March 9 2019

We already know that many crime fiction plots could have been – and undoubtedly are – straight off the front pages of a newspaper. One of this week’s books, though, is spookily prescient.

The Good Sister focuses on a 17-year-old girl leaving the UK to go to Syria to join ISIS. In Morgan Jones’s book, though, her father is determined to find her and bring her home. Our reviewer Chris Roberts says the author paints a very bleak picture of ISIS, essentially of men living out their fantasies and worst impulses and imposing the most ghastly constraints on women and children.

Chris also found himself reviewing Chinese crime fiction this week. Death Notice by Zhou Haohui, which focuses on a man calling himself Eumenides who acts as self-appointed judge and executioner of those whose crimes have gone unpunished, has spawned a popular TV drama in China. Chris acknowledges that a manipulative foe defying the police often holds appeal for readers, but he says there’s a distinct lack of subtlety in the book. John Cleal was distinctly more impressed with When Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle. He says that this thriller, featuring Lagos lawyer Amaka Mbadiwe, who becomes involved in political and sexual corruption at the highest level, is both compelling and shocking. As usual, it’s all pretty grim in Nordic noir land. After the Death of Ellen Keldberg by Eddie Thomas Petersen pairs a young lawyer and a reckless photographer who are trying to find out how artist Ellen Keldberg, who has been found frozen on a street bench in Skagen, died. Ewa Sherman says it’s a slow-burner with touches of macabre humour. Meanwhile, Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman flips between 1979 Berlin, where a young woman new to the CIA overhears two very important secrets, and present-day US. Arnold Taylor says it’s highly convincing in its portrayal of an intelligence organisation

There are slow burners, and those that never quite ignite. Linda Wilson was faced with one of those this week when she read Panic Room by the usually reliable Robert Goddard, featuring a mysterious house with secrets in Cornwall. Linda was also muttering darkly under her breath about over-use of the stupid stick in A Killing Mind by Luke Delaney. She does like DI Sean Corrigan, honest, but five books into a series she’d like him to have learned from some of his mistakes as he hunts for a serial killer who’s taking grisly trophies from his victims. Linda was definitely at home with one of her willy-waving thrillers! Stephen Leather’s Last Man Standing features SAS trooper Matt Standing, and Linda says it’s hard-hitting but never impossible to believe, with a host of well fleshed-out minor characters. But Linda’s fingers itched to do a thorough Brit-check of The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley. She’s charmed, as always, by the latest adventure to feature the precocious Flavia de Luce, but says the author’s Canadian background is a giveaway when it comes to some decidedly non-UK English,

Kati Barr-Taylor reports back on two books with psychiatrists as investigators. In Bad Blood by EO Chirovici, Joshua Fleischer awoke in a hotel room with a murdered woman. Now, 40 years later, he needs psychiatrist James Cobb to help him find out what happened. Kati wasn’t struck on the main character, but says the book has plenty of meat on its bones. This I Would Kill For by Anne Buist has forensic psychiatrist Natalie King facings a liar or an abuser with a little girl stuck in the middle. Kati says the book is original and believable and that the characters feel like real people behaving convincingly.

If you’re a regular visitor to the site, you’ll know that there’s been an avalanche of Sherlock Holmes tie-ins over the past year or so, and some of our reviewers have looked decidedly underwhelmed by a number of the offerings. Kati Barr-Taylor had to lie down in a darkened room this week after reading The Druid of Death by Richard T Ryan, where a body is found at Stonehenge on the vernal equinox. She says it didn’t live up to her expectations of a Sherlock Holmes story and had too many info dumps, for a start. John Cleal, who goes into tough-guy mode when anyone encroaches on Arthur Conan Doyle territory, was hugely impressed with The Red Ribbon by HB Lyle, which features Wiggins, once leader of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars and now an unwilling member of the fledgling security services. John says Lyle’s development of Wiggins’ character is something Doyle himself would have been proud of.

John can also be tough on historical errors, but was rather taken with The Poison Bed by EC Fremantle, which takes place amid the religious and political rivalries of the Stuart court of James I. He says it’s a blend of glamour, intrigue and ambition, laced with enough salacious gossip and description to make it a real page-turner. Sounds like some of the newspapers we mentioned earlier! Arnold Taylor also praised the setting in The Moment Before Drowning by James Brydon. A French wartime resistance leader and former policeman has been sent back to France to stand trial after two years’ service in Algeria during the colonial war, having been accused a committing a brutal crime. Arnold says the author has also taken the trouble to detail the psychology involved in the murder.

It’s a busy week for releases from across the Pond. Robert Crais has been around for a while, and his latest book featuring PI Elvis Cole is The Wanted. John Cleal says it’s cleverly plotted and stylishly written – but right through to its bloody climax it’s so relentlessly predictable. There’s a familiar face in Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne where Philip Marlowe comes out of retirement to investigate a man said to have drowned on a Mexican beach, leaving a tidy sum in life insurance to his attractive widow. Chris Roberts says it’s an excellent re-envisioning of Marlowe in later life – he’s still as cynical and smart as ever, if a bit slower on his feet. Chris was rather entertained by Timothy Hallinan’s Night Town, which features Los Angeles burglar Junior Bender. Junior takes on a commission, although the money offered looks a little too good – and when a competitor is killed, he wants to know why. John Cleal enjoyed The Lonely Witness by William Boyle, where former party girl Amy Falconetti, who’s trying to change her lifestyle, witnesses a street murder that she fails to report. John says it’s a tense, gritty and realistic story, at times darkly funny, with a complex protagonist at the heart.

On the teen and YA front this week, Linda Wilson, who admits she’s not a sports fan, was grabbed by the scruff of the neck in Unstoppable by Dan Freeman featuring 14-year-old twins Roxy and Kaine. Roxy’s ambition is to win Wimbledon, Kaine’s is to play professional football. But family drama and problems with undesirable company threaten to derail their ambitions. Linda says it’s a book of honesty and integrity.

We’re pleased to welcome US big-hitter Jeffery Deaver to the Countdown interview chair this week. We like the fact he’s played a corrupt reporter role in his favourite soap opera. And once he mentioned bread and cheese, as well as a good soup, he had us salivating unbecomingly!

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
Jeffery Deaver

A former journalist, folksinger and attorney, Jeffery Deaver is an international bestselling author. He's the author of more than 35 novels, three collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, and a lyricist of a country-western album, and has received or been shortlisted for dozens of awards around the world.

He was born outside Chicago and has a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from Fordham University.

Jeffery has been honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention and by the Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award in Italy. The Strand Magazine also has presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

His most recent Lincoln Rhyme novels are The Cutting Edge, The Burial Hour and The Steel Kiss. For the Kathryn Dance novel, XO, Jeffery wrote an album of country-western songs, available on iTunes and as a CD. Before that, he wrote Carte Blanche, a James Bond continuation novel, a number-one international bestseller.

And, yes, the rumours are true – he did appear as a corrupt reporter in his favourite soap opera, As the World Turns.

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

Spending every minute writing books thrilling and fun for readers.

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

The hotel room walls where I’m appearing at a writers’ convention.
The outline of the next book I’m working on.
The computer on which I am writing this.
The router that is connecting me online.
A cup of cold Starbucks coffee from breakfast.
A bottle of Crown Royal whiskey, unopened, as it is early afternoon (I have my standards).
A suitcase filled with one week’s worth of dirty clothes, as I’ve been on the road that long.
A flyer advertising the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which I have just toured.
My broken prescription eyeglasses (sniff) and the bag of drug store reader glasses that will temporarily replace them.

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

So many options. Since it’s a cold winter’s day: Onion soup, made with Vidalia sweet onion, sliced tenderloin, beef stock flavoured with a dry sherry and thickened with a roux of butter and flower, topped with Swiss cheese. Steamed green beans. A rocket salad with feta. A baguette. A pinot noir from Burgundy.