November 27 2021
Linda Wilson admits to not knowing quite what to make of this literary device in A Line to Kill, in which the fictional version of the author and his presumably wholly fictional collaborator, former Met detective Daniel Hawthorne are invited to a new literary festival on the island of Alderney. Naturally, this is quickly derailed by a murder, and Hawthorne takes a hand in the investigation, with the fictional Anthony Horowitz hanging onto his coattails. Linda thinks this is a case where mileage will vary, but she ended up having to lie down in a darkened room while she tried to work out how to write the review! Chris Roberts had an easier time of things with one of his favourite series. In Walter Mosley’s Blood Grove, against his better judgement investigator Easy Rawlins accepts on behalf of a Vietnam veteran and soon finds himself targeted by police, the FBI and organised crime. Chris says Easy exudes the very essence of cool in a series that only seems to get better.
Quintin Jardine’s long-running Scottish police saga featuring tough former cop Bob Skinner is one of Linda Wilson’s guilty pleasures, although recently she’s muttered darkly about a possible divorce. That’s now on hold, as The Roots of Evil is a welcome return to previous form in a complicated, dangerous investigation into a shocking double murder that hits very close to home for Skinner and his former colleagues. Sylvia Maughan always enjoys Christopher Fowler’s quirky Bryant and May series, and Oranges and Lemons is no exception, when the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to investigate the death of an important politician, buried under a crate of fruit suspiciously near the church of St Clements. Sylvia describes this as another interesting, funny and enjoyable read.
Ireland is the scene of not one but two murders this week. In The Body Falls by Andrea Carter, a dead cyclist drops from a muddy bank onto someone’s Jeep in the middle of a storm. Local solicitor Ben (Benedicta) O’Keefe, a friend of the driver’s, is caught up in a dangerous web in a town cut off by rising flood waters. Former lawyer Linda Wilson likes the sensible, analytical Ben, and says she makes a convincing repository for the secrets of townsfolk and strangers alike. The books skilfully portray the rural Ireland Linda knows and loves. Bad weather also features in John Banville’s aptly named Snow, where Dublin DI St John Strafford is called to a country house where a priest has been savagely murdered. As the snow piles up, he struggles to understand the strange family who live there. Chris Roberts describes the book as a subtle and well-written police procedural with a powerful evocation of atmosphere.
It's 1941 and Garda Special Branch Inspector Stefan Gillespie has been tasked with tracking down a serial killer and ends up in the middle of war-torn Malta, bombarded by enemy planes. John Cleal describes Michael Russell’s The City Under Siege as a compelling mix of fact and fiction. John also enjoyed Kyiv by Graham Hurley, a story of love, lies and betrayal against the backdrop of one of the most horrific events of the Second World War. He says the book is a terrific portrayal of the horrors and sadness of war behind the front lines. Chris Roberts liked the well-drawn characters in Cesare, set in the feverish atmosphere of wartime Berlin, where a young man pursuing his own agenda becomes a legend in military intelligence. Chris says Jerome Charyn draws a vivid picture of the terrible suffering that existed alongside luxury and the unrestrained use of power.
Over in the US, game warden Joe Pickett is asked to take a social media mogul on a hunting trip, but unsurprisingly, the man has enemies ready to exploit any opportunity to bring him down. Chris says in Dark Sky, the 21st outing for Pickett, CJ Box maintains the excellent quality of this long-running series. Kerry Hood was impressed by John Hart’s The Unwilling in which a veteran home from the Vietnam war is suspected of the murder of a girl he was seen with. Kerry says this is a story about the young men who served and the families who were broken by that catastrophic conflict. Hart portrays America in the Vietnam era as innocent, wary, heartbroken and tough. In Clean Hands, when a phone containing crucial documents in a dispute between two banks is stolen from a lawyer’s pocket, its fast recovery is essential. Chris Roberts says there’s plenty of thrills in the contemporary and entirely plausible scenario presented by Patrick Hoffman.
On the Scandi beat, in Victim 2117 by Jussi Adler-Olsen things become personal for Assad from Sweden’s Department Q when a newspaper photograph of an elderly murder victim brings back disturbing memories. Together with his boss, Carl Mørck, he has to stop a terrorist attack planned by his former tormentor, while dealing with his own past problems. Ewa Sherman says the graphic descriptions of torture and humiliation were too much for her to handle so you have been warned! Viv Beeby got on better with The Inner Darkness by Jørn Lier Horst. Notorious serial killer, Tom Kerr, is safely behind bars, but during an excursion to take Norwegian police to the grave of one of his victims he manages to escape. Viv would prefer to have known more about the main characters but liked the book well enough to seek out others in the series.
Kati Barr-Taylor doesn’t have to like the characters to enjoy a book. In The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, the game that ended so badly for one of the girls ten years ago is still not over for Ambrosia. Kati couldn’t connect with any of the characters but says this is one of those rare occasions where the fun escapism was intriguing enough to keep her turning the pages. An unconvincing backstory lets down the well-drawn main characters in Dorothy Koomson’s All My Lies Are True, where a woman’s lies are about to lead to a charge of attempted murder. Despite that, Kati still enjoyed the book
Linda Wilson lapped up Tales from the Folly by Ben Aaronovitch, a collection of short stories and even shorter snippets set in the expanded universe of the Folly, home to London’s smallest and most specialist branch of the Metropolitan police. She says this is an essential addition to any fan’s bookshelf. There are more short stories with an element of woo woo in Syd Moore’s The Twelve Even Stranger Days of Christmas, set in the world of Essex girl Rosie Strange and her Witchcraft Museum. Anthea Hawdon says the stories aren’t season Christmassy but predicts they’ll provide an escape from the stresses of the festive period.
The Smuggler's Secret by Elly Griffiths sees young sleuth Justice Jones taking part in a new school initiative to involve pupils with the local community. She doesn’t expect to end up with a suspicious death to solve but then Justice attracts mysteries the way flowers attract bees. Linda Wilson praises the suitably exciting denouement and anything involving smugglers’ secret passages always gets her vote! Our second story for younger readers (and like- minded adults!) is Wishyouwas by Alexandra Page. Penny Black lives with her uncle in a London post office. Her lonely existence changes dramatically when she encounters a funny, courageous, talkative little creature trying to run off with a letter. Penny is catapulted into the secretive lives of the Sorters, the tiny guardians of lost letters. Linda says this is an utterly adorable Christmas story and defies you not to fall in love with them. They might even encourage your kids to write some thank you letters!
In the Countdown spotlight this week, we’ve got author Will Dean, whose moose-nibbled saplings have made us want to trot out the old Monty Python sketch about caribou nibbling the croquet hooks!
We’ll be back in the new year, and in the meantime, we’d like to wish you all a happy, peaceful and healthy December!
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
1. The forest
2. Granite boulders
3. An elk-hunting tower
4. An owl nesting box
5. A moose repelling alarm
6. Our water well
7. Our next Christmas tree
8. Moose-nibbled pine saplings
9. Lots of weather
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
Steak cooked outdoors over fire. Eaten outdoors, next to the fire, with family and friends.