June 10 2017

Some of the best crime fiction around looks like it’s just leapt out of the newspapers. So hold the front page – we’ve got some hard-hitting issues being dealt with this week.

John Cleal was impressed with Paul Hardisty’s book featuring former South African paratrooper Claymore Straker. John says Reconciliiation for the Dead is a brilliant and moving book that should be compulsory reading at A-level to provide an understanding of just how harsh the world can be. In Deadly Game by Matt Johnson, a Special Forces soldier-turned-police officer is seconded to a unit investigating the trafficking of young women from Eastern Europe into sex slavery in the UK. Linda Wilson says this thriller has well-drawn characters and a plot that manages to be complex without being impenetrable. Darkness by Karen Robards has a shock opener and a world-impacting threat, but Kati Barr-Taylor thinks it didn’t quite measure up to its own promise.

Archetypal police maverick DI Tom Thorne is back, this time teamed up with his usually straitlaced fellow DI Nicola Tanner in Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham. Linda says the book shines a harsh light on the families who seek to control both young women and young men, forcing on them cultural and religious norms that they want to break away from.

We’ve a selection of books this week looking at more recent history. The Wolf Children by Cay Rademacher is set in 1947. The discovery of a boy’s body lying across an unexploded bomb in the ruins of Hamburg shipyard sparks off an investigation which turns up further young victims. Arnold Taylor enjoyed the book but felt the ending was a little rushed. Chris Roberts took a trip back to East Germany in 1975 in Stasi Wolf by David Young. Chris says the search for two abducted children is firmly rooted in both place and time. The Salt Marsh by Clare Carson contains echoes of the aftermath of the Cold War. John Cleal says the book is intelligently written, evocative and has a superb sense of tension and place. And it’s back to the 1960s in Sympathy for the Devil by William Shaw, which sees the return of police duo Breen and Tozer. John describes the book as a first-class crime story with a conscience and a very real sense of natural justice.

Chris Roberts has some doubts about Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, in which something nasty is lurking in the woods in rural Canada, but having stuck with the book to the end, he admits his reservations about the plot were unfounded. Chris also travelled to India where The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star sees The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency in action again when an actor vanishes, disrupting the filming of a big-budget Bollywood spectacular. Chris says Vaseem Khan takes a penetrating look at life in Mumbai and has as endearing a main character as you’ll find anywhere in crime fiction. Ewa Sherman enjoyed The Legacy and says that hidden in the killings and ordeals you will find love and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s trademark dark humour. Sylvia Maughan returned to Italy, her favourite holiday location, for The Hit by Nadia Dalbuono, a fast-moving and complicated story which presents another good challenge for Inspector Scamarcio. Sylvia says it was hard to put down.

On the US front, Mississippi Blood is the concluding of Greg Iles’ sweeping Natchez Burning trilogy. John Cleal says the series is an epic story of love, betrayal, adultery, hatred, revenge, murder and racism that lays bare the problems of America’s Deep South. And in Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak, a woman abducted and tortured as a teenager, now runs a mental health facility in Alaska. John Barnbrook had to take time out of his day to finish the book as he was desperate to know how it ended.

Elsewhere, The Keeper by Alastair Gunn pits the police against a serial killer. Jim Beaman says there’s plenty of action, tension and intrigue to keep the reader engaged. Kati Barr-Taylor reports that The Stolen Child by Sanjida Kay is utterly absorbing and is one of her favourite reads so far this year. Sarah J Naughton’s debut Tattletale also impressed her, where something doesn’t ring true about a suspected suicide.  Kati says the book is a fast-paced, easy read. John Barnbook enjoyed Michael Ridpath's Amnesia, finding the unusual format much to his liking.  Linda Wilson, meanwhile, is on familiar ground at the start of The White Road by Sarah Lotz, which features some excellent caving scenes, although she admits that you’d never get her climbing mountains! She says the book is a fascinating and frightening study of grief and obsession and the lengths to which people will go in search of their personal goals.

On the young adult front, Linda says The Amateurs by Sara Shepard has a distinctly Nancy Drew vibe to it, laced with added drink, sex swearing and smoking. She enjoyed it a lot.

In the Countdown spotlight this week we have author Brad Park. We clearly rant about the same things! And he’s taught us a new word – the very splendid vellichor.

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
Brad Parks

Brad Parks started writing professionally at 14, when he discovered two important facts about his hometown newspaper, The Ridgefield (Conn.) Press: one, it paid freelancers 50 cents a column inch for articles about local high school sports; and, two, it ran most submissions at their original length. For Brad, that meant making more money writing than babysitting. For the parents of the girls' basketball players at Ridgefield High, that meant glowing accounts of their daughters' games that ran on for no fewer than 40 inches.

This launched Brad on a 20-year journalism career, one that continued at Dartmouth College, where he founded a weekly sports newspaper he ran out of his dorm room. After graduating, he was hired by The Washington Post, becoming the youngest writer on the paper's staff. Two years later, he moved to The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. A sportswriter who later switched to news, he covered everything from the Super Bowl to the Masters, from small-town pizza wars to Hurricane Katrina. While on assignment for The Star-Ledger in 2004, Brad covered a quadruple homicide in Newark that provided the real-life launching point for Carter Ross, the sometimes-dashing investigative newspaper reporter who featured in Brad’s first six novels. Parks’ first standalone thriller is Say Nothing.

Brad lives in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children. When not writing, he is a slow runner and an even slower swimmer. His favourite writing haunt is a Hardee's restaurant, where good-natured staff members suffer his presence for many hours a day.

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

Lacking other marketable skills, relentless self-improver keeps writing books.

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

I do my writing at a Hardee’s restaurant (it’s like McDonalds, but less healthy), so: a napkin holder advertising beer cheese bacon fries (and people wonder why the US has an obesity epidemic); my soda cup (containing Coke Zero, so I don’t experience an obesity epidemic); my teapot (it looks like an eggplant, and the folks behind the counter are nice enough to fill it with hot water for me); salt shaker; pepper shaker; five empty booths; four cars in the parking lot; Benji (the guy who cleans the floors); and this completely featureless brick wall (which is fantastic, because no matter what is on my screen – even if it’s drivel – it’ll be more interesting than the wall).

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

An apple and some cashews (my wife has us doing this infernal wholefood diet – one of the downsides is you can’t cook anything in under half an hour).