June 25 2022

All aboard the time travel bus! Move on down, there’s plenty of room …

Our first stop is Rome in AD 89. Desperate Undertaking, the latest in Lindsey Davis’ Flavia Albia series, sees our redoubtable private informer dealing with some very unlovely luvvies when someone with a nasty grudge against the theatre community starts leaving bodies lying around complete with cryptic notes. Kerry Hood says this is the most violent book so far in the series, but she still describes it a sheer enjoyment! Ummm, OK, we’re convinced … maybe.

Fortunately for our shredded nerves, Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is a tad more genteel, as Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra travel to Cheltenham to improve Jane’s ailing health. Naturally, their holiday turns out not to be as relaxing as they had expected. Sylvia Maughan describes this as a real comfort read providing a welcome oasis of calm and despite the rats and poison, she says it’s the ideal companion for a summer afternoon. Leo Stanhope returns in The Butcher of Berner Street, still hiding his secret from everyone apart from those closest to him. When the perpetrator of a publicity stunt involving a fake hanging is subsequently found dead – hanged, of course – the resulting investigation turns out to be nowhere near as simple as Leo first believed. Linda Wilson was impressed by Alex Reeve’s evocation of the grime and squalor of Victorian London and says the plight of women and children is vividly depicted.

Next stop, June 1941, where a young woman called Lyudmila Pavlichenko joins the Red Army and becomes its most successful female sniper,with 309 confirmed kills in the war against Nazi Germany. The Diamond Eye is her story, told by Kate Quinn with a hefty dose of military black humour and an even heftier dose of humanity. Chris Roberts bought a bus ticket to the post-war period starting with The Man in the Bunker. Many people believe that Hitler is still alive, so Professor Tom Wilde is sent to a ruined Germany to find the truth. Chris says Rory Clements achieves some exciting moments. He found plenty of enjoy in Red Traitor as well, despite already knowing the outcome, as spies on both sides try desperately to diffuse a dispute about Russian missiles in Cuba at the height of the cold war that threatens to turn into nuclear Armageddon.

Do you like a touch of spooky stuff mixed in with your favourite police series? Linda Wilson does. Amongst Our Weapons is the latest in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, which sees copper and magical practitioner Peter Grant grappling with mysterious deaths and even more mysterious secret societies. Linda is a huge fan of the posse of talking foxes that make up the capital’s most unusual spy network and she revelled in the sharp edge of danger as Peter and Nightingale go up against an unusual and powerful opponent. Peter Grant is not the only copper who has to deal with weird shit. Cynical DI Tony McLean is pitched into another set of problems with a new drug stalking the streets of Edinburgh, his girlfriend in a coma, and a series of dead bodies being dug up in inconvenient places. The last thing he wants on top of all that is to have to play nicely with his old adversary, the sinister Mrs Saifre. Linda loved All That Lives and recommends James Oswald’s series to anyone who likes a subtle hint of the unexplained mixed in with the police work.

John Cleal ventured north of the border as well for Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison where the brutal murder of a young boy takes DI Jimmy Dreghorn into the depths of the Glasgow slums in the hunt for the killer. John says this dark and powerful story is the most gripping piece of Tartan noir he’s read in years. Death of a Green-Eyed Monster by the late MC Beaton and RW Green certainly can’t be called noir, despite a fatal shooting, Glasgow gangs and a web of dangerous conspiracy. Fiona Spence met Lochdubh’s work-shy Sergeant Hamish Macbeth and his pets for the first time, and although the book gets off to a slow start, she’s glad to see they will live on, despite the death of their creator.

Chris Roberts has been globe trotting as usual. He started out in Ghana with Accra Noir edited by Nana-Ama Danquah. Thirteen stories explore the various ways that human antagonism can quickly bring fatal consequences. Chris says the tales are excellently told, with a satisfying balance and narrative arc. Next stop, Down Under for The Survivors by Jane Harper. When a man returns to his beachside former hometown, a killing brings past events back to the surface and forces him to re-examine the guilt he’s carried for a decade. Chris enjoys the way Harper brings the locations to life and found the small-town intensity of feeling well-conveyed. Still in Australia, Hermit by SR White gives police detective Dana Russo has just 12 hours to find the truth by questioning a taciturn man found standing over the dead body of a store owner. Chris praises this unusual police procedural and enjoyed the way Dana’s interview skills unlocked an increasingly gripping mystery.

In Sebastian Fitzek’s Seat 7A, psychiatrist Mats Krüger suffers from aviophobia but just when he overcomes his fear he faces an impossible choice – arrange for the plane to crash or lose his daughter and her new-born baby. Ewa Sherman describes the book as totally brilliant and completely absorbing. And if you’re braving the obligatory summer airport chaos this year, you might want to consider slipping The Dare by Lesley Kara into your luggage. A wall of fog and fear is closing around Lizzie, despite her upcoming marriage to a man she loves. Kati Barr-Taylor says this is a good beach read.

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurdardottir took Viv Beeby off to Iceland in company with a woman on the hunt for her missing sister. Viv like the setting but felt the story’s construction was a tad disjointed. She had better luck with Wild Shores. You won’t find the islands of Doggerland on any map, but Viv says they’re definitely worth visiting and says Maria Adolfsson makes good use of her fictional setting as DI Karen Eiken Hornby has to investigate a suspicious death at a remote quarry on one of its more remote islands. We’ve even got a fictious country for you this week. The Dictator’s Wife is set somewhere in eastern Europe, where a young London lawyer has to defend the wife of the dictator of Yanussia. John Verpeleti was mesmerised by the richness of the writing and Freya Berry's observational skills. There’s an action-packed climax in Unsafe Haven. A 16-year-old runaway gives birth to a baby in a New York subway toilet before thrusting the child into the arms of a complete stranger and promptly disappearing into the crowd. Kerry Hood says Lucy Burdette draws her characters together slowly and carefully before bringing the story to a revelatory climax.

Linda Wilson insists she was there undercover (and under false pretences) when she joined one of her favourite young sleuths at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk where Justice Jones is determined to track down a missing dormmate. Linda had a lot of fun with The Ghost in the Garden and says Elly Griffiths is an excellent successor to Enid Blyton, bringing boarding school stories with a vintage 1950s setting to a new generation.

Author Jo Spain is under the Countdown spotlight this week with an entertaining – and educational – bunch of drinking companions and we couldn’t agree more with her choice of rants, so it’s bound to be a fun evening.

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
Jo Spain

Jo Spain likes to make up stories and some of them don't have dead bodies in them, but most of them do. Which is fine for work but not so good when she's in conversation with random strangers. Jo realised early she had expensive taste, which always comes as a shock when people suggest rounds in the pub and she asks for champagne. She has four kids, but there always seems to be double that in her house. It doesn't bother her, she can work through noise but, then, maybe it's the noise that's making her want to kill people all the time. When Jo grows up, she'd like to win an Oscar, partly for the accolade, partly because it's an excuse to wear a pretty dress. Jo likes people, laughing and grisly crime, in that order.

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

At last, I have monetised the voices in my head.

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

Wine rack, TV, piano, house-move boxes, garden, a sick child off school, makeshift kitchen in the sitting room, books, a plumber.

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

French toast, maple syrup.