April 30 2022

We’re looking nervously at the pigs circling Crime Review Towers. Must be something in the air – Linda’s been bitten by a domestic noir book. And she usually bats the things off with an over-sized bargepole. In fact, and mutter this quietly, she was hooked by two of the blighters this issue (books, not pigs!) Don’t worry … She’s sitting quietly in the corner with a gin in her hand while she recovers from the shock!

Linda says Playing Nice by JP Delaney, where a total stranger informs Pete Riley that the child he’s brought up as his own for the past two years isn’t his biological son, is a clever, immersive tale that got its hooks into her from the start and didn’t let go. And there are more family ructions in Hide and Secrets by Sophie McKenzie, where Cat’s father is missing, presumed dead. When a man phones her with the news that her father is alive, Cat’s determined to find him, despite her mother’s disbelief and opposition. Linda says that the tension ramps up inexorably to an explosive, well-staged climax. Kati Barr-Taylor, who is our domestic noir queen, admits furtively that in the absence of doughnuts Shari Lapena could become her guilty pleasure. The End of Her features a woman struggling with new-born twins, while her husband is struggling with his past. Kati says the book has its weaknesses, but it’s a fun, easy, one-sitting read

Please take your seats for a journey free from airport queues and people breathing germs over you to far-flung parts of the world. First stop is South America for Brazilian Psycho by Joe Thomas, where the lives of a small cast of characters play out against a background of real political events in Sao Paulo. Chris Roberts describes the book as a forceful portrait of the city as seen through the eyes of different groups, if complex and sometimes as confusing as the city itself. Then he scoots over to Cuba for the latest in Leonardo de Padura’s series. The Transparency of Time has ex-inspector Mario Conde returning to help a friend recover a stolen black Madonna, a statue with a history dating back to the crusades. Chris praises the books and says this latest outing to the heart of Havana provides an insight into current political events and suggests that things are changing – but not necessarily in a good way. Over in New Zealand detective Sam Shephard returns to investigate a shooting in Vanda Symon’s Bound. Her colleagues think this is an open-and-shut case, but Shephard has her doubts. Chris says it’s the very thing for a lightweight holiday read, but he wishes the author could resist the temptation to make the main character so ditzy when her behaviour demonstrates otherwise.

For those of you who prefer short-haul flights, please join Ewa Sherman at the boarding gate for a trip to a stunning wild island in the Mediterranean. The Secret Life of Writers by Guillaume Musso focuses on a famous author who withdrew to the island and stopped writing and cut off contact with the outside world. Nearly 20 years later a young Swiss journalist tries to unlock his secrets when a grim crime takes place on the island. Ewa says it’s a stylish, tense and ultimately thrilling tale of the power of words to create new realities. Sylvia Maughan adores Italy and says that The Hunting Season by Tom Benjamin is a book to be savoured if you’re missing travel. It features English detective Daniel Leicester, who lives in Bologna, and who’s asked by a Korean/American couple to find their son who’s gone missing in the city while visiting for work. The book will also extend your education when it comes to truffles (not the chocolate ones!) Viv Beeby casts a beady eye over this issue’s Scandi release and says that End of Summer by Anders de la Motte provides a strong sense of place and community. She was gripped by the tale of Veronica, a bereavement counsellor in Stockholm. When a familiar-looking young man joins her group with a strange story to tell, Veronica is transported back to her rural home of 1983 where, one summer's day, her little brother Billy went missing without trace …

Let’s move on to the across the Pond books. John Cleal is rolling his eyes at Eric van Lustbader’s The Kobalt Dossier where there’s the usual hugely over the top web of characters, cutting-edge technology, powerful political ambitions and sheer bloody brutality. John says that van Lustbader writes so well and clearly, almost lyrically at times, that it seems a shame the book entirely lacks a reasonable working relationship with fact rather than sheer sensationalism! When it comes to more saving the universe in 45 minutes there’s a familiar name working with experienced crime fiction writer Louise Penny - Hillary Rodham Clinton. State of Terror pits newly appointed US Secretary of State Ellen Adams against powerful opposition, both home and abroad, as a series of terrorist attacks spark off a hunt for the forces behind a global conspiracy. Linda Wilson comments dryly that two middle-aged women take centre stage in what is still a man’s world and do their jobs well without resorting to back-stabbing, fluttering their eyelashes or suffering too much existential angst!

And while we’re on the subject of American presidents, there’s another familiar face in the form of genre veteran Carl Hiassen. The disappearance of an elderly Palm Beach woman might have escaped notice were she not a rich high-profile supporter of the President, who knows exactly who to blame. Chris Roberts says it’s impossible to convey just how funny Squeeze Me is, whilst at the same time making some very valid comments about human life in Florida, the US – and indeed, pretty much everywhere. Chris also enjoyed the spare dialogue and fast-moving narrative in The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt, where Army CID agent Mick Hardin comes back to Kentucky on leave and agrees to help the local sheriff, his sister, with her first murder case. Will Dean turns his attention from his Scandi series to New York where a woman goes in search of her missing sister in First Born. Ewa Sherman says the psychological thriller brings together all the qualities of Dean’s writing: great pace, flowing narration, emotional intensity, and masses of variations that throw the reader off the scent.

If you’re pining for action thrillers and have already read van Lustbader or don’t feel brave enough to try, Linda Wilson was totally hooked by Gregg Hurwitz’s Dark Horse, the latest in his Orphan X series. Former black ops specialist Evan Smoak takes on a powerful drug cartel to rescue the teenage daughter of one of their bitterest rivals. Linda was torn between wanting to search online to see whether any of the super-duper fancy hardware actually exists and just being desperate to find out what happened next!

We’re back in the more recent past for two historicals this issue. John Cleal enjoyed
The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr, and says that this tawdry, match-lit mystery, set in 1920s and early 1930s Paris, has almost everything you could want from a mystery. Over in the US, the disappearance of housewife and mother Joyce Haney opens the lid on life in Santa Monica in the 1950s, with all its prejudices, restrictions, moralities and longings. Kerry Hood says that The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper is a timely book on so many levels that it should be on a school syllabus. Decades before the Me-Too movement and Black Lives Matter, it provides some roots to both – and is a brilliant piece of writing that will wring out your heart.

Elsewhere, Linda Wilson catches up with Jane Casey, a writer she really rates. The Killing Kind has a barrister convinced that someone wants her dead – and a man given a suspended sentence for stalking and harassing her insists he’s the only person who can help her uncover the truth. Linda says that Casey’s books are always sharply observant, excellently plotted and utterly convincing, and this is no exception. The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson features a PTSD-ridden police inspector who is back on duty when body parts are discovered, distributed across her patch and these take her back to the horror of dealing with a serial killer nicknamed The Jigsaw Man. Kerry Hood says there are no bland police procedural ingredients in this story – there is heat and depth and spice, and it is darned good! John Verpeleti wasn’t entirely convinced by Emma Christie’s Find Her First where paramedic Stef Campbell is missing and there is some suspicion that her husband, Andy, also a paramedic, is responsible for her disappearance. If a totally unknown plot path is your thing, then this is one for you. But if you are more wedded to crime fiction with a reasonable whodunnit factor, then it may be a disappointment, warns John.

We’re delighted to welcome Karin Slaughter to the Countdown interview seat. We’re coveting the space pen and Shit I’ll Never Get Done notebook she can see from where she’s sitting (yes, OK, our names are Linda and Sharon and we’re stationery addicts!) And we hope we can blag an invitation to accompany her for a drink with some very civilised and talented women!

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
Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter grew up in a small town in South Georgia. At college Karin worked on a rape crisis hotline. She now lives in Atlanta and has a cabin in Blue Ridge that her father built for her 20 years ago. Karin feels most at home surrounded by her cats Maggie, Gracie and Dexter. 

She is the founder of the Save the Libraries project – a non-profit organisation established to support libraries and library programming. As a child she would be taken to the local library by her father. He had grown up in poverty with eight siblings. When he noticed that his youngest daughter showed an interest in reading, he took Karin to their local Jonesboro library and told her that she could read any book in the building so long as she promised to talk to him about it if she read something she didn’t understand.

Karin says: “I think this is the greatest gift my father ever gave me. Though he was not a reader himself, he understood that reading is not just an escape. It is access to a better way of life.”

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

Loooong. Well-planned. Ill-planned. Thriller. Oeuvre. Fiction. Love. Hate. Mendacity. Cats.

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

Monitor. Shit I’ll Never Get Done notepad. Funny glasses. Puppet. False Witness galleys. Four books by Cecelia Ahern. Metal royal crown. Space Pen. Chloraseptic throat spray (for Zooms).

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

Whatever restaurant can deliver fast.