December 21 2019

We’re doing our best, without a lot of success, to feel the festive spirit (ooh err, matron!) Linda has put her tasteful Christmas lights up, and Sharon is warbling “It was Christmas eve, babe” badly out of tune. So probably best that we move on quickly and welcome you to the final Crime Review issue of 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.

John Cleal is our resident history expert, and we rewarded him with a couple of favourites this time. And there’s more horror to add a frisson of fear to your Christmas reading. The Darker Arts by Oscar de Muriel, featuring paranormal investigators Inspectors Frey and McGray, is a hugely entertaining Victorian mystery and a properly creepy and Gothic mix of horror, history and humour, says John. He’s a huge fan of SJ MacLean’s Captain Damian Seeker series, and says that The Bear Pit, featuring Cromwell’s ‘enforcer’, is a riveting blend of fact and fiction, with rich descriptions of the turbulence of the era. And according to John,

Death in a Desert Land by Andrew Wilson, where Agatha Christie is asked by British intelligence to investigate doubts surrounding the death of explorer Gertrude Bell, will appeal to every armchair detective. You won’t have to know much about her novels or Christie herself to enjoy the story, says John. And if you’re a fan of Josephine Tey, then you’ll probably be charmed by To Love and Be Wise, says John Barnbrook, where the impossibly good-looking Leslie Searle inveigles his way into the life of a wealthy and artistic family, and then goes missing.

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.

Please welcome American author Attica Locke to the Countdown seat. We’re firmly with her when it comes to naps and her rant – and yes please to grilled cheese (the food of champions!) for a quick meal.

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
Attica Locke

Attica Locke was born in Texas and satisfactorily educated there. She is one of seven siblings, made possible through many divorces and different family configurations. She is quite short and sensitive about it. Her 12-year-old daughter has already passed her in height. Attica spends her days struggling with how to project parental authority on a being who is looking down on you.

She drinks too much red wine, but has come to accept this about herself.

A former fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab, Attica works as a screenwriter as well.  Most recently, she was a writer and producer on Netflix’s When They See Us and the Hulu adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere. She loves reading, the Bachelor franchise, and some prestige television.

Attica is a native of Houston, Texas, and now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

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

Why have I just now discovered the magic of napping?

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

My husband
A painting of Darren Mathews that accompanied the review of Bluebird, Bluebird in the Financial Times
A treadmill
A chess set
A guitar
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.