August 24 2019

Despite colder and wetter days drawing it, summer is still with us, and in this edition we’ve got a crop of potential holiday locations for you – provided you can ignore some distinctly murderous tendencies …

Chris Roberts was very taken with the 1960s cult French classic The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun by Sebastien Japrisot, in which a woman borrows her boss’s Thunderbird to leave Paris for a liberating trip to the south coast. It becomes a nightmare, though, when strangers along her route assure her that they have already met. Chris says the writing has an excellent style that’s ahead of its time. Also in France, Arnold Taylor relaxed in the company of an old friend with Maigret’s Patience by Georges Simenon. A series of daring robberies bring the inspector together with an old adversary. Arnold, who’s probably almost as familiar with the great detective as his creator was, enjoyed the opportunity to see Maigret at work, and whilst his investigative method appears to be simple, it is also based on logic and acute observation.

Ewa Sherman has jetted off to the snowy depths of north Sweden to join private investigators Sam Berger and Molly Bloom on the run from the authorities, She says Arne Dahl is the master of brilliant complex plots, intriguing characters and multi-layered narration. Hunted is the latest example of his literary craftsmanship which combines unexpected twists and morally dubious questions about trust, guilt and humanity. In Grab a Snake by the Tail by Leonardo Padura, Havana detective Mario Conde is persuaded to take the case of an elderly Chinese man who has been found hanged and marked with arcane symbols. Chris Roberts says Conde is a very human type of detective with many failings, but with his heart in the right place and he has a good nose for a clue. Chris also enjoyed The Friend by Joakim Zander in which a new recruit to the Swedish diplomatic service in Beirut meets a man at a party and falls under his spell. According to Chris, even if you haven’t read the two previous books, that’s no reason to stay away. The continued theme of Russian stirring of disaffection in Europe is very topical, and Chris praises the non-stop action and the memorable characters.

John Cleal hopped over to the west coast of Ireland for In the Galway Silence by Ken Bruen, which sees former cop-turned-PI Jack Taylor pitted against a vigilante assassin who uses the name ‘Silence’ – and the clash quickly becomes personal. This is another book where you don’t have to worry whether you already know the characters or not. John says that Bruen has the enviable ability to let the reader know what they need to about the protagonist’s past in a very few words.  And John adds that the book is quite brilliant – and it’s at the top of his list for book of the year!

Travelling further west, Linda Wilson ended up in the US with City of Windows by Robert Pobi. A sniper is terrorising New York, preying on law enforcement officers. The FBI call in Dr Lucas Page, a man who sees the world in a different way. Unlike anyone else, he has a chance of working out where the killing shots came from. Linda says the plot is complex but never impenetrable and Pobi quickly establishes the characters as the story hits the ground running and doesn’t ever slacken its grip.

At home, our reviewers have had a couple of police procedurals to get their teeth into, starting with Lin Anderson’s Sins of the Dead, the latest in the long-running series starring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. John Barnbrook has missed the last couple in the series and felt slightly at sea as a man goes on a murderous spree in Glasgow. John enjoyed the book but felt he would have got more out of the characters if he’d been up to speed with the previous books. For John Cleal, no one does atmosphere and menace better than Anthony J Quinn. In The Listeners, newly appointed Detective Sergeant Carla Herron is called to a psychiatric hospital after a patient confesses to murdering one of the psychotherapists. His confession is detailed, but impossible, as he was in a secure ward under 24-hour surveillance. John says this masterful novel is a must-read for those who enjoy intelligent crime fiction and its breath-taking settings of the dense pine forests and lochs provide a near-Gothic backdrop to a story that has a distinctly chilling vibe and a rich, intricate plot.   

Kati Barr-Taylor praised the strong Yorkshire setting in Danuta Kot’s Life Ruins in which a woman is certain she knows the identity of the victim of a brutal attack, but the police are determined to cast her as an unreliable witness. Kati says the Yorkshire scenery comes over as a character in its own right. And Kati also had mixed feelings about A Killer Harvest by Paul Cleave, in which a man soon starts seeing through the eyes of his adoptive father – things that he will never be able to un-see. Kati wanted more of a science fiction feel, but says that the book raises fascinating what ifs and ethical questions. Chris Roberts does like a good courtroom drama and was very much at home with Abi Silver’s The Cinderella Plan. When the head of a company that pioneers autonomous vehicles is involved in a horrific crash in one of his own cars, lawyers Burton and Lamb come to his defence. Chris describes the pair as very sharp and capable of acting as skilled investigators. He positively revelled in some excellent courtroom moments.

Missing kids are a staple of crime fiction these days. In Candice Fox’s Gone by Midnight a boy goes missing from a hotel. With the clock ticking, former detective Ted Conkaffey doesn’t know if he’s looking for a child or a body. Despite some misgivings, Kati Barr-Taylor thoroughly enjoyed this easy-to-read escapism. She says there are a couple of great twists, and it’s laugh out loud funny at times. A hotel is also the location for Lost You by Haylen Beck, in which it only takes an inattentive moment to plunge Libby into every parent’s worst nightmare when her three-year-old son Ethan goes missing on holiday. Despite normally steering clear of domestic noir, Linda Wilson says the book piqued her interest from the start, and never failed to deliver on its early promise. She describes it as a quality psychological thriller.

Sticking with the theme of missing offspring, John Cleal makes a rare holiday excursion into cosy territory to spend some time with Julia Chapman’s Dales detective in Date With Poison. PI Samson O’Brien is in deep trouble, framed by a gang out to destroy him. When his godson goes missing, accused of dealing drugs, O’Brien has to persuade his estranged partner Delilah Metcalfe to help him find the boy. John says this clever tale works reasonably well as a standalone and describes it as the best so far in the series, concentrating more on the personal lives of the two main characters than on the investigation they eventually conduct.

On the non-fiction front, former crime reporter John Cleal was distinctly unimpressed by Crossing the Line of Duty, Neil Root’s account of dodgy dealings in the Flying Squad. He describes the book as over-sensationalised and muck-raking. In contrast, Linda Wilson praised 30-Second Forensic Science by Sue Black and Niamh Nic Daéid, where two of the leading experts in the field take a quick-fire look at the fascinating and varied world of forensic science. She says the book will shed light on so many of the genre’s everyday terms. 

Linda’s been busy on the YA front again this week, starting with A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel. Hannah Gold doesn’t understand why she’s been consigned to a secure mental facility. After all, it wasn’t her fault that her roommate fell from a window and ended up in hospital in a coma. The book put Linda through the emotional wringer and provides an intimate look into a disturbed mind, where fact and fiction blend into a seamless whole. Linda describes this as quality writing for teens and adults alike. Dead Popular by Sue Wallman provides a fresh take on school stories when an illicit party at an elite boarding school ends in a death. This is another case of did she fall or was she pushed. Linda says Wallman’s writing is sharp, her teenagers are well-drawn, and the plot is enough to make the parents of any teens at boarding school blanch. There are no jolly hockey sticks in this story, but if there had been any, they are likely to have been used for lethal purposes!

Inborn by Thomas Enger originally started life as a book for the YA market, but in translation it’s been repurposed for adult readers. The high school in a small Norwegian village becomes a double-murder scene and immediately everyone points at 17-year-old Even who has been recently dumped by a girl found dead after the school concert. Ewa Sherman says Enger keeps the level of suspense growing until the intense finale.

Please welcome author Syd Moore to the Countdown seat this week. We liked her succinct summing-up of her life to date. And that’s going to be some group to go out for a drink with – and we wouldn’t argue with Boudicca!

Don't forget to take 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
Syd Moore

Syd Moore grew up in and lives in Essex where her Essex Witch Museum mysteries are set. She has had a lifelong fascination with witchcraft and each of the books in her series draws on real-life mysteries and historical events.

For nine years prior to crime writing she was a lecturer, worked in the publishing industry and presented Channel 4’s book programme, Pulp. Syd was founding editor of Level 4, a magazine for arts and culture, and co-creator of Superstrumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes.

In 2017 she founded the Essex Girls Liberation Front, which aims to change the definition of an Essex Girl and the stereotype of women of Essex, and has spoken on radio, television, political panels and at festivals and universities about the stereotype and problems that face women today. She is also a UK ambassador for DINNødhjælp, the Danish charity that helps Nigerian ‘witch’ children.

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

Varied, exciting, surprising, worrying, blood, sweat and tears. And laughs.

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

1. Lots and lots of overgrown ivy
2. My new hammock in its frame
3. Two Victorian chimneys
4. Next door’s cat, Delilah, playing with a heart-shaped leaf
5. One plastic skull on a pile of Strange Tombs
6. The underbellies of dove-grey clouds
7. A glass of chilled pinot
8. 35 World War II Dakota planes commemorating the D-Day landings
9. One concerned seagull

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