June 24 2017

Are you feeling hot and steamy? Don’t worry – we’re not offering you Fifty Shades of Whatever and its attendant copycats. We’re awfully respectable, we’ll have you know! So let us offer you a crop of noir thrillers to cool you down in this sweltering heat …

John Cleal says Bright Shiny Things by Barbara Nadel, with former soldier-turned-PI Lee Arnold and his Muslim assistant, Bangladeshi psychiatry graduate Mumtaz Hakim, is true noir, with its sharp focus on today’s headlines. The Long Drop by Denise Mina paints a grim picture of the Glasgow underworld in the late 1950s. Arnold Taylor enjoyed it, despite the dark take on life.  The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is set in the same period. Chris Roberts says it reflects Dürrenmatt’s rejection of the logical crime story and bucks the trend towards neatly tied up endings. Our Scandi queen Ewa Sherman says that with Good Girls Don’t Tell, Liselotte Roll adds a fresh perspective to the classic Nordic Noir genre.

You might be glad of a couple of chillers to make you shiver. John Cleal describes Fireside Gothic, Andrew Taylor’s trio of eerie and haunting novellas, as a fine example of true Gothic writing and well worth the read. But he warns that if you’re on your own, you may need a glass of something strong to steady your nerves. Linda Wilson had similar feelings about The Binding Song by Elodie Harper, which deals with spooky goings-on in a tough prison. She says there are some really creepy moments and the book has left her with a distinct aversion to mirrors.

But if you prefer witty crime fiction, Bryant and May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are back in Strange Tide. Jim Beaman says this is very much a story of today and Christopher Fowler uses humour both playfully and carefully.

There’s some time-travelling going on amongst our reviewers with the historicals this issue. John Cleal enjoyed The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore and describes it as a superbly researched and imaginative reconstruction of the 1880s $1 billion dollar lawsuit in which Thomas Edison sued George Westinghouse to establish who should power the future of America. Chris Roberts was pleased to see the return of Wehrmacht officer Martin Von Bora in The Road To Ithaca by Ben Pastor and describes the book as historical fiction at its best. Chris Roberts was impressed by Abir Mukherjee’s A Necessary Evil set in India 1920, with Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta police force visiting the state of Sambalpore to investigate the assassination of a Maharajah’s son. Chris says the background is an exciting recreation of India in the time of the British Raj.

In Heretics by Leonardo Padura, retired Cuban detective Mario Conde helps to trace the chain of possession of a Rembrandt portrait that was stolen 70 years ago. Chris Roberts says that at 550 pages, this is a book that calls for some commitment, but certainly repays the effort. Art theft also features in Puritan by David Hingley, where Mercia Blakewood’s search for Charles II’s missing paintings takes her to America. John Cleal describes the book as intelligently plotted and compelling.

Elsewhere, Kati Barr-Taylor says Belinda Bauer’s The Beautiful Dead is an accomplished, rounded thriller. She also enjoyed the ultimate in flawed characters served up by CJ Skuse in Sweetpea and says nothing escapes the author’s attention to detail. She was less impressed with Rooted in Dishonour by Christina James, finding the characters too generic and the writing too clunky. In Little Bones by Sam Blake, Garda Detective Cathy Connolly investigates a break-in and finds baby’s bones hidden in the hem of a ripped wedding dress. John Barnbrook liked the way the unhappy history is untangled and says the ending comes out of the blue. John was also impressed by Lucy Atkins’ The Night Visitor and says the book is exceptionally well-written with a clear, effective writing style. He read the book in two sittings and has been happily recommending it to everyone he meets.

Linda Wilson visited a couple of old friends this issue. One of crime fiction’s best-known investigators is paraplegic Lincoln Rhyme. The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver takes Rhyme and his partner Amelia Sachs to Italy on the trail of a serial kidnapper. Linda says that although the forensic investigator is off his home turf that doesn’t make him any less effective. Simon Beckett’s forensic anthropologist Dr David Hunter returns after a long gap in The Restless Dead. The police want to write a body on the Essex marshes off as suicide, but Hunter isn’t so sure. Linda says the plot is clever and well-constructed.

On the teen beat, Linda Wilson laments the fact that Peter Jay Black’s engrossing Urban Outlaws series has finally come to an end. If you haven’t read the books, she says you have a treat in store. In Shockwave, the Outlaws must find an antidote to a deadly virus that has infected them and threatens the whole of London.

In the Countdown hotseat we have author Susan Wilkins. It’s hard not to agree with her rant at the moment, or indeed at any time! And we definitely like the sound of her windy clifftop in this weather …

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
Susan Wilkins

Susan Wilkins studied law but never practised – instead she got lured into the world of television. She worked as a researcher on several documentary series before turning to fiction.

Her big break came writing episode four of a brand new BBC hospital drama – Casualty. She went on to have a career in television drama spanning 25 years and over 130 broadcast credits from original drama to soaps to cops and docs to rom-coms.

She wrote for Coronation Street and Eastenders, Casualty and Holby City, Heartbeat, Footballers’ Wives, Dangerfield, Down to Earth, Back-Up and she created and wrote South of the Border, a detective drama of which the BBC made two series.

A major health crisis prompted her retirement from television. Now she lives on the side of a windy cliff, walks by the sea every day and writes crime novels.

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

I get to sit at home and write. What luck!

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

Choppy sea, grey sky, cork board, computer, pen pot, notebooks, file cards, shredder and the old bloke next door putting his bin out.

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

Bits of whatever veg are in the fridge, and not actually mouldy, stir-fried with tamari and noodles and probably cashew nuts.