Book review: The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell

The Chalk Girl
by Carol O’Connell
Headline, January 2012

Kathy Mallory is back after a six-year gap. There are nine earlier novels about this tall, blonde, attractive NYPD detective, of which I’ve read two or three. I don’t think it is necessary to have read any of them to enjoy The Chalk Girl, as there is plenty of recap in it.

The basic plot of The Chalk Girl concerns some gruesome murders in the Ramble, a wooded area of Central Park. A little girl, Coco, is discovered by a school party. Coco is bloodstained and appears to have been wandering around for several days and nights. She has witnessed, it seems, a crime in which a man has been put in a sack and strung up in a tree. Later, two other victims are found under similar circumstances. Mallory and her partner Riker are assigned not only to solve the case, but also to dig the dirt on “Rocket” Mann, currently acting commissioner of police, and hoping to make his role permanent.

Mallory wants to interrogate the little girl, Coco, but is prevented from doing so by her friend Charles Butler, a rich psychiatrist who has taken Coco under his wing and diagnosed her with Williams’ syndrome. Quite a large part of the plot is about this triangle, with the older man being very fond of Mallory but wary of her presumed ruthless nature, and Coco regarding Mallory as an angel from heaven for rescuing her.

By hacking into databases and threatening the Medical Examiner and various lawyers and pathologists, Mallory discovers that the deaths are copy-cat murders of a crime 15 years ago. The reader is already aware of some of this information, via diary entries that start each chapter. Somehow, an exclusive school is involved, in which one boy was severely abused and bullied by his classmates, and another accused and convicted of a crime that he may or may not have committed. In some way, “Rocket” Mann was involved in the earlier investigation when a rookie detective; it was after this case that his meteoric rise to fame began. Mallory gradually puts all the pieces together, during which we meet some truly horrible rich socialites and donors to charitable causes.

The detective plot is satisfying in its logic, but less so in its dependence on Mallory’s ability to find out information by means unknown to the reader. Mallory herself is a problem character. As with the previous couple of books about her that I’ve read, we are repeatedly reminded that she was a feral child, was bought up by a deceased cop and his wife, is strangely wealthy (her clothes are described often even though they are always the same!), is “crazy”, etc. Her personality is also told to us, rather than us being allowed to see it for ourselves and decide. This effect is exacerbated by the fact that Mallory is always seen through the eyes of the other characters, particularly her partner Riker, rather than directly.

I did enjoy this book, despite its many digressions and repeated myth-making about Mallory. The identity of the perpetrator of the modern crime is not hard to guess once we have sufficient information about the dynamics between the school students and staff, but as it plays out, the outcome is poignant. The internal-affairs-style subplot is less satisfactory in that Mann’s part in it is somewhat perfunctory and the police corruption angle peters out, though one or two loose ends about Mallory’s career in the police department are resolved.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.

Other reviews of The Chalk Girl: Literary Lunchbox, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers’ Weekly (brief).

Book review: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson

Unwanted
by Kristina Ohlsson
translated by Sarah Death
Simon and Schuster 2011 (first published in Sweden, 2009).

Unwanted is a readable police-procedural set in Stockholm but telling a story that takes the investigators to several Swedish cities and towns, providing for me a distinctive geographical background, as most of the many Swedish crime novels I have read are set in one location. The plot concerns the disappearance of a young child, Lilian, from a crowded train travelling from Gothenberg to Stockholm. Sara, the girl’s mother, has stepped out onto the platform to make a phone call during a 10-minute wait on the train’s route. She has been distracted by a distraught young woman who needed help with her dog, and missed the train when it left. Despite the train guard watching over the little girl until her mother can reach Stockholm by taxi, Lilian goes missing.

The team assigned to investigate this case consists of Alex, a legend in his own police force for the number of previous crimes he’s solved; Peder, an ambitious young cop; Fredrika, one of the new breed of graduate entrants; and Erica, who takes phone calls and provides administrative support. Soon they are joined by Mats, a data analyst. Alex and Peder are both extreme sexists who despise Fredrika on various grounds: she’s a woman, a graduate, intelligent, attractive, professional not gushing (over them), and believes in modern policing methods. The two men are quick to dismiss Fredrika’s instinct that the young woman with the dog needs investigation, insisting on trying to find their top suspect, Lilian’s father, who is estranged from Sara, the girl’s mother.

Fredrika spends time interviewing the horrible mother of the missing man, while Peder eventually makes a discovery that explains his absence. Although Alex at this point realises that Fredrika was correct all along, he does not acknowledge his mistake (which turns out to have been a very bad one) and continues to patronise her and the analyst Mats, whose name he does not even bother to remember. Alex does not seem to have any supervisors himself, being allowed to operate independently, so the entire investigation is mainly limited to his small group and will succeed or fail according to Alex’s personal handling of it. (This does not seem realistic to me.)

A main theme in this book is the awfulness of men. Here, they are portrayed almost universally as physical abusers of women, or mental abusers (both Fredrika and Erica have boyfriends that fit into this category), or they are just awful in general in their personal and professional relationships, like Peder. The author does much to stoke the reader’s anger about all this horrible behaviour, but never really follows through on any of the various plotlines featuring most characters. In contrast, almost all the women are portrayed positively, with the exception of Lilian’s grandmother.

I am not sure what to make of this book. It is readable and I enjoyed it. The ongoing investigation, once it gets onto the right track, is involving, particularly when Fredrika is allowed to demonstrate her talents (considerably greater than her male colleagues’). But the subject-matter of the investigation is very distressing, and I felt that the cruel suffering of the victims (the children and their mothers) was rather brushed-over in the interests of the predictable plot (I am sure I am not the only reader who will have worked out long before any of the police what is going on and what simple action therefore needs to be taken to find out the identity of the criminal).

At least the crime descriptions are not graphic, but there is not enough emotional depth in the book to convince me that it is a sincere, rather than a commercial, novel. In addition, the ending was disappointing, as several possible clues (a bit clunky in most cases) and outcomes were jettisoned in favour of a “plucked out of the air” solution and a fake-heroic climax. And although there is a brief coda letting the reader know what happens to the police team, their lives are perhaps of less interest to readers than those of some of the victims of the crimes, about whom we learn nothing once their part in the plot is over. Despite my criticism, I do think the author has talent as a storyteller, so I may read her next book to see if it an improvement on some of the less-good aspects of this debut.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this novel.

Other reviews of Unwanted are at: Euro Crime, Fleur Fisher (whose summary: “good but not as good as I had hoped” is one with which I agree), and Salazar.

Ten pairs and ten clichés: games for the holidays

A game going the blog rounds concerns the bromance, a horrid word meaning a non-sexual partnership between two men, a common crime-fiction theme. I wonder what a partnership between two woman is called, or indeed, one between a man and a woman, that is purely professional? As I thought the list at Criminal Element scores only 3 out of 10*, I thought I’d provide readers with some pairs – can you name their creators and the genders of the (strictly professional) pairs in each case?

1. Beck and Kollberg
2. Stanhope and Ashworth
3. Pickett and Romanowski
4. Sejer and Skarre
5. Montalbano and Augello
6. Gunnarstranda and Frolich
7. Challis and Destry (?)**
8. Van Veeteren and Munster
9. Rebus and Clarke
10. Grace and Branson

*Holmes and Watson; Poirot and Japp; Cole and Pike.
**I am not up to date with this series but sense I might have to exclude this pair.

Another Criminal Element post lists “the ten least thrilling thriller cliches“. This post pretty well sums up why I don’t read a certain type of thriller – the cliches are indeed extremely common to the genre. What about crime/detective fiction, though, as opposed to the thriller yawns listed by Criminal Element? There are a few standards that I could do without:

1. Mobile/cell phone runs out of power/no signal (only at crucial plot points, of course). Variants include car running out of fuel/breaking down/flat tyre, torch running out of battery.

2. Female character has boyfriend but never goes to his house or knows his address. (Less common, but not unknown, is the reverse gender situation.) Variant: character does not lock doors, close curtains, etc.

3. Police take the whole book to interview witnesses/suspects one after the other, leaving till the last the person who is either the perpetrator or who has the crucial information leading to the solution. (Why have so few police teams heard of dividing up interviews among a group of cops and conducting them at the same time?)

4. Not checking medical or criminal records in sufficient detail during a search; the solution depends on a piece of information available all along.

5. Two detectives dislike each other so do not tell each other about crucial information. (Variant: they get together romantically at the end.)

6. Character goes to meet someone without telling anyone where they’ve gone. (Variant: he/she does tell someone, but that someone is the perpetrator or ally of the perpetrator.)

7. A hacker can get into anyone’s computer or any database/network, by methods not explained by the author. (Variant: the detective has to access a victim’s computer and guesses the correct password on the third attempt.)

8. Someone is being blackmailed or pressured but does not log a statement with a lawyer spelling out what is going on as an insurance policy. This person is usually killed by the murderer in the middle of the book, so if he/she had taken this elementary precaution the book need only be half the length ;-).

9. A character has been abused in the past and is too scared to reveal what he/she knows until near the end of the book. Either the abuser is the criminal or the information itself is relevant to the current crime’s solution in some other way. (Variant: the information is not revealed because someone kills this character so it has to be discovered by other means. Other variant: this character is the killer.)

10. The detective is stuck in the investigation, having followed up all possible leads. Then someone else is killed, leading to the solution to the original crime by connecting the two (or more) victims.

Have I omitted any? ;-) Excessive, often irrelevant, back-story of between one and all of the characters seems to be a more popular cliché of late. Which crime novels have you read that manage to avoid all these clichés?

I just discovered a similar post I wrote in 2009. This post contains some of the above clichés but also some other ones! Even more can be found at Crime Fiction Dossier in a 2008 post with an amazing set of comments (including a good nomination by Norman.) Going back even further, there’s a good list by William Meikle, here.

Book review: The Boundary by Nicole Watson

The Boundary
by Nicole Watson
University of Queensland Press, 2011

The Boundary opens with a death – clearly a murder – but before much is known to the reader the time shifts to some hours earlier, when Bruce Brosnan is making his judgement in a case. We are in Brisbane, Queensland, and the case in question is a boundary dispute. The indiginous Coorawa people are trying to stop a new development being built on a small park on the grounds that it is one of their ancient sites. The judge rules against the Coorawa, on the legally correct but morally indefensiible grounds that because in past times there was a curfew in which the Aborigines were moved out of the city at night, they cannot now prove continuous occupation.

The ensuing tale of murder and corruption is told from various viewpoints – by mostly flawed protagonists struggling with guilt, alcoholism, superstition, poverty, infidelity, and denial of their heritage. Central to the story are Miranda, a young lawyer who tries to help the Coorawa, and Jason, one of the pair of detectives assigned to the murder case. Hanging over the whole is a strong sense of historical injustice, and a righteous anger, on behalf of the Aboriginal people who were treated so shamefully in the past and, perhaps not much less so, in the present (if this author is to be believed).

The Boundary is a novel of undoubted power and emotion; it is a serious debut book that has won the prestigious David Unaipon award. I have to admit that I struggled a bit with it, as the minutiae of Brisbane city politics and legal issues, linguistic digressions, as well as the many personal issues that the characters face, overwhelmed the plot somewhat and broke up the narrative. Even so, I enjoyed the novel and respect its strong sincerity. Having read several Australian novels over the years that have been about, or have touched on, the injustices suffered by Aboriginal populations, it was educational, if somewhat harrowing, to read this one, in which these issues are fully to the fore and impossible for the reader to look away from.

I thank Bernadette of Reactions to Reading for kindly sending me this book.

Read other reviews of The Boundary at: Fair Dinkum Crime (includes some information about the author), Aust Crime Fiction and, less enthusiastically, at M/C Reviews.

Book review: The Child Who by Simon Lelic

The Child Who
by Simon Lelic
Mantle, January 2012.

Most of this book is told from the point of view of Leo, the duty solicitor in Exeter assigned to represent Daniel, a 12-year-old boy who has apparently brutally killed a popular schoolgirl (aged 15). Unfortunately, we are told how she died. Leo takes on the case because he feels he’s never lived up to his deceased father’s expectations of him; he sees redemption for himself in undertaking this task. Leo’s wife and teenage daughter are less than thrilled, however, moving from disapproval to outright hostility (expressed mainly as withdrawal) as public and media opinion is solidly against Daniel and, by association, Leo. Soon the family is subjected to harassment and threats, most particularly against Ellie, the daughter.

Simultaneously with these events, Leo meets Daniel and the boy’s parents (mother and stepfather) and attempts to break down their wall of silence to find out what really happened, whether Daniel was responsible, and if so, why he did it. Although the author is good at portraying the interactions between Leo, the defensive-aggressive stepfather, the sullen Daniel and the silent mother, the character of Daniel fails to come fully into focus, which leaves an emotional gap in the middle of the book.

There is a suspense element to the story, resolved rather oddly (I think because the character of the daughter is mostly hidden from the reader), but the main interest of the book lies in Leo’s rather introspective nature as he witnesses and experiences the unfolding events of the crime’s aftermath. He takes a long time to take on board the degree of hatred concerning the crime, and seems strangely passive in the light of the threats against his own family that are made while he’s preparing for the trial.

I found it hard to become involved in the novel: none of the characters engaged my sympathy, and although the author attempts to create psychological understanding for the crime, I felt this was somewhat superficially treated. The subject of child murderers and children’s deaths is a harrowing one, perhaps the most difficult topic to read about. Here, the author seems to be trying to say something about society’s ability to deal meaningfully with an act of violence, or perhaps something about how such perpetrators are made or influenced to be driven to kill. Though I don’t doubt the sincerity of the author, I don’t feel that I gained insight or learned anything after reading this book, and because of its subject-matter rather wished I had not read it.

I’ve read the two previous books by this author, and had diametrically opposed views of them. I thought Rupture (A Thousand Cuts), the author’s debut, was superb. On the other hand, I disliked his second novel, The Facility. With The Child Who, I am at neither extreme, but given the subject-matter and the fact that there have been several real-life recent cases of child killings and/or abductions (it has been noted that this book may have “been inspired by” a famous case that also “inspired” Elizabeth George’s This Body of Death; some readers may find this kind of thing tasteless), I do find something slightly voyeuristic about fictional treatments of the topic. I don’t deny anyone’s right to write on any topic they wish, but I think such a book needs to be exceptionally good for me to think it worth reading.

I received this book free of charge via the Amazon Vine programme.

Other reviews of The Child Who: Mean Streets, Goldsboro Books, and Reader Dad. These reviews are all much more positive than mine. There is also a good collection of customer reviews at the UK Amazon site; most of these award the book 4 (out of 5) stars but others express a similar opinion to me.

About The Child Who at the author’s website, where you can read an extract.

SinC25: Karen Campbell, #5 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Karen Campbell is my fifth choice in the expert challenge. She’s written four novels set in Scotland, all featuring to a greater or lesser degree Anna Cameron, who progresses from a Glasgow lower-ranking detective in the first novel to a more senior role in the fourth. None of these books obeys a formula: the first highlights the general ghastliness of inner-city policing in a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken area; the second is a detailed account of the failings of the Scottish criminal justice system, in particular the failure of prison to act as a reforming influence; the third tackles police politics and various issues concerning care homes for the elderly; and the last is about policing big events and the influence of technology on privacy, against a background of a crime from the first novel that comes back to haunt Anna, who has been on a long journey to arrive at a very different place from where she was in that first book.

The four novels, with links to my reviews providing some more of my impressions and views about them, are here:

The Twilight Time

After the Fire

Shadowplay

Proof of Life

Three authors who write in a similar vein? Well, I’ve read books by quite a few male authors writing about senior female police detectives, for example Martin Edwards, Mons Kallentoft and Kjell Eriksson, but I have read fewer women authors who choose to focus on the female DI (or thereabouts in rank).

Denise Mina is another Scottish author who writes big, muscular books. Until recently she had not focused on the police force, but in her two last novels (Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season) she has introduced Glasgow DS Alex Morrow, who has to act tough in a man’s world in order to progress. Alex, like Anna, has personal dilemmas to deal with as well as professional ones. And like Karen Campbell, Denise Mina attacks many issues of social and political injustice, but from a perspective that makes it more obvious what she, the author, wants the reader to think. Karen Campbell writes with more shades of grey, perhaps presenting a more rounded look at some of these issues.

Helene Tursten is a female author writing about a female detective inspector – Irene Huss of the Gothenburg police. I love the three books in this series that have so far been translated into English (another is due early next year). But although Irene is a tough, senior and clever cop, she does not have the same personal problems as Anna Cameron in Karen Campbell’s books. Irene does have some pretty grim cases to solve, though, and does so with focus and determination, along with the town’s team of detectives. (Reviews of these books can be accessed from this Euro Crime page.)

Aline Templeton is an author I’ve discovered this year who writes a series about DI Marjory Fleming of the Galloway police. Although set in Scotland, these books are rather different from Karen Campbell’s and the others mentioned in this post in their rural setting and their rather less edgy nature. But Marjory is a tough protagonist and even though she has a very settled marriage (so far!) she has a troubled relationship with a teenage daughter. I’ve read and enjoyed the first three of this series and intend to catch up with the rest soon. (My review of the first in the series, Cold in the Earth, is here; links to reviews of the rest, to date, can be found at this Euro Crime page.)

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

Book review: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

The Boy in the Suitcase
by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
translated by one of the authors, Lene Kaaberbol.
Soho Press, 2011. First published in Denmark in 2008.

The Boy in the Suitcase tells a story from the point of view of the four main characters. Jan is a rich Danish businessman who is very fond of his wife, Anne, and her family. He goes on a business trip, or so he tells her, but becomes stuck on a plane due to a series of technical problems. He therefore phones Karin, who works for him, and asks her to undertake the work he’s set out to do. She agrees, reluctantly.

Nina is a nurse who works for an organisation helping abused women and children, as well as illegal immigrants. She receives a desperate phone call from Karin who asks her to do Jan’s assignment in her place. Nina was Karin’s closest friend but the two have been estranged for years. Karin knows that Nina is part of a mysterious “network” and hints to her that this is why she is asking for Nina’s help. Nina agrees.

The other two characters live in Lithuania. Jucas is married to an older woman, Barbara, and dreams of moving with her to her home town of Krakow. But first, he feels he has to make plenty of money. Jan is his ticket. Finally Sigita, a young mother, is plunged into a nightmare from which she can see no way out.

How these characters connect to each other becomes apparent as we follow their actions in sections told from each one’s point of view, in the present as Nina takes Karin’s place; and in the past as we see how each person’s actions affect the other characters in the tense series of events that ensue. Although slow to unfold, the story is an exciting and involving one. Given the information provided to the reader at the start, it is not too hard to work out what is going on and why, but this does not detract from the plot – even though in the end it depends on information deliberately withheld from the reader. Unfortunately, in my view, the climax to the main story is marred by some unnecessary and protracted violence which, together with the coda explaining Nina’s character, are somewhat clunky compared with the more subtle approach of most of the rest of the book.

The character of Sigita is exceptionally well portrayed, and is for me the most sympathetic character in the novel. Nina is more of a cliche; she’s a typical damaged protagonist (seems to be suffering from manic depression) who had a childhood trauma and has been compensating ever since, distancing herself from her husband and children in order to save them from herself, while compulsively helping other “outsiders”. I liked the Jan/Anne dynamics, though these characters are less developed, but thought that the Jucas/Barbara subplot less convincing. Nevertheless, though there are some flaws in the book, not least a tendency to overdo the back story in some cases, it is a very good read, highlighting some of the social injustices that are all too familar to us today from reading the newspapers and other crime novels.

I received this book free of charge from the Amazon Vine programme.

Read other reviews of the book at: Reviewing the Evidence (Yvonne Klein), Nordic bookblog, International Noir Fiction, DJ’s Krimiblog, The Crime Segments and at Barbara Fister’s place, in a post that also discusses the authors and others writing similar books. Most or all of these reviews provide more plot details than I have done, as does the cover of the book and the blurb on the publisher/bookselling sites. As usual, I think readers will enjoy the book more the less they know in advance about its contents!

Author’s website (in Danish but if you use Google’s Chrome browser it will automatically translate it).

Book review: Lamb to the Slaughter by Aline Templeton

Lamb to the Slaughter
by Aline Templeton
Hodder & Stroughton, 2008.

Aline Templeton continues with her successful formula in the fourth outing for DI Marjory Fleming of the Galloway (Scotland) police. The books are about rural policing, and hence don’t go in for gritty urban noir. Lamb to the Slaughter opens with the discovery of the body of a sheep that has been left in the courtyard of a craft centre in the small market town of Kirkluce. The job of the police is simply to remove and dispose of the corpse, but the event is a harbinger.

Kirkluce is the proposed site of a new superstore; together with other local shopkeepers, the craftspeople are opposed to the development as they know it will soon drive them out of business. A retired army colonel is the owner of the craft centre and hence principal opponent to the new scheme; but is his viewpoint wavering? A confrontational town-hall meeting ends with victory seeming to go to the developers but, of course, all is not what it seems.

Marjory and her colleagues embark upon a murder investigation that seems directly linked to these events. Their role throughout the book is mainly to interview all those with any connection to the development, whether pro or anti, which allows the author to present a range of local characters such as a bombastic councilman, a couple of teenage boy bikers, an unstable artist and his weird parents, an elderly farming woman who is the target of vandals, and a couple who are rather like vultures, waiting to come into an expected inheritance. There are also plenty of domestic vignettes. It is quite a shock that in some parts of the UK in 2008, such as here, the arrival of a character who is not ethnically white is cause for some local gossip and comment, though I don’t doubt that this is the case.

While the investigation is continuing, we also learn more about the police team introduced in previous novels: in Lamb to the Slaughter this mostly takes the form of the lower ranks, as Marjory’s previous battles with the bureacracy are not so significant here. Marjory’s own personal life also takes something of a back seat in this novel, though she has a run-in with her teenage daughter and can now rely on a saintly new tenant in the cottage on her farm – the polar opposite of the previous occupant.

As usual with this series, the book is a pleasant, well-constructed and engaging read. The crime part of the plot is satisfactorily resolved, though it depends on the police not having got around to interview certain people until near the end of the book, so for this reason is fairly easy to guess in outline. The aftermath of the case is what packs most punch in this book. I can’t write about the last few chapters without giving spoilers, but I found them quite compelling in their portrayal of a criminal justice system that focuses on the quick result rather than the right one. I was pleased both with Marjory’s instinctive lack of approval and with Tam’s neat final action, repeating an earlier initiative with a different goal.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Lamb to the Slaughter is fourth in the DI Marjory Fleming series. The first three books, in order, with links to my reviews, are:

Cold in the Earth

The Darkness and the Deep

Lying Dead

Crime fiction to give (or read) for Christmas

Give books for Christmas, wrote Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise last November, and who am I to disagree? Giving crime fiction for Christmas, though, seems slightly counter-seasonal. I am never quite sure how the generalist recipient (as opposed to a dyed-in-the-wool addict) really feels when presented with a dark tome.

As in my post on this subject from last year, therefore, I’ve divided up my (global, natch!) recommendations for gifts, or simply for reading for pleasure, into two categories, as below.

Presents for crime-fiction addicts:

Mixed Blood by Roger Smith (South Africa)

Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissinotto (Italy)

Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Kenya, Uganda, USA)

Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst (Norway)

Misterioso by Arne Dahl (Sweden)

Open Season by C J Box (USA) et seq

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark)

I chose the above titles because they are not by standard, well-known authors in the genre, but are distinctive (and not nth in a series).

Presents for “generalists” or those new to the genre:

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (Japan)

Witness by Cath Staincliffe (England)

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Estonia/Russia)

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo (Norway)

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (USA)

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (England)

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (USA)

I chose these titles because they all tell a very good story, as well as involving a “crime”. Some of them might not strictly be considered as “crime fiction” but I think any of them would encourage a novice to try a few more in the genre, and any of them would encourage those against “crime fiction” to agree that it isn’t all stupid.