April 27 2019

One of your editors is swanking loudly this week that she always knew her grade A in Ancient History A-level would come in useful! The other, meanwhile, is muttering resentfully that she always knew she should have done that O-level in Greek Literature in Translation, rather than common or garden Sociology …

Crime fiction set in ancient Greece is like buses – you don’t see any for aeons, and then two come along at the same time. So Linda Wilson was able to put that A-level to excellent use. She says that Shadows of Athens by JM Alvey, where aspiring Athenian playwright Philocles finds a murder victim on his doorstep, is historical crime at its best, with the crime and the motivations of the perpetrators standing up to scrutiny both in the context of the story and the context of the time in which it is set. She was equally enthusiastic about Christian Cameron’s The New Achilles, featuring soldier-turned-priest Alexanor, and says it’s one of the best historical thrillers she’s read in a long time. Meanwhile, there's a familiar face over the way in ancient Rome – Lindsey Davis’ Flavia Alba gets a new outing in A Capitol Death. John Cleal says it’s an absolute winner, and that Davis is the mistress of making the reader feel entirely immersed in a tale.

Among the other historicals, John says that The Corset by Laura Purcell, featuring prison visitor Dorothea Truelove, is a chilling story of brutality and the supernatural, and is a must-read for gothic horror lovers. Arnold Taylor, meanwhile, was not convinced by Julian Symons’ The Belting Inheritance, where a young man thought to have been killed in World War II returns to the family home. Arnold says there are problems with both plot and characterisation.

The thriller mob have muscled in on the action this week, which has kept three of our reviewers out of mischief. John Cleal has enjoyed Adam Hamdy’s previous yarns and says that Aftershock out-Bonds any of Cubby Broccoli’s wildest flights of filmic fancy, along with the addition of a body count that makes Rambo look like a Sunday school picnic! And former soldier John nodded approvingly at Kill for Me by Tom Wood, featuring a killer for hire. John says part of the writing trick is technical authenticity, and Wood’s knowledge of weaponry, surveillance techniques and brutal hand-to-hand combat would do credit to the SAS or any intelligence service. Arnold Taylor observes that any plot, however gripping, depends on its characters and that those in The Righteous Spy by Merle Nygate, featuring the Israeli Intelligence Services, are portrayed very carefully and realistically.

There are a couple of familiar American faces on the scene this week. Chris Roberts says that only rarely do you come across a work of fiction that explains clearly how the world really works, or that generates a compulsion to keep reading to the last page. The Border by Don Winslow, the culmination of his trilogy focussing on the drug trade, does both. Chris also enjoyed the twists and turns in Judgment by Joseph Finder, where a female judge becomes vulnerable to blackmail, and he adds that the book feels authentic throughout.

There’s a hat-trick of Nordic crime this week – two fiction and one true crime. Scandi princess Ewa Sherman says Fog Island by Mariette Lindstein, set amidst a mysterious New Age movement on a Swedish island, will leave you feeling both uncomfortable and also fascinated by the psychopathic leader. Antti Tuomainen wears his noir badge with pride, but Palm Beach Finland sees him displaying a lighter mood. Ewa enjoyed the hysterical situations and consistently well-drawn characters. And Anthony Adeane looks at how the disappearance of two men in Iceland in 1974 still reverberates today. Kim Fleet says that Out of Thin Air is intelligently and thoughtfully written, and offers a fresh approach by examining the wider contexts in which the murders occurred and were investigated.

Down Under, Jane Harper returns to her outback setting with The Lost Man. Chris Roberts says she paints a picture that is utterly convincing of relentless heat, sand and dust. Chris also enjoyed All This I Will Give To You by Spanish author Dolores Redondo where a novelist makes some strange discoveries when his husband is killed in a car accident. It’s an impressive and confident book, says Chris.

Kati Barr-Taylor had a mixed bag to review this time. She loved In Bloom by CJ Skuse, and describes it as Bridget Jones meets American Psycho! Kati was also very taken with Chris Brookmyre’s Fallen Angel where a woman is about to uncover a family’s secrets with devastating consequences. She says it’s one of those rare books where she swung between wanting to get to the end and wanting to savour every moment. But Kati wasn’t entirely convinced by Only Child by Rhiannon Navin, where a gunman in a school is seen through the eyes of a six-year-old. She says that if you can sweep young Zach’s precocious voice under the carpet, you’ll find the book to be an emotional rollercoaster.

We’re surprisingly quiet on the police procedural front this week. Linda Wilson rated Gallowstree Lane by Kate London, where the death of a young gang member threatens to collide with a long-running covert operation, as a solid outing with a good cast.

Linda also commented favourably on the characters in this week’s YA offering. This Lie Will Kill You by Chelsea Pitcher features five teens being invited to a murder-mystery evening at an old house. The prize for the one who solves the puzzle is a valuable scholarship. Linda says the book’s strength lies in the well-drawn teenagers, all of whom come over as distinct, intriguing personalities.

We welcome journalist-turned-novelist David Young to the Countdown seat – and we’ve read loads of thrillers and promise not to shine a lamp in his eyes! We’re fully on-board with his cunning plan when it comes to inviting Jacob Rees-Mogg for a drink. And David takes second place in our all-time list of awesome rants, closely behind the splendidly splenetic Mark Wright!

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
David Young

David Young was born on the outskirts of Hull. After dropping out of a Bristol University science degree, he studied modern history at the city’s then polytechnic.

Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher’s van were followed by three decades as a journalist on provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and in the BBC’s international radio and TV newsrooms.

Now a full-time author, his debut novel Stasi Child was the first in a series of Cold War era crime thrillers set in East Germany. David lives in Twickenham but also spends time at his writing retreat on Syros in the Cyclades.

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

Local reporter, then BBC news editor, escaped via book deal.

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

A plane descending loudly into Heathrow (I could fill up all nine with those), beautiful magnolia in bloom overhanging my writing shed, dropped pink/white petals I haven’t cleared up, under which are last year’s fallen leaves I still haven’t cleared up, and under that a wooden deck that’s so rotten (I wonder why?) I need scaffolding boards as a ‘bridge’ to access said writing shed safely. Another plane has just gone over as I write. And another. On my writing desk, the V5 document of the 1972 East German Wartburg I’m trying to sell. There goes another plane. I’m sure that’s more than nine things.

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

My lunch in about half an hour’s time. Fried steak, fresh tomato, mushroom with steamed (microwaved) asparagus on the side.