February 9 2019

As a rule, your editors are civilised laydeez who discuss improving topics and drink tea with their little fingers extended (trust me, you don’t want to see the colour of Linda’s super-duper weak brew, though!). But where they do disagree is on woo-woo in crime fiction. Linda is all over it like a rash. Sharon’s less keen, although she makes an exception for Phil Rickman – hence why his new books result in an unseemly editorial scuffle. This issue, there’s a sinister supernatural air hanging over us …

Linda’s happy, though, as she ended up with two such books. She says that The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton, where a senior police officer returns to the small town that launched her career, is a triumphant mix of magic, superstition and policing. And she was glad to see the return of Edinburgh DCI Tony McLean in Cold as the Grave by James Oswald with its subtle paranormal angle. There’s more small-town shenanigans in The Taking of Annie Thorne by CJ Tudor. Kati Barr-Taylor says it’s a gnarly, twist-infused thriller with elements of horror and the supernatural. Doris the tarot reader is back in The Case of the Fool by EV Harte. Anthea Hawdon was disappointed by the ending and says that the problem with psychic detective stories is stopping their abilities acting as a deus ex machina to solve the crime without any work on their part.

We encounter disappointingly few lead characters with disabilities. So it made a change this week to find two books with hearing-impaired investigators. In Red Snow by Will Dean, reporter Tuva Moodyson investigates a long history of unexplained deaths at a small town’s liquorice factory. Chris Roberts says that the story lacks trees to complete the trio of traditional requirements for a Scandi noir, but has angst and snow in spades. Over in Australia, investigator Caleb Zelic returns to his home town of Resurrection Bay to find out what a girl was running away from. Chris says that Emily Viskic’s And Fire Came Down maintains a high level of tension, which makes for an exciting ride, if rather a bumpy one.

Also on the Scandi front, there’s Unrest by Jesper Stein where a cop finds the national security agency taking an interest in one of his investigations. Ewa Sherman, our expert on books from the lands of trees, angst and snow, says that it will appeal to fans of contemporary Danish crime fiction.

John Cleal, who keeps a beady eye on historicals for us, had a busy shift this issue – but was very contented with what landed in front of him. The Lines We Leave Behind by Eliza Graham features a young woman in an asylum, charged with a violent crime of which she has no memory. John says it’s a cleverly constructed and beautifully written book with a complex heroine at the centre of it. The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes looks at an inquest lasting nearly three years after the eponymous character was found dead in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she regularly attended. John describes the book as captivating, masterful and moving. If you’re a fan of Peter Tremayne’s long-running Sister Fidelma series, John says that Bloodmoon brings the Ireland of 671AD to fascinating life. And he was highly impressed by James Hall’s The Industry of Human Happiness, where the central character dreams of harnessing new technology to put the world’s greatest music onto gramophone records. John says it’s a great debut novel – historical ‘faction’ with a noir crime twist. Arnold Taylor recommends The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing, where a former secret service officer is approached to undertake a mission to 1920s Russia. It’s the final book in a series, and Arnold says it will make you want to search out the earlier ones.

Chris Roberts and Sharon Wheeler found themselves at different ends of two long-running series. Chris has a soft spot for John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport books and was intrigued to go back in time with the reissue of Rules of Prey, the first appearance by our hero. Chris says it harks back to those ancient times before the cellphone and remains as fresh as it was the day it was written. Sharon has loyally stuck with Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks series, set in Yorkshire. She says that Careless Love is a tad on the slow side but has a subplot that promises much in the next book.

Among this issue’s other releases is a rather unusual lead character – supermarket checkout worker Bea. Linda Wilson enjoyed the first book in Rachel Ward’s series and says that Dead Stock is a clever tale with an underlying edge of darkness. The long-suffering Kati Barr-Taylor picked up yet another domestic noir, this one with a twisted love triangle. She says that The Other Woman by Sandie Jones is a debut novel that shows potential, but she’s had enough of desperate female protagonists mistaking abuse for true love. Kati also reviewed In the Blood by Ruth Mancini where a solicitor takes on the case of a young woman accused of murdering her baby. She says that the book has a confident voice and the author clearly knows the world of solicitors and the law.

Across the Pond, Chris Roberts took a look at The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan, which is set in Canada. Two cops are on the trail after an undercover colleague is killed while investigating a suspected Islamic terrorist plot. Chris says the book can be seen as a welcome attempt to promote understanding about a subject that produces so much fear. Arnold Taylor was much less happy with Rogue by JB Turner, where a secret US committee arranges the assassination of a popular senator. The main character, though, is total amoral, and Arnold says that any sympathy for him rapidly disappears.

There’s one YA review this week – and it won’t bring any comfort to the parents of teens who seem to spend most of their waking moments glued to their phones! Linda Wilson says that My Secret YouTube Life by Charlotte Seager might provide a better understanding, though, of the pressures young people are subjected to in their desire to be seen as having the perfect life.

We’re standing well clear this week, as author Mark Wright plonks himself down in the Countdown chair and proceeds with an absolutely stellar rant! And we’ll leave you to decide which bits of his biography are true …

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
M.P. Wright

MP (Mark) Wright was born out of wedlock in Leicestershire in 1965 into a family farming home that can be traced back through seven generations and a well-documented lineage history of haemorrhoid suffering. His mother drank so heavily, that when she blew on his first birthday cake she lit the candles. The writer’s earliest memories is the clinging stench of pig shit permeating his nostrils and starting primary school in 1969 dressed in a hand-me-down uniform that consisted of a Tommy Tippy bib, romper-suit and his grandfather's bowler hat. (Young Mark was lucky – his sister Sally started two years later in a pith helmet, canary-yellow checked plus fours and spats). His family were so poor that MP was 17 before he found out that knives and forks weren't in fact, jewellery. 

After leaving school (more like kicked out) he decided to pursue his first love, music, not as a musician, but in a wide variety of support roles within the music industry, touring with bands such as Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, U2 and Ultravox and unfortunately, Kajagoogoo before he stupidly became a private investigator. He quickly realised that excitement and adrenalin were not a good substitute for a proper career and a steady job, and in 1989 retrained in the mental health sector. His role was at the sharp end of an intense, often dangerous and threatening profession, but his learned and inherent ability meant that he was promoted into the probation service and eventually the Home Office, where he was responsible for offender risk assessments and mashing the tea in the staff room at HMP Gartree maximum security prison.

MP has retained his deep love of music, especially film scores, both modern and vintage. A 26-year member of the Campaign for R eal Ale, he is an aficionado of real ales and beer in general and has just discovered the pleasures of quality 15-year-old Scottish malt whisky which he drinks by the pint. He is the writer in residence at the Anchor Inn pub at Walton on the Wolds.

A huge fan of 1970s MOR singer Dana, MP has had a life-long association with the Nantwich-based Gentleman's Disciplinary Rubber Wear Review magazine where he is the editor-in-chief. He is also a nude life model for the Over 70s Twister Association. The author detests all forms of exercise, has never entered a gym and has had a life-long ambition to have smoked up to 70 Morland cigarettes a day and to have streaked at the Biggin Hill Air show whilst Raymond Baxter was commentating for BBC1. The writer is big in North Korea but shrinks in Iceland. This is probably due to the extreme cold and cheap underpants.

MP Wright has two daughters and lives with his wife Jen in the Leicestershire wilds with their large, flatulent Rottweiler dog Dylan The crime writer has never worn a truss, but openly admits to owning at least 36 toupees (some with chin-straps) and a Brian May wig that he often wears in the bath. 

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

Dangerous, funny, exciting, sad, complex, lonely, risky, demanding, thrilling, shitty.

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

Garden pond, greenhouse, lawn, wisteria, bird-feeders, mistletoe, bay tree, bamboo, my next-door neighbour’s grey underpants on the washing line.

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

I could never cook a meal in eight minutes. I am an intolerable food snob. Fresh ingredients for every meal, organic veg box delivered on a Wednesday morning, herbs, a decent homemade stock, Elizabeth David and Julia Child are like gods to me … I rarely ever eat takeaways. Hate McDonald’s, Big Mucks, Whoppers and the likes. I adore a decent curry, hotter the better. I love to cook, it’s my one true hobby, in fact. Cajun, Creole, French, Caribbean cuisine. You name it I’ll cook it and Jen, my wife, will snuffle it down.