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