episode 47.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Sophie Hannah excels at slightly paranoid, overly imaginative, furiously curious women who inevitably land themselves in piping-hot water, and, in Keep Her Safe (William Morrow), Cara Burrows is no exception. Off on a furtive, two-week jaunt to a flash Arizona resort, the British Burrows, jet-lagged and on-edge, checks in to her hotel, only to find the room she’s been given is already occupied. Within a matter of hours, Burrows has a bizarre — and top-notch — mystery on her hands: based on what she’s seen in that hotel room, is America’s most famous murder victim actually alive, well and vacationing in Arizona? Hannah’s fully fleshed-out characters and obvious relish for the outrageous tides and sweeps of contemporary media culture fuel this page-turner, while her joy of puzzles quietly contributes its soul.

The British Secret Service game is strong in John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies (Viking). Bookending some of the action of 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as well as sharing critical characters with 1974’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Legacy is narrated by Peter Guillam, close colleague of George Smiley. It appears that some of the Circus’ long-ago spy shenanigans have caught up with them in the present day, and Guillam, summoned to the offices of MI6 from his cozy retirement homestead in Brittany, has some explaining to do. It’s a testament to the ugliness of the current political landscape – which le Carré has fearlessly and vocally addressed in recent novels — that re-visiting the old-school days of a Western intelligence agency provides pure, escapist fun, despite the amoral, duplicitous and exploitative machinations of the agents.

Already in semi-hot water as a witness in a grand-jury proceeding, Darren Mathews, black Texas Ranger, finds himself fully immersed when an FBI pal sends him to check out two homicides in the tiny town of Lark, East Texas. Attica Locke’s terrific Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland) simmers with racial tensions, shimmers with unforgiving heat, features a killer soundtrack playing in the background, and offers an early sentence that echoes perpetually throughout the book: “In the wake of Obama, America had told on itself.” But within Bluebird’s deeply atmospheric surround is a story driven by entirely human, individualistic elements — love, fear, entitlement, jealousy — a story told with Locke’s crystal-clear vision and pleasurably elemental prose.

The temptation to stray is, well, tempting in Andrea Camilleri’s A Nest of Vipers (trans. Stephen Sartarelli; Penguin), when Inspector Montalbano is faced with a proper femme fatale while investigating his latest case — the murder of the woman’s father, no less. No sooner has his long-suffering girlfriend, Livia, jetted back home to Genoa, when a dinner invitation-proposal throws him (only temporarily) for a loop. Both fascinated and repulsed by the murder victim who had no qualms about blackmailing and loan sharking an extensive community, Montalbano, true to form, mulls over clues, red herrings and eurekas alike while ingesting the best food Sicily has to offer. Deceptively bordering on cozy, Camilleri’s mysteries never shy away from concealing a dark-black element at their heart.

The Quintessential Interview: JA Jance

J.A. Jance’s Seattle PI J.P. Beaumont has been on the murder-solving scene since 1985’s Until Proven Guilty, Jance’s first detective novel. Since then, Jance has kept her scores of books band-box-fresh and her prose moving along at a peppy pace. In her latest, Proof of Life, the depth of Beaumont’s career provides rich fodder for the current mystery as now-retired Beaumont finds himself embroiled in the supposedly-accidental death of retired reporter and part-time nemesis Maxwell Cole.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I have no idea! Not only do I not have five — I don’t have one!

Top five places to write?

In my gazebo in the back yard. On the back porch overlooking the garden. In my chair in the family room. On my patio in Tucson. On a cruise ship.

Top five favorite authors?

Jussi Adler-Olsen. Ann B Ross. Lee Child. Daniel Silva. Jo Nesbø.

Top five tunes to write to?

“Crazy” by Patsy Cline. “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian. Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Anything by Anne Murray. Anything by Gentleman Jim Reeves.

Top five hometown spots?

Tea at the Georgian at the Fairmont Olympic. The 5th Avenue Theatre. TechCity Bowl. John Howie Steak. Bridle Trails Red Apple in Kirkland.

Criminal Fiction: (books about) criminals take no vacation

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

In Melbourne, Australia, The Wheeler Centre has been celebrating all things bookish and literary since 2008, when Melbourne got its UNESCO City of Literature stamp of approval. Among their many events and discussions, the Centre has hosted a bevy of terrific crime-fiction writers and regularly shares videos and podcasts of those talks. Whether you’re a Reacher Creature, or a Kate Atkinson fan, there’s plenty of viewing/listening fun for you here. Other gems include conversations with Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Paula Hawkins and Peter James.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

The zippy read that is The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is not for the faint-of-heart. Hard-bitten Portland journalist — and Luddite, a personality quirk that comes in mighty handy in this particular context — Lela stumbles on the story of her life — so far — when she trips over an odd-looking skull in a construction site smack dab in the middle of the trendy Pearl District. And things go literally haywire from there. A rich mash-up of suspense, techno-thriller, horror, and the supernatural, Percy pulls it all together with a terrific cast of characters, finely-tuned plot twists and killer prose, sprinkled generously with spot-on snark and fun puns, as well as lovely turns of phrase: “…she hears the call to prayer as it purls and echoes through the city.”

Louise Penny’s detective Armand Gamache of the deceptively cozy and quiet Three Pines Quebecois village, has been a steadfast presence on the mystery scene for more than a decade. Now that he’s tackled and rousted out corruption at the highest levels of the Sûréte du Quebec, what’s left for a Chief Superintendent to do? Plenty, as it turns out. Penny’s Glass Houses (Minotaur), a perfectly-structured novel, opens in a tension-filled Montreal courtroom. Then, the narrative shifts between Montreal and a chilly few days months earlier in Three Pines, when a mysterious figure stood on the village common and freaked everyone out. Penny’s produced a beautifully wrought and pleasurably clever novel about conscience, revenge, and one of the most potent criminal challenges of our time.

Murder hits uncomfortably close to home in Kwei Quartey’s Death by His Grace (Soho), when Chief Inspector Darko Dawson’s wife’s cousin is killed. The detective deals with heightened familial tensions — not to mention the deterioration of his aging father, the wayward ways of his adopted son, and a bout of malaria — all while working to ferret out a dangerous killer. There’s plenty of delicious Ghanaian food mentions to salivate over and a friendly overview of Accra’s plentiful neighborhoods, but Quartey covers the bad as well as the good: an inherent part of the plot here includes the workings — and cons — of a charismatic church and its self-enriching leader.

In Yesterday (Mulholland), Felicia Yap’s intricate and mind-bending debut, there’s murder with malice aforethought afoot and an ambitious, chess-obsessed detective on the case. But in Yap’s imagined world, unusual challenges abound: human memory is severely curtailed by either one or two days tops, and everyone tries to keep track of changes around them by updating (read: and possibly manipulating) their iDairy entries as best they can. A writer-turned-hopeful-politician and his long-suffering wife appear to be at the heart of the investigation; a vengeful woman appears to hold all the cards. In a novel with not one but four unreliable narrators at its core, you pretty much just have to strap in and go along for the bumplicious ride.

The Quintessential Interview: Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware’s third psychological thriller — and make no mistake, each of her novels melds psychological suspense with proper, page-turning thrills pretty damn flawlessly — is one of those books that breathes vibrant life into the term “atmospheric.” The Lying Game (Scout Press), features a remote and boggy estuary, a decrepit old mill-house, and a local village for local people: this is the setting for the reunion of four grown-up friends who, as girls, teased the people around them with often funny and sometimes cruel mind-games, and who may be about to get their comeuppance.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I never know where inspiration will come from - for In a Dark, Dark Wood it was a chance conversation with a friend about hen nights. The Woman in Cabin 10 was me reading too many Agatha Christie novels, combined with some seriously scary news stories about deaths at sea (Is it me, or has there been a spate of them recently? Maybe it's a case of noticing what you're attuned to). The Lying Game was inspired by a place I visited in northern France (although being a writer, I swiftly snipped it out of its real-life setting and transposed it to the south of England). Online adverts. Books I've read. People I've met. Oh dear, this is more than five, isn't it?

Top five places to write?

I'm having the opposite problem here: I only write at my desk due to having screwed up my back by writing in bed and on the sofa. Bed is probably my very favorite place to write, but I can't really get away with it any more, even with the most artfully arranged pillows. If I can count plotting, then I love thinking while I'm driving or doing mindless, familiar walks — the sort you do every day and could complete almost with your eyes closed. When I lived in London, I did my best plotting on the Tube. I think the key is going into a sort of stasis trance — putting your brain on standby, almost.

Top five favorite authors?

Only five!! This is so hard. Um… Agatha Christie — for a masterclass in plot. Daphne du Maurier for that effortless combination of mystery and emotion. Donna Tartt for creating huge expansive worlds that I love to live in. Shirley Jackson for being simply creeptastic. Patricia Highsmith for creating fully three-dimensional characters who leap off the page and into your head. Wow, that was hard. It's also not complete. There are a whole load of writers I love just as much.

Top five tunes to write to?

Ok, I'm back to having too few answers for this one. I can't write to music; in fact, I really prefer complete silence.

Top five hometown spots?

I'm spending a lot of time on Brighton's Palace Pier, partly because it's a beautiful, crazy throwback to Victorian seaside life, partly as tangential research for my new book. My perfect Brighton day might involve a walk on the pier, throwing some stones into the sea, lunch at La Choza, a truly delicious Mexican restaurant in Brighton's North Lanes, then a drive out into the beautiful Sussex Downs for a drink in one of the country pubs. I love a pub with a proper beer garden – soft green grass underfoot and a wasp trapped under an up-turned beer glass. The Cricketers Arms in Berwick or the Ram Inn at Firle are both excellent. While I am out that way, I might drop into Charleston Farmhouse, once the Sussex refuge of the Bloomsbury circle and now a fascinating period piece, frozen in amber as tribute to them. If I had the energy, I'd finish up by climbing Firle Beacon, but more likely I'd just stretch out in the sunshine, watch the lengthening shadows, and order another glass of wine.

Criminal Fiction: leaving out the parts that the readers skip

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

A gleeful moment catching a fictional private investigator in the act of comfort-reading an Elmore Leonard novel had me rushing off to re-visit this fun guide to writing. From "Never open a book with weather," all the way to "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip," and with a loving nod to the power of hooptedoodle, Leonard’s teasing, detailed advice is pure pleasure.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

A car crash has crippled Jane Norton with severe amnesia and left her passenger, David Hall, very much dead in Blame by Jeff Abbott (Grand Central). A note, found on the scene, indicated a suicide attempt on Jane’s part that apparently went horribly wrong. As the book opens, on the second anniversary of the crash, a new note turns up and Abbott’s perfectly-paced thriller catches literary fire, crackling along with a nicely-meshed Jason Bourne-I Know What You Did Last Summer vibe. With Jane’s memory full of gaping holes — she remembers her favorite books, from A Wrinkle in Time to the magical reads of Edward Eager and Lloyd Alexander, but blanks on the accident — we’ve got a literal unreliable narrator on our hands. Abbott, a deft and nimble writer, skillfully steers us through small-community pettinesses and pressures, as well as, yes, the dark evil that lurks — all too often, it seems — deep in suburban territory.

London detective Maeve Kerrigan is back on the case in Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey (Minotaur). A claustrophobically-short street provides the immersive setting for a bloody crime scene: there’s a profusion of blood, in fact, but the killer appears to have absconded with the corpse. Kerrigan and her team, including fresh meat Georgia Shaw who can’t quite land on Kerrigan’s good side, tangle with a sullen young man with a history of violence, two vulnerable teenage girls, and a family of evangelicals that includes a couple of brothers with some serious sibling rivalry issues. Kerrigan’s ability to home in on people’s deepest, most destructive qualities as well as their inevitable Achilles’ heels — “her trick of understanding more than she should,” as one character notes – keeps the tension level high. Kerrigan and her colleagues’ ability to banter about things like, say, the stability of eyeball fluid when it comes to sampling for the presence of drugs, keeps everything else grounded in grisly police procedural reality.

Michael Connelly adds the excellent Detective Renée Ballard to his stable of engaging protagonists in The Late Show (Little, Brown), and, thanks to Connelly’s concise and empathetic writing, Ballard arrives fully-formed, with a heady sense of familiarity about her. Ballard, recently relegated to the night shift (“the late show”) due to illicit politicking by another officer, chases up a credit card robbery, a near-fatal beating, and a “four on the floor” nightclub shooting, which all kick off over a busy night’s work and then overshadow her sleep-deprived days. In between her investigations, she tries to chill out with her paddleboard – there are canny surfing and journalism elements to her backstory – her loyal pooch and her loving grandmother, but much of the book’s blistering action is based around Ballard pursuing the baddies while fighting off some nasty colleagues who have it in for her. Detective Ballard is off to a winning start: she may be short of sleep, but she’s already a legend.

In The Breakdown by B.A. Paris (St. Martin’s), Cass’s apparent dream of a life deteriorates quite quickly when she notices a woman in a car on a lonely stretch of road, and then that woman turns up murdered. Cass has a wonderful husband, a fiercely loyal best friend and a supportive group of colleagues, but the unexpected death plays on her mind and her emotions. Exacerbating an already stressful situation is the fact that her mother died from early-onset dementia and — a fumbled BBQ date here, a slip of memory around a gift there — Cass quickly becomes convinced that she’s suffering from the same familial memory issues. Behind Closed Doors, Paris’s 2016 psychological thriller debut, was one of the more terrifying reads of the year; this follow-up isn’t quite as edgy, but it’s highly engaging nonetheless.

The Quintessential Interview: Bill Loehfelm

Bill Loehfelm’s New Orleans police officer, Maureen Coughlin, like Loehfelm himself, relocated from Staten Island to The Big Easy where she’s already gappled with high-level corruption as well as more general criminal activities. In The Devil’s Muse, out this month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and taking place over the course of a single, tension-tattered night bang-smack in the middle of NOLA’s Mardi Gras festivities, Coughlin has her patience tested by a documentary filmmaker, a nasty new street drug, a neighborhood shooting, and some of her more surly colleagues. Excellent stuff.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I get a lot of inspiration from movies, actually. Both old favorites and something new that really kicks my ass, especially if it has killer dialog.

Songwriters, too. Someone like Jason Isbell, who I’ve been big into lately, can get a whole novel into a four-minute song. That amazes me. When I hear it done well, it makes me want to get to work. Every time I see my friend Kelcy Mae play music, songs that she wrote, I want to go home and write.

My wife, AC, is a great writer and an indefatigable worker. I always want to make sure I’m pulling my weight around the house.

Seeing other artists at the top of their game is always a challenge and inspiration.

And two weird stories I grew up with – Batman and King Kong. Something about those two stories, those two American myths, it’s like there’s something mystical I’m always trying to pull out of them.

Top five places to write?

The last few books I’ve written exclusively at home since I work on a desktop. We have a sunroom at the back of the apartment that works great as an office: it’s almost all windows, and we call it “the lighthouse.”

I take my editing on the road, though. I live in a coffee shop rich neighborhood and I can walk to a handful. My favorite is the Rue de la Course on Magazine Street, which, after a few misguided years as a restaurant, is a coffee shop again.

I like Mojo on the corner of Magazine and Race, too – which many years ago was the original Rue. There’s a cool place on Magazine called the Reservoir, but that’s more of a crepe place now.

Every now and then I hit HiVolt, but like a lot of the new school coffee shops, they close early.

Top five favorite authors?

Picking only five is impossible. Kate Atkinson is the first one that comes to mind. She’s a stone genius. Megan Abbott has done some of the best work of the last ten years that I’ve come across.

Donna Tartt is in a class by herself.

And JK Rowling has to be in there, too. I love her books as Robert Galbraith as well as that other thing she did. I’ll read anything she writes.

And Alice Sebold, too, who I always forget to mention when I make these lists. I’ve worked real hard to imitate her voice over the years. There’s just an edge that she has. I hope to God she writes another book.

Top five tunes to write to?

For the Maureen Coughlin books I lean a lot on local stuff: A small sample:

  • “Criminal” — The Revivalists (I write to a lot of their material)
  • “Ice Age” — Dr. John
  • “Night People” — the Soul Rebels Brass Band
  • “The Corner” — Galactic w/Gift of Gab
  • “Power” — Juvenile (w/Rick Ross).

Top five hometown spots?

My screened-in porch.

Joey K’s, a restaurant in the neighborhood where we can get an outside table on the corner. I have lunch there almost every Tuesday with friends who are also self-employed artists.

Tipitina’s for live music any time of year.

The Fair Grounds, where they have Jazz Fest every spring – my high, holy season.

Audubon Park, especially the Tree of Life where I married my wife.

Criminal Fiction: Murder most audible

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Thanks to a Twitter-tip from Jim Thomsen I’ve been exploring the Writer Types podcast series run by Eric Beetner and S.W. Lauden. Come for the engaging authors interviews — Megan Abbott, Meg Gardiner, Jordan Harper, Lori Rader-Day, Catriona McPherson — stay for the excellent music.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Canny novelist (the Alex Rider series, the new Sherlock Holmes thrillers) and television writer (Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War) Anthony Horowitz is in his literary element in Magpie Murders (Harper). An excellent two-fer when it comes to crime fiction – the tome features a beautifully-composed Golden Age mystery written by an author whose editor finds herself with a more contemporary mystery on her hands — Horowitz’s clever take on the vintage English mystery genre as well as the often-fraught world of book publishing is one of this year’s most entertaining reads.

The excellent Stuart Neville’s new foray under his Haylen Beck moniker, Here and Gone (Crown), is about as chilling as psychological suspense novels get. Audra Kinney is trying to free herself and her two kids from an abusive husband, when, in frighteningly rapid succession, she’s pulled over by a cop on a lonely stretch of highway and separated from her kids. The story that transpires digs into some of the darkest corners not just of the Dark Web, but of what sometimes constitutes human motivation. Not as nuanced as Neville’s Belfast-based novels, but a truly propulsive page-turner nevertheless.

Don’t let Mark Billingham’s stand-up-comedian aspect of his professional life fool you: his crime novels don’t shy away from being pitch-black as well as witty. Love Like Blood (Atlantic), features the welcome return of Billingham’s astute and empathetic London-based detective Tom Thorne, here assisting colleague Nicola Tanner with what seems to be a series of honor killings. As he works to crack the horrific cases with Tanner, Thorne’s on top form, nimbly juggling work, happy domesticity, and forensic details down the pub with best buddy, police pathologist and self-proclaimed “devil’s avocado” Phil Hendricks.

Death on Nantucket by Francine Mathews (Soho) starts off all cosy-like – atmospheric island, a wedding in the works – but quickly veers off into more terrifying territory that includes, in no particular order, dysfunctional family dynamics to the max, poisoned beverages, a semi-mummified corpse, and even a temporary venture into America’s war in Southeast Asia. It’s been 19 years since the last Merry Folger mystery, but the island detective returns in fine fettle here.

The Quintessential Interview: Jason Pinter

Polis Books publisher by day, Jason Pinter has an authorial track record of his own: in his latest novel, The Castle, Everyman Remy Stanton blocks a crime-in-action on the Upper East Side, and finds himself in the best books of New York businessman Rawson Griggs, who bears amusing similarities to a Manhattan mogul currently based in the White House. Thriller and satire in one, Hoboken-based Pinter’s novel manages to be both escapist and finger-on-the-pulse-spot-on, as well as a fun, fierce ode to the Greater New York Area.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I’ve always had a love for epic tales of good versus evil – as a kid, you could always find me buried in a thousand-page novel by Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, or Stephen King.

I’m fascinated by what drives good people to do bad things.

The notion that every villain is the hero of his or her own story. (Wouldn’t it be fantastic to read some classic books told from the villain’s perspective? I bet Pennywise has an amazing tale to tell).

Perhaps the thing that most gets my juices flowing is reading a good book. If I’m reading a terrific book, I often feel inspired: the muse comes and taps me on the shoulder, and the little devil tells me to put the book down and go write.

Top five places to write?

My desk at home. It’s cluttered with papers and files and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bwè cafe in Hoboken. It’s a homey coffee shop a few blocks from my house. If you walk in there at any time of day, the place is filled with people working on laptops. Great coffee and stable WiFi.

Bookstores. Chain or indie, as long as they have seating, coffee, and WiFi. I love taking a 15-minute break and just walking around, browsing the aisles.

Airplanes. Nothing helps pass a cross-country flight than hitting that groove and knocking out a dozen pages before you land.

Top five favorite authors?

Top five writes who inspired me as a child: Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Stephen King, Brian Jacques, and Clive Barker (I was a massive horror hound).

As an adult: Dennis Lehane, Zadie Smith, James Ellroy, Charlie Huston, Dave Barry (Who couldn't use a little more booger humor in their life?)

Top five tunes to write to?

I love writing to movie soundtracks; I have a hard time focusing on writing while lyrics are also playing. My favorite soundtracks to write to are The Social Network, The Bourne Supremacy, and Drive. I’m also a huge Ramin Djawadi fan, so I also love the Game of Thrones soundtrack and, weirdly enough, the Fright Night remake soundtrack. I’m also obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack (who isn’t?) though that’s more to give me a boost of inspiration to get back to writing. And sometimes hard rock/heavy metal. Hey, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, I’m a Metallica/GN’R guy.

Top five hometown spots?

I’m a New Yorker, born and bred, but now live across the Hudson in Hoboken, so here are the spot that make me want to hop on the Path train at any given moment:

The Strand. Wandering the stacks at The Strand is cheaper and _way _more effective than therapy for me. I collect old first editions of books that have inspired me at some point, and a good portion of my collection has been purchased there.

The Mysterious Bookshop, my home-away-from-home.

The Brandy Library. My wife took me here for my birthday one year, and if you’re a liquor connoisseur, then this is your sanctuary. Their drink menu is—I kid you not—several hundred pages long. We went here soon after the Breaking Bad finale, so I just had to try a Dimple Pinch (note: it was gooooood)

The Comedy Cellar: the best stand-up comedy joint in the country. Don’t bother to fight me on this. The club is literally in a cellar: it’s small and cramped, but this is where the greats go to test their stuff. On separate occasions, I’ve seen Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld show up unannounced just to practice new material (I also saw John Mayer do stand-up here, but that’s a whole different story).

Carbone: if you watch Master of None, you’ll recognize it as the restaurant Dev and Jeff eat at (it’s Jeff’s third dinner of the night). The best meatballs I’ve ever had in my life.

Criminal Fiction: May cowers

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page.

With its friendly staff, shedloads of books, and cool author signings, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is one of the loveliest jewels in the city’s literary crown. Keep an eye on their event calendar , which showcases the best of mystery writers, local, regional, national and international. On the radar for summer: Cara Black, creator of the astute Parisian PI Aimee Leduc, drops in at noon on Wednesday, June 14, and on July 5, the excellent Jill Dawson, over from England, signs The Crime Writer, her canny fictional melding of Patricia Highsmith, a sleepy Suffolk village, and a spot of murder.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

A river with a forebodingly named spot called the Drowning Pool features as a key element in Into the Water (Riverhead). Paula Hawkins’s turbulent follow-up to 2015’s unstoppable Girl on the Train, this psychological thriller is just as rife with twists and turns, but is set compactly in a northern English village, rather than a London suburb. The rural setting lends itself beautifully to the mysteries at hand — a suspiciously high number of people have met their end in the Drowning Pool — and Hawkins has enormous fun with a wide swathe of rotating narrators. She ventures into seriously dark psychological and societal territories here, not the least of which being the hypocrisy and violence that often lies indelibly at the heart of even the smallest of communities.

A cache of bones discovered in a medieval tunnel beneath the city of Norwich piques the interest and curiosity of forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway in The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). But things quickly take a particularly sinister turn as Galloway’s former lover and policeman colleague, DCI Nelson, begins to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths in the region: from the homeless population to yuppie communities, no one, it seems is safe. Griffiths nimbly weaves a proper police procedural with a gimlet-eyed take on finger-on-the-contemporary-pulse social issues, as well as immersing her characters in ginormous life changes.

The specter of nefariously used social media — Tinder, in this case — raises its ugly head in The Thirst by Jo Nesbo, translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith (Knopf). But, this being a Nesbo novel featuring the Oslo detective Harry Hole, there’s so much more here than meets the eye, particularly as Nesbo is a master at finely drawn characters: one of the most powerful elements of his thrillers lies in the ways in which his characters interact with and affect each other. Hole — who recently left the police force for the relative safety of a teaching role and is enjoying the more mundane pleasures of life, such as attending Sufjan Stevens and Sleater-Kinney concerts with his stepson — is commandeered back onto an increasingly terrifying case that encompasses vampirism, Shakespeare’s Othello, and crimes both grisly and grim. Excellent, as always.

Nick Mason is still in death-threatening thrall to crime boss Darius Cole in Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton (Putnam), and it doesn’t get more complicated than tampering with America’s Federal Witness Protection Program — especially when a baddie escapes custody with Mason’s killing on his mind. A fiery, muscular narrative that travels at relentless speed, Exit Strategy is a page-turner, yes, but also a tale of loneliness at its most extreme.

The Quintessential interview: Dennis Lehane

I’ve been a fan of Dennis Lehane since 1994’s A Drink Before the War, which introduced his fiercely compelling and complicated Boston PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. One of our finest writers, Lehane has added high-profile television credits to his name (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) and has seen several of his novels transformed into critically acclaimed movies. Since We Fell (Ecco), his new standalone and his first novel told from a woman’s point of view, is vintage Lehane: smart, taut, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

Catch the L.A.-based Lehane at Elliott Bay Book Company on June 5 at 7 p.m.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

  1. Boston
  2. Bills
  3. Music (dependent on the book, dependent on the mood
  4. My daughters (see #2 again)
  5. My childhood

Top five places to write?

  1. Writing desk, top floor of my house
  2. Home office
  3. Diners and coffee shops (but never a Starbucks)
  4. Pubs
  5. Anywhere with an ocean view

Top five favorite authors?

  1. Richard Price
  2. Raymond Carver
  3. Elmore Leonard
  4. Graham Greene
  5. William Kennedy

Top five tunes to write to?

This is an ever-changing list. I would conservatively say there are at least 700 songs on my Infinite Writing Playlist and 14,000 in my iTunes library. But for the sake of argument, this would be 5 in constant rotation right now:

  1. "Birds Trapped in the Airport," Craig Finn
  2. "We Belong Together," Rickie Lee Jones
  3. "A Dustland Fairytale," The Killers
  4. "Slipped," The National
  5. "Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi," Hans Zimmer

Top five hometown spots?

  1. Playa Provisions, Playa del Rey
  2. Mo’s Place, Playa del Rey
  3. Scopa, Venice
  4. Good Stuff, El Segundo
  5. Bodega, Santa Monica

Criminal Fiction: blood in the cut

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

The 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year longlist offers a cornucopia of marvelous mysteries and terrific thrillers, all published in paperback in the UK and Ireland between May 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017. This list includes multiple crime-fiction gems, including Alex Marwood’s seriously dark Darkest Secret, Mick Herron’s canny spyfest Real Tigers, Christopher Brookmyre’s fiendishly clever Black Widow, and Stuart Neville’s suspenseful and heartbreaking Those We Left Behind. Plus, it’s always a pleasure to find industry giants (Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham) rubbing writerly shoulders with relative newbies such as Sabine Durrant, Sarah Hilary, Susie Steiner, and Eva Dolan. Get reading! The shortlist is out on May 20.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Pete Fernandez is off the sauce and making an okay living as a low-profile PI in Miami, but trouble finds him once again in Dangerous Ends by Alex Segura (Polis). His irregular work-partner-in-crime, Kathy Bentley approaches him with a book project about the legendary Gaspar Varela, incarcerated for killing his own wife while insisting on his innocence, and her plan yields a rich seam of noir-dark mystery that intertwines intriguingly with Fernandez’s own family story. Segura keeps the sultry atmosphere of Hernandez’s love-life strifes turned way up, matched perfectly by southern Florida’s palpable heat and humidity.

Ann Cleeves does not plot her tightly-knit mysteries ahead of time, so it’s good fun to imagine how she negotiated her way from the humdinger of an opening of Cold Earth (Minotaur): within the first few pages, a landslide brought on by relentless rains in Shetland rides roughshod over an ancient cemetery — during a funeral, no less — leaving a single fatality in its path. The remote island community and Shetland’s brooding Inspector Jimmy Perez are the perfect complement to a landscape both rugged and windswept. But even here, life comes at you fast, whether it’s murder, malice aforethought, petty politics, or budding romance.

There’s something terribly amiss in London in Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (Ecco). For one thing, detective William Fawkes, aka Wolf, is back on active duty after violently attacking a suspect in a courtroom four years earlier. For another, someone has just murdered six victims and sewn them together to make a single, gruesome corpse, one of whose fingers appears to be pointing directly into Fawkes’s nearby flat. The multiple plot lines have a manic erratic-ness to them, that sometimes adds, sometimes detracts from Cole’s careening debut.

The disappearance of a young filmmaker following the ransacking of the gym where he held a day-job, kicks off the action in Fallout by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow). Luckily, for the filmmaker, he is a cousin of Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski, who is soon hot on the case. In a terrific, decades-spanning mystery that takes Victoria Iphigenia deep into the heart of a rural Kansas community, master-at-work Paretsky has multiple twisty aces up her sleeve, nicely enhanced with a rich cast of characters, a lovely shout-out to the super-speedy stock-car racer Danica Patrick, and multiple spirited reminders that here in these United States of America, the government is supposed to for We the People.

The Quintessential Interview: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day sets her psychological thrillers in restricted, restrictive spaces — a tattered motel, an academic campus, a small town — which instantly projects their claustrophobic-tension levels into the stratosphere. The Day I Died, out this month from William Morrow, started life ten years ago as a short story; this extended version packs a powerful, sinister punch, with handwriting analyst Anna Winger trying to help the local police force locate a missing child and finding her own life spiraling rapidly out of control.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Gossip: What people whisper about is what they care about. Weird news stories I find on Facebook: I save them, never knowing if they'll come into use. Other writers: I love hanging out with them and listening to them talk shop and process. Throwaway facts in nonfiction books that really need their own books. Deadlines.

Top five places to write?

A little desk in my guest room known as my "office." It's tiny. Starbucks: They have really good hot tea. Any cafe, actually: I like cafe noise – but not coffee. My backporch, in good weather and in rain. Airplanes, if I have enough elbow room: On the way to Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, I had my own row. Life highlight.

Top five favorite authors?

I'm going to go historical, to avoid making enemies: Agatha Christie. Shirley Jackson. Josephine Tey. Daphne du Maurier. Dashiell Hammett, but when I say this, I mean The Thin Man.

Top five tunes to write to?

Depends on what I'm writing. I make a playlist for every novel. These five songs helped me write The Day I Died:

  • Blood in the Cut by K. Flay
  • White Blank Page by Mumford & Sons
  • Lucky Now by Ryan Adams
  • Go Insane (Live) by Lindsey Buckingham
  • Break Free by Matthew Santos

Top five hometown spots?

My real hometown is pretty small, so I'll tell you about Chicago, my adopted hometown: On Lake Michigan, out in water looking back on the city. The Book Cellar, one of Chicago's amazing independent bookstores. The Forest Preserve, in the woods, on a bike, with my husband. I need to do this more. Caro Mio, Italian restaurant with my girlfriends. Just add wine. Winter Garden, Harold Washington Library, which is a glass-ceilinged room with a view of the surrounding skyscrapers. It's just a very Chicago place.

Criminal Fiction: the nerve-jangling opposite of the proverbial funny bone

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Mark your calendars: Seattle’s free, seasonal Noir at the Bar returns for its Spring edition on April 13. Come for the crime fiction readings, stay for the food, cocktails, and classic ambience!

Reading Around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

It’s all hands on deck for Ali Reynolds and her High Noon Enterprises cyber-security crew when one Roger McGreary, a childhood friend of Reynold’s colleague Stuart Ramsey, plunges to his death during a cruise. The cyber force is strong in J.A. Jance’s Man Overboard (Touchstone): less of a whodunit or whydunnit — those are relatively early revelations – the entertaining mystery speeds along, helter-skelter, as multiple forensic online investigations proceed. The killer app in this particular tale? A non-human entity rapidly developing its sentient side. Join JA Jance at multiple area events.

In Say Nothing by Brad Parks (Dutton), Federal Judge Scott Sampson and his wife Alison have been put on serious warning: the novel opens to the dire news that their twins, Sam and Emma, have been kidnapped. To surmise that the judge will do whatever he’s directed by the kidnappers is an understatement — but first he has to figure out which of his cases has caught someone’s criminal eye. In what is a palpably tension-wracked situation, nearly everyone around Scott and Alison falls under their frenzied suspicious — they even eyeball each other. Parks ratchets up and maintains the suspense at a relentless level, so don’t start this one at bedtime.

There are some downright bizarre shenanigans afoot in A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas, translated from the French by Siân Reynolds (Penguin). From a demon being ruling the roost of a tiny and remote Icelandic island, to the Paris-based Association for the Study of the Writings of Maximilien Robespierre — whose members dedicate themselves to re-enacting assemblies from the heady days of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror — Commissaire Adamsberg has his hands more than full in this police procedural. Part of the pleasure, as always, is reveling in the Adamsberg’s relationship with his crime-fighting colleagues, their eclectic foibles and respect for each other, but the superb cast of colorful non-regulars in Fear, give this latest mystery from the award-winning Vargas distinctly added heft.

Tannie Maria, blissed out by a new romantic relationship, is also suffering from terrifying flashbacks from an abusive one in The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew (Ecco). The death of a land activist kicks off the other plotline in this South African-based cozy crime novel that, at times, feels like it’s been tucked into a recipe book (p.s., the recipes all sound delicious). Even though the mystery bit gets a tad lost in the descriptions of the surrounding trees, birds and wildlife, this friendly novel is something to savor nevertheless, especially in its assertion that there’s not much in life that the love of a little lamb, stalwart friendships, intimate relationships and several slices of the tantalizingly-titled Venus Cake can’t cure. And, for those who like to live a bit more on the edge, Andrew offers up the most beset-upon therapy group since Rachel Samstat’s in Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.

The Quintessential Interview: Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens has been writing seriously chilling thrillers since 2010’s harrowing Still Missing, and Never Let You Go, her sixth novel, is no exception, delving deep into the sometimes deadly obsessions that lurk in the most intimate of relationships. If there is a nerve-jangling counterpart of the oft-touted proverbial funny-bone, Stevens's aim, in that regard, is unswaveringly true.

Stevens who grew up in Shawnigan Lake, still lives on Vancouver Island, in the city of Nanaimo. Watch her locally: Friday March 24 with Ingrid Thoft at Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum; Saturday March 25, at the Kitsap Regional Library; or Sunday March 26, at Bellingham’s Village Books.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Usually it’s my own fears or personal experiences that drive the themes of my writing.

In terms of an overall career, Stephen King has always been a strong inspiration; I connected with his work when I was very young.

My author friends and family keep me going on the tough days.

My editor is brilliant, very encouraging, and also a wife and a mother. I have learned an incredible amount from her.

When I watch something well-written on TV, or read a wonderful book, it sets off a surge of creative excitement in me.

Top five places to write?

This has changed depending on my daughter’s age and current needs. Right now, my main spot is my local coffee shop in my town, where I have become enough of a fixture that I now earn head nods from the group of older men who meet there every day for their coffee and chats.

When not at the coffee shop, I write at home in my office, which was decorated this year, or downstairs at the kitchen table, looking out at the walnut trees in our backyard.

In a pinch, I have taken my laptop out to our travel trailer, and hidden there from the dogs and family.

I’ve written in a lot of hotels over the years and my most favorite is the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. If you’re going to be writing while on tour, you might as well be looking out at sun and palm trees.

Top five favorite authors?

So hard! I admire and respect many authors, but the ones that first spring to mind are Stephen King, for the reasons I mention above. Also Ed McBain: his characters were always gritty and real. I adored the 87th Precinct novels and read them all. Bryce Courtenay’s book Power of One had an enormous impact on me. Right now I am really enjoying Sarah Turner, who wrote the Unmumsy Mum. She’s very brave in her writing, and relatable. For fantasy, I’m a big Holly Black fan. In particular, her Darkest Part of the Forest was a stand out for me.

Top five tunes to write to?

For some reason, I can only listen to music when I am writing at the coffee shop, but sometimes I will listen to a certain song before I start writing a scene, to get me in the right headspace. Ed Sheeran is lovely, and I also enjoy Passenger – the melodies are relaxing and don’t break my focus. When I want something a little grittier, I play Chris Stapleton or Eric Church. I’ve recently become interested in Lana Del Rey. Her soulful voice and themes of love fit with my current project.

Top five hometown spots?

There is a famous train trestle near the ranch where I grew up. I used to swim in the river far below, or sit on the trestle and think about life.

One of my other favorite swimming spots is farther down the river, where there used to be a provincial campground. I used it as my imaginary commune location for one of my books.

On my mom’s property there is a trail to a lookout and I used to walk there often when I was sad. There is something about heights that puts problems in perspective.

The two local corner stores still bring back lots of memories of being a kid growing up in Shawnigan Lake, going for ice-cream on a hot summer day, then hanging out at the beach with my friends. Bits and pieces of these areas have made their way into all of my books.

Criminal Fiction: Scottish Noir and books galore

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

This weekend sees the inaugural Granite Noir crime fiction festival in Aberdeen, Scotland (February 24 – February 26). Heavy-hitters such as Stuart MacBride, Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone and Denise Mina are just some of the featured writers participating in conversations, panels, workshops, film screenings, a special Noir at the Bar and — I particularly like the sound of this one — an afternoon discussing Agatha Christie’s favorite poisons.

Granite Noir offers a distinctly Scottish crime fiction flavor, nicely infused with touches of Nordic noir. If you’re not based in the Scotland’s Granite City, you can still follow some of the fun via Facebook and Twitter

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Berkley) whose super-chilling psychological thriller I Let You Go was one of the creepiest of last year’s creepy crop, returns with a vengeance and an on-the-pulse tale of our real-life vulnerabilities when it comes to others’ nefarious digital activities. The novel kicks off with one Zoe Walker finding her own face illustrating a classified ad for the intriguingly named “” site, and veers into the “don’t-read-this-alone-in-the-house-at-night” stratosphere from there.

River Cartwright, a British spy based in Slough House – the dead-end office where disgraced MI5 agents are relegated to their final desk jobs – is off to visit his grandfather, former spy David Cartwright, who appears to be succumbing to old-age memory loss and ramblings. Not so reassuring for other spooks. Mick Herron’s terrific intelligence agents thriller series – this one, Spook Street (Soho), is installment number four – manages to be gritty and slick at the same time, and it’s a real pleasure to watch the super-smart if damaged Slough House agents rising to the occasion once again.

In Mark Billingham’s Rush of Blood (Atlantic), three British couples meet semi-cute on a Florida vacation, a vacay that’s marred on the last day when a young girl, unrelated to them, disappears. Back home, the six Brits stay in touch, meeting up for drinks and dinners while cops pursue the Florida mystery as well as a similar one in England. As he did in his previous standalone, 2016’s Die of Shame, Billingham does a tantalizing job of centering the smoothly paced tension around a small group of characters; and, as he did in Die of Shame, Billingham regular DI Tom Thorne makes a tiny but tenacious cameo.

If you like your thrillers to encompass a relentless chase across Europe, then Chris Ewan’s Long Time Lost (Minotaur) is for you. Nick Miller provides a very particular kind of service, relocating people in trouble with baddies to safer spaces with new identities. But with the addition of his latest client going to ground to hide from a very dangerous man, Miller’s entire network is suddenly under threat – especially as more than one element isn’t quite what they seem to be at first glance.

Ann Cleeves’s The Crow Trap (Minotaur) marks DI Vera Stanhope’s first appearance, back when the novel was meant to be a standalone mystery rather than the start of a series that’s going gangbusters 30 years later –not to mention being the basis of a current hit TV series. Three women gather in a small cottage in rural Northumberland to conduct an environmental survey, but it’s the pileup of dead humans that soon becomes their focus. The suspenseful story is beautifully paced and a welcome affirmation of precisely why – and how invasively – Stanhope got under Cleeves’s skin.

The Quintessential Interview: Kathleen Kent

Kathleen Kent, a bestselling historical novelist, turns her trusty pen to contemporary crime fiction in The Dime, a rollicking police procedural set in Dallas, Texas. Brooklyn transplant Betty Rhyzyk, refreshingly engaging and a committed detective with the canny voice of her tough-cop uncle a comforting – and life-saving –presence in her head, finds herself colliding with plastic-surgeried women, Mexican drug runners, Confederate re-enactors, religious fundamentalists, and, in a terrifically entertaining scene, an errant armadillo.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Often, my inspiration for writing future projects will come while doing research on a current one. I’ll come across something odd or notable and it will go into my “ideas” notebook. The top five inspirational sources for writing would be newspaper articles (past or present), traveling, reading books of every genre and every possible subject, listening to music, and talking to old people. Old people have the best stories, and are usually very eager – and grateful – to talk about their lives and experiences.

Top five places to write?

My favorite place to write is at my desk, but I also relish writing in bed, on a train, on my patio when the weather is kind, and, sometimes, at a picnic table in a deserted park.

Top five favorite writers?

This is such an incredibly hard question, because there are so many wonderful writers in so many different genres, but I’ll go back to the writers that I’ve read more than once: Cormac McCarthy (Americana/Western), James Lee Burke (Crime), John le Carré (Spy/Mystery), Erik Larson (Non-fiction) — and now I’m going to cheat here because: Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver and many more….

Top five tunes to write to?

Music is very inspirational to me for setting the mood and narrative voice. While I wrote my first two novels, set in 17th century New England (The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife), I listened to a lot of Celtic and Ye Olde English music, played on primitive instruments. My third novel was set in 1870 Texas, so I listened to Americana folk/country music, which, interestingly, has a strong Celtic influence as well. For The Dime, I made several playlists to inspire the action. My top five songs from the playlists are Bang, Bang, Bang by Dorothy; Back in Black by Brother Strut, featuring Lorna Fothergill; Conman Coming by Monica Heldal; Glory Box by Portishead; and Bad Things by Emilie Bouchereau.

Top five hometown spots?

Deep Ellum, for its restaurants and music clubs; the Bishop Arts District, for its home-grown craft stores, art galleries and indie bookstore, The Wild Detectives; Addison, north of central Dallas, for its fantastic assortment of Asian restaurants; Klyde Warren Park, for its public green areas, and nearby Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center; Trinity Groves, for its long pedestrian bridge crossing the Trinity River, walking trails and spectacular view of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

Criminal Fiction: mailing lists and Twitter follows

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

With novels due out from a wealth of wonderful writers – including Denise Mina, Meg Gardiner and Dennis Lehane — crime fiction in 2017 is already making its mark.

If you’re not already subscribed to Sarah Weinman’s The Crime Lady newsletter, well, what are you waiting for? Her first missive of the year had excellent books-to-look-forward-to choices from a canny range of fellow critics including Steph Cha, Charles Finch, Jordan Foster, Oline Cogdill as well as Weinman.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

If anyone thought for a second that Ian Rankin’s former Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus would stay retired longer than you could say, “I don’t believe it,” they’re not thinking it now. Rather Be the Devil (Little, Brown), Rebus’s 21st outing in 30 years, sees him roped in with colleagues Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox once again as they investigate a younger-generation gangster with possible dubious financial ties. Also not coping too well with his retirement – and adding extra frissons here and there to Edinburgh’s seamier underbelly – is Rebus’s BF (Best Frenemy), the once-powerful gangster Big Ger Rafferty. Excellent. Join Ian Rankin at the Seattle Public Library on February 21.

A niftily structured psychological thriller about a perfectionist architect, his dream house and two women who inhabit it at different times, JP Delaney’s The Girl Before (Ballantine) is both a page-turner and a semi-meditation on dark desires as intractable personal traps. The home, which appears to be equipped with built-in empathy as well as emotional intelligence, plays a not-so-subtle role in this double-layered creepfest.

Jane Harper’s The Dry (Flatiron) opens decades ago, with Aaron Falk and his father hightailing it out of their tiny rural hometown of Kiewarra in the Australian Outback. Called back to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, Aaron returns to find Kiewarra suffering from a lengthy drought, far too much gossip and plenty of long, vengeful memories. Now a professional federal agent in the finance division, Aaron stays on to examine his friend’s accounts but finds himself quickly mired in the vagaries of a small community with a humongous set of collective baggage.

Based on the videotaped directive of a dying man, San Francisco homicide detective Gavin Cain exhumes a 30-year-old grave. The coffin’s gruesome content sets the tone of The Dark Room (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the second in a San Francisco-based mystery trilogy by Jonathan Moore, but it’s Cain’s thoughtful persistence that sets the pace of this tension-filled, twisty thriller. Exuding noirish elements and utilizing the city’s mean streets to their full, atmospheric effect, The Dark Room oozes dastardly deeds from blackmail to murder – and beyond.

I loved last years’ Orphan X and Gregg Hurwitz’s follow-up, The Nowhere Man (Minotaur), stays true to the previously set target. As a former assassin for a covert government program, Evan Smoak puts his skills – marksmanship, nerves of steel, ability to heal his own wounds (or at least stitch them up), yadda yadda yadda – to their most challenging of tests, acting as a one-man rescue operation with the ultimate pay-it-forward system: once he helps someone, he only asks that they pass his name and number to someone else in need while he waits the next call in his fancy Fortress of Solitude. But when Smoak is captured during one of his missions, the entire game changes. Propulsive page-turner, yes, and a nail-biter to boot.

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson (William Morrow) appears at first to be a novelistic take on the Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet starrer The Holiday: London-based Kate Priddy does apartment swapsies with her second cousin Corbin Dell – whom she’s never met – and finds herself wowed by his fancy Beacon Hill apartment. Until, that is, a dead body turns up across the hall. And that’s just the beginning of this claustrophobic thriller. Swanson deftly weaves an intricately and beautifully tangled web, lit with nimble nods to both Alfred Hitchcock and Wendy Hiller movies.

The Quintessential Interview: Ingrid Thoft

Thoft’s Boston-based PI Fina Ludlow’s life is fraught with complexities, personal as well as professional, all of which she manages in a switched-on, mouthy and head-butting way. She’s the in-house investigator for her family’s business, a firm of high-class lawyers who don’t always play by the rules; she also has to contend with her oldest brother’s non-business transgressions. In Duplicity, out this month from Putnam, Fina tangles with the Covenant Rising Church – which has suspicious similarities to a brain-washing cult – while fending for her vulnerable, partly-orphaned niece, Haley.

The Seattle-based author, who originally hails from Marblehead, Mass., calls both Beantown and the Emerald City home.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I’m inspired by the news and real mysteries,particularly by the “why?” rather than the “how.” The intersections between money, power, ethics, values, and tradition inspire meto ask questions in my books that readers can contemplate through their own lens of experience. I’m inspired by fellow mystery writers who write more than one book a year! When the writing isn’t easy,I’m inspired by people who do much more demanding, difficult jobs. I’m inspired by my readers who are incredibly supportive.

Top five places to write?

At my desk with a lovely view of the water. On my couch when my back is acting up. Scrawling notes in the early morning from my bed when an idea strikes. Occasionally, on an airplane. Someday on a tropical beach with lots of snorkeling breaks!

Top five favorite writers?

Yikes! Only five?! Sue Grafton, P.D. James, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Hamilton and Jane Smiley.

Top five tunes to write to?

I can’t write while listening to lyrics, so if I have music on, it’s classical. Favorites include Ottmar Liebert (flamenco guitar), Bach, and Mozart. When doing work-related activities that require less concentration (social media, for instance,) I listen to Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Prince, Michael Jackson, and George Michael.

Top five hometown spots?

Seattle is where I live now, but my hometown, Marblehead, is north of Boston. In Seattle: La Fontana Siciliana, the bar at Aqua, the Olympic Sculpture Park, any of the city’s great bookstores, Molly Moon’s for salted caramel ice cream. In the Boston area: lobster rolls from Kelly’s Roast Beef; the lighthouse at Chandler Hovey Park and fried clams at the Barnacle, both in Marblehead; Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood; the Liberty Hotel, the city’s former jail repurposed into a luxury hotel.

Criminal Fiction: December's Children

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Shorter days are made brighter by clever short stories, both dark and sparkling. Nobody does a twist in the tale like O.Henry unless it’s Edith Wharton or Edgar Allan Poe. Or, try a more modern master via any of the stories in Roald Dahl’s un-fairy-tale collections for adults: Switch Bitch, Kiss Kiss, Someone Like You.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

In A.J. Banner’s The Twilight Wife (Touchstone), 34-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop is recovering from a head injury sustained on a diving trip that has left her with patchy memories before, during and after the accident. Looked after by her devoted husband Jacob, his childhood friend Nancy, and her husband Van, Kyra roams the island by foot and bike, revelling in the Pacific Northwest sea-and-beach life and weather, but plagued by terrifying nightmares when she sleeps. It’s when her returning memories turn out to be just as nightmarish as her night-time dreams that Kyra starts to question what’s real in her life – and what’s not. Join A.J. Banner at her book launch, January 7, 2pm at Liberty Bay Books.

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Mulholland), is a serious rabbit hole of a book. It begins when charismatic Ted McKay – husband, father, successful businessman – is about to kill himself because he has a terminal case of cancer. A knock on his door reveals one Justin Lynch, operative of a shadowy organization that trucks in vigilante and self-requested murder. But there’s much more to this dizzying maze of a thriller than that head-bending opening – and you might want to avoid reading it at night.

In Catriona McPherson’s The Reek of Red Herrings (Minotaur), Dandy Gilver and her partner-in-detecting-crime Alec Osborne are hired by a wealthy herring merchant to investigate a most unsavory death: it seems that certain barrels of Birchfield’s pickled herring contain some unpleasantly surprising extra content: human limbs alongside the fish. Before you can say, “There’s something rotten in….” Gilver and Osborne find themselves spending part of a wet and wild 1930’s December in a tiny fishing village on the coast of northern Scotland. As they mingle with wacky taxidermists, bohemian artists and feisty fisherfolk, their gradual appreciation of the local dialect and participation in the local traditions add canny grist to their sleuthing mill.

With a freezing Oslo Christmas season in the background, a police procedural – the seventh in this popular series – unfolds over nine tense days with detective Hanne Wilhelmsen investigating a gory quadruple homicide, the crime scene made all the more grisly by the early interference of a wandering mutt. In Anne Holt’s Beyond the Truth, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce (Scribner), the Machiavellian machinations of a dysfunctional wealthy family – three of whom were among the murder victims – are one thing, but what becomes even more fascinating are the internecine squabblings over the investigation at police headquarters, not to mention Wilhelmsen’s own domestic challenges.
The Quintessential Interview: Jayne Ann Krentz

Bestselling Jayne Ann Krentz currently writes under three different names, including Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Her latest romantic thriller, When All the Girls Have Gone, is set in Seattle and kicks off with protagonist Charlotte Sawyer trying to track her missing stepsister. Throw in an initially rocky relationship with a PI and a women’s online investment group that is not all that it seems, and you’ve got a trademark Krentz cocktail.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Love the archetype of the modern American private investigator, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, for example. Love the myth of the “amateur sleuth,” the character without acrime-fightingskill-set who gets caught up in a dangerous mystery – an adult Nancy Drew. Love the romantic-suspense theme of two people learning to trust each other in order to survive. Love stories that feature a hero and heroine who share certain core values: honor, determination, courage and the ability to love. Love stories of revenge. All of these things inspire me.

Top five places to write?

My office. Hawaii. My office. On board a really big ship. My office.

Top five favorite writers?

  1. Christina Dodd
  2. Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  3. Elizabeth Lowell
  4. AJohn Sandford
  5. Robert B. Parker

Top five tunes to write to?

Can’t write to music. Too distracting. It’s a can’t-walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time thing, I guess.

Top five hometown spots?

  1. Frank’s Quality Produce in the Pike Place Market
  2. DeLaurenti
  3. Specialty Food & Wine in the Market
  4. Seattle Mystery Bookshop
  5. Nordstrom
  6. Page 2 Books in Burien — yes, it’s in Burien but I think that’s close enough to be considered a hometown spot

Criminal Fiction: November thanks, and remember to add zombies or psychopaths

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Over the past couple of weeks, it’s been a real pleasure to while away several hours in the podcast-presence of Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. UK crime fiction scribes Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste deliver silly laughs — how about those ducks? — as well as more practical pearls of wisdom, chatting about publishing news (and some non-publishing news, too), hosting book reviewers, and interviewing fellow crime fiction writers like Ian Rankin, Stuart Neville — who contributes the podcast’s twangy-groovy interstitial music — CL Taylor, Craig Robertson, Mark Billingham, and Ruth Ware. You get the feeling that this is how Cavanagh and Veste talk with each other anyway, in private: thanks for turning on the microphone, guys!

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch takes on a humdinger of a case in Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Little, Brown): an elderly billionaire, scion of one of Southern California’s richest families and the last of his line, asks Bosch to track down a woman the billionaire loved decades ago who disappeared when she got pregnant. Is it possible he has an heir? These days, Bosch juggles his private case work while assisting the San Fernando PD with unsolved cases, but he still finds time for dinners with daughter and Death Cab for Cutie fan Maddie and, happily, doing occasional work with half-brother and Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller.

Reading The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay (Berkley) is akin to watching one of those spectacular 70s disaster movies – think Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno: across the town of Promise Falls one morning, people are getting violently ill and some are dying. While police, politicos and others struggle to assist the victims and try to figure out what’s going on, multiple individuals’ stories surface, encompassing an ongoing murder enquiry, familial fallouts and a terrifying fixation on the number 23. A propulsive and zippy page-turner, Linwood’s latest – part of a trilogy about the inhabitants of Promise Falls – boasts both grittiness and heart.

When an old school friend reaches out for help, gentleman-detective Charles Lenox finds himself tangling with deadly London gangsters as well as the hoi polloi of the science-focused Royal Society: the year is 1877, and Lenox’s old buddy, Gerald Leigh, a natural philosopher, or “scientist” — this new word is taking over — has most recently been working in France with “microbes,” another new term. Lenox’s colleagues Polly Buchanan and John Dallington hold down the fort at the trio’s detective agency while Lenox pursues Leigh’s tantalizing mystery, and Charles Finch imbues his writing with rich historical, cultural, societal, and political details — one of my particular favorites involves a Winston Churchill cameo — making The Inheritance (Minotaur) both elegant and engaging.

No Witness But the Moon by Suzanne Chazin (Kensington) opens with the shattering shooting of a suspect by detective Jimmy Vega. But this was no ordinary alleged perpetrator, and the idyllic scenery of picture-perfect-on-the-surface Wickford, N.Y., obscures a much more complex reality, throwing some of the most urgent hot-button issues of contemporary America – immigration, class, race, and heritage – into sharp relief. An intricately plotted mystery fuelled by compelling characters, Chazin’s novel wins on both atmospheric and realistic levels.

The year is 1996 and Jack Reacher is still a military operative in Night School (Delacorte). Worrying and very incomplete information coming from a double agent in Germany, sets Reacher off on an inter-agency assignment alongside the CIA and the FBI. Child’s sharp, succinct prose creates an all-enveloping sensation of nail-biting tension as Reacher uses all his wiles, instincts, brain cells and muscles – demonstrating early tendencies toward his going-rogue qualities, to boot – to fit together pieces of a global-threat puzzle.
The Quintessential Interview: Justine Larbalestier

Justine Larbalestier’s Young Adult thrillers and psychological suspense novels are written with verve, wit and pitch-perfect voices. Her books include 2009’s mind-bending Liar; 2015’s Razorhurst, set on the mean streets of 1932 Sydney; and the seriously chilling, Bad Seed — inspired My Sister Rosa, out this month from Soho Teen. Highly eloquent on Twitter, Larbalestier also maintains a terrific blog, and divides her time between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Top five writing tips?

  1. Always remember no writing advice works for every writer or even most writers. Some writing advice works for no one.
  2. Add zombies or a psychopath. This works even better than sending in a man with a gun. You can have as many or as few zombies as you like, but never have more than one psychopath: it strains credibility.
  3. Finish every story you start (unless it’s boring you).
  4. Read everything from the graffitti on toilet stalls through to the collected works of Zora Neale Hurston (but especially Hurston). Yes, bubble gum wrappers, too. (But please dispose of your bubble gum considerately.)
  5. Rewrite a lot.

Top five places to write?

Anywhere with an ergonomic set up. I’m broken.

Top five favorite writers?

This list changes not just daily, but probably by the minute. Here’s this minute’s top five in alphabetical order:

  1. Megan Abbott/Joanna Bourne (because Bourne is to romance what Abbott is to crime thus I count them as one writer)
  2. Isak Dinesen
  3. Leanne Hall
  4. Alaya Dawn Johnson
  5. Attica Locke

Top five tunes to write to?

I write in silence. Or as close to silence as I can get, which, let’s be honest, in New York City is not very silent. Very loud sirens, even louder construction noises, and the couple next door’s doomed relationship arguments are tragically in high rotation on my playlist. Noise cancelling headphones can only cancel out so much….

Top five hometown spots?

I have two hometowns. (Less glamorous than it sounds. You try paying tax in two different countries with different tax years.)

In Sydney:

  1. My flat’s balcony
  2. Centennial Park
  3. Ester restaurant
  4. Royal Botanic Garden
  5. Australian Museum


  1. Tompkins Square Park
  2. East River Parkway
  3. Sobakoh restaurant
  4. Every little community garden in the East Village
  5. Huertas restaurant

Criminal Fiction: some October surprises

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

As the nights grow longer and darker, there are many ways to sneak yourself into the seasonal mood: peruse mystery maven Janet Rudolph’s annual list of Halloween Crime Fiction; settle in with Tim Burton’s animated visual treat, The Nightmare Before Christmas; or snuggle under the duvet with Chris Ewan’s Halloween-related thriller Dark Tides.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

The Trespasser by Tana French (Viking), the latest outing with the always-engaging Dublin Murder Squad, finds Detective Antoinette Conway trying to solve a grisly murder while keeping her fellow cops’ rudeness at bay: as the squad’s sole woman – and non-white to boot – she’s up against the worst of her colleagues’ petty pranks, and her self-imposed lone wolf status doesn’t help. But with partner Stephen Moran she’s got a true meeting of the minds: the way these two deftly bat theories and possibilities back and forth in their bid to figure out who committed murder and why is pure pleasure. Along with a riveting mystery, French perfectly captures the cerebral sparks and adrenaline rushes that drive these detectives to pursue their work, whether during interrogations, at their desks or in the field.

After misadventure and mayhem in Portland (see City of Rose), Rob Hart’s South Village (Polis) finds reluctant amateur PI Ash McKenna lying as low as he can in a semi-groovy, semi-grim commune deep in the woods of Georgia. He’s marking time, glugging cheap whisky and cooling his heels while waiting for his passport to turn up in the mail so that he can put the Atlantic between him and, well, pretty much everything. When a commune member charmingly known as Crusty Pete turns up dead, McKenna’s world turns on its head yet again, and only friendship from an unexpected – and faith-in-life restorative – source can save him. Excellent.

“I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr. Andrew Sinclair who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve.” A (mostly) fictional collection of witness statements, medical reports, and the account of 17-year-old Roderick Macrae incarcerated for murder, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project (Skyhorse) has rightfully landed on the Booker shortlist this year. There’s a crime, alright: a blood-splattered multiple murder in a tiny farming village in the Highlands of Scotland in 1869. But given the timeframe – set during the rigid realities of a feudal system, a no-way-out scenario for much of the population – there’s more than one crime to consider, and, in Roderick, Burnet has created an eloquent character who will stick with you long after the book is read.

In By Gaslight by Steven Price (FS&G), William Pinkerton, of Pinkerton Detective Agency fame and son of the famous Allen Pinkerton, is pursuing a lead. Adam Foole, gentleman with a much-checkered past, is pursuing a lady. Their paths cross in the dankest corners of Victorian London – including the skanky city sewers – in this sprawling mystery-adventure. It’s a mesmerizing and entertaining mélange: crafty Dickensian and Sherlockian touches abound, but so do perfectly-plotted art heists, Wild West-style ambushes and one hell of an open-air balloon ride over the killing fields of the American Civil War.

Shades of The Bourne Identity abound as Coffin Road by Peter May (Quercus) opens with a man washing up on the shore of Scotland’s Isle of Harris without a clue of who he is or how he got to this isolated spot. A dog, a utility bill and restorative dram of Caol Ila whisky help matters somewhat, as does a map marking the mysterious local Coffin Road. A horrific murder at a remote lighthouse and a young teen pursing the truth behind her father’s research add heft to a headily complex tale that’s part eco-thriller, part ode to familial love.
The Quintessential Interview: Elizabeth George

Since 1988’s A Great Deliverance, Seattle local Elizabeth George has delivered no less than 19 very British mysteries headed by dynamic detective duo aristocratic Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and working-class Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers (They also feature in the terrific TV adaptation, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries). In 2015, George published the third installment of her YA Whidbey Island suspense saga, The Edge of the Shadows. And this year, she is the editor of The Best American Mystery Stories 2016 (Houghton Millflin Harcourt), a collection that includes stories by Elmore Leonard, Matt Bell, Megan Abbott, Stephen King, Evan Lewis, Robert Lorpresti and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I'm inspired by England's culture, history, traditions, sense of ceremony, and determination to preserve what they have. I'm also inspired by true crime and the need for justice. I'm inspired by the trajectory of John le Carré's career with regard to his growth as a writer. I'm inspired by my great affection for my characters. I'm inspired by the sense of well-being that I have when I write.

Top five places to write?

I'm lucky to be able to write just about anywhere as long as it's quiet or I have earplugs with me. I write mostly at home in my office which is above the garage here on Whidbey Island, but I also write in our condo on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Other than that, it's pretty much wherever I am. Recently I wrote while in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Riga, Osla, and Vilnius.

Top five favorite writers?

John le Carré, Tana French, John Fowles, Jane Austen, Shakespeare

Top five tunes to write to?

I write in silence unless my dog starts barking.

Top five hometown spots?

On Whidbey: Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, Moonraker Books. In Seattle: Green Eileen, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Pike Place Market, driving along Lake Washington to Seward Park and walking around the peninsula with my dog. I also like the Sun Liquor Cocktail lounge on Summit. It's a real cocktail lounge for grownups with grownup drinks.

Criminal Fiction: our inaugural mystery, suspense and thriller column

New column! Every month, Daneet Steffens is going to uncover the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. Welcome Daneet!

I’m delighted to be kicking off this column for the Seattle Review of Books during a month full of crime-fiction action. Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, toasted its fourth year, crowning Christopher Brookmyre with the top McIlvanney Prize, and featuring the traditional England crime writers vs. Scottish crime writers football match (England won, 7-1). Stateside, Bouchercon took over New Orleans, a city made for murder mysteries, police procedurals, and vampiric thrillers: Seattle native Glen Erik Hamilton picked up the Best First Novel, and Mark Billingham, Doug Johnstone, Stuart Neville, and Bill Loehfelm rocked out at the New Orleans House of Blues. And, back in the UK, the third Noirwich weekend in Norwich welcomed a rich range of crime writers including Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Eva Dolan, Sarah Hilary, Peter James, and Dreda Say Mitchell.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Allusions to Batman abound when sports agent Myron Bolitar and his longtime partner-in-solving-crimes Win – that’s Windsor Horne Lockwood III to you – return in Home by Harlan Coben (Dutton). Last seen in 2011’s Live Wire, a fictional year has passed since that book’s events, and Bolitar is happily engaged to be married. Win, on the other hand, is engaged in tracking down two teenage boys who disappeared as six-year-olds a decade ago. When one of the teens is found, and Win calls on Myron’s assistance, the friends pursue an emotionally-charged mystery, tangling with a Bond-level villain, as well as with two sets of still-grieving parents.

In So Say the Fallen (Soho Crime), Stuart Neville’s persistent policewoman, Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan, already has plenty domestic tensions to deal with when she’s called to investigate the apparent suicide of a wealthy car dealer. The case appears straightforward, but Flanagan has a nose for the extraordinary, especially when it comes to criminal minds. While executing a taut, heart-stopping police procedural, Neville is equally skilled at imbuing the darkest corners of our minds with a bleak beauty of their own, uncovering humanity in the most inhumane of baddies.

With her Simon Waterhouse-Charlie Zailer series of mysteries, Sophie Hannah has proved herself as fiendishly astute as Agatha Christie when it comes to the innermost (read: darkest) workings of human psychology. She also shares with Christie a dry, wry comedic touch that rises to the surface when least expected. Closed Casket (William Morrow), Hannah’s second sophisticated take on Christie’s Hercule Poirot, is both entertaining and clever, pitting the Belgian detective against a houseful of suspects – including an Enid Blyton-like writer. A canny ode to the great Christie, and a formidable showcasing of Hannah’s own crime-writing skills.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart was one of the most enjoyable literary surprises of 2015, and the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), pursues its clever premise. Based on the real-life Kopp sisters of Bergen County, New Jersey – and the career of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs, in particular – this adventure finds Constance’s deputy sheriff status at stake when she tricked by a nefarious con man. The multiple crimes that Stewart weaves into her tale are one thing, but equally compelling are the lovingly rendered characters, including a shining cameo by William Carlos Williams.

Finally, set in segregated Atlanta in 1948, the year the city hired its first black policemen, Darktown by Thomas Mullen (37 Ink), tackles legal, systemic racism at its most horrific, alongside the new beat cops’ job of upholding the law when it comes to murder, moonshine and mayhem. Two of the black policemen, Boggs and Smith, tangle in particular with Dunlow, a nasty, corrupt cop, whose young partner, Rakes, is too new and tentative to do anything but observe Dunlow’s violence. Tenebrous and super-cinematic – film/television rights are already with Sony – and in no small sense reminiscent of 1997’s L.A. Confidential.
The Quintessential Interview: Chris Holm
In 2015, Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind — which just won the Anthony Award for Best Novel at Bouchercon — introduced Michael Hendricks, a hit man who targets other hit men. Its follow-up, Red Right Hand, finds Hendricks on a bit of a revenge trip when FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson taps him for assistance: a viral video of a terrorist attack in San Francisco reveals that an FBI witness whom everyone thought was dead is, in fact, very much alive. Red Right Hand is perfectly paced page-turner: Holm elegantly juggles multiple characters, perspectives and locations, without a single misstep.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

I have a deep and abiding love of classic pulp. I’m fascinated by what drives good people to do bad things. By how bad one can be without becoming irredeemable. By the slipperiness of identity and what we consider to be our essential selves. And I should give a nod to my adopted hometown of Portland, Maine, since I never seriously considered pursuing a writing career until I moved here—and I worry the words will dry up if I ever leave.

Top five places to write?

The left side of my couch. The University of New England’s Westbrook College Campus library. Coffee By Design on Diamond Street. The right side of my couch. On the backs of receipts at stop lights in my car.

Top five favorite writers?

I’m only allowed five?! I just broke out in a cold sweat. Today, let’s say Megan Abbott, Raymond Chandler, Tim Powers, Donna Tartt, and Donald Westlake. Tomorrow, I might cough up a whole new list.

Top five tunes to write to?

My favorites include Benny Goodman Orchestra’s “Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing),” Budos Band’s “The Sticks,” DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor,” Mono’s “Ashes in the Snow,” and Rodrigo y Gabriela’s “Diablo Rojo.” I have a tough time writing to anything that features words, so all my picks are instrumental. I use them sparingly, whenever I feel as if my writing needs a boost.

Top five hometown spots?

The secret garden behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house on Congress Street. The tasting room at Allagash. The gloomy labyrinth that is Portland Architectural Salvage. Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. And Halcyon Tattoo in Windham.