April 11 2020

Regular visitors to Crime Review will know our foolproof Scandi mystery review theory – trees, snow, angst, snow, angst, trees and snow. We have been known to wonder aloud whether anyone ever writes any light-hearted stuff up there. And thanks to our in-house expert, we can confirm that they do!

Ewa Sherman is our Scandi princess, and what she doesn’t know about that side of the genre isn’t worth bothering about. So we trust her implicitly when she waves her arms and points enthusiastically to Antti Tuomainen’s books. She says that Little Siberia, where a meteorite lands near a small village in northern Finland and is placed in the local war museum before its journey to London for analysis, is funny, imaginative and often very touching.

We can’t offer you many other laughs this week – but there are some cracking new books to keep you occupied in lockdown. If you fancy a quality thriller, John Cleal was enthused by Daniel Silva’s The New Girl, starring Gabriel Allon, the legendary chief of Israeli intelligence. John says it’s a brilliant book, probably the best ‘faction’ spy story he’s read since The Day of the Jackal – and trust us, that’s praise indeed! Linda Wilson is a fan of Steph Broadribb’s series featuring bounty hunter Lori Anderson. She says that Deep Dark Night is a tense and exciting departure from the previous chase thrillers in the series. Chris Roberts reports that Major Karin Muller, the lead character in Stasi Winter by David Young, has lost her naivete and he’s now much less irritated by her. So he enjoyed what’s an adventure on the ice – Rugen Island on the Baltic coast – with plenty of twists and turns.

A number of our reviewers settled down very happily with additions to long-running series. Sylvia Maughan has a soft spot for the Jack Reacher series – and is far too polite (unlike one of your editors – clue: not Sharon) to mention the fact he never seems to change his underwear! She says that Blue Moon shows Lee Child in clipped and bleak form. Maddy Marsh reckons she’s been waiting an eternity for False Value by Ben Aaronovitch to come out. It’s a homage to Douglas Adams and the familiar cast make merry, she says. John Cleal has been a firm fan of Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck series, and he’s glad to report that Kitty Peck and the Parliament of Shadows, set in 19th century London’s east end, is a triumphant ending to a brilliant series. Whatever Griffin writes next, it had better involve east London, says John! Linda Wilson has followed Mark Douglas-Home’s series featuring oceanographer Dr Cal McGill. She says that The Driftwood Girls is as deep and complex as the ocean that lies at its heart.

One of our genre gripes is authors glorying in gore. John Barnbrook says that Perfect Kill by Helen Fields, the latest book featuring DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach, is well-crafted with credible characters, and that the scenes of violence and cruelty are handled with taste but without losing any of their shock value. John Cleal enjoyed Night’s Black Agents by Catherine Moloney and says that the new adventure for DI Gil Markham, where he and his team investigate the murder of a nun, works as a standalone, but it’s worth going back to books one and two to see how this thoughtful and compelling series has developed.

Our team are devotedly working their way through Penguin’s reissues of Georges Simenon’s Maigret books. We’ve now reached 1970 and Maigret and the Wine Merchant, where the eminent detective has a list of suspects as long as the Champs Elysees when a detested wine merchant is shot dead. Chris Roberts enjoyed the insights into Paris society, both high and low, and was also very taken by Maigret’s response to a heavy cold: plenty of brandies, grogs and liquors, alongside Madame Maigret’s lunches and dinners with rich sauces!

Some series survive the death of their creator, and Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp adventures are among them. John Cleal says that Kyle Mills has done a good job with Lethal Agent, which focuses on a bioterrorist threat to an America weakened by internal divisions. Don’t look for any character development, though – Rapp and his team are long past personal backstories!

Linda Wilson likes the look of a new series from Will Shindler starring DI Alex Finn and his sidekick. DC Mattie Paulson. The Burning Men, where a killer is targeting former firefighters, is complex, with sharp scenes, good pacing and deft characterisation, says Linda. The prolific Peter May has a new standalone, A Silent Death, where National Crime Agency investigator John Mackenzie is sent from the UK to Spain. A British drug trafficker has vowed revenge on the policewoman involved when his murky dealings are exposed and his girlfriend killed. Chris Roberts says the action scenes are gripping and the characters typically well developed.

Kati Barr-Taylor notes that Lucy Foley has found a formula that works – 30-something self-absorbed, self-entitled, relatively wealthy characters, who bully outsiders and lesser mortals, and who are completely unlikeable! Foley’s senses-driven writing brings a small island off the west coast of Ireland to life in The Guest List, says Kati. And there’s a raft of nasty characters in Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard, where a man watches the savage murder of a woman in one of his holiday cottages, but tells no one. Kati says the writing is sharp and that this particular one-horse town holiday destination is one to avoid! And on the subject of your hols, you wouldn’t want to join the gathering of three couples and their children in one long, hot summer where an evil presence is infiltrating the party. Viv Beeby found Little Friends by Jane Shemilt to be an engrossing drama encompassing big themes such as adultery, sexual violence and madness. There’s even a trial to keep courtroom fans like Viv happy!

Our reviewers detected the influence of Agatha Christie’s fine Italian hand in two vastly different books. The Inugami Curse featuring Detective Kosuke Kindaichi shows author Seishi Yokomizo’s enthusiasm for Western crime stories – and there’s a thoroughly traditional final reveal to the assembled cast, says Chris Roberts. Kati Barr-Taylor thinks that What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross, which takes place on the sleeper train to Scotland, has a feel of Christie to the plot and that it would convert well onto the screen. It’s pure escapism, says Kati, and be prepared to suspend your disbelief!

On the YA front this issue, Linda Wilson was hooked by Jessica Townsend’s Wundersmith, featuring former Cursed Child Morrigan Crow, describing it as a stunningly original teen series that can hold its own in any company.

Please welcome author Catherine Cavendish to the Countdown hot seat. The moment she mentioned toasted cheese, we started dribbling unbecomingly. And that’s one impressive list of drinking chums. We hope we can gate-crash!

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
Catherine Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately, as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. At nine years old, she sold her toys to buy her first typewriter and hasn’t stopped bashing away since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

After a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas.

She lives in Southport with her long-suffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice shouldn’t continue).

For relaxation, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Scotland.

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

Confused
Rewarding
Frustrating
Diverse
Knackering
Stimulating
What the…?
Getting somewhere

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

A globe
A Siamese cat lounging on a fence (actually it’s a ceramic tile)
Overflowing bookcases
Printer
A rather fetching antique oil lamp (it works too!)
My lovely comfy leather reading chair
A sleepy black cat (a real one this time)
A small stepladder (to reach those unreachable books on the top shelf)
A church steeple

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

Well it has to be melted cheese on toast with added Worcestershire Sauce. Now see what’s happened? I’m hungry…and I just found out I’ve run out of cheese. Disaster!