March 14 2020

There are nowhere near enough BAME crime fiction writers, so we were delighted to see two in the latest issue – one YA, one adult, and both examining contemporary themes.

YA writer Brittney Morris has crafted fully rounded characters and heart-in-the mouth online duels in Slay where 17-year-old Keira Johnson has created an online game. Linda Wilson was absolutely hooked. And Chris Roberts says that Attica Locke powerfully conveys just what it means to be black in contemporary America in Heaven My Home where a Texas Ranger searches for the missing son of an imprisoned white supremacist.

A book from the 1930s looks horribly prescient today with all the current panic-buying. Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson focuses on a pacifist couple fleeing to the Grampian wilderness to avoid the husband being called up for a war with which they do not agree. John Cleal says it's an uncommonly moving read. Also from the British Library, who are doing us proud with their re-releases, is The Measure of Malice. It’s a collection of 14 short stories illustrating how crime fiction reflected – and in some cases predicted – the use of science in crime detection, and John says it’s well-chosen and brilliantly edited by crime fiction doyen Martin Edwards

Proceed this way, please, for a healthy line-up of police procedurals this issue, marshalled by Linda Wilson … She has magnanimously overlooked the hero’s silly name, and says that Black Summer by MW Craven, featuring Washington Poe, boasts a mix of good characters, a devious but never outright impossible plot and the beautiful backdrop of Cumbria. Linda’s also very fond of James Oswald’s DCI Tony McLean where there are silly names of the multi-agency kind for our hero to deal with in Bury Them Deep. She says the series, which is ten books in, shows no signs of flagging. And Linda’s hoping to see more of Yorkshire DS Adam Tyler, who ends up with a too hot to handle cold case. She says that Firewatching by Russ Thomas has likeable main characters and doesn’t over-play the angst.

And there are a couple of international cops as well. In A Death in the Medina by James von Leyden, dogged local detective Belkacem investigates the death of a Moroccan girl during a hot Ramadan in Marrakech. It took Chris Roberts a while to warm to the book, but he says the reader gains a deeper understanding of the way the country operates. Detectives Holger Munch and Mia Krüger are in search of a serial killer who targets random ordinary people in The Boy in the Headlights by Samuel Bjørk. Ewa Sherman says it’s a long and emotional journey with a decent and clever conclusion.

Ewa was among the reviewers who got their hands on books from some favourite authors. She says that A Grave for Two by Anne Holt, the first in a new series featuring disgraced lawyer Selma Falck, is an intelligent and gripping story. John Cleal nabbed the latest in the series featuring Galway cop-turned-PI Jack Taylor. He says that Galway Girl underlines Ken Bruen’s total dominance of this peculiarly Irish version of the deepest noir. Sharon Wheeler settled down for the latest episode in Elly Griffiths’ classy soap opera featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway and lugubrious cop Harry Nelson. She says that The Lantern Men makes excellent use of local legends and the East Anglian setting.

Our reviewers had mixed luck on the thriller front. John Cleal was highly unimpressed with Under Occupation by Alan Furst, which focuses on spying and subterfuge in occupied Paris inspired by the true story of Polish prisoners in Nazi Germany, who smuggled intelligence to Britain through the French resistance. John says it feels as if Furst used bits of ideas, scenes and characters from his working notes – and that there are basic errors of fact. By contrast, Chris Roberts says that The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon, where Aaron Wiley visits Argentina to track down a Nazi in hiding who bears responsibility for the death of many in his family, is continuous action from the off, and a thriller of the highest quality. The Silent War by Andreas Norman features a gripping tale and a convincing lead character, who is head of Swedish Intelligence in Brussels. Chris also praises Ian Giles’ translation.

Elsewhere, you get what you pay for with a Karen Rose book if you’re a romantic suspense fan! Sylvia Maughan says that Say You’re Sorry is thoughtful and readable, but also predictable. Kati Barr-Taylor bagged a couple of quick and easy reads with Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia and The Nowhere Child by Christian White, although there were flaws in both and she says you’ll have to leave your disbelief at the door! Viv Beeby found the characters rather more convincing in Karen Perry’s Come a Little Closer where a man returns to his Dublin neighbourhood after 19 years away – time he’s spent in prison.

There’s one true crime offering this week in the rather unusual form of The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton. West ran a detective agency for more than 30 years and her exploits grabbed headlines, but did she tell the truth? John Cleal says that despite almost endless frustrations, Stapleton sticks to her task to provide a deliciously salacious glimpse of the underbelly of high society.

We welcome author Louise Candlish to the Countdown chair – and agree vehemently that Roger Federer should be president of the world! And we’re nodding vigorously at the six things she can’t live without as well – particularly her big, snuggly coat!

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
Louise Candlish

Louise Candlish finds it convenient to call herself a northerner (born in the northeast to Geordie parents), a Midlander (grew up in Northampton) and a Londoner (resident for 33 years), according to who she’s talking to and why. She has done enough awful and crazy jobs (running a rollercoaster ride dressed as an astronaut; teaching tennis with a sponge ball) to appreciate the writing gig as the best in the world.

She has a chequered past – juvenile delinquent, party animal, compulsive giggler, including one outburst, on stage, during a sixth-form performance of Blithe Spirit – but now, in middle age, relishes being a grown-up. Fervently anti-anti-ageing, she can’t bear to see actresses do stuff to their skin that makes them look like they’ve been carved out of soap.

Louise uses a CBT technique to combat the terrors of the current political climate by imagining Roger Federer as president of the world. She has not missed an episode of The Archers in 16 years.

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

Shop-girl
Coach
Waitress
Ride-operator
Assistant
Editor
Copywriter
Novelist
Optimist
Catastrophist

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

Fox-red Labrador puppy (Bertie)
Coffee machine
Overflowing bin I forgot to take out last night
Print of The Escalator by Cyril Power
Photo of my daughter in infant school
Photo of our black Lab Maggie on the beach before she died
Savaged sock
Wrapper of a Reese’s Nut Bar
Roll of Scotch tape

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

I could probably just about do my prawn taco lettuce wraps in that time.