July 27 2019

Your editors periodically wave their arms in the air about information dumps in books – you know, where the action runs into a brick wall or where the dialogue suddenly defies belief as the author is determined to show everyone how much research they’ve done and promptly shoehorns a considerable amount of info into a minuscule space. We shall diplomatically keep quiet about the identity of the king of the info dumps – suffice it to say Sharon no longer reads the series, but Linda cuts its author rather more slack!

Peter James’s crime novels, set in Brighton, ooze realism from every pore. And so they should, given the fact he has Sussex police on speed-dial! Dead at First Sight, the latest in his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, impressed the hell out of the often hard to please John Cleal (a man who can spot a research error at 20 paces). John says that this look at the world of internet romance scams is so current and the scale, plus the often-life shattering implications for the victims of these crimes, makes this both a page-turner and a real eye-opener. Chris Roberts fared rather less well with Marked for Death by Tony Kent – he felt that the account of the spectacular murder of a retired Lord Chief Justice was rather too heavy on the details of the Old Bailey robing room and other ephemera, although the courtroom exchanges worked better. Chris’s other legal foray this issue resulted in praise for vigorous courtroom action and some hair-raising action in low places in Gary Bell’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt.

As the yoof of today have it, YMMV when it comes to amateur sleuths. John Cleal was singularly less than convinced by cleaning company boss Stella Darnell and her tube train driver partner Jack Harmon, who end up investigating a 40-year-old mystery out in the sticks. He says that The Death Chamber by Lesley Thomson doesn’t quite cut it, despite the eerie setting and the unique and well-developed characters. You could argue that having a journalist as an investigator is more convincing, as they have reason to dig into people’s stories. Anthea Hawdon is rather fond of the Miss Judy Dimont series. This time out, the local paper reporter is investigating a murder in one of the chalets in a controversial new holiday camp in TP Fielden’s A Quarter Past Dead.

Former Bajan cop and now slightly reluctant PI JT Ellington is back, with the final book in MP Wright’s series set in 1960s and 1970s inner city Bristol. Linda Wilson was impressed with A Sinner’s Prayer where the resourceful JT is being pursued by what seems like a sizeable proportion of the city’s bad guys. And there's also a bad guy character in there for her to take a shine to! Chris Roberts praises The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean, where the disappearance of three girls from a sleepy Australian suburb in 1992 still haunts their friends 20 years later. Chris says this debut novel is a well-written story that convincingly evokes the place and time in which it is set.

Further back in time, we have a stylish historical thriller as this week’s YA offering. Linda Wilson, who does grabby paws if she spots a book set in 18th century France, says that Enchantée by Gita Trelease is as deeply seductive as la magie that its main character Camille weaves so expertly as she plays a dangerous game on the filthy streets and in the glittering courts. The titular lead in The Conviction of Cora Burns was born in a prison and raised in a workhouse. A new life as a servant in Victorian Birmingham leads her to believe that she’s the subject of a living experiment. John Cleal says that Carolyn Kirby, who has the courage to tackle the most difficult of subjects, is clearly one to watch. The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey features female lawyer Perveen Mistry, who is selected to advise on the education of a young maharaja in the tiny princely state of Satapur, and finds the boy at the centre of a power dispute. Chris Roberts says that Perveen is a spirited investigator and that Massey brings the history to life.

Out among the plods this week, Kati Barr-Taylor enjoyed a few hours of pure escapism in Blood Lines by Angela Marsons, featuring DI Kim Stone, although she was driven almost to distraction by the dialogue supposedly representing one of the characters! Linda Wilson welcomed the return of DI Maya Rahman in Out of the Ashes, and says that author Vicky Newham has an enviable knack of bringing her characters alive on the page and making them likeable. Arnold Taylor says that the characterisation is entirely believable in Where No Shadows Fall by Peter Ritchie, where Superintendent Grace Macallan is stuck at a desk and, unable to stand it any longer, requests a transfer – and finds herself investigating a Glasgow prison suicide. There’s complicated plotting and fine characterisation to savour in What Lies Buried by Margaret Kirk, says John Cleal, where DI Lukas Mahler hunts for the link between a ten-year-old girl disappearing from a birthday party and a murder from 70 years back.

We’re quiet on the thriller front this week, but the one we do have more than makes up for that. John Cleal is a big fan of Henry Porter and says that White Hot Silence, where an aid worker is kidnapped and her former lover and MI6 operative is hired to find her, shows just why British espionage fiction is the best in the world!

Domestic noir still isn’t dead (and you may either cheer or groan at that thought!) Kati Barr-Taylor, who can be relied on to review them with a beady eye, says that Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, where a neighbour sets out to destroy Amy’s perfect family life, needs reading, not reading about! She says it’s one of those excellent stories where it’s hard to decide whether to binge to get to the end and know what happens or string out the pleasure. The Dead Ex by Jane Corry, didn’t fare quite so well, though, where a woman’s life is in freefall when her ex-husband disappears and police are sure she’s involved. Kati had trouble with both the characterisation and the plot.

Scandi princess Ewa Sherman was very taken with The Silver Road by Stina Jackson, where the lives of two people become entwined in a remote part of northern Sweden. She says it’s a masterclass in evocative sadness, loneliness and redemption, told in a sensitive and captivating style.

Elsewhere, there are no surprises in Run Away by Harlan Coben, where an ordinary person finds themselves in extraordinary circumstances. This time out, wealthy investment manager Simon Greene is increasingly out of his depth in the seedy world of drug pushers and addicts. And Linda Wilson says you can play spot the characters from Coben’s other books! Inceptio by Alison Morton shows an alternate reality where Karen Brown’s ordinary life is swept away to reveal her association with high-ranking families in Nova Roma. John Barnbrook says that the physical, woman of action aspect is well done, but the romantic interactions are rather too stereotypically handled.

We welcome Aussie writer Jane Harper to the Countdown seat this week. We’re very impressed that she doesn’t rant, given we do so at the drop of a hat! And we like the sound of her view of the sea and of the Melbourne skyline.

Don't forget to take 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
Jane Harper

Jane was born in Manchester in the UK and moved to Australia with her family at the age of eight, where she became an Australian citizen.

Returning to the UK with her family as a teenager, she lived in Hampshire before studying English and History at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

On graduating, she completed a journalism entry qualification and got her first reporting jobs on the Darlington & Stockton Times in County Durham and the Hull Daily Mail in East Yorkshire.

Moving back to Australia in 2008, she later took up a reporting role with the Herald Sun in Melbourne.

In 2014, Jane wrote a short story which was one of 12 chosen for the Big Issue's annual Fiction Edition.

That inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously, breaking through with her debut Australian mystery novel, The Dry, in 2016. This was followed by Force of Nature and The Lost Man.

Jane lives in Bayside, Melbourne with her husband and daughter.

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

Journalist for 13 years, author for four. Always loved writing!

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

The sea, the Melbourne skyline, the plants I’m trying to grow, photos of my family, bookshelves, my daughter’s toys, a mug of tea, the latest book I’m reading, the TV.

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

In eight minutes, I think it would have to be an omelette!