March 30 2019

One of life’s (oh, OK, crime fiction’s) most important questions is solved in this week’s issue. Your editors have always wondered whether there are any cosies or humorous books in Nordic noir amidst the trees, angst and snow. And yay, verily, there are!

We’re not talking knockabout farce, mind. Our Scandi queen Ewa Sherman points out that Håkan Nesser’s The Root of Evil, where a Swedish cop is sent advance warning of a murder, features the author’s trademark sharp observations, philosophical musings and dry humour. But it’s back to the angst in The Thin Blue Line by Christoffer Carlsson, which has the classic damaged Scandinavian detective. Ewa says there’s a modern twist to this book that draws on the author’s professional experience.

If you fancy more obvious humour, Chris Roberts recommends A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself by William Boyle where an aging porn star, a mob widow and her granddaughter meet as strangers and then band together to solve their problems. Chris says it’s fast-moving, full of incident, very funny and, despite the bleakness of the criminal and mob life depicted, finally uplifting.   

Several of our reviewers are fans of legal thrillers, and they’ve had their work cut out this week, m’lud. Chris Roberts says you can always rely on John Grisham to find some area of legal practice around which to wrap a beguiling story, and such is the case in The Reckoning, where a war hero returns to a small Mississippi town and shoots the local Methodist minister. Sadly, Chris thought the book was distinctly lacking in thrills. There’s a suitably dastardly solicitor and barrister providing plenty of fiery exchanges in Peter Murphy’s One Law for the Rest of Us, where the revelation of sexual abuse by a child blows open her mother’s repressed memories of the same treatment. Chris felt it all came across more as an illustration of a legal situation than a story about real people. John Cleal was much more satisfied with the reissue of The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons, one of the best crime writers of the 1950s. He says the story of an unhappy young man facing the death penalty for a crime he claims not to remember is a masterpiece of court case procedural that takes a penetrating look at the very nature of justice.

There are a few intriguing debuts this week that you might want to follow up. Arnold Taylor took a break from his usual classic thriller beat to welcome All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew where a young student equipped with three guns enters a college and kills 13 girls. Kati Barr-Taylor netted the unusual release – Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel, which she describes as a marriage of science fiction, whodunit and romance. Kati felt it was rather old-fashioned with echoes of Enid Blyton, but adds that it offers a diverse cast of characters dealing with thought-provoking issues.

Arnold Taylor also ventured out into the police procedural field with February’s Son by Alan Parks where Glaswegian cop Harry McCoy investigates the death of a well-known Celtic footballer. He says the book is hugely inventive, absorbing and well-plotted. John Cleal was on the other side of the Irish Sea with John Steele’s Seven Skins, which features Jackie Shaw, a former soldier, policeman and one-time RUC undercover officer. John describes the hero as a cross between Superman, the Terminator and Rambo! Kati Barr-Taylor zipped through Stalker by Lisa Stone where DC Beth Mayes has her eye on a bloke who runs a security business once she sees a link between a series of crimes. Kati says it’s an easy and fast read, although not much of a page-turner and sadly has no sense of place.

Among the familiar faces this week is US big name Jeffery Deaver. The Cutting Edge is a return for criminalist Lincoln Rhyme who is drafted in to help make sense of a series of murders carried out by a killer with a strange affinity for diamonds. Linda Wilson says even the information dumps are interesting! British writer Simon Kernick returns with We Can See You, a stylish thriller with bags of tension – although Linda comments dryly that if you’ve read Kernick’s past books that you won’t be surprised by the presence of an unreliable narrator. John Cleal, meanwhile, was positively purring over a gorgeous edition from the Folio Society of The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. He says it’s an outstanding collection and a book to cherish and keep, and to pass on to the next generation to remind them of the great Arthur Conan Doyle. John is also a huge fan of Ray Celestin, whose clever and utterly believable The Mobster’s Lament is the third in the City Blues Quartet, which tracks jazz and organised crime through the middle 50 years of the 20th century. And John, being the nosy old hack that he is, desperately wants to know the author’s true identity!

Elsewhere, John was somewhat grumpy about Shakespeare’s Sword by Alan Judd, where an antiques dealer becomes obsessed with an ancient sword that might have belonged to the Bard. John is an admirer of Judd’s spy stories, and found this change of direction too predictable, even if the prose was clever and quirky. Chris Roberts praised the convincing characters in Richard Anderson’s Retribution, set in a small Australian farming town where a few discontented people are tempted into taking revenge for real or imaginary wrongs. Kati Barr-Taylor says that Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier has a fresh, confident voice, but the characters and setting seem unrealistic.

This week’s YA releases provided some uncomfortable reading for Linda Wilson. I Stop Somewhere by TE Carter unflinchingly explores the difficult themes of abuse, rape and murder and demonstrates how much privilege counts when it comes to a police investigation. The Chaos of Now by Erin Large features a teenage hacker being pressurised by two schoolmates into taking part in a prestigious coding competition. Linda says the teens are well-drawn, the author never talks down or preaches – and that it’s not a comfortable book for concerned parents.

We welcome Norwegian author Kjell Ola Dahl into the Countdown seat this week – and are mightily impressed with his attention to detail when it comes to what he and his drinking companions will be imbibing. And it sounds like he has a nicely balanced life with his writing and running a family farm that’s been in existence since the Middle Ages.

Don't forget to make a trip across the Pond to 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
Kjell Ola Dahl

Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He grew up in Oslo and travelled widely before settling down and becoming a teacher in maths, economics and psychology.

He was 35 when he published his first book, and has since published 12 novels, including a series of police procedurals/psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. His work has been published in 22 countries.

Twenty years ago, he left teaching to become a full-time writer when his three children were 12 (twins) and 14. His wife is a gardener, and it seemed a natural move for them  to acquire a family farm called Torgunrud, which has been in existence since the Middle Ages (about 800 years). It’s situated by Lake Mjosa, about 100km north of Oslo.

Kjell Ola is now a part-time farmer and full-time writer, as his wife produces perennials for sale and his children have left the nest to become (variously) a publisher, water engineer and plumber.

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

Study, fall in love, start family, travel, work, read, write.

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

The lake, the train on the other side, the garden, trees and my golfer girl sculpture, my desk, my laptop, books and the rest of my messy office.

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

An omelette with mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese.