April 13 2019

Don’t go getting comfortable and assuming your Easter break will be chocolate, more chocolate, cute bunnies and cosy crime fiction … We’ve got high-octane thrillers muscling their way to the front this week.

And yes, naturally one of your editors is beaming happily at the thought of a crop of willy-waving, save the universe in 45 minutes adventures falling into her lap! Linda Wilson had a double whammy with a return from familiar face Chris Ryan and a new boy on the block in the shape of James Deegan. She says that Ryan tells a good tale, with plenty of convincing detail and edge-of-the-seat action in Red Strike. And Deegan’s The Angry Sea is a superb example of a military thriller with no wasted words and even fewer wasted bullets.

John Cleal says Price of Duty by Dale Brown, which pits the US against Russia, moves at breakneck pace and is a non-stop powerhouse of action on top of action. Sadly, though, it’s all too stereotypical and too predictable. Former Swedish air force helicopter pilot Robert Karjel brings back his security policeman Ernst Grip to investigate the death of a Swedish soldier in Djibouti. John says After the Monsoon is a clever, thought-provoking story and that it will be interesting to see if Karjel can lift his rather dour Scandinavian policeman to the level his brilliant plotting deserves. And there’s another outing for Rory Clements’ professor Tom Wilde, who sets out to free one of his former students who went off to join the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and is now held in a French prison camp. Arnold Taylor says that Nemesis is intensely exciting and a gripping espionage tale.

The other historicals this week are what Sharon’s grandma would have called a rum lot! If you like French historical dramas (yes, yes, Linda Wilson, we know you lap up Versailles and The Three Musketeers), John Cleal is directing you towards Casanova and the Faceless Woman by Olivier Barde-Cabuçon, which he describes as a racy historical mystery with real style, dash and brilliance. John takes a stern line, though, on the current rash of Sherlock re-treads and spin-offs. But he enjoyed The Murder Pit by Mick Finlay, where down-at-heel detective Arrowood has a large chip of his shoulder where the Great Detective is concerned! But John was singularly less than impressed by a rare dud from the British Library’s generally excellent run of forgotten classics. It sounds like Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville (a BBC stalwart of the 1950s) where impecunious war hero Jim Henderson is baffled to be invited to a weekend party at the country home of a famous collector of precious stones should possibly have stayed forgotten!

We’ve got police procedurals from far-flung parts, including some familiar faces. Arnold Taylor is serenely working his way through the reissues of Georges Simenon’s Maigret series. Maigret and the Saturday Caller is one of those novels in which Simenon demonstrates, perhaps even more clearly than usual, his concern for the ordinary man, says Arnold. Chris Roberts is also enjoying another set of reissues – John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series. Secret Prey has all the elements that make the series so appealing, including enough shootings, assaults, manic car rides, sex, diabolical murders and general mayhem to sustain an elevated pulse rate throughout the book! Linda Wilson has been in from the start on Quintin Jardine’s sprawling Bob Skinner series. She wishes fervently, though, that our hero had stayed in the police force and that the story in Cold Case wasn’t told from Skinner’s point of view. But Jardine knows how to tell a damn good story, and Linda admits she keeps coming back for more, despite her reservations.

If you like your police series from further afield, there’s a fourth appearance for Tom Callaghan’s Kyrgyzstan cop Akyl Borubaev in An Autumn Hunting. Chris Roberts says the series has been unremittingly bleak with casual brutality and cold self-interest, but that there’s something rather appealing about the determined hero, who always seems to be wading upstream in leaky boots against a current of corruption! Ewa Sherman was impressed by The Cold Summer by Gianrico Carafiglio, where Pietro Fenoglio, a Marshall in the Carabinieri, conducts an investigation into the kidnapping and killing of a local mobster’s young son. She says it’s a methodical yet hard-hitting book from the former anti-Mafia prosecutor, and she now intends to read Carafiglio’s Guido Guerrieri series.

New on the cop scene is Francis Sullivan, the newest DI in the Sussex force. He investigates a death at a tattoo convention in Brighton. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t struck on the over-blown writing style in The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham, but says it’s a fast, easy read if you can deal with the gore!

Elsewhere, investigators Newbury and Hobbes are back in George Mann’s The Revenant Express. Jane Appleby has been following the series, and felt that the ending was rather rushed, with several plotline questions left dangling. But she says the final few pages set up a new adventure that could be the heroes’ most dangerous yet. And Chris Roberts was very taken with the final few chapters in Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, where a married barrister is infatuated with a solicitor. He says the terrific twist at the end transforms the main tale from a somewhat tawdry domestic drama into something altogether darker. Chris wasn’t convinced, though, by the latest translation of a Korean crime novel. He describes The Plotters by Un-Su Kim as an elaborate fantasy based on a distorted version of reality. And if you fancy a helping of magical realism, fantasy and elements of historical fiction, then Attend by West Camel, which stars a young gay man and a recovering heroin addict in Deptford, might appeal to you, says Ewa Sherman.

On the true crime front, Murder by Numbers: Fascinating Figures Behind the World’s Worst Crimes by James Moore looks at how numbers feature in murders, their detection, and the punishment of killers. The statistic that impressed Kim Fleet the most was the number of car number plates that were checked during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation (5.2 million). She says the inclusion of recent cases and new material keep the book fresh, and well-known cases are given an original twist.

YA queen Linda Wilson enjoyed The Punk Factor by Rebecca Denton and says it captures perfectly the intense highs and lows of teen life and sets them against the vivid but uncompromising backdrop of the music scene in a clever, sharp look at a very different life from the one most of us live.

We welcome US author Peter Swanson into the Countdown seat this week. He’s definitely had a varied working life, and we suspect a lot of people will nod in agreement with his alliterative rants!

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
Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson is the author of five novels, including The Kind Worth Killing, which won the New England Society Book Award and was a finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

His books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and his stories, poetry and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine and Yankee Magazine.

Peter is a graduate of Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Emerson College. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife and cat.

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

Weed-puller, dishwasher, census-taker, bartender, bookseller, English teacher, administrator, writer, poet.

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

A stack of my new book, a Shakespeare mug, a little brass snake, a fake Tiffany lamp, a pair of reading glasses, a framed vintage map of Boston, my Tintin collection, a set of Dr No action figures, and my cat.

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

A frittata, with whatever’s left over in the fridge.