July 13 2019

Crime Review is home to some old newspaper hacks of varying degrees of grumpiness, so our ears twitched when one of them insisted vehemently that he had a scoop –  the earliest book to feature a journalist hero had fallen into his lap …

Ironically, though, our ex-Fleet Street man John Cleal says that The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher, written more than a century ago and featuring young journalist Frank Spargo, who stumbles on a death scene in London’s Middle Temple, is a welcome break from the often frantic and unreal activities of the present-day additions to the sub-genre it spawned! There’s also a legal angle in Michael Gilbert’s Smallbone Deceased, when a client is found dead in a legal firm’s office deed box. Chris Roberts says that the minutiae of 1950s offices and the life of the upper middle classes are well depicted. If you like solving mystery puzzles, you might want to give Baroness Orczy’s The Teahouse Detective a try. John says the short stories may not stretch the brainpower of experienced crime aficionados too much, but they are still a superb example of their type and are well worth a read. Even further back in time among this week's historicals is the setting for The Broken Token by Chris Nickson, set in the Georgian era. Fiona Spence devoured the audiobook, read by former Blake’s 7 star Steven Pacey, and says it has a captivating set-up, with family dramas nearly eclipsing both the murders and the gritty, freeform investigation

One of this week’s Euro releases harks back to the 1970s. Stasi 77 by David Young features the gutsy Major Karin Muller fighting a sinister obstructive bureaucracy (yes, the Stasi). Chris Roberts says it’s a series worth following. And there’s another dogged female lead in Black Wolf by GD Abson – according to Chris it’s the best detective fiction set in Russia since Martin Cruz Smith’s Arcady Renko series. It’s fast-moving and gripping from the first pages, and the detail is wholly convincing. It’s a hat-trick of female main characters, with Malice in Malmo by Torquil MacLeod, featuring Inspector Anita Sundström who has a raft of conflicting issues complicating her life. Ewa Sherman says the meticulous plotting, fluid narration and totally believable characters are the key features of the series

And a plod's life is not a happy one back in the UK. John Cleal is an admirer of William Shaw’s books, and says that Deadland, the latest to feature DS Alex Cupidi, shows the author’s ability to write about contemporary events with intelligence, well-drawn characters and sinister and divisive themes. Madeleine Marsh hopes to see a series spring from She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge. She says it’s a riveting read from start to finish as the action moves back and forth from past to present. The Divinities by Parker Bilal looks like being the first in a new series featuring a cop and a forensic psychologist sidekick. Chris Roberts liked the two main characters and says there’s an engaging story there as well. There’s high quality crime fiction, too, from Caz Frear. Linda Wilson says that Stone Cold Heart boasts likeable, well-handled main characters and a cleverly executed plot. John Barnbrook got thoroughly immersed in Perfect Crime by Helen Fields, where a serial killer in Edinburgh is specifically targeting people who have attempted suicide. Arnold Taylor wasn’t so convinced, though, by Catherine Moloney’s Blood Will Have Blood, and felt that writing about what you know – in this case a school – doesn’t always work.

If you’re hoping for some willy-waving thrillers this week your luck is in! Come on, does Linda Wilson ever let you down? She’s hooked on James Deegan’s series that stars former SAS hard man John Carr, and says that Once a Pilgrim puts him up there with the likes of Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. You may need to leave your scepticism at the door, though, if you read Shadow by James Swallow, which has a plucky couple pursuing extremist right-wingers around Europe. John Cleal describes it as a (deep breath) rip-roaring, hi-tech, action-adventure thriller. 

Over in the US, John hung on for the ride in Lost Creed by Alex Kava where a child trafficking bust sets K9 handler Ryder Creed on a search for his missing sister. John says that Kava has melded fact and fiction into a fast-moving, compelling and totally believable story. By contrast, Kati Barr-Taylor muttered darkly that A Gift for Dying by MJ Arlidge, that has a serial killer prowling Chicago, has too much tell and not enough show. But devoted Spenser fan Linda Wilson is satisfied that the veteran PI is in safe hands with Ace Atkins, who was chosen by the Robert B Parker estate to take over the series, and says that Old Black Magic shows he’s now writing vintage Parker as well as the man himself.

If you like your crime fiction served with a side order of woo-woo, give Syd Moore’s books a go. Strange Tombs is set at Halloween on a mystery and suspense residential creative writing week at Ratchette Hall. As reviewer Anthea Hawdon says, what could possibly go wrong? She describes it as effectively a country-house murder scenario with enough hints of a supernatural element to keep it spooky in places.

There's just one YA title this week, but it’s a good ‘un. Linda Wilson says that The Haven by Simon Lelic, which features a group of kids living under London’s streets, is a fast-paced and ingenious romp around the city with an engaging cast of characters.

Please welcome American writer Michael Koryta to the Countdown seat. We obviously got him twitching when we asked him what nine objects he could see from where he was sitting - and we weren’t banking on mysterious stains on skirting boards! And you’ve got to admire his logic for his seven drinking companions …

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
Michael Koryta

Michael Koryta (pronounced Ko-ree-ta) worked as a private investigator, a newspaper reporter and taught at the Indiana University School of Journalism before turning to writing full-time.

His first novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye, was accepted for publication when he was 20 years old. He wrote his first two published novels before graduating from college and was published in nearly ten languages before he fulfilled the ‘writing requirement’ classes required for his diploma.

Michael and his wife Christine divide their time between Bloomington, Indiana, and Camden, Maine, with a cranky cat named Marlowe, an emotionally disturbed cat named John Pryor (named after the gravestone on which he was found as an abandoned kitten) and a dog of unknown heritage named Lola.

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

Omit all the needless words. Omit needless words. Omit needlessness.

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

A mountain, a frozen river, birch trees, snow, one cold crow, one brave squirrel, a woodpile, a notepad covered in red ink, and now that you've got me looking around, a troubling stain on the baseboard. When did that get there? What does it mean? Is it alive? Hmm ... 

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

Eight minutes? Fish on the grill, side of asparagus, beer in hand.