June 1 2019

We tend to steer well clear of politics in these parts (unless we fancy a good rant!) – and those of you in the UK have probably heard and read enough on the subject to last a lifetime. All we’ll say, coughcoughcough, is that a couple of new books this week sound rather scarily prescient …

These books fell into John Cleal’s lap. He says that The Moscow Offensive by Dale Brown, set in the near future where the US and Russia are facing off, is a fast-paced and imaginative techno-thriller. The other, though, dates back to 1916 London when a left-wing government is dividing the country into opposing camps. What Might Have Been by Ernest Bramah has car chases, bombardments, riots and perilous flights over a stormy southern England as the opposing forces battle for the soul and future of the country, says John.

If you’re brave enough to up the ante and go for major disasters, Linda Wilson says that The Last by Hanna Jameson, where a group of people are holed up in a Swiss hotel when the world as they know it ends, is an unvarnished look at the aftermath of a major catastrophe. Regular readers will know that several of our reviewers enjoy what we call willy-waving thrillers. We’ll leave you to decide what to call one with a superwoman at the helm! Chemical engineer Dr Jaq Silver, who works on avalanche control, ends up in the radioactive marshes around the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant. John Cleal says that The Chemical Detective by Fiona Erskine is clever, accurate, possible and brilliantly told.

Those of you who’ve been to Dungeness will know that there’s a honking great nuclear power station there as well. The Body in the Boat by AJ Mackenzie is set in that area before the concrete giant appeared. John Cleal says it’s fast-moving story involving (deep breath) smuggling, fraud, corruption, bank failure, drug trafficking, treason, espionage and murder – all set in the misty, feverish, Romney Marshes. It’s just one of a varied crop of historicals this issue. Madeleine Marsh wallowed in nostalgia with The Folio Society’s reissue of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. She says that Christie’s ability to write multi-dimensional characters and twisting plots captures the imaginations of generation after generation. Sylvia Maughan delved into the bizarre world of Bryant and May in Christopher Fowler’s Hall of Mirrors. Things go wrong when the cops attend a house party in a country mansion. Sylvia says it’s a funny and enjoyable read. The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins is much darker in tone as mixed race maid Frannie tells the story of her life from a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation to her trial accused of murdering her English employers. John Cleal says it’s an intelligent and unsentimental look at Frannie’s tragic history and is an absolute winner. Arnold Taylor is still happily working his way through the reissues of Georges Simenon’s Maigret series. In Maigret Defends Himself, the famous cop is accused of assaulting an 18-year-old girl and realises that unless he is able to disprove the charges his career is at an end.

Scandi princess Ewa Sherman pulled a historical out of her teetering review pile this week. Evil Things by Katja Ivar is set in 1952 Helsinki and features Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the city’s homicide unit. She’s deemed too emotional for her job and packed off to small-town Lapland where she’s determined to prove that ordinary people can be treated fairly. Back in the present day, Ewa then flitted between Iceland and Florida in Trap by Lilja Sigurðardóttir. She says the latest instalment in the series delivers a timeless crime thriller that’s perfect for the dark modern times. 

Over in Japan, in Newcomer by Keigo Higashino, the new boy on the block, Detective Kyoichiro Kaga, proves to be very effective in unravelling secrets when a woman is found strangled. Chris Roberts says Kaga is a joy, unfailingly polite and self-effacing, but with a mind as sharp as a razor. Chris also got to travel Down Under with Mark Brandi’s Into the River, which presents a convincing portrait of the life of teenage boys in an Australian backwater.

Chris bagged a couple of American legal mysteries as well this week. A Killer’s Alibi by William L Myers features Mafia rivals at each other’s throats and is as nasty as you might expect, says Chris. In Justice Gone by N Lombardi Jr, an ex-marine is beaten to death by police – and then someone shoots three of the officers involved. It’s a fast-moving story with plenty of dramatic moments, and a big twist in the final pages, reports Chris.

Linda Wilson got her hands on a couple of police procedurals from long-running favourite series of hers. Never Be Broken by Sarah Hilary has children being stabbed and gunned down on the streets of London. Linda says it’s never possible to grab a comfort blanket and pretend nothing nasty will happen as Hilary always has a surprise or two up her sleeve. And Linda also devoured Cruel Acts by Jane Casey at speed, not least because she’s very fond of bad-boy DI Josh Derwent!

Elsewhere, Kati Barr-Taylor was enthralled by Rachel Abbott’s The Shape of Lies where a woman is haunted by a voice she hears on the radio. Kati says the book provides an excellent few hours of pure escapism. And she admired the magical world in The Cruel Prince by Holly Black where Jude and her sisters saw a man murder their parents – but never imagined that the assassin would become their father.

There’s quality crime fiction for younger readers in Potkin and Stubbs by Sophie Green where aspiring 12-year-old journalist Lil Potkin finds herself with an unusual partner as she sets out to discover what happened to a young boy who’s gone missing. Linda Wilson says it will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series.

Please welcome author Will Carver to the Countdown hot seat. And while you’re here, please help rugby nut Sharon scrape her jaw off the floor after she discovered Will turned down the chance to play the sport professionally! It’s a great, chatty interview – and we like the ten words to describe his working life to date.

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
Will Carver

Will Carver spent his early years moving around Germany, changing home every 18 months as army kids so often do. One lunchtime, when he was 11, he was picked up from school and moved back to England.

In his teenage years, everything was about sport. He became a national-level sprinter and decathlete, but his heart belonged to rugby. At age 14, while playing, Carver broke his right leg and ankle in six places and was told he might never play again. Six weeks later he was back on the field – with one extremely skinny leg – battling for a place in the county team. He got in. Later that month he was scouted to play for Bath, the best team in the country and the team he had always supported.
 
Will turned down opportunities to play rugby professionally and opted not to accept an unconditional offer to art college to pursue his dream of being the first person in his family to go to university. He wanted to write plays and direct them. At university, he set up a successful (and profitable) theatre company but his degree managed to suck out all the love for theatre he had arrived with on that first day.
   
After university, there were a string of jobs in IT sales. Every day a small part of him died. He would write or read in his car during lunch hours, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. When Will’s team were told they would be losing their jobs, it was one of the happiest days he can remember. In that final month, when he was supposed to be working from home, he would log in on the work laptop to show that he was there but was writing a book on his personal laptop every day instead.

That book was called Girl 4 and would go on the become his first published work. Two more books followed, a novella and some short stories. Then Will disappeared for a few years, returning to his sporty ways, setting up his own fitness and nutrition company, before coming back the writing world with his new book, Good Samaritans.

Now, he divides his time between the fitness and the writing, working his body and his mind in those hours between the school runs and ferrying his kids around to various clubs in the area, thankful that, unlike his mother, he doesn’t yet have to drive all the way to Bath twice a week for rugby training.

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

All progress is made by the unreasonable man, mother fuckers. 

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

I’m in my lounge, sitting with my laptop. I can see:
1. Half a bottle of Yamazaki whisky. (Maybe quarter of a bottle by the time I’ve finished this). 
2. 11 different versions of The Great Gatsby. 
3. A record player. (Plus vinyl). 
4. My banjo. 
5. Piles of books I need to find a home for. 
6. A framed one-sheet poster of Cinema Paradiso.
7. The kids’ desk covered in paper, pens and double-sided sticky tape. 
8. Six different candles. Yes, I need them all. 
9. A metal sign that says, ‘This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.’ 
I know, how cool and bleak is my living room?

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

Pasta! I can cook that in eight minutes and come up with a sauce. Probably mushrooms with a (vegan) creamy sauce and spinach and some toasted pine nuts. Done! (If I could chop the butternut squash small enough, it might cook in time, too. Yum).