July 4 2020

We think one of this week’s books has won handsomely in the crossover bingo stakes – do we hear someone bawling ‘house’ after hearing that it combines detective novels, thrillers, poetry, science fiction, historicals, children’s stories and autobiographical works!

The book is By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar. John Cleal, who’s always on a quest for good historical novels, says it brings new raucous blood into the moribund tales of Camelot, and drags Arthur’s golden capital into the 21st century ambit of The Wire or Peaky Blinders! You won’t be surprised to hear that John describes Tidhar as an utterly original voice.

The cops are out in force this issue, and our reviewers seem to have cornered the quirky end of police procedurals, silly names, whimsical plots and all! And there’s usually nothing guaranteed to get us chuntering more than characters with deliberately quirky names, but MW Craven’s Detective Sergeant Washington Poe won Linda over on his first outing and for a combination of him and the delightfully tactless civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, she’s even prepared to venture into serial killer territory with them. In The Curator, Poe and Bradshaw, operating again in the wilds of Cumbria, have an increasingly complex puzzle to solve and very little to go on. Linda says it’s a quality cop series with some very unstereotypical characters. Ewa Sherman took a break from her beloved Scandis for a trip into a relatively unknown area of East Frisia in northern Germany. Klaus-Peter Wolf’s The Oath features a former chief of police enjoying a peaceful seaside retirement until a gruesome package containing a severed head turns up on his doorstep and soon a headless body is found on the local beach. Ewa wasn’t sure if the comical mood was intentional but she enjoyed the slightly skewed view of the police work, and the social commentary on the setting. 

Chris Roberts doesn’t often venture north of the border for his crime fiction fixes, but this week sees him up in Glasgow for Bobby March Will Live For Ever by Alan Parks where a young Glasgow girl is abducted and detective Harry McCoy is sidelined by a rival who’s been given charge of the case. Chris was impressed by how well Parks conveys something of the flavour of the local patois, while the real thing would no doubt leave many people scratching their heads. Kati Barr-Taylor dips her toes into a police procedural this week in Ask Me No Questions by Louisa de Lange where DC Kate Munro is convinced it was more than a random attack that put a woman in a coma and she becomes even certain of it when she finds out the identity of the victim. Kati says de Lange’s writing is easy to read and there was enough flesh in this story for her to be happy to meet this DC again. Chris wasn’t quite so taken with Departing Shadows by Paul Charles, in which DI Christy Kennedy investigates a hit-and-run outside an embassy and finds his path to the truth entangled in diplomatic complications. Chris says the book is at the whimsical end of the genre and may appeal if you don't fancy too much excitement!

There are some long-running series from the other side of the Pond catching our attention this issue. Kathy Reichs’ veteran investigator forensic anthropologist Dr Tempe Brennan is back in A Conspiracy of Bones. Tempe is drawn deep into the murky world of conspiracy theorists and child abusers as she tries to unravel the mystery of a faceless corpse. Linda Wilson was as fascinated as ever by the complex plots and says it was rather like encountering a tangled skein of wool and then settling down with it until the last knot was vanquished. The death of Robert B Parker didn’t mean the death of his characters, with several authors now carrying on his legacy. Blood Feud by Mike Lupica sees the return of female private investigator Sunny Randall. Her relationship with her ex is on again, so when he gets shot it’s inevitable that she’s going to get involved. Chris Roberts says that if you like the series, you’ll enjoy this. There are some nice nods to Parker’s other creations as well. Chris was also pleased to see Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett in action again in Long Range by CJ Box. Joe and his hawk wrangler pal Nate Romanowski become entangled when the wife of a judge is killed by a sniper. Chris always enjoys the locations and the way both Joe and Nate’s understated expertise and natural abilities are shown convincingly. Sylvia Maughan often dives in when she sees a book by Karen Rose and, despite the horrors Into the Dark depicts when a young abused boy tries to save his young brother from their stepfather, she describes the book as compelling and says you need to set aside enough time to allow for being unable to put it down!

We’d wonder what was happening if there wasn’t a raft of books around featuring dodgy husbands, paranoid wives and brattish sprogs! The Missing Wife by Sam Carrington failed to fulfil its promise for Kati Barr-Taylor. Sleep-deprived new mother Louisa can trust no one – not her husband, nor her best friend, and certainly not her ex. Kati says that one of the problems is that the bad guy is far too clear from the beginning, despite the army of red herrings, and that the story seems unfinished. She did better with A Good Man by Ani Katz where work and family stress start taking their toll on a hard-working husband and father. Kati describes this as a story written in Marmite - dark, intense and hugely controversial and says this is a book that will stay with her for a long time.

Linda Wilson is keen to return to her beloved France and contented herself with a trip to the Riviera in The Reunion by Guillaume Musso where a reunion at a high-end college threatens to uncover secrets that some former pupils had hoped were long buried. Linda says the setting is redolent of the heat and glamour of the area, where privilege jostles for place with criminality, all overlain with the veneer of urbane class that the French can bring to most things. John Cleal is equally fond of France and the French and enjoyed It Walks By Night by John Dickson Carr where the Prefect of the Paris city police must solve the grisly murder of the Duc de Saligny at a fashionable Parisian gaming house. John says the atmosphere, built up to heighten a sense of impossibility and vague horror, is combined with a focus on character which gradually turns into a dark study of human nature.

Closer to home, Linda Wilson enjoyed The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood, where a homeless man thinks he might have been the only witness to a possible murder. The police don’t seem very interested in what he has to say, but the possible victim’s daughter is desperate for help, so against his better judgment, the man gets involved. Linda was impressed by Wood’s debut and says he’s proved himself very capable of looking below the surface to produce a darkly interesting and engaging book. John Cleal wasn’t quite so sure about Perdition’s Child by Anne Coates where a woman investigates the deaths of Australian men who have come to England to search for lost relatives. He says that the main character is so effortlessly liberal upper middle class, it’s no wonder most of her breakthroughs come as the result of fortunate coincidences. He was much more enthusiastic about Irish author Jo Spain’s Six Wicked Reasons where a controlling father is murdered during a party on a yacht. All of his children, re-united for the occasion to celebrate his intended new marriage, have motives for revenge. John says this is another superb and intriguing read from Spain that reminded him of a fly-on-the-wall docudrama.

On the thriller front, David Gordon’s The Hard Stuff has a terrorist in town with some top-quality smack for which he insists on payment in diamonds. Joe Brody is an opportunist and intends to steal them – twice. Chris Roberts enjoyed the full cast of characters, most with a tendency for deplorable behaviour but he says there’s much about them to appreciate and it’s all done with a light touch. John Cleal had reservations about Rob Sinclair’s Fugitive 13 where a man is on the run from both western intelligence and the brotherhood of jihadi insurgents he betrayed. The only person who believes him is an MI6 agent who then receives a coded message from him warning her not to trust her own colleagues. For John, the storyline headed into unbelievable territory, but it might convince an audience used to the improbabilities of TV and Hollywood.

Our younger offering this week is a thriller – Simon Lelic’s excellent The Haven: Deadfall.  Lily is missing, and Ollie and the rest of the Haven’s council vow to get her back, no matter what the cost. Linda Wilson says this tale will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering how on earth the kids will ever get back to their secret home. She says this is not a series that promises happy ever after, but what it does promise is an action-filled adventure of the very best sort. And it succeeds in its aim.

In the Countdown hot seat this week is author Chris Whitaker. We’re very much in agreement with him on the importance of good manners! And the glitzy places he’d run away to sound most enticing at the moment ...

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Chris Whitaker

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working in the city. With a refreshingly cavalier attitude toward his family’s security, he quit his lucrative finance job at the age of 30 in order to begin his writing career. His wife and two young sons are slowly learning to love him again.

Luckily, his debut novel, Tall Oaks, went on to win a CWA Dagger. He hasn’t stopped smiling since. It’s a shame Chris was so shocked and had no acceptance speech prepared, and so forgot to thank just about everyone who helped him along the way. 

When not writing, Chris enjoys stroking dogs, keeping fit and trying to befriend everyone he meets. Chris lives with his family in Hertfordshire, in a bungalow that currently has no roof. He works part-time at a local library, where he gets to surround himself with books, while learning to master the complex skill of how to ask people to pay a fine with a smile.

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

From bartender to city trader to author, it’s been fun.

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

My reflection (so many mirrors)
My CWA Dagger
An email to Rod Reynolds reminding him about my CWA Dagger
Too many books
Pot of ink
Empty wallet (I’m an author)
Picture my son made
My book covers as wall art

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

Two scoops of protein powder in a pint of water. (Thanks to Tom Wood for the recipe).