May 3 2014

If you like your heroes flawed, you’re in the right place. And this week we seem to have some unusual narrators and lead characters on the scene.

Title of the week goes to Jim Nisbet's The Octopus on My Head. Chris Roberts says it's strong on black humour and alternative lifestyle. And hold on to your stomach – Mo Hayder is back with her hero Jack Caffery in Wolf. John Cleal read with fascinated horror. Sylvia Wilson, meanwhile, liked the unusual ex-cop hero Tessa Leoni in Lisa Gardner's Touch and Go.

Also on the US front this week, Chris Roberts couldn't work out why Henry Chang set Death Money, featuring Chinese-American detective Jack Yu, in 1995. He did, though, enjoy the trips into Chinatown. And urban fantasy fan Linda Wilson wallowed happily in Charlaine Harris's The Harper Connelly Omnibus, a collection of four novels about a woman with the ability to find dead bodies.

David Jackson's The Helper features a cop hero who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. John Cleal enjoyed the action but wasn't entirely convinced by the premise. He was full of praise, though, for the unusual narrator – a 12-year-old girl – in Wiley Cash's bleak and Gothic This Dark Road to Mercy. John, our resident historical buff, also thought highly of K N Shields' The Devil's Revenge, which (deep breath) features revenge, death, witchcraft, Native American tribal mythology, the Viking settlement of New England, alchemy – and a killer seeking to invoke ancient supernatural powers.

Moving on to Euro crime, Arnold Taylor welcomes Dominique Sylvain's The Dark Angel, which is set in Paris and features two unusual investigators – a masseuse and a former police officer. And Chris Roberts says that Pietr the Latvian – the first Maigret novel by Georges Simenon – is worth reading as an introduction to one of the most famous detectives in the genre.

Speaking of series, Linda Wilson was clinging on by her elegant fingertips to the relentless action in Matt Hilton's The Lawless Kind, one of her favourite series. And Liam McIlvanney's Where the Dead Men Go pulled Sharon Wheeler straight into one of her favourite settings – the world of newspapers.

Elsewhere, Lisa Kahlua recommends that you don't read Joseph Olshan's Cloudland if you're feeling lost and lonely – it's set in an isolated Vermont small town. Sylvia Maughan was rather charmed by the eccentric characters in Suzette Hill's A Little Murder, set in the 1950s. She describes it as 'well-written, amusing, genteel and sedate.' And Sharon Wheeler reckons there's a good crime novel waiting to be written on mental health issues, but felt that CL Taylor's The Accident, with its largely unsympathetic cast, wasn't it.

Our YA ration this week goes Down Under with Rebecca James's Sweet Damage. Linda Wilson reckons it's a strong psychological thriller that will appeal to both adult and teenage audiences.

We’re lucky to have one of the crime fiction greats is in our interview hot seat this week – please welcome Sara Paretsky, creator of the VI Warshawski series. We have a sneaking suspicion she may be a coffee fan!

We'll back in a fortnight with 16 new reviews and an interview with a top author. In the meantime, we hope you'll visit our good friends at Reviewing the Evidence – who have just posted their 10,000th review.
And if you're not following us on Twitter, find us at .

Linda and Sharon

Countdown with
Sara Paretsky

All but two of Sara Paretsky's novels feature the female PI VI Warshawski, who first appeared in 1982 in Indemnity Only. Her many awards include the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers’ Association. In 1986 she created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to support women crime writers, which earned her M. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. Paretsky served with then-state senator Obama on the board of Thresholds, which serves Chicago’s mentally ill homeless.   She has mentored teens in Chicago’s most troubled schools, and works closely with literacy and reproductive rights groups.

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

The silent grass-growing mood, I fear, cannot be mine (Melville, in a letter to Hawthorne).

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

* My golden retriever
* A metal sculpture of an owl
* My grandmother’s photo as a member of the 1904 Illinois State girls basketball championship team (the last year that girls were allowed to play in intermural games until Title IX legislation almost 70 years later)
* A straw voodoo doll meant to make me a more creative writer
* A cartoon strip from a 1995 episode of Brenda Starr, when her editor tells her she’s not V I Warshawski
* 2000 essential French verbs, in case I ever actually buckle down to study the language
* A painting, oil on wood, of a view of the Triborough Bridge in New York City through an apartment window
* An Ashanti figurine of a lion, meant to make me more courageous * A needlepoint pillow with a crossword about V I on it

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

Peanut butter on toast and Oban neat.