February 4 2017

After a decidedly trying trip around the Peripherique on a weekday, one of your editors could be forgiven for wanting to avoid Paris for a while, but instead, this issue gets off to a distinctly French start.

John Cleal took a trip to Paris in the last year of the 19th century, where a man with a perfect memory murders his wife. He says Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick is a clever, riveting story that poses as many questions as it answers. In Maigret at the Coroner’s, Georges Simenon’s great detective visits the United States to familiarise himself with American police methods, and reflects on the differences between America and France. Arnold Taylor says this is by no means a typical Maigret story and might not provide the best starting point for someone new to the series. Crush by Frédéric Dard is set in a dull grey town outside Paris, where a teenage girl becomes obsessed with a glamorous American who offers the dream of a more exciting future. Chris Roberts says this domestic tale has a distinct chill towards the end, and a final twist that delivers an ice-cube down your back. 

Our reviewers have been busy on the thriller front in this issue. Chris Roberts enjoyed the moral ambiguity in A Time to Die by Tom Wood, as professional killer Victor is a man of some honour, an unusual thing in an assassin. Say a Little Prayer is set in Kosovo in 1999, where an intelligence officer has to rescue a girl from child traffickers. Jim Beaman says Giles O’Bryen’s focus on communities forced to define themselves with ethnic and religious groupings is both dark and intelligent. BBC Radio 4 stalwart Peter Hanington puts his own experience to good use in A Dying Breed, his debut thriller featuring journalist William Carver, who is caught up in the aftermath of an explosion in Kabul. Chris Roberts praises the pacing and exciting finale.

Linda Wilson makes no secret of her love for hair-raising thrillers, and can forgive any amount of improbability if the story is good enough. The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly, falls squarely in that territory. Hero Jack West Jnr is fighting for his life, and the lives of his friends, in a series of hellish gladiatorial combats. Linda says it’s all a bit bonkers, but it’s great fun. She also enjoyed the first in the series of Young Bond adventures, Silverfin, where something sinister is stirring in a Scottish Loch. Charlie Higson serves up a fast-paced YA adventure that’s not for the faint-hearted, with Nathanial Parker’s skilled narration providing plenty of shivers along with the thrills. The Age of Treachery by Gavin Scott sees an Oxford fellow and wartime SOE agent accused of murder. John Cleal says this hugely enjoyable, clever and elegantly written story, isn’t really a book at all – it’s a plot outline for a Hollywood thriller with an all-star cast in cameo roles. The Invisible Man From Salem by Christoffer Carlsson sees police officer Leo Junker handling a murder with some strange connections to his own past. Ewa Sherman describes this as a solid and gripping thriller.

Disgraced copper Nick Belsey is back in The House of Fame by Oliver Harris, and finds himself plunged into the world of celebrity, obsessive adoration and corruption.  John Barnbrook was thoroughly hooked. Chris Roberts says The Fourth Sacrifice by Peter May, featuring American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell, provides plenty of information about Chinese history and has something for every taste. Caver Linda Wilson was hooked from the start by Sharon Bolton’s standalone Daisy in Chains which has the bodies of three murdered women turning up in Mendip caves. She describes it as cleverly constructed and absolutely compelling. John Cleal says The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland is a well-written and compelling thriller with a very plausible sub-plot. Linda Wilson was fascinated by the background detail about high-voltage cable work in Rise the Dark, a complex, tense thriller, with well-rounded characters and believably chilling bad guys, with the usual hint of Michael Koryta’s trademark spooky stuff.

One of the problems with psychological thrillers is that the main characters are often exceedingly annoying, and Deborah O’Connor’s debut is no exception to this rule. But Linda Wilson says it’s in the moral complexities that My Husband’s Son really comes alive. No matter what you feel about the protagonists, this is a book you’ll want to see through to the end. Kati Barr-Taylor was less sure of Mercy Killing by Lisa Cutts. She says the book gets bogged down in too much backstory and a plethora of ‘tell’ instead ‘show’. It didn’t succeed in getting her pulse to race.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano follows the title character’s move to Sicily for a quiet retirement, but when she discovers the body of her handyman on the beach, shot through the head, she decides to investigate. Sylvia Maughan describes the book as a light joyful read, which makes something of a change in present company!

An issue wouldn’t be complete if we failed to let John Cleal loose on his favourite historical mysteries. He says Susanna Gregory is at her best in The Chelsea Strangler where Thomas Chaloner investigates murder, plots and robbery while the plague rages in London. John says the book is cleverly written, as twisted as the Gordian Knot, and builds to an explosive and surprising denouement. He was equally impressed by SG MacLean’s The Black Friar which sees Damian Seeker, captain of Cromwell’s guard, facing sedition, armed rebellion, a Royalist spy in his own ranks and the threat of a Stuart invasion.  John thoroughly enjoyed this convoluted, fascinating and sometimes brutal story

This week we have mystery writer Frances Brody in the Countdown hotseat. We both have a lot of sympathy with her advice to her teenage self!

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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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Frances Brody

Frances Brody is the author of the Kate Shackleton mysteries, as well as many stories and plays for BBC Radio, scripts for television and four sagas, one of which won the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin Award. Her stage plays have been toured by several theatre companies and produced at Manchester Library Theatre, the Gate and Nottingham Playhouse, and Jehad was nominated for a Time Out Award. She lives in Leeds.

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

Didn’t mean to turn to crime, I was led astray.

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

Coffee mug; Dictionary of English Law; oil burner (rosemary); postcard for John Martin’s Crime Scene Britain and Ireland; postcard for next Bouchercon; toppled over ring binders; notebook; best pen; two pictures on glass by Sharon Yamamoto.

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

Avocado on toast, with fingers crossed that the avocado isn’t a dud.