November 30 2019

It’s about time some of the kick-arse female thriller leads elbowed the blokes out of the way – and we bet they change their underwear more often than Jack Reacher does!

Linda Wilson has a weakness for tough guy and gal thrillers. And she’d like to see the lead characters in Steph Broadribb’s and Zoe Sharp’s books working together! The former serves up a classy action adventure in Deep Dirty Truth, featuring bounty hunter Lori Anderson tangling with the Mob. And close personal protection ace Charlie Fox is down on her luck and can’t turn down a dodgy job in Bad Turn.

Several reviewers seized old favourites enthusiastically this issue. John Cleal, who can spot a genre cliché at 20 paces, is prepared to forgive an over-dramatic ending in The Dirty Dozen because, hey, it’s Lynda La Plante and another early career outing for Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison, who’s been posted to the notoriously misogynistic Sweeney, the Flying Squad. John says it’s heavy on procedure, but an accurate and fascinating portrait of the difficulties detectives faced. Linda Wilson has forgiven Quintin Jardine a lot during the epic Bob Skinner series, not least removing our hero from the police force, but she says The Bad Fire has plenty of old friends back, plus a vintage Jardine plot. Chris Roberts has pitched in to help Arnold Taylor with the steady stream of Georges Simenon re-releases. Maigret’s Childhood Friend conveys so well both life in Paris and the nature of Maigret himself, one of the great characters of crime fiction, says Chris.

Beware, though, of your favourites disappointing you occasionally! Kati Barr-Taylor wants you all to know that it will be a while before she ventures into a charity shop again in search of a bargain – and it’s all the fault of Graham Masterton where old sweaters take on a bizarre role in Ghost Virus. Arnold Taylor is a big admirer of Mick Herron and his classy spy novels. But he says that Joe Country, featuring the ‘Slow Horses’ from Slough House on the trail of a missing young man, seems to consist of much tramping around Wales and that the reader is likely to end up as lost as the searchers.

The spooks are out as well in Man on Ice from TV journalist Humphrey Hawksley where a change of leadership in both the White House and the Kremlin provides an opportunity for ambitious men. Chris Roberts says there’s some appalling ignorance that’s difficult to believe, even amongst recent US presidents. But he’s magnanimously prepared to suspend disbelief if it helps the plot along! American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, where FBI intelligence officer Marie Mitchell is assigned to target Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, tackles issues of politics, race and gender – virtually unheard of in espionage literature, says John Cleal. He describes the story as suspenseful, psychologically sound, and ultimately believable. And John enjoyed some strong characterisation, gifted storytelling and detailed research from Andrew Williams in Witchfinder where the hunt for traitors in the British Secret Service snowballs after the defection of Burgess, Maclean and Philby.

Please welcome new reviewer Viv Beeby. She’s a former BBC Radio 4 producer – and the editors (Aston Villa and Preston North End fans) are in no position to mock someone for supporting Leicester City, given where they are in the Premiership! Viv dived into the Euro pool for her debut appearance with The Alphabet Murders by Lars Schutz, which is set in rural Germany. She says it’s a proper whodunit that kept her guessing to the end – but she’d have liked a map, please! Over in France, Chris Roberts says that Pascal Garnier is hard to beat if you want surreal noir! In C’est La Vie, a writer accompanies his son on a trip to Lille and is unexpectedly plunged into a nightmare. And on the Scandi front, Ewa Sherman’s verdict on After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe is that it doesn’t offer up a happy ending but does show some understanding of basic human emotions as a psychological profiler tries to keep her dementia a secret.

A forensic psychologist is at the centre of Michael Robotham’s Good Girl, Bad Girl – and the master storyteller has left Kati Barr-Taylor dangling over several small cliffs ... She’s hooked, though! And Kati obviously needs some comfort, as she describes This Dark Little Place by AS Hatch as having a claustrophobic atmosphere that pushes the reader down the unlit cellar steps and leaves them a little breathless! Kati says the debut novel boasts polished writing and a simple, yet great, premise. John Cleal was a big fan of Clare Carson’s previous series, set in London and the Orkneys. The Canary Keeper treads similar ground – this time in the 19th century – after corrupt police try to frame a young woman who’s found a body on the banks of the Thames. John excuses Carson a historical blip and says it’s an exhilarating story.

When it comes to releases from across the Pond, Kati Barr-Taylor has put first dibs on Joanna Schaffhausen’s next book. She says that her debut novel No Mercy, featuring a cop in therapy, has a powerful plot with confident freshness in the writing. Madeleine Marsh wasn’t so lucky with The Escape Room by Megan Goldin, where four Wall Street high-flyers find themselves trapped together in an elevator escape room. She says the characters are annoyingly one-dimensional and not a single one of them is likeable in any way – not even the one the reader is obviously supposed to sympathise with.

That noise you hear is Linda Wilson stamping her feet and bawling for an encore! She’s reached the end of Chris Russell’s music-based trilogy featuring a boyband and their young photographer. Linda says Songs About a Boy is writing for teens at its best. And she’s planning a duvet day to re-read all three back-to-back.

And on the plain weird front, there’s Breaking Dad, where James Lubbock tells the story of his life, of parents whose sexual orientation led them to part, and of his father the drug dealer. An unimpressed Chris Roberts says it’s as dull as any celebrity biography – only without the celeb!

Author Simon Lelic settles down in the Countdown seat this week. We like his favourite cities but can understand why he wants to come home to Brighton. And his five words have just made us hungry and longing for a takeaway pizza …

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Simon Lelic

Simon Lelic was born in Brighton in 1976 and, after a decade or so living in London and trying to convince himself that the tube was fine, really, because it gave him a chance to read, he and his wife moved back to Brighton with their three young children. That Barnaby, Joseph and Anja’s grandparents happened to live close enough by to be able to offer their babysitting services was, of course, entirely coincidental.

As well as writing, Simon runs an import/export business. He says this, when people ask, with a wink but fools no one – he’s more Del Trotter than Howard Marks!

Simon studied history at the University of Exeter. After graduating he was qualified, he discovered . . . to do an MA. After that he figured he had better learn something useful, so took a post-graduate course in journalism – so much for learning something useful!

After working freelance and then in business-to-business publishing, Simon now writes novels. Not useful either, necessarily, but fun and, in its own way, important.

His hobbies (when he has time for them) include reading (for which he makes time, because he can just about get away with claiming this is also work), golf, tennis, snowboarding and karate. His weekends belong to his family (or so his wife tells him), as does his heart.

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

Privileged, rewarding, frustrating, consuming, sleep-deprived, energising, testing, exciting, repetitive, blessed.

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

A beautiful old elm tree outside the window, which I’m terrified is going to be cut down; a seagull perched on a chimney pot across the street; the Garfield daily calendar I have next to my computer; three framed photographs on my desk, one of my daughter and each of my two sons; my ever-present notepad and pencil; and an empty coffee cup that urgently needs refilling . . .

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

About the only thing I’m capable of making in eight minutes is a sandwich. But I could probably get a pizza delivered in not much longer than that.