December 16 2017

Are you desperate for a last couple of stocking fillers for family or friends, or is everything already wrapped and under the tree? If you’re anything like us then it’s the former! We’ve got a few things here that might alleviate last-minute panic and allow you to scoff mince pies with a clear conscience …

Arnold Taylor says A Maigret Christmas, which contains three Georges Simenon short stories, provides a seasonal mix of intrigue and charm. In The Deaths of December by Susi Holliday, an advent calendar arriving at the police station marks the beginning of a murderous lead-up to Christmas. Kati Barr-Taylor says this is an easy read that could be polished off in one sitting between Santa’s arrival down the chimney and everyone getting stuck into the roast turkey. Kati was impressed with Susie Steiner’s Persons Unknown, where a man dies with one name in his mind. She says the festive season has been used for atmosphere and serves up a story that any crime fan who has had enough of the superficial will love.

We’ve a bumper crop of vintage crime for you to savour this week. In Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley, a wealthy, unpopular American magnate is found dead in the grounds of his English country house. Amateur detective Philip Trent suspects murder, not suicide. Kate Balfour says that the book, first published 1913, is a very satisfying and enjoyable read. John Cleal describes Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude, which features a murderous cult, as a witty, but sadly neglected classic of British crime fiction. The Last Best Friend by George Sims remains fresh after 50 years, and Chris Roberts says the action has plenty of twists and turns to maintain interest. Anne Meredith’s Portrait of a Murderer, set during an annual Christmas get-together at a lonely manor house, is a fascinating, morally ambiguous, psychological study of a killer, and a great critique of 1930s society, according to John Cleal. John was equally impressed with Cyril Hare’s An English Murder where the dying Lord Warbeck invites his closest relatives over for what will be their last Christmas together. John praises the non-stereotypical, well-rounded protagonist, coupled with some incisive social commentary, which make this a book modern readers should not miss.

The inimitable Bryant and May are back in Wild Chamber, when a small boy dies following an incident in a road tunnel. Sylvia Maughan says that as always, the sheer creativity of Christopher Fowler’s series provides a most fascinating read for anyone interested in history, particularly that of London. Linda Wilson was very happy to see the return of another character, Adrian Magson’s Inspector Lucas Rocco, who has to investigate a murder in 1960s Picardie in northern France, as well as providing protection for someone the Interior Ministry wants kept alive. Linda says Rocco and the Nightingale has plenty of surprises, a rich leavening of dark humour, and bags of engaging characterisation. Arnold Taylor found the plot of The Butchers of Berlin by Chris Petit somewhat labyrinthine as an old man shoots and kills an apartment block warden and then himself. Chris Roberts enjoyed the latest outing for exiled policeman Mekana in Dark Water, this time to Istanbul to help British Intelligence prevent a chemical warfare specialist falling into the hands of a dangerous terrorist. Chris says Parker Bilal’s series has been excellent from the start, and this may well be the best yet.

For our transatlantic offerings this week, Chris Roberts says heavy-hitter John Grisham has as usual found some interesting aspects of the law in The Rooster Bar to entertain his readers in this story of three struggling law students looking for payback after a scam. Anyone who watched the landmark TV series Twin Peaks will enjoy The Secret History of Twin Peaks by co-creator Mark Frost, which brings more information from the iconic fictional town. Ewa Sherman says this is a visually stunning and unusually presented book.

Zoe Sharp’s kickass Charlie Fox is on the trail of her former lover and ex-boss who appears to have gone on a murderous rampage, targeting the men who brought Charlie’s army career to a brutal end. Linda Wilson says Fox Hunter is a consummate thriller, stuffed with believable action and finely-honed dialogue. Jim Beaman reports that Freefall by Adam Hamdy, is full of action and suspense as a war photographer battles against sinister organisations. Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell looks at America’s infamous murder of a young woman in 1947. Kim Fleet describes the book as undoubtedly intelligent, well-researched and thorough, but she warns that it requires meticulous reading and concentration.

Twenty years ago, Bloomsbury launched the first of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which would grow into a worldwide phenomenon. To mark this, the British Library has put on a major exhibition and produced a companion volume entitled Harry Potter: A History of Magic. Linda Wilson was absolutely spellbound by both the exhibition and the book. She was equally taken with Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, and describes it as a magical, energetic and perceptive teen romp that veers in a heartbeat from light to dark and back again. John Barnbrook enjoyed Philip Pullman’s The Butterfly Tattoo which he says progresses in an atmosphere evocative of the summers of youth, where the weather is balmy and where disappointment is always balanced by hope and optimism. But be warned, you might want to keep a hanky close by!

Up in the Countdown hot seat we have author George Mann. Your editors entirely agree with him on the importance of notebooks! And we like the sound of his eclectic bunch of drinking companions.

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
George Mann

George Mann is the author of the Newbury and Hobbes and The Ghost series of novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and audiobooks. He has written fiction and audio scripts for the BBC’s Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. He is also an anthologist and has edited The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy and a retrospective collection of Sexton Blake stories. He lives near Grantham, UK.

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

Books, bookshops, publishing, steampunk, spooky, mystery, time, crime, adventure, doctor.

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

An ichthyosaur skeleton cast
A whiteboard covered in a long ‘to do’ list
A loft hatch leading to a secret book lair
Board game boxes
A signed photograph of Matt Smith
A painting by Paul Hanley
A notebook filled with story ideas
A table covered in file cards containing the plot to my next book

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

A cheese and ham omelette.