October 14 2017

Your editors swear blind that they’re sensitive little flowers, and that they were scared senseless by some of this week’s books! We suspect the dark offerings will have some of you switching on every light in the house and breaking high jump records whenever there’s a mysterious noise behind you.

Digging in the Dark by Ben Johnson gives a history of the Yorkshire resurrectionists, the body snatchers who robbed graves and sold the cadavers to medical schools for research. Kim Fleet says the book is written in a fluid, accessible style and is a fascinating read. That’s hard to beat for grimness but Linda Wilson has come up with an even darker read! Executing Magic in the Modern Era: Criminal Bodies and the Gallows in Popular Medicine details the grisly trade in the body parts of convicted criminals and examines their means of execution and uses in popular medicine. Linda says this work by Owen Davies and Francesca Matteoni positively exudes scholarship while at the same time remaining thoroughly accessible and veined throughout with a rich seam of gallows humour. And that’s the first time we’ve ever been able to use that joke in a literal context! Holly Tucker ably proves that truth is stranger than fiction in City of Light, City of Poison, an examination of the career of Nicholas de la Reynie, the first police chief of Paris, who Louis XIV entrusted with the job of cleaning up the streets of Paris and ridding it and its courts of poisoners and black magic. Linda says this is one that will certainly appeal to fans of the TV series Versailles in the long wait for the third series.

There’s a hefty dose of darkness on the fiction front, too. DS Heck Heckenberg returns in Paul Finch’s Ashes To Ashes, and is on the hunt for two killers, one who’s kitted out his caravan as a torture chamber, and another who burns his victims to death with a flamethrower! Despite his unfamiliarity with the characters, John Barnbrook quickly became absorbed in the pace and excitement of the story and has even indulged in some fantasy casting. Meanwhile, the obsession with missing sprogs shows no sign of abating. Kati Barr-Taylor says Give Me The Child by Mel McGrath has an intense, dark, racy plot that left her breathless. She was also impressed with CL Taylor’s The Escape, despite the somewhat lengthy reveal at the end, but says the last two lines make up for anything.

In Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski, an investigative journalist tries to get to the bottom of a teenager’s disappearance in the near-wilderness of Northumberland’s National Park nearly 20 years ago. Ewa Sherman says the book is richly nuanced and filled with deep passion for folklore and myths. Katherine Stansfield’s Falling Creatures also uses landscape to good effect and delves deep into the rugged terrain of Bodmin Moor. John Cleal says this is a horrifying and engrossing tale, told with pace and emotional depth.

Unforgivable transported our former crime reporter John Cleal to Cardiff in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing. John says there’s no one better than ex-copper Mike Thomas at nailing the men and women who we rely on to keep us safe. Chris Roberts says Two Lost Boys by LF Robertson, with its look into the mind of a murderer on Death Row, provides a thoughtful exploration of the background to abhorrent crimes. Ghost Month by Ed Lin will transport you to Taiwan and provides something of a Rough Guide to the area, and we’re reliably informed by Chris that you’ll enjoy the book even more if your musical tastes coincide with those of the main character.

John Cleal has made a return to his old haunts in Africa this week. Deon Meyer presents a bleak look at a post-apocalyptic South Africa. John says Fever is part sci-fic, part survival adventure, part coming of age story and is both brilliant and atmospheric. John felt rather more at home in Red Earth by Tony Park, despite its car-jackings and assassinations. He says this is a truly riveting read that you won’t want to put down.

To prove that this issue isn’t all dark and grim, in A True and Faithful Brother by Linda Stratmann, a female detective has to solve the disappearance of a wealthy philanthropist from a locked Masonic hall. John Cleal says the book is replete with dead ends, and twists and turns and is meticulously researched. Anthea Hawdon also paid a visit to a bygone age in The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley which sees amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham on the trail of a missing vicar’s daughter. Anthea says the book is rather charming, but warns that it is also rife with casual anti-semitism.

On the thriller front, Adam Brookes brings his series to a close in The Spy’s Daughter, where a genius-level American teenager has to come to terms with her parents’ sinister plans. Chris Roberts says it’s a fitting end to a very enjoyable trilogy. Arnold Taylor liked Woman of State by Simon Berthon, set in Northern Ireland in 1991 in the midst of the Troubles, and says is a deceptively simple book that is far more than just a historical thriller. Ex-SAS operative Nick Stone is back in Cold Blood by Andy McNab. Linda Wilson always enjoys a good thriller and says McNab never fails to deliver and there might even be some light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel for Stone. James Bond has had a lot of imitators over the years and Forever and a Death by Donald E Westlake is hailed as “the Bond that never was.”  But Sylvia Wilson says it all feels a bit too domestic to be a Bond story. But if you want stories about one of the world’s greatest spies, Linda Wilson has always been a huge fan of the Young Bond series and Red Nemesis by Steve Cole is no exception. She says the books provide an excellent prequel to Ian Fleming’s own work.

This week we have author Chris Carter in the Countdown hotseat. We share his rants, and one of your editors certainly agrees with his five favourite words!

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
Chris Carter

Chris Carter was born in Brasilia of Italian origin and spent his childhood and teenage years in Brazil. After graduating from high school, he moved to the US where he studied psychology at the University of Michigan with specialisation in criminal behaviour. During his university years he held a variety of odd jobs, ranging from flipping burgers to being part of an all-male exotic dancing group.

He worked as a criminal psychologist for several years. As a member of the Michigan State District Attorney's criminal psychology team, he interviewed and studied many criminals, including serial and multiple homicide offenders with life imprisonment convictions.

Chris then moved to Los Angeles, where he swapped the suits and briefcases for ripped jeans, bandanas and an electric guitar. After a spell playing for several well-known glam rock bands, he decided to try his luck in London. He toured the world several times as a professional musician.

A few years ago he gave it all up to become a full-time writer.

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

Crazy, tough, frustrating, struggle, funny, lucky, rewarding, enlightening, amazing, love.

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

The sky, my printer, a chesterfield chair, bean bags, files, a plant pot, several skulls, a paper shredder and a very extensive whisky collection.

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

Truth be told, I’m a terrible cook. I can barely make toast without getting it wrong. There’s only one dish I usually get it right, so it has to be that one – prawn and scallop spicy stir-fry.