November 25 2017

The cops are out in force this week, ranging from newcomers to old hands. So please proceed in a westerly direction for a splendid crop of police procedurals.

Caz Frear’s excellent debut, Sweet Little Lies, introduces DI Cat Kinsella in an impressive mix of procedural and domestic noir. Linda Wilson says Frear’s writing is darkly lyrical and turns out one of the best murder stories she’s come across for a while. DI Vera Stanhope is back in Ann Cleeves’ The Seagull. Vera gives a talk at a prison and is given some intriguing information by a prisoner. Arnold Taylor felt the coincidence factor was slightly overdone, but still enjoyed the book very much. Kati Barr-Taylor was less impressed with The Angel, which sees the return of Katerina Diamond’s troubled detective duo who are investigating a body in a burnt-out signal box. Kati felt that the book seemed rushed and had no sense of place. That’s not a charge that can ever be levelled at Stephen Booth’s books, where the rugged scenery of the Peak District always takes centre stage. In Secrets of Death, the area is in the grip of a rash of suicides. Linda Wilson describes this as a solidly entertaining tale with an unparalleled sense of place.

John Cleal returned to Northern Ireland, an area he knows well, for two books this week. He describes Ravenhill as intelligent, shocking and inspiring and says John Steele’s explosive story of Belfast paramilitaries stands comparison with Harry’s Game, which is praise indeed. He was also impressed with Stuart Neville’s So Say the Fallen, in which DCI Serena Flanagan follows her instincts as she investigates an apparent suicide. John says Neville is a compelling writer who's able to create a chilling core to his always dark and powerful stories.

On the true crime beat, Kim Fleet says You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] by Andrew Hankinson, an account of the last days of multiple murderer Raoul Moat, told from inside his mind, is a powerful and disquieting book.

Elsewhere, The Killer by Susan Wilkins features two women, one from a gangster family and the other recently retired from the Met on medical grounds, both under threat, who must work together to survive. Kate Balfour says this is a real page-turner that works well as a standalone thriller despite being the final part of a trilogy. Trust is also a major theme of Colette McBeth’s An Act of Silence, which draws on the crop of celebrity scandals to show that heroes can have feet of clay, says Sue Kelso Ryan. In The Venetian Game by Philip Gwynne Jones, the English honorary consul in Venice goes to the aid of a tourist in trouble. Arnold Taylor says the author’s love of the city shines through but overall, the book lacks thrills. In contrast, John Cleal says None So Blind, Alis Hawkins’ story of a barrister working to expose the murderer of a young woman whose bones have been found buried beneath tree roots will stick in your mind long after you have turned the final page

We haven’t forgotten our transatlantic friends this week. John Barnbrook was very impressed with Days Without End, Sebastian Barry’s story of two young men who meet in the US army in the 1850s. John says it’s well-crafted and lyrical, and explores difficult issues with a combination of brutality and sensitivity that left him breathless at times. Chris Roberts praises The Devil Wins by Reed Farrel Coleman who is continuing Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone books and says this one upholds the usual high standard. He also enjoyed Ace Atkins’ The Innocents and believes the latest outing for Quinn Colson reads even more smoothly than ever and that the series shows no sign of running out of steam. Chris also enjoyed Attica Locke's perceptive examination of racial tension in the USA, Bluebird, Bluebird, where a Texas ranger investigates a double murder. British author Felix Francis, still following in the footsteps of his father, takes British Horse Racing Authority investigator Jeff Hinkley on an undercover trip across the Pond to help US colleagues in Triple Crown. Linda Wilson is gamely sticking with the books, despite clunky prose and all-too frequent info dumps, in the hope of backing another winner. Arnold Taylor had some reservations about The Asset, but its theme of aviation security is certainly topical and author Shane Kuhn delivers some thrills.

Our Scandi queen Ewa Sherman says Jørn Lier Horst’s When It Grows Dark is an absorbingly solid police procedural steeped in historical context yet devoid of sensationalism. Kati Barr-Taylor joins her on the Scandi scene this week with The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem, which she describes as an intense journey with an intricate plot and a satisfying conclusion, despite a couple of loose ends. She warns that some of the scenes are vivid although never gratuitous.

Linda Wilson says Indigo Donut, Patrice Lawrence’s story of how the past comes back to haunt a teenager, is another brilliant YA book from the author of the much-praised Orangeboy that will suck you in and leave you looking at the world through different eyes.

In the Countdown hotseat this week we have former soldier-turned-author Chris Ryan, who wants to round up a fascinating bunch of drinking companions! We hope he’ll let us join him for that drink.

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 Ryan

Chris Ryan is a former SAS corporal and the only man to escape death or capture during the Bravo Two Zero operation in the 1991 Gulf War. He turned to writing thrillers to tell the stories the Official Secrets Act stops him putting in his non-fiction. His novels have gone on to inspire the Sky One series Strike Back.

Born near Newcastle in 1961, Chris joined the SAS in 1984. During his ten years there he was involved in overt and covert operations and was also sniper team commander of the anti-terrorist team. During the Gulf War, Chris was the only member of an eight-man unit to escape from Iraq, where three colleagues were killed and four captured. It was the longest escape and evasion in the history of the SAS. For this he was awarded the Military Medal.

He wrote about his experiences in The One That Got Away, which was adapted for screen, and since then has written three other works of non-fiction, over 20 bestselling novels and a series of children’s books. His work in security takes him around the world.

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

Dangerous, privileged, exciting, travelled, devastation, self-belief, thought-provoking, achievement, motivation, determination.

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

Rottweiler, walking boots, ice axe, rucksack, mountains, bottle of red, blue skies, iPod, comfy armchair.

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

Filet steak.