April 02 2016

That blur you saw, moving faster than the speed of light, was Linda Wilson, leaping with unseemly haste onto one of her all-time favourite series. Linda always claims that if she could choose one fictional character to get her out of a tight spot, Modesty Blaise would be top of her list every time.

In a new departure for Crime Review, we’ve let Linda loose reviewing comic strips. They’re the latest collection of Modesty Blaise classics from Titan Books. Ripper Jax, written by the late Peter O’Donnell and illustrated by Enric Romero, contains four stories featuring Modesty and her sidekick, Willie Garvin.

Brooke Magnanti, possibly better known as former call-girl Belle de Jour, makes her fiction debut in The Turning Tide. Linda Wilson says she does a convincing job of writing strong female characters. Lisa Brackmann has a woman in the lead role as well, in Dragon Day, with a former army medic from the Iraq war now working in the high-tech world of modern China. Chris Roberts was impressed. There’s also a feisty female protagonist in this week’s young adult offering. Linda Wilson says The Rain by Virginia Bergin is a tense, frightening look at a grim post-apocalyptic world where it’s safer to presume that everyone is your enemy than it is to let your guard down.

Sharon Wheeler was on the police procedural beat this week – and muttered darkly about lightweight characterisation in both the books she reviewed. She has a soft spot for Damien Boyd’s Somerset-based series, but says Dead Level is like it predecessors in that the cops lack any depth. Sharon is a fan of Eva Dolan’s gritty series, set in the Hate Crimes unit in Peterborough, but felt After You Die lost out by moving away from the urban setting.

Arnold Taylor is a fan of Mick Herron’s spy series and praises the combination of convincing characters, wit and verbal dexterity in Real Tigers. Moving to the Czech Republic, Escape to Perdition by James Silvester has some murderous plots and Chris Roberts says it’s one for anyone with a fascination for conspiracy theories.

In an unusual departure for Chris, we managed to tempt him with some Scandi noir this week. He says Norwegian writer Samuel Bjork has plenty of tight moments, desperate chases and near-misses in I’m Travelling Alone. Over the border in Sweden, Stefan Ahnhem’s strong but sombre debut Victim Without a Face contains some scenes that had Ewa Sherman hiding behind the sofa.

John Cleal has been immersed in his usual historical stamping grounds. He starts off during the English Civil War, and admires SJ Deas’ understanding of the period in The Protector. He then hops forward in time and heads north of the border to Inverness in 1869, describing His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet as assured and ingenious noir historical fiction at its very best. John also praises Frank Richardson’s witty, satirical send up of London Society in the early 1920s. He says The Mayfair Mystery features a disappearing corpse, a supernatural theory, and a genuinely surprising finale! John gets a bit grumpy about some avoidable errors in Charlie Garratt’s A Shadowed Livery but still describes this as a genuinely thought-provoking and an excellent read that provides a very real sense of the 1930s.

New reviewer Jane Appleby joins the Crime Review team this week. She says that in the engaging Victorian steampunk romp, The Osiris Ritual, featuring Sir Maurice Newbury and his enterprising assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, George Mann pulls off the difficult trick of using period appropriate language without it descending into parody.

Linda Wilson took the opportunity to get out and about earlier this month to visit the Museum of London. She says The Crime Museum Uncovered by curators Jackie Kelly and Julia is an impressive and invaluable companion piece to a ground-breaking exhibition.

Quentin Bates, who has two very fetching hats as a crime novelist and a translator, sails into the Countdown seat this week. We want to hitch a lift and explore the intriguing places he’d run away to.

We'll be back in a fortnight with 16 new reviews and an interview with a top author. In the meantime, have a look at what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence think about new releases in the US and Canada.
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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Quentin Bates

Quentin Bates dates back to the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis and was brought up in the south of England. In the year that Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister, he was offered the opportunity to spend a gap year working in Iceland and jumped at the chance of escape. The gap year turned into a gap decade, during which he worked as a netmaker, factory hand and trawlerman, started a family and generally went native. 

Seagoing was followed by many years as a journalist for an obscure nautical trade magazine, a dream job for anyone who gets a kick out of visiting industrial estates and obscure harbours miles from anywhere. From there it was a series of sidestep into fiction.

The book that became Frozen Out (Frozen Assets in the US) grew out of a university writing course that enabled him to take an afternoon off work once a week. As well as writing the Gunnhildur series, Quentin also translates Icelandic crime fiction into English.

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

Newsprint
Erratic
Ísafjörður
Bowline
Fish
Book
Trawler
Keyboard
Shed
Gunnhildur

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

A giant fishhook
A photo of the crew of the Silver Harvester
Quite a lot of books
The vice that came from my great-grandfather’s forge
A cast net
A variety of bottles and cans on the floor, including brown ale and WD-40
The fact that I really need to prune the holly tree outside before it become a triffid
Four printers, of which only one works
The ten feet of path between the house and the shed

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

An omelette, so eggs, onion, a few slices of chorizo, a dash of chilli, plus a quick tomato salad, bread, olives, a glass of red.