July 24 2021
There’s a sumptuous deluxe writer’s edition of Body Work by Ben Aaronovich and Andrew Cartmel, part of the Rivers of London series, which sees London copper Peter Grant tipped off by his girlfriend – who just happens to be a goddess – that a man’s death in his car in the Thames might be more than just an accident. Peter, who also happens to know a bit about magic (or ‘weird shit’, as his colleagues call it), finds himself on a collision course with a murderous car. Linda Wilson says this is a visually gorgeous addition to any fan’s bookshelf. She also really liked Adler by Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffrey in which Jane Eyre, Irene Adler and Lady Havisham team up to fight a dark threat to Victorian London in a gloriously drawn, energetic steampunk romp through the dark highways and byways of the city. She was very taken with the moody, gaslit artwork and the impressive female leads. And there was a return for some old friends in The Old Guard: Force Multiplied by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, with the team of immortal mercenaries going up against someone from their past. And just to complicate things further, their team leader is having a rather large meltdown. Linda says this is a very strong sequel that fleshes out all the characters even more and moves their story on in a satisfying way. She found the artwork to be as powerful as ever with colouring that perfectly fits the mood of every panel.
And talking of old favourites, Sharon Wheeler called dibs on the latest in one of her favourite series, Peter James’ Detective Superintendent Roy Grace saga. Sharon says that Left You Dead is an imperious return to form after our hero was somewhat sidelined last time – even if she was severely traumatised by the silly names for two of the main characters. She’s muttering darkly about An Incident in one of the paternosters (those moving boxes) at the University of Leicester. Moving swiftly on, James provides a tense plot, plus generous helpings of the extra-curricular plotlines that regular readers expect from his books. Kerry Hood also pounced on William Shaw’s latest with indecent haste. In The Trawlerman, main character DS Alex Cupidi is on gardening leave, suffering from PTSD and panic attacks, an unwilling attendee at therapy sessions. So when a couple are killed in a seemingly random and meaningless attack, the tangled case might just be a step too far for all those involved. Kerry says Shaw has a fine eye and ear for character and dialogue, and this book certainly didn’t disappoint.
There are plenty of cops in action this issue. John Cleal enjoyed the realism evident in One Half Truth by Eva Dolan. DI Zigic and DS Ferreria are investigating the late-night shooting of a young would-be journalist and then find themselves caught in a long-running saga of revenge and high-level corruption. John says this is a convincing procedural. Facets of Death by Michael Stanley is set in Botswana, where a young detective is caught up in a diamond heist in which three guards are killed in cold blood. Chris Roberts says that the book sustains the charm of previous ones in the series, providing a police procedural with a glimpse into an exotic location with the added appeal of a bright and keen copper full of enthusiasm for his job.
Please welcome on board another new reviewer this week. John Verpeleti has been a strong supporter of ours since the site was launched back in … cough cough … a long time ago and we’re very pleased that he’s now reviewing for us as well. Ask No Questions by Claire Allen features a journalist who’s investigating whether a man imprisoned for the murder of a young girl 25 years ago really was guilty. John describes the book as engaging and says it’s unusual in not having a cast of thousands.
We’ve got a plethora of spooky stuff for you this week and no, we don’t mean Linda’s favourite woo-woo authors. Newsreader Tom Bradby is back with Triple Cross in which Kate Henderson is reluctantly pulled back into spying at the personal request of the prime minister, with a job that entails unmasking a Russian intelligence asset at the heart of MI6. Chris Roberts says that Bradby certainly knows how to write a thriller. He admired the complex details of the plot and the way the various strands were woven together. Chris even abandoned mealtimes to finish the book and declares it the best of the series so far. Someone else who knows how to write a thriller is former MI5 surveillance officer Tom Marcus. Capture or Kill features a newly-formed black ops team, drawn from MI5 surveillance officers (yep, Marcus is definitely writing about what he knows!) who have to work against the clock to stop a terrorist attack. Linda describes this as a punchy story with oodles of realism and for once, she isn’t even grumpy about authors who use pseudonyms, as Marcus certainly has a good reason for keeping his real name out of the limelight.
We kept John Cleal busy this week, starting with The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath. Eighteen-year-old Phil agrees to drive his grandmother on a last tour of the places she had lived as a young diplomatic wife and is plunged into a dark world of spying and danger. John says this fast-paced, dual timeline spy story, reminiscent in some ways of The 39 Steps, is a tour de force not to be missed and would make a scenic and gripping film. He also enjoyed Jennie Fields' Atomic Love in which a brilliant young scientist is haunted by guilt over her work on the Manhattan Project and heartbroken by the ending of her love affair with a colleague. Then an FBI agent contacts her to suggest that her former lover is a Russian spy. John describes Fields' wiring as fluent, always easy to digest and occasionally quite emotionally brilliant. He was distinctly underwhelmed, though, by The Sandpit, in which a writer’s chance meeting with an Iranian nuclear scientist plunges him into a dangerous world of power, espionage and violence. John found Nicholas Shakespeare’s style hard work and says the story promised rather more than it delivered. He did, though, like the latest outing for Catriona McPherson’s elegant, aristocratic sleuth Dandy Gilver. In The Mirror Dance, a copyright dispute concerning a puppeteer plunges her into a murder investigation. John praises this entertaining tale and describes the denouement as superbly ingenious.
We’ve got a trio of legal eagles for you this week starting with Peter Murphy’s latest outing for barrister Ben Schroeder in Verbal, where he is defending a woman accused of warehousing drugs and ends up mired in an international conspiracy that extends to the British police. Chris says that as usual, Murphy’s familiarity with the processes of the law gives the books an authentic and interesting feel. He also enjoyed The Rapunzel Act by Abi Silver with protagonists Burton and Lamb representing a woman, formerly a male footballer, charged with the death of her ex-wife. He praises the sparkling courtroom exchanges and says the series remains as thought-provoking as ever. Viv Beeby joins Chris on the legal beat for Janice Hallett’s unusual debut, The Appeal. A murder has been committed and someone has gone to prison. But a QC questions were they the right person and uses the evidence to test his star pupils. The murder mystery is presented in a highly unusual way, with no chapters, few signposts and occasionally confusing organisation with little or no breathing space as every page demands the reader's full attention. Despite the hard work, Viv was extremely impressed by the book.
In chilly Scandinavia, Nina, a literature professor at the University of Bergen, decides to turn her analytical skills to criminal investigation when Mari, a tenant from the family’s second home, suddenly disappears, especially as this happens shortly after Nina visited the property. Ewa Sherman was caught up in the atmosphere of impending dread in The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn and loved the understated yet eloquent style of her flowing prose, describing Ravatn as a distinctive voice in modern Norwegian literature.
Chris Roberts says We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker, in which the release of a prisoner after 30 years precipitates a series of deaths and creates challenges for others, is well handled and really enjoyable. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t quite so keen on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Evelyn, once the hot property of Hollywood, is now writing her own script, but her unfolding life story may hurt more than one person. Kati failed to connect with the main characters and thought that too many of the husbands were simply forgettable. The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard also failed to inspire her. Here, Eve Black and Jim Doyle are on a collision course for the second time in Eve’s life, but now it is Eve doing the hunting. Kati liked the creation of atmosphere through brief but strong description but wasn’t keen on the spoon-feeding and info dumps. She had more luck with Charlotte Levin’s If I Can’t Have You, where Constance falls for Samuel from the moment she meets him. Kati says the book is a stunning debut, sinister, addictive, claustrophobic, bold, and in places, disturbingly intimate. Sylvia Maughan was back amongst old friends with Karen Rose’s Say No More. A woman who spent much of her youth in a violent commune but escaped when she was still quite young now has to evade her so-called husband from all those years ago who wants her back and will stop at nothing to achieve that. Sylvia says it is a testament to the quality of Rose’s writing and plotting that these books continue to be so readable.
Please welcome Aussie writer Garry Disher to the Countdown seat. He’s got a range of criminal minds to have a drink with. And we think it’s obligatory to rant about prime ministers, no matter where you come from!
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
A great deal of head-scratching, followed by some clumsy writing.
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
Smeared window glass, sun-warped garden table, banksia tree, rosellas in the birdbath, dirt driveway, lavender bed, dusty modem, dusty reading light, dusty phone.
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
Scrambled eggs with various chopped up leftovers in it.