May 23 2020

We’re dog fans at Crime Review Towers, and regular readers will know that Linda has the fastest fingers in the West when it comes to skimming a book if she thinks poor old Fido is likely to cop it! And she’s been known to berate guilty authors at conventions as well …

Her fingers got a workout this issue with Burnt Island by Kate Rhodes, where Isle of Scillies cop DI Ben Kitto is accompanied most places by a large, hairy dog who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time being left to roam about by himself. Linda wasn’t quite sure what narrative purpose the dog served unless it was to put the wind up animal lovers and send her to take a sneak peek at the ending to make sure it was safe to continue! A pooch who didn’t seem to be in any danger took a central role in Dana Stabenow’s No Fixed Line, featuring Alaskan PI Kate Shugak. Chris Roberts liked the resourceful main character and her canine companion.

We’re still tittering at Viv Beeby’s description of PI Jackson Brodie as the crime-loving woman's crumpet! The hero of Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky stumbles upon some dark and dangerous deeds in the picturesque Yorkshire seaside town he now calls home. And yes, Viv is happily anticipating his next outing … There’s another non-US investigator this week in the shape of Caleb Zelic, a hearing-impaired PI in Melbourne. Chris Roberts says that Darkness for Light is a book full of action, morally compromised characters and uncertainty which creates great tension. He adds that Emma Viskic’s series is getting better and better. The hero of genre big-hitter Jeffery Deaver The Never Game calls himself a professional tracker rather than a PI, as he earns his money from finding missing people, dead or alive. Linda Wilson says the book is Deaver at his most devious. There are red herrings a-plenty along with fascinating insights into the world of online gaming.

Tune in here for your dose of Nordic angst! Scandi princess Ewa Sherman says that as disturbed policemen go, Thorkild Aske must be one of the most extreme cases gracing the pages of Norwegian novels. The former Chief Inspector has just left prison, his life in tatters, in I Will Miss You Tomorrow. Ewa says it’s exceptional and engaging writing in author Heine Bakkeid’s first venture into crime fiction. John Cleal is very fond of Alex Gray’s Scottish-based series featuring Superintendent William Lorimer. In The Stalker, Lorimer’s own wife is in danger. John says it’s a well-woven and superbly descriptive story and that both places and people come to life.        

There are a couple of investigators this week with military backgrounds but ostensibly safer jobs on Civvy Street – until they get tangled in mysteries, of course. The lead character of Chris Hauty’s Deep State is a former small-town girl, an ex-army boxer and now White House intern who stumbles across a plot to assassinate the American president. John Cleal says that as political thrillers go, this is up with the very best. Former soldier-turned-teacher Jenni Wales has to decide how far she will go to save one of her pupils when no one else appears to care that the girl is terrified and at risk of abduction in To Keep You Safe by Kate Bradley. Linda Wilson says it’s an unsettling book and an assured debut, although she did feel a tad cheated by the ending. Journalist sleuths aren’t unusual – after all, they’re paid to be nosy! Our former Fleet Street man John Cleal praises the accuracy of the newsroom scenes in The Dead Line by Holly Watt, and says this emotional rollercoaster of a book is brilliantly researched and packed with insider-knowledge. Mind you, he says he never got to do the investigative globetrotting that Casey Benedict does – his editor would only shell out for him to go to Amsterdam!

There’s a teenager at risk in Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy, where 15-year-old Tyler forms an unlikely friendship with Spider. Linda Wilson says that the book shines an uncompromising light on the plight of homeless teenagers and the dangers they face on the streets. And teenage years come back to haunt the characters in SR Masters’ The Killer You Know. Adeline and her mates thought that Will’s vow to kill three people was a joke. Years later, they’re not so sure. Kati Barr-Taylor’s verdict is that the engaging and surprising cast in this character-driven novel is as much a hook as the plot.

And the prize for the most, um, unusual plotline of the issue goes to High Fire by Eoin Colfer, which features a teenager, a dragon and a crooked cop in the Louisiana swamp. Linda Wilson says that with all the casual flair he demonstrated in his teen series, Colfer deftly serves up an adult thriller where laughter makes an at times uneasy bedfellow with horror. It may be run close in weirdness by Jess Rothenberg’s The Kingdom where a fantasy theme park is home to beautiful hybrid women, designed as perfect hosts – but who may also be capable of murder. John Barnbrook says the book has the air at the start of Disney princesses brought to life, but he insists that you persevere, as the YA narrative becomes increasingly dark.

John Cleal draws our attention to an American writer who doesn’t seem to get much attention in the UK these days. A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar has a woman hiring an investigator because of a recurring nightmare where she sees her own grave and a date that means she has been dead for four years! John says the story has an impressive degree of understanding and compassion, a compelling narrative and a rich array of characters. He was also impressed with Jack Flynn’s Blood in the Water where gang war erupts on the Boston waterfront. John describes it as a dark story with a cast of complex and conflicted characters, set against one of the coldest winters in Boston history. And British journalist Humphrey Hawksley has a rogue Russian colonel planning the assassination of the US and Russian presidents at a summit meeting. Chris Roberts says that Man on Edge conveys well the sense of complex conflicts of interest within both governments, with a range of agencies all jostling for primacy.

Chris is very fond of legal thrillers, and praises Degrees of Guilt by HS Chandler where Maria Bloxham calls the police to report she has killed her husband, and soon finds herself on trial. He says that the book is full of little dramas, with jury members demonstrating plenty of bias according to their personal prejudices and that it’s a well-written portrayal of a case where the issues are of wider interest.

Kati Barr-Taylor rounds us off this week with a couple of good reads to keep you engrossed under lockdown. The Family by Louise Jensen sports an isolated farm which won’t provide the sanctuary the main character is hoping for. Kati says the story has its weaknesses, but the author injects claustrophobia and sinister hints into the pages. And Kati loved the escapism factor. She’s raving happily about Dan Malakin’s The Regret where someone is stalking Rachel again, but no one seems to care. Kati says it’s a cracking debut with a plot that also offers danger, addiction, an eating disorder, internet hacking and plenty of regret. 

This issue we welcome author Paul Charles to the Countdown chair. Aside from his crime fiction exploits, he’s a big noise in the UK music industry and he seems to have been an agent for most of our favourite musicians! So we’re not surprised by his eclectic choice of drinking companions …


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
Paul Charles

Paul Charles is a key player in the UK music industry. He managed his first group, The Blues by Five, when he was 15 years old and his business card listed the number of the local telephone box in his native Magherafelt, Northern Ireland.

Paul moved to London when he was 17 and studied to be a civil engineer, but the music business was his real distraction and he was more interested in writing about the London scene for Irish music papers than surveying, planning and drawing.

His real education began when he took on the multiple role of manager, lyricist, roadie, sound engineer and agent for the Belfast band FRUUPP in the mid 1970s. Before long he was responsible for breaking acts like the Undertones, the Human League and Ultravox, and over the last four decades he has been an agent for the likes of Ray Davies, Christy Moore, Don McLean, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant and Van Morrison. He has also programmed the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury Festival for more than 25 years.

But as well as all of that he’s also a committed book reader – and collector – particularly of British detective fiction. Paul has always loved dabbling in writing, lyrics, sleeve notes and short stories, and in 1996 he attempted his first Detective Inspector Christy Kennedy Mystery, I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass, which was published the following year. As well as writing crime fiction, he is also the author of a number of music books.

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

Fun
Travel
Exploring
Observing
Writing
Phones
Emails
Musicians
Glastonbury
Collecting

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

Kennedy for President poster
Mickey Mouse clock
Alf Tupper – the Tough of the Track print
Dark blue trilby hat
Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Titan bass drum
Arborist – A Northern View CD
Traveling Wilburys’ Gretsch Guitar (unplayed)
Waterboys very live, jumping, singing, playing, full colour photo
Kinks, classic, vintage 1960s signed photo

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

Same as it’s been since my teenage years. Omelette with Psychedelic Potatoes – mashed (not smashed) potatoes with butter, peas, beans, yellow peppers, red peppers, onions and scallions. I’d have to cheat a wee bit by having the potatoes prepared ‘earlier.’ But that approach seems to work OK for Jamie Oliver.