May 27 2017

If you fancy a break from the ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’ school of crime fiction, we can do you some of the classics this week which offer a more cerebral approach. It’s a good excuse to put your feet up and break open a bar of choccie if you’re like one of your editors, or top up the gin if you’re the other!

In Rogues’ Holiday, John Cleal says Margery Allingham writing as Maxwell March, provides a cosy mix of villainy, romance, intrigue and mystery. Despite the book being first published more than 60 years ago, Chris Roberts says Death Going Down by María Angélica Bosco still reads well and, as ever, Arnold Taylor enjoyed his time spent in the company of Georges Simenon’s famous creation in Maigret and the Tall Woman and was surprised to see Maigret almost overstepping the bounds of legality.

Our reviewers have been busy on the history beat this week. The City in Darkness by Michael Russell is set in Ireland in 1939, as its neutrality distances it from the struggles elsewhere in Europe but its Special Branch have plenty of concerns about what is happening at home. Chris Roberts says the book is both surprising and gripping. The shadows cast by events in Germany in 1939 come back to haunt Bernie Gunther nearly 20 years later in Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr. Chris Roberts says Kerr seamlessly combines real characters and his own inventions and getting to grips with a historical period has never been so enjoyable. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t quite so convinced by Gordon Lowe’s account of the kidnap and murder of Lesley Whittle in 1975. She says The Black Panther does nothing to help the reader understand how this crime rocked Britain to its core.

In Mistress of the Just Land by David Ashton, the madam of Edinburgh’s finest brothel sets out to discover who killed an unpopular judge and left his body in her cellar. John Cleal describes this as an elegant, convincing and intriguing Victorian Gothic story. He also enthuses about the latest outing for Oscar de Muriel’s paranormal investigators Inspectors Frey and ‘Nine Nails’ McGray in Mask of Shadows. John says they are two of the most original and entertaining detectives you could wish to meet in historical crime fiction. It’s no secret that John sometimes gets a bit fed up with the rash of Arthur Conan Doyle imitators (and don’t get him started on Benedict Cumberbatch!) so it’s safe to say he liked Arrowood by Mick Finlay, which features down-at-heel private eye William Arrowood who has to contend with sexual exploitation, perversion, murder and terrorism – and who has no time for the famous detective. John says Finlay is a deft story-teller with a real lightness of touch.

We have two impressive debuts for you this week. Kati Barr-Taylor says that in Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry, the suspense rises relentlessly and will satisfy any reader craving atmosphere, suspense and the unexpected.  Kati was also very taken with Siren by Annemarie Neary, where a woman returns to Ireland from the US after 25 years away. She says Neary is a confident author with a good voice who provides a fast-paced, easy yet disturbing read that can easily be consumed in one sitting.

If you want your police procedural fix, give Written in Bones a try. DI Tony Maclean has to solve the mystery of why a former bent copper has ended up impaled on top of a tree in an Edinburgh park. There’s always a faint hint of an even darker shade of Edinburgh noir in this entertaining cop series. Linda Wilson says James Oswald has a light touch when it comes to the supernatural. Everyone’s favourite shambolic DI, Jack Frost, is back in Frost at Midnight by James Henry, with a wedding and a dead body in a churchyard to contend with. Only this body isn’t underground where it belongs. Linda Wilson says you’ll have to have your wits about you to work this one out.

Over in Italy, in The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon, Commissario Brunetti is asked to investigate the case of a young girl who nearly drowned 15 years ago. Sylvia Maughan describes the book as quite riveting. On the Scandi front, Ewa Sherman praises Chameleon People by Hans Olav Lahlum, which she says is a very logical, thoughtful and perfectly executed mystery. And Europe comes under threat in Marc Elsberg’s Blackout, where someone is wiping out all the electrical power. Jim Beaman says the book underlines just how reliant we are on electricity and says after reading this, you’ll be stocking up on emergency candles! John Cleal roams across the Atlantic to meet reporter Charlie Yates, who’s been plunged into a stew of small-town corruption. John says Black Night Falling by Rod Reynolds comes very close to classic American period noir.

In The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh, a woman disappears leaving her two young daughters alone in a playground. The police have to contend with this and a dead body on a mountain. John Barnbrook says it's a very clever and readable book. Linda Wilson describes Michael J Malone’s Dog Fight, a story of former soldiers sucked into a dangerous underground fight ring, as terse, raw and very, very addictive.

On the YA front, Linda Wilson was impressed by The Cruelty from Scott Bergstrom, where a teenager is forced to take matters into her own hands when her diplomat father goes missing. She says the book is a fast-paced, slick and utterly engrossing young adult thriller.

In the Countdown hotseat this week is James Oswald. We just hope there’s room in his blanket fort for all of us at the moment! We’ll bring some cheese to share …

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
James Oswald

James Oswald is the author of the Inspector McLean novels and the fantasy series The Ballad of Sir Benfro, as well as endless short stories and comic scripts. He has held a bewildering number of jobs down the years, including wine merchant, turkey plucker and experimental sheep shit sampler (not at the same time), all to feed his writing addiction. He currently lives in North East Fife with three dogs, two cats and a very understanding partner. When not tied to his desk by impossible deadlines, he runs a 350-acre livestock farm, where he raises pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep.

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

You have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, do you?

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

Farmyard through my office window; sheep grazing in the nearest field; a stack of bills to pay; my old, broken iPhone awaiting repair; a copy of How to Kill Friends and Implicate People by Jay Stringer; Sleipnir the cat fast asleep in my armchair; guitar stand with my Ovation roundback, mandolin and banjo on it, all unplayed in the past six months; whiteboard with notes for the next Inspector McLean book; pile of comics tempting me away from work (Warren Ellis’ Moon Knight, if you were wondering).

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

Only eight? Cheese, probably.