November 21 2015

If you’re a delicate little flower when it comes to spooky books, you may wish to look away now, or go and read some chick lit (just as long as you promise to clean your teeth and then come back here later!)

Your editors always scuffle unbecomingly over who gets to read the latest book in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series first. Linda Wilson always wins (well, she’s schooled in herding lurchers who have bony paws!), and she says that Friends of the Dusk has Rickman spanning the supernatural and the natural world with his usual flair. Sharon Wheeler, meanwhile, stomped off in a strop, but found herself thoroughly spooked by Peter James’s The House on Cold Hill, which has ghostly sightings aplenty. And talking of ghosts, Linda is addicted to Meg Cabot’s thoroughly unpredictable YA series featuring Suze Simon. High Stakes includes more ghosts than you can shake a stick at, cute boys and poison oak!

Our historical buff John Cleal was let loose this week in the seedier parts of London. He thoroughly enjoyed Antonia Hodgson’s The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, set in 1728, particularly its strong male and female leads, and the cracking dialogue. John also revelled in the Sharpe-meets-Bond atmosphere of James McGee’s The Blooding as its British hero escapes Napoleonic France – but ends up in America. And then our bold reviewer headed off to Scotland with The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne, where almost all the characters are real and the murder from 1912 still unsolved. He says Andrew Nicoll’s book is an atmospheric piece of ‘faction.’

At least we let John have a laugh this time at Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg, which has been rescued by Martin Edwards as part of the British Library Classics series. This one features an Aussie bishop, on leave in England, cracking an international drugs ring!

Chris Roberts is on his usual Euro beat this week. He praises the convivial characters in Britta Bolt’s Lives Lost, which is set in Amsterdam and stars the wonderfully-named Pieter Posthumas. And the reissues of Georges Simenon’s classic Maigret novels continue to impress our reviewers. Chris says that The Flemish House has the author’s trademark mastery for setting the scene – this time a grey riverside town on the Belgian border.

Arnold Taylor reports that Anna Jaquiery’s The Lying Down Room, featuring French cop Commandant Morel, builds up suspicion, but peters out as the reader loses interest in the fate of the characters. Sylvia Maughan, meanwhile, admired the dialogue in Nadia Dalbuono’s The Few, featuring a Rome detective towards the end of his career being given a hush-hush mission.

Sharon Wheeler always looks forward to new releases in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ DCI Bill Slider series. One Under is several shades darker than we’re used to from the author, but it has the trademark snappy dialogue and long-suffering Supt Porson and his malapropisms in fine form. Madeleine Marsh, meanwhile, wasn’t convinced by Ali Knight’s The Silent Ones, finding it rather coy about the subject matter. She says there’s a strong and claustrophobic start, but then the narrative loses its way. Chris Roberts reckons that Neely Tucker’s The Ways of the Dead, featuring a Washington crime reporter, has a dramatic and shocking twist in the tail.

You’ve heard the old cliché about not judging a book by its cover. We’ve got an unusual publication this week in the form of Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond, which features cover art by American artist and illustrator Tom Adams. Linda Wilson says it’s a beautiful book. And also out of the ordinary is The Starlings and Other Stories by the Murder Squad and Accomplices, edited by Ann Cleeves. Twelve crime writers have produced a collection of short stories inspired by the stark black and white photos of Welsh photographer David Wilson. Linda says it’s a clever, well-written and darkly entertaining book.

The Countdown interrogation lights are trained on Sharon (SJ) Bolton this week. Your editors are nodding vigorously at her rants and regaling each other with anecdotes about invading the men’s loos when the queue for the women’s stretches to Kidderminster. And we’ll be round there like a shot for her quick meal if bread and cheese is involved. Oh, and we definitely like the cut of her 13-year-old son’s jib!

We'll be back in a fortnight with 16 new reviews and an interview with a top author. In the meantime, please toddle over to visit our chums at Reviewing the Evidence who have news on what’s been released in the US and Canada.
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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Sharon Bolton

Sharon (SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career in marketing and PR. She gave it all up to go freelance, become a mother and a writer. Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark award. In 2014, Lost, (UK title, Like This, For Ever) was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me won the Plume de Bronze. That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work. Sharon lives with her family of four, one of whom is a food-stealing, rabbit-chasing lurcher, in the Chiltern Hills, not far from Oxford.

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

Learning that there is no substitute for darned hard work.

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

A ceramic puffin, a real dog, my son winning a race, a book about Witchcraft & Spells, Samson & Delilah, a grade 5 rapid on the Zambezi river, the door to the attic, a patch of stormy sky and a portal into another world.

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

Very cold white wine, fresh bread & butter, soft cheese, crisps, olives.