July 22 2017

We’re a tad suspicious in these parts about celebrities turning to crime, so to speak. We can name you a few who we’d have paid to stay well away from the crime fiction scene!

Orion, though, seem to have the talent scouts out when it comes to sports stars taking up genre writing. They’ve already got former champion jockey AP McCoy on their roster, and he’s joined by snooker ace Ronnie O'Sullivan. Not much gets past John Cleal, who knows the London crime scene like the back of his hand (don’t worry – he’s an old hack, not a criminal!) And he says that in Framed, O’Sullivan writes about a world he knows and his often vivid prose shows all the assuredness, drama and dash he brings to the green baize.

Our reviewers welcomed some old favourites this week. In Extreme Prey by John Sandford, Lucas Davenport is called in when a presidential candidate is threatened with assassination. Chris Roberts says that the hero’s dogged pursuit is always exhilarating, and that Sandford shows no sign of losing his punch. Linda Wilson lapped up The Templars’ Last Secret by Martin Walker, set in the Dordogne. She says that Walker’s love of the area shines as brightly as ever, and if reading of Bruno’s latest adventures doesn’t make you want to visit the area, she’ll be very surprised!

Linda spares us her grumbles about already established writers adopting pseudonyms, and says that Here and Gone by Haylen Beck (that’s Irish writer Stuart Neville moving his action to the US wearing a new hat) is a stylish and compelling psychological thriller featuring a woman’s frightening road trip with her two children in tow as they escape her abusive husband. Also across the pond, The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne, which draws on the themes of the wilds of America and the culture of the Native Americans, is described by John Barnbrook as poignant, tragic and inspiring. And John Cleal loved The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister, featuring the most notorious female illusionist of her day. He says it’s riveting historical fiction wrapped up in conjuring tricks. Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t so sure about Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips where a family trip to the zoo turns into a fight for survival. She says it’s one of those occasions where the third person point of view drives a small wedge between the characters and the reader. Kati had better luck with Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake, set Down Under, and was kept guessing as to which side of the law the two main characters are on. She says that if you want a multi-layered, visual and senses-driven read, it’s a real find.

It’s been a busy week for overseas crime fiction. Chris Roberts got to the end of Three Envelopes by Nir Hezroni, which features an Israel covert agent, and commented that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you! Scandi queen Ewa Sherman says that The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund, which delves into the horrendous world of the abuse of trafficked children, is dark, disturbing, unpleasant – and totally addictive. The Cleaner by Elisabeth Herrmann depicts the grey and threatening conditions during the Cold War. John Barnbrook says the ending is good and worth waiting for. Before the Dawn by Jake Woodhouse is set in the Netherlands amidst a series of murders of young women. Chris Roberts says the book will make you wary of any offer of food and drink from a stranger. And Arnold Taylor enjoyed Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story, a psychological thriller where things don’t turn out as the reader expects.

John Cleal turned his beady eye to a brace of historicals this time. Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne features East India Company Sergeant Arthur Bowman, where a secret mission returns to haunt him years later. John praises what he calls the sublime writing. And he says that AJ Wright’s Elementary Murder, where a would-be teacher is found dead inside a locked classroom, is cleverly and intricately plotted with enough red herrings to satisfy the most demanding of readers. This week’s true crime offering is the story of 19th century thief, con artist and poisoner Mary Bateman, known as the Yorkshire Witch. Kim Fleet says that The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman by Summer Strevens is a thoughtful and thought-provoking account that engages the reader in contemporary ethical debate.

Please welcome new reviewer Kate Balfour. She says that Wrong Place by Michelle Davies, where DC Maggie Neville has to juggle two roles and two cases, is a routine police procedural with a pacey, twist ending. And Kati Barr-Taylor wasn’t over-impressed with Paula Daly’s The Trophy Child, which shows a family cracking over the mother’s demands for perfection. She says it’s fine if you go for family drama.

On the young adult front this week, Linda Wilson says that Alan Gibbons’ The Trap, where the security services are engaged in a desperate race to stop a terror attack, is a frighteningly contemporary thriller. And Linda was very taken with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, where a 16-year-old girl is the only witness to the shooting of her friend by a police officer. She says it’s one of those rare books that will change the way you view the world.

We turned the Countdown spotlight on American author David Baldacci, and propose to invite ourselves over to share his quick meal, whilst demanding anecdotes about his intriguing would-be 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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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
David Baldacci

David Baldacci has been writing since childhood, when his mother gave him a lined notebook in which to write down his stories. Much later, when David thanked her for being the spark that ignited his writing career, she revealed that she’d given him the notebook to keep him quiet, because “every mom needs a break now and then.”

David published his first novel, Absolute Power, in 1996. A feature film followed, with Clint Eastwood as its director and star. David has so far published 34 novels for adults and six novels for younger readers.

A lifelong Virginian, David received his Bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, after which he practised law in Washington DC.

In addition to being a prolific writer, David’s efforts are dedicated to his family’s Wish You Well Foundation. It was established by David and his wife, Michelle, and supports family and adult literacy in the United States by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of literacy and educational programs.

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

I truly live to write and I write to live.

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

Books, maps, binders, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Lockheed Martin, photos of my family, a signed photo of David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, a drawing of my heroine Vega Jane by my niece Zoe Collin.

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

Pasta, basil leaves, fresh tomatoes, onion, mozzarella, minced garlic, thyme and extra virgin olive oil.