‘The first victim of a terrorist is the woman in his own home.’ So many recent terrorist attacks have been carried out by men with a history of domestic abuse. My new book #HomeGrown from @riverrunbooks explores this shocking link. https://amzn.to/2UnPSS7
A superb Japanese locked-room mystery and a new Jane Harper lead Joan Smith’s round-up
Sunday Times, 3 February 2019
An isolated mansion stands on a cliff at the tip of Japan’s northernmost island, overlooking the freezing sea. This quirky edifice, with its sloping floors and ill-fitting staircases, is the setting for Soji Shimada’s hugely entertaining locked-room mystery Murder in the Crooked House (Pushkin Vertigo £8.99), translated by Louise Heal Kawai. Shimada has been a huge figure in Japanese crime fiction for almost four decades and the new novel has echoes of his iconic debut The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981).
An eccentric industrialist, Kozaburo Hamamoto, has invited his business partners to spend Christmas in the mansion, which houses his sinister collection of antique masks and automata. The murders begin on the first night when a chauffeur is found dead in his room, locked from the inside, while the disjointed model of a golem — a mythical creature from Jewish folklore — lies outside in the snow. Shimada plays with a range of cultural traditions, referring to Edgar Allan Poe and even appearing to suggest, at one point, that the golem might be responsible for the killings. But the arrival of his detective, a gifted amateur loftily dismissed by the local police, brings the novel to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion.
In just a couple of years, Jane Harper has soared into the first rank of contemporary crime writers. Her third novel, The Lost Man (Little, Brown £12.99), returns to the parched landscape she used to such powerful effect in her debut, The Dry. A weather-beaten gravestone marks the boundary between two cattle farms in Queensland, its inscription recording the solitary death of a stockman in the 1890s. Now the body of another man lies beside the stone, with marks in the dust speaking of his futile attempt to find shade. The man owns one of the farms and suspicion falls on his brother, whose business is facing ruin. Three generations of women — the dead man’s mother, wife and daughters — struggle to come to terms with these terrible events, and the family’s shocking history holds the key to this superb murder mystery.
Jo Spain’s sophisticated new crime novel, Dirty Little Secrets (Quercus £16.99), isn’t technically a locked-room mystery but it’s set on a gated estate in rural Ireland with a closed circle of suspects. When an invasion of bluebottles reveals the fact that one of the residents has been dead for three months, Spain’s detectives find it hard to believe that none of her neighbours noticed her absence. A post-mortem is equivocal but Spain uses a series of vivid flashbacks to reveal how many residents of the estate had reason to hate the dead woman, suggesting that Withered Vale more than deserves its ill-starred name.
Bernard Minier’s literary crime novels are bestsellers in France. They’re mostly set in the Pyrenees where the battle of wits between his gruff detective, Commandant Martin Servaz, and a devious serial killer, Julian Hirtmann, has now reached a fourth volume. Night (Mulholland £14.99), translated by Alison Anderson, begins on a train in Norway, where a female detective has been sent from Oslo to investigate a murder in a church in Bergen. The chief suspect works on an oil rig but photographs among his belongings suggest a connection with Hirtmann, sending the detective to Toulouse to team up with Servaz. Minier is an accomplished writer but the protracted pursuit of a fiendish criminal is a familiar trope and his plots are starting to seem forced.
Hanna Jameson’s The Last (Penguin £12.99) is a clever murder mystery set in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. In a Swiss hotel, miles from anywhere, a group of guests and staff hear news of a nuclear strike on Washington. Over the next few hours, cities in the US and Europe are wiped out, forcing the residents of the hotel to decide whether to stay put or risk setting out in search of supplies. An American historian, Jon Keller, tries to distract himself by keeping a journal but it turns into something else when a girl’s body is discovered. Some of his fellow survivors aren’t interested in what appears to be a murder, given the scale of the catastrophe that’s unfolding, but Keller’s mission to find the killer becomes a stand for human values in a brutalised world.
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 18 December 2018
Every single week, at least two women are killed by men in this country. In most cases, the killer won’t be a stranger but someone the victim used to think she could trust – a husband, an ex-boyfriend, in some cases a work colleague or friend. The harsh truth is that many women are in much greater danger at home than they are in public places – and the figures from the latest Femicide Census, carried out Women’s Aid and the campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, are jaw-dropping.
Of the 139 women known to have been killed by men in 2017, just over three-quarters (105) knew their killer. Almost half (64) died at the hands of a current or former partner, while 24 were killed by a colleague, neighbour or friend. Ten of the victims were killed by their own sons, in a crime – matricide – that has been regarded with peculiar horror down the centuries,
It’s an outrage but, weirdly, one we’re not really all that outraged about. The former Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, pointed out four years ago that if two people died every week at football games, there would be a national outcry. She’s right – so where is it? Where are the government ministers promising to do more to protect women from male violence? Where is the public outrage over cuts to refuges that leave women with no choice but to stay with violent men?
Some murders, to be blunt, matter more than others. In London, where a spike in knife attacks caused huge headlines earlier this year, domestic abuse has led to almost as many homicides as gang-related violence (in September, the comparable figures were 21 and 22). The increase in knife crime has been discussed at summits and other high-level meetings, and no one doubts that the killing of teenage boys and men in their 20s is agonising for friends and families.
The Femicide Census shows, however, that knives are as great a danger to women as they are to teenage boys. A sharp weapon was used to kill women in 66 cases, including one horrific attack in which a victim was stabbed 175 times. Yet the response seems to be little more than a weary shaking of heads, as though domestic violence is just something we have to live with, like the weather.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 1.2m women suffer domestic abuse each year although only a fraction of that number report it. Even when they do, around half of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police don’t lead to an arrest, again according to the ONS. Reluctance of victims to give evidence is often cited as a reason for the low number of convictions, but that could be addressed by offering more protection and support to women who are rightly terrified of their former partners.
The failures of the criminal justice system were exposed once again this week when a man was jailed for the double murders of his ex-girlfriend, a Syrian refugee who fled the Assad regime to seek safety in the UK, and her mother. Janbaz Tarin, 21, stalked 22-year-old Raneem Oudeh when she ended their relationship after discovering that he had a secret wife and family in Afghanistan.
Tarin repeatedly broke a non-molestation order obtained by Ms Oudeh, sleeping outside her mother’s home in Solihull on 12 consecutive nights. On the evening of the murders, he confronted Ms Oudeh and her mother, 47-year-old Khaola Saleem, in a restaurant, lay in wait for them when they arrived home and stabbed both women to death. Ms Oudeh was actually speaking to a 999 operator – her third emergency call of the day – when she was murdered.
Leaving a violent man is incredibly dangerous – and the evidence in the Femicide Census is incontrovertible. More than half of the women killed by an ex-partner last year were killed during the first month of separation, and 90 per cent within the first year. The evidence also challenges the idea that men kill in a ‘moment of madness’, demonstrating that ‘overkilling’ – using much greater force than required to kill the victim – was evident in 42 per cent of all the killings. One woman was hit 40 times by an axe.
We should be ashamed that this is happening in a society with legal and moral commitments to equality. The home is a dangerous place for far too many women, not to mention the children who are orphaned as a result. Chronic under-resourcing of the criminal justice system and services for victims is an obvious factor, but insufficient explanation in itself.
The awful reality is that neither our politicians not the public care anything like enough about what happens to women. If they did, tackling the intimidation, violence and abuse that goes on behind closed doors would be a top political priority. It isn’t – and that speaks volumes.
Sunday Times, 6 January 2019
In 2017, Jane Harper’s fine first novel, The Dry, focused attention on Australia’s drought-ravaged small towns. The Australian journalist Chris Hammer now uses a similar setting for his debut, a stunning novel set in a town struggling to survive after another inexplicable tragedy. Scrublands (Wildfire £16.99) has a journalist arriving in Riversend to write an article on the first anniversary of a mass shooting carried out by the local priest.
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 6 December 2018
Rape investigations in this country are at crisis point. More women than ever are going to the police but far fewer rapists are being charged – and some of the reasons are exposed in a shocking new survey which shows that public attitudes to rape are out-of-date and downright cruel towards victims.
The headline findings are jaw-dropping. A third of men think it generally wouldn’t count as rape if a woman has flirted beforehand on a date, even if she hasn’t explicitly agreed to sex. Astonishingly, the same proportion believe that a woman can’t change her mind once sex has started, even if she is uncomfortable with the man’s behaviour.
The survey, carried out by YouGov for the End Violence Against Women Coalition, displays a terrifying ignorance about the law on consent. Almost a quarter of the 4,000 respondents believe that sex without consent in long-term relationships isn’t usually rape, even though rape in marriage has been a crime for more than a quarter of a century. An even bigger proportion (a third of those surveyed) think it isn’t rape if a woman is pressured into having sex but doesn’t suffer physical injuries.
This isn’t just an academic exercise. It tells us about the attitudes people take with them when they’re asked to sit on juries in rape trials, making convictions less likely in all but a handful of exceptional cases. Judges are trained to challenge some of the most common rape myths but prosecutors know they’re hard to shift, especially in cases where women know or have had previous relationships with their attackers.
That’s most cases because the vast majority of victims know the men who rape them. Some women are attacked by total strangers but most are able to identify their assailants, a fact that perversely seems to have made securing prosecutions even harder. Last year, despite the increase in rapes reported to the police, the number of rape charges dropped by 23 per cent to its lowest rate in a decade.
New rules on disclosure of evidence, introduced at the end of last year, have made the situation much worse for victims, something that’s likely to be confirmed when this year’s statistics are published. They have also had the extremely damaging effect of confirming the most persistent rape myths – so, for instance, flirtatious texts might now be seen as evidence of consent to sex even if they were written hours or days before an alleged rape.
The new Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, has denied accusations that rape prosecutors are taking a more risk-averse approach when they make charging decisions. He says that the police and CPS are trying to improve decision-making in rape cases, and he doesn’t believe the drop in charging is a long-tern trend.
The fact remains that prosecutors have to decide whether there is a realistic chance of conviction in rape cases – and survey after survey has shown that a substantial proportion of jurors are disinclined to believe victims. The latest research confirms, once again, that victim-blaming is widespread while public attitudes towards alleged attackers are much more lenient.
A staggering 40 per cent believe that ‘stealthing’ – removing a condom without a partner’s consent – never or rarely amounts to rape, even if the woman has made it clear that she doesn’t want to have unprotected sex. Even now, after years of education campaigns, one in ten people think that having sex with woman who is very drunk or asleep isn’t usually rape, despite the fact that she hasn’t given consent.
There is a generational divide in the research, with over-65s displaying much more punitive attitudes towards victims. In that age group, 42 per cent believe it’s too late in most cases for a woman to change her mind once sex has started, compared to only 16 per cent in the 16-24 age group. This means that young women who have a clear (and correct) idea about consent are likely to find their behaviour being judged by older jurors who don’t understand the law, with disastrous consequences for individual victims and conviction rates.
The bitter truth behind all this is that women are being badly let down by the criminal justice system. Despite decades of campaigns by women’s organisations and feminist lawyers, forensically setting out what’s wrong, the situation has actually got a great deal worse. Women who report attacks to the police are now even less likely to get justice and most rapists know that they’re unlikely to be arrested, let alone charged.
‘For too many women, justice is not an option open to them,’ says Rachel Krys, co-director of the EVAW Coalition. Her organisation is calling for an independent, end-to-end review of how the police and courts tackle rape.
She is right, because we have been here too many times. There is an epidemic of sexual and domestic violence in this country, and the failure of the criminal justice system to protect women is a scandal of massive proportions.
At a time when female genital mutilation is on the rise, a US judge has sent an alarming message
UnHerd, Wednesday November 28th 2018
Some battles, sadly, have to be fought over and over again. Even the most shocking practices, such as female genital mutilation, have their defenders, ready to revive bad and discredited arguments whenever the opportunity arises. The UN has campaigned against FGM for years, using high-profile figures like Angelina Jolie to make the case against cutting girls’ bodies for the sake of nonsensical ideas about desire and sexual hygiene. Yet a federal judge has thrown out the very first prosecution of doctors and parents ever to take place in the US, potentially setting back the campaign to protect women and girls by decades.
It has to be said at once that the case was lost on a technicality. The judge ruled that outlawing FGM is a matter for individual states, arguing that Congress did not have the authority to pass a 1996 law that prohibited it across the board. The judgment is likely to be appealed but one of its disastrous effects is to make further prosecutions of FGM practitioners extremely difficult at a time when it’s believed that the practice is becoming more widespread. Immigration from countries where FGM is common means that more than half a million women and girls in the US are believed to be at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Ominously, the failed prosecution has energised defenders of FGM, who claimed in court and TV interviews that all that was done to nine child victims was ‘female circumcision’ or a ‘ritual nick’. The medic who carried out the procedure, Dr Jumana Nagarwala, belongs to a small Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, some of whose members have their daughters cut in defiance of the longstanding (and previously unchallenged) federal ban in the US. Her lawyer claimed that she had merely carried out a protected religious procedure that didn’t involve removing the clitoris or labia, unlike the most extreme form of FGM.
In reality, FGM is much more a cultural than a religious practice, originating in Africa where it is still carried out in many countries. And while it is bad enough to hear people defending any species of unnecessary surgical procedure on girls’ bodies, doctors who examined the child victims found plenty of evidence of harm; they discovered scar tissue and lacerations to the girls’ genitalia, while one victim said she was in so much pain she could hardly walk. Some of the girls cried and screamed during the procedure and one was given Valium ground into liquid Tylenol to keep her calm, according to court records. Two of the victims were just seven years old when Dr Nagarwala performed these procedures on them, using a private clinic in Detroit owned by another doctor who also faced charges.
FGM is controversial even among members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect, which originated in western India, and some actively oppose it. They are worried by the outcome of the Detroit trial, believing that it sends a dangerous message to countries where huge numbers of girls are still being mutilated. ‘Unfortunately this is going to embolden those who believe that this must be continued…they’ll feel that this is permission, that it’s OK to do this,’ said Mariya Taher, who was herself a child victim of the same type of FGM. In western and developing countries alike, some of the most effective campaigners against FGM come from communities where it is still practised, often women who were forced to undergo the procedure themselves when they were children. Many of them are justifiably angry about something that was done to them without their consent, with potentially catastrophic consequences for their sex lives and ability to give birth safely. In some good news, the British government has committed to spend £50m on grassroots programmes to stop FGM across Africa by 2030.
Yet if the failed prosecution has achieved nothing else, it has at least focused public attention on a practice that happens in conditions of great secrecy in western countries and is notoriously difficult to prosecute. In the UK, where an estimated 137,000 women and girls have been subjected to FGM, there has not yet been a single successful prosecution. The police say it is carried out behind closed doors, with parents and practitioners taking care to leave no evidential trail, and children are often too frightened to testify at trials that might send their mother or father to prison for up to seven years. But mandatory reporting by health professionals is gradually uncovering the extent of the practice in the UK, with more than 6,000 cases being recorded by midwives and obstetricians between April 2017 and March 2018. These are adult women who may have been cut abroad, when they were children, although it may be an indicator that their own female children are at risk of FGM in this country.
More than 200 million girls and women have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to the World Health Organisation. In countries like Sierra Leone, where FGM is still legal, almost 90 per cent of the female population aged between 15 and 49 has been cut, causing a huge range of health problems and high rates of maternal mortality. Cultural pressure is relentless and hard to resist, according to a recent report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which noted that girls in Sierra Leone who try to avoid FGM are accused of being unclean, promiscuous or carrying disease. Even in countries like Egypt, where FGM was outlawed in 2008, the practice continues and is often carried out in insanitary conditions by older women with no medical knowledge. There have been horrific cases of girls and even babies bleeding to death after being cut with knives or razor blades.
Changing the law is an essential step in protecting women and girls but changing ideas is just as important. It is a shocking fact that some western liberals used to defend FGM as ‘part of their culture’ without looking too closely at who ‘they’ were – namely the cutters who made money from it, and the men who wanted ‘pure’ wives who found sex too painful to have extra-marital relationships. It is only two decades since the feminist writer Germaine Greer argued in one of her books that banning FGM was ‘an attack on cultural identity’, rightly drawing a rebuke from MPs on the international development select committee. In an unintentional illustration of how important language is in these matters, Greer also made the wildly insensitive observation that ‘one man’s beautification is another man’s mutilation’. She has long been regarded as a maverick but it is worth remembering that cultural relativism, while widely and rightly discredited, has never completely gone away.
That is why the outcome of the outcome of the American court case has the potential to be so damaging. The judge was clear that his decision didn’t amount to an endorsement of FGM but that won’t be the headline in parts of Africa and Asia where generations of cutters are determined to keep the practice going. Hearing the practice sanitised as just a ‘nick’ in an American courtroom is deeply alarming, and it needs to be challenged in every available forum. FGM is misogyny in its bleakest form, denying girls control of their own bodies and threatening their lives in the most extreme cases. It is a gross abuse of human rights, wherever it happens, and western countries have a duty to make sure that both their laws and language lead by example.
I’ve just delivered my new book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists to my publisher, riverrun – look out for publication in May 2019.
Sunday Times, 5 November 2018
Over more than a dozen novels set in rural Quebec, the Canadian crime writer Louise Penny has turned the fictional village of Three Pines into a welcoming small community. But it’s also home to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, until recently head of the Sûreté du Québec, whose job brings regular eruptions of violent crime into his peaceful neighbourhood. In Kingdom of the Blind (Sphere £19.99), Gamache is summoned to a mysterious meeting in an abandoned farmhouse by a letter from a lawyer who turns out to have been dead for six months.
The letter is about the will of a penniless elderly woman who claims to have inherited an Austrian title, embroiling Gamache in a family feud over an apparently mythical fortune that someone is prepared to kill for. The novel’s atmospheric opening in a snow-packed clearing is an apt metaphor, reflecting the bleakness Gamache feels during an internal inquiry over a drugs investigation that could end his career.
The Sentence Is Death (Century £20) is the second novel in Anthony Horowitz’s series starring himself as the sidekick to a prickly private eye, Daniel Hawthorne. The ex-Scotland Yard detective has designated Horowitz as his amanuensis, dragging him away from editing scripts for the TV series Foyle’s War to write the second volume in a three-book deal about Hawthorne’s cases. Horowitz is the author of two successful Sherlock Holmes pastiches and the temptation to cast himself as Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes has clearly proved irresistible
The new novel begins with the murder of a well-known divorce lawyer at his modernist home in Hampstead; the chief suspect is a Japanese poet, the ex-wife of one of the lawyer’s clients, until it emerges that his oldest friend died under a train 24 hours earlier. Like the earlier book, The Sentence Is Death is full of jokes at Horowitz’s own expense as he endlessly jumps to the wrong conclusions about the case. But it’s also a smoother read, allowing the relationship between real-life author and his fictional character to develop into something more believable.
Mari Hannah’s award-winning crime novels are set in Northumberland, where a sweeping coastline provides a dramatic backdrop to her fast-paced murder investigations. The Insider (Orion £7.99) pits her detectives, DI David Stone and his passionately engaged sergeant Frankie Oliver, against a serial killer who is targeting successful women. Stone has taken over the investigation halfway through the case, as the body of a local lawyer is found at an isolated railway station, and he depends heavily on Oliver’s local knowledge. Hannah’s plots are original and modern, rooted in the fast-changing relationships between men and women, but Oliver’s frequent emotional outbursts are rather wearing.
Quintin Jardine’s Cold Case (Headline £19.99) features his urbane Scottish detective Bob Skinner, who couldn’t be more different from Ian Rankin’s Rebus. Jardine’s Edinburgh is a cosmopolitan place where Skinner, now retired, has a part-time career as a director of an Anglo-Spanish media company. Like just about every retired cop in crime fiction, he still does a bit of detective work to help out friends and now his old boss, Sir James Proud, needs a favour. A blogger has been in touch, demanding answers about a murder case from 30 years ago, and Proud seems to think the questions could wreck his reputation. If Skinner sometimes seems smug about his own achievements, the 30th novel in this popular series is full of shocks, forcing him to recognise that some of his most cherished beliefs can’t be trusted after all.
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 7 November 2018
It’s a great time to be a woman with political ambitions in the US – as long as you’re a Democrat. People are rightly talking about the record number of women who have won seats in Congress in the midterm elections, but it isn’t across the board. There’s been a fall in the number of Republican women in the lower house, something that reflects the extremely polarised nature of American politics in the era of Donald Trump.
There’s no doubt that the President’s alpha male contempt for women has not just energised millions of women voters but encouraged many to put themselves forward as candidates. Yesterday’s elections brought two Muslim women into the House of Representatives, along with the election in Kansas of Sharice Davids, the first Native American woman in Congress, who also happens to be a lesbian.
But women don’t vote as a bloc, something that helped the Republican senator Ted Cruz retain his senate seat in Texas against the up-and-coming Democrat, Beto O’Rourke. The challenger’s lead among Latino and black voters was impressive, 63 per cent and 89 per cent respectively, but white voters kept Cruz in place. Crucially, according to exit polls, he won the votes of almost 60 per cent of white women, despite the fact that this one-time Trump critic has now re-joined the camp of the most openly misogynist President in American history.
This isn’t as surprising as it first appears. In cultures where men hold more of the power, women often identify with male interests even when it seems to involve acting against their own. Middle-class wives who have benefited from their husband’s status and success at work are alarmed by the #MeToo movement, which they see threatening respected figures who look like the men they live with. And they really hated the Democrats’ public display of support for Dr Christine Blasey Ford when she accused Trump’s supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of attempted rape. The Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, who has represented Missouri since 2006, lost her seat overnight after voting against Kavanaugh’s nomination. Her opponent, Josh Hawley, repeatedly attacked her for opposing Kavanaugh and suggested she was too liberal for the mid-western state.
The Republicans did better than expected in the Senate but the House results tell a different story. Turnout was way up on the last set of midterms, under Barack Obama, and it’s clear that huge numbers of women got involved because they despise Trump. They were one of the first groups to come out against the President, organising the largest one-day protest in American history only a day after his inauguration in January last year.
It’s clear from the midterm results that the contest between the two main parties remains ferocious and unpredictable. It’s too early to say what the midterms mean for the 2020 presidential election, but Trump’s decision to hold rallies for Republican candidates in hotly contested Senate seats seems to have paid off – for the time being. In the long-term, though, the demographics of 21-century America mean that the Republicans have more to worry about.
In the 2016 presidential election, a slight majority of white women voted for Trump. But cities likes Houston and Dallas are moving towards having majority non-white populations, one of the factors that made the contest between Cruz and O’Rourke so close in Texas. And while Republican support is holding up among older white women, it’s a different story in younger age groups. Back in August, polling among millennial women showed that almost 70 per cent support the Democrats – a finding that’s reflected in the party’s success in the lower chamber.
Trump is losing younger women voters by the shedload and the new House of Representatives, where 23 per cent of the seats are held by women, looks like the future. Over the next two years, the President will find it much harder to get his legislation through the House, finally providing some of the checks his opponents are desperate to see in place.
But the big story of the midterms is that there are now two Americas – one that’s young, ethnically diverse, intersectional and feminist, ranged against one which is old-fashioned, conservative and religious. Congress is starting to reflect the former, and a politics where feminism is no longer a dirty word.