August 18 2018

If you’re a staunch genre fan, you’re probably as grumpy as we are about the fact crime fiction is constantly cold-shouldered when it comes to the big literary prizes. So it’s great to see one of our gang on the Man Booker longlist.

Let’s hope that Snap by Belinda Bauer makes the cut. Linda Wilson says Bauer’s books rise head and shoulders about the average police procedurals and that this one deserves its place on that longlist. Linda also enjoyed Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean, which won the 2018 CILIP Carnegie Medal. It’s a historical set on a wind-swept sea stac – possibly this week’s weirdest setting – where a group of men and boys are harvesting nesting sea birds. Linda says it’s a book to be savoured.

It’s a busy week for historicals. Sylvia Maughan praised An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry, which explores stereotypes and prejudices in Victorian London. And John Cleal proclaims that James McGee’s The Reckoning featuring Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood can buckle a swash with the best, as well as combining a classic adventure story with social and political comment. The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola is also set in Victorian England – but this time on the island of Skye. John Barnbrook says it creates a splendidly gothic atmosphere with folk tales as the backdrop.

We always pass John Cleal review books set in ancient Rome. He was perfectly happy with The Last Hour by Harry Sidebottom, where there’s a plot to assassinate the Emperor Gallienus and says it offers an extraordinarily vivid take on the ancient world. Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull, part of the British Library’s impressive series of reissues, was written exactly 80 years ago and focuses on the murder of the disagreeable Henry Cargate – a crime only one of four people could have committed. Chris Roberts says it remains fresh.

Just occasionally we let John Cleal loose on cosies – and he was charmed by both this week’s offerings. He says A Brush with Death by Ali Carter, featuring inquisitive artist Susie Mahl, is a nice piece of social commentary. The leading characters of Julia Chapman’s Date with Mystery are private eye Samson O’Brien and dating agency boss Delilah Metcalfe. John says it’s a clever, witty and realistic not too cosy, cosy!

On the Euro beat this week we have a couple of Scandis and the latest in a series set in Greece. Ewa Sherman says The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl, set in Oslo, is a real treat for all those who want intrigue, a dark and complex story, and convincing characters. Marked for Revenge by Emelie Schepp features a public prosecutor trying to deal with the case of a Thai girl who died on a train while smuggling heroin capsules in her stomach, as well as trying to protect her own old identity. Ewa describes it as a gripping and intense story. Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis stars fixer Stratos Gazis, who is hunting for a killer. Chris Roberts says the sense of societal collapse in Greece and the utter helplessness of the poor is as convincing as it is horrifying.

We’ve got a decidedly varied crop of thrillers this week, ranging from the high-tech to the frankly really rather quaint. Linda Wilson hung on for the ride with The Anomaly by Michael Rutger, an action-packed underground romp straight out of the Lara Croft school of archaeology, where a TV film crew are hunting for a mysterious cavern in the Grand Canyon. She also indulges in some fantasy casting! John Cleal has been following James Swallow’s series, and says Ghost is a superbly written, rip-roaring, high-tech thriller set amidst devastating cyber-attacks. Arnold Taylor enjoyed To Die in Vienna by Kevin Wignall, where an ex-secret service operative finds his life at risk when he starts watching a computer science teacher. Sharon Wheeler has stuck with Margaret Duffy’s long-running series featuring a loose cannon former soldier and his writer wife. She says puts the q into quaint.

Linda Wilson was a loyal fan of the original Spenser and Hawk series by Robert B Parker, and says that if you were as addicted as she was, then you have nothing to fear from Ace Atkins’ safe hands. Little White Lies boasts smart dialogue, a good plot and immaculately described action.

Elsewhere, Nicola Hodges says that Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall cleverly shows the many facets of a complex human character, evoking sympathy, fear and anger, all whilst shining a bright and unforgiving light on how society views female sexuality. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t too enamoured of the shifting points of view in DB Thorne’s Perfect Match where Soloman’s sister is in a coma, and he knows this was no accident. But the police don’t believe him – or don’t want to. Despite theminor irritation, she still read the book in one sitting. And you may wish to heed the warning from Chris Roberts, who reviewed Bluff by Michael Kardos which stars a down-on-her-luck young magician. If you need encouragement to avoid card games with people you don’t know, then this book provides it!

Young Adult author and cartoonist Dave Shelton is in the Countdown hot seat this week, and presents us with a splendid selection of favourite words. One of your editors isn’t entirely convinced about running away to Swindon, but then she did have to work there. We do agree, though, that it’s not possible to have too many pens.

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
Dave Shelton

Unlike the pupils at St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls, Dave Shelton was a boringly well-behaved, rather quiet boy during his school days in Leicester. He worked quite hard and did quite well in most subjects (apart from PE and geography.) He loved to read comics and to draw. He still does.

Nowadays Dave lives in Cambridge with a woman (Pam), a girl (Mila), a bonkers dog (Wilma) and a cat (don't ask). He likes cake, cricket, crosswords and talking to cartoonists about pens. He’s a bit better at sport now. He is still useless at geography.

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

Slow, bumbling, poorly planned, largely accidental, lucky, unexpected, pleasantly surprising.

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

An ironing board; a print by John Minton; a railway lamp (a gift from Jeremy de Quidt after I designed the cover for his book The Wrong Train); a box containing the original illustrations for my first children’s novel A Boy and a Bear in a Boat; a self-portrait by my step daughter; a printout of the plot for my next book; a puppet of me made by my wife as a birthday present; a toy ice cream van; our dog, Barney.

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

Hmm … not quite long enough for a fish finger sandwich so … scrambled eggs on toast should be just about doable I think.