February 18 2017

The arrival of a new book in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series always heralds an unseemly scrap between your editors. Linda Wilson won on this occasion and she’s pleased to report that the latest to feature the Hereford Dioscesan exorcist is a creepy as ever, maybe even creepier, if that’s possible! If you make the mistake of taking All of a Winter’s Night to bed with you, be prepared to sleep with the light on afterwards. By comparison, Arnold Taylor thinks the supernatural elements of The Passenger by FR Tallis are rather low key, but the representation of life on board a submarine during the Battle of the Atlantic are detailed and very convincing. Anthea Hawdon is a long-standing fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, featuring London cop and apprentice magic user Peter Grant. Despite some concerns about the sheer number of characters in The Hanging Tree, she says this is a worthy addition to the series. Anyone who’s hung around here for a while will know that Linda is a big fan of ghost stories and so Haunt Me by Liz Kessler was right up her street. She describes this story of a teenage love triangle, where one of the three is dead, as complex, clever and very, very satisfying.

Kati Barr-Taylor says Ragdoll by Daniel Cole is a black diamond that will satiate those hungry for intrigue and twists. David Mark’s DS Aector McAvoy returns on a visit to New York in Cruel Mercy. Chris Roberts says the book conveys a realistic picture of how things work in a very different jurisdiction. Closer to home, Linda Wilson took a trip to Manchester in No Place Like Home by Kerry Wilkinson, who’s having a break from his usual series character in this bleak standalone that showcases the dark side of the city the tourist board would prefer to forget about. The Devil’s Feast features Afghan war hero and reluctant sleuth Captain William Avery. John Cleal says MJ Carter superbly captures the period atmosphere to paint a vivid portrait of 1840s London, but at times, it could easily double for London in 2017 as well!

In The Heirs of Owain Glyndŵr by Peter Murphy, a group of Welsh activists are on trial for plotting to plant a bomb in Caernarfon Castle during the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969.  Jim Beaman praises the low-key, clever and determined main character. Kati Barr-Taylor says The Girl Before by JP Delaney is a gripping, fast-paced, easy read for those who are not overly sensitive. John Cleal says you’ll need a strong stomach for Blood For Blood by JM Smyth. Despite that, he describes it as clever, intricate, uncomfortable and studded with dark wit. John Barnbrook was impressed by Nuala Ellwood’s My Sister’s Bones, where a successful war correspondent who returns to her childhood home. This is a dark tale of childhood experiences and the war in Aleppo.

John Cleal enthusiastically describes Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart as one of the best mystery novels of the year. Meet Constance Kopp, America’s first female deputy sheriff. John Sandford is one of Chris Roberts’ favourite writers. Lucas Davenport returns in Gathering Prey, and takes a wild ride across northern central USA. Chris says Davenport is a rare thing in a crime novel: a protagonist surprisingly unburdened by angst! Linda Wilson came late to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, but she’s well and truly hooked now and says that in The Wrong Side of Goodbye, both the character and his creator are on top form.

Our Scandi Queen, Ewa Sherman describes The Other Son by Alexander Söderberg, where an ordinary nurse regrets falling in love with a crime lord, as fun and exciting. Athenian Blues by Pol Koutsakis features a contract killer working for a woman who wants her husband dead. Chris Roberts says there’s plenty of action and the characters all have a sense of drama about them. But he wasn’t quite so taken with The Kingdom by Fuminori Nakamura, and thinks you’ll need to take a very bleak view of life to cope with this one.

Two strong debuts have impressed our resident history buff John Cleal. In Birthright, the widowed Mercia Blakewood has to gamble everything she loves to save her family and inheritance. John says David Hingley’s book has almost everything: a believable plot set in one of the most turbulent times in British history, a sparky and determined heroine, and a solid historical base.  Beloved Poison by ES Thomson features Apothecary Jem Flockhart, a woman posing as a man. She uncovers six tiny coffins in a London infirmary awaiting demolition. Her search for their meaning reveals a long forgotten past and sparks a series of murders. John says the book blossoms into a magnificent Gothic thriller, dark, atmospheric and creepy, reeking of Victorian grime and macabre medical practice.

Author Lesley Thomson is up in the Countdown slot this week. We’d be very happy to invite ourselves for dinner with her, and have a lot of sympathy with her rants!

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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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Lesley Thomson

Lesley Thomson was born in 1958 and brought up in Hammersmith. She graduated from Brighton University in 1981 and moved to Sydney, Australia the year after. When she returned to London, she did several jobs to support writing. This included working for one of the first Internet companies in the UK.

Her first novel, Seven Miles From Sydney, came out in 1987 and made the City Limits top ten best books for that year. In 1990 she worked with actor Sue Johnston on her semi-autobiographical book, Hold onto the Messy Times. While completing an MA in English Literature at Sussex University Lesley wrote A Kind of Vanishing.

Lesley is a guest tutor on the Creative Writing and Publishing MA at West Dean. With Elly Griffiths, she runs a crime-writing short course there, and also leads workshops and takes master classes on writing crime novels.

She is writing The Detective’s Daughter series, featuring Stella Darnell (MD of Clean Slate Cleaning Services) and Jack Darnell, a driver on London Underground’s District Line.

Lesley lives in East Sussex with her partner and a raggedy poodle both of whom are treated to blow-by-blow accounts of scenes and twists in plot at any given time. She doesn’t know how they sleep at night.

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

1. Exciting
2. Tortuous
3. Challenging
4. Scary
5. Fantastic
6. Sublime
7. Adventurous
8. Intriguing
9. Fortunate
10. Perfect

NB: These words are sometimes my favourite.

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

1. Sunlight fading from the Downs.
2. A tarnished plastic Buddha smothered in ivy.
3. A home-made climbing frame two gardens down.
4. A map for my novel in progress, The Dogwalker, stuck on the side with heavy-duty magnets to remind me where everyone lives.
5. Writing notebook holding scraps of paper with post-office elastic bands.
6. Stapler with my name on it (From a long ago office where my working life was tortuous and tiny things mattered too much).
7. Receipt for Specsavers.
8. Packet of fruit and nut mix from Waitrose.
9. Gray’s Anatomy.

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

Frozen shepherd’s pie and frozen broad beans from the minimart below Stella’s Clean Slate office to get into her character. When being myself it’s pasta with black olives, sun-dried tomatoes and onions, sprinkled with parmesan and pine nuts.