October 13 2018

If you fancy sloping off to Scotland this week for some gritty crime fiction (does anyone north of the border ever write cosies?), then you’ve hit the jackpot this week …

Scandi star Jo Nesbø’s take on Macbeth brings a new level of despair and desolation to Shakespeare’s story, says Ewa Sherman. Good cop Inspector Macbeth is thrust into the mess of a drug bust that’s turned into a bloodbath. In keeping with the original, this is tragedy of moral order on a grand scale. John Cleal reports back on former journalist Anna Smith’s launch of a new character, a corporate lawyer who is pitchforked into taking over her father’s gangland empire when her brother is assassinated, and then her mother killed at his funeral. John says that Smith never disappoints, and her new protagonist is a believable character. With plenty of interesting twists and turns and some powerful support, John’s verdict is that Blood Feud looks like the start of a longer series. Linda Wilson enjoyed catching up with Caro Ramsay’s detective duo Anderson and Costello in Standing Still, with Cathleen McCarron providing an authentic but never impenetrable narration. But be warned, she says some of the scenes are not for the faint-hearted, and if you didn’t have a phobia of puppets at the beginning, you certainly will have by the end!

Scotland is also the setting for The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry, otherwise known as husband and wife duo Chris Brookmyre and his consultant anaesthetist wife Dr Marisa Haetzman. The story is set in the 1840s in an Edinburgh hospital. Young, pregnant women are dying in agony and a medical student connected to one such death sets out to discover why, aided by an intelligent and ambitious housemaid. John Cleal says the book offers everything a reader could want in a historical crime fiction story – a believable fact-based plot based on superb research with plenty of extra thrills and chills.

Not quite so far up north, 1974, the start of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet, sees a journalist investigating a missing girl stumble into a sordid conspiracy involving local officials and police. It’s frenetic, graphic and confusing, says John Cleal. The series was controversial when it first launched almost 20 years ago, and John thinks this re-release is likely to be no less so.

We’re not short of thrillers this week. Dead Man’s Gift and Other Stories is a collection of two novellas and five short stories from Simon Kernick. Linda Wilson says there’s plenty of fast-paced entertainment here. In Firefly by Henry Porter, a young Syrian refugee is making his way to the west to start a new life but he has information about ISIS, who are determined to stop him. Chris Roberts says the chase is an exciting one, with close escapes on every other page. In The Man Between by Charles Cumming, a successful espionage novelist finds himself dissatisfied with his life and jumps at an opportunity to undertake what appears to be a spying mission on behalf of the UK government. After a slightly slow start, Arnold Taylor says the action moves along quickly and unpredictably, with frequent thrills and surprises. There’s never a lack of action in Tony Park’s fast-paced African thrillers and The Cull is no exception. A former female mercenary leads Southern Africa’s first all-woman anti-animal poaching unit and becomes involved in a bloody confrontation with an international criminal gang. John Cleal says Park continues making his case for conservation and compassion with both authority and conviction.

Sometimes only old favourites will do, and former lawyer Linda Wilson was very happy to spend several hours in the company of probably the most iconic defence barrister of all time. Rumpole: The Penge Bungalow Murders and Other Stories by John Mortimer contains three BBC radio dramatisations featuring Horace Rumpole, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Horace and Timothy West as his older self. Linda says these two are a winning combination and the stories are as entertaining as ever. So grab a glass of Cooking Claret and join Rumpole in his favourite watering hole.

Across the Atlantic, an ex-marine helps an old army buddy by riding shotgun on a truck making legal cannabis deliveries – and the job turns out to need all his military skills. Chris Roberts says the action in Nick Petrie’s Light It Up is fast and gripping and that the background to the real-life problems of the cannabis supply trade in the US is stranger than any fiction. The Hunger by Alma Katsu retells the story of a California-bound waggon train trapped by winter in the Sierra Nevadas. In an atmosphere of superstition, fear and mutual loathing, some members resort to cannibalism to survive. John Cleal says you’ll need nerves of steel to read this, but if you can survive without subsequently suffering nightmares, you’ll have had the satisfaction of reading what he firmly believes should be recognised as one of the books of the year. Chris Roberts liked the characters, particularly the female ones, in Karin Slaughter’s The Good Daughter. After a school shooting, a local legal family take up the defence of the teenager accused but are dogged by memories of past events. Chris says this is a powerful book. In Death Silences Everyone by Bill Sheehy, an ex-cop turned unofficial private eye is teamed with a new recruit to investigate the murder of the daughter of a prominent San Franciscan family, but officials on all sides are warning them off. Kate Balfour found little sense of place and was unconvinced by the big reveal at the end.

If you’re looking for other international crime fiction, we’ve got another duo for you this week – Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund, writing as Anton Svensson. A notorious criminal has been acquitted of most of the bank robberies he and his two younger brothers have pulled off. While behind bars for six years he planned the biggest heist ever, but an embittered cop is on his case. Ewa Sherman enjoyed The Sons, and confides that she was secretly cheering on the bad guys! In Tokyo, a man searching for a girl who disappeared after a brief relationship gets drawn into the world of a bizarre cult. Chris Roberts found much of Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura hard to like, particularly the distasteful treatment of some themes involving women.

If you’re after the sort of book you can’t put down, two of our reviewers are waving their arms enthusiastically. In Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley, a woman takes a call on a helpline that turns her fragile world upside down. Kati Barr-Taylor says this is a little gem and kept her interest from start to end. John Barnbrook was equally wrapped up in Holly Cave’s The Memory Chamber where in the not-too-distant future the afterlife can be designed specifically for you. But problems arise when one Heaven Architect falls in love with her client. John says this is explored in multiple ways: scientifically, economically and ethically. He had a hard time resisting taking a sneak peek at the ending.

On the YA front this week Run, Riot sees four teens on the run in their tower block home, determined to bring a friend’s killers to justice. Linda Wilson says Nikesh Shukla gives the young protagonists distinct, strong and diverse voices, and they all come over as authentic characters with bags of heart. She was equally taken with A Thousand Perfect Notes where a 15-year-old boy is forced by his obsessive mother to practise classical music until his hands hurt and he fantasises about cutting them off. Linda was swept along by CG Drews’ strong debut on a tempest of repressed emotion and she says the book’s final notes will linger in the air long after the last page has been turned.

In the Countdown spotlight this week is American journalist Jonathan Abrams, author of All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, which is an oral history of the iconic TV drama. We want to tag along to meet his drinking chums. And both your editors are looking shifty and muttering that Jonathan’s ten words to sum up his working life to date sounds uncannily like theirs!

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
Jonathan Abrams

Jonathan Abrams is an award-winning journalist who writes for Bleacher Report. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Boys Among Men

He was previously a staff writer at Grantland, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times and is a graduate of the University of Southern California. 

His recent book All the Pieces Matter tells the inside story of the acclaimed TV crime drama, The Wire.

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

Focus and put some damn words on the page, Jonathan.

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

Television, lamp, bed, tape recorder, computer, phone, balcony, window and cars.

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

Crab cake.