September 30 2022

One of the great things about reviewing is being able to pounce on our favourites as soon as they appear and this week our reviewers have plenty of old friends to curl up with as the nights start to draw in …

Sharon Wheeler is a fan of Peter James’ long-running series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and in Picture You Dead, a mysterious painting brings Grace and his team together with a motley collection of art collectors, experts, forgers and fixers. Despite some long-suffering sighs at the ending, Sharon maintains that James is incapable of producing lame ducks and still has plenty of story lines bubbling away nicely.

Linda Wilson always enjoys Simon Kernick’s thrillers with their often ambiguous and sometimes downright untrustworthy protagonists. Good Cop, Bad Cop is no exception, and left Linda struggling to decide whether Chris Sketty was a hero cop or a cold-blooded murderer as he tells his own story to the husband of a woman killed in a terrorist atrocity. Naturally, Sketty presents himself as the former, but – in the memorable words of Mandy Rice-Davies – well, he would, wouldn’t he? Linda says that despite some rather heavy-handed foreshadowing, this is an excellent, She also enjoyed the second outing for Anthony Riches’ tough close personal protection specialist Mickey Bale,  tasked by MI5 with getting close to a Russian oligarch suspected of involvement in a deadly terror plot. Linda describes Target Zero as a first-rate thriller that zips along at a hell of a pace, with likeable, believable characters, a down-to-earth feel and plenty of authentic details. Riches’ avoidance of some classic genre stereotypes also found favour with her.

Viv Beeby is always first in the queue for a new book by Cara Hunter and she jumped right into Hope to Die without even pausing to draw breath. A suspected burglary ends in a gory death at a remote farmhouse that might not be as straightforward as it first seems to DI Adam Fawley and his Oxford based team. Viv praises the clever storytelling and particularly liked the inclusion of a dramatis personae, something she hopes will catch on. There’s been a rash of elderly sleuths recently and in A Beginner’s Guide to Murder three women decide to help when a terrified, dishevelled young woman bursts into a coffee bar, Viv likes Rosalind Stopps’ main characters, and even though the book doesn’t quite live up to its title, she still says it’s an enjoyable romp. London Bridge is Falling Down, the latest outing for Christopher Fowler’s detective duo Bryant and May follows the same trend by focussing on the elderly. Sylvia Maughan always enjoys immersing herself in the work of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, one of London’s smaller and more specialised divisions and this time, a traffic accident in a park and an old woman’s death – seemingly of natural causes – might help Bryant and May stave off the threatened closure of the PCU. Sylvia says the book is full of interest, intrigue and pathos.

The undoubted Queen of Crime Val McDermid is back. Reporter Allie Burns has recently joined the Glasgow Daily Clarion and in a male-dominated newsroom of 40 years ago to be taken seriously she needs a scoop. Chris Roberts says 1979 is an excellent story with an engaging protagonist. Political commentator Robert Peston has now turned his hand to crime writing with his debut, The Whistleblower. A general election is looming and a journalist suspects the death of his sister is connected to a web of corruption linking business and government. Chris enjoyed the book, and says Peston’s insights are likely to be of particular interest to those who enjoy the feel of movers and shakers in the capital,

John Verpeleti likes Michael Robotham’s Lying Beside You in which forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven is called to the scene of a murder in Nottingham, where a woman is also missing. Haven’s lodger Evie may have witnessed key moments in two crimes. John enjoys the fact that Robotham’s stories don’t rely on either gore or the characters inexplicably turning into superheroes. He also likes the occasional injection of some good, yet subtle humour. Kerry Hood was very taken with The Quiet People by Paul Cleave, in which crime writing duo Cameron and Lisa Murdoch have to cope with the disappearance of their challenging young son, Zach. Unsurprisingly, they soon become the focus of the police investigation. After all, this sort of thing is just what they write about … Kerry describes the book as undeniably great stuff despite the number of times it made her flinch!

We’ve got an unusual pair of spy thrillers for you this week. The first in a series of three books licensed by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, Double Or Nothing by Kim Sherwood, expands the James Bond universe. The iconic 007 is missing, presumed dead or in enemy hands, so it falls to a new generation of Double O operatives to save the world. Linda Wilson likes the new kids in the block but felt the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Bond was somewhat superfluous to requirements. Chris Roberts made the acquaintance of Edith and Kim, a fictionalised account by Charlotte Philby of the lives of her grandfather Kim Philby and Edith Tudor-Hart, who recruited him to spy for Russia. Chris felt that the real power of the story lies in the portrait of Edith, who comes across as a self-possessed woman, assured in her beliefs and capable of living for decades under considerable strain. He describes the portrait as a sensitive one that leaves a strong impression.

Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brenna returns in The Bone Code and quickly grasps a second chance to solve a mystery that’s haunted her for 15 years when two mutilated bodies are washed ashore in a storm, crammed into a medical waste container, with their fingers and teeth removed to hide their identities. Linda Wilson is always impressed by the way Kathy Reichs can make even complex info dumps interesting, and says this long running series is still going strong, as is the redoubtable Birdie the cat!

On the Euro beat, Chris Roberts was concerned about the fate of two poisoned wolves in Cry Wolf by Hans Rosenfeldt. The unfortunate animals lead police to a dead body with a link to a drug deal where someone got greedy, and someone is looking for payback. Chris says this is classic Scandi noir with plenty of trees and angst, although there’s a distinct lack of snow. He also liked Hansjörg Schneider’s The Basel Killings. On a foggy autumn night on his way home, Inspector Hunjkeler finds a man he knows, dead on a bench. Popular theory attributes the crime to Albanians, but Hunkeler has other ideas. Chris describes the German copper as a great character and is surprised it’s taken so long for him to appear in English translation. In Helsinki in 2016, a woman called Olenka realises that the consequences of a murder and her career in the surrogacy business in Ukraine have finally caught up with her. Ewa Sherman says that despite the difficult and unsettling nature of the story, she was impressed by Sofi Oksanen’s Dog Park, calling it a necessary book for our times

Further afield, Kerry Hood dived into The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer, where Benny Griessel and his partner Vaughn Cupido have been demoted from the Hawks – South Africa’s elite police unit – to a rural force. As they struggle to make sense of the job and life’s unfair twists and turns, it seems solving cases is the least of their problems. Kerry praises this multi-layered, humane, brilliantly constructed, funny and politically astute book that reveals so much about the complicated lives, many languages and prejudices of modern South Africa.

On this historical front, Kati Barr-Taylor relaxed in company with the world’s most famous detective duo brought back to life by Bonnie MacBird. The Three Locks sees Holmes and Watson attempting to unlock three mysteries at once. Kati says MacBird’s senses-driven writing, evokes Victorian London and Cambridge convincingly, with the streets, rooms and dark corners both lively and suitably threatening. But she felt there were some slip-ups with the use of period inappropriate language and – heaven forfend! – even some Americanisms creeping in. At first, John Cleal took some convincing to accept the Brontë sisters as amateur detectives, but Rowan Coleman, writing as Bella Ellis, has succeeded in winning him over. The Red Monarch sees the literary siblings, with their wastrel brother in tow, travelling to the slums of London to save the life of Anne’s former pupil, as well as her husband and her unborn child, from a vicious gangland leader and his even more powerful boss. The down-to-earth Yorkshire trio have impressed John and he describes the book as a superb mystery that kept him enthralled until the final page.

Our YA offering this week is Survive the Night by Riley Sager, a tense teen thriller with an engaging narrator, a limited cast of well-drawn characters and a very scary premise. When Charlie Jordan decides she can’t stand being in college any longer, she accepts a lift from a stranger. But Charlie soon starts to realise that she might have made a very dangerous mistake. Linda Wilson was hooked from the start and says the story never relaxed its iron grip.

Under the Countdown spotlight this week we’ve got author and artist Cynthia von Buhler. We’ll very happily accept her invitation to go for a drink! We’ll even join in with her rants.

Do take a look at what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence have been up to and catch up with their latest reviews of US and Canadian releases.

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Cynthia von Buhler

Cynthia von Buhler is an American artist, author, and animal activist. In her career, she has written and illustrated books for children and adults; created, produced, and directed multi-year theatrical productions; exhibited her art in galleries around the world; made street art installations; staged and promoted outrageous parties; fronted rock bands live and on recordings; managed a record label; appeared on television shows, radio interviews, and podcasts. She currently travels the world creating reportage art journals about animal activism. When she isn’t travelling, von Buhler lives in a German-style storybook tower deep in the forest on a lake (with pigs, chickens, pigeons, cats, a rabbit and a dog) and when she craves human interaction she lives in a former button factory loft in the centre of Manhattan.

Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...

Like a curious cat I’ve gotten into everything — and survived. 

Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...

A roaring fire, two cats, an antique mantle clock, a whole pear trapped in a liquor bottle forever, an upright piano, an automaton bird in a cage, a Chinese full head pig mask, and a Victrola. 

Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?

Canned soup with oyster crackers.