July 07 2018

Well, there’s a first time for everything – and that’s welcoming a former POTUS to Crime Review. Bill Clinton has joined the seemingly never-ending James Patterson franchise, with mixed results if reviewers are to be believed … It sounds like a distinct case of YMMV, as they say in internet terms.

In The President is Missing, the United States faces a terrorist threat, and it is up to the President himself to stop it. Arnold Taylor describes the book as patchy but says it’s thought-provoking and leaves you contemplating the potentially devastating consequences of cyber terrorism. In The Kremlin’s Candidate, a double agent will lose her lover and her life unless she can uncover a Russian mole who may become America’s most senior intelligence operative. John Cleal enjoyed the vividly realised characters and says Jason Matthews’ tradecraft, coupled with the cat-and-mouse tension of surveillance and detection, make this a classic spy thriller. 

We’ve got some of the American big-hitters on the scene this week. Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley sees a New York PI who's still coming to terms with being ousted from the NYPD, being invited to help a black radical accused of killing two crooked police detectives. The rapid action throughout dragged Chris Roberts on with barely a pause for breath. Linda Wilson turned to an old favourite – retired NYPD detective Harry Bosch in Michael Connelly’s Two Kinds of Truth. Harry has to go undercover to expose a ruthless drugs gang as well as fighting to protect his own reputation. Linda happily declares that US crime series really don’t come much better than this. Stephen King’s The Outsider deals with the murder and mutilation of an 11-year-old boy in a small US town, with a suspect who appears to be able to be in two places at once. Madeleine Marsh can’t say she enjoyed reading the book, but she couldn’t put it down either, which is perhaps a better compliment.

We haven’t forgotten our home-grown thriller writers. In Dancing on the Grave by Zoë Sharp, a sniper is operating on the Cumbrian fells. CSI Grace McColl and DC Nick Weston must track him down before the death toll rises even further. Linda Wilson was very impressed and says this is a thriller that delivers on all levels.

Sharon Wheeler has loyally followed Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin and Vincent Ruiz series since the start. It looks like The Other Wife is the final appearance for the mismatched pair, but Sharon says this psychological thriller is an intelligent look at family secrets. The Walls by Hollie Overton features an abused woman who can only find one way out of a damaging relationship. Kati Barr-Taylor describes this as a fast, easy read. John Barnbrook found himself identifying with the protagonist who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s in Trust No One by Paul Cleave – so much so that he had to fight with himself not to turn to the last page to find out what happens.

In Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin, a woman plays a dangerous game after the murder of her sister. Kati Barr-Taylor says this is a book where the people carry the story and she found it refreshing to look at an accused serial killer from an unfamiliar perspective. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in TF Muir’s The Killing Connection, Kati says the plot carries the characters as DCI Andy Gilchrist investigates a woman’s death. She describes the book as a solid police procedural that’s fast-paced and graphic without gratuitous violence. Shadow Man features a DI on the hunt for a TV presenter’s murderer. Linda Wilson says Margaret Kirk’s debut is strong, with both heart and style.

Matt Wesolowski’s Hydra features an investigative journalist looking into a family massacre, with the story told by the killer and five witnesses through six podcasts. Ewa Sherman calls the book chilling. In Escape and Evasion, a man steals £1.34 billion from the bank where he works, distributes it to numerous strangers worldwide and then goes on the run. Chris Roberts was impressed with Christopher Wakling’s ability to sustain interest in a single character who has only minimal interactions with others. John Cleal was equally impressed with Cormac O’Keeffe’s debut, which sees ten-year-old Jig recruited into a vicious Dublin street gang and an undercover Garda seeking to save the boy but putting his own family at risk. John says Black Water is a brilliantly plotted, totally compelling debut.

Ewa Sherman is back to her beloved Scandis with The Anthill Murders by Hans Olav Lahlum. A serial killer is hunting young women in Oslo, strangling them and leaving a trademark picture of an ant by each body. Ewa says the book perfectly executes the social context and is full of nuances and politely delivered opinions. The Execution of Justice by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt concerns a man of substance who walks into a restaurant, shoots a man dead and strolls out. He’s convicted of the crime, but then hires a lawyer to establish his innocence. Chris observes that the dense accumulation of detail that substantiates the action is impressive but is a challenge to the attention span.

For those of you who lap up historical thrillers, we’re serving up a slice of history for you this week. John Cleal grappled with the Folio Society’s heavyweight Berlin: The Downfall which tells the story of the Red Army’s capture of the German capital in World War II’s final stages. John says this book is Antony Beevor’s tour de force and marks him out as one of the great military historians of this, or any other century. John stayed in period for Nicholas Best’s Five Days that Shocked the World, with its first-person accounts of the famous, soon-to-be-famous and the unknowns who lived through the dramatic days from April 28 to May 2 1945, covering the deaths of the Fascist dictators Mussolini and Hitler, the fall of Berlin and the end of the six-year war. He describes this as an immensely readable account and adds that even if you’re not a history fan, this is worth your time solely as a background to current events.

Our teen/YA offering this week is No Shame by Anne Cassidy, which takes a hard-hitting look at the aftermath of rape and a 17-year-old’s struggle to get justice. Linda Wilson describes this as a powerful depiction of the process that at times seems designed to break anyone who dares to stand up and be counted.

Settling down in the Countdown hot seat this week is author Jack Grimwood, who has several aliases! His unusual drinking companions are certainly in for a treat if he cooks his quick meal for them – we’re salivating unbecomingly at the thought of the pasta dish.

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
Jack Grimwood

Jack Grimwood, aka Jon Courtenay Grimwood, was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia.

Apart from novels, he writes for national newspapers including The Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian.

Jon has twice won the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel, with Felaheen and then End of the World Blues. His novel, The Last Banquet, published under the name Jonathan Grimwood, was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015. His work has been translated into 15 languages. Nightfall Berlin is his second thriller after Moskva.

He is married to the journalist and novelist Sam Baker. They divide their time between Winchester and Paris.

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

All the information you need can be given in dialogue. (Elmore Leonard)

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

Jade Buddha, pair of Chinese lion dogs, mandarin’s seal, Indian chest, camel bone table, laptop, books (lots of books), painting of my grandmother as a girl, the cat.

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

Penne arrabbiata with fresh pasta, olive oil, chilli flakes, fresh garlic, fresh basil and a tablespoon of tomato purée. Best one I had was in the backstreets of Venice.