April 14 2018

You can guarantee that when our reviewers stumble across a gem of a debut novel that they’ll want to wave their arms and ensure everyone hears about it. So pin back your lugholes, as we’ve got a cracking crop of debuts for you this issue.

In Turn a Blind Eye by Vicky Newham, DI Maya Rahman is investigating the murder of the head teacher at her old school amidst cultural tensions in London’s East End. Linda Wilson describes this as a quality police procedural with a standout main character and a great supporting cast. In The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor, little sinister figures are drawn on pavements, walls and tree trunks. Kati Barr-Taylor says the book is fascinating, with a random, chilling plot and for once, she’s very happy to use the words page-turner and thriller. Kati had some reservations about psychological thriller Splinter in the Blood by Ashley Dyer, but acknowledges that this is a debut novel written with a polished voice and is one filled with potential. John Cleal was gripped by Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, set in an asylum, and says it’s layered, chilling, dark and creepy with an unsettlingly claustrophobic atmosphere. Resurrection Bay sees a traumatised man working to find a brutal killer, and Chris Roberts says Emma Viskic’s debut is a gripping read.

Among some of the genre old-timers, Lee Child’s not averse to taking his iconic character Jack Reacher right back to his youth in No Middle Name, a collection of stories about Reacher’s life, starting with him as a young lad of about 13. Sylvia Maughan, who’s a late convert to our hero’s macho charms, says the book is a fascinating collection of stories and is suitable for newcomers and devotees alike. Body and Soul by the prolific John Harvey forces a retired Met cop to prove his daughter is innocent of murder. John Cleal says this is no glamorised detective story. He feels that few writers have even approached Harvey’s grasp of atmosphere and he praises the book’s sharp social comment and utterly believable characters. Joe R Lansdale’s crime-busting duo Hap and Leonard are back in Jackrabbit Smile. They’ve been employed by a pair of religious racists to find their daughter who they haven’t seen for five years. Chris Roberts is ambivalent about the book, and thinks the pervasive violence sits rather oddly alongside an atmosphere of rollicking good fun.

It’s always fascinating when a writer breaks away from their tried and tested characters. Mari Hannah has done just that in The Lost. A ten-year-old boy goes missing and discrepancies soon appear in his stepfather’s version of events. DI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver know that the first 24 hours in any investigation of this type are vital and the pressure soon mounts. Linda Wilson enjoyed the book a lot and describes it as an excellent page-turner, as well as getting a new series off to a flying start.

By contrast, Arnold Taylor found The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich surprisingly uneventful, despite its title, as a retired CIA agent goes undercover in Cuba. By contrast, The Downside by Mike Cooper is a classic heist caper and provided much more fun, says Chris Roberts. If anyone knows how you can go about disposing of several million dollars’ worth of rhodium, answers on a postcard to us, please!

You wouldn’t know it, but spring’s here in the UK. So if you fancy pootling off to the seaside, choose your reading matter wisely! John Cleal was unimpressed with Simon Booker’s Kill Me Twice in which an investigative freelance writer takes up the case of a woman jailed for the arson murder of the abusive father of her child, and who then sees the ‘dead’ man outside her own home. John says the isolation and eeriness of the windswept Kent coastal setting is perfect for a gritty story of madness, torture and death, but that was about all he liked! Our other coastal setting this week is less brutal. Resort to Murder by TP Fielden throws a new puzzle at Miss Judy Dimont, chief reporter of the Riviera Express newspaper, set in the fictional Temple Regis. Anthea Hawdon describes this as a charming tale based around several historic legacies, and she liked the book’s local personalities and competent women.

In The Fear by CL Taylor, a woman who was groomed by an older man when she was 14, returns to her hometown after 18 years and finds he has a new victim. Nicola Hodges describes the book as an addictive page-turning read. Kati Barr-Taylor says that anyone wanting to explore an interesting concept will enjoy John Marrs' The One, set at a time when a simple DNA test can either find someone their perfect partner, or send them on a journey into danger.

Ewa Sherman is back on the Scandi trail this week. She describes The Darkest Day by Håkan Nesser, in which family tensions are running high, as a sharp portrait of a modern society abundant with resentment, blame and guilt.

Family problems beset the main characters in Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals as a new theatre company want Richard Shakespeare to steal his more famous brother’s new play. John Barnbrook thoroughly enjoyed his immersive trip back in time to the multi-sensory world of Elizabethan England. John Cleal was equally impressed by Rory Clements’ Nucleus, set in 1939 against the backdrop of the race between the Allies and the Nazis to be the first to produce an atomic bomb. John describes this as another standout historical thriller from a fine writer who can turn his hand to any historical period.

Bomb plots also feature in Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy, when a teenage Jewish orphan-turned-spy infiltrates an elite German finishing school on the eve of war to get close to the daughter of a Nazi scientist who is developing a powerful new bomb. Linda Wilson says this is an excellent, stylish young adult adventure. She was somewhat less taken with the main character in Killer Instinct by SE Green, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. Seventeen-year-old Lane is obsessed with serial killers and extremely judgemental of her younger sister, which makes her hard to like at times. But despite that, the audiobook kept Linda entertained on a long car journey, and the identity of the baddie took her by surprise.

In the Countdown slot this week, we have author John Connolly. We should have warned him that we’re always at home to a few rude words. And we share his love of rescue dogs!

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
John Connolly

John Connolly was born in Dublin in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for the Irish Times newspaper.

His first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. He is also author of the Samuel Johnson YA series, and co-edited Books to Die For, a non-fiction anthology, with Declan Burke

John lives in Dublin with his family and travels regularly – to the US where he researches the thrillers, to South Africa to see family and check in with his publishers, to South America, France, Italy and other parts of Europe and is improving his French and Spanish language skills as a result! He loves 1980s music and hosts an Irish radio show. John also shares his home with three rescue dogs and has an ancient Mustang car, which is sometimes roadworthy.

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

Contentment, despite the lingering fear of finally being found out.

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

Another dog.
A third dog.
Dog treats.
A Paddington Bear (much desired by Dog A).
A drawing by Augustus John.
Some oranges.
A lot of 1980s music.
An Edward Gorey bat puppet.

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

Dry toast. I love dry toast, as long as it’s nicely charred.