February 03 2018

Stand by your beds – we’re bringing you some culture this week! It’s not often we can say on a genre review site that we’ve got a Man Booker Prize winner in the house.

John Barnbrook was hugely impressed with Lincoln in the Bardo. He describes George Saunders’ tale of President Lincoln’s dead son, existing in a place between life and death, as an amazing feat of creativity and writing skill.

Come to think of it, we’re heavy on the woo-woo stuff this week, so make sure you’ve got all the lights on and a stiff drink to hand. The Gathering Dark sees the return of Edinburgh DI Tony McLean, who’s dealing with the aftermath of a crashed tanker carrying an illegal toxic load. Linda Wilson says there’s a good mix of engaging characters and a strong plot that never lags. And she always enjoys the spooky dark shadows that James Oswald paints so well. Strange Sight by Syd Moore entertained Anthea Hawdon with its mix of ghostly sightings, mysterious writing and other things that go bump in the night. She praises the intelligent protagonist and had fun working out which bits of the supernatural set dressing are fake and which are real.

Chris Roberts was not quite so sold on the paranormal angle in Mark Pepper’s Veteran Avenue, in which a man visits the US for the funeral of an old military buddy, and finds an unexpected connection to the girl whose photo he has been carrying in his wallet for over 30 years. Chris thought the supernatural side was something of an unnecessary distraction. But Linda Wilson thoroughly enjoyed the BBC audio adaptation on Neil Gaiman’s iconic fantasy Stardust, and says the cast effortlessly evokes both the wonder and strangeness of Faerie, with its evil witches, dangerous lords and all manner of weirdness.

Right, on to some more earth-bound offerings …Veteran thriller writer Gerald Seymour continues to impress John Cleal. He says A Damned Serious Business, with its theme of Russian cyber terrorism, is a brilliant, occasionally brutal, but informed and realistic story. It was a good week for the often hard to please Mr Cleal, who waxes lyrical about Don Winslow’s The Force and says this is a fast-moving and brilliantly written masterpiece of loyalty, betrayal and human tragedy. He describes it as the best cop book since The Choir Boy and predicts shedloads of Oscars if it makes it to the screen! Scorched Earth by David Mark sees the return of DS Aector McAvoy, who’s plunged into a case where present crimes lead him to an enemy from his past. John describes this as a genuine, fast-paced thriller with a bit of heart.

Scandi queen Ewa Sherman takes a trip to the remote Faroe Islands for The Killing Bay by Chris Ould. A woman’s body is found following a clash between international activists and local fishermen and there’s a possible connection between the murder and the slaughter of whales. Ewa says this compelling story moves with the rhythm of the life of the islands and their inhabitants: without too much rush, but determined and uncovering only certain secrets. She also enjoyed Snare, where a woman is desperate to escape the drug barons’ clutches and win custody of her son. Ewa describes Lilja Sigurðardóttir as a sensual, passionate writer with an exciting style.

Further afield in Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler, a man flees disgrace in the UK to Japan, but his life gets even more complicated when he meets a woman who also has a past she is trying to leave behind. Chris Roberts describes this as a cautionary tale. In similar vein, Boris Akunin’s All the World’s a Stage concerns apparent threats to Moscow’s favourite artiste, a talented and beautiful actress, but the detective compromises his quest by falling in love with her. John Cleal says the book is a touching, tragic and exquisitely written parable. Arnold Taylor wasn’t as keen on Volker Kutscher’s The Silent Death, the sequel to Babylon Berlin, as Inspector Rath investigates the death of a silent movie actress in 1930s Berlin. Arnold found the plot cumbersome.

Closer to home, Russel D McLean’s Ed’s Dead concerns a failed writer who’s just about to become famous for being the most dangerous woman in Scotland. Kati Barr-Taylor describes this as a quick, gritty read, from an author with a confident voice. In This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan, two women, bound together by years of friendship, become accomplices in covering up a fatal accident. Linda Wilson enjoyed this well-crafted story that left her wanting more. In Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. a politician close to the centre of government is accused of rape and the prosecution barrister is determined to make him pay. Chris Roberts says the book provides an intimate look at loyalty and betrayal in personal relationships

If you fancy something a bit frothier, Sylvia Wilson enjoyed Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes, in which a 1980s Oxford fresher investigates the murder of a fellow student. Sylvia says the book is a light-hearted, fun romp with a sideways look at high society.

Elsewhere, What Alice Knew by TA Cotterell is a look at truth, trust and marriage as much as it is a thriller. Kati Barr-Taylor says the twists and turns keep the pages turning, but she did have some reservations about the ending. Kati enjoyed her return to a favourite character in Sherlock Holmes: The Four-Handed Game. She says Paul D Gilbert has brought the great detective back to life, with a believable reproduction of dialogue, behaviour and action.

Linda Wilson lapped up this week’s YA offering with indecent haste. Songs About Us by Chris Russell returns to the world of boyband celebrities Fire&Lights, where cracks are starting to appear in the gloss and hype surrounding the band. Linda loved the realistic look at the world of bandom and the book’s sharp, dark edge. And please don’t make her choose between her two favourite band members!

In the Countdown spotlight this week we have author Alafair Burke, who’s had a decidedly varied working life to date. We like the sound of the places she’d run away to – maybe we can tag along if we promise to carry her suitcases!

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
Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke is the author of ten previous novels, including The Ex, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She also co-authors the bestselling Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark.

She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, and is now a Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure. Alafair lives in Manhattan.

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

Sixteen novels (four co-authored), law professor, former prosecutor and shop-girl.

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

Laptop, left leg crossed over my right, two sleeping dogs, new Michael Connelly novel, iced tea, favorite bookbag, my reflection in the mirror, and all of New York City waiting outside.

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

Remove Chinese food from take-out boxes.