September 26 2015

We don’t half send our reviewers off to some bizarre locations in the course of their duties. Good job they can’t claim expenses or danger-money!

John Cleal has been even more immersed than usual in the murkier byways of history starting with At the Ruin of the World in which John Henry Clay brings a huge cast, both real and fictional, to life amidst the chaotic collapse of the Roman Empire. He then jumps forward to plague-ridden London in 1665, and describes CS Quinn’s The Thief Taker as a fast-paced, well-constructed story that makes no claim to be other than what it is – pure escapism at its best.

John was equally complimentary about the brave way SG MacLean introduces a new character in The Seeker and praises believably-drawn characters, fast and furious action, clever twists and a surprise ending. The Case of the Hail Mary Celeste by Malcolm Pryce pulls John slightly further forward in time to 1947 and he was very taken by its magnificently detailed, eccentric and fascinating mix of history. We’ll let him loose on something entirely different next week, we promise!

Sharon Wheeler was seen skulking around various northern towns, muttering darkly about characterisation – or lack of it. She was so aggravated by some of the university details in Alice Clark-Platts’s Bitter Fruits that she went in search of a tame colleague at Durham University. And even though Sharon was a wuss when it came to the spooky settings in Kate Ellis’s Walking By Night, she still grumbled about some unlikely characters.

Linda Wilson and Madeleine Marsh both took a trip over the Atlantic for some of their reading material. Linda says that despite its rather slow start, The Killing Kind by Chris Holm is a hard-edged thriller that doesn’t pull its punches. Madeleine was equally impressed by Chris Carter’s I Am Death and says she couldn’t put it down.

Chris Roberts enjoyed CJ Box’s collection of short stories set in the high country of Wyoming and Montana. He says Shots Fired is a good appetiser for Box’s full-length novels. He was also carried along by the tight dialogue and sense of menace in RJ Ellory’s Mockingbird Songs, which he says encapsulates the negative side of Smallville, USA. Chris also takes a look at Gore Vidal’s early venture into the world of pulp fiction with Thieves Fall Out, written as Cameron Kay. He praises the punchy dialogue but was less impressed by other aspects of a book that isn’t even acknowledged in many of its author’s biographies.

Our Scandi queen Ewa Sherman describes Arnaldur Indriðason as the King of Icelandic crime and praises the poetic, pared-down prose in Oblivion which, she says, is a grim and often unsettling book, but that clearly didn’t put her off.

Despite our adventures overseas this week, we’ve not forgotten the UK! Zoë Sharp takes a break from her long-running series character, tough girl Charlie Fox, and introduces another strong, believable female lead, specialist cleaner, Kelly Jacks in The Blood Whisperer. Linda Wilson was impressed. But despite enjoying the earlier books in Mick Herron’s spy series, Arnold Taylor was unusually grumpy about Nobody Walks, and is living in hope of a return to form in Herron’s next offering.

In Dead and Buried, a body in the garden of their former house causes complications for Anne Cassidy’s sparky teenagers, with Julie Teal providing stylish narration in the culmination of a young adult crime series that has gripped Linda Wilson on several long car journeys. Another YA series reaches a conclusion in Blood Of My Blood by Barry Lyga.  Linda says it’s definitely at the grittier end of the young adult market.

In our Countdown hot seat this week we have cornered journalist-turned-crime writer William Shaw. We’re almost afraid to ask what the story is behind his advice to his teenage self but at least no pigs were involved!

We’ll be back again in a fortnight with 16 new reviews and an interview with a top author. If you have time before then, take a look at what's happening on the other side of the Pond with our friends at Reviewing the Evidence.
And if you’re not already following us on Twitter, you can find us at .

Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
William Shaw

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was a music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine.

William started out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, and has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face.

His trilogy of detective books is set in late 1960s London against the cultural and political revolution of the times, and features DS Cathal Breen and young constable Helen Tozer. A Song from Dead Lips was picked by Time Out as one of the crime books of 2013.

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

As a journalist I never made stuff up; now, though…

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

1. One of the tallest surviving Elm trees in the UK
2. A business card from a piano player I gigged with once
3. A copy of Groovy Bob by Harriet Vyner
4. A red Tonka crane.
5. Jane McMorrow
6. A plane ticket to Dublin
7. A photo I took in Nigeria when I was 11
8. A half-written novel
9. Bills

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

Grilled tomatoes with olive oil, rosemary and garlic on sourdough bread.