May 23 2020
We’re dog fans at Crime Review Towers, and regular readers will know that Linda has the fastest fingers in the West when it comes to skimming a book if she thinks poor old Fido is likely to cop it! And she’s been known to berate guilty authors at conventions as well …
Her fingers got
a workout this issue with Burnt
Island by Kate Rhodes, where Isle of Scillies cop DI Ben Kitto is accompanied most places by a large,
hairy dog who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time being left to roam
about by himself. Linda wasn’t quite sure what narrative purpose the dog served
unless it was to put the wind up animal lovers and send her to take a sneak
peek at the ending to make sure it was safe to continue! A pooch who didn’t
seem to be in any danger took a central role in Dana Stabenow’s No Fixed Line,
featuring Alaskan PI Kate
Shugak. Chris Roberts liked the resourceful main character and her canine
tittering at Viv Beeby’s description of PI Jackson Brodie as the crime-loving
woman's crumpet! The hero of Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky stumbles upon some dark
and dangerous deeds in the picturesque Yorkshire seaside town he now calls
home. And yes, Viv is happily anticipating his next outing … There’s another non-US investigator this week in the shape of Caleb Zelic, a hearing-impaired
PI in Melbourne. Chris Roberts says that Darkness for Light is a book full of
action, morally compromised characters and uncertainty which creates great
tension. He adds that Emma Viskic’s series is getting better and better. The
hero of genre big-hitter Jeffery Deaver The Never Game calls himself a
professional tracker rather than a PI, as he earns his money from finding missing people, dead or alive. Linda Wilson
says the book is Deaver at
his most devious. There are red herrings a-plenty along with fascinating
insights into the world of online gaming.
Tune in here for your dose of Nordic angst! Scandi princess Ewa Sherman says that as disturbed policemen go, Thorkild Aske must be one of the most extreme cases gracing the pages of Norwegian novels. The former Chief Inspector has just left prison, his life in tatters, in I Will Miss You Tomorrow. Ewa says it’s exceptional and engaging writing in author Heine Bakkeid’s first venture into crime fiction. John Cleal is very fond of Alex Gray’s Scottish-based series featuring Superintendent William Lorimer. In The Stalker, Lorimer’s own wife is in danger. John says it’s a well-woven and superbly descriptive story and that both places and people come to life.
There are a
couple of investigators this week with military backgrounds but ostensibly
safer jobs on Civvy Street – until they get tangled in mysteries, of course.
The lead character of Chris Hauty’s Deep State is a former small-town girl, an ex-army boxer and now White House intern who
stumbles across a plot to assassinate the American president. John Cleal says
that as political thrillers
go, this is up with the very best. Former
soldier-turned-teacher Jenni Wales has to decide how far she will go to save one
of her pupils when no one else appears to care that the girl is terrified and
at risk of abduction in To Keep You Safe by Kate Bradley. Linda Wilson says it’s an unsettling book
and an assured debut, although she did feel a tad cheated by the ending. Journalist
sleuths aren’t unusual – after all, they’re paid to be nosy! Our former Fleet
Street man John Cleal praises the accuracy of the newsroom scenes in The Dead Line by Holly Watt, and says this emotional rollercoaster of a
book is brilliantly researched and packed with insider-knowledge. Mind you, he
says he never got to do the investigative globetrotting that Casey Benedict
does – his editor would only shell out for him to go to Amsterdam!
There’s a teenager
at risk in Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy, where 15-year-old Tyler forms an
unlikely friendship with Spider. Linda Wilson says that the book shines an
uncompromising light on the plight of homeless teenagers and the dangers they
face on the streets. And teenage years come back to haunt the characters in SR
Masters’ The Killer You Know. Adeline and
her mates thought that Will’s vow to kill three people was a joke. Years later,
they’re not so sure. Kati Barr-Taylor’s verdict is that the engaging and surprising cast in
this character-driven novel is as much a hook as the plot.
And the prize for the most, um,
unusual plotline of the issue goes to High Fire by Eoin Colfer, which features
a teenager, a dragon and a crooked cop in the Louisiana swamp. Linda Wilson
says that with all the
casual flair he demonstrated in his teen series, Colfer deftly serves up an
adult thriller where laughter makes an at times uneasy bedfellow with horror.
It may be run close in weirdness by Jess Rothenberg’s The Kingdom where a fantasy theme park
is home to beautiful hybrid women, designed as perfect hosts – but who may also
be capable of murder. John Barnbrook says the book has the air at the start of
Disney princesses brought to life, but he insists that you persevere, as the YA
narrative becomes increasingly dark.
John Cleal draws our attention to
an American writer who doesn’t seem to get much attention in the UK these days.
A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar has a woman hiring an investigator
because of a recurring nightmare where she sees her own grave and a date that
means she has been dead for four years! John says the story has an impressive degree of
understanding and compassion, a compelling narrative and a rich array of
characters. He was also impressed with Jack Flynn’s Blood in the Water where
gang war erupts on the Boston waterfront. John describes it as a dark story
with a cast of complex and conflicted characters, set against one of the
coldest winters in Boston history. And British journalist Humphrey Hawksley has a rogue Russian colonel
planning the assassination of the US and Russian presidents at a summit
meeting. Chris Roberts says that Man on Edge conveys well the sense of complex conflicts of interest
within both governments, with a range of agencies all jostling for primacy.
Chris is very
fond of legal thrillers, and praises Degrees
of Guilt by HS Chandler where Maria Bloxham calls the police to report she has
killed her husband, and soon finds herself on trial. He says that the book is full of little dramas, with jury
members demonstrating plenty of bias according to their personal prejudices and
that it’s a well-written portrayal of a case where the issues are of wider
Barr-Taylor rounds us off this week with a couple of good reads to keep you
engrossed under lockdown. The Family by Louise Jensen sports an isolated farm
which won’t provide the sanctuary the main character is hoping for. Kati says the story has its weaknesses, but the author injects claustrophobia and sinister hints into the pages. And Kati loved the escapism factor. She’s raving happily about Dan Malakin’s The
Regret where someone is stalking Rachel again, but no one seems to care. Kati
says it’s a cracking debut with a plot that also offers danger, addiction, an eating disorder, internet
hacking and plenty of regret.
This issue we welcome author Paul Charles to the Countdown chair. Aside from his crime fiction exploits, he’s a big noise in the UK music industry and he seems to have been an agent for most of our favourite musicians! So we’re not surprised by his eclectic choice of drinking companions …
Ten words to sum up your working life to date ...
Nine things you can see from where you're sitting ...
Kennedy for President poster
Mickey Mouse clock
Alf Tupper – the Tough of the Track print
Dark blue trilby hat
Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Titan bass drum
Arborist – A Northern View CD
Traveling Wilburys’ Gretsch Guitar (unplayed)
Waterboys very live, jumping, singing, playing, full colour photo
Kinks, classic, vintage 1960s signed photo
Eight minutes to prepare a meal. What's it going to be ?
Same as it’s been since my teenage years. Omelette with Psychedelic Potatoes – mashed (not smashed) potatoes with butter, peas, beans, yellow peppers, red peppers, onions and scallions. I’d have to cheat a wee bit by having the potatoes prepared ‘earlier.’ But that approach seems to work OK for Jamie Oliver.