August 22 2020

Regular visitors to Crime Review will sigh heavily this issue when Linda and Sharon launch into their much-loved (well, by them) double act rendition of the Doug and Dinsdale Piranha sketch. The editors would like you to know that they’re very versatile – they can do the cheese shop and the Spanish Inquisition routines as well.

Don’t worry if you don’t care for Monty Python – have a look instead at what sparked them off. We let former national paper crime reporter John Cleal loose on two new true crime releases – including Krays: The Final Word by James Morton. John says this startling trip around London’s underworld with its plethora of names and incidents will take some following – but it’s worth the effort. He wasn’t so sure about Criminal Britain, a picture anthology from the files of the Daily Mirror and says it’s one for the nerds and will serve its purpose if you want to put faces and locations to some of the country’s most notorious crimes. The Americans get in on the act this week with Manhunters by Steve Murphy and Javier F Pena, two agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency who were involved in the takedown of Pablo Escobar. Chris Roberts felt there wasn’t much mention of personal involvement in dangerous confrontations, despite the exciting hunt. And he may have been heard muttering that it wasn’t as gripping as the TV version …

The mean streets of London feature in Cry Baby by Mark Billingham, a prologue to the Tom Thorne series. Linda Wilson says it convinces on all levels while successfully returning the lead character to an earlier point in time without dragging back with him the experience that has naturally built up throughout the later books. Chris Roberts, who enjoys courtroom dramas, confirms that Alex Churchill’s The Night Lawyer, where barrister Sophie Angel defends a young man accused of rape while facing some issues in her own life, offers a realistic look at contemporary criminal justice. A legal eagle is on the investigation trail in Death in Fancy Dress by Anthony Gilbert – another strong offering from the British Library’s forgotten classics series. Lawyer Tony Keith and his adventurer schoolfriend Jeremy Freyne investigate possible links to a blackmail ring and John Cleal says the book captures the spirit and feeling of the Golden Age so well and is a great critique of 1930s upper-class society.

There’s a hark-back to the classic country house mystery this issue – and The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo is set in Japan in 1937. A newly-wed couple are found dead inside a house locked from the inside, with the weapon, a bloody samurai sword, stuck in the snow outside. Chris Roberts says the clues are there if you’re looking out for them! And still in the far east, Chris confirms that in You-jeong Jeong’s Seven Years of Darkness the mental aberrations of a central character are slowly revealed to lay bare a very disturbing portrait indeed – as in the Korean writer’s previous book.

Scandi queen Ewa Sherman follows Danish journalist Matthew Cave to Greenland in Cold Fear by Mads Peder Nordbo. She says it’s a thrilling read, full of blood, menace and incomprehensible thinking shaped by the unforgiving climate and religious dogma. Amongst the thrillers this issue, Chris Roberts clung on by his fingertips for high-octane chases in Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby where a man tries to extricate himself from money problems by driving for a jewellery heist, but the outcome threatens to destroy his life. Michael Ridpath’s Launch Code looks back to the threat of a nuclear strike during the 1980s Cold War. Thirty-five years later, a writer threatens to reveal what really happened. John Cleal describes it as an ingenious dark and tangled web that will keep the reader gripped and guessing to a dramatic and unexpected end. Linda Wilson was on edge during Heather Chavez’s No Bad Deed – there were two dogs for her to worry about! But she says the saga of a woman stepping in to help another who’s being attacked by the side of the road is an assured debut from a talented writer who is capable of setting up a good story and then following it through with considerable style.

Be brave, dear readers! After all, our reviewers had to keep a stiff upper lip when confronted with a job lot of domestic noir and psychological thrillers … Viv Beeby found The Woman Downstairs by Elisabeth Carpenter, where bailiffs make a gruesome discovery in a ground-floor flat, to have a permanent smell of fish, thanks to all the red herrings strewn around! Sylvia Maughan didn’t find any big surprises in Sabine Durrant’s Finders, Keepers which tells of a love-hate relationship between two new neighbours, but says it’s a gentle, thoughtful read. Kati Barr-Taylor clearly needs to work on her sprint starts so she can run away at speed when certain review books are on offer – she had very mixed luck this week with domestic noir. Kati says that flashes of evocative writing from Elizabeth Kay hints at better things to come, but she found Seven Lies, where two women have been inseparable since childhood, to be heavy on tell instead of show, accompanied by some clunky dialogue. And she reports that there’s a heck of a lot of padding, along with unconvincing characters and setting – a woman returning to her childhood island – in Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks. Linda Wilson chuntered loudly about a large dose of the stupid stick in Lucy Atkins’ Magpie Lane. She says that if you like domestic noir, the disappearance of the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford academic has much to recommend it. Linda remains to be convinced, and found the ending deeply unsatisfactory.

Kati Barr-Taylor was happier with Nikki Smith’s All In Her Head where a woman is terrified for her safety, her sanity and her life but cannot remember why, describing it as a great debut, showing a healthy degree of senses-driven writing, accomplished with polish and finesse. John Barnbrook says there’s a strong sense of place and the atmosphere of a small rural community with its local gossip and well-intentioned need to know in Disturbance by Marianne Kavanagh. He says that the plot of a woman living in a beautiful isolated house with an irrational abusive husband and two sons is well-constructed and a satisfying read.

We’re never quite sure whether Alan Bradley’s series featuring young sleuth Flavia de Luce counts as YA or not. Whichever, Linda Wilson revelled happily in the inventiveness of Flavia’s internal monologues in The Golden Tresses of the Dead and will long treasure the phrase “I don’t give a rat’s rompers for…” [insert thing/person of choice]. That deserves as wide an audience as possible, as do Flavia, Dogger and Undine, who this time are trying to identify the erstwhile owner of a finger found in a wedding cake.

Author Caz Frear settles comfortably into the Countdown seat this issue and ensures the much-maligned city of Coventry gets some credit for her writing! We like her style when it comes to quick meals and will happily scoff the pasta with lemon, mint and parmesan that she’s promising.

Our friends across the Pond at Reviewing the Evidence are on hiatus at the moment, but don't forget that they have a humungous archive of reviews for you to browse through – and so do we, for that matter!

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Caz Frear

Caz Frear grew up in Coventry and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel. After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn't until she moved back to Coventry 13 years later that the writing dream finally came true. 

She has a first-class degree in history and politics, which she's put to enormous use over the years by working as a waitress, shop assistant, retail merchandiser and, for the past 12 years, a headhunter.

When she's not agonising over snappy dialogue or incisive prose, she can be found shouting at the TV when Arsenal are playing, or holding court in the pub on topics she knows nothing about.

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

Fashion. Recruitment. Author. Varied. Hectic. Boozy. Competitive. Pressurised. Hilarious. Dream.

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

The top of a tree, swaying in the breeze. A gold crown! Trivial Pursuit. A clock that needs new batteries. Candles (numerous). My dining table. My feet. A copy of the fabulous Seven Lies. A half-drunk mug of tea.

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

Oh god, I’m not the world’s best cook and eight minutes isn’t a long time! It would have to be something really simple like fresh pasta with lemon, mint and parmesan.