November 26 2016

Fasten your seatbelts for some trips to faraway parts this week – and we won’t even insist you get your passport stamped! Help yourself to the duty free ...

According to Chris Roberts, you’ll need a strong stomach for A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan, a brutal police procedural set in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, on the border with Kyrgyzstan and China. Chris also took a trip to Tall Oaks in company with Chris Whitaker, where he found emotions running high amidst a disparate bunch of people in the backwaters of the USA. But be warned, if you’re terrified of clowns, back away now! Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen is an unusual crime thriller set in Israel. Chris Roberts says it’s literary, intelligent, thought-provoking and describes it as one of the best books he’s read this year.

Former crime reporter John Cleal has found a kindred spirit in hard-hitting journalist Rosie Gilmour, who returns in Kill Me Twice by Anna Smith. John notes approvingly that she stays on the right side of the line when it comes to graphic descriptions of violence.

We have a host of other unusual investigators in this issue. Tim Weaver’s investigator David Raker finds missing people, and Broken Heart proves that despite modern technology it’s still necessary to rely on established routines like interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence and making foot-slogging enquiries to solve the mystery. Linda Wilson has just encountered prolific crime writer Jessica Mann, who has taken the brave decision to bring back her former series character Tamara Hoyland, a woman with a darker past than most people realise. Linda says The Stroke of Death will make you think about the difficult subject of assisted dying. John Cleal enjoys legal battles and says An Honest Man by Simon Michael brings something new to the crime and courtroom genre. Set against the grimy underbelly of 1960s London, John says the accuracy and authenticity make this an absolute must-read for anyone who values thought and content over furious action, however spectacular.

Ahem, here’s where Linda Wilson sidles in and admits to liking plenty of action in her thrillers. She can always rely on Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series to provide thrills and spills. In Hurricane Gold, smoothly narrated by Nathaniel Parker, Linda was thoroughly engrossed by the mix of well-drawn characters and skilfully described action scenes. She also enjoyed another YA thriller, Endgame by Chris Ryan. Linda says there’s a strong moral code at the heart of this book about teenage agents that’s likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys the CHERUB series. She’s also been diving into adult thrillers, as well, but comments that in Dark Forces by Stephen Leather, there was rather too much side-plot coupled with a distinctly rushed finale that saw main character Spider Shepherd desperately under-used. She was very glad to see JB Turner’s ex-Delta force operative Jon Resnik – a man who can think his way out of trouble as well as fight his way out of it – return in Hard Wired.

Let’s give a rousing welcome to new reviewer Kati Barr Taylor who says Between the Crosses by Matthew Frank is a realistic, current and sometimes discomforting story of under-resourced police work in the UK. John Cleal declares himself to be a fan of Alison Bruce’s maverick DC Gary Goodhew. He enjoyed The Promise but has some reservations about the strength of the plot.

On the historical front this week, John Cleal praises the attention to detail in Cuckold Point by Patrick Easter, an 18th century tale of the early days of the river police. He also enjoyed Bob Marshall-Andrews’ 17th century Restoration romp. John says Camille and the Lost Diaries of Samuel Pepys is full of political intrigue, danger, death, religion, revenge and bawdiness as well as being a surprisingly tender literary love story.

Moving forward in time, Arnold Taylor says The Accidental Agent by Andrew Rosenheim is a very readable tale of intrigue and spying set in 1942, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Maureen Jennings’ Dead Ground In Between takes place in the same year. Chris Roberts liked her sympathetically drawn characters and the unusually bright police in this procedural set in rural Shropshire amidst wartime food shortages. The Unfortunate Englishman by John Lawton, set in West Berlin in 1963, made it hard for Arnold Taylor to muster much enthusiasm for the return of former MI6 man Joe Wilderness.

John Barnbrook liked the believable plot and equally believable characters in JA Corrigan’s Falling Suns, a story of loss and dark pasts. Ewa Sherman was equally impressed by Michael Grothaus’ Epiphany Jones, a challenging book that left her with an overwhelming sense of sadness and anger. Even though she feels it should come with a mental health warning, Ewa says it would be great on the big screen.

In the Countdown slot this week we have author Simon Mason, who might not be much of a chef, but has been shouted at by some literary greats! And he has suitably eclectic taste in drinking companions.

We’ll be back in a fortnight with 20 new reviews and an interview with a top name on the crime fiction scene. If you have a moment, see what our friends at Reviewing the Evidence think about new releases in the US, Canada and Australia.

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Countdown with
Simon Mason

Simon Mason was born in Sheffield. His father was captain of Sheffield United and his mother was a sex therapist. He was happy at school, miserable at Oxford uni, and happy again in publishing, where he has worked all his adult life.

As a young, incompetent editor he was shouted at by some of the most distinguished authors of the day, including John Updike and Ted Hughes and, memorably, VS Pritchett, who was 90 years old at the time and couldn’t shout very loud or for long, but who helpfully called his younger wife to the phone to continue the shouting.

In his spare time Simon has written books, including three novels for adults, several novels for younger readers, and a work of non-fiction, The Rough Guide to Classic Novels.

He likes reading, day-dreaming and doughnuts. He runs five miles three times a week. He dislikes crowds and prefers to sit quietly at the edge of things, watching. His dreams are like B movies in black and white, and almost always involve being chased in terror along rainy streets at night.

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

In a minute I am going to do something successful.

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

Laptop. Printer. Suitcase containing the effects of my deceased aunt. Optex Express Ear Drops. Seated Neolithic Female Figure from Cernavoda, Romania. Approximately 2,700 books. Hand-drawn cartoon depicting myself as a beaver and my wife as a bat. Notebook. Pen.

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

A hard-boiled egg. Quite ambitious for me.