December 19 2020

Zap! Pow! Splat! This week the crime fighters go all comic book on us – including a manga version of Sherlock and some magic on the mean streets of London.

Sharon Wheeler was very taken with the complete season one Sherlock boxset, courtesy of Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson and Japanese manga artist Jay. The grainy frames and stripped-down dialogue suit the dark streets of London perfectly. Also in the capital city, Linda Wilson is a long-time lover of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and has also branched out into the graphic novels, which are additions to the series rather than adaptations of existing books. In the latest, The Fey and the Furious by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, London copper and magic practitioner Peter Grant finds himself caught up in the fast, dangerous world of illegal street racing. To make matters worse, he’s thrust into a world he has absolutely no desire to visit again. Linda describes this as stunningly atmospheric, with a strong story told in vivid artwork and well-chosen, economical text. She says if you’re not reading the graphic novels, remedy that as soon as possible!

Linda also found the time to indulge her latest YA obsession and positively revelled in the five-book Alex Rider graphic novel collection by Anthony Horowitz and Antony Johnson, which sees the reluctant teenage spy pitched headlong into a variety of dangerous missions. She enjoyed the artwork and evocative use of colour as much as the strong storylines. To complete a quartet of graphic novels for this issue, she ventured into the dark world of the US’s toughest prison, Angola, in the company of tough, square jawed anti-hero Tyler Cross. Fabien Nury’s uncompromising story, coupled with Brüno’s moody artwork, provide a gripping thriller with no guarantee of safety for anyone as Cross’s chances of getting out again don’t look good.

In an altogether more genteel vein, Linda surprised herself by picking up The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett, where the Queen herself takes a hand in solving a crime committed right under one’s royal nose when a visitor to Windsor Castle is found dead in suspicious circumstances. With fears of the death hitting the press to contend with, along with the lack of progress by the police and the security services, Her Maj has to take time out of her day job to make some enquiries of her own. To Linda’s complete surprise, she was immediately sucked in by a clever tale woven around one of the most well-known women in the world. She says the upstairs-downstairs details held the fascination of a fly-on-the-wall documentary with a difference, complete with amusing asides and insights into probably the most famous family firm in the world. As well as a nonagenarian solving crime, we also have a bunch of octogenarians engaged in the same business this issue. The Thursday Murder Club meet once a week in the Jigsaw Room at Coopers Chase luxury retirement village, keeping their brain cells working by 'solving' cases from long ago. But when the members witness a real-life murder they employ all the tricks of their former trades in the race to solve a series of brutal killings. Viv Beeby enjoyed the richly plotted story and says TV quiz maestro Richard Osman is a witty writer.

The woo-woo is out in force this week if you fancy something creepier than royal castles and retirement villages. The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton raises the question of whether the devil is haunting a ship bound from Indonesia to Holland. John Cleal says Turton’s imagination knows no bounds and describes this as a spinechiller that drips with colour and atmosphere. In The Burying Ground by David Mark, disgraced academic Cordelia Hemlock happens to be in the graveyard of a village in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall when a storm brings down a tree which crushes a mausoleum, revealing a fresh corpse among the crumbling bones. John enjoyed what he describes as a brilliant and very dark psychological mystery. He was equally complimentary about Oscar de Muriel’s The Dance of the Serpents, in which paranormal investigators Inspectors Frey and McGray find their lives under threat by Royal order in a Gothic world of blood, bats, folklore, superstition and murder. John loved the moody, dark setting of late Victoriana, and says this is a hugely enjoyable, entertaining and well-written historical romp.

We have a strong showing on the historical front for you in this issue. The March Fallen by Volker Kutscher sees Gereon Rath and his fiancée Charley Ritter tackle a series of murders involving ex-servicemen, as the Nazis consolidate their grip on Germany. Chris Roberts says this is the best he’s read in the series so far and describes these as detective stories totally immersed in their time and place. John Cleal wasn’t quite so convinced by James R Benn’s When Hell Struck Twelve with Boston detective Billy Boyle on the track of a French traitor betraying the Resistance movement in the run-up to the liberation of Paris. John says the well-written narrative races along, full of mystery and suspense, but he’s not convinced that it will appeal to cynical British readers. In The Message by Mai Jia, crucial information is leaked from a wartime intelligence unit. There follows a battle of wits between Ghost, who leaked the intelligence, and the man sent to uncover Ghost’s true identity. Chris Roberts says the book’s seething emotion and intensity builds to a gripping conclusion. Midnight at Malabar House sees Vaseem Khan take a break from his Baby Ganesh series to venture back in time to an India still adjusting to independence. A junior female detective is assigned to investigate the murder of a prominent English diplomat, which provides a basis for Khan to explore wider issues. Chris says there is plenty here of interest with the continuing resentment against the British Raj for withholding independence for so long, plus the mixture of religions and beliefs thrown into a new environment after Partition.

On the Nordic front, Ewa Sherman enjoyed the realistic setting and strong, credible protagonists created by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in Gallows Rock, where Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freya join forces again to work on a complicated case where a banker is found hanging from an ancient place of execution, and a mysterious small boy is discovered in the man’s luxurious empty flat. In Black Souls by Gioacchino Criaco, three boys born into poverty in southern Italy stay together as they grow up and eventually make a lot of money in the big cities in the north of the country, but that comes at a cost. Sylvia Maughan describes the book as fascinating and informative despite some quirks in the translation.

Kati Barr-Taylor is our go-to reviewer when it comes to domestic noir, and she casts a beady eye over a couple of female-centric books this time. Three by DA Mishani focusses on the questions and insecurities of three women, Orna, Emilia and Ella. They each turn to Gil in the hope that he may have all the answers, but Gil is a liar. Kati felt that the book was bedevilled by too much tell and not enough show and had an over-reliance on cliches. However, Kati was very impressed by Romy Hausmann’s Dear Child in which Hannah and her mother Lena have escaped hell, but Lena is injured, and the world around Hannah is alien and terrifying. Kati says this is a beautifully plotted, and shockingly sinister story that’s dark, heart-wrenching and profound. There’s also a female lead in the shape of Californian book store owner and PI Nikki Griffin. She stars in SA Lelchuk’s Save Me From Dangerous Men and brings with her a ton of personal baggage and a formidable armoury. John Cleal says there’s non-stop action but too many gaps and padding for his liking.

Elsewhere there are lost memories and mysterious identities. Lost by Leona Deakin starts with a strong hook, with naval officer Captain Harry Peterson caught up in a terrorist bomb blast. After he goes missing for three days, psychologist August Bloom is called in by Peterson’s girlfriend to investigate. When he’s found, he has no memory of the last few years. Despite not knowing the backstory from the previous book, Linda Wilson says the extra investment of time getting to know the characters is amply repaid by a strong hook, a good cast and an excellently delivered finale. Chris Roberts praises One Dark, Two Light by Ruth Mancini in which solicitor Sarah Kellerman discovers a police sergeant in a critical care ward, apparently unidentified. When her client is questioned about the officer’s injuries, Sarah has suspicions about the police accusations. Chris enjoyed the excellent plotting that weaves together domestic and professional concerns in a way that feels wholly realistic.

Author Craig Robertson settles into the Countdown chair this issue. He’s definitely covered some exciting stories during his career as a journalist before turning to crime, so to speak! We like his choice of favourite words (bawbag always makes us snigger). And we’re feeling faintly guilty for not letting him rant more!

Our friends over at Reviewing the Evidence are back, so go and catch up with their latest reviews of US and Canadian releases.

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Craig Robertson

Craig Robertson is a former journalist who interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

He also did more interesting stuff like deliver a lamb, spend a week drinking whisky on a yacht, learn to walk like a Masai warrior, spend time on Death Row in the USA, and dispense polio drops in the backstreets of India.

Craig turned to crime with the publication of his debut Random in 2010. Since then, he’s lived a life of murder, mayhem and swearing, yet has so far managed to evade justice.

His accomplishments include being a judge at the world black pudding championships, a judge at the world porridge championships, a judge at the Scottish steak pie championships and being an international bestseller. He’s variously been part-owner of a racehorse, a pub, and a semi-professional football team.

Craig now shares his time between Scotland and California, where his wife –author Alexandra Sokoloff – is from. They live with a cat. The cat is also American, so accents are a problem.

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

Shelf-stacker. Cataloguer. Journalist. Author. Words. Research. Words. Edits. Words. Wine.

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

Scissors. An Echo Show. A clock. Our cat Clooney. My phone. A Rick Stein cookbook. A bowl of fruit. Our garden. And I can see clearly now the rain has gone.

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

There’s a swordfish dish I do that takes eight and a half minutes. That okay? It needs chives, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and butter.