November 24 2018

It’s time to trek north of the border today – and we promise you that a certain reviewer (coughJohnClealcoughcough) doesn’t complain once about overdone Scottish noir! In fact, our often hard to please reviewer is generally a happy chap this week.

John describes Vermin by William A Graham, as a taut debut that showcases a new voice in Scottish crime fiction. PI Allan Linton is hired to find a missing young woman and he finds himself in a world of gangsters, people traffickers and murder. John says there’s a strong main plot, believable characters, drama, action, crime and a strong vein of humour throughout. He’s admired Malcolm Mackay’s past offerings, but was a tad bemused by In the Cage Where Your Saviours Hide. A young and naive private investigator is dragged into a world where no one can be trusted when he investigates the killing of a money launderer for his former partner. John says there’s a dark, clever and compelling story buried beneath the world-building in this intriguing alternative history. James Oswald introduces a new series character, DC Constance Fairchild, whose undercover operation ends abruptly when she finds the dead body of her boss who’s been tortured and shot in the head. As ever, Oswald has a light tough with the supernatural elements, which always appeals to Linda Wilson. She says No Time to Cry launches his new protagonist with style and confidence, but she’s still hoping for more of Oswald’s DI Tony McLean as well.

And then we skim across the Irish Sea for the first in a number of strong police procedurals this week. The Well of Ice by Andrea Carter, set in County Donegal, features local solicitor Benedicta ‘Ben’ O’Keefe and Garda Sergeant Tom Molloy who make a grim discovery on a walk on Christmas Day. Linda Wilson says there’s an intricate mystery that delves deep into complicated family relationships in and beyond the small town that’s also struggling with the loss of its pub that has burned down in a mysterious fire.

Linda discovered Damien Boyd’s West Country cop series for the first time in Dead Lock, where the hunt for a missing ten-year-old girl intensifies when a second girl of the same age disappears. The police believe the two are connected, and DI Nick Dixon is called back from holiday to help the investigation. Linda says Boyd puts his legal background to good use and the plot holds up well to scrutiny as the various strands start to unravel. John Barnbrook was enthralled by Paul Finch’s Kiss of Death featuring the redoubtable DS ‘Heck’ Heckenberg. The National Crime Group’s existence is at threat and Heck is charged with finding one of the most wanted men in the UK. John was impressed by the book’s cinematic style.

On the Euro front, Ewa Sherman was revelling in her beloved Scandis again, starting with The Reckoning. A chilling message found in a school’s time capsule says that six people will be killed. The threat was written ten years ago. A disgraced detective is told to investigate. Ewa says Yrsa Sigurðardóttir has an incredible gift of mixing the macabre and the poignant, and combines a dark sense of humour with astute observations of ordinary life. There’s a rich seam of black humour in Alex Dahl’s The Boy at the Door, where a woman’s picture-perfect Scandinavian life is threatened when a small, lonely and vulnerable boy enters her world. She’s determined to protect her family and status in the wealthy Norwegian town and takes extraordinary measures to keep her dark secrets hidden. Ewa particularly praised the tense narration.

Over in mainland Europe, Chief Inspector Frank Stave has decided to transfer from the homicide section of Hamburg CID to Department S, which deals with economic crime, mainly the black market, but even he’s not sure why he wants to move. Arnold Taylor says The Forger by Cay Rademacher has an absorbing plot and is utterly convincing. Chris Roberts enjoys legal angles in books and couldn’t resist Maigret in Court by Georges Simenon. It’s not often Maigret finds himself in court and Chris says this provides an opportunity to get some insight into the detective’s feelings as he deals with the murder of a woman and child.

There are some punchy thrillers this week, including what could be the last from the inimitable Frederick Forsyth. John Cleal was delighted by The Fox, which sees a retired spy using the unique skills of a 17-year-old computer hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome to change the balance of world power. John says this is Forsyth at his best, using his highly detailed insider knowledge of governmental and military structures of the UK, the US and other major players on the global political scene. If this is to be his last book, he’s certainly gone out on a high. In The Other Woman by Daniel Silva, a long ago event occurred that had profound consequences for the future, involving a young child who was brought up with certain beliefs that practically determined the course of a life. Arnold Taylor felt the story took a while to hit its stride, but when it did the book became thoroughly engrossing and convincing. John Cleal says that former international amateur boxer Tony Kent has stepped into the ring with a knock-out debut, arriving on the action thriller scene in spectacular style. In Killer Intent, what appears to be a failed assassination attempt on the American president on a visit to London leads three strangers into a world of political conspiracy, violence and murder.

Across the Pond, Chris Roberts enjoyed Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg, in which a Mob hitman escapes from Chicago in a meat truck after killing three FBI agents – but hiding out in Las Vegas as a rabbi also has its problems. Chris says the plot is advanced in an expert manner, moving from one area of action to another with exquisite timing, and the dialogue captures the vernacular perfectly. Chris’s verdict is that comparisons with the master, Elmore Leonard, are in order and for him there can be no higher praise. Brian Panowich’s Like Lions, in which the last surviving member of a drug-running family comes under attack from a rival clan, also gets a thumbs-up from Chris. He describes the concluding scenes as thrilling, and says not everyone will see the final twist coming.

There are a couple of strong debut novels for you to track down. Chris Roberts was very impressed by Amer Anwar’s Brothers in Blood, in which a man with a criminal record is consigned to a driving job but then is forced to find and bring back his employer’s absconding daughter. Kati Barr-Taylor says Bad Apple delivers on quality suspense, atmosphere and provides a disturbing insight into the minds of a broken family – and that newcomer Zoje Stage is an author to follow.

Among some more established writers, Claire McGowan’s latest, The Killing House, has a puzzling missing persons case. A forensic psychologist returns to her home town and finds that the case might possibly be connected to her own past. John Cleal says the book is meticulously plotted and often action-filled, and although this fast-moving series has never been an especially easy read, it has always been rewarding as well as compelling. In Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah, a woman takes a break from her family to get some time to think, but then sees a young girl who is believed to have been murdered some years previously. Sylvia Maughan describes the book as totally compulsive and almost impossible to leave once started – but says there were times when she was almost overpowered by the wish to put it down!

Our teen angle this week comes from It Ends With You by SK Wright. A murdered girl is found in woodland and suspicion immediately falls on her boyfriend. The police think they’ve got the killer, but others aren’t so sure. Linda Wilson describes this as a darkly clever YA murder mystery.

We’re in the presence of movie royalty this week! Mike Hodges (yes, he of Get Carter fame) has Bait, Grist and Security – three darkly comic novellas – due out this month. We intercepted him for the Countdown slot and definitely have a lot of sympathy for his views on 21st century travelling. And we like the thrill of the trace as well when it comes to unusual 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.

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
Mike Hodges

Mike Hodges was born in Bristol, UK. As a television producer in the 1960s, he was invited to join the investigative programme World in Action. This took him to the US, covering the 1964 presidential election, and that same year to the war in Vietnam.

He produced and sometimes directed the arts programmes Tempo and New Tempo. He is perhaps best-known for his work in cinema and television, including: Get Carter, Suspect, Rumour, The Manipulators, Pulp, The Terminal Man, Flash Gordon, A Prayer for the Dying, Morons from Outer Space, Florida Straits, Black Rainbow, Croupier, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

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

Unexpected. Embattled. Fulfilled. Now it’s just me and my laptop.

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

Sunlight hitting the window. Towering ash trees swaying in a breeze. Goldfinches picking seeds from a bush. Oil painting of one of my five grandchildren. Photos of my two adult sons. Some of my pastel works. 

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

Two boiled eggs (five minutes); toast; butter. Pepper, salt and bib