December 8 2018

We have a technical term for you this week – weird shit! You’ll be perfectly familiar with it if you happen to follow Ben Aaronovitch’s wacky Rivers of London series. And no one’s smoking anything they shouldn’t be, honest …

Linda Wilson is a huge fan of Aaronovitch and was looking mighty smug when she got both the graphic novels and the latest book to review. She says that the Rivers of London universe by Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and artist Lee Sullivan leaps vividly to life on the pages of this boxed set of three graphic novels. Then in Lies Sleeping, DC Peter Grant, who makes his living from dealing with all the weird shit that besets London, must stop the Faceless Man’s latest murderous spree. Linda says that Aaronovitch handles a large cast with consummate skill and delivers humour and tension in equal measure.

Our thriller reviewers are looking satisfied this week. First up, please welcome our new face David Rose, whose day job is investigative journalism. He says that Jason Matthews, author of Red Sparrow, really knows his stuff. Matthews spent 34 years with the CIA, serving in some of the world’s most difficult locations as a case officer and a station chief. David says that if his secret work was half as good as his fiction, he must have been one hell of a spy. Linda Wilson can usually be bribed with an all-action thriller. She says that you’ll need to check your disbelief in at the door with The Break Line by James Brabazon, but if you want some subtle as a brick in a sock entertainment, you won’t go far wrong with this one.

There are appearances from two of the genre’s names from the past. The Runagates Club by John Buchan is the final collection of short magazine stories by the author of The 39 Steps, retold in the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club. John Cleal says it’s a clever and eminently readable collection. Arnold Taylor enjoyed the Folio Society’s handsome reissue of Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey and says that the author isn’t afraid to take her time in order to provide the reader with a real sense of the period.

Both John and Arnold cashed in on some more historical releases. John has enjoyed Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series, and says that the tangled web of lies, deceit and superstition make A Step So Grave an absolute must for anyone who likes cosy historical mysteries. He did, though, have some reservation about Barbara Cleverly’s Fall of Angels, but says fans of Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, particularly those on the other side of the Atlantic, will absolutely love the book. Arnold Taylor praises Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller, set shortly after the British army's retreat to Corunna. He found himself feeling that all would be revealed, but he was in no way impatient for the revelation to take place.

We have two widely differing true crime books under the microscope this week. Chris Roberts was very taken with Rex v Edith Thompson by Laura Thompson, an exploration of the famous 1922 Ilford murder for which Edith Thompson and her lover Freddy Bywaters were hanged. Chris says the author brilliantly evokes a world significantly different from our own, but the strongest impulse he took away from the book is the force of the emotion with which Thompson rightly condemns the petty and self-righteous minds which so unfairly consigned a woman to be hanged. It’s 30 years since a passenger airline blew up in the sky above a small Scottish town. Our reviewer Fiona Spence grew up in Scotland and says that Douglas Boyd admirably brings out the truth in Lockerbie: The Truth. One of the longest and most poignant 'chapters' in the book is the appendix list of those who were killed on that night in December 1988.

A couple of prolific authors (although we’re now in ghosted territory with one of them) pop over from across the Pond. In Linda Fairstein’s long-running Alexandra Cooper series, the lead character’s boss is shot dead and collapses on top of her on the steps of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Chris Roberts says that Deadfall is all wrapped up in Fairstein’s typically fast-moving plot and exciting vernacular. Reed Farrel Coleman has taken over the reins of the late Robert B Parker’s Sheriff Jesse Stone series. Chris says that The Hangman’s Sonnet shows that Stone remains a rock-solid character. And there’s a guest appearance that will please other Parker fans. In Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan, Lydia Smith’s quiet life in a bookshop is shattered when a young man commits suicide in the shop – and he’s been leaving messages for her inside books. Kati Barr-Taylor says there’s a touch too much tell and not enough show, but the story is fun and an easy read.

Ewa Sherman chips in with a review of one of her favourite series – that featuring Bergan PI Varg Veum. She says Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen is painfully sad in places, but there’s an intriguing plot, steeped in human tragedy, with the author’s beloved jazz music shaping the story. Over in Ireland, John Cleal catches up with the latest book from Jo Spain, an author he admires immensely. The Confession features a range of characters, and even those in quite minor supporting roles are beautifully drawn with razor-sharp precision.

Elsewhere, Chris Roberts says that the mix of legal action and crime appeals in The Darkness Around Her by Neil White, where lawyer Dan Grant is landed with an uncommunicative client. The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke sounds decidedly creepy with a woman fleeing to protect her baby daughter from the man who whispered in her ears. Kati Barr-Taylor says the writing style is a breath of fresh air and beautifully polished. John Cleal praises How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, where a seemingly ordinary 41-year-old has lived for centuries. He says it’s an ambitious piece of work, well researched in its historical sections, and worth the read as you may come to know more about yourself, whatever age you are!

Linda Wilson is a sucker for plague stories, and she has stayed the course with Teri Terry’s endlessly fascinating Dark Matters series where a deadly virus has swept through the country. Evolution is the concluding part of the YA trilogy and boasts vivid characters alongside a strong premise.

Catriona McPherson settles herself in the Countdown chair this week. We’re a tad nervous about the toilet paper babies she mentions, but out of our way, we want some of that guacamole she’s making, please! And we’re wondering if we can tag along when she goes for a drink with a very varied cast of people – alive and dead!

We’re taking a well-earned break over the festive season and fully intend to make serious inroads into our review piles. We wish you all a restful time – and remember that you can never eat too many chocolate gingers and mince pies! See you in the new year …

And while you're relaxing, don't forget to make a trip across the Pond to 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
Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson was born in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh, and educated at Edinburgh University, leaving with a PhD in linguistics.

After a short and unsuccessful bout of lecturing in Leeds, she took up fiction writing instead and has so far published 23 novels. In 2010 she moved to northern California where she lives on 20 scruffy acres with a black cat and a scientist.

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

Unhappiest academic ever, transformed into sickeningly chipper writer of fiction.

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

1. Shelf of my own books. Still a thrill.
2. Framed sheet of Harvey Milk stamps. (I put them in the frame, noticed they weren’t straight, decided he wouldn’t mind).
3. Knitted Tunnock’s teacake.
4. Fly swatter.
5. Flies, though.
6. Pile of books I read when I was young. They made me a writer and I’m counting the pile as one. Pride & Prej, Catch-22, I Capture The Castle, The Water-Method Man & Gone With The Wind.
7. Framed prints of the Northern Paper Mills toilet paper babies. Google them and reflect that my clown pictures are even creepier.
8. That one last carrier bag of papers I can never classify as needing to be shredded or okay to hoy into the wheeliebin whole.
9. Ha! I was stuck but my cat just appeared. So: a black cat who thinks it’s dinnertime.

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

Guacamole. Five avocados (they come in bags of five from the fruit stand), a juiced lime, two grated garlic cloves, chopped cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper and chilli flakes. And waxy cos lettuce leaves to scoop it up. If the cos is clothy instead of waxy, I’d use tostadas.