May 24 2018

Your editors are always on the lookout for unusual investigators – anyone of a certain age remember the Comic Strip’s Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown? If you were brought up on 1970s cop shows, you’ll identify Bonehead and Foyle, and shouting George from the Weeny like a shot! And we don’t think anyone ever got around to making The Whistling Detective Who Lives on a Barge …

We bet the Comic Strip crew could never top our current favourite – a crime-busting elephant. This time out in Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, a retired police inspector and his faithful sidekick take on the case of a man found dead in Mumbai’s most opulent hotel. Chris Roberts says Murder at the Grand Raj Palace is delivered with the same good humour that characterises the series and as usual, Ganesh steals the show. In Rachel Ward’s The Cost of Living, a supermarket check-out worker is doing her best to unravel the case of a colleague brutally attacked on their way home from work. Linda Wilson found Bea and her teenage colleague, the hapless Ant, a delightful crime-solving duo.

Both your editors have got themselves deeply invested in two long-running series. Linda Wilson enjoyed the latest outing for retired copper Bob Skinner in A Brush With Death, in which Skinner is asked by his friends in the Security Service to look into the death of a multi-millionaire boxer. She says Quintin Jardine combines a twisty plot with some good, solid police work in a welcome return to form for a series she’s followed for over 20 years. Sharon Wheeler always earmarks the latest Peter James book for an early summer treat. Dead If You Don’t is the 14th in the Roy Grace series and as usual is a textbook example of how to write an engaging police procedural.

Our reviewers have busy on the Euro beat. Ewa Sherman praises both the main character and Mons Kallentoft’s writing style in Earth Storm, which sees troubled detective Malin Fors investigating the murder of a right-wing extremist and the disappearance of a left-wing teenage activist. She also enjoyed Certain Signs That You Are Dead by Torkil Damhaug, which features a retired pathologist involved in a tense psychological journey. Ewa says this is a fine example of a chilly Nordic Noir novel set in a hot sweltering summer. John Cleal joined Oliver Bottini’s Chief Inspector Louise Boni in her latest investigation in the Black Forest and says Zen and the Art of Murder is an intelligent read with some intellectual depth.

Across the Atlantic, John praises the strong storytelling and believable characters in Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart with New Jersey’s only female deputy sheriff, and says Constance Kopp is one of the great early characters of the women’s independence movement. He was less taken with Jordan Harper’s A Lesson in Violence, which he describes as a visceral, shocking and violent debut of revenge, gang warfare and corruption. Chris Roberts found much to like in We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard. It follows a retired detective sergeant who relocates from Montreal to a seaside village and becomes involved with the death of a local woman who sailed home after years away.

You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re not short of psychological thrillers this week. Kati Barr-Taylor describes The Orphans by Annemarie Neary as a mystery wrapped in a tragedy and says the story of two children waiting for the return of their parents moves at a heady, suspenseful pace. In A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena, a woman crashes her car late at night in a seedy part of town and can’t remember how she got there. John Barnbrook says the book is well-plotted and satisfying.

In The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall, a probation officer has to determine whether a woman accused of the manslaughter of a baby is fit for release. Kati Barr-Taylor says the book is a fast, easy and enthralling read. Kate Balfour enjoyed Anne Buist’s Dangerous to Know, featuring a bipolar clinical psychiatrist who finds her move to the country doesn’t herald a quiet life. She says the plot romps along, complete with surprises all the way. The Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman sees a journalist return to her home on Guernsey where a drowned woman on a beach links back to other deaths stretching back 50 years. Chris Roberts enjoyed the sense of menace and gripping finale. Blind Defence by John Fairfax features a barrister defending a man accused of the murder of his partner. Chris says there’s plenty going on, and the various interweaving plot lines sustain the excitement.

If spies are your bag, then Arnold Taylor says you won’t be disappointed by John Lawton’s Friends and Traitors, in which a member of the Metropolitan police forms an unlikely friendship with Guy Burgess. Star of the North by DB John tackles current affairs in North Korea head-on in what John Cleal describes as a timely, smart, sophisticated and suspenseful tale.

Linda Wilson has been busy with two very different YA titles this week. She enjoyed Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton in which the son of a village potter wants to grow up to be a fighter rather than following in his father’s footsteps. Linda says this haunting coming of age story teaches without preaching. Sweetfreak by Sophie McKenzie is set very much in the contemporary world of vicious internet bullying with a girl struggling to prove that she didn’t send unpleasant messages to her best friend. Linda found the book complex and intriguing.

Author Christopher Wakling is in the Countdown hot seat, and we’re rather jealous of his other hat, where he writes travel features. And we’d like to eavesdrop on his conversations with his daughter where they trade nonsensical words!

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
Christopher Wakling

Christopher Wakling was born in 1970. He studied English literature at Oxford University and University College, London. Before he began writing full-time in 2001, Christopher worked as a farm hand and then as a litigator for a city law firm.

As well as writing fiction, Christopher is a travel writer for The Independent. He has written on destinations including Puerto Rico, Wisconsin and Morocco, New Zealand, the Gambia –and the Isle of Wight.

He is also the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol University and has tutored numerous creative writing courses for the Arvon Foundation and Curtis Brown Creative. He is now the lead tutor and creative consultant for the latter, the writing school run by the London literary agency, Curtis Brown.

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

I’ve made most of it up as I’ve gone along.

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

Chain oil, book pile, propelling pencil, bike stand, sandpaper, head torch, notebook, speeding ticket, photo of world’s first x-ray

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

Fried egg and chorizo on hot buttered toast.