Criminal Fiction: Sunny noir

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

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

Mike and Verity indulge in an intoxicating game they call the Crave, in Araminta Hall’s Our Kind of Cruelty (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): Verity flirts publicly with an unsuspecting target and, at the designated moment, Mike comes to her rescue. Then the two of them furtively — or not so furtively — satiate their mutual passion. Obsession, manipulation, dark twists, and toxic violence mark this highly-readable psychological thriller, in which one of the twists is inextricably tangled in the narrator’s voice: the story is told by Mark, from his perspective, and the result up until the very end is downright chilling, as well as alarming on multiple levels.

There’s nothing like a child gone missing from a party to put a damper on things, which is how Cara Hunter’s Close to Home (Penguin) opens. But as the police investigation kicks off, things get infinitely more complicated. Hunter’s deep dive into the disturbed psyches embedded in our societies is gripping, and the smooth and engaged writing here will keep your nose well-tucked in this book. That, and that fact that what constitutes the mystery at the heart of the novel keeps jumping around like multiple mad red herrings in a barrel.

The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper (Little, Brown) is both an engaging and slyly timely foray into Washington politics. Set in the 1950s, with cameos by such figures as Roy Cohn, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Dwight Eisenhower, this political thriller sees Charlie Marder, a war veteran and a Manhattan-based academic, thrust into a congressional seat due to a previous congressman’s untimely death. As Charlie and his astute wife, Margaret, wend their way across Capitol Hill and cocktail parties, Tapper’s fiction debut incorporates shades of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as well as elements of contemporary toxic alliances.

After last year’s wonderfully entertaining Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz has re-tuned his ultra-dexterous writing hand once again with The Word is Murder, (Harper), featuring, well, Anthony Horowitz. Having penned two Sherlock Holmes novels in real life – Moriarty and The House of Silk — Horowitz here plays a Watson-like role as semi-second fiddle to a private detective, Daniel Hawthorne, in contemporary London: he agrees to author the detective’s case in the true-crime category. It’s a doozy of a case from the get-go just on its own — a woman walks into a funeral parlor, plans her funeral, six hours later she’s been murdered. But the mystery is also chock-full of smoothly-written set-pieces, some mind-bendingly straight out of the real-life Horowitz’ worky and personal adventures and misadventures. Ace.

The Quintessential Interview: Spencer Kope

Spencer Kope’s FBI tracking star Magnus Craig can perceive people’s “shine” or aura, a color-infused trail akin to a giant fingerprint. In Whispers of the Dead (Minotaur), pairs of human feet keep turning up like bad pennies as Craig and his partner Jimmy Donovan chase a killer across Louisiana, Arizona, and Texas. Apart from his special perception powers, Craig has a way with words, an affinity for Bernard Minier novels, and, like Kope, collects first-edition books. Kope, a crime analyst as well as a writer, lives in Washington State.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

To answer this, I have to go back to a time when computer screens were small and monochrome, and processing speeds were measured in kilobytes, because it was the early eighties when I discovered the macabre but fascinating world of Stephen King.

I began with Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, after which I was hooked and devoured everything I could find: short stories, novellas, books, things he scrawled on napkins….Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the point. Of all the King stories I read, The Stand remains my favorite. I even liked the miniseries.

Other writers who inspire me are those who persevered: Richard Adams and his opus Watership Down come to mind. The book was repeatedly rejected before being picked up by a one-man publishing house in London; the rest is literary history. Vince Flynn is another example. He self-published his debut, Term Limits, and went on to launch the incredibly successful Mitch Rapp thriller series. Among my collection of first editions are two signed copies of this rare book.

Top five places to write?

I’ve written while aboard a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, next to a hotel pool in the Canary Islands, at a quiet spot on the Black Sea, and at Starbucks coffee shops in several cities, but the place I’m most productive and least distracted is in my study. It’s not a grand space, but my Lord of the Rings swords are ensconced upon the wall, opposite my eight-foot storyboard for working plots and characters.

Top five favorite authors?

Such an easy question shouldn’t be so hard to answer. If I really have to choose only five, I’ll have to go with Michael Crichton, Erik Larson, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling.

Top five tunes to write to?

I can’t listen to music with lyrics for fear that my antagonist will suddenly break into song. And since a serial killer singing some twisted version of Welcome to the Jungle is not what my fans are looking for, I stick to instrumentals.

I have a playlist specifically for writing, and some of my favorites are Boadicea, by Enya, Terra Firma, Wisdom, and Eternal Odyssey, all by Delerium, and Adiemus by Karl Jenkins.

Top five hometown spots?

The Lynden Starbucks has to be on this list simply because they make me feel like Norm from Cheers whenever I walk in. Larrabee State Park, which is along Chuckanut Drive, is my favorite park, both for the drive that takes you there and the scenery once you arrive (plus I like standing in the tunnel under the tracks when the trains roll through). Village Books in Fairhaven and the newer store in Lynden are near the top of my list. Sadly, Michael’s Books, which was packed to bursting with used books, shut down a few years ago, otherwise it would make the cut. Rounding off the list is Front Street through downtown Lynden for its quaint small-town feel and Edaleen’s Dairy, where you can get massive amounts of ice cream stuffed into waffle cones.