June 09 2018

Look, look, it’s sunny outside … We’ve got holidays on our minds at the moment, and some of the books our reviewers devoured this issue might give you some ideas for exotic places to visit. Just so long as it’s not somewhere like those picturesque villages in Midsomer Murders where you’re likely to be bumped off in some bizarre way the moment you arrive!

Sylvia Maughan has been back to her beloved Italy again. The Extremist by Nadia Dalbuono has a high-tension hostage situation in Rome and provides an excellent view of some of the lesser-known areas of the eternal city. Kati Barr-Taylor heads over to Sweden for Fredrik T Olsson’s Acts of Vanishing in which a man is about to lose his daughter and the world is about to lose its grip on safety. Kati says the book is visual, film-worthy and tense with shades of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.

Ewa Sherman is never far from her favourite destinations in Scandinavia. The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen sees a successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry poisoned and on the verge of death decide to hunt his own murderer. Ewa says the book moves between dystopian thriller, hard-boiled mystery and a study of Finnish ways of life, throwing melancholy, saunas, outdoors and pared-down conversations into the mix! She also enjoyed Anders de la Motte’s The Silenced in which a viciously savaged body is found in the water. If you want a complex, unsettling and tense thriller this is one for you.

The Shock takes readers to the Cote d’Azure and Berlin, but it was a tad extreme for Kati Barr-Taylor. She felt that in this tale of a missing woman, Marc Raabe got lost in trying to bring alive the word shock. At the opposite end of the scale, Arnold Taylor says the interest in Maigret and the Headless Corpse by Georges Simenon lies primarily in the psychology of the people involved, with France’s iconic detective remaining in as good form as ever. Chris Roberts heads for the far end of the Mediterranean for Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff, in which a man employs his skills as an intelligence agent to track down his kidnapped father. Chris says this is a spy story full of sparkling detail and is sharp as a tack.

Chris has also been busy on the other side of the Atlantic. He enjoyed Derek B Miller’s American by Day with a police chief leaving her native Norway for New York State to find her missing brother. Chris sums it up with an enigmatic line from the book: ‘It’s hard to ignore the moose sitting on your waffle.’ We’ve no idea what to make of that, but it certainly makes us want to read the book to find out! He also enjoyed The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith, which he describes as a human drama that’s played out in the American south where life is hard, and a man cannot rely on the law to fight his battles. The Drifter by Nick Petrie features an ex-marine returning home to the US with problems from service in the Middle East, who ends up helping the family of a once close comrade. Chris liked the congenial protagonist, the suitably thrilling finale and a show-stealing dog.

Closer to home, Subliminal by CB Barrie sees a commercial researcher capitalising on her secret work on subliminal imprinting and getting employment with an advertising agency, leading to dire implications for Britain. John Barnbrook says it’s all very intriguing – and alarming! Linda Wilson was less impressed with Iain Maitland’s Sweet William which follows a desperate father’s bid to be reunited with his son. Linda felt the book was stylistically problematic, which detracted from the story. Sharon Wheeler smiled benevolently at Lock 13 by Peter Helton. She describes a fairly unlikely artist/ PI’s search for a angler previously believed to be dead as a pleasant, good-humoured read with some sparky dialogue – and a faintly bizarre chase on a canal!

John Cleal enjoyed some vintage crime in Bats in the Belfry by ECR Lorac. A group of successful professionals jokingly share ideas on how to commit the perfect murder and naturally, one of them disappears. John says the book is a fine example of its age and genre – and a serious and well-written work from a writer who deserves to be brought to the attention of modern readers. John wasn’t so convinced by RS Hill’s A Fine Ambition about a drowned hotel chambermaid. He found this cosy look at Victorian detection unconvincing.

In contrast, there’s nothing cosy about our true crime offering this week. Crime, Clemency and Consequence in Britain 1821-1839 by Alison Eatwell is a short review of the letters appealing for clemency that were sent to the Home Secretary during the 1820s and 1830s. Kim Fleet says the book is an interesting introduction to the history of criminal justice and the way the system worked prior to the formation of the court of criminal appeal, and it offers an original insight into the social conditions of the past.

Linda Wilson has been enjoying the recent re-issue of Richard Falkirk’s 1970s series about a Bow Street Runner. In Blackstone’s Fancy our hero is charged with stopping a prize fight. The only trouble is that one of the fighters is Blackstone’s own protégé. Linda says there are aspects of the book that won’t sit well with modern sensibilities, but Falkirk’s writing holds a mirror up to the dark underbelly of society in the late 1820s, where cock-fighting, dog-fighting, ratting, badger-baiting and bare-knuckle fighting were all very much the order of the day. John Cleal went further back in time to ancient Rome for Pandora’s Boy. The redoubtable Flavia Albia investigates the suspicious death of a young girl on the Quirinale Hill, home of Rome’s wealthiest and most aristocratic and ancient citizens. John says you can read this as a standalone, as Lindsey Davis provides enough background to make sense of the protagonists’ pre-stories, but he guarantees that if you are new to her work, you’ll want to read more of the series.

For our fortnightly look at the Young Adult scene, Linda Wilson had a lot of fun with A Secret Beat, as a girl chucks in a chance of college in the US to follow her heart to London and take an internship at a production company. Linda says Rebecca Denton has the sort of insider’s authenticity that only an intimate knowledge of the music industry can bring. Deception by Teri Terry is an altogether darker book, with the country in the grip of a deadly epidemic. There are plenty of surprises in store and one large twist that caught Linda completely on the hop.

Our interviewee in the Countdown hot seat this week is motor racing and riding enthusiast Toby Vintcent. His fantasy drinking companions are certainly a varied bunch – and he’s very particular when it comes to his quick recipe!

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
Toby Vintcent

Toby Vintcent served as an officer in the British Army with the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers during the Cold War as part of NATO’s Rapid Development Force, followed by a successful career at Merrill Lynch.

He has been Director of International Affairs at the British Equestrian Federation. His lifelong passion for Formula One resulted in his first book, Driven. He lives in Oxfordshire, the heart of F1 country, with his wife and son.

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

Cavalry officer, investment manager, manager of British equestrian teams, author

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

Hope, pictures of my wife and son, a manuscript of The Ringmaster, inspiration, horses, grassland, a scale model of Michael Schumacher’s World Championship-winning 2000 Ferrari, my favourite fountain pen – an Ivanhoe by Caran d’Ache given to me as an engagement present by my wife

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

Eggs “Benedict” with smoked salmon (inverted commas because it’s hard to pin down the right name for this as they vary) – I make it with poached egg, a lightly toasted brioche bun, smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon juice, ground black pepper and hollandaise sauce