September 01 2018

If you roll your eyes a lot and wonder whether certain police procedural writers have really done their homework, you can sit back, give your doubts a rest and hear the truth straight from cops at both ends of the scale this week.

You’d hope that a book by a retired chief constable would deliver the goods – and Truth Stone by Michael O’Byrne does just that, says former crime reporter John Cleal. DCI Rachel Stone puts her job on the line when she allows a child killer to lead her to a second body. John describes the book as insightful and rounded with engaging, believable characters and says it’s well up there with the best in crime fiction. Linda Wilson took a look inside the Met with Girl on the Line in which PC Alice Vinten tells the story of her police career. Linda says it presents an unvarnished account of what it’s like to be a woman policing the streets of London. She’s not sure, though, whether it will act as a recruitment poster for the Met or simply fly a large red flag warning others to keep clear!

Sharon Wheeler claims loudly to anyone who’ll listen that The Wire is the best TV crime drama ever. So she devoured All the Pieces Matter, journalist Jonathan Abrams’ oral history of the show – and says she felt like a very large fly on the wall as writers, actors and the production team contributed their memories. Don’t ask about the orange couch and the prosthetic willy, though!

There’s a healthy crop of police procedurals from across the world this week. And as usual, queen of crime Val McDermid doesn’t disappoint. DCI Karen Pirie of Edinburgh’s Historic Cases Unit is investigating the death of man whose body is found in odd circumstances in a remote Highland peat bog. Linda Wilson says that Broken Ground establishes the tough, intelligent and likeable Pirie as a series heavyweight in her own right. Also in Edinburgh, John Barnbrook was equally impressed with Perfect Death by Helen Fields, in which a naked girl is found dead on Arthur’s Seat in midwinter. John says the book is every bit as gripping as Fields’ previous two and that it can be read as a standalone – but he recommends reading the first two as well. John Cleal praises Isabelle Grey’s Wrong Way Home in which DI Grace Fisher of the Essex Major Investigation Team re-opens a 25-year-old cold case where a girl was raped and killed. John says Grey is one of the finest current writers of procedurals, and that she’s totally in touch with 21st century policing and public attitude.

Ewa Sherman was off to both the Faroe Islands and Denmark in Chris Ould’s The Fire Pit. On the Faroes local detective Hjalti Hentze investigates the suicide of an old drunk. In Denmark the British DI Jan Reyna searches for answers to his past. Ewa says both locations are vivid and tangible, bringing real authenticity to the narration as well as a fascinating background. And she describes the finale as superb. Linda Wilson enjoyed Force of Nature by Jane Harper, which features federal police agent Aaron Falk, the hero of Harper’s outstanding debut novel The Dry. Five women trek into the Australian bush on a company awayday, but only four of them make it out. Linda says the book has a slightly slow burn, but when it hit its stride, she was thoroughly engrossed in a cleverly observed portrayal of how a group reacts under pressure.

A new book by Ngaio Marsh is an unexpected treat, but Stella Duffy has picked up where Marsh left off to finish the story of Inspector Alleyn being trapped overnight in an isolated hospital. John Cleal says it’s impossible to spot where one writer leaves off and the other picks up the tale in Money in the Morgue. John says Duffy captures Marsh’s style, dialogue and mood quite brilliantly. Chris Roberts takes a trip back to the days of Weimar Berlin in Volker Kutscher’s Goldstein. Police detective Gereon Rath is assigned to shadow Abraham Goldstein, a New York hit man who has recently arrived in town. Chris struggled a little with this one as neither of the main protagonists were able to hold his interest. John Cleal got on better with Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee. Drug addict war veteran Captain Sam Wyndham, a senior officer in the British-India police, is surprised in an opium den by a vice squad raid and as he escapes, finds a mutilated body. John was impressed with this brilliantly conceived murder mystery set amidst political and social turmoil.

Both your editors are thinking fondly of their holidays in France, and they’ve now got some more books set there to add to their teetering reading piles. A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott looks at a series of murders in modern day Orleans that appear to be linked to events 70 years ago and the struggles of French resistance fighters battling the Nazis. Chris Roberts says Scott undoubtedly conveys the feeling of the time but he wonders whether anyone who fought in the second world war would be able to take an active part in events now. Peter Morfoot returns to the streets of Nice at carnival time with Box of Bones. A man who suffers a fatal fall is only the first in a series of suspicious deaths. John Cleal enjoyed the clever and entertaining story, continuing what he says is a brilliant series of ‘franglais’ crime novels which perfectly capture life in the millionaire’s playground while offering a very different – and very French – approach to the business of detection and life in general.

Inspector Maigret is investigating the death of a very wealthy Englishman in Georges Simenon's Maigret Travels. Arnold Taylor says that for once, Maigret seems to feel out of place, which makes him more introspective than usual. The thrill of the chase is lacking but Arnold thinks readers will sympathise with Maigret. Kati Barr-Taylor was delighted to be reading another book by Michel Bussi. In Time is a Killer, a woman returns to Corsica 27 years after the accident that killed her parents and her brother. Kati describes this as a beautifully crafted, atmospheric story that heightens the emotions and it creates a liaison that she didn’t want to end.

Across the pond, Chris Roberts wasn’t quite so enamoured with Black Violet by Alex Hyland in which a skilled pickpocket who uses his talent to lift top-end cars ends up tracking his brother’s murderers. Chris says this is a book for people who like plenty of action. Action is normally the first thing anyone would associate with Lee Child, but Sylvia Maughan says The Midnight Line is more thoughtful, and with less frenetic charging around than usual as Reacher searches for a marine who left a ring in a pawn shop. Sylvia says fans of the series should enjoy seeing yet another side of the iconic Jack Reacher and for new readers it will provide a fairly gentle introduction to the series.

In Strange Fascination by Syd Moore a stone with an old legend is about to cause major problems for the locals in the village of Adders Fork. Anthea Hawdon says the book has some real threat and excitement as well as a few spooky chills and it provided proof, if any is needed, that you shouldn't mess with an Essex girl or her family! Sharon Wheeler read Sarah Rayne’s Song of the Damned when she couldn’t sleep, and was thoroughly spooked by mysterious nuns, isolated cottages, macabre lyrics and brick walls. She liked main character Phineas Fox, a music researcher, but felt the historical flashbacks could have done with a cut.

On the teen front this week, Linda Wilson enjoyed The Book Case by Dave Shelton in which, after an unfortunate incident at her old school, Daphne is offered a scholarship to St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls. She’s soon plunged into the mystery of a missing schoolgirl and a robbery at the local bank, all whilst trying to work alongside the enigmatic Emily Lime in the school library. Linda says this is a funny, fast-moving start to what she presumes will become a series.

We shone the Countdown light into Rod Reynolds’ eyes this week. He escaped the world of advertising for crime fiction, and has eclectic taste in drinking companions. The editors like his choice of favourite words, so expect them to be appearing in reviews and editorials soon!

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).
And if you're not following us on Twitter, you can find us chatting at .

Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Rod Reynolds

Rod Reynolds had a successful career in advertising, where he worked as a media buyer. He then took City University's two-year MA in crime writing, where he started The Dark Inside, his first Charlie Yates mystery. This was followed by the second book in the series, Black Night Falling, in 2016 and Cold Desert Sky in 2018.

Rod is part of the organising committee for First Monday, the monthly crime fiction event based in London.

Outside of writing, Rod enjoys running, music, history and film. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters.

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

Hectic, unconventional, fun, rollercoaster, exciting, satisfying, terrifying, challenging, boozy, underpaid.

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

Blue sky, clouds, houses, cars, bed, desk, wardrobe, a tree, my youngest daughter.

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

Cherry tomatoes on toast with fresh red chillies.