December 21 2019
We’ve even got two festive books in the pile. There’s an elegant and intelligent period piece in the form of another British Library re-release, and Viv Beeby would be perfectly happy to find Mary Kelly’s The Christmas Egg in her stocking. Sharon Wheeler is a big fan of Peter James’ Roy Grace series, but says that The Secret of Cold Hill is rather lightweight horror fare.
A couple of other big-hitters have taken a break from long-running series. Linda Wilson says that Drowned Lives by Stephen Booth is strong on the atmosphere of the canals around Lichfield, but is light on plot and characterisation. Linda’s like a rat down a drainpipe when it comes to Andy McNab’s willy-waving thrillers, but she says that even though Whatever It Takes is still a damn good thriller, with likeable characters and well-thought through scenarios, it doesn’t quite clear the author’s usually high bar.
And on the subject of rats and drainpipes, Linda’s the first in the queue for post-apocalyptic yarns. She says that A Savage Generation by David Tallerman, where the civilised world is on the brink of collapse, is a clever mix of thriller and horror that left her wondering how far she would be willing to go to survive in such a world.
If you fancy getting away for Christmas, we’ve books from Brazil, South Africa, Norway and France. Arnold Taylor is still happily working his way through the Georges Simenon reissues, and has got as far as Maigret’s Pickpocket. Scandi queen Ewa Sherman describes Gunnar Staalesen as the Norwegian Chandler as there’s another dark outing for PI Varg Veum in Wolves at the Door. John Cleal welcomes the latest release from Tony Park where an Aussie journalist digs into his family’s history in South Africa in Ghosts of the Past. And there’s a strong sense of place in Playboy by Joe Thomas, which is set in Sao Paulo. Chris Roberts says it’s a dark and energetic thriller. Speaking of high-octane, Chris says that A Shadow Intelligence by Oliver Harris, where an MI5 agent must clear himself of suspicion after an operation is abruptly terminated, is slick, energetic and attention-grabbing as the action leaps from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan.
The festive season is a busy time for sport, and Linda Wilson, who’s learned more about rugby this year than she ever intended to, says that The Boxer by Nikesh Shukla challenges her prejudices about boxing. John Cleal had mixed feelings about Not Playing Fair by David Atkinson, where seven professional footballers are killed in seven days, but says it highlights one of the great problems in the game, the power and influences youth coaches can exercise over ambitious young players.
Elsewhere, Chris Roberts wasn’t entirely convinced by Harry Dunn’s Death Run, where PI Jack Barclay is asked to investigate when a man falls from the top of a block of flats and crushes and kills a woman in a car below. Chris says we hear nothing of the thoughts of those related directly to the crime story, which downplays any emotional impact. Kati Barr-Taylor was substantially happier with her three books this week. The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox stayed in her mind for days, and she says that if you like your crime fiction dark and want to crawl into the mind of damaged people, this series is an absolute must. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley features a group of Oxford friends finding out just how dangerous winter in the Scottish Highlands can be. Kati says it’s a cracking read that is an easy one-sit experience, preferably done on a dark and stormy night with a glass of malt. And she praises the way the female characters leap from the page so convincingly in The Lies We Tell by Niki Mackay, where Miriam can’t tell her husband that their daughter has disappeared.
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Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
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Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
A painting of Darren Mathews that accompanied the review of Bluebird, Bluebird in the Financial Times
A chess set
An obnoxiously large television
A large window with a view to the ancient ash tree in backyard (the reason we bought this house and the view I have from every south-facing window in my house)
My wedding photo album
A bitten pencil
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
A grilled cheese sandwich made with olive oil, good bread, Havarti and salted thin slices of tomato.