July 21 2018

If you’re melting in the UK heat, you’re probably wishing you could melt somewhere a bit more exotic than the Circle line or the M5. If our reviewers are to be believed, Italy’s the place to be.

Sharon Wheeler is rather fond of Elly Griffiths’ series set in Norfolk starring a forensic archaeologist. She says that The Dark Angel, which takes the gang to Italy, is rather like a chaotic charabanc outing, but it’ll make you wary of walking down dark lanes in small Italian villages! Sylvia Maughan adores the Inspector Montalbano series and says A Voice In The Night by Andrea Camilleri is perfect in its representation of the Sicilian countryside and the food., as well as a treat to revisit familiar characters. Mind you, Chris Roberts thought the local colour was a tad over-done in Vengeance in Venice by Philip Gwynne Jones where finding an arty postcard in your pocket tends to mean your days are numbered!

We know from friends over there that it’s not much cooler in Scandinavia at the moment. Ewa Sherman says Whiteout by Ragnar Jonasson, the fifth and final instalment of the Dark Iceland series set in northern Iceland, provides a fine snippet of Icelandic society with much hidden between the lines. Ewa scoots across to Finland and says that When Time Runs Out by Elina Hirvonen focuses on the environmental disaster created by people, and the consequences for the human kind. Over in Sweden, Kati Barr-Taylor says The Girl In The Woods by Camilla Lackberg is 200 pages and one sub-plot too long, but is also gritty, twisted and intricate as a modern-day disappearance harks back to a death 30 years previously.

We’re always on the look-out for quality work from small publishers – this week let us introduce you to chic noir and the Bow Street Runners (not in the same book, in case you were wondering!) Linda Wilson adored Richard Falkirk’s historical series when she first read it in the 1970s and is happily revisiting it now. Beau Blackstone is a fabulous Georgian crime romp, she says. And Silver-Tongued by David Barrie is another trip for Linda into Paris’s glitzy side, as Captain Franck Guerin of Paris Brigade Criminelle investigates the murder of a celebrity photographer – hence the chic noir label.

It’s sometimes tricky for reviewers to come into a long-running series part way through. John Cleal, who has an ambivalent attitude to cosies, wasn’t particularly enamoured of Agatha Raisin and the Witches’ Tree by MC Beaton that left him scratching his head on all fronts. He cheered loudly, though, when we let him loose on Robicheaux: You Know My Name, where the hero must clear his name. John rates James Lee Burke as the finest American crime writer of the past century, calling him the master of Southern noir.

Among the other US books, All The Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson is a clever guessing game of a novel where a young man finds himself investigating the circumstances around his father’s death – but John Cleal wonders if it’s just a bit too American! Kati Barr-Taylor felt that Lisa Gardner’s Look For Me is more a story about a family tragedy and the failings of the foster care system than a police procedural – and that it needed a hefty cut! Kati also felt like taking a pick-axe to Gallery Of The Dead. She says that Chris Carter knows his police procedure and psychology, but that the book is long-winded and a tad clichéd. The Asset by Shane Kuhn features the brother of a 9/11 victim deciding to become an aviation security expert. Arnold Taylor says it’s a page-turner, but thought it was heavy on IT detail.

Also ranging further afield, Angel in the Shadows by Walter Lucius is the second in a series set in The Netherlands. Chris Roberts felt it was rather flat and wondered whether there was a problem with the translation, but he enjoyed the intricate planning in this tale of international crime and corruption. Chris again admired the research in A Darker State by David Young, which is set in 1976 East Germany. He is, though, getting more than a little irritated with the naivety of the main character. Chris then travelled back to 1963 Tokyo in The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa where a man faces the death penalty when his casual pick-ups start dying. Chris says it captures the urban sprawl of the city where a map is a necessity!

John Cleal is very happily working his way through the British Library classic crime reissues. Fire In the Thatch by ECR Lorac features a naval CO investigating the supposed death of one of his officers. John says the book boasts memorable characters and is as good an example of Golden Age crime fiction as you’re likely to find.

The prize for this week’s unusual plot – and supporting character – goes to Philip Reeve’s Black Light Express where there’s conflict in the Network Empire and Empress Threnody Noon needs the help of a thief and a psychotic war train to get her to safety. Science fiction fan Linda Wilson loved the world building. Elsewhere on the YA front this week, Linda says Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is a penetrating look at both friendship and mental health issues among teenagers.

Our Countdown guest this week is US author Kristen Lepionka. We like the way she thinks on coming up with a quick meal. And yes please, a trip to Iceland sounds very enticing!

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
Kristen Lepionka

Kristen Lepionka grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. Her debut novel was The Last Place You Look, featuring PI Roxane Weary.

Her writing has been selected for Shotgun Honey, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Grift and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats.

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

Receptionist, sales associate, graphic designer, social media writer, mystery author.

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

Sewing machine, coffee, a window facing west, whiskey bottles, a cat, another cat, a lavender plant (may be dying), IKEA lamp, Edgar Allen Poe candle.

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

Eggs (over-hard), with cheese and salsa. Boom, done. Alternately: the French bakery down the street from me. I’m better at buying a meal than making one.