March 26 2022

If you like woo-woo with your crime fiction, you’ve come to the right place. Linda and Sharon fight over who gets their mitts on a new book from Phil Rickman. And Linda is straight out of trap one (well, she does have a pet greyhound) when it comes to crime/fantasy crossovers.

Ten years ago, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London burst onto the UK urban fantasy scene, cleverly combining police work and magic as seen through the eyes of the then rookie cop, Peter Grant. To mark that milestone, there’s now a special edition illustrated hardback that gave long-time fan of the series Linda Wilson the opportunity to go back to the beginning to enjoy the moment when Peter’s budding career goes in a very unexpected direction. She says it's easy to see why the series became such a hit. Linda’s also a fan of the graphic novels, and the latest, Monday, Monday by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and José María Beroy, features an operation to bust a gang of petty thieves that turns into a hunt for a possible werewolf in the latest outing for the Met’s smallest and most specialised policing unit. Linda describes this as an excellent addition to a series that still showcases the best of British urban fantasy.

One Way Street features homeless army veteran Jimmy Mullan, a man who doesn’t have many friends, so when one of them goes missing, Jimmy goes looking for young Deano on the mean streets of the north east. Linda Wilson says Trevor Wood’s writing comes from the heart and features a marginalised section of society that usually only turn up in fiction on a coroner’s slab. Down south, rural Lafferton is a bit more up-market, but still has its problems. DCS Simon Serrailler takes on a county lines gang in Susan Hill’s A Change of Circumstance while grappling with his usual family dramas. Viv Beeby likes the series and praises the well-researched police work, but says posh boy Serrailler’s condescending attitude still grates.

Chris Roberts ventures into the world of true crime with The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell, which tells the story of a would-be Robin Hood who robbed banks and betting shops and managed to evade capture for an impressively long time. Chris says the book is well-written and left him with sympathy both for the perpetrator and for those affected by his activities. Linda Wilson is rather less sympathetically inclined to Ollie Ollerton’s main character, ex-special forces soldier Alex Abbott, whose drink problem has a habit of getting in the way of his professionalism. In All or Nothing, Abbot finally has a credible lead to the truth about his brother’s death when they were both children, a lead that takes him to a dangerous undercover role amongst some very nasty people. Linda says the fast-moving story is well grounded in a sordid reality that’s all too real for comfort.

When a racist attack in London’s Chinatown challenges local police, luckily the brilliant but troubled Singaporean DI Stanley Low is in town to help. Chris Roberts liked the interesting main character in Bloody Foreigners by Neil Humphreys and enjoyed the book’s expansive exploration of the theme of immigration. Kati Barr-Taylor was in two minds about the woman at the heart of SK Sharp’s I Know What I Saw. Nicola might not be able to forgive her ex for his affair, but she won’t watch him go down for a murder he couldn’t possibly have committed. Kati found the teenage version of the main character more appealing than her older self and muttered darkly about the rushed ending and excess of red herrings. Kerry Hood got on very well with Missing by Erin Kinsley in which two very different sisters reunite to sort out their mother’s legacy - and her death. Then a police investigation into a cold case murder complicates things further. Kerry praises this as a glorious, engulfing and totally satisfying read.

Chris Roberts hits the road again this week, starting in India with The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan, in which Persis Wadia, India’s first female detective, returns to investigate the disappearance of both an academic and a valuable copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Chris wasn’t too keen on the abrasive main character and seems to be missing the baby elephant from Khan’s baby Ganesh series! John Verpeleti predicts mixed reactions to Joël Dicker’s The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer in which an investigative journalist approaches a retiring police captain and suggests he got a 20-year-old case very wrong. John describes this as a fascinating, brilliant, and mesmerising book, but says it’s also a long and frustrating one that both impressed and irritated him. Chris Roberts was definitely impressed by The Foreign Girls, which sees Buenos Aires journalist Veronica Rosenthal determined to find those responsible for the rape and murder of two girls she befriended. Chris says Sergio Olguín’s gripping tale barely pauses for breath and he liked the impulsive, intriguing protagonist. He also enjoyed The Last Taxi Driver by Lee Durkee, the story of Lou Bishoff, a taxi driver in Gentry, North Mississippi, who spends a long day moving customers around town pondering their problems, as well as his own. Chris says Lou’s musings on the vicissitudes of his customers and himself are frequently hilarious read and this brilliant book provides an insight into the USA that you won’t get from the TV.

Continuing a series started by another writer is always a hard trick to pull off. Andrew Child, who’s writing for the moment with his brother Lee, has some big boots to fill as he takes over the iconic Jack Reacher. When Reacher comes across a crashed jeep in the Arizona desert, he ends up helping its occupant, a former army veteran. Sylvia Maughan says Better Off Dead isn’t quite as engrossing as some of the earlier Reacher books, but it’s still an acceptable, easy read, even though it suffers from some excessive detail towards the end. In contrast, Fiona Spence was distinctly underwhelmed by the lack of any tension in Iced by Felix Francis, son of the late, great Dick Francis. Miles Pussett, a former steeplechase jockey who now gets his adrenaline rush from hurling himself down the Cresta Run, helps out with the horses in a race on a frozen lake, and gets involved in some suspicious goings-on. Fiona thoroughly disliked the main character and says the book left her cold.

Things are pretty cold in Iceland, too, but for entirely different reasons. In The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson, a young woman from Reykjavik answers an advert to work as a teacher for two girls in a remote village. Unsurprisingly, things turn scary and the locals close ranks. Ewa Sherman says prepared to be spooked in this masterclass in locked village mysteries. Viv Beeby enjoyed the clever twists and turns in Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s Girls Who Lie, where a woman goes missing and it’s assumed that she has committed suicide until a decomposed body turns up seven months later.

John Cleal is back on the history beat this week. The Plague Letters by VL Valentine reads all too much like a modern news report as the plague ravages 17th century London and Rector Symon Patrick sets out to track down someone who’s using plague victims for warped experiments. John says the book is filled with horror, human decency and a strange dark humour. He was equally taken with Claire Evans’ The Graves of Whitechapel where disgraced criminal lawyer Cage Lackmann has to prove a former client’s innocence to salvage his own ruined reputation. John describes this as a complicated, brilliant and brutal story

We started with magis and we’ve got some to end with as well. Morrigan Crow is back in Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend. The young wundersmith sets out to solve the mystery of why the usually peaceful wunnimals are turning into a danger to themselves and others. Linda Wilson says this engaging middle grade series has grown in scope and imagination with each book.

Please welcome author Sarah Hawkswood to the Countdown seat. We’re suitably intrigued by her choice of venues to run away to, and will be inviting ourselves round for a nice cup of tea so we can quiz her on them!

Do take a look at what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence have been up to and catch up with their latest reviews of US and Canadian releases.

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Sarah Hawkswood

Sarah Hawkswood describes herself as a wordsmith, who is only really happy when writing. She read Modern History at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, taking Military History and the Theory of War as her special subject.

Her first job was writing educational material for Salisbury Cathedral and her first published book was From Trench & Turret: Royal Marines Diaries and Letters 1914-1918, which was a labour of love because her father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the Corps.

She turned to fiction when her children were in their teens and an empty nest loomed, and says that ‘her boys’, Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin, have become so much part of her life that they are effectively real, just non-corporeal.

Her pen name is that of her six times great-grandmother. Sarah is married, with two grown-up children, and now lives in Worcestershire, which makes writing the Bradecote & Catchpoll series easier when planning their adventures. When not writing, Sarah has a passion for dressmaking (without the awful time pressures of the Great British Sewing Bee) and is a keen birdwatcher.

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

Salisbury Cathedral, civil servant, military historian, weapons cataloguer, mother, novelist.

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

A small bust of the Duke of Wellington, my William IV ladies’ writing desk, a teapoy, the Severn valley, my current cup of tea, a bunch of red wooden tulips from a Dutch friend, my fountain pen, a reel of purple cotton, and a wooden model of a brig, made by my father, in its glass case.

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

Buckwheat pancakes with scrambled egg, a tomato and grated cheese on top.