April 14 2017

We’re loyal fans of Casualty and Holby City – after all, we can remember when Charlie Fairhead was nowt but a lad! And one of your editors claims she can guess all the storylines in an episode of Casualty just by a first glance at the would-be victim …

So if you lap up hospital dramas, you’ll feel very much at home with A Handful of Ashes by Rob McCarthy. When a notorious whistleblower is found dead, suicide seems the likely verdict, but force medical examiner Dr Harry Kent isn’t convinced. Linda Wilson describes this as sharply observed, cleverly plotted and definitely addictive.

We’ve got a varied bunch of coppers from around the world for you this week. Down in Australia, policeman Aaron Falk has to deal with past and present killings in The Dry by Jane Harper. Chris Roberts says it’s an excellent debut. John Cleal has fallen under the spell of WPC (yes, the book’s set a while back – our standards aren’t slipping!) Lottie Armstrong, one of Leeds’ first women officers. In Modern Crimes by Chris Nickson, Lottie battles both prejudice and ignorance as she struggles to find a missing girl and solve a murder.

The British Library Crime Classics have served up two stories for the price of one in The Dead Shall Be Raised and Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs, featuring Scotland Yard’s Inspector Littlejohn. John Cleal describes them as minor classics. And talking of classics, Arnold Taylor always enjoys spending time with France’s greatest detective. Maigret Takes a Room sees Georges Simenon’s famous creation keeping watch on a boarding house as part of an investigation into a night club robbery. John Cleal says that if you have a strong stomach and an ability to suspend disbelief, then you’ll find Living Death by Graham Masterton hard to put down, as Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire and her team are stretched to their limit in Cork, where illegal drugs are at an all-time high.

Chris Roberts is known for his love of courtroom action, so The Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate was right up his street. Chris says the psychological portraits of twelve members of the jury exercising their highly subjective judgement on a woman accused of poisoning her nephew still have great force. In The Wrong Case, PI Milton Milodragovitch reluctantly accepts a request from a woman to find her brother. Chris says some might find James Crumley’s style of hard-boiled fiction a bit too raw to be comfortable. Speaking in Bones continues the adventures of forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan. Linda Wilson says that, as ever, Kathy Reichs writes with an authenticity that is hard to beat.

Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri has an unlikely pair of darkly flawed protagonists investigating kidnappings in Rome. Jim Beaman says this combines a police procedural, a conspiracy theory, a cat-and-mouse chase and a psychological thriller. Rome is also the setting for Ian Caldwell’s The Fifth Gospel. John Barnbrook says this tale of Vatican machinations is both gripping and learned. There’s also a touch of Dan Brown in TV production executive Clare Evans’ debut The Fourteenth Letter. John Cleal says this is an ambitious saga of Victorian horror, detection and adventure.

Veteran thriller writer Gerald Seymour returns in Jericho’s War. A woman who has escaped capture by Jihadists following a failed mission in Syria, is recruited for another dangerous operation in Yemen. Arnold Taylor praises the gripping outcome. Chris Roberts describes The Wicked Go To Hell by the prolific Frédéric Dard as a dark psychological thriller, a true novel of the night.

Fellside by MR Carey tells the story of a woman who wakes up in hospital not knowing who she is or why she’s there. Kati Barr-Taylor says it’s original and complex. Kati was also impressed by Bernard Minier’s Don’t Turn Out the Lights set in her home country of France. She calls it a suspenseful, dark ride. Ewa Sherman found aspects of The Ice Lands by Steinar Bragi a little too violent for her taste, as a road-trip takes a macabre turn for four friends. She describes the book as a cross between a psychological thriller, a horror story and a social commentary. Sylvia Maughan found Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinbrough dark and unsettling but still found it compulsive reading,

John Cleal enjoyed the well-written background detail in The Perils of Command, but wonders whether David Donachie’s saga of former pressed man John Pearce, now a Lieutenant, is running out of steam as it nears the end of what is as much a romantic story as a historically-based sea epic.

On the young adult front, Linda Wilson was very impressed by the wholly original main character in The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr. Flora has been unable to make new memories since she had an operation at the age of ten. Her life is lived through the pages of a notebook that remind her who she is and where she lives. But all that changes when Flora kisses a boy. Linda says the book is hauntingly beautiful and painful but ultimately heart-warming.

Author Oscar de Muriel is our Countdown victim this week. His cooking sounds excellent! And his working life description is certainly, um, different …

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
Oscar de Muriel

Oscar de Muriel was born in Mexico City in 1983, in the building that now houses Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum (some people claim to see a connection there …). He had a very happy childhood even though he did not try refried beans until he was six (he refused to eat anything brown and gooey).

He came to the United Kingdom to complete a PhD in Chemistry, working as a freelance translator to supplement his earnings (he was responsible for some Johnnie Walker ads for Colombia). During this time Oscar produced a handful of academic papers, and the idea of a spooky whodunit started to take roots in his head.

After several visits to Edinburgh, the city struck him as the perfect setting for a crime mystery. The entire concept of Nine-Nails McGray came to Oscar’s head while eating pizza with a couple of friends (guys, do you remember Cantina Los Perros and the sea monster?) For years Oscar had been meaning to write a story about the Devil’s Sonata (he’s a violin player himself) and it fitted perfectly as McGray’s first case.

Oscar currently lives in Lancashire in a lovely house that overlooks Pendle Hill, a field of limping sheep, and a very creepy-looking manor that he aspires to own one day.

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

Languages, zeolitisation, sewage, literature, procrastination, coffee, insomnia, escapades, satisfaction, friends.

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

Monitor; keyboard; ideas board with 10^16 little notes pinned to it; pint of milk; mobile phone on Instagram; four-feet-tall TBR pile; writing mittens; comfy flip-flops; unopened utility bill I’ve been ignoring for a month.

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

Pasta puttanesca. Fry anchovies and garlic, add tinned tomatoes, oregano and black olives. Leave to simmer. Pour on pasta. Yummy Italian brothel food!