May 11 2019

We like a good indie release (no, no, not music – you really don’t want to get us started on what we listen to, unless you happen to share Linda’s fondness for Al Stewart or Sharon’s addiction to The Pogues). This issue we’ve got a good spread of books from some of the smaller publishers.

Our friends at Soho Press always manage to present us with an eclectic range of books. Ewa Sherman enjoyed the splendidly named An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, where 90-year-old Maud is not going to let anyone spoil the peace and quiet of her spacious Gothenburg apartment. And there’s another appearance for market trader Jing-nan in 99 Ways to Die by Ed Lin. Chris Roberts says the book explores the complex cultural mix of Taiwan, with the frictions bubbling below the surface. And then the pleasure-seeking Bertie, the future King Edward VII, is an unlikely sleuth in Peter Lovesey’s sparkling Bertie: The Complete Prince of Wales Mysteries. And you can even add to your culinary knowledge by discovering the origin of the crepe suzette and his Royal Highness’ part in it, adds John Cleal! To complete a varied bunch, we move to Detroit in Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. Chris Roberts says that the tale of an ex-cop taking matters into his own hands when those higher up won’t act on the trafficking of girls captures the flavour of the city and its way of life.

Elsewhere among the indies, Linda Wilson says there’s a great sense of place in Close to the Edge by Toby Faber, where a woman sees a man fall to his death in front of a tube train. But the characters’ motivations and actions made very little sense, added Linda. Arnold Taylor wasn’t entirely convinced by the plotting in Gentleman Jack by Christina James, but says that the ending is dramatic and the characters well-drawn in this Lincolnshire-based police procedural. Chris Roberts is back in the US with Lola by Melissa Scrivener Love. He describes it as a very impressive debut novel, told in the present tense and conveying the reality of lives of lives in the ghetto: dull and hard, with all the worst aspects of human nature on display.

We’ve done well on the overseas crime fiction this issue. And we can add Ghosts of the Past by Marco Vichi, where a well-respected Florence citizen is found murdered in his study. Sylvia Maughan says it’s a warm, comfortable and informative read. Over in the far east, Chris Roberts thought Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada, where New Year guests start dying in a strange, isolated house in the north of Japan, was decidedly over-complicated. But he says that the tale may appeal to enthusiasts of the locked-room mystery and lovers of the bizarre.

On the police procedural front, Elly Griffiths moves from her long-running archaeology series to Gothic horror in The Stranger Diaries. Arnold Taylor says the plot is a slow reveal, but he never lost interest. He’s not entirely sure, though, that a modern reader will be convinced by the ending … Linda Wilson also kept turning the pages of Roz Watkins’ Dead Man’s Daughter where DI Meg Dalton finds a child in a bloodstained nightdress in woods and the child’s father dead in the house with a cut throat. Linda says it’s an excellent and original procedural.

We’ve got some unusual investigators and settings among the rest this time out. John Barnbrook found himself in a quintessential English village where primal forces are stirring. He says you need to immerse yourself in the language of Mark Porter’s Lanny and that he was totally engrossed. Former journalist John Cleal was able to shout ‘hold the front page!’ as he experienced the rollercoaster of Holly Wyatt’s To the Lions, where an eavesdropped conversation takes reporter Casey Benedict from St Tropez to the Middle Eastern deserts. And Kati Barr-Taylor says that Renee Knight’s The Secretary, where Christine Butcher is the perfect secretary until the CEO’s daughter Mina forces her to become the perfect enemy, is a great read. Linda Wilson, meanwhile, was whisked back to the 2012 Olympics in A Private Business by Barbara Nadel. Lee Arnold and his assistant Mumtaz Hakim are hired by a former stand-up comedian, who wants to know why she’s being targeted by someone determined to make her question her own sanity. The audiobook, narrated by Paul Thornley, kept Linda royally entertained on a long journey across France. And in this week’s young adult release, Linda found herself absolutely hooked by Muhammad Khan’s Kick the Moon where Ilyas Mian wants to draw comic book heroes rather than work in his dad’s shop. She says that Khan’s teenagers are blisteringly authentic with their street talk and casual nastiness to each other.     

John Cleal had a hat-trick of historicals this issue. He praises Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart, and says it’s a terrific series, founded in fact and also highly engaging without ever attempting to sanitise the attitudes of the times. John also enjoyed Jacqueline Winspear’s thoroughly believable The American Agent, where investigator Maisie Dobbs is approached by the British and US governments to help solve the murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz. And we even allowed him to use the e for epic word with Tobsha Learner’s The Magick of Master Lilly, featuring 17th century astrologer and magician William Lilly who narrates the story of an England broken by religious and political intolerance as it plunges towards civil war. Our true crime expert Kim Fleet went back to Victorian times with The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones & Other Victorian Scandals by Michelle Morgan, and says it’s engagingly written and fun to dip in to.

We’re absolutely delighted to welcome a great friend of Crime Review to the Countdown chair. Kerry Hood retired from her publicist role at Hodder on May 9 after 20 years (well, that’s what she’s admitting to!) She was instrumental in persuading Sharon to set up the ‘Sixty seconds with …’ interview slot in Reviewingtheevidence days, and Crime Review probably wouldn’t exist without Kerry’s whole-hearted support when Linda and Sharon were mulling the idea over. We wish her all happiness for her new adventures and we’ll miss her professionalism and brisk good sense loads!

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
Kerry Hood

Kerry Hood was born and brought up in India – her father was in shipping. She was brought up on stories her sister made up in the car and then westerns, and thrillers – everything from Mary Stewart through Helen McInnes, to Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley. She very clearly remembers the day she started Wilbur Smith’s When The Lion Feeds. 

Kerry finished school in England and after dallying aimlessly around a bit was offered a temporary place in Victor Gollancz. She started in one department and finished, two and half years later, in publicity. After that she made a couple of breaks to advertising and sales promotions, but always ended up back in publishing … it just seemed to her that the people were more Her People. 

She spent many very happy years at Sidgwick & Jackson’s quirky offices opposite the British Museum then moved into the freelance world. A couple of years and some lovely authors later, she found her way into Hodder & Stoughton – an empty office – and just stayed. She was married and the kids were young …  

Kerry says that now they are not so young, and nor is she! She adds that she’s had a good career, and childhood, and marriage – she really wouldn’t change any of it – except maybe a little more confidence in her 20s. That was a shifting sands sort of decade.

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

Satisfying, testing, chaotic, happy, investigative, talkative, lucky, bookish, engrossing, wordy.

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

A couple chatting on the pavement
A large grey and white fluffy cat in the window of the Barton Street wine bar
A no-entry sign
Creamy Bath stone buildings
A rather ornate black hotel bedstead
Quite a lot of blue sky
A framed, sheep-filled, landscape painting on the ceiling over the bed
A room-service menu (tempting)
A brass coloured old-fashioned telephone with a dial and a receiver resting on its cradle

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

Chicken Thai curry stir-fry with coconut, Thai basil and bamboo shoots – with noodles. Today. Tomorrow might be different.