October 12 2019
The fact it’s our anniversary means you have to indulge us when we scream “Googie Withers!” Both Linda and Sharon have a fixation with old UK TV prison dramas (Within These Walls! Bad Girls! We may be channelling Bodybag …) And there are two books this issue with a prison angle. Linda says that The Sinner by Martyn Waites, where cop Tom Killgannon is asked to do one last undercover job to get close to a convicted child killer in Blackmoor prison, is a dark, atmospheric thriller. On My Life by Angela Clarke focuses on a woman on remand for the murder of her boyfriend’s daughter. Chris Roberts was struck by the substantial casual cruelty faced by prisoners.
We’re as bored as the next reviewer of cops with far too much personal baggage that overwhelms plots. So we shall thank John Cleal for his recommendation of Jo Spain’s The Boy Who Fell. The latest in the DCI Tom Reynolds series is clever, compulsive and occasionally blackly comic – and definitely crime fiction for grown-ups, says John!
There’s a sizable cop contingent from abroad this week – and John is delighted to get his hands on the latest Deon Meyer book. The Last Hunt features Captain Benny Griessel of South Africa’s elite Hawks police unit (yeah, OK, he has a lot of personal baggage – so sue us, as this is an awesome series!) and his partner Vaughn Cupido are assigned to investigate the death of an ex-policeman and uncover a plot to kill the country’s corrupt president. John says that Meyer, the undisputed champion of South African crime fiction, has always employed shrewd social comment to highlight his series, and this instalment is no exception. The intense Freiburg detective Louise Boni is back in The Dance of Death by Oliver Bottini, and Chris Roberts says she’s a mesmerising character. Also set in Germany is Beton Rouge (love the title!) by Simone Buchholz, featuring public prosecutor Chastity Riley and Detective Chief Inspector Ivo Stepanovic who investigate a horrendous case of a naked and tortured man left in a case outside an office of Germany’s biggest magazine. Ewa Sherman says the author casts a critical eye on contemporary society while creating a brilliant and dark thriller.
There’s a strong social justice angle to So Lucky by Nicola Griffith, where, in the space of a week, Mara Tagarelli loses her wife, her health and her job. Soon she is struggling on all levels and even afraid for her life. Linda Wilson says the book isn’t just about either not seeing or ignoring a person – it’s also a hard-hitting crime story.
Arnold Taylor is still working his way through the Maigret reissues. This time out he reviews Maigret and the Nahour Case by Georges Simenon, and says that the chief interest in the novel lies in Maigret's interview technique, alongside his awareness that he will not be able to prove absolutely the guilt of the person concerned without at the same time causing difficulties for essentially innocent people, even if they have lied to him. Chris Roberts has enjoyed Vaseem Khan’s ex-Inspector Chopra series with its attendant cast, including a baby elephant! In Bad Day at the Vulture Club, the mismatched gang investigate the murder of a prominent Parsee. Chris says that despite the humour that pervades every page, the reader gets an education about the very real issues facing those living in one of India’s largest cities.
Also on the law enforcement side is The Blameless Dead by Gary Haynes, where FBI Special Agent Carla Romero and lawyer Gabriel Hall are thrown together as they investigate a series of gruesome crimes that have their roots 70 years in the past. John Cleal says this isn’t one for the squeamish. Kati Barr-Taylor recommends Merilyn Davies’ excellent debut novel When I Lost You – although she warns that it has a very complex plot. It features crime analyst Carla Brown who must help the police team find out if a baby’s murderer is the mother, or whether an even more sinister crime has taken place.
If you’re glued to the rugby union World Cup, give some Japanese crime fiction a go while you’re watching lots of men with funny-shaped balls. Chris Roberts says that Nick Hurst’s affection for the country shines through in Falling From the Floating World where an expat Englishman gets embroiled with a mafia-type organisation as he tries to track down his missing girlfriend. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring you your usual helping of angst, trees and snow. This week it’s a Nordic YA novel. Linda Wilson says that The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake by Sif Sigmarsdottir exposes the dark side of social media and the kind of manipulation that big business engages in for its own ends.
We always let Linda show off her knowledge of ancient Rome and Greece to prove that all that A-level studying wasn’t in vain, and we’re happy to let her rant about Americanisms not being ironed out of books in the first of this pair! The Exiled by David Barbaree has a series of dangerous power games played out in ancient Rome against the threatening backdrop of Mount Vesuvius. Linda says it’s frighteningly vivid. And she also enjoyed Scorpions in Corinth by JM Alvey, where Athenian playwright Philocles and his actors have been hired to take one of his popular plays to Corinth. Critics he can take, but poisoning is a bit extreme …
Also on the historical front this week, there's Stephen O’Rourke’s debut novel The Crown Agent, which is a good ‘un, according to John Cleal. Disgraced young Edinburgh doctor Mungo Lyon is recruited by the Crown to investigate a murder and shipwreck, and features in a well-told tale with plenty of derring-do.
If you like a helping of horror or woo-woo with your crime fiction, give The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper a go, where a family must stay in a swanky lodge for 30 days to inherit it. Madeleine Marsh says it’s an enjoyable read for fans of the horror/thriller genres, and best read in one or two long sittings to maintain the feeling of increasing claustrophobia and the growing fear that there’s no escape.
Elsewhere, Sylvia Maughan had reservations about the graphic descriptions and some of the content in She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell, where twins Bel and Rose are starting in the same dorm at their new boarding school. But she says the quality of the writing alone makes the book a good read. Kati Barr-Taylor says there are plenty of twists and turns in Joy Fielding’s The Bad Daughter, although not all are convincing. Hang on for the ending, though, as Kati says the denouement is a gratifying bombshell. One of the disadvantages of reviewing can be coming late to a series. You Die Next by Stephanie Marland features some urban explorers breaking into an abandoned film studio and encountering a horrific murder scene. John Barnbrook says it relies too heavily on the reader knowing the previous book.
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Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
Swapped psychology for crime writing, while haunted by the past.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
Instow beach, across the river
The two halves of my crocodile bookends
Piles of notes for the new book
People walking their dogs along the quay
Oystercatchers on the sand banks at low tide
Puddles reflecting the grey, June sky
The blue stapler that I had at college and doesn’t work properly
Boats leaning on the mud, waiting for the tide to lift them
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
Rick Stein’s spicy scrambled eggs: onion, chillies and tomatoes cooked in a pan with ground cumin and pepper, fresh coriander and eggs scrambled in at the end, served with slices of fresh ginger and a poppadom.