July 04 2015

For anyone settling down to watch the British Grand Prix this Sunday, Linda Wilson recommends Toby Vintcent’s fast-paced thriller, Driven. She says it’s eminently believable, both on and off the track, and will appeal to anyone who longs for the good old days when overtaking and wheel-to-wheel action was still the norm!

We’ve got a good crop of police procedurals for you this issue, with the usual bunch of damaged protagonists, starting with This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham. John Cleal praises the main character’s intelligence and says she’s portrayed with great psychological depth, without ever being entirely dark. John was equally taken with the characterisation in Kate Rhodes’ The Winter Foundlings with psychologist Alice Quentin. He describes this as psychological thriller writing at its best and praises the in-depth research.

Sharon Wheeler was very taken with Exit Stage Left by Graham Ison, a new to her author. She particularly liked the snappy dialogue and team of cops who all pull together. And she was very impressed by the latest release from new indie publisher, Orenda Books. Sharon describes Ragnar Jónasson’s crisp, bleak prose in Snowblind as an exemplary lesson in how to create atmosphere, as a baffled young cop is sent to the far north of Iceland.

Bryant and May: The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler boasts unorthodox detectives Bryant and May. It appealed to Sylvia Maughan. She calls it a novel of contrasts, with modern references but where history is never far away. Also on the historical front, Mark Sanderson’s Robin Hood Yard, a tale of 1930s crime and coppers, gets John Cleal’s seal of approval. Despite its setting, the book is a thoroughly modern story of bankers’ malfeasance, police corruption, blackmail, murder and a touch of government-sponsored killing that rattles along at a cracking pace. Meanwhile, No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings is a police procedural set in 1942. Arnold Taylor enjoyed the convincing historical context and says it’s also an intriguing thriller.

Our interviewee from the last issue, Robert Olen Butler, is back this week with The Star of Istanbul. Chris Roberts says this is one for anyone who enjoys well-researched and well-written historical fiction. John Cleal, though, was in something of two minds about The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom. He says it’s a clever, infuriating book, with a main character you’ll either love or hate.

Moving across the Atlantic, Sylvia Wilson says Chelsea Cain’s One Kick isn’t an easy book to read as it covers some uncomfortable subjects, and the main character isn’t exactly likeable but as an exploration of yet another damaged individual it’s well worth a read. Meanwhile, Kill Fee is the third pairing of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension detective Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere. Chris Roberts thinks Owen Laukkanen has found a recipe that is very readable with plenty of action and tight dialogue.

Linda Wilson enjoyed both of our young adult offerings this week. In Running Girl by Simon Mason, teenager Garvie Smith is a thorn in the side of the local police. She says the crisp, bleak prose is an exemplary lesson in how to create atmosphere. Charlie Higson’s Blood Fever, narrated by Nathanial Parker, probably best known for the Inspector Lynley series, is good, old-fashioned, fast-paced fun, with dastardly villains, daring schoolboys, and some pretty tough bunch girls.

In The Girl Who Wasn’t There, Chris Roberts says Ferdinand von Schirach constructs a compelling tale, with skilful use of gaps and omissions to add interest to the linear narrative. And Linda Wilson describes Louise Welsh’s Death is a Welcome Guest as post-apocalyptic story-telling at its very best. This bleak, no-holds-barred look at a rapidly-disintegrating society is uncomfortable but always wholly engrossing reading.

In Countdown this week, we have young adult author Helen Grant. She gives her teenage self what sounds like some very good advice!

We'll be back in a fortnight with 16 new reviews and an interview with a top author. In the meantime, please visit our friends at Reviewing the Evidence to see what’s been happening on the other side of the pond.
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Countdown with
Helen Grant

Helen Grant was born in London and showed an early leaning towards the arts, having been told off for writing stories under the desk in maths lessons at school. She went on to read Classics at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and then worked in marketing for ten years to fund her love of travelling. In 2001, Helen and her family moved to Bad Munstereifel in Germany. It was exploring the legends of this beautiful old town that inspired her to write her first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, which is set there. Helen now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two cats.

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

“Let me finish this paragraph. I’ll be right with you.”

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

A statue of Kali I brought back from India in 1990; a bottle of Hungarian palinka I haven’t dared try yet; an enormous second-hand painting of a stag in a forest that is leaning against the wall because it weighs a ton and needs industrial standard hooks to hang it up on; a tatty paperback of the ghost stories of MR James; Dundee Contemporary Arts cinema listings brochure; a toffee tin full of old coins; a box of watercolours; a plastic gravestone with RIP written on it; a trampoline.

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

That depends whether I have to use things I currently have in the house! If I could pluck the ingredients out of thin air, I’d probably have a huge salad with bacon and avocado and some crusty bread on the side. Or I’d choose ready-made sushi which takes 30 seconds max to take out of the fridge, and spend the other seven and a half minutes mixing cocktails. But if it had to be made with things I already have in the house right now, it would be a ham and salad roll, an orange and a glass of Ribena. Sorry. I really do need to go grocery shopping.