January 31 2020
In 2011, Linda was wondering whether she could make a go of editing the UK side of Reviewing the Evidence with help from Sharon and Yvonne, but it was a chance meeting in an Oxfam bookshop that sealed all our fates. Arnold came on board as Linda’s first reviewer in what would turn into a huge network of reviewers. Arnold introduced Chris Roberts, who has recently introduced our newest reviewer, Viv Beeby, and so it goes on. He stayed with us through the set-up of Crime Review and has written 199 reviews for us! We’ll welcome him back any time, and he will remain a dear friend and valued reviewer.
Arnold’s trademark is insightful, honest reviews and he’s set a high bar for us all to follow. His knowledge of spy fiction is huge, probably only beaten by his probably unparalleled track record for reviewing Maigret novels. We were going to end with a Maigret, but by a quirk of fate, Arnold was approached by Sheila Bugler’s publisher and asked to review her latest. He likes the series and was happy to do it, so naturally, we said yes!
I Could Be You features a woman who comes across the victim of an apparent hit-and-run driver. She is horrified to find an empty baby buggy nearby, with the woman’s child missing. As Arnold points out, nothing, however, can be taken for granted, even when it seems obvious. He describes the plotting as always believable, in spite of being highly intricate. Whisper it quietly, but Arnold was also responsible for Linda (and others!) reading their first Maigret books. In Maigret in Vichy by Georges Simenon the iconic detective is ordered to take the waters in the spa town of Vichy, but his rest cure is disturbed when a woman is murdered. Linda says that seeing Vichy and its inhabitants through Maigret’s eyes was an experience she thoroughly enjoyed. As ever, she also enjoyed the moral ambiguity here.
For the rest of this issue, we’re indulgently letting our reviewers loose on some of their favourite things. For Linda, it’s her trademark thrillers. In Simon Kernick’s latest, Die Alone, disgraced copper Ray Mason is broken out of prison, but the people responsible want someone dead and they’ve decided that Mason is best-placed to make that happen. The only problem is that the target is a candidate for the top job in British politics. At this point we will sit on our hands and refrain from comment like the laydees we are! Suffice it to say that Linda thinks Kernick delivers a fast, hard-hitting thriller with a central character who has crossed a fair few lines in his time and in this book, he crosses a few more.
She was also allowed to read The Runner, Stephen Leather’s latest. There’s a believable female character at the heart of this one, which does make a nice change for this author. Sally Page runs for a hobby, and as her job for MI5 is only at the very bottom of the tree, nowhere near the front line, she never expected to have to run for her life. Linda says the conclusion is as high-powered and explosive as she’s come to expect and this is another compelling military-grade thriller with characters both old and new, set in the murky world of British intelligence. Linda also got to have fun with teen thriller The Haven: Revolution by Simon Lelic. Pupils are going missing from an elite boarding school and the kids of the secret underground community, the Haven, know what they have to do. For teen and younger readers, books have come a long way from the Famous Five (which Linda and Sharon still love – repeat after us, lashings of ginger beer pop!) There’s a sense of real danger suffusing this story and Linda was cheering for them all the way.
Muscling in on the thriller front, with his usual sniper-scope accuracy for facts, large and small is our history buff John Cleal. He read Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey where a lone wolf captain is parachuted into occupied France by the SOE to kill a German scientist. John felt that despite the historical facts scattered throughout, the story stretches credulity but if you have a particular fondness for historical espionage stories, this will prove an entertaining read, encapsulating the very real horrors of the occupation of France and the role played by the women of the SOE. It’s also a timely reminder of why peace in Europe is essential.
Chris Roberts, who loves a trip abroad in good company, hopped over the Atlantic with old friend CJ Box. In The Bitterroots, a female PI is asked to check the evidence against a man accused of rape. Chris enjoyed the almost poetic depiction of the land and the wildlife. The main character, who comes across as both professional and feisty once she gets her teeth into the case, is a strong woman who can handle herself up against tough ole mountain boys up to no good. He also liked David Baldacci’s One Good Deed. A man discharged from prison in 1949 in southern US is offered work by a local businessman, but the job turns out to have complications. Chris says that despite far-fetched elements it’s nice to get some good news to end on, even if it’s something he currently fears is largely confined to fairy stories.
We’re mob-handed on the historical front this week, with Chris, John and Viv all weighing in. In Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee, Captain Sam Wyndham is in the hills of Assam taking a cure for his opium addiction, then events recall his experiences as a young constable in London in 1905, 17 years earlier. Chris says the adventure also features two locked-room mysteries; the first turns out to be simply explained, but the second is highly fiendish. As with earlier books in the series, the author’s concerns and interests are well wrapped in a very readable style, with many touches of humour. Chris’ next was a tad more taxing, with Boris Akunin’s latest, Not Saying Goodbye. Here, Detective Erast Fandorin wakes after three years in a coma in a world he barely recognises – Russia in the throes of revolution. Chris says the action throughout conveys the desperate struggle for power in Russia at the time, with death and torture routine. Those who are finding the current political situation hard to take might not want to venture into this one ….
John Cleal has a lot of fun with Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead by Karen Lee Street where the now crime-busting author travels to Paris to help a friend hunt down the criminal who brought his family to death and ruin. John says the main characters’ complexes, phobias and insecurities offer a superbly morbid and dark background. It’s also beautifully constructed with some positively lush prose and all the suspense, unease, darkness, violence and treachery one would expect of Poe himself. You can trust him on this. When John goes for something with a sledgehammer, we all know it!
Our most recent reviewer, Viv Beeby, is an Elly Griffths fan and jumped with indecent haste on Now You See Them. It’s Brighton in 1963 and a schoolgirl has gone missing from exclusive private school Roedean. Viv says Griffiths always manages to throw out multiple threads and gather them into a highly satisfactory conclusion.
John Cleal has a mixed relationship with Scottish noir. Sometimes he loves it, sometimes he decides enough is enough and runs away for a few cosies. But this time he was enthused by the latest outing for a damaged female copper in Our Little Secrets where the ambitious and hard-bitten DI Janet Hadden seeks help from a gang boss to boost her own career. John says if you haven’t come across Peter Ritchie before, you’re going to be in for a shock. It’s gritty, raw, brutal, and psychologically damaged. We think that means he liked it! But – whisper it low – he was less than convinced by something from Ian Rankin’s early stable that’s only just seeing the light of day. In Westwind, a satellite surveillance monitor is baffled when its pictures from space fail for a crucial period. John felt that the book, written in 1990 in a different world, is a hard sell now, but he adds that even a below-par effort from Rankin is still worth reading compared to some other writers,
As everyone hopefully knows by now, Ewa Sherman specialises in Scandis of all descriptions but even she was a tad non-plussed by Trolls, written by Stefan Spjut. She says she’s always liked trolls but now isn’t so sure! This is apparently Scandi horror at its strangest. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, you’ll have to decide for yourselves. She was on safer ground with Absolution by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freya are working together again and as usual there’s nasty goings on in Reykjavik. Ewa describes the book as a a masterclass in gruesomeness of descriptions, gore and terror. She advises you to read it and get off the unsocial media, especially at the moment.
Kati Barr-Taylor is to characterisation what John Cleal is to fact-checking. She will spot wonky characterisation at 20 paces and isn’t afraid to say so. Too Close by Natalie Daniels, quickly jumped her own admittedly high bar. The staff in the psychiatric hospital where Connie is incarcerated say she committed a terrible crime, but Connie says she can’t remember a thing. The book touched Kati’s heart whilst prodding at the brain cells. For her, it’s an excellent debut novel with vibrant characters. An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena was a little different. Kati didn’t feel any connection with any of the characters, but she was grateful the clever plot at least held her interest.
In Sea of Bones by Deborah O’Donoghue, a coroner’s report states suicide, but a woman cannot believe her niece would have taken her own life. The main character wasn’t Kati’s favourite protagonist and despite the woman’s supposed love for her niece, her behaviour and introspection contradicted this at times and Kati really doesn’t like contradiction! But it passed muster as good escapism and we all need some of that from time to time. It’s also another sharp debut novel. Kati likes to follow a series through where she can, and she’s been following CJ Tudor’s progress as a writer with interest. In The Other People, a man can’t believe his daughter is dead, but his search for her is driving him ever closer to a death-trap of revenge. Kati says the description is discreet but atmospheric and the dialogue is sharp and pithy. She picks up a few weak points but calls the book a vibrant, compulsive read and says the author delivers her stories with conviction.
So that’s our whistle-stop tour of our reviewers and their likes and dislikes this week. Without them there would be no reviews, and we’re not afraid to give them their heads … apart from the occasions when John deploys a rocket-launcher, but we know when not to let him have toys that make a big bang! That’s what happens when you let an ex-military man loose sometimes …. The reviewers whose names aren't mentioned here are all equally valuable and valued, and their names will be appearing in future issues as usual!
In the Countdown interview slot this week we have Luca Veste making himself comfortable. He once worked in a chip shop, which makes him our sort of person and as Sharon also likes the music scene, they’ll get on well. We’re also greatly intrigued by his acting career!
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Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
Chip shop, second-hand goods buyer, kitchen designer, civil servant, writer.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
Glass of Cherry Coke Zero
The remains of a bag of Butter Mintoes
Countdown on the TV
My PS4 with its LFC skin
The complete boxset of the TV series Angel
Picture of my kids
Candles that have never been lit
Too many cushions
A clock that has ‘The Veste family’ across its face.
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
A nice steak, with fried peppers and onions. With a bit of peppercorn sauce on the side. I’m slowly moving towards veganism, but having trouble giving up steak and mince.