September 30 2017

If you’re a fan of vintage crime you’ve probably got a teetering to-read mountain, thanks to the reissues appearing from the likes of the British Library and the Collins Crime Club. Some of the books seem as fresh as the day they were written; others, not surprisingly, haven’t aged so well. And with this in mind, there was mixed luck for our reviewers this week.

John Cleal wasn’t sure about the re-issue of the 1926 classic, The Wychford Poisoning Case by Anthony Berkeley, and feels that the book reveals some deeply questionable attitudes that are unlikely to strike much of a chord today. Kati Barr-Taylor got on a lot better with Celia Fremlin’s The Hours Before Dawn, first published in 1960. She describes this story of a stressed suburban housewife and her new lodger as succinct, breathless in places and proof that brief can be beautiful. A little closer to the present day, and Linda Wilson’s reservations about books that didn’t make it into print in the author’s lifetime were confirmed when she wasn’t wholly convinced by fantasy writer David Gemmell branching out into crime with Rhyming Rings. She says the book very much reflects the attitudes of the 1980s, although she did enjoy the way he brought an urban fantasy angle into the mix.

Say hello this week to the latest recruit to our reviewing team, Sue Kelso Ryan. She enjoyed The Stranger by Saskia Sarginson and says it’s topical in its handling of outsiders and refugees in rural Kent, but she felt that the book wasn’t quite as gritty and realistic as the subject matter merited. Kati Barr-Taylor says Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, in which a woman’s perfect life is revealed to be a tissue of lies, is an easy but disturbing read. Sharon Wheeler wasn’t totally convinced by Alex Lake’s Copycat, although she says the book will send you scurrying off to change all your social media passwords!

The Queen of Crime herself, Val McDermid, is back, and so are two of her best-loved characters, DCI Carol Hill and psychological profiler Tony Hill. This time they’re up against a forensically aware killer who is determined to stay one step ahead of them, and is succeeding all too well. Linda Wilson describes Insidious Intent as a police thriller of the very highest quality, but she warns you to stay well away from spoilers for the ending.

If you’re looking to travel from the comfort of your armchair, Terry Stiastny’s Conflicts of Interest features a former journalist whose life in a French village is disrupted when an old friend comes to visit. Arnold Taylor describes the book as a morality tale, full of gripping surprises. Swedish detective Malin Fors returns in Souls of Air by Mons Kallentoft. Ewa Sherman was struck by the overwhelming sadness at the heart of this book, which also features the detective’s daughter. Kate Balfour liked the way Mikel Santiago builds a sense of foreboding in The Last Night at Tremore Beach, set on the wild north west coast of Ireland, and she describes the book as well-paced. Chris Roberts went a little further afield for his police fix this week. Botswana detective Kubu Bengo is back in Michael Stanley’s Dying To Live and Chris says this book easily sustains the quality of the earlier ones and may even exceed them.

Fatal Crossing by Lone Theils flits between England and Denmark, as a journalist discovers that a decades-old cold case concerning two missing girls is about to become too hot to handle. Kati Barr-Taylor could have done without the emphasis on food and clothes but praises the entertaining balance of introspection and action. Closer to home, John Cleal says you’ll see the side of Great Yarmouth that the tourist board would prefer to forget in Time To Win by Harry Brett, where the death of a local crime boss heralds a power struggle for his widow. Strange Magic by Syd Moore features a woman who has inherited a witchcraft museum in Essex. John Barnbrook had some difficulty with the frequent conversational asides in the storytelling and found the style interfered with his enjoyment of the book.

If you’re looking for releases of US books, Chris Roberts praises Joe Ede’s debut, IQ, and says the book has authentic dialogue and plenty of clues and deductions that traditional crime fiction enthusiasts will enjoy. Chris thought that Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane makes a strange transition from psychological portrait to a thriller, but says the dialogue is sharp and the action is gripping.

We’re a bit quieter on the history beat this week. Victorian saga The Zealot’s Bones by David Mark features a Canadian academic who’s trying to find the bones of the apostle Simon the Zealot. John Cleal describes the writing as brilliant and praises the characterisation, but warns that you’ll need a strong stomach! Anthea Hawdon says there’s a sunshine glow of nostalgia pervading The Riviera Express by TP Fielden, set just after the second world war, in which a reporter tries to solve two murders in a small Devonshire seaside town. She says there are plenty of twists and turns, as well as a few red herrings, which will keep the armchair sleuth entertained.

It’s up to teenagers to save the world when it comes to the young adult releases. Linda Wilson enjoyed I Am Traitor, in which a teenager tries to save her brother, her best friend and the world from the grip of alien invaders. She says Sif Sigmarsdottir’s writing style is accessible and well-observed. She also liked Contagion by Teri Terry in which two teenagers search for a missing girl in a world being ravaged by a deadly disease.

In the Countdown spotlight this week we have author Nadia Dalbuono. We wouldn’t mind muscling in on her drinks party and will squirrel away one of her favourite words for future reference!

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
Nadia Dalbuono

Nadia Dalbuono was educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, where she read history and German. For the last 16 years she has worked as a documentary director and consultant for Channel 4, ITV, Discovery, and National Geographic. Her work has taken her around the world, looking at subjects as varied as environmental sustainability, schools admissions, Mahatma Gandhi and 9/11.

The Hit is the third book in the Leone Scamarcio series, following The Few and The American. Nadia was inspired by a visit to Rome for worj in 2008m and is intrigued by the dark ambiguities of Italian society. She lives in Milan.

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