January 6 2018

Can we tempt you to a wafer-thin mint, dear reader? We hope you’ve had an absolutely spiffing festive season and that 2018 is full of crime (fiction, naturally) for you. So forget about the leftovers cluttering up the fridge and join us in welcoming both the new year and the return of one of the genre’s big-hitters.

A new book by John le Carré is always worth the wait. Peter Guillam, formerly of MI6, returns in A Legacy of Spies. He’s now retired and living in Brittany, but is lured back into the shadows of his old world by a letter effectively summoning him back to London. Arnold Taylor enjoyed his return to the complex world of espionage and its inhabitants.

If you’re looking for action, we’ve got that by the lorryload. In The Eye of the Beholder by Marc Behm, an end-of-his-rope private eye becomes obsessed with a beautiful female killer. John Cleal says the book is a strange and chilling combination of PI novel and psychological suspense story. Tom Wood’s The Final Hour is more of a conventional thriller. The central character is an assassin by trade, now on the run from his former employers. Linda Wilson has only just discovered this series but says she wants more from a thriller than a few shoot-outs and torture scenes. There’s plenty of excitement as well in A Promise to Kill by Erik Storey, as Clyde Barr runs up against a dangerous gang of bikers. Chris Roberts says the book barely pauses for breath. East of Hounslow, Khurrum Rahman’s penetrating look at what motivates a terrorist, explores convincingly the way in which ordinary people can end up contributing to something horrific. Chris was impressed.

Psychological thrillers are out in force this week. In The Visitors by Catherine Burns, a woman lives with her domineering brother in the former family home, but there’s a dark secret lurking in the basement. Madeleine Marsh says this is a confident and competently written novel, but she had reservations about a rushed ending. Kati Barr-Taylor also had some doubts about Angela Clarke’s Trust Me in which a woman tries to investigate a violent sexual attack posted on the internet. Kati found the writing unimaginative, but enjoyed some satisfyingly dark scenes. Linda Wilson was very taken with 99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter, a compelling story of the abduction of a young girl. Linda says this was one of those books that she just wanted to go on and on. John Barnbrook was gripped from the start by the atmospheric Darkest Thoughts by Gordon Brown (no, not the former Prime Minister!) The main character has an ability that he does not want and that he cannot control – the power to drive people to make dark and violent attacks on each other.

If you want to pause for breath, there are a couple of offerings from the less gory side of the genre. In Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love by James Runcie, Sidney is now Archdeacon of Ely. It’s 1975 and he has some love-related problems to solve. Anthea Hawdon felt that the calm detached tone of the book seems to deaden both tragedy and joy, and gives the emotions a second-hand feel. John Cleal was much more enthusiastic about the return of investigator Kate Shackleton in Death in the Stars by Frances Brody. John says it’s always a pleasure to pick up a new book in this series. The stories are classic cosies, but they are never boring.

The Hanged Man sees the return of dynamic duo DI Ray Mason and cop-turned-PI Tina Boyd, now on the trail of a group of powerful, sadistic killers. Linda Wilson says Simon Kernick has an enviable knack of turning out readable police thrillers with great action scenes, engaging characters and a strong storyline. Another returning character is Devon’s DI Wesley Peterson in The Mermaid’s Scream by Kate Ellis, this time investigating a murder on a caravan site that might be linked to a writer’s death. Kate Balfour describes this as a book that more than adequately repays the attention it demands from a reader.

Ewa Sherman is on the Euro beat again with The Shadow District. A body of a woman is found in wartime Reykjavik. In the present time, an old man is discovered dead in his bed. Newspaper cuttings found in his home report that particular death. Ewa praises Arnaldur Indridason’s trademark style, and says this is an excellent start to a new series. In Fatal Sunset by Jason Webster, Valencia Chief Detective Max Camera is moved to the Homicide section. Chris Roberts describes this as an excellent series, and he enjoys Camera’s appealing informality and unorthodoxy, coupled with a gritty determination to expose wrongdoing. Venturing further afield, Chris was also impressed by Trinidad Noir, a collection of 19 short stories edited by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni. Chris says the collection gives a strong flavour of Trinidad, and provides an introduction to a wide range of writers.

On the historical front, John Cleal enjoyed The Assassin of Verona by Benet Brandreth, in which the young Will Shakespeare faces personal tragedy and political intrigue. John describes this as a unique and compelling thriller, full of a swaggering charm, some breathless action and rapier-sharp dialogue. He wasn’t quite so taken with Benjamin Black’s Prague Nights, in which an ambitious young doctor arrives in the city and stumbles on the dead body of the mistress of the Holy Roman Emperor. John felt that the book, set in the Prague winter of 1599, was distinctly lacking in suspense

The Treatment by CL Taylor sees a teenager faced with the prospect of losing herself and her brother to a deeply sinister treatment that will change them both – and not for the better. Linda Wilson says the book gets off to a bold start and the pace doesn’t ease up for a minute. She felt there was something uncomfortably close to reality in Taylor’s depiction of Britain in the grip of an uncaring government, determined to be rid of problems in a chilling social experiment. John Barnbrook joins Linda in the YA sandpit this week with Smoke by Dan Vyleta. John enjoyed this vision of an alternative Victorian Britain where people emit black smoke from their body whenever they experience anger, lust, hatred or envy. He says the premise is very engaging, and the characters are delightfully real even if most of them are not particularly likeable.

Author CJ Carver joins us for our first Countdown interview of 2018. We’re very much on board with her rants, and wouldn’t mind gate-crashing her drinks party either!

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.

If you’d like to be included on our fortnightly update email, drop us a line (the email address is on the site).
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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
C.J. Carver

CJ Carver is a half-English, half-Kiwi author who now lives just outside Bath. She lived in Australia for ten years before taking up long-distance rally driving – she has driven London to Saigon, London to Cape Town, and completed 14,500 miles on the Inca Trail.

Since then she has written nine novels that have been published in the UK and the US as well as being translated into several languages. CJ’s first novel Blood Junction won the CWA Debut Dagger and was short-listed for the USA Barry Award for best crime fiction novel of the year. Spare Me the Truth, the first in the Forrester and Davies series, was shortlisted for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh best crime novel award.

CJ is a co-founder and one of the first judges for the Women’s World Car of the Year award. She has also worked as a travel writer.

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

A rollercoaster ride of success, failure, fright and sheer delight.

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

An ostrich egg, a herb garden, a Star Wars Death Star kitchen timer, an onyx Buddha head, a tray of pens, a Cap Ferret snow globe, a poster of Rocamadour, a Royal Air Force officer and a lava lamp.

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

Spaghetti tossed with tomatoes, garlic, capers, olives, anchovies and chilli.