The hour has gone back. There are misty mornings. And it’s cold. November is here. But we had plenty to keep us warm and entertained at First Monday Crime this week. Delighting us with some extraordinary tales were Alex North, Louise Candlish, Victoria Selman and Abir Mukherjee. Our very own Sophie Goodfellow was moderating (and she did a marvellous job).
As per usual, Sophie started with those all-important books.
Victoria Selman’s new book is called Snakes and Ladders and is the third book in the Ziba MacKenzie series. Victoria described it as Psycho meets Silence of the Lambs. Ziba is a profiler and she starts off in Quantico, the FBI headquarters. A detective from Scotland Yard comes to find her. There’s a serial killer on the loose in London and the Met need Ziba’s help. But the only way she can do this is to talk to Dr Vernon Sage, another serial killer, who Ziba put in prison.
Those People by Louise Candlish is about bad neighbours. It’s set in an up-and-coming area and the neighbours appear to have the perfect road. They even have Play Out Sunday where the cars are moved and the road is closed to traffic, allowing the children to play safely outside. There’s a cast of characters led by Ralph and Naomi Morgan. The story begins when Ralph notices an historic wall being knocked down by the new owners of number one Lowland Drive. It’s a cautionary tale of how not to deal with difficult neighbours i.e. don’t plot to murder them! The book could also be viewed as a parable of our current divided times but that wasn’t Louise’s intention.
Alex North’s debut novel, The Whisper Man, is about a bereaved father and son who move to a new village to start their lives again. Unfortunately they find themselves in the way of a serial killer who targets children.
Death in the East is the fourth novel by Abir Mukherjee. Captain Sam Wyndham has finally accepted his addiction to opium and goes to an ashram for rehab. The story has two timelines linking Wyndham’s past as a young constable in 1905 and his current life in 1922. The book started off as a tribute to Agatha Christie with a locked-in scenario but then became a response to our divided world. There were many Jewish immigrants in 1905 in the East End who faced prejudice. Although there are still issues, Jews are generally integrated into British society. Abir hopes the same for Muslims now. So Death in the East is a message of hope – with dead bodies.
Sophie wanted to delve a bit deeper into the books. Starting with Abir she asked why he wanted to explore Sam’s past.
The first book actually started in 1905 with Sam as a young police officer. Abir lived in the East End of London for fifteen years and wanted to reflect it in his books. He suffered racism but not badly as he’s middle class. Growing up in Glasgow, he felt he had more opportunities than white working class people. He believes that we’re generally a tolerant nation and that we shouldn’t forget that. In a sense, Sam is a modern man in a historical setting trying to explain things.
Ziba MacKenzie is a British Iranian profiler. Where did she come from?
Originally, Victoria’s main character was going to be male but was told it would be better to write as a woman. Victoria is fascinated by such programmes as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter and she was particularly inspired by the book behind that latter programme. Monsters are made not born and maybe with support they could be changed. Victoria talked about a woman who was heading down that path but was turned around. Who knows what any of us are capable of?
Looking at The Whisper Man, Sophie asked if there are supernatural elements to the book?
Well, there’s definitely a spooky atmosphere. Jake’s imaginary friends seem to know more than they should! Alex studied Philosophy at university and regularly used to debate with Jehovah’s Witnesses on the doorstep. He believes that truth isn’t the only virtue and not necessarily a bad thing. As long as you’re not bothering anyone else you can believe what you like. So he’s happy for readers to interpret The Whisper Man however they want. For him it’s essentially a thriller about fathers and sons. The idea for the imaginary friends came from his own son. They moved to a new house several years ago and Alex heard his son talking to someone. When asked, his son said he’d been playing with the ‘boy in the floor’. A few months later Alex’s mother-in-law died and his son said that a woman was coming into his room at night to hug him and he wasn’t happy about it. Alex suggested to his son that he tell the woman to stop coming. He did and she stopped. Was it a ghost or a manifestation of grief?
At this point, I have to tell you one of the highlights of the evening! As things were definitely taking a spooky turn, Abir told us the weirdest ghost story ever – the haunted red folder! This red folder belonged to his father. Well, sort of. His father had borrowed it from a colleague at work on a Friday. ‘But you must bring it back on Monday. It’s very important,’ said the colleague. Abir’s father worked away from home so was driving back the next day. He stopped off at Killington Lake services on the M6. He went for a walk and saw his colleague coming towards him but he appeared to ignore Abir’s dad. Later, he found out that his colleague had died at the time he saw him at Killington Lake. ‘He was coming to get the folder. It must be very important,’ was Abir’s father’s response. They weren’t allowed to get rid of the haunted red folder until after Abir’s father’s death.
Moving on to property noir!
Before Brexit, the main topic of conversation was about property and Louise Candlish wanted to explore this obsession and criticise it in an entertaining way – let’s not waste our lives away on Right Move. People are more important. Louise’s previous book, Our House, dealt with property fraud, a crime she hadn’t read about before. When she did the research for that, it brought up a lot about neighbourhood feuds. One of the more unusual disagreements she found was about bees. Nothing to do with being stung. One neighbour would release the bees out of the hive for exercise and the swarm always take the same route – over the next door neighbour’s car where they would defecate. There was genuine shock in the room – bees wee and poo? Oh yes, they most definitely do as my photo below demonstrates. This is what happens when you have white sofas in a conservatory. I’m forever cleaning this off! Imagine that multiplied all over your car on a daily basis!
Moving on again, this time to Agatha Christie. Has she been an influence?
Alex confessed that he hasn’t read any Agatha Christie novels. But he has watched the TV programmes and recognises that she’s set the template for the genre.
The locked room scenario in Death in the East is Abir’s tribute to Agatha Christie. He had problems getting it to work though and it’s only when Wyndham’s sidekick, Sergeant Banerjee turns up in Indian dress rather than his formal work clothes that things fell into place.
There’s a cast list worthy of Agatha Christie in Those People. Louise did consider doing a Murder on the Orient Express moment and have everyone involved in a death but decided not to. (I did think about this when I was reading it!)
Although Snakes and Ladders does have a set cast and lots of red herrings, Victoria isn’t that keen on Agatha Christie either. She did cover Agatha’s real-life disappearance for her podcast though.
Well, it was definitely an interesting evening with serial killers, haunted red folders and defecating bees! Thank you to the panel for coming along.
There’s only one more First Monday Crime for 2019 and we’re going a little bit cosy. Our panel will be Simon Brett, Shamini Flint, Tarquin Hall and Sam Blake with Jake Kerridge moderating. As it’s the season of goodwill we’ll have wine courtesy of Severn House and cookies for everyone from me. And since it’s almost Christmas, we may have some extra entertainment for you! Trust me – you don’t want to miss this! Reserve your seat here.
To find out more about our November authors and buy their books, just click on their names.