March 17 2018

We like reading books from the genre big-hitters as much as the next person, but we also enjoy being able to jump up and down and wave our arms enthusiastically when we find gems from indie publishers. This week’s issue brings you a strong showing from the likes of Thistle, Endeavour, Crowood Press, Robert Hale and Arcadia.

Linda Wilson was delighted to meet an old friend again, thanks to Thistle Publishing’s decision to reissue the Blackstone books, which were first published in the 1970s. She fell in love then with the dashing Bow Street Runner Edmund Blackstone, so was very happy to discover that Richard Falkirk's books have stood the test of time so well. She describes the first in the series as a mystery that oozes with authenticity. Also on the history beat, John Cleal enjoyed The Prince and the Whitechapel Murders by Saul David, with another take on the Jack the Ripper murders. John says the book is a compelling narrative which provides an entertaining historical read with plenty of suspense and tension. It’s not often that a book very nearly stumps our Mr Cleal, but Soot by Andrew Martin came close. A man languishing in a debtor’s prison receives a bizarre proposition: find a killer and have his debts paid off, or return to jail possibly for the rest of his life. The book is told in extracts from diaries, letters and newspapers – and John found this device made keeping abreast of the narrative the literary equivalent of a 10,000-piece jigsaw!

You can guarantee that several our reviewers are like rats down drainpipes when they find willy-waving thrillers! Step forward number one suspect Linda Wilson, who liked the main character and the violent trip into the seamier side of Manchester’s gangland in A Wanted Man by Robert Parker (no, not the Spenser one). On the other side of the Pond, Lee’s Child’s iconic character Jack Reacher has claimed a new convert in Sylvia Maughan, who tore herself away from her beloved Italy long enough to enjoy Night School, which she describes as being fast-paced and with an intriguing plot. But we haven’t yet trained her to spot how often Reacher changes his underwear …

This week we’re delighted to introduce a new reviewer, Nicola Hodges, who was very taken with The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn, in which a severely agoraphobic woman watches her New York neighbours all day and must fight to prove that she has witnessed a serious crime in the house opposite. Nicola describes the book as having a Hitchcockesque feel and real flashes of brilliance. It isn’t often that crime features a blind main character. Kati Barr-Taylor describes In the Dark by Andreas Pflüger, as a polished, intelligent read with fascinating characters and a good plot.

If you want your cops ration, Kati Barr-Taylor says A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis is a complex and gritty read with more character depth than is usually found in a police procedural. John Cleal was impressed with Cath Staincliffe’s The Girl in the Green Dress, where Manchester police search for the brutal killer of a transgender teenager. John says the characters are compelling and authentically developed, and praises this as a timely, brave and brilliant book. Kati also liked Kate Medina’s Scared to Death in which police search for the link between an abandoned baby and a man’s suicide the year before. She says there’s a good balance of introspection, dialogue and action which combines to drive a pacey story forward.

This week’s Scandi offering continues the tradition of angst, this time in Arne Dahl’s Watching You, in which a detective is convinced that a third missing girl is another victim of a serial killer. Ewa Sherman enjoyed the intricately twisted plot, powered by complex and very strong visuals of past and present brutality. Chris Roberts is known for his liking for unusual settings and equally unusual main characters, and District VIII certainly hits those marks, featuring a Romany cop investigating the death of a refugee in Budapest, Chris says that Adam Lebor provides griping insights into a culture that is generally reviled. Further afield in Brazil, Gringa by Joe Thomas also ticks all the relevant boxes for Chris, and builds a picture of a believable place, albeit one that you might not want to visit! One Damn Thing After Another by Dan Latus demonstrates that being a Good Samaritan is not without its dangers, as a private investigator discovers to his cost in Prague. Arnold Taylor found the main character impossible to like but agreed that the book lived up – or possibly down – to its title.

Scooting across to the US, Chris Roberts enjoyed Joe Ide’s Righteous, where a neighbourhood sleuth getting closer to explaining his brother’s death runs into trouble with Chinese triads. Chris says the book is great fun, with sharp dialogue and non-stop action and as a bonus, it doesn’t take too many liberties with commonsense. Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka sees three small-town misfits recording their reactions as the hunt for the killer of the town’s golden girl continues. John Cleal describes it as a cleverly and hauntingly written story for those who like relationships and real complexity. Chris says Hollywood Hang Ten by Eve Goldberg, with its main character who’s a surfer dude and private investigator, is an enjoyable read, but feels somewhat like a story written to explore social issues rather than to tell an exciting tale. Shattered Minds by Laura Lam is a pacey tale, set in a world where virtual reality is used to modify experience – and naturally there’s nasty big business and a bunch of plucky rebels! The depth of the world building impressed John Barnbrook.

Linda Wilson makes a rare foray into the cosier end of the genre this week. In The Lavender Lady Casefile by Jessie Daniels, a recent widow does a favour for a friend and joins a local ghost-hunting group. Linda liked the understated paranormal angle and was sufficiently interested in the whodunit to keep turning the pages at a reasonable pace. On the young adult front, Linda spent a much grittier long journey immersed in the world of small-town America, listening to All the Rage by Courtney Summers, in which a girl who’s been assaulted by the sheriff’s son battles bullying as she tries to solve the mystery of a missing teenager. Linda says the way the book questions the culture of victim-blaming is timely and hard-hitting.

We’re delighted to welcome author Quintin Jardine to the Countdown hot seat this week. He’s particularly adept when it comes to serving up a classy meal in just eight minutes. And we think his drinking partners in crime, so to speak, could be cracking company!

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
Quintin Jardine

Quintin Jardine was born once upon a time in the West  – of Scotland rather than America – but still he grew to manhood as a massive Sergio Leone fan. On the way there he was educated, against his will, in Glasgow, where he ditched a token attempt to study law for more interesting careers in journalism, government propaganda and political spin-doctoring.

After a close call with the Brighton bomb in 1984, Quintin moved into the even riskier world of media relations consultancy, before realising that all along he had been training to become a crime writer. Now, 40 novels later, he never looks back. His three series feature respectively top Scottish cop Bob Skinner, unwilling detective Oz Blackstone, and Oz’s feisty ex Primavera.

He began work on an escape tunnel out of Motherwell in 1968; he surfaced briefly in Hamilton, but, realising very quickly that he had been heading in the wrong direction, resumed digging and three years later arrived in Gullane, East Lothian, where he has lived ever since. In recent years he has put down a second set of roots – a physically nonsensical metaphor, but you know what he means – in L’Escala, the only north-facing town on the Catalan Costa Brava.

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

1. Unplanned
2. Risky
3. Exhilarating
4. Creative
5. Lucrative
6. Mysterious
7. Fulfilling
8. Fortuitous
9. Privileged
10. Hard

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

1. My iMac.
2. Family portrait
3. ‘Spinifex Plain’: A very expensive Rolf Harris giclee that would be worth a hell of a lot more than it is in other circumstances.
4. My favourite tree, a Japanese maple that I planted 20 years ago.
5. A large photo of my amazing granddaughter Mia, crouching up on her surfboard on the crest of a wave in the best Kelly Slater style: she’s seven.
6. Another large photograph of my darlin’ boy Rex, my three-year-old grandson, his face lit up by the sparkler he’s holding at a firework display at his other granddad’s house in Japan.
7. A wall clock that was presented to my father on his retirement in 1967.
8. A fantastic original caricature of the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, by the eminent Emilio Coia.
9. The end of the 30th Bob Skinner novel.

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

Onion, tomato, yellow pepper, courgette, chicken and chorizo, a little cumin, no salt, wok-fried in olive oil, soya, and Worcester sauce, with medium egg noodles chucked in at the last minute. Followed by soft scoop vanilla ice cream with Askey’s toffee sauce. Washed down with a young but ballsy Empordan red called Mar de Lluna.