Category Archives: Surender Mohan Pathak

He’s Got a Pretty Trophy Wife*

Whenever a wealthy person gets involved with a much younger person, all sorts of assumptions are made. She’s a ‘trophy wife,’ or he’s a ‘boy toy,’ only in the relationship for the money. And sometimes, that’s true. Certainly, it’s a stereotype that we hear a lot about in real life.

It’s there in crime fiction, too, and it can make for an interesting set of dynamics in a story. If there are children involved, there are all sorts of issues there. And even if there aren’t, there can be any amount of tension that comes from that sort of relationship.

Agatha Christie used those relationships in more than one of her stories. For instance, in both Triangle at Rhodes and Evil Under the Sun, the main plot revolves around a wealthy woman (Valentine Chantry and Arlena Stuart Marshall, respectively) who begins a relationship with a younger man. In both cases, the women are married to other people, so there’s tension on that score. And in both cases, there’s plenty of gossip about the romance. Christie also depicts that sort of relationship in The Mystery of the Blue Train. One of the characters in that novel is Lady Rosalie Tamplin. She’s married to her ‘boy toy’ husband, ‘Chubby’ Evans, and she does like him. Her daughter, Lenox, has this to say about him:
 

‘‘And Chubby now,’ said Lenox. ‘He is an expensive luxury if you like.’’
 

Lady Tamplin and her daughter get involved in a murder mystery when a distant cousin, Katherine Grey, comes to visit. During the train ride to Nice, where Lady Tamplin lives, Katherine meets a woman who is murdered the next night. Hercule Poirot is also on the train, and he works to find out who the killer is.

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue introduces readers to her sleuth, Catlin ‘Cait’ Morgan. Originally from Wales, she lives and works in Vancouver, where she teaches criminology at the University of Vancouver. When a colleague breaks some bones in a bicycle accident, she agrees to take his place at an upcoming symposium in Nice, where she will deliver his paper. The presentation goes well enough, but trouble starts when she happens to encounter a former employer, Alistair Townsend. On impulse, Townsend invites her to the birthday party he’s having for his ‘trophy wife,’ Tamsin, that evening. At first, Morgan refuses. But Townsend won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and before she knows it, Morgan’s agreed to go. At the party, Townsend suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Since Morgan is the only ‘outsider,’ and since she had good reason to dislike the victim, she becomes a ‘person of interest.’ Partly in order to clear her name, she starts to ask some questions. It turns out that more than one person had a motive for wanting Townsend dead.

In Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, we are introduced to Barcelona PIs Eduard Martínez and his twin brother Josep “Pep” (who prefers to be called Borja). They may be twins, but they have very little in common. Eduard, for instance, is happily married to his wife, Montse. Borja, though, is not so interested in marriage. As the novel begins, he’s happy being ‘kept’ by his wealthy lover, Merche. So, he gets to drive a good car, get his hair done at the best places, wear an expensive wardrobe, and so on. The main plot of this novel concerns Lluís Font, a prominent Conservative politician who suspects that his wife, Lídia, is being unfaithful. He hires the Martínez brothers to follow her and see if she is, indeed, having an affair. They find no evidence of that, but not long afterwards, Lídia is poisoned. Now, Font becomes a murder suspect. He hires the brothers to stay on the case and clear his name. Borja’s personal life isn’t the reason for the murder. But it’s an interesting layer of his character, and it’s one of many ways in which he and Eduard are different.

In Surender Mohan Pathak The Colaba Conspiracy, Jeet Singh has determined to leave behind his safecracking/lockbreaking past. He’s got a legitimate business now – a Mumbai kiosk where he makes and sells keys. One day, he gets a call from a former confederate, offering him quite a lot of money if he’ll do a job. Singh refuses outright; he doesn’t want any more to do with crime and the police. He wavers a bit, though, when an old friend, Gailo, asks him to go in on a job. This one will be quite lucrative, and Singh feels that he owes Gailo. Still, he says ‘no’ at first. Everything changes when Singh gets a visit from a former lover, Sushmita. Since they ended their relationship, she’s married wealthy Pursumal Changulani, a man who’s much older than she is. Her status as a ‘trophy wife’ certainly hasn’t endeared her to Changulani’s children. But matters get much worse when Changulani is killed. At first, his death looks like a carjacking gone wrong. But evidence has come up that suggests that this was a pre-planned murder. If so, then someone hired the person who committed the crime. And the police suspect that that someone was Sushmita. Changulani’s children claim that he was never legally married to Sushmita, so she has no claim on any of his money. Until that matter is settled, she has no access to his fortune, so she asks Singh’s financial help, so she can hire a lawyer. This is enough to push Singh into accepting the job Gailo offered. It’s also enough to get him mixed up in a murder case. When the police begin to suspect that he was working with Sushmita, Singh knows he’ll have to find out who the real killer was if he’s going to clear his name.

Late Addition

There’s a really interesting ‘trophy wife’ character, Katrina Barksdale, in Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord. When she is accused of murdering her husband during some kinky sex, Miami attorney Steve Solomon wants very much to defend her. There’s a major fee for him if he does. But he’ll need the help of Victoria Lord, a new attorney who’s as opposite to Solomon as it’s possible to be. It’s a very interesting case that gives an inside look at the ‘trophy wife/older husband’ relationship.

‘Trophy wives’ and ‘boy toys’ can bring all sorts of complications into a crime story. That plot point can add character development and suspense, so it’s little wonder we see it in the genre. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Del McCoury Band’s Forty Acres and a Fool.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cathy Ace, Paul Levine, Surender Mohan Pathak, Teresa Solana

Old Love*

Just because people break off relationships doesn’t mean they automatically stop caring for their exes. Sometime, the breakup is amicable, and the two people remain friends, or they are colleagues who can work together. Sometimes, one of the two wants to rekindle the romance. Other times, it’s just what you might call fond memories.

Whatever is the case, there is often a bond between former lovers. And that’s part of why we see so many crime novels in which an old flame asks the sleuth for help, or in which the sleuth offers help because of that former relationship. That trope can add tension to a story, as well as backstory on a character.

For instance, in Patricia Wentworth’s Grey Mask, Charles Moray returns to England after a four-year absence. The reason he left was mostly his breakup with his fiancée, Margaret Langton, but Moray’s trying not to let that prevent him from taking up his life again. He returns to his family home, only to find that it’s being used by a criminal gang led by a man called Grey Mask. Moray discovers that they seem to be planning to kidnap an heiress in order to get at her money. Worse, he sees that one of the people mixed up in this plot is his former fiancée. Moray doesn’t know at first whether Margaret is in danger or has willingly become a criminal. Either way, though, he worries for her, and decides to do some sleuthing. A friend gives him the name of Miss Maude Silver, and Moray goes to see her. With her help, and help from his friend, Archie Millar, Moray uncovers the truth about Grey Mask, the gang, and Margaret Langton.

Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael is a monk who lives and works in 12th-Century England. He joined the clergy a bit later in life than a lot of other monks, and so, has a past. And part of that past is a woman named Richildis, whom we meet in Monk’s Hood. In that novel, Brother Cadfael is called to the bedside of Gervase Bonel. That in itself isn’t surprising, as Cadfael is an herbalist. What is shocking is that Bonel has been poisoned by monkshood oil that was taken from Cadfael’s supplies. The first and most likely suspect is Bonel’s stepson (and Richildis’ son), Edwin. But Cadfael isn’t sure he’s guilty. So, in part because he cares about Richildis, Cadfael looks into the matter to find out who really killed the victim.

In Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy, key maker and locksmith Jeet Singh is trying to live a ‘straight and narrow’ life after a career as a lockbreaker and safecracker. Now, he owns a Mumbai kiosk where he’s trying to make an honest, if not lucrative, living. One day, Singh gets the chance to earn a great deal of money by doing another underworld job, but he refuses. He thinks that will be the end of his lawbreaking days, until he gets a visit from a former lover, Sushmita.  She is in trouble and needs his help. It seems that her wealthy husband, Pursumal Changulani, was killed in what looked like a carjacking incident that went wrong. But other evidence suggests that this was a professional killing, and there is a suspicion that Sushmita hired the killer. She says that she is innocent and is being targeted by her stepchildren, who claim she was never legally married to their father and is therefore ineligible to inherit. In order to clear her name, and inherit, she’ll need a good lawyer, which she can’t afford. And she won’t have access to any of her husband’s money until the matter is resolved. Singh still has feelings for Sushmita. Besides, if she is innocent, she should be cleared of suspicion. So, he agrees to help. And that’s what pushes him to take on that one last illegal job – and gets him into grave danger.

Martin Edwards’ All the Lonely People features Liverpool solicitor Harry Devlin. He makes his living defending the ‘down and out’ people, so he’s not exactly getting rich. Still, he’s dedicated to doing the best job he can. One day, he gets a surprise visit from his ex-wife. Liz. She tells him that she’s run away from her current lover, Mick Coghlin, because she’s afraid of him. Then, she asks Devlin to let her stay with him for a few days. Devlin is hoping he and Liz can reconcile, so he agrees. Then, two nights later, Liz is murdered, and her body found in an alley. Devlin feels a burden of guilt, because he didn’t take her fears very seriously at first. Besides, he still cares about Liz. So, he decides to find out who murdered her. At first, it seems clear that Coghlin is the killer. But, as Devlin learns more about Liz’ last months and weeks, he also learns that there are other possibilities.

There’s an interesting case of an old flame in Dick Francis’ Whip Hand. Former jockey Sid Halley’s racing career ended when his left hand was permanently injured. Later (see Odds Against for the details) he lost that hand. With his riding days over, Halley’s become a racetrack investigator. In one plot thread of this novel, he is approached by his former father-in-law, Charles Roland. It seems that his daughter (and Halley’s ex-wife), Jenny, has gotten involved with a scam artist who calls himself Nicholas Ashe. His trick is to bilk people out of money using a fake charity, and now he’s used Jenny’s name in the scheme. This means that she’s under investigation for fraud. The only way to clear her name is to find Ashe, and that’s what Roland wants Halley to do. Halley ’s very reluctant at first. The divorce was a bitter one, and neither he nor Jenny want anything to do with each other. But Roland finally persuades Halley to look into the matter.

And that’s the thing about old loves and exes. Even after the relationship is over, there’s still often a bond. So, it’s not surprising that we see this plot point as often as we do in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Eric Clapton/Robert Cray song.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Clapton!

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Filed under Dick Francis, Ellis Peters, Martin Edwards, Patricia Wentworth, Surender Mohan Pathak

One Little Choice*

In many stories, there’s a point of decision. And that decision has consequences that drive the rest of the plot. It may not seem like a momentous decision at the time the character takes it, but it often turns out to make all the difference in the story.

Certainly, we see those sorts of moments in crime fiction. For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t envision a life for herself as, say, a typist. And she’s not really interested in settling down and marrying. She’s a bit at loose ends when she happens to witness a tube accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under an oncoming train. Anne happens to pick up a piece of paper that the dead man had in his pocket, and soon works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she goes to a travel agency and books passage on the ship. That decision turns out to have important consequences for her, as she ends up caught in a web of intrigue, smuggled gems, and murder.

William Hjortsberg’s historical (1959) novel Falling Angel is the story of a low-rent New York private investigator named Harry Angel. One day, he gets a call from the upmarket law offices of McIntosh, Winesap, and Spy. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man named Jonathan Liebling. Better known as Johnny Favorite, Liebling was a gifted jazz musician. Cyphre says that he helped Johnny Favorite at the start of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He returned from the war physically and emotionally badly damaged, and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Then, he disappeared from the hospital. Now, Cyphre wants to find him. Angel’s decision to take the case and look for Johnny Favorite turns out to have major consequences, and drives the rest of the plot. He ends up caught in a case of horror, multiple murder, and worse.

In Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has died in a car crash. Delorme will miss his wife, but their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time. What’s worse, in his mind, is that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who also died in the crash. Against his better judgement, Delorme sneaks a look at the information the police have on Arnoult. That’s how he learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Delorme’s decision to peek at that information, and then act on it, turns out to be a fateful one. He becomes obsessed with Martine, and it’s not long before things spiral completely out of control for both of them.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red is the first to feature Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s at a crossroads in her career, and wants to cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. It’s not going to be easy, as there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists coming up the ranks. Then, she learns about a possible story that could exactly what she needs. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh might be innocent. If that’s true, it’s a major story. Several people caution Thorne against pursuing the story. But she decides to go after it. Doing so has real personal and professional consequences for her, and for other people in her life.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In it, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has ‘gone straight,’ and now owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes keys. Then, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him quite a lot of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses outright. He doesn’t want to have any more to do with police or prison. Not long afterwards, he gets a visit from his former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband died in what looked like a carjacking gone wrong. It’s since been proved to be a murder, and she’s suspected of hiring the killer. She has a good motive, too, as she stands to inherit a fortune. Now, she needs a good lawyer to help her clear her name, and she asks Singh for help. He’s still more than half in love with her, although she broke his heart. So, he agrees to get the money she needs. That decision draws Singh into the underworld again, and ends up putting him under suspicion of murder.

A decision may seem like a trivial one on the surface. But sometimes, even those smaller decisions can lead to very big consequences. And those consequences can be dangerous…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Malloy’s Hero.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier, Surender Mohan Pathak, William Hjortsberg

A Tiger is a Tiger, Not a Lamb*

Isn’t this wombat cute? I think so, too. But don’t let that fool you. Wombats are extremely strong, have sharp teeth, and can be very aggressive and destructive. That’s part of why they’re best left in their natural habitat. It’s a big mistake to be blind to what wombats can really be like.

The same is true of people. I think most of us would like to believe the best about the people in our lives. That’s arguably part of the reason we make excuses, at least to ourselves, for the way some people behave (e.g. ‘Yes, she’s very short-tempered, but look how creative she is!’). And sometimes, that way of thinking can allow us to work with others productively, even if we’re aware of their faults. And, in any case, no-one’s perfect.

It can be a mistake, though, to ignore others’ character traits, or to think that someone will change a fundamental trait (e.g. ‘I know he cheated on her, but it’ll be different with me.’). Making those sorts of excuses can lead to all sorts of sad consequences. And in crime fiction, it can lead to disaster.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), Hercule Poirot investigates the sixteen-year-old poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. At the time of Crale’s death, it was believed that his wife, Caroline, was responsible, and she certainly had motive; he was having a very obvious affair. In fact, Caroline was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the murder. But now, their daughter Carla wants to clear her mother’s name. So, Poirot interviews the five people who were on the scene at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts of what happened from each one. Using the interviews and accounts, he works his way towards the truth of the matter.  As the story goes on, we learn more about the victim’s character. For him, his art was the most important part of his life. In fact, he even warned his mistress, Elsa Greer, not to believe in him or trust him, except for his art. She didn’t listen to him, though, and took their relationship far more seriously than he did. She believed they would marry as soon as Crale divorced his wife. Her refusal to see Crale for what he was caused all sorts of conflict and tragedy that play a role in the story.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele. She meets Bill King, a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office, and the two begin a relationship. Bill’s brother, Lora, a Pasadena teacher, isn’t enthusiastic about Alice at first, but she puts that down to her protectiveness about her brother. Even so, as she gets to know Alice, Lora begins to have questions. Alice and Bill marry, and Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law, but the questions and concerns won’t go away. The more she learns about Alice, the more repulsed Lora is by Alice’s life. At the same time, though, she is drawn to it. And she comes to have, as she sees it, fewer and fewer illusions about her sister-in-law. Bill doesn’t share her concerns, though, and Lora knows that he doesn’t see Alice for what she is. Then, there’s a murder, and it looks very much as though Alice might be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s looking out for her brother, Lora starts to ask questions. In the end, refusal to see things as they are ends up wreaking havoc.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry is the sixth in his series featuring London PI Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool goes to Barker with an odd request. It seems that the British government has granted immunity to Sebastian Nightwine, and that he will be returning to London at the government’s request, so as to take part in a top-secret mission. Nightwine has indicated that he’s afraid he’s in danger from Barker. It was Barker’s discovery of some of Nightwine’s crimes that caused him to flee England in the first place. Now that he’s returning, he’s concerned that Barker represents a threat to him. Pool warns Barker to stay away from Nightwine. But Barker strongly suspects that Nightwine has his own agenda, and may even have a major criminal plan underway. To Barker, the government is naïve in not acknowledging the sort of person Nightwine is, and that naivety will lead to disaster. So, he does a little checking, and discovers that he’s right. Before he can do anything about it, though, he’s neatly framed for a murder. Now, the police are after him, and so are Nightwine’s people. So, with help from Llewellyn, Barker’s going to have to clear his name and stop Nightwine if he can.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion is the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently been promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant (DS), and has joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. The team is facing a very perplexing case. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder is similar in many ways to six other deaths the team is investigating. But there are some major differences. For one thing, the other victims were all prostitutes, and Melissa wasn’t. For another, the other victims were all older; Melissa was a teenager. Still, it’s certainly possible that all seven women were killed by the same person. Gradually, the team comes to believe that a man named Alan Daniels is that person. But that possibility presents several challenges. Daniels is a beloved television actor who’s about to ‘make it’ in films. Any public aspersions on him will not be taken kindly. What’s more, there’s no conclusive evidence against the man. And, Daniels is wealthy and well-connected. He can afford the best legal representation, and the team risks a lot of public embarrassment (and more) if they botch this case. As a part of the investigation, Travis gets to know Daniels, even seeing him socially. All of this is planned by her team, but that doesn’t mean it’s not risky. And, as she sees more of him, Travis has to consider what sort of person he is, and whether there’s a ruthless killer underneath his charming surface. He is charming and attractive, and Travis needs to remind herself, more than once, not to make excuses for him.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy, which features a locksmith named Jeet Singh. He’s a former safecracker/lockbreaker who’s ‘gone straight,’ and now operates a keymaking kiosk in Mumbai. One day, he gets an unexpected visit from his former lover, Sushmita, who asks for his help. It seems that her husband, wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, has been killed in a planned murder disguised as a carjacking gone wrong. Sushmita says that she’s being accused of hiring a killer, so she could inherit her husband’s money. Now, she needs her name cleared. For that, she needs money, and that’s why she’s come to Singh. He’s still at least partly in love with Sushmita, so he agrees to do what he can. And that means taking on one more illegal job, so that he can earn some quick money. He knows that Sushmita broke his heart, callously (to him) marrying another man because he was very rich, and Singh is not. But he refuses to really see her for what she is, and that leads to all sorts of trouble in this novel.

And that’s the thing about not seeing people for what they are. Most of us acknowledge that everyone has faults. But we sometimes ignore troubling character traits. And that can cause real trouble. So…be careful if you pet a wombat.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebbs’ Mein Herr.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Lynda La Plante, Megan Abbott, Surender Mohan Pathak, Will Thomas

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:

 

Prompts

Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:

You

Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:

Nunslinger

An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud

Greenlight

My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem

 

As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).

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Filed under Babs Horton, Beryl Bainbridge, Christopher Abbey, Don Winslow, Edney Silvestre, Finn Bell, Gordon Ell, Hannah Dennison, Hannah Kent, Harry Bingham, Jane Haddam, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, John Clarkson, Julian Symons, Katherine Dewar, Kwei Quartey, Lynda La Plante, Meg Gardiner, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Rhys Bowen, Robin Blake, Sinéad Crowley, Stark Holborn, Sue Younger, Surender Mohan Pathak, Zoran Drvenkar