I spy Mick Herron

To end 2017 on a light note, I thought it was worth drawing attention to this interview, posted by Ian Fleming Publications this week.

Spook Street by Mick HerronIt’s an interview with Mick Herron, one of the UK’s top crime fiction authors right now. He’s just won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the year’s best thriller, Spook Street.

I was a judge for this award for two years, which was how I first encountered Herron’s books. In the running in 2015 was his terrific thriller Nobody Walks. All the judges liked this story about an agent who suffered a breakdown but returns to London when his son is killed.

Nobody Walks and Spook Street

In the end Nobody Walks was pipped by Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town, which was my favourite that year. But both books were far superior to the bulk of formulaic stuff coming out each year. I know, because each year as judges we had to read around 80 books.

Having just read Spook Street, it reminded me how good Herron is at plotting and creating characters – goodies and baddies – who draw you in. Self-loathing and cynicism permeate the stories. And the wit is razor sharp.

His Jackson Lamb series, which includes Spook Street, is set in the Secret Service backwater of Slough House in London. It’s a backwater because it’s where they send the agents who are rather mediocre.

Which gives us great scenes in which the endlessly quotable Lamb can put his underlings in their place. Here he is in Spook Street: ‘If I were to tell you everything I know, you’d grow old and die before I was halfway done.’

The Ian Fleming Publications interview gives a fascinating insight into Mick Herron‘s writing. If you’re in need for a last-minute Christmas present, or want to treat for yourself, pick up one of these engrossing tales…

Mindhunter 2

Mindhunter on Netflix

Mindhunter with Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff

It’s that time of the year when we look back and think about the best of…

The best crime series I’ve seen is Mindhunter on Netflix. I mentioned this unusual, clever drama back in an August post. But having now seen the whole thing, I thought it was more original and interesting than any other 2017 series.

It’s set in 1977 during the early days of criminal profiling at the FBI. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany star as agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. It’s different from mainstream fare in that it is about psychology – what makes psychopaths behave the way they do – rather than the usual fixations with procedure and whodunit.

Interviewing serial killers

Ford and Tench are dealing with serial killers who are already incarcerated. Ford is convinced the FBI should research the mindsets of these killers, because such insight could help to apprehend them. This flies in the face of received wisdom, which is, What’s to understand? They’re all sickos and monsters.

Their boss doesn’t want them talking to convicted killers at all. Meanwhile, Tench believes Ford is too gullible at times to deal with such manipulative figures.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit

It’s based on a 1997 book by John Douglas – on whom Thomas Harris modelled Jack Crawford, Hannibal Lecter’s adversary – and Mark Olshaker. Douglas is the man credited with bringing criminal profiling to the FBI. While he is not featured in the series, he is roughly fictionalised as Ford.

Counterbalancing the testosterone on display, Anna Torv plays Wendy Carr, a psychologist. She coolly takes a leading role in attempting to unpick the machinations of killers who hunt humans.

Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader

The series depicts terrifying real killers such as Edmund Kemper (actor Cameron Britton), the so-called Co-ed killer who murdered his grandparents and several young women before surrendering himself. A recurring figure is seen stalking a family and is obviously the awful Bind Torture Kill murderer, Dennis Rader.

The drama comes not through horrific crimes, but in scenes where the FBI men stumble through tense interviews with these calculating, soulless men. Dialogue is king here.

The gradual understanding of the mindscapes of these killers is more intriguing than any Agatha Christie plot. The nascent profiling insights can also reveal something about modern society and alienation.

Later episodes graft on some irritating storylines about Ford’s friction with his girlfriend (Hannah Gross) and his professional waywardness. But overall, it’s an intriguing, intelligent show. And Netflix has already commissioned series two.

Producer David Fincher, whose directing credits include Seven and Zodiac, said season two will move onto 1979-81. Storylines will includes events surrounding the Atlanta child murders.

Nude Murders update

Jack the Stripper murder case in London 1964 -1965. Between six and eight nude bodies were discovered around London and in the River Thames in the unsolved case, also known as the "Hammersmith murders" or "Hammersmith nudes" case. His six confirmed victims, prostitutes Hannah Tailford, Irene Lockwood, Helene Barthelemy, Mary Flemming, Margaret McGowan, and Bridget "Bridie" O'Hara, were all killed by asphyxiation, strangulation or drowning and were all found naked, except with stockings. The two other women prostitutes Elizabeth Figg and Gwyneth Rees had uncertain cases as there were differences with the other women. Both were manually strangled, but both were found naked except for their stockings with their underwear lodged in their throats. Picture shows: CID Chiefs heading the investigation, left to right: Det. Supt. John Du Rose and Det. Supt. Bill Baldock at Shepherds Bush Police Station 25th November 1965.

John du Rose and Bill Baldock, Scotland Yard’s leading detectives in the Nude Murders case © Mirrorpix

The BBC Wales documentary on the 1960 Nude Murders that is currently in production sounds as though it has excellent, thought-provoking experts taking part.

I mentioned in an earlier post that they were filming in Abertillery last month. This little Welsh town was, in the 1920s, the setting of a couple of heartbreaking child murders.

Harold Jones, then aged 15, was convicted of these ghastly crimes and has since become the focus of author Neil Milkins, who suspects he was responsible for the 1960s killings in west London. This is partly down to the fact, unearthed by Neil, that Jones was living in Hammersmith when they occurred. My book, The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper, highlights that Aldensley Road, Jones’s property, was in a hot spot where the killer of at least six women may have lived.

Experts on the Hammersmith Murders

One or two cheapo documentaries have been made about the case in the past. However, the one currently being filmed looks like it will be of a far higher quality.

Among those taking part are Professor David Wilson, who wrote a fascinating book called A History of British Serial Killing. Jackie Malton, former Flying Squad detective  and inspiration for Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, was also on hand.

Forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Henry Knight and Cheryl Allsop, an academic  researching the science of cold case reviews, added further intellectual wattage.

BBC documentary

Neil told me the Abertillery venue was “full of lawyers, doctors, ex and serving police officers, archivists, Mary Fleming’s daughter and granddaughter, and a niece of Abertillery murder victim Florence Little”. 

I’ve also been contacted by the documentary’s producers. They told me they are using Jones as the starting point for the film but have not reached any conclusions about what their final angle on the case will be.

It is interesting that this grim series of murders, forgotten for so long, is now attracting serious attention. Will the Beeb’s experts solve it?

Jack the Ripper, Zodiac Killer

I doubt it. As with Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac killer and many others, too much time has elapsed. Sadly, the investigation was dropped with relief in 1965 when the murders ceased.

As the largest ever Scotland Yard manhunt was speedily wound down, the six, possibly eight, murdered prostitutes were forgotten and disappeared from the newspaper headlines.

Would this have been the case if they’d been housewives or nurses instead of prostitutes? It seems unlikely.

And then John du Rose, who had headed the investigation in its final stages, did the victims and their loved ones a disservice by pretending he had known all along who the killer was. Most writers, including me, think this was a dishonest attempt to cover his failure to crack the case despite having hundreds of officers at his disposal.

Why victims were forgotten

The unwanted effect of du Rose’s claim was that it implied the case was closed, when it certainly was not.

It’s no wonder that relatives of Mary Fleming should turn up in Abertillery to see what they could learn from the experts in the BBC documentary. The victims were largely forgotten and du Rose’s claim, and the general antipathy towards prostitutes, meant there was little public or media pressure to ensure the case was actively reviewed in the period immediately after 1965.

Those were the years when leads and suspects could still have been seriously tested.