March 31 2018

Just occasionally your editors get to combine two of their passions in life. In the light of the sad death of Philip Kerr, sports-mad Sharon has gone back to reading his Scott Manson football manager series. And caver Linda Wilson got the chance to disappear down one of her beloved holes in the ground this week.

In The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins, a man is found dead near a cave system with a sinister reputation. Linda enjoyed this strong debut which she describes as an enjoyable police procedural with a clever plot, an unusual angle and a main character she’d be very happy to see more of.

Our reviewers ventured to some far-flung parts this week. Linda Wilson took the prize in the unusual settings sweepstake with Artemis by Andy Weir (he of The Martian fame). As if life on the moon wasn’t already dangerous enough, a low-level criminal takes a job for a price she can’t afford to turn down, but soon comes to regret it. Linda says this is one for both crime/thriller fans and sci fi lovers and crosses the genres to good effect, making excellent use of its setting. Nicola Hodges, who joined us in the last issue, flies the flag for MP Wright’s black PI, JT Ellington. The third book in the series, Restless Coffins, sees JT venture from 1960s Bristol to his origins in Barbados after receiving a tragic telegram. Nicola says Wright creates a heady and rich atmosphere that walks hand in hand with a strong sense of the time and place.

Ewa Sherman was transported to Australia (so to speak!) where she was impressed by the palpable sense of tension, fear and despondency created by Melanie Joosten in Berlin Syndrome, in which a woman is imprisoned in a twisted world of love and secrets. Also in Oz, Hades by Candice Fox has a homicide detective who is concerned his new partner might be even more dangerous than the serial killer they are trying to bring down. Kati Barr-Taylor praises the pacing, but had some reservations about the plot and the lack of a sense of place. Chris Roberts, meanwhile, took a trip to Kyrgyzstan for some fast and furious action in A Summer Revenge by Tom Callaghan, in which an ex-girlfriend of the Kyrgyz Minister for State Security has absconded to Dubai with a memory stick he is keen to retrieve. And John Cleal was up to his neck in violence, car chases, hi-tech equipment and exotic locations in James Swallow’s Exile in which a disgraced former MI6 man faces a threat to the world when a Somali warlord acquires a nuclear weapon.

Back in Europe, Marco Vichi’s Inspector Bordelli gets some resolution to his problems in Death in the Tuscan Hills. Sylvia Maughan enjoyed this return to her favourite holiday destination. In nearby France, Maigret is at work again when the body of a dead girl is found. Arnold Taylor says Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Dead Girl amply demonstrates the great detective’s human side. And on the Scandi front this week, When I Wake Up by Jessica Jarlvi features a woman who has been attacked and left for dead. Only two people know why and one of them is in a coma. Kati Barr-Taylor says this is a thoroughly enjoyable debut and a fast and easy read.

By contrast, there’s nothing easy about Sarah Hilary’s latest Marnie Rome book, Come and Find Me, where a dangerous criminal is on the run after a bloody prison riot. Rome and her team have the job of putting him back behind bars. Linda Wilson says Hilary’s latest will keep you on your toes and it makes a refreshing change to read a police procedural that manages to overturn stereotypes every time. And John Cleal was impressed by Alex Gray’s Only the Dead Can Tell, featuring Superintendent William Lorimer and his Major Incident Team who uncover links between an apparent domestic murder and a vicious team of people traffickers. John says Gray has a fine eye for detail and has immaculately researched the background, and he declares it’s high time we heard more about this author south of the border. In The Boneyard, a suspected murderer is returned from the US to the UK after his confession was found to be suspect, but police attention immediately turns his way when similar killings start up again near him. John Barnbrook says Mark Sennen is adept at describing place and atmosphere and this adds to the success of the well-paced plot.

Over the other side of the Pond, Chris Roberts was impressed by the ring of authenticity in Julia Dahl’s Conviction in which a journalist looks into a 20-year-old New York murder conviction, set against the backdrop of an appalling crime rate and a severely compromised justice system. And Chris says that in Michael Farris Smith’s Desperation Road, life in a small town has never been more convincingly portrayed. He also enjoyed Green Sun by Kent Anderson, and says the main character, a Vietnam veteran-turned policeman, is an engaging protagonist who avoids many of the usual stereotypes.

Two of our reviewers have ventured into the realms of psychological suspense this week. In After I’ve Gone, a 20-something lives a fairly ordinary life until her Facebook page begins to show posted items about her death, 18 months in the future, which only she can see. Kate Balfour says Linda Green’s contemporary tale has some well-drawn characters. In The Death of Her by Debbie Howells, a woman is attacked and left for dead in a field in Cornwall. When she comes round, she has no idea who she is, but she knows her young daughter is missing. Linda Wilson rolled her eyes a lot at the classic crime fiction cliché of a copper with a troubled past called Jack, but says that despite rather too many clichés the book maintains a good sense of intrigue.

We've allowed John Cleal a generous ration of his much-loved historicals. In She Be Damned by MJ Tjia, prostitutes are turning up mutilated and dead. Courtesan and detective Heloise Chancey investigates. John liked the story but says more work is needed to flesh out the characters. The Coven sees a widow returning to 18th century London where she learns that there is as much savagery there as in the wilds of colonial America. John says this amply demonstrates Graham Masterton's ability to chill at will.

Our Countdown interviewee this week is Norwegian author Thomas Enger. We’re rather taken with his entertaining employment history, and we also wouldn’t mind an invite to his drinks party!

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
Thomas Enger

Thomas Enger was born in Oslo, Norway. He spent his childhood playing football and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer at Manchester United. But he never made it further than Ull/Kisa (a club at the third highest level in Norway). He does have one hell of a passing foot, though.

His first paid job, besides the odd summer job cutting a neighbour’s lawn (not a lucrative or a particularly smart job, since he’s allergic to grass…) was as a garbage disposer at Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen (the airport). The summer job at OSL didn’t last more than a few weeks, either, and then Thomas moved on to bigger things – working in a kiosk at a shopping mall in Lorenskog just outside Oslo. He wore a nice shirt and all.

Then he went into the military for nine months, got to fire a rifle at least three times, but mostly spent his days in an office listening to Metallica. He did get to wear a nice-looking uniform, though.

After Thomas’s soldiering days he went to Oslo to study sports. Then he spent a year working as a sports teacher in Jessheim, where he grew up. He then got to go to Stavanger and learn the basics of journalism. Oslo was again his next destination – Nettavisen became Thomas’s first real employer. He worked there from 2000 to the summer of 2008, the last five years as a sports chief editor.

But what he really wanted to do was to write fiction. After having tried for 15 years (yes, he’s a resilient bastard), he finally succeeded. His first novel Burned (originally titled Skinndød) was published in February 2010.

Thomas lives in Oslo with his wife and two kids. And he likes to play golf. He’s still trying to figure out how that little bastard of a ball operates. Or maybe he’s just finding new ways to cut the grass.

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

1. Fun. 2. Tedious. 3. Exciting. 4. Draining. 5. Rewarding. 6. Frustrating. 7. Adventurous. 8. Envy-evoking. 9. Mind-blowing. 10. Life-changing.

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

1. The snow falling down on the wet pavement outside. 2. The clock on the stove telling me it's 8.50. 3. My headphones. 4. The coffee machine. 5. Plants on the windowsill. 6. 126 Norwegian kroner. 7. A receipt for a bus ticket. 8. My daughter's wrist bandage. 9. A small bag of Fisherman's Friend (honey & lemon)

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

Fried bacon, tomato and beans with a slice of toast.