May 13 2017

Thrillers are among many of our reviewers’ not so guilty pleasures. Yes, we all know that Linda Wilson goes for the willy-waving end of things! Arnold Taylor’s tastes, perhaps fortunately, tend to the more cerebral. And Chris Roberts is your man if you want to see the world from the comfort of your armchair.

We’re not short of thrillers this week. Arnold Taylor says the plot of Hostage by Jamie Doward takes some untangling, but the book is clever, inventive and believable. Stephen Leather takes a break from his usual series character in Takedown. Linda Wilson wasn’t sure whether hitman Lex Harper was going to be a strong enough lead, but she ended up convinced and describes the book as a slick, tough thriller with massively questionable morals. In Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey, Clyde Barr is back in USA after 16 years fighting abroad, and a couple of years in a Mexican jail. Chris Roberts says that if you like rough, tough characters with a heart of gold, this book may be for you, but he was a little unconvinced by the fight scenes.

That’s not a problem the late, great Peter O’Donnell ever suffered from. The action scenes in Modesty Blaise: Children of Lucifer, illustrated by Enric Badia Romero, are always immaculately handled, says Linda Wilson, as Modesty and Willie Garvin go up against seemingly impossible odds in their own inimitable way. We have another iconic character for you this week as James Bond is back, only he’s a bit younger than he was in Ian Fleming’s day! None of the Young Bond books have ever pussyfooted around the grim realities of life and death – and Strike Lightning by Steve Cole is no exception. Linda says the writing in this YA thriller is fast and fluid, providing a slick homage to the originals.

In Road Kill by Hanna Jameson, Chris Roberts takes a road trip across the USA, but wasn’t too impressed, as he ended up lacking any clear understanding of the characters’ motivations and in consequence found it hard to relate to the book. He got on better with JM Gulvin’s The Contract, set in 1967, where a Texas Ranger comes up against a high-level conspiracy. Chris was impressed by the sense of time and place. Kati Barr-Taylor visits Boar Island by Nevada Barr, another outing for National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. She says the characters are well-developed and there are some humorous one-liners.

John Cleal takes a trip back to his old stamping grounds in Africa in company with Tony Park. Despite some reservations, he says An Empty Coast is tough, thrilling, bloody, brutal and compelling. The Pictures by Guy Bolton features a LAPD detective who has spent his career looking after the interests of Hollywood stars. Chris Roberts says the book provides a pretty convincing picture of the movie world’s movers and shakers, without painting anyone too black or white. Meanwhile, Defender features a strange post-apocalyptic world. GX Todd conjures up effectively the sense of desolation and fear with the obligatory abandoned and crumbling towns and cities, burnt-out vehicles and deserted highways Jim Beaman is looking forward to more in this series.

If you fancy a police procedural or two, John Barnbrook says the plot in Isabelle Grey’s police procedural The Special Girls is well crafted as each stage of DI Grace Fisher’s investigation into a violent death in a camp for anorexic girls exposes a maze of conflicting demands and moral sensibilities. Linda Wilson enjoyed The Rule of Fear, with troubled Sergeant Jack King doing his best to impose some much-needed law and order on a notorious sink estate. Luke Delaney provides a compelling look inside the rapidly disintegrating mind of a young man on a self-destructive downward spiral.

John Cleal has been on the history trail as usual. He enjoyed SJ Parris’ tale of a renegade monk, philosopher and heretic caught in the middle of political and religious strife when he investigates the murder of a friend. John says Conspiracy is convoluted, but brilliantly convincing and fast moving. He also enjoyed Anne Perry’s latest outing for Special Branch chief Commander Thomas Pitt, asked by Queen Victoria to look into the strange death of one of her closest confidantes. John says Murder on the Serpentine is a clever, elegantly constructed, plot-driven mystery. And on the eve of the coronation of our own queen, Elly Griffiths’ copper DI Edgar Stephens joins forces with magician Max Mephisto to uncover an anarchist plot while attempting to find the killer of their wartime commander. John says The Blood Card is an original and lively whodunit

Kati Barr-Taylor treks Down Under and was intrigued by the idea of a crime story written by a psychiatrist about a psychiatrist. She says Medea’s Curse by Anne Buist amply delivers on that score. Kati then travels to Manchester and says Truth Will Out by AD Garrett is deliciously intense, and the characters are as important as the plot, when Professor Nick Fennimore has to use his forensic skills to track down an abducted mother and daughter.

Sylvia Maughan says Anne Snoekstra’s Only Daughter is an unusual story that explores ways in which people can be affected by their expectations. Our Scandi queen Ewa Sherman was impressed by Antti Tuomainen’s latest book which sees an investigative reporter traveling to the north of Finland on the trail of large-scale industrial corruption. Ewa describes The Mine as a powerful book, set firmly within the boundaries of strong themes and unforgettable characters, with a huge dose of beautiful, sensitive style.

In our Countdown slot this week is author Vaseem Khan who has definitely cornered the market when it comes to unusual main characters. And humph – no one sends us elephants whose bottoms glow in the dark!

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
Vaseem Khan

Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a management consultant. It was the most unusual thing he had ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished on a daily basis by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, not always in that order.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is his third novel featuring Insp (Rtd) Chopra and his young sidekick, Ganesha, the elephant.

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

* Adventurous
* Doing
* Non-stop
* Travel
* People
* Science
* Writing
* Fun
* Cake
* Hammocks

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

* A giant box of anti-bacterial wipes – I just love wiping down my desk. Gives me goosebumps.
* A yellow mug for The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, the first book in my series.
* A collection of elephants readers have sent me, including one whose bottom glows in the dark.
* My colleague Kati, who is building a house (not in the office, obviously).
* My lunchbox. Some awesome lamb rendang in there. Yum. * Extra-hot West Indian chill sauce. The only condiment I have ever loved or needed.
* My YouTube page, open in the corner of my colossal Mac screen, currently playing my ‘mellow’ playlist.
* My office bookshelf, crammed with riveting non-fiction such as The Oxford Handbook of Criminology.
* A hole punch which I always forget has the base missing and so all the little round bits fall all over the floor every time I use it. Every bloody time.

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

I believe in the ‘throw the kitchen sink at it’ approach to cuisine. But as I have no talent in this area, I’m thinking some sort of microwave nuked chicken veggie pasta with a load of mixed spices. Finished off with edible flowers, edible gold leaf, and edible foam, of course.