September 15 2018

We always admire an author who knows when to bring a popular series to an end, rather than seeing it jumping the shark. Ann Cleeves is bringing the curtain down on her excellent Shetland series – although it means that Douglas Henshall, who plays Jimmy Perez in the TV version, will have to look for yet another role as a shouty Scottish copper!

In Wild Fire, Jimmy faces the most disturbing investigation of his career. Fiona Spence says Cleeves does a fine job of showcasing the Shetland landscape, mixing real locations with fictional ones and whether it's taking photos of otters or stopping off at Frankie's for fish and chips, the islands feel very real without distracting from the story. Fiona thinks this is a fitting end to the series.

Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun series is still highly entertaining, and Chris Roberts took a trip to Laos in company with the elderly coroner. A local police inspector is investigating a body apparently gnawed by small animals, while Dr Siri is organising a Lao film version of War and Peace. Chris says Don’t Eat Me combines serious issues concerning the trade in endangered animals with a charming and frequently amusing tale.

We’re wondering how many crime novels and thrillers have been set in Berlin. We’ve got two of the latter this week, plus a visit from a true crime book. Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn is set in 1941 where Jack Hoste must locate the most dangerous Nazi agent in Britain. Arnold Taylor says the book shows some of the detailed plotting and suspense that characterises the spy master himself, John le Carré. In Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin, a British intelligence agent travels to the city to nursemaid a British defector seeking to return to the UK, but naturally things do not go according to plan. Chris Roberts describes the book as most impressive. Chris also recommends The Trial of Adolf Hitler, and describes David King’s book as both accessible and a salutary reminder of what can happen if demagogues are allowed too much power. It’s also your chance to find out that the German word for a Hitler-style moustache translates as ‘snot-brake’!

Ewa Sherman is on the case of her beloved Scandis again. In The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indriðason, past troubles cast a long shadow when a man is found shot in a basement. Ewa says the book offers a unique look into the wartime history of Iceland, populated by vivid characters who represent traditional views, modern attitudes and conflict between locals and the Allied forces. John Cleal joins her on the Scandi beat this week with Kin by Snorri Kristjansson, which takes a trip back in time to a story of Viking murder on an isolated farm. John says this story of intrigue and murder is well paced and skilfully plotted, with a strong sense of everyday life and just enough runic mystery and magic to give it an extra twist. There’s also a sparky heroine who shines as a beacon of light in a dark age. Kati Barr-Taylor had mixed feelings about Killed by Thomas Enger, not least because she felt she was arriving late to the series party. She describes the plot as multi-faceted and gritty, and the dialogue as sharp, but felt the narrative tended towards the melodramatic at times.

Over in Italy, a teenage boy living in a remote village suspects his own father of kidnap and murder in Elena Varvello’s Can You Hear Me? Sylvia Maughan says this is a story that repays careful reading. Liar’s Candle by August Thomas, set in Turkey, features an American woman who becomes an international symbol when she survives a terrorist bombing, then is forced to go on the run to stay alive. John Cleal says this is an excellent debut with dynamic and powerful writing that keeps the twists coming right up to the final page.

John, who’s our history buff, nabbed another batch of historicals this week, starting with Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru by Karen Lee Street. The writer believes his family are under threat from the past as their traditional city life is disrupted. When a young heiress disappears, he is forced to call for help from his French detective friend the Chevalier C Auguste Dupin. John declares that this dark, satisfying mystery combines beautiful writing with suspense and unease. He was equally enthusiastic about Andrew Martin’s intriguingly titled The Martian Girl, which features a failing journalist obsessed with the mystery disappearance of a rising Victorian music hall star. As Jean pursues her investigation, the lives of the two women begin to blur together and danger threatens. John calls this a dazzling thriller – violent, funny and deadly serious entertainment that will get inside your mind. He was less enthusiastic about The Secrets of Vesalius by Jordi Llobregat, when a man returns to Barcelona after the death of his father and is plunged into dark mystery of murder and scientific experimentation. John thinks the book is well paced and incident-filled, but falls into the trap of cramming in too much.

In The Price You Pay by Aidan Truhen, when a man takes an interest in the murder of a neighbour he gets a very serious beating, but afterwards his thirst for recompense knows no bounds. Chris Roberts found that despite a complete lack of any sort of moral constraints, the main character comes across as surprisingly likeable.  And as a confirmed technophobe, Chris found it all too believable. Neighbours also feature in Our House, Louise Candlish’s tale of property law and dark family secrets. Our legal eagle Linda Wilson, a property law expert, praised the book’s strong plotline, but she found the inability to feel anything but mild irritation about either of the main characters put a huge barrier between her and the book. She also mutters darkly that legal reality isn’t allowed to get in the way of storytelling!

Fiona Cummins’ The Collector impressed John Barnbrook with its disturbing, sinister figure who abducts people with bone deformities. John says that as the book reaches the last quarter the pace becomes highly cinematic. Linda Wilson enjoyed her first meeting with East London PIs, Hakim and Arnold, who are trying to reunite a Muslim family with their radicalised son. Linda says this well-narrated audiobook of Barbara Nadel's Bright Shiny Things gripped her through ten hours of listening time, and she broke off only to navigate Paris in the rush hour! In I, Witness by Niki Mackay a woman who pleaded guilty to the murder of her best friend now wants to clear her name. Kati Barr-Taylor says the book is a vivid portrayal of four women suffering at the hands of narcissistic men. At its heart is a story of abuse and mental illness, treated with delicacy.

Linda Wilson enjoyed both of our teen/YA offerings this week. She describes All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth as a heady mix of thriller and teen relationships. It’s set in the privileged enclave of a US boarding school, where one girl is determined to get to the truth of her mother’s disappearance ten years ago. Linda says this is a strong debut that delivers a complex page-turner packed with intrigue and danger. The teens in My Box-Shaped Heart by Rachael Lucas are also written with a thoroughly authentic voice as girl meets boy, but they both have secrets, some darker than others. The book has a sensitive portrayal of mental health difficulties and both charms and shocks.

In the Countdown hot seat this week we have bird-watching author Steve Burrows. We hope he won’t mind us gate-crashing his drinks party. And we fancy running away to his eclectic destinations, although we’d be useless bird watchers (too mouthy and fidgety!).

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
Steve Burrows

Steve Burrows has pursued his birdwatching hobby on six continents, but he began his life-long interest in birds and nature in the urban parks around his childhood home in Birmingham, UK.

Before writing, Steve held a number of jobs from zookeeper to school teacher (a surprisingly transferable skill set) but it was a move to Hong Kong that proved the catalyst for his writing career. Steve became editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Magazine, and a contributing field editor with Asian Geographic. His freelance articles on travel and environmental issues have also appeared in international publications including BBC Wildlife (UK), Action Asia (Singapore), Globe and Mail (Canada), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and Melbourne Age (Australia).

Steve and his wife Resa now live in Oshawa, Canada, where in addition to writing and bird watching, Steve’s interests include single malt whisky, poker, and various combinations of the two. He is also currently learning to juggle and play the banjo, though he accepts that it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to do both at the same time.

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

An exhilarating ride, shared with the love of my life.

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

My laptop screen
Editions of my books
A bottle of 25-year-old Macallan
A 1963 Hofner Committee semi-acoustic guitar
A photograph of my wife
A Downy Woodpecker on the feeder outside the window
Artworks by my grandchildren
A bill with red edging
A calendar with a picture of my parents

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

Ravioli – heated in the can, directly on the burner. Remove from heat, hold can with potholder, eat ravioli with spoon straight from can – preferably over sink. Recycle can, wash spoon. Done! Now back to writing.