April 1 2017

There have been quite a few occasions recently when we’ve felt the world was in desperate need of being saved, and according to John Cleal, James Rollins and Grant Blackwood have come up with just the team we need!  In War Hawk, ex-Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog, Kane, help a former army colleague on the run from assassins and enter a hi-tech world of conspiracy, obsession and murder. One man and his dog save the world – again!

Also in the US, Chris Roberts gained some insights into the world of fashion in Killer Look when fashion icon Wolf Savage is found dead in a hotel room, an apparent suicide. Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper and her NYPD boyfriend Mike Chapman investigate and even after 18 excursions, Linda Fairstein still manages to bring Coop’s activities to life.

Back in the UK, two very different psychologists are in action. Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham sees clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin drawn unwillingly to help solve a double murder. John Barnbrook says this is an excellent addition to a thoroughly good series. In Blood Symmetry, when a woman and her son are abducted, forensic psychologist Alice Quentin must help the traumatised child uncover his memories. John Cleal says getting inside the mind of a killer isn’t for the faint hearted, but describes Kate Rhodes’ latest offering as clever, pacey and gripping, as well as wallowing in gore.

In Foreign Agent, the CIA is searching for an agent with the necessary skills to deal with increasing numbers of terrorist outrages in Europe. Scott Horvath is their man, but Moscow already has its own operative working under very deep cover. In this instance, Arnold Taylor wasn’t won over by Brad Thor’s main character. But by contrast, he can’t recommend Mick Herron’s Slough House series too highly. In Spook Street, Jackson Lamb is called to identify a body discovered in the residence of a former senior spy, and finds that the dead man was one of his agents.

While Arnold is in pursuit of spies on both sides of the Pond, Chris Roberts takes a trip to Africa. Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf follows the murder of four westerners in an oasis town in the North African desert, Chris says the book sustains uncertainty until the final pages. In Paul Mendelson’s The History of Blood, the daughter of an assassinated politician is found dead in a Cape Town motel, her stomach full of cocaine. The book moves at a satisfyingly rapid pace, establishing links with organised crime. Chris also visited Mexico in company with Elmer Mendoza’s Detective ‘Lefty’ Mendieta, who’s determined to find the killer of an exotic dancer. In The Acid Test, the Mexican cuisine is almost a character in its own right, but Chris warns that training might be necessary to survive the chillies!

John Cleal has been doing some of his usual time-travelling this week, this time back to Victorian times. In Striking Murder by AJ Wright, an unpopular mine owner is murdered at the height of a strike. John says this is an absolute gem of a historical crime novel – cleverly and intricately plotted, very well-written and convincingly evoking all the social problems of a late-Victorian industrial town and the devastating effects on it of the country’s first national strike. Murder by Ghostlight features an unusual protagonist! Journalist, social reformer, novelist and actor Charles Dickens turns his hand to solving crime after he finds himself arrested as prime suspect in a murder. John tells us enthusiastically that JC Briggs has captured Dickens’ gift of caricature and sense of the ludicrous side of life.

On the police procedural front, Linda Wilson was delighted by the return of Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan in Let the Dead Speak. The newly-promoted detective sergeant has to deal with a murder inquiry without a body as well as abrasive DI Josh Derwent. Linda says Casey’s series delivers consistent but constantly developing characters, complemented by ingenious plotting, matched by an unflagging pace. Jim Beaman was equally taken by Evil Games by Angela Marsons, where DI Kim Stone goes up against a sociopath who manipulates the most vulnerable into killing. Jim says this is one of those rare books that make you want to consume them in one sitting. TF Muir’s Blood Torment sees DCI Andy Gilchrist and his team on the case of a missing three-year-old girl. Kati Barr-Taylor describes the book as a fast-paced, satisfyingly gritty read. And she advises you to make sure all the doors are locked before you read Baby Doll by Hollie Overton, where a woman escapes with her daughter after eight years in captivity to find her fight for survival has only just begun.

We prised John Cleal away from his beloved historicals long enough for him to read All Things Cease To Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.  A college professor discovers his wife as the victim of an axe killer in their farmhouse near Albany and his three-year-old daughter alone – the second tragedy in an apparently cursed house. John describes this as a brilliant piece of writing, with well-rendered characters. Sylvia Maughan visited her beloved Italy in Andrew Molesini’s Between Enemies where an elderly family and their grandson must cope with their villa being requisitioned by the enemy in the first world war. Sylvia says the book is compulsive reading whilst maintaining its depth of thought and raises contemporary questions about war and occupation.

Ewa Sherman felt that The Man Who Wasn’t There by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt has a visual quality in which you can imagine every single scene ready for the screen as Stockholm’s Criminal Investigation Department, including the brilliant but arrogant profiler Sebastian Bergman, have to deal with the long-buried bodies of six people in a mountain grave.
Linda Wilson has been active again on the YA front. She says that Burning by Danielle Rollins is a must for anyone who likes a tinge of horror, as strange things start to happen when a new inmate arrives in the grim Brunesfield Correctional Facility. She was equally enthusiastic about Andy Mulligan’s Liquidator, where a disparate bunch of teenagers take on the might of a global corporation in a race to save the life of a boy they’ve never even met. She says it’s exciting, chilling, heart-warming and absolutely exudes fun and energy.

And this week, we have YA author Robin Stevens in the Countdown hotseat. We really enjoyed learning ten true things about her and would happily stow away in her luggage when she runs away.

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
Robin Stevens

Here are ten absolutely true things about me:
1. I am a woman. I really am! I do get a lot of letters addressed to ‘Mr Stevens’, though.
2. I have a pet bearded dragon named Watson, and she is a girl too.
3. I was born in California, and I moved to England when I was three. This means that I have two passports (like a spy), and that I could be the President of the USA and the Prime Minister at the same time if I wanted to be. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I might consider it.
4. I grew up in Oxford, across the road from Alice in Wonderland. If she hadn’t been Victorian and fictional, I think we could have been friends.
5. When I was little, I wanted to own a zoo and write books about it. I also wanted to be married to Gerald Durrell. I dreamed big.
6. Colin Dexter once sent me a fan letter. I met him when I was 12 and told him that when I grew up I was going to write murder mysteries. I must have been really insistent, because he believed me.
7. I really did go to an English boarding school, Cheltenham Ladies College. And I really did sleep in a dorm, and learn Latin, and have school on Saturday mornings. I never detected a murder, though, which was a bit of a disappointment.
8. I’ve been on University Challenge! I was the Captain of the Warwick University team. We didn’t win, unfortunately, but I did get to meet Jeremy Paxman.
9. When I was at university, I did my MA on crime fiction. So I really do have a degree in murder.
10. I used to work as an editor, helping other authors get their books published, but today I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author!

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

Surprising, exciting, dream come true, fun, mysterious, SO many books!

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

I’m answering this in December, and I’m in my living room, so: a Christmas tree, three advent calendars, two full bookcases, a paper chain, a mug of coffee and my laptop! That’s a pretty accurate representation of my life right now.

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

Eight minutes?! Scrambled eggs on toast with avocado. I can do that in my sleep (though I probably shouldn’t).