April 28 2018

If you’re a book reviewer, you rapidly realise that the luxury of starting an author’s series at the beginning often doesn’t apply – you have to be prepared to roll up your trouser legs and wade in, and hope that the author has a generous hand with the backstory.

John Barnbrook came very late to JD Robb’s Lieutenant Eve Dallas books, but quickly became hooked. He says that the latest, Secrets in Death, is well crafted and gripping, as Dallas leads an investigation into the murder of a glamourous but poisonous journalist. If you’ve been following Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, you’ll know he’s now off training new recruits. Sylvia Maughan enjoyed A Great Reckoning and says that this hunt for the killer of a professor in the police academy is a well-paced story that kept her guessing.

Some of our reviewers have been in on their favourite series from the start. Linda Wilson has a very soft spot for the mayhem merchants in Andy McDermott’s Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase series. In King Solomon’s Curse, the pair go in search of the legendary King Solomon’s mines. As usual there’s a high body count, but there’s also an interesting moral dimension to one of the killings, and the supporting cast are sufficiently well-drawn to make each loss matter. Spare a thought for Linda, though, a long-time devotee of the late Dick Francis’ mysteries, and one of life’s completists. The baton has now been passed to his son Felix. But Linda says both the characters and the prose are leaden in Pulse, and the latest outing from this formerly illustrious family stable falls at the first fence, as a troubled hospital doctor tries to investigate the death of a mystery man.

Ewa Sherman put aside her beloved Scandis for a while and took a trip north of the border to read Bloody Scotland, a collection of short stories by 12 of the best Scottish authors. Ewa says that if you’re familiar with the places described, then you’ll enjoy reading a different take on your own memories or experiences, but if they are completely unknown, then there’s no better way to dip into the history and geography of the Scottish heritage.

We packed Kati Barr-Taylor off on the Scandi trail in place of Ewa this week. She had some reservation about Stefan Ahnhem’s Eighteen Below, in which what looked to be a suicide turns out to be murder, but she was enticed in by the prologue and after that hardly came up for air. She didn’t get on quite so well with Protected by the Shadows by Helene Tursten. A burnt body is just the beginning in a wave of organised crime being investigated by Goteburg detective Irene Huss. Kati found it difficult to get invested in the characters and thought there were too many clichés.

His quest for unusual settings made Chris Roberts dress up warmly for a visit to Antarctica in Out of the Ice by Ann Turner, where an environmental scientist investigates an old abandoned Norwegian whaling station in one of the world’s most hostile environments. Chris says the setting is well-depicted and there’s plenty of menace in this unusual ghost town setting. Chris was able to warm up a bit with a trip to Mexico with Elmer Mendoza's Name of the Dog where Detective ‘Lefty’ Mendieta is trying to get to grips with a chain of murders and a drugs war. Chris struggled at times with the style but says there's plenty of humour, which is all the more striking when set against a background of fear and violence. Chris completes this week's world tour in South Africa for Mark Winkler's My Name is Nathan Lucius, where an unenthusiastic advertising salesman is asked to kill his best friend. The book impelled Chris to explore assumptions about what constitutes normal behaviour and evaluate the reactions of others to those who are different.

John Cleal’s back on the history beat with LC Tyler’s latest, Fire, set in England in 1666 against the backdrop of war with France and Spain. He says this charming and witty tale is one for the shelves of historical fans and those who just like a damn good mystery read. He also liked Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt, a clever, beautifully written piece of historical fiction where a 17th century young widow leaves her home for a life in Amsterdam but becomes threatened by her past. John’s joined on his historical journeys this week by Kim Fleet, who kept company with some Bad Girls from History by Dee Gordon, an anthology of prostitutes, mistresses, murderers and troublemakers. Kim says that if you want a jolly romp through history without thinking too much about what happened and what it meant to people, this is the book for you, but if you want considered biographies that respect both the subjects and their victims, she advises you to give it a miss. Arnold Taylor takes a trip back to 1937 in Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills, in which a nun is killed for failing to supply information on one of the children who lived in the orphanage in which she works. Arnold wasn’t wholly sure about the resolution to some considerable mayhem and found the use of modern language jarring.

There’s plenty of violence in Chris Holm’s Red Right Hand, which sees an FBI agent on the trail of a key organised crime witness. John Cleal says that amidst the explosive and bloody violence, there’s a serious point to be made in this brilliant book. As for William Boyle’s Gravesend, a dark story of revenge, John says that gritty – a word much used in reviews - hardly scratches the surface of this modern horror story.

Elsewhere, Kati Barr-Taylor praises Jenny Quintana’s debut, The Missing Girl, in which a woman is determined to get to the bottom of her sister’s mysterious disappearance. Kati says the book has the polish and depth of a seasoned author and has the mystery and emotional tug to compete with the best. Linda Wilson enjoyed Trust Me by Zosia Wand, in which a woman struggles to come to grips with problems in the family unit she’s built up. Linda describes the book as a cleverly constructed family saga that combines domestic noir and psychological thriller into an impressive whole. John Cleal had a Date with Malice, in which a series of incidents in a retirement home launch a complex investigation. John says Julia Chapman’s clever, witty and realistic series is quite out of the ordinary and he strongly recommends it to anyone who wants a genuine, but not too cosy, cosy.

On the YA front, Linda Wilson was very impressed by I Am Thunder, Muhammad Khan’s strong debut, which features 15-year-old Muzna. She wants to be a writer, against the wishes of her Pakistani-born parents who want her to be a doctor. When the hottest boy in her new school starts to pay attention to her, Muzna can’t believe her luck, but all good things come at a price. Linda describes the book as stunning and says it’s written with confidence and a compelling voice.

In the Countdown slot this week we have American writer Laura Lippman, who has some unusual items in her line of sight (we’re intrigued by the mechanical hamster), and is also pretty ambitious when it comes to an eight-minute meal.

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.

If you’d like to be included on our fortnightly update email, drop us a line (the email address is on the site).
And if you're not following us on Twitter, you can find us chatting at .

Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about ‘accidental’ PI Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.

She grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Laura attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Laura returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

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

Got lucky early, worked hard in order to stay lucky.

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

My "army" of folk art robots; a haunting butterfly mask that has always hung in my office; a Grace Metalious Bobble-head; three shelves filled with English language and foreign language editions of my books; a business card from my first newspaper job; a mechanical hamster in a wheel, a gift from my husband; a photograph of a famous Baltimore stripper; the album cover for Elvis Costello's Taking Liberties; my breath (it's VERY cold in Baltimore today).

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

There's this egg dish credited to Julia Turshen where you mix Greek yogurt with lemon juice, kosher salt and pepper, then smear it on a plate. You then fry two eggs in olive oil, with a few drips of water added to the oil, put the eggs on top of the yogurt, with some chopped herbs on top. The eggs are done in two minutes; the whole thing takes only five. I might add some smashed-up avocado or a green salad, then serve it with some kind of sparkling wine.