May 22 2021

We’re not talking the writing equivalent of Bing Crosby and David Bowie or that Scottish sea shanty lad and Brian May when it comes to unusual collaborations – but some of the crime fic combinations definitely hit slightly flat notes!

The James Patterson production line has paused for about 30 seconds to haul UK thriller writer Adam Hamdy on board. John Cleal wasn’t overly impressed with Private Moscow in which one of private investigator Jack Morgan’s oldest friends is shot dead at his company’s New York public launch, while in Moscow an office worker is murdered in a bomb blast. Despite the almost non-stop action sequences, John described the book as overblown and under-serious. Viv Beeby got on better with Smoke Screen by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger. Here, a bomb rips through the centre of Oslo as the clock heralds in the New Year. A police officer and a journalist form an unlikely partnership to solve the killing. She praises the denouement but, like John, would have preferred a little less action and more time spent on characterisation.

The spooks are out in force this issue. In A Double Life, a Foreign Office counter-terrorism expert finds her life falling apart in a web of lies, while a drunken, drug-taking journalist is in danger as she investigates people trafficking and prostitution. John Cleal describes the book as a clever read in which Charlotte Philby has drawn on family history. And he also enjoyed Rory Clements’ latest, A Prince and a Spy, in which a Cambridge-based American history professor investigates the death of George, Duke of Kent in a mystery plane crash. John says Clements offers a more than credible alternative to some of the rumours that abounded at the time. Chris Roberts liked Box 88 by Charles Cumming. Lachlan Kite, working with top-secret spy agency Box 88, is abducted by Iranians and subjected to questioning about events one summer 30 years ago. In Chris’s opinion there’s plenty of tradecraft here to appeal to spy aficionados. The same is true of Tom Bradby’s Double Agent, where a Russian foreign intelligence agent offers to defect, bringing evidence that the British Prime Minister is in the pay of Moscow. Chris says there’s plenty of surprises.

At the younger end of the spy spectrum, Linda Wilson devoured seven short stories featuring reluctant teenage spy Alex Rider. She describes Secret Weapon by Anthony Horowitz as an excellent and varied collection, showcasing Alex’s talents and problem-solving abilities, interspersed with some rare domestic moments, including his huge fear of dentists! We’re with him on that one!

When it comes to terror attacks, the security services have to be lucky all the time, but the terrorists only have to be lucky once to succeed, and that’s amply demonstrated by our next two thrillers. In Knife Edge by radio presenter Simon Mayo, seven journalists, all working for the same news agency, are murdered on a single day in London. The question in colleagues’ minds is who will be targeted next. Linda Wilson says this is a good, solid home-grown thriller, with a believable plot, characters that held her interest and a heart in mouth climax. Linda also enjoyed Spider Shepherd’s latest outing in Stephen Leather’s Slow Burn. Spider is charged with bringing a former jihadist’s wife and son back to the UK but, as ever, there are added complications. There’s a high stakes climax to this action-orientated military-grade thriller that packs in a convincing level of detail.

There are some old favourites jostling for attention among the police procedurals, kicking off with Ian Rankin, whose ostensibly retired hero John Rebus shows no sign of putting his scuffed feet up. Ewa Sherman really enjoyed A Song for the Dark Times which sees Rebus put family ties before his job for once when his daughter’s partner goes missing. As ever, Rankin’s Edinburgh, a city of crime and secrets, plays a huge part in the story. Ewa says the sense of time and location is brilliant, and so is the book. For anyone wanting a quality police procedural, John Cleal says there’s no one better than Peter Lovesey. In The Finisher, Superintendent Peter Diamond, tasked with crowd control at a charity half-marathon in Bath, spots a violent criminal he once jailed and becomes suspicious when a runner disappears without trace. As ever, the ancient city has its part to play in this intriguing, solid and well-written story.

Sense of place features highly in a number of books set in Europe. Linda Wilson wallowed happily in her favourite travel destination, the beautiful Dordogne valley in the heart of rural France. The Coldest Case sees Bruno, Chief of Police, struggling with the ever-present danger of forest fires whilst helping his friend and colleague J-J investigate a cold case that has haunted him throughout his career. Linda says Martin Walker’s strength lies in his ability to bring out the character and charm of the region and interlace this with a strong plot that carries an equal sense of time and place. And as a bonus, there’s a great scene where Bruno gets to use some huge medieval siege engines to save an ancient castle from the raging fires! If you’re hoping for an armchair getaway, you might fancy Gibraltar, the setting for Killing Rock by Robert Daws, where detective Tamara Sullivan joins forces with a colleague across the border to solve murders from the past and present. Chris Roberts liked this police procedural and praises the main character’s engaging enthusiasm and initiative, but says her enemies are straight out of central casting.

Italy is Sylvia Maughan’s destination of choice and in The Viper by Christobel Kent, two bodies are found in a remote area of the countryside near Florence. Sandro Cellini is called back into his old police department as a consultant. Sylvia enjoyed the descriptions of Florence and the surrounding countryside but felt that new readers might feel rather lost if they haven’t read the previous books. Viv Beeby found herself stranded in an isolated hotel in the remote Swiss Alps, cut off by an avalanche, with a deranged masked predator stalking the guests. She says The Sanatorium, featuring a UK cop abroad, is a fast-paced all-action crime caper with plenty of thrills from debut author Sarah Pearse.

John Cleal was singularly unimpressed with the plods in Good Dark Night by Harry Brett – and won’t be going on his hols to Great Yarmouth any time soon! A crime boss’s widow struggles to take over his business as enemies pile up at her door in this tale of small-town corruption, organised crime and a seriously dysfunctional family. John muttered grumpily that it’s nothing more than noir by numbers! The unforgiving, unremorseful plot doesn’t make After Dark by Dominic Nolan, an easy read as the police piece together the story of a brutalised, traumatised young girl. Two main characters with very similar names didn’t help, either. Kati Barr-Taylor says this isn’t a book for the faint-hearted.

If you’re up for a historical police procedural, give Simon Scarrow’s Blackout a go where Berlin Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is assigned to investigate the murder of a former well-known actress, whilst under immense pressure by dangerous rivalries in the Nazi hierarchy. John Cleal describes this as historical crime fiction at its finest – perfectly capturing time, place and attitudes.

With most of the world still deeply in the grip of the pandemic books, for many, are the only way of getting a much-needed travel fix, although Like Flies from Afar by K Ferrari, probably isn’t the best advert for Argentina! Self-made businessman Luis Machi has made plenty of enemies, but he doesn’t know who dislikes him enough to leave a body in the boot of his beloved BMW. Chris says this is a dark and exhilarating ride through the barbarity and sleaze of Argentina’s dark underbelly. His trip to West Africa was equally disconcerting in Tade Thompson’s Making Wolf where a man returns to his birthplace for the funeral of his aunt and is pushed into investigating the death of a revered statesman. Chris says the hellish society the book depicts is all too believable as surprises and shocking revelations pile up around the reluctant investigator. Ewa Sherman was in Norway, where the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Oslo echoes through Ben McPherson’s The Island. A visiting couple’s 15-year-old vanishes from a summer camp on a tranquil island where two men shot tens of youngsters. Ewa says this gripping and intense book, based on true life events, occasionally makes for disconcerting reading for that reason.

Also scarily intense is The Last Thing to Burn by Will Burn, which looks at the plight of a young Vietnamese woman smuggled into Britain and imprisoned in a rural hell. Chris Roberts praises the depiction of well-drawn characters in a horrific situation and enjoyed the extremely tense climax.

Linda Wilson is a fan of crime fiction with a difference, especially when there’s a bunch of very organised, talking foxes in the mix, and that’s not a line we get to use very often in an editorial! What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch, tells the story of what magician and copper Peter Grant’s 13-year-old cousin got up to while he was off chasing unicorns and missing children. Linda loved this and says the novellas (and the graphic novels) are a great way to get a much-needed fix of the ever-intriguing world of the Folly in the gaps between the full-length novels in the Rivers of London series. Disappearing children also feature in Like Mother, Like Daughter by Elle Croft. Kat has two daughters, Imogen and Jemima. When Imogen disappears, Kat is desperately worried that this is linked to a secret that she has kept from her daughter. John Barnbrook describes this as a well-crafted and very readable book

Author Caroline England makes herself comfy in the Countdown seat. We are most intrigued by the nine things she can see from where she’s sitting – and had to double-check that the naked man wasn’t there in the flesh, so to speak! And she’s got some very varied drinking companions – we might leave someone else to talk to Ted Hughes and Liam Gallagher, and settle down next to Seamus Heaney and Michelle Obama!

Take a look at what Reviewing the Evidence have been up to and catch up with their latest reviews of US and Canadian releases.

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Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Caroline England

Caroline England was born in Sheffield. She studied law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border in Lancashire. Caroline was a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer but turned to writing when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters in Manchester, where she still lives.

She likes to write stories that delve into complicated relationships, secrets, lies, loves and the moral grey area. Caroline, who also writes as Caro Land and CE Rose, draws on her experience as a lawyer to create ordinary characters who get caught up in extraordinary situations. She admits to a slight obsession with the human psyche, what goes on behind closed doors and beneath people’s façades.

As well as writing domestic psychological thrillers, Caroline has had short stories and poems published in a variety of literary publications and anthologies.

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

Criminal, divorce, PI lawyer, wife, mum, mum, mum, mediator, author.

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

School photographs of my three daughters
Lowry’s Two Brothers
A bag of cat treats
A naked man (sadly only in a photograph by Neil Rowland)
Selection of vinyl LPs (The Clash by The Clash taking the lead)
Books of all shapes and sizes
A box of Maltesers Truffles (miraculously still unopened)
A stunning bunch of pink flowers
The Manchester rain!

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

A Ready Steady Cook creation from whatever happens to be left in the fridge for my long-suffering lockdown family.