September 28 2019

Winter’s coming, as they say in some TV drama … And you can guarantee that there will be a surfeit of snow when it comes to the Nordic noir brigade (repeat after us: snow, trees, angst, trees, snow, angst, snow …) We’ve also got some spooky stuff to make you shiver nervously when the windows rattle and things go bump in the night.

Linda Wilson is rather a sucker for ghost stories and woo-woo in crime fiction (why do you think the editors tussle over who gets the new Phil Rickman book first?) The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish, which features a young woman landing her dream job as a tour guide where she plays the part of a woman living in 1830s Edinburgh, normalises both the ghost narrative and the timeslip aspects of the story, says Linda.

Our beloved Scandi queen Ewa Sherman encountered something a bit out of the ordinary with a mystery set in 17th century Iceland. She says that The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea is a masterpiece of moody and compelling characterisation with a young woman suddenly married off to a widower with many secrets.

The other historicals this week are rather more recent … A Death in Chelsea by Lynn Brittney is set in London during the first world war when a much-disliked society gossip writer is found hanged. John Cleal says it’s a clever story, with plenty of well-researched historical background and social comment. Chris Roberts saw echoes of Maigret in the placid, pipe-smoking Superintendent Tom Littlejohn of Scotland Yard who’s called in to investigate the death of three directors at a Surrey joinery in the 1960s in Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs. And over in early 19th century New York, black and Irish gangs are fighting for control and speculators are gambling fortunes in Hudson’s Kill by Paddy Hirsch. John Cleal says it’s extremely violent, and he also wasn’t at all sure about the book’s use of Muslim characters.

Also across the Pond, there’s gang warfare to deal with in American Heroin by Melissa Scrivener Love, where a woman who’s become a key figure in her South LA suburb has to make some tough decisions if she’s to survive. Chris Roberts says she’s remarkably clear-headed about what she has to do. There’s another ballsy female character in the form of bounty hunter Lori Anderson in Deep Blue Trouble by Steph Broadribb. Linda Wilson praises the clever bait-and-switch moves in the plot

The cops are out in force this week, both in the UK and Europe. Sharon Wheeler likened the latest DCI Bill Slider mystery to a warm soak in a bath full of bubbles after the day from hell. Headlong isn’t the most sprightly addition to Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ long-running series, but it’s an amiable and undemanding read as the wise-cracking team investigate the death of a leading literary agent. Ann Cleeves moves away from her two popular series to introduce Devon cop DI Matthew Venn in The Long Call. Linda Wilson found the main character rather flat and says the investigation takes a while to find its feet before finally turning into a page-turner. Incidentally, we might have to hide Jake Woodhouse’s The Copy Cat from Linda. Chris Roberts says our Dutch hero Inspector Jaap Rykel is an engaging character, and there’s plenty of non-stop action and life-and-death contests. BUT THERE’S A DOG IN DANGER! Ooops, were we shouting? Sorry not sorry …! And while we’re on reviewers’ dislikes, it sounds like Geraldine Steel, the demoted cop in Leigh Russell’s long-running series, has been hit once too often with the stupid stick. John Cleal says, though, that Rogue Killer does boast plenty of tension and misdirection. And he praises To Catch a Killer by Emma Kavanagh where Detective Sergeant Alice Parr is first attender at the attempted murder of an unidentified woman in a London park. This intricate, clever trans-Atlantic story is well told, with some brilliantly drawn characters, says John.

This week’s YA offering has beleaguered cop Detective Inspector Raminder Singh allowing teenage sleuth Garvie Smith to stick his nose into other people’s business in Simon Mason’s Hey Sherlock! Linda Wilson is very fond of this series and says Mason delivers a masterclass in how to build up a strong, logical storyline and people it with a cast that always come over as real, albeit flawed, human beings.

The thriller writers seem to be taking a break this week, although there’s a Brexit angle to Alan Judd’s Accidental Agent. Arnold Taylor says that comparisons with the master John le Carre are justified in this highly complex political puzzle

We go north of the border for this issue's legal fix. John Cleal, as befits a former hack, is a huge admirer of Anna Smith’s Rosie Gilmour series. He’s yet to be convinced, though, by her new books featuring former corporate lawyer Kerry Casey, who’s taken over her father’s gangland empire. He says that Fight Back has no real atmosphere, lurches from one bloody scene to the next, and that the dialogue is often cliched. Chris Roberts was more entertained by William McIntyre’s Fixed Odds which stars lawyer Robbie Munro. He says it’s a realistic picture of criminal defence as well as an amusing commentary on an advocate only too prone to moral infirmity himself.

Elsewhere, Kati Barr-Taylor says that Sleep by CL Taylor, where one of seven hotel guests is a murderer, is an incredibly fast and entertaining read, and pure escapism for an evening in front of the fire or an afternoon on the beach. And she devoured Erin Kinsley’s Found in one sitting and enjoyed every page – Kati describes it as a little gem that’s neither quite family drama nor crime procedural, but cherry-picks the best of both worlds. And for her hat-trick this week, she reviewed 55 by James Delargy, where Heath and Gabriel are telling the same story about their abduction – but one of them is lying. Kati says there’s great imagination on show, but a lack of pacing. A Place to Lie by Rebecca Griffiths moves between 1990 and the present day where the murder of a woman appears linked to a summer spent in the countryside nearly 30 years ago. John Barnbrook says it’s skilfully written and creates an interesting balance between a semi-nostalgic memoire of a lost childhood and the increasingly ominous foreboding of the modern murder.

We’ve dusted down the Countdown chair for retired Scottish cop-turned-writer Peter Ritchie. We suspect not many writers have been deep-sea fishermen. And we’ll happily join him on the dash down the chippie for a quick meal – presumably he’ll expect the fish to be locally-caught! And after supper we think we’ll enjoy the company of Peter’s varied bunch of drinking companions.

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Peter Ritchie

Peter Ritchie is a retired senior police officer, and the author of the Grace Macallan crime fiction series. He grew up in the fishing communities of Musselburgh and Port Seton, East Lothian.

After eight years as a deep-sea fisherman, Peter joined the police service, working in CID, Murder, Serious Crime and Regional Crime Squads, NCIS London and Europol in The Hague.  In his final year he worked on a project in Croatia. His time in the service included investigating the Robert Black murders, at a time when it is now known three serial killers were operating in Scotland.

Following retirement Peter worked on a number of private investigations and a public inquiry in Northern Ireland.

He has occasionally appeared on BBC Radio Scotland, including interviewing other crime writers with his friend and former senior police officer Tom Wood. Guests have included Ian Rankin and Denise Mina (although they have not arrested either).

Peter lives in Musselburgh. He writes poetry, enjoys painting and volunteers at St Columba’s Hospice and a writing group organised by the Bethany.

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

The sea formed me. The rest has been an education.

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

A beautiful garden
A scary looking cat
A couple of pheasants
The remains of a bowl of porridge
My second cup of tea
A shelf full of old books
A book called Where Are The Women on the table
My diary
The clock telling me to get on with my work

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

I reckon I can make it to the chippie in that time so fish and chips