June 15 2019

One of the things you have to get used to pretty quickly as a reviewer is that you’ll rarely have the luxury of reading an author’s series in chronological author. Your editors both recall much boomeranging around with Ian Rankin’s, Peter Robinson’s and Phil Rickman’s long-running series: “You started in the middle and then backtracked? That’s nothing! I read the whole series backwards while standing on my head and cooking a three-course meal …”

Linda Wilson showed up extremely late to the party for John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, clutching a bottle of anti-freeze masquerading as petrol station wine. She was hooked by The Woman in the Woods and says Connolly’s writing style is as thoroughly engaging as his characters. Comedy runs alongside tragedy, as light joins with dark to create deep shadows everywhere.

Several reviewers found themselves happily immersed in series that they’ve followed for some time. The death of Philip Kerr last spring robbed the genre of one of its most talented and innovative writers. Quercus had a final Bernie Gunther adventure stashed away, and a grateful Chris Roberts says that Metropolis, set in Weimar Republic Berlin, is a great detective story set in a cockpit of history. John Cleal is a big fan of Lynda La Plante’s Jane Tennison series. Murder Mile is a prequel, set as Tennison has just been promoted to a DS and posted to the tough South London borough of Peckham. John says that La Plante’s tense, taut style, with emphasis on plot, characterisation, location and era, comes across strongly and convincingly and carries the book to an explosive and gruesome ending. Regular visitors to Crime Review will know that Arnold Taylor is working his way through the reissued Maigret books. Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Ghost features an injured colleague and a disappearing young woman. Arnold says the plot is involved and has a large number of characters but hangs together very well. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t so sure about Murder on the Left Bank by Cara Black, particularly its lead character, but says that if haute couture and French expressions are up votre rue, the book is a binge-busting, fast, easy read.

There’s also a French setting for A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon, where an Israeli man disappears from Charles de Gaulle airport. Chris Roberts says this excellent tale begins at a ferocious pace, which continues throughout – and that you don’t often find a spy novel with so many laugh out-loud moments. And then we’re hot-footing it off to Poland where ambitious social climber Zofia Turbotynska ends up poking her nose into a murder. Ewa Sherman says that Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa gives an excellent portrait of a woman who wants more from her structured life and who refuses to remain in the shadow of her husband while simultaneously pretending to be a part of it. Sylvia Maughan praised both the writing and the translation of Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti, where police superintendent Teresa Battaglia must break through the closed and secretive nature of the local villagers to solve a murder in a remote spot near the Italian/Austrian border.

Top of the Scandi agenda this week is The Katharina Code by Jørn Lier Horst, where Chief Inspector William Wisting does what he does every year and reads through the files of a cold case of a woman’s disappearance 24 years previously. Ewa Sherman says it’s a good solid mystery about blame and circumstances.

John Cleal praises A Single Source by Peter Hanington, which features rogue radio reporter William Carver, who senses a story buried behind the events of Cairo’s Arab Spring. Former hack John says it’s so clearly mined from Hanington’s own experiences as to make it feel totally authentic. Chris Roberts welcomes the reissue of The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal, first published in 1969. It features Filiberto Garcia, a Mexico City police hitman, who is assigned to investigate when rumours are heard of an assassination planned for the US president on a forthcoming visit. Chris says that despite its age, the book is a great read and feels very modern, with humour as well as notes of tragedy.

While we’re on the subjects of presidents and assassination, John Cleal was impressed with Three Bullets by RJ Ellory, where a freelance photographer, investigating his ex-girlfriend’s supposed suicide, also uncovers the rotten core at the heart of JFK’s Camelot. John says it breathes new, if alternative, life into the greatest controversy of 20th century American politics. Our YA offering this issue is also over in the States. Unearthly Things by Michelle Gagnon takes a contemporary, sideways look at Charlotte Brontë’s darkly brooding classic Jane Eyre, transplanting the story from the windswept moors to the bright sunshine of San Francisco. Linda Wilson found herself completely immersed in the story.

Back in the UK, and Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t so sure about Trust No One by Anthony Mosawi, where a woman has a handful of useless belongings and a polaroid photo of a man, but has nothing else, not even her memory. Kati thought the story read like a wannabe Hollywood thriller – plenty of imagination but too much tell, not show. John Cleal was whisked back to the 1980s in Slow Motion Ghosts by Jeff Noon, where DI Henry Hobbes, ostracised by his colleagues for reporting a racial assault, is plunged into the obsessive world of fan worship by the ritual killing of a rock singer. John says the story has an edgy, melancholic feel to it. There’s a race angle in Fade to Grey by John Lincoln. Gethin Grey and his Cardiff-based legal team are instructed by a film star to review the case of a black man convicted of the murder of a white girl in Bristol. Chris Roberts says it boasts a thrilling finale. John Barnbrook, meanwhile, put his life on hold while he inhaled Perfect Silence by Helen Fields, where a serial killer is taking girls, skinning them alive and making dolls from their skin. He says that the series featuring DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach is gripping and well-plotted, with excellent characters. 11 Missed Calls by Elisabeth Carpenter features Anna, whose mother disappeared 30 years ago – but a strange note casts doubt on everything Anna has been brought up to believe. Linda Wilson says the writing is fluid and the characterisation strong.

This issue’s historicals both take place in Victorian London. Linda Wilson praised The Anarchists’ Club by Alex Reeve, where a woman’s body is found in a shallow grave with coroner’s assistant Leo Stanhope’s address in her purse. Leo, who is hiding a huge secret, pursues the truth with an engaging mix of tenacity and compassion in a series of cleverly managed revelations. John Cleal was enthralled by MJ Tjia’s A Necessary Murder, featuring courtesan/detective Heloise Chancey, who must solve a baffling series of brutal murders which appear to have their origin in events many years ago in the Far East. John says the twists and turns are as dark as the streets of Limehouse and the East India Dock, where the book is partly set.

Please welcome author Glen Erik Hamilton to the Countdown seat. He admits to a rather endearing addiction to cop show Columbo, and also presents us with an eclectic mix of drinking chums. And you’ve got to love a man who lists apeshit as one of his favourite words (Sharon thought she was one of the few people who still used the expression!).

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Glen Erik Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat in Seattle, Washington, playing and occasionally finding trouble around the islands, marinas, and commercial docks of the Pacific Northwest.  Whenever the boat drifted on calm seas, Glen would raid his parents’ bookshelves, passing the idle hours with Travis McGee, Spenser, and the labyrinthine plots of Agatha Christie and Frederick Forsyth. Years later Glen would earn a theatre degree (as well as a computer science degree more obviously suited to a corporate job), and would meet his wife while both were performing in a Christie play, so time well spent.

It was moving away from his hometown that made Glen want to write about it. The combined real estate collapse and economic boom forced a massive amount of change on Seattle, and the divides between classes and generations became much wider. As his family settled near Los Angeles, Glen shifted his creative energies from stage acting to writing. He returned to the Northwest frequently to examine that transformed wilderness with new eyes, and to consider what sort of crime might thrive.

Glen’s novels have won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics Awards, as well as nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero Awards. The latest in his Van Shaw series, Mercy River, was released in March 2019 to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Glen is the current President of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and publicly acknowledges his addiction to Columbo.

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

Tremendous luck cleverly disguised as dogged perseverance. And vice versa.

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

* Thunderclouds, an unusual sight here in Burbank.
* A stainless-steel French press, a gift from my wife, brimming with coffee.
* An Atlas Obscura calendar open to an illustration of Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place in the world. * Silly Putty.
* A list of musicians and bands I’ve been meaning to sample, like Ex Hex and Gin Wigmore.
* Green bananas.
* A giant poster of Margaret Bourke-White’s famed aerial photograph of a DC-4 flying over Manhattan in 1939.
* Post-its in the shape of a dead body with a pen spearing the chest.
* And a tinfoil and plastic robot festooned with foam rubber stars, made by our daughter when she was five.

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

Egg scramble with chorizo sausage, jack cheese, green onion, and Louisiana Crystal hot sauce. Thick sourdough toast slathered with absurd quantities of butter. Also serves as a last meal for the condemned.