November 12 2022

Giving nicknames to serial killers and saddling main characters with deliberately quirky names are almost guaranteed to have your long-suffering editors and reviewers stomping off in a strop, but there are some authors who can always convince us to make an exception …

Linda Wilson sets aside her usual grumps in favour of MW Craven’s latest outing for DS Washington Poe and his friend, civilian analyst Tilly Bradshaw in The Botanist. With a killer targeting the sort of people the public love to hate, pressure from on high makes life difficult for Poe, who’s juggling that investigation with trying to prove his friend, pathologist Estelle Doyle, hasn’t committed murder. Linda says Craven’s books are always meticulously plotted and remain within the bounds of possibility. But if anything ever happens to Edgar the dog, she’ll get narky again!

Equally meticulous in their approach to every investigation are US duo criminalist Lincoln Rhyme and cop Amelia Sachs, now married, returning for another twisty New York forensic adventure, this time up against a shadowy and dangerous opponent dubbed The Locksmith. The Midnight Lock left Kerry Hood totally exhausted after spending most of the book trying – and failing –  to out-think Jeffery Deaver when it comes to double dealing, intriguing evidence and exciting chase and rescue scenes. She ended up retiring to bed to recover!

Scruffy copper DI Vera Stanhope is back, and Viv Beeby happily declares The Rising Tide to be another triumph for Vera and her creator Ann Cleeves in the latest instalment of this compelling series. A group of old friends meet up every five years on Lindisfarne, but when one of them is found hanged, the ghost of a death from 45 years ago comes back to haunt them all. Viv says Vera is as enjoyably maddening as ever and praises the all-action finale. She also liked The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths, which reunites archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson in a complex investigation into series of problematic deaths set against a backdrop of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Viv enjoyed catching up with old friends in a series where past and present always collide, and on this occasion there’s even something nasty lurking in a cellar!

The Murder at the Vicarage by Queen of Crime Agatha Christie is rather less gritty but Miss Jane Marple is no less meticulous than her modern counterparts in her detective work when the nastiest man in the village is found shot dead in the vicarage amidst confusing clues and confounding alibis. Anthea Hawdon says that if you’ve never encountered Miss Marple before, sit back and lose yourself in a bygone age where nosey spinsters solve crimes while knitting baby clothes.  And if you don’t agree with her that Miss Marple is the world’s greatest detective, you might have a fight on your hands…

Psychopaths Anonymous by Will Carver uses the unusual premise of an alcoholic sex-addict who can’t stop killing men starting her own self-help group. Ewa Sherman describes this as an unpredictably funny thriller that presents graphic, murderous ideas while sparkling with dark, dry humour. Equally off beat is Gregory Galloway’s Just Thieves. Rick and Frank, recovering addicts and thieves who steal to order, don’t often make mistakes, but when competition for a particular item produces unforeseen pressures, problems arise. Chris Roberts enjoyed the philosophical musings that underpinned the outsider’s outlook and says this combination elevates a fairly simple tale of crime into something rather profound. John Cleal was equally impressed by Eight Detectives, in which an ambitious editor goes in search of a reclusive author on his remote Mediterranean hideaway and attempts to solve the clues to a real murder buried in a selection of short stories in a book published 30 years ago. John describes the book as a puzzle within a puzzle and says Alex Pavesi makes his readers work for their answers. Kati Barr-Taylor felt that Her Last Holiday wasn’t quite up to CL Taylor’s usual standards and found it hard to connect with Fran, who finds a nest of vipers’ nest of liars while searching for the truth about her sister’s death. Kati was rather put off by an array of characters with few, if any, redeeming features.

Linda Wilson has been binge-reading military thrillers again. In Manhunter, ex-SAS tough guy Chris Ryan introduces a new main character, Josh Bowman, recruited from Special Forces into a shadowy branch of the British military. Bowman is promptly thrown in at the deep end in an operation to prevent a Russian-backed coup in the war-torn African state of Karatandu. Linda didn’t like Bowman’s unprofessional habit of snorting drugs on active operations and felt that on this occasion, Ryan had drawn rather too heavily from the Big Book of Tropes. She got on better with Survive to Fight by Billy Billingham, another ex-SAS hardman. Former soldier Matt Mason, now training an anti-poaching force in Kenya, pits himself against ivory traders, terrifying jihadists, and hostage takers in a desperate race to save his daughter, kidnapped by pirates in the Red Sea. Linda found Mason less flawed and more likeable, and enjoyed a satisfying blend of international politics, local issues, action scenes and human stories. And in a welcome change from all the excess testosterone, Linda dived into Charles Ardai’s graphic novel, Gun Honey, with Joanna Tan, a woman who can sell and deliver weapons to whoever can pay her price. However, when what should have been a simple job turns into a messy and lethal prison riot, she’s forced to work for the US government to track down a dangerous escaped prisoner. Linda revelled in this slick pulp noir action thriller and adored the vivid art from new kid on the block Ang Hor Kheng.

Chris Roberts took a well-deserved holiday Down Under, starting off in New Zealand with the gripping Tally Stick by Carl Nixon. Thirty years ago, a recently arrived family disappeared, but now the discovery of some human remains brings more questions than answers. Chris found this an intensely atmospheric, balanced and easily believable story. Paul Howarth’s Dust Off the Bones could probably be summed up as dust, angst, sand and murder! The McBride brothers, Billy and Tommy, are haunted by the terrible slaughter that ended their childhood. In their own ways, they’re both seeking escape, but sooner or later will have to face the past. Chris says this is a powerful human story, complete with one of the most unpleasant characters he’s ever encountered. Perhaps with all the Outback noir as a backdrop, it’s not overly surprising that Aussie copper George Manolis takes a break in his ancestral home of Greece when he’s put on leave following a shooting incident. In something of a busman’s holiday, Manolis goes undercover to find a missing man. John Verpeleti says The Invisible by Peter Papathanasiou proved a winner and took him to some unexpected places.

Dohany Street by Adam Lebor sees the return of Budapest Detective Balthazar Kovacs, now investigating the disappearance of an Israeli historian researching Jewish assets stolen during the Holocaust. Chris Roberts liked the interesting details about the history of Budapest both during and after World War II, with its the politics, culture and architecture. Chris also enjoyed former lawyer Peter Murphy’s well depicted court action in Statue for Jacob as US lawyer Kiah Harmon taking on a case to recover a 200-year-old debt from the US Government. With the addition of interest, the liability could amount to hundreds of billions, so resistance turns fierce.

In The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden by Kate Saunders, 19th century private detective Laetitia Rodd is asked by a friend to help the wife of an important London theatre director. Sylvia Maughan liked Kate Saunders’ readable style and describes the book as a surprising gem with an absorbing plot and fascinating descriptions. Kerry Hood took a trip further back in time to Norfolk in the English Civil War, a difficult time to hold strong views on God and the devil, when superstition abounded, and witches were routinely denounced and consigned to torture and death. The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews follows a family caught up in a struggle between the unnatural and belief, with catastrophic results. Kerry says this is a cracking debut with bags of historical flavour, oodles of atmosphere and the added spice of some spooky stuff.

If the idea of (anti)social media sends you running for the hills, then prepare to be shocked by YA thriller Dead Lucky. When popular influencer Xavier Bailey seems to have been murdered online by a masked attacker in full view of his adoring fans, everyone thinks it’s one of his pranks. But then the video is taken down and the reality sinks in. Xav really is dead. Linda Wilson was very impressed by Andreina Cordani’s penetrating and insightful view of social media platforms and celebrity culture.

Lounging at ease in the Countdown hotseat this week is US author Wiley Cash. Sharon wants to run away to his cabin in the woods as well, and Linda's going to be cheeky and invite herself for lunch as well as tagging along for drinks!

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
Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is the author of four novels, and the founder of This Is Working, an online creative community. Wiley gets up early to write and stays up late to read, and when he’s not writing or reading he spends time exploring the coasts and the mountains of his native North Carolina. Wiley grew up wanting to be a writer, and while he doesn’t quite feel grown up he hopes that he can keep this writing thing going for as long as possible, as he is completely unqualified to do anything else, except for teaching, which he does at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, where he serves as Alumni Author-in-Residence. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, and their daughters.

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

Hard work, good fortune, unwavering bookseller support, and crossed fingers.

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

Wedding photograph, books stacked on night table, my hat, the book I’m reading, houseplant, curtains, the sunlight, reading glasses, a doll one of my daughters left on our dresser.

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

Greek salad with pre-cooked chicken.