Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 12 November 2021

The unsolved disappearance of a six-year-old girl reverberates across the decades in Heather Young’s haunting novel The Lost Girls (Verve £9.99). Emily is the youngest of three sisters, spending the summer of 1935 on the shore of a remote lake in Minnesota, when she vanishes without trace. Emily’s middle sister, Lucy, spends the rest of her life in the house on the lake, unable to tear herself away from its painful memories. After her death, the house passes to her great-niece, Justine.

The unexpected inheritance enables Justine to leave a controlling boyfriend and flee to Minnesota, where she finds Lucy’s journal and begins to understand the family secrets that led to a tragic event. Lucy’s father, a Bible-thumping descendant of Welsh coal miners, is one of the most vivid characters in this terrific mystery, which shows the corrosive impact misplaced loyalty has on generations of women.

RV Raman’s hugely engaging novel A Will to Kill (Pushkin Vertigo £8.99) is set in modern-day India, but its origins lie in the golden age of crime fiction. The story takes place in a misty valley in the Nilgiri mountain range, where a wealthy art collector, Bhaskar Fernandez, is holding a family party. Among the guests is a private detective, Harith Athreya, invited as an observer after several attempts on Fernandez’s life. Athreya has only just arrived when the valley is cut off by a landslide, an event quickly followed by a murder in the family mansion. Raman makes the most of his version of a locked-room mystery, endowing Athreya with an omniscience rarely seen in today’s jaded detectives.

Simon Beckett’s The Lost (Trapeze £14.99) opens with a scene of stomach-churning carnage. A firearms officer, Jonah Colley, gets a frantic phone call from another cop, someone he hasn’t seen for years. The man sounds desperate, asking Jonah to meet him at a sinister-sounding location, Slaughter Quay, on the River Thames. Jonah arrives to find four bodies, but is attacked and injured before he can call for back-up. When he wakes up in hospital, he discovers that the chief suspect in the murders is a man who was investigated and cleared after the disappearance of Jonah’s young son ten years earlier. It’s an intriguing set-up, but the violence is unrelenting, and it is hard to believe that Jonah can take so many beatings while pursuing his one-man quest for justice.
Camilla Grebe is one of those authors who demonstrate the continuing inventiveness of Scandinavian crime fiction. The Hideout (Zaffre £8.99), translated by Sarah Clyne Sundberg, has a teenage boy on the run from a drug dealer. Arriving in a quiet seaside town, he takes a job as companion to a boy who is paralysed after a road accident. Meanwhile the police in Stockholm are puzzled by the discovery of the bodies of several young men washed up from the sea, an investigation that seems entirely separate until Grebe brings them together in a plot of dazzling originality.

Arrest the chest

The Critic, Friday 12 November, 2021

In the nineteenth century, the fashion for small waists was widely criticised by doctors. It was achieved by “tight lacing”: a practice blamed for compressing the ribs, forcing internal organs out of position and leaving fashionable women short of breath.

In 2021 you might think no one would encourage impressionable girls to compress their chests and put their health at risk. Well, think again. In a sign of the times we live in, when “gender identity” apparently trumps good sense, a cosmetics company has teamed up with a trans clothing company to offer breast binders to young women.

The Paddington branch of Lush announced on Instagram this week that it has joined G(end)er Swap to offer a “binder collection point”, inviting girls to book their binders online for a donation as low as £7. As a lawyer quickly pointed out, the booking form does not ask about age, allowing girls under the age of 16 to make an appointment without parental knowledge or consent.

Breast binding, in case you haven’t come across it, is the practice of compressing the breasts to make them appear less visible; it’s often used by girls who believe themselves to be transgender. But the risks are obvious: a study of 1,800 individuals who wore binders, carried out by researchers at Boston University, found that 97 per cent reported at least one negative outcome, including back and chest pain, overheating, itching and shortness of breath. “Transgender community resources commonly discuss symptoms such as pain and scarring,” the authors noted.

Breast binding is a distant cousin of breast ironing — an even riskier (and illegal) practice imported into the UK from Africa. Breast ironing involves massaging a pubescent girl’s chest with hot stones to slow down or prevent normal development of the breasts, supposedly to protect her from unwanted sexual attention. It has disastrous consequences, such as preventing some women from breast feeding, and is a form of child abuse.

When I chaired the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board, I heard anecdotal evidence that this practice was taking place in the UK, carried out within the family in conditions of great secrecy, something it has in common with female genital mutilation. Some campaigners believe at least a thousand women and girls have been subjected to it in this country.

No doubt Lush would deny any link between breast binding and breast ironing; but the motivation — fear and denial of the natural female body — is similar. For girls who want to be boys, who have swallowed nonsense about being “born in the wrong body”, wearing binders is sometimes the first step on a road that leads to double mastectomy. The removal of healthy breasts is rightly controversial and a cause of great regret among detransitioners, who have since discovered that having surgery and taking male hormones has not cured their gender dysphoria.

Why on earth would any company effectively encourage girls to reject their perfectly healthy bodies? It is not hard to discern a bandwagon effect, driven by the way in which breast binding is being normalised — glamourised, even — by celebrities such as Emma Corrin, who played Princess Diana in The Crown. Diana famously suffered from an eating disorder associated with body dysphoria, a parallel that seems to have been lost on Corrin when she posted black and white photos of herself wearing a home-made binder on social media. “Very intimate, very new, very cool,” Corrin declared, apparently unaware that denying or disavowing the female body is as old as the hills. She was hailed not just for the photos but for changing her (their?) pronouns to “she/them”.

It’s clear that extreme gender ideology has penetrated celebrity culture, commercial companies, government departments and charities, leading them to compete for the accolade of “trans ally” even if it means pushing harmful ideas onto impressionable teenagers.

Until very recently, no one wanted to fall foul of the LGBTQ+ organisation Stonewall, fearing an accusation of transphobia above all else. Indeed, Lush seems to be trying to atone for making a small donation to a feminist organisation, A Woman’s Place UK, which has repeatedly been smeared by trans activists. “To trans people and allies, we wish to say sorry for some past mistakes in our choice of donation recipients,” the company grovelled in a statement last December.

The Lush donation was only £3,000, but no one can apologise enough for offending gender extremists. One of the company’s main rivals, The Body Shop, highlighted its transgender credentials by trolling the author J K Rowling; in the summer of 2020 when Rowling published an open letter describing her experience of domestic abuse, The Body Shop Twitter account responded by offering to send her a “vegan bath bomb” and a book on trans rights. Now Lush’s Paddington store is encouraging girls to acquire a product designed to hide the fact that they have female bodies.

Lush is easy to mock, boasting about its ethics as though its primary function is much more than selling soap with fancy names. “Our ability to create a warm and welcoming home, a safe environment where difference is accepted and fostered, is maybe our single greatest strength,” it claims. How breast binders fit into that ethos is unclear, but a bit more acceptance of the natural female body would be welcome. What can we expect next, a nicely wrapped foot-binding kit?

‘My colleague compared me to a racist uncle at the dinner table for my views on gender’

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 4 November 2021

Jo Phoenix is a widely respected academic. Since 2016, she has been professor of criminology at the Open University, where her focus is on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. Phoenix does not think of herself as vulnerable and she certainly never expected to be where she is now – diagnosed with acute PTSD and suing her employer for failing to protect her after what she describes as two years of harassment from colleagues.

“I’m exhausted,” she tells me – and she sounds it. Phoenix, 57, is highly articulate and speaks with only a trace of her original American accent. But there is no doubt that her experience has left her hurt and shaken – “overwhelmed” is the word she uses.

Her voice breaks at some points in our conversation, as she describes how she became a hate figure, metaphorically put in the stocks by colleagues who accuse her of that contemporary catch-all offence, “transphobia”.

It is the charge hurled at anyone who believes in the reality of biological sex or questions the right of transgender individuals to access women-only spaces, even though “gender critical” views are protected in law following a landmark decision in the case of Maya Forstater by an employment appeals tribunal earlier this year.

No one should be in doubt about the threat an accusation of “transphobia” poses to academic freedom: after masked protesters gathered on the campus of Sussex University, demanding the dismissal of Professor Kathleen Stock, another gender critical academic, she stepped down from her role at the university last Thursday.

In a powerful interview with BBC Woman’s Hour, Stock described the “medieval experience” and suggested the views of a small number of academics had inflamed the student protests by “radically misrepresenting my views”, saying: “I don’t know if the student activity would have been there if the colleague activity hadn’t already been there,”

The “intense” student activity came at the end of “three-and-a-half years of low level bullying, harassment and reputation trashing” by colleagues, which began, she says, when she first started to write about gender identity policy and escalated after she recently published a book questioning the idea that gender identity is more “socially significant” than biological sex.

At the end of last month, somewhat late in the day, the OU seems to have finally woken up to the fact that one of its own staff might also be at risk. “While we are not aware of any current issues at the OU”, an email from a senior figure informed Phoenix, the university’s head of security would be happy to discuss “any concerns” she might have and conduct a risk assessment.

This, despite the fact that Phoenix has become a pariah at work. The OU Gender Critical Network, which she founded, has been denounced as “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people” in an open letter signed by no fewer than 360 colleagues. “The signatures came from across the university, including people I directly work with,” Phoenix tells me. “I received threatening emails from anonymous senders.” When I ask her to elaborate, she says she was told that activists “were out to get me” and “I ought to watch myself”.

What has exposed her to this torrent of abuse is her argument that transwomen – male-bodied individuals who identify as women – should not share intimate spaces with female prisoners. It is a view widely shared by feminist organisations, who point to the fact that a transgender inmate sexually assaulted two women while on remand at a women’s prison in West Yorkshire in 2017.

Even so, Phoenix has been pilloried. A couple of years ago, after she gave a talk for the campaigning organisation A Woman’s Place UK, a colleague got in touch to express disappointment that she had disrupted the “smooth family functioning” of their workplace. What does that even mean, I ask? Her reply is staggering: “I was told I was like the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table.” When Phoenix started to cry, the colleague gave her the number of the OU counselling service.

It is one of many examples Phoenix gives me of decidedly uncollegiate behaviour. In December 2019, Essex University suddenly cancelled an invitation to speak at a seminar, claiming it was necessary because of the threat of protests against her. In fact, the only person who was at risk was Phoenix herself, via a flyer bearing an image of a cartoon character with a gun and the words “shut the f— up terf” (a common slur used against feminists).

A report on the university’s handling of the incident by a barrister, Akua Reindorf, concluded that Essex had breached the rights of Phoenix and another gender critical academic, Prof Rosa Freedman of Reading University, to freedom of expression. The vice-chancellor, Prof Anthony Forster, duly apologised – but then appeared to change his mind, issuing a bizarre second apology about the “very negative impact” of the Reindorf report on “trans and non-binary staff and students”.

“We know now that was an unlawful cancellation,” Phoenix points out. “But relations [at the OU] soured significantly from then on.” The hostility did not let up even when she found herself on sick leave after surgery on her spine. “My mother had just died,” she says. “I had just had my spine fused. A senior colleague called to check in on me. During the course of the conversation, she said one of her regrets was that she was never able to deal with the toxic environment at work.”

It was a classic piece of victim-blaming – and hard to imagine how Phoenix has managed to carry on working in such a hostile atmosphere. She is frank about the effects of the last two years. “I was struggling with extreme anxiety, sleeping less than two or three hours a night. The doctor prescribed sleeping pills. I found it difficult to sustain conversations. Looking back, I was barely functioning. I am still awake most nights every couple of hours. This morning I woke at 4am.”

Some people at the OU have been in touch to offer support, she says, but they dare not say anything publicly. Senior academics from across the country have told Phoenix they would like to be on the mailing list of the Gender Critical Network but, again, they dare not be open about it. It is not hard to understand why, after what has happened to Phoenix and Stock. In a surprise intervention, the latter received support from Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who endorsed freedom of speech for academics in a message to a recently-founded charity, the LGB Alliance.

Phoenix is now back at work, but allowed to do “research duties only – I was advised not to go into my office”. It is clear that her “dream job” at the OU has become a nightmare, her life made impossible by strident accusations of “transphobia” at every turn.

It is all the more galling, she says, because of her background. “I’ve been an out lesbian since 1979. I’ve never in my life been transphobic. The word is meaningless.” She says she is happy to support people expressing any sense of gender identity they choose. “Why wouldn’t I do that? I have tattoos. I have short hair. I ride a motorbike.” What she does not support, she says, is the idea that if you criticise the LBGT organisation Stonewall – widely criticised for giving incorrect advice about the law to a number of organisations – you must automatically be transphobic.

When I ask her why she thinks universities have been so slow to speak up on behalf of their staff, she suggests that managers “do not want to come down on one side or the other. People like myself are left to slug it out at the individual level. It’s a tactical choice.”

Now she has had enough. On 17 October, she announced that she was crowd-funding legal action against the OU at an employment tribunal, in the hope the case will force universities to “protect female academics from the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs in sex and gender”. After only four days, she had raised more than £60,000 – on Tuesday, she “cried with relief” as she hit her £80,000 target and her case against the OU was filed with the employment tribunal yesterday.


Jo Phoenix

A spokesman for the OU said it was “open to any member of our community to raise concerns under our internal processes and these will be investigated in line with our procedures”. It is not hard to imagine what Phoenix makes of that, but she has already survived more than most. In the preamble to her crowdfunder, she discloses that she was raped by two men when she was a teenager in Texas.

“I dropped out of school with nothing – and I suspect many thought I would not make 21. I am not a victim, capital A, capital V,” she insists. But she says that if there is a hill she has to die on, it is the protection of vulnerable women in prison – and the right to freedom of expression at British universities.

“How can this happen at the OU?” she demands, recalling that it was a female MP who was the driving force behind the founding of the university in the Sixties. “The OU has a history,” she says sadly. “Jennie Lee would be turning in her gr

What happened to Sarah Everard is a scandal – and the fall in rape convictions only makes things worse

As data show that rape reports are higher than ever and convictions at new lows, women still seem to be paying the price for sexual violence

Daily Telegraph, Friday 5 November 2021

In the eight months since the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, in spite of protests and promises that the police will do better to protect women, the number of rapes reported has soared to a record high. Meanwhile, the proportion being solved has fallen to a historic low.

In the 12 months ending in June this year, 61,158 offences were reported to the police in England and Wales – almost 1,200 every week, up 9.6 per cent on the previous year and the highest since records began in 2010. The scandal of Sarah’s killing at the hands of a serving officer has now been compounded by another, which illustrates what many already knew – that no case, even a highly public one, can be enough to fix the police’s rape conviction problem.

The rise in reports may have come from women so disturbed by Sarah’s case that they felt compelled to come forward about their own. But it’s also possible that sexual predators know that the arrest and imprisonment of her killer, Wayne Couzens, was a very rare event. The latest statistics show that only 1.4 per cent of reported rapes resulted in a charge or summons in the year to June – the lowest on record.

Let’s be clear about what this means. The vast majority of men who commit sexual offences will never be charged or convicted; on the contrary, they may be emboldened and attack more women. It is a colossal failure on the part of everyone involved – police, prosecutors and a whole series of government ministers.

The usual response is to call for a report; the most recent, an “end-to-end” rape review, was published in June this year. It was accompanied by a grovelling apology to rape victims, with ministers admitting they were “deeply ashamed” about the way women had been let down.

It all sounded good, but we have been here before. Ten years ago, the then-Home Secretary, Theresa May, welcomed an independent report carried out by Baroness Stern and promised it would “improve the way rape complaints are handled at every stage of the process”. It didn’t.

There is no mystery about why this has happened. The Government’s reviews are always unambitious, with the latest proposing only to restore the conviction rate back to what it was in 2016 when the system was already in crisis. It will take almost two decades to reach even that miserable target, if “improvements” continue at the present tortoise-like rate. There is without doubt a problem of resources, leading to delays that some victims find unbearable.

The central problem, however, is that the criminal justice system does not understand sexual violence. Since the abduction of Sarah Everard, the lengths women go to every day to protect themselves from assault have finally begun to emerge. We avoid certain areas, make arrangements with friends, carry keys in our hands – and what happened to Sarah is a reminder that these precautions are not always enough. We know that those 60,000 recorded rapes are nothing like the real total, if all the unreported attacks are taken into account.


Police, prosecutors and ministers don’t understand this – or they resist knowing it. They continue to treat rape – “real” rape as it’s sometimes called – as a rare and aberrant event committed by a handful of bad men. The entire criminal justice system is set up on the premise that women lie about rape, putting innocent men at risk of being convicted.


The focus of a rape investigation is flawed from the outset, often seemingly more concerned with undermining the credibility of complainants than catching out the lies of predatory men – even after the scandal of Jimmy Savile, who told barefaced lies to the police and got away with hundreds of sexual assaults.


There is a way to address this scandal. It requires police, prosecutors and the public to ditch the mindset which claims, without evidence, that women lie about rape. The focus of rape investigations needs to be where it belongs; on perpetrators, not victims. It’s all too evident that everything else – reports, reviews, ministerial apologies – has failed abysmally.



Kathleen Stock deserved better, Thursday 28 October 2021

The professor has now left Sussex University — how did it come to this?

There is no other way of putting it: a distinguished academic has been driven out of her job at a British university. For insisting on the reality of biological sex. A belief protected in law. Scarcely believable, and a terrible commentary on the poisonous atmosphere at some educational institutions. How could it come to this?

First, no one should be in any doubt about what Professor Kathleen Stock has gone through. ‘This has been an absolutely horrible time for me and my family,’ she writes on Twitter, announcing her decision to leave. ‘I’m putting it behind me now. On to brighter things soon, I hope.’

Many of us who saw the posters and masked protesters targeting Stock at Sussex two weekends ago will share that hope. But what has ended so badly for her has much wider implications. The Vice-chancellor, Adam Tickell, has written to all staff at Sussex, insisting that the university ‘has vigorously and unequivocally defended [Stock’s] right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind’.

Stock has responded by saying that the university leadership’s approach ‘more recently has been admirable and decent’, leaving open the question of what it did when she was first targeted. Because Stock and other gender critical academics, such as Professor Jo Phoenix of the Open University, have faced slurs and bullying for at least two years — so much so that Phoenix is raising funds to take the OU to an employment tribunal.

For too long, other academics have looked the other way, afraid of being targeted themselves, or in some cases even joined in the harassment. Who could forget the posters around Sussex demanding that Stock should be fired? Yet those of us who denounced the gender extremists behind the bullying of feminists, after our meetings to defend women’s rights were picketed by screaming trans activists, have been primly told that the issue is ‘toxic on both sides’.

It is hard to sustain this nonsense when you have seen the venom with your own eyes. Earlier this month, when women from all over the country gathered in Portsmouth to discuss violence against women, we had to walk past trans activists bearing posters that threatened us with sexual violence in the most obscene language imaginable.

On the ‘other side’ are lesbians like Stock and Phoenix, who simply ask to do their jobs — to ask awkward questions in a polite manner — without threats. On the ‘other side’ are women who highlight the conflict between the rights of vulnerable women in prisons and men who demand the right to be housed with them.

What has happened to Stock is indefensible — and it is shocking that the situation at Sussex was allowed to reach the point where she feels she has to leave. But it should also be the biggest red flag for people, including far too many academics and MPs, who have tried to keep their heads down.

Misogyny is rampant among gender extremists, and Stock’s resignation is the direct result. If you really care about women, now is the time to speak.


Death in the Raj, serial rapists and adrenaline junkies

Sunday Times, 24 October 2021

Abir Mukherjee’s terrific crime novels are set in India in the 1920s. The Shadows of Men (Harvill Secker £12.99) is vivid and brutal, taking place at a moment when the murder of a Hindu politician in Calcutta risks sparking a religious war. Mukherjee’s detective, Captain Sam Wyndham, is a First World War veteran who has had to overcome an opium addiction to keep his job. He shares digs with his Indian sergeant, Surendranath Banerjee, and Mukherjee explores both men’s misconceptions about each other.

In the fifth in the series, Banerjee becomes the chief suspect in the murder investigation and Wyndham struggles frantically to save him from a death sentence. In a shift from the earlier books, the story alternates between the two men’s voices, giving Banerjee’s view of the Raj for the first time. Mukherjee’s novels are becoming more political, deftly using the conventions of the crime genre to expose the racist assumptions of the period.

The depiction of sexual violence in crime fiction is a controversial subject. The veteran American author Michael Connelly and the multi-award-winning German crime writer Oliver Bottini have both put rape at the heart of their new novels, dealing with the subject with greater sensitivity than some of their contemporaries.


In The Dark Hours (Orion £20), Connelly’s detective, Renée Ballard of the LAPD, is pursuing a couple of serial rapists when she’s diverted to a separate investigation involving the murder of a reformed gang member. It’s a clever device, avoiding the pitfalls of having the rapes centre stage while showing how few resources are put into investigating sexual violence. Ballard’s interaction with the victims is sympathetic, while her investigation into the murder keeps up the tension.

Bottini’s novel Night Hunters (MacLehose £18.99), translated by Jamie Bulloch, is the fourth in his superb Black Forest series. Two teenage boys discover a badly beaten young woman in a barn. Shockingly they do not call the police, but lock the woman inside with the intention of returning at night to inflict further violence.

One of the boys is murdered before they can carry out this plan, but it’s a stomach-churning opening, part of an unflinching commentary on the nature of male violence. Bottini’s main character is a woman, and both novels suggest that the rapists would go free without a female officer determined to secure justice for the victims.

On the Edge (Verve £9.99) is a promising debut by Jane Jesmond. A young woman is in rehab recovering from drug addiction after a free climbing accident in which her ex-boyfriend suffered life-changing injuries. Jenifry Shaw has promised to give up the sport, but when she returns to her childhood home in Cornwall, she wakes from a drugged sleep to find herself dangling from the parapet of a lighthouse. Jesmond explores the adrenaline rush of risky sports in this original mystery.


The Hounding of Kathleen Stock, Tuesday 12 October 2021

It is staggeringly reckless to target a woman in this way


Trades unions are meant to stand up for people who are being bullied at work. But that clearly doesn’t apply to the University and College Union, an organisation so steeped in extreme gender ideology that its Sussex branch has decided to join in the attacks on a philosophy lecturer


Last week, posters appeared around the campus at Sussex University, calling for Professor Kathleen Stock to be fired. Amid a vile collection of slurs, they described her as ‘one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes, espousing a bastardised version of radical feminism’.


At a time when violence against women dominates the headlines, it is staggeringly reckless to target a woman in this manner. Not that long ago, union officials and colleagues would have rushed to Stock’s defence, condemning the campaign by a group as a deliberate attempt to frighten her off campus — and an attack on free speech.


Not anymore. So captured is the UCU that its local branch has issued a statement full of high-sounding sentiments — ‘we oppose all forms of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of staff and students’ — before coming down firmly on the side of the people persecuting Stock. It goes on to demand an ‘urgent investigation’ into ‘institutional transphobia’ at the university — a claim made, as always, without a shred of evidence.


It’s a technique familiar to feminists like Stock who have been viciously traduced by trans activists and even, in the case of the writer Julie Bindel, physically assaulted while leaving a meeting at another university. It’s called DARVO — deny, attack, reverse victim and offender — and trans extremists use it all the time to smear their opponents. Now it’s being employed against a woman for whom, all too evidently, the campus is not a safe working environment.


This is the contradiction at the heart of trans extremism: it is no longer safe for women to call for single-sex spaces that protect us from an epidemic of male violence. Gender ideology promotes the lie, too readily accepted by sections of the media, that trans extremists are at risk from feminists, not the other way round. Feminists who write books, like Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce, hold meetings and wear ribbons in suffragette colours. How terrifying is that?


The results of accepting this lie are now all too obvious. At one of the country’s leading universities, a woman with a distinguished body of work can no longer risk going to her office, while the very institution that should defend her is calling for her to be investigated. This should be a turning point — and whoever is running the UCU, assuming anyone actually is, should hang their heads in shame.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 3 October 2021

When a young woman is unexpectedly given a cottage in the Cotswolds by her grandmother, she can hardly believe her luck. Yet Saffron and her boyfriend have barely moved in when their builders uncover skeletal remains, in Claire Douglas’s spine-chilling novel The Couple at No 9 (Penguin £7.99). As detectives realise there are two sets of bones buried in the garden, it becomes clear that Saffron’s dream home is a crime scene.

Her grandmother Rose lived in the cottage four decades ago, when she was on the run from a violent man, and is the only person who might know how the bodies got there. However, Rose has Alzheimer’s and becomes distressed — or evasive — when Saffron asks about the double murder. Douglas writes sensitively about dementia in this heartbreaking novel about how far a desperate woman will go to survive.

Peter Papathanasiou is a new name in Australian crime writing. His debut novel, The Stoning (MacLehose £16.99), is a brutal, unflinching look at the country’s treatment of refugees. The outback town of Cobb is home to a divided community that resents the presence of a vast detention centre on its outskirts, even though many locals depend on it for a living. Feelings are running high when a local teacher is found tied to a tree, apparently stoned to death, in a crude attempt to throw blame on Muslim men in the centre. Detective Sergeant George Manolis, who grew up in Cobb, is sent to lead the investigation and finds himself painfully reminded of his Greek-Australian roots. Not an easy read, but political crime fiction of a high order.

Liane Moriarty writes about a very different section of Australian society in Apples Never Fall (Michael Joseph £20). Joy and Stan Delaney live in an affluent suburb of Sydney, where they have recently retired from running a tennis school. Retirement has intensified strains in the couple’s marriage, and Joy’s sudden disappearance forces the couple’s four grown-up children to confront the possibility that their father might have harmed their mother. Moriarty’s portrait of a tennis-mad family is convincing if over-long, and she keeps a stunning revelation up her sleeve until the final pages.

John Banville’s April in Spain (Faber £14.99) is set in a period that feels like the distant past, even though it’s only the 1950s. In this eighth Quirke novel, the Irish pathologist with a drink problem is on holiday in northern Spain with his wife when he spots a young woman from Dublin whom he believed to be dead. He becomes convinced she is the niece of a prominent politician, living under an assumed identity after a family scandal that resulted in her supposed murder, but his bungling attempts to establish the truth have disastrous consequences. Banville’s sly observations about his characters are a joy to read.

Susan Hill’s crime novels are set in the fictional town of Lafferton, where her detective, Simon Serrailler, struggles to hold back the encroaching tide of big-city crime. A Change of Circumstance (Chatto £20) centres on his investigation into county lines, a headline-grabbing type of crime in which children and teenagers are used to deliver drugs. There are some harrowing moments in this unsparing novel, which shows how easily vulnerable youngsters can be exploited.

Sack Cressida Dick

Someone must pay the consequences for the Met’s failures, Friday 1 October 2021

It’s hard to imagine a more abject admission of failure. Here is Scotland Yard, telling women what to do if stopped by a lone male officer who is behaving suspiciously: we should “seek assistance” by shouting to a passer-by, running into a house or waving down a bus. Waving down a bus? And the Met police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, is still in her job?

When the country’s largest police force is reduced to advising women to rely on bus drivers and dog-walkers, we really have gone through the looking-glass. The police are paid to protect the public, but now the Met is telling us to throw ourselves on the mercy of strangers because we don’t trust its officers.

And we are right not to trust them. The sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the serving officer who abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, confirms what many of us have been saying for years. It isn’t just that the police are not doing their job — although the vanishingly small conviction rate for sexual predators shows that they aren’t.

They don’t understand the behaviour of perpetrators, so much so that they don’t even recognise dangerous men in their own ranks. Couzens was a firearms officer in the Met, authorised to carry a weapon, despite being reported to colleagues for several incidents of indecent exposure — the most recent while he was planning the abduction that has sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

What about his colleagues? There were 594 complaints of sexual misconduct against Met employees between 2012 and 2018, of which only 119 were upheld. The Centre for Women’s Justice has launched a super complaint, highlighting failures to protect victims of domestic abuse and arguing that women are being let down when they turn to the police for help.

Not just let down: in April, a PC was dismissed from the Met after hitting a teenage girl at least 30 times with his baton. The girl, who was black and had learning difficulties, had approached him for help after running away from an escorted walk. He has not been charged with any offence. The following month, two Met officers pleaded guilty to taking selfies with the bodies of two sisters who has been savagely murdered in a park in north London.

Following Couzens’s conviction, it has emerged that five serving officers, including three from Scotland Yard, are being investigated for sharing racist and misogynistic messages with him on WhatsApp. A probationary officer in the Met, who later helped guard the area where Ms Everard’s remains were found, has been investigated over allegations that he shared a violent graphic on WhatsApp.

This is not just a case of the “occasional bad ‘un’”, in Dick’s repellent phrase. It reveals a culture where too many male officers have contemptuous, misogynistic attitudes towards women. Victims who report serious crimes, including domestic abuse and rape, are treated as though they are the criminals. They have their lives torn apart, while predators like Couzens are free to walk the streets — or check out handcuffs and a gun, in his case.

This week’s revelations have shamed the police. They have got away with failing women for decades, all the way back to those terrible episodes of victim-blaming during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in the Seventies. The Home Secretary needs to sack Dick and announce a public inquiry into institutional misogyny within the police. Nothing else will do.


Feminism – though not as I know it

Against White Feminism

by Rafia Zakaria (Hamish Hamilton £14.99)

Sunday Times, 12 September 2021
For some time now it has been open season on feminism. It is part of a wider current, driven by identity politics and a willingness to demonise anyone who disagrees. Into this heated atmosphere comes Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria, a lawyer and columnist born in Pakistan but now living in the US.

“White feminism” as a derogatory term, caricaturing it as a movement that imposes its preoccupations on women who are not white or middle class, has been around for a while. People claim it is reflective more of a state of mind than skin colour; even Pragna Patel, a founding member of Southall Black Sisters, has been accused of being a “white feminist”.

However, Zakaria goes for the jugular. Building bridges is definitely not what this book is about, and everywhere she finds feminists who accept “the benefits conferred by white supremacy at the expense of people of colour”. Defining people in terms they would not recognise or accept is a key ploy of identity politics, and feminists are lumped together and traduced throughout.

In Zakaria’s sketchy account, the baddies include the suffragettes, although I
am not convinced that Mary Clarke, who died after being force-fed in prison, benefited from what Zakaria describes as “racial superiority”. She is not a generous interpreter of feminism’s founding texts, wondering whether authors such as Simone de Beauvoir, whom she accuses of “underpinnings of white privilege”, should be “eliminated from the story of feminism altogether”.

The book’s most serious flaw lies in its singularly ill-informed account of modern feminism. If the movement has a single unifying feature it is an analysis of the way oppression of women is linked to female bodies, regardless of race, class, age, religion or sexual orientation. Yet this is precisely what Zakaria denies: “An aversion to acknowledging lived trauma permeates white feminism, which in turn produces a discomfort and alienation from women who have experienced it.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. In this country refuges for victims of domestic and sexual violence were built by feminists who insisted they should be open to all women. But then Zakaria makes the equally bizarre claim that “there is an assumption that the really strong women — the ‘real’ feminists, reared by other white feminists — do not end up in abusive situations.” The experience of abuse is what brings many women to feminism — and brings us together.

Identity politics is rife with such facile judgments, designed to make its advocates feel superior. Zakaria appears to have missed the irony of dismissing every species of feminism but her own in the name of a supposedly more egalitarian politics. But when I see feminists being pitted against each other in this mean-spirited way, I can almost hear the patriarchy laughing.