January 20 2018

The Scandi brigade are out in force this week, including two of the genre’s big-hitters. And there’s a sad farewell to one of them, the late Henning Mankell, whose final book made a real impression on our reviewer.

After the Fire is the story of a man who escaped a fire in his home and must now rebuild his life and find out who wants him dead. Kati Barr-Taylor says Mankell fans will sense the adieu and will close the book with a real sense of loss. In Jo Nesbø’s The Thirst, Oslo’s ex-detective Harry Hole reluctantly gets involved in a search for a killer who espouses vampirism. Ewa Sherman says the book contains the usual violence and darkness of soul and has plenty to get your teeth into!

Your editors were a tad sneaky and slipped a Scandi book into John Cleal’s review pile – a man renowned for his grumpiness when it comes to tales from that part of the world. But shock, horror, he was impressed with Dark Pines by Will Dean, set in rural Sweden’s winter hunting season, and says it’s a confident debut with a darkly atmospheric setting. Stephen Burke’s The Reluctant Contact takes place in a Russian outpost on the Svalbard Archipelago in northern Norway. Arnold Taylor praised the convincing main characters and says the book very impressively succeeds in evoking a setting where the sun is never visible and the whole action takes place in the dark.

Elsewhere on the Euro beat, Chris Roberts enjoyed Mark Oldfield’s The Dead, and says the latest outing for Madrid investigator Ana Maria Galindez repays the concentration it demands, even if it is a touch heavy on the melodrama. Arnold Taylor praises George Simenon’s gift of being able to introduce simple but eternal truths into his narrative, amply demonstrated in Maigret and the Man on the Bench where the inspector investigates a fatal stabbing. Sylvia Maughan was less convinced by Delia Ephron’s Siracusa, and says that although this complicated book is undoubtedly well-written, she found the view it presents of her beloved Italy hard to swallow

It’s a sad week as we realise we shan’t see anything else from several of our favourite writers. Sleep No More, a short story collection by the late PD James, contains six inventive, witty and convincing scenarios involving murder, its motives and the course of natural justice. John Cleal says these provide examples of an absolute mistress of her craft. John also enjoyed The Painted Queen by the late Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess (who also died last year), which fills a gap in the saga of the remarkable Amelia Peabody and her archaeologist husband Radcliffe Emerson. They’re once again in danger as they search for a priceless Egyptian relic.

Linda Wilson is inconsolable as one of her all-time favourite series comes to an end with Modesty Blaise: The Killing Game by Peter O’Donnell, which pits iconic duo Modesty and Willie Garvin against another set of villains in three more comic strip adventures. Illustrator Enric Badia Romero perfectly captures how Linda sees the characters and she praises O’Donnell’s skilful handling of action and his ability to subvert stereotypes. If the publishers reissue some of the harder to obtain titles in this series, she will be a very happy bunny indeed!

The latest additions to several long-running series pop up this week. Plots abound in Quintin Jardine’s State Secrets where former Chief Constable Bob Skinner cuts a swathe through uncooperative politicians and superior Whitehall mandarins. Linda Wilson says it’s not hard to draw comparisons with our current crop of politicians. Despite her misgivings about Skinner’s career change, she’s still on board with the series. Feisty journalist Rosie Gilmour is back in The Hit by Anna Smith, and John Cleal says there is plenty of action, as well as chills and thrills. But he wonders if this might be the end of the road for one of his favourite characters. John then took a more genteel road south into cosy territory and reports that the prolific Ann Granger cleverly captures the routine nature of policing in Rooted in Evil, where her Cotswold cops investigate a possible suicide.

Elsewhere in the UK, Linda Wilson, a former solicitor, was impressed with Neil White’s From the Shadows which presents an unattractive but all too accurate picture of the legal profession. In The Black Sheep by Sophie McKenzie, a stranger shakes a woman’s belief in the circumstances of her husband’s death. Kati Barr-Taylor found the twists in this family thriller lacking in surprise and the red herrings just too obvious.

Across the pond, Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen reveals the depth of racial tension in post-war Atlanta, where police on both sides of the divide struggle to contain criminals exploiting the tension. Chris Roberts describes the book as engaging and challenging and says the detail is at times jaw-dropping. Linda Wilson felt that The Child Finder by Rene Denfield, in which a private investigator takes on the case of a young girl who went missing three years ago, has the darkly lyrical feel of a Grimm brothers’ folktale. The book got under her skin and left behind an uncomfortable mix of optimism and horror. In The Absence of Guilt by Mark Gimenez, a district judge is asked to rule on the detention of suspected terrorists, and becomes involved with a plot to bring down the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. Chris Roberts says the book could well be the very definition of a thriller.

On the YA beat this week, Brendan Reichs – son of Kathy – sets out on his own in Nemesis, a complex thriller that gallops along at breakneck speed. But Linda Wilson ended the book no wiser in some respects and she was left wondering whether the book is a standalone or the start of a new series. She’s joined this week by John Barnbrook who really enjoyed the air of easy historical accuracy in Tanya Landman’s Beyond the Wall, which tells the story of an escaped slave in Roman Britain.

In the Countdown slot this week, we welcome author Tim Baker. We love his approach to cooking and will happily join him in his rant!

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
Tim Baker

Tim Baker was born into a showbiz family in Sydney, and lived in Rome and Madrid before moving to Paris, where he wrote about jazz. He later ran consular operations in France and North Africa for the Australian embassy, liaising with international authorities on cases involving murder, kidnap, terrorism and disappearances.

His debut novel, Fever City, was shortlisted both for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger and the US Shamus award for best first novel.

He has worked on film projects in India, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and China and currently lives in the South of France with his wife, their son, and two rescue animals, a dog and a cat.

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

The longest way round is always the shortest way home.

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

The four elements (water – the Mediterranean; fire – the sun; earth – the hills; air – the wind through the pine trees).
Looking in: Our cat (asleep in her bed on top of the chest of drawers).
Our dog (asleep on her rug beside my desk).
A small stack of TBR books (see question three).
On my desk:
My father’s Zodiac Sea Wolf watch, waiting to be wound.
A miniature porcelain statue of a Japanese scribe, a gift from my mother.

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

With only eight minutes, it has to be Capellini Belluogo for two.

Preparation: a pot of pre-heated water, and 200 grams of fresh salmon, free of bones and skin (smoked salmon can be substituted if preferred).

Put the water over a high jet and open a bottle of white wine. Pour yourself a glass; after all you’ve still got over seven minutes.

Cut fine ribbons of unpeeled zucchini, using a mandoline or potato peeler.

Slice thin strips of raw salmon lengthways.

Add salt and a fistful of capellini to the water once it’s reached a hard boil.

Snip a bunch of chives with scissors and grate the rind of one lemon. You’re now beginning to run out of time, so better not refill your glass.

Drain the capellini after two minutes and transfer to a bowl. Add a generous amount of olive oil, then toss with the salmon and zucchini.

Mix in the chives, lemon zest and a teaspoon of capers, adding olive oil as required, and complete with both freshly ground pepper and chili pepper and a drizzle of lemon juice.

Serve with white wine.