January 21 2017

Variety is the spice of life, or so we’re told, and we’ve certainly got a varied bunch of investigators for you this week from disparate parts of the world!

Scandi queen Ewa Sherman was spooked by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Why Did You Lie?, which includes scenes in a tiny lighthouse on a remote rock. And Arnold Taylor says Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves captures the flavour and atmosphere of Shetland. Also oop norf, oceanographer Dr Cal McGill is called in to try to solve the mystery of a 14-year-old boy’s disappearance from a remote Scottish island. Linda Wilson says Mark Douglas-Home’s Sea Detective series is going from strength to strength. The Malice of Waves is well-plotted, and manages to wrap up all its strands neatly without seeming contrived.

The Hunter of the Dark by Donato Carrisi features Marcus, a man with amnesia who can see evil. When the torso of a young woman is found within the Vatican, he has to investigate, Sylvia Maughan describes this as a clever but dark book that maintains the reader’s attention. In A Death in the Family, by Michael Stanley, detective Kubu goes against his superiors to investigate his father’s murder and a series of killings connected to the Chinese owners of a mining company. Ewa Sherman says don’t let the beauty of Africa’s stunning landscapes and the friendliness of outspoken locals fool you as sunshine can be very noir indeed.

Closer to home, John Cleal says the British Library is continuing to mine the 1930s Golden Age of Murder to good effect, this time with Mile’s Burton’s classic, The Secret of High Eldersham, the tale of an East Anglian Village where several visitors have suffered catastrophic accidents. John also liked The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis where fashion house owner Cristiana O’Brian discovers the body of one of her staff on her own bed.  John says this is an intriguing story ideal for readers who like good, old-fashioned mysteries.

In A Life To Kill, Bristol Coroner Jenny Cooper has to handle a sensitive inquest into the death of a young soldier in Afghanistan. Linda Wilson says Matthew Hall’s portrayal of army life jumps off the page with the descriptions of the both the soldiers and the wives and girlfriends of the men of C Company and the effect of the conflict on those left behind. The House With No Rooms by Lesley Thomson presents a chilling case for detective’s daughter, Stella Darnell. Jim Beaman says it’s a satisfying story in which you also learn a bit about botany and get advice on cleaning. Who could resist a description like that? 

For the thriller fans among you, A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming gives MI6 man Thomas Kell the chance to get even with the Russian who he believes murdered his girlfriend. Arnold Taylor says Cumming is a thoughtful writer who succeeds in making his characters completely believable. Chris Roberts enjoyed the urgent search for a spy in Glasgow during World War Two in The Turncoat. He says Alan Murray deals with a dramatic episode in history with typical British sang-froid. Coming forward in time to the crumbling of the USSR, Moskva by Jack Grimwood features ex-paratrooper Tom Fox who has the job of bringing the ambassador’s daughter home safe when she goes missing. Chris Roberts praises the complex pattern of relationships which underpins the twists and turns of the plot.

We have a good crop of psychological thrillers, too. In Helen Fields’ assured debut, hikers find the remains of a body in a deserted Scottish bothy. John Barnbrook praises her skilful insights into the minds of all the protagonists and says Perfect Remains is a satisfying read. Emma Flint deals with the nightmare scenario of a woman waking up one morning to find a window open and her two young children gone. John Cleal says Little Deaths is a haunting and suspenseful story. Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch tells the story of a woman trying to move on from the horrific car accident that killed her husband and her children. But her husband’s lover is out to destroy her future. Kati Barr-Taylor praises a good balance of dialogue, action and introspection.

On the historical front, Veteran Sheriff Sergeant Catchpoll must catch a 12th century arsonist whilst coping with a keen, but inexperienced, new Under Sheriff.  John Cleal says Sarah Hawkswood creates a medieval world of her own in Ordeal by Fire and drags the reader deeply into it.

John Cleal says that 60 years on from its first appearance, Cut Me In by Ed McBain, is a brilliant piece of hard-boiled pulp fiction, as bright as the day it was first published under his early penname of Richard Marsten. Del Quentin Wilbur’s A Good Month For Murder is a factual depiction of a particularly active month for the police homicide unit in Prince George’s County, a suburban sprawl east of Washington, DC.  Chris Roberts says it’s always worth remembering that compared to fiction, real life is profoundly unsatisfactory: messy and in some cases never producing a clear answer.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly is a well-paced YA story with a great cast and some dark but humorous medical aside, Linda Wilson enjoyed it a lot. She also had a lot of fun meeting up again with lazy teen, Garvie Smith, in Kid Got Shot by Simon Mason, where Garvie reluctantly investigates the death of one of his fellow pupils, because he can’t trust the local police to do the job properly. Linda says Garvie is one of the most original creations in modern YA crime fiction.

In the Countdown slot this week we have Mandasue Heller. We’d be very happy to meet up with her for a quick meal. Bacon and scrambled eggs for Linda and beans and curried tomatoes for Sharon. Sorted!

We’ll be back in a fortnight with 20 new reviews and an interview with a top name on the crime fiction scene. If you have a moment, see what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence think about new releases in the US, Canada and Australia.

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Countdown with
Mandasue Heller

Mandasue Heller was born in Warrington, and spent many of her childhood years performing in am-dram productions. This love of the stage carried through to adulthood, and at 18 she began to tour working men’s clubs with her country & western band, Missouri Sunshine. She regularly appeared in such shows as Coronation Street, Brookside, Albion Market, Watching, and Boys From The Blackstuff.

After moving to Manchester in the early 1980s, she immersed herself in the underground music scene, fronting an original rock band, and session-singing for various blues, soul, and jazz bands. Forced by illness to temporarily quit singing in the 1990s, she turned her hand to writing, using the notorious Hulme Crescents, where she had spent her first ten years in Manchester, as the backdrop.

Her first written piece concerned a real-life incident, when a man had broken into her house in the early hours and attacked her as she lay sleeping with her ten-week-old son in her arms. The finished piece was too personal for anybody else to read, but she had enjoyed the process of writing, so decided to try her hand at fiction instead - and her first book, The Front, was snapped up by Hodder & Stoughton.

Mother to three grown children, and grandmother of three, Mandasue still lives in Manchester, and spends her time between books and family commitments locked away in the studio, writing and recording music albums with her producer/musician partner, Wingrove Ward.

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

A trawl through the darker recesses of my twisted mind.

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

Slate-grey sky, train tracks, metal footbridge, anguished man, anxious woman, newspaper blowing in the wind, 999 on the screen of a mobile phone . . . And, lastly, the blank bedroom wall that is facing me, upon which I can clearly see all of the above as I write about it.

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

Bacon, scrambled eggs, beans, curried tomatoes.