In every issue of Crime Fiction Fix we review a book by a new crime fiction author in our New Kid on the Block feature. We like to showcase new talent as much as we can, but there are so many established writers out there who have written fantastic books too. On this page the editor, Sarah Williams, shares her thoughts about some of the new books by established authors that have particularly caught her attention. If there’s a new title you’d like her to review, please just let us know.
My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent (Fourth Estate; hardback 29th August 2017; paperback 28th June 2018)
If you missed all the highly-justified furore about this stunning book when it came out in hardback, be sure to order your copy of the paperback today. Tallent inhabits the mind of his protagonist, the apparently prosaic 14 year old girl Turtle Alveston, with sympathy, sensitivity and complete conviction. To Turtle, her life is normal – it’s what she’s always known – but gradually she comes to realise that not everyone in her high school lives the life she does, and that what is normal for her may not be good or right. But then, what choice does she have? A subtle, clever, thought-provoking book which will keep you up at night.
Acts of Vanishing, by Fredrik T. Olsson (Sphere; 8th March 2018)
This is an extraordinary tour de force. As you start to read, you realise that neither you, as reader, nor any of the characters has the slightest idea what is going on – just that it’s threatening and urgent and terrible. By the time the core of the plot is revealed, it has all weight of inevitability – one of those stunning ideas which is utterly original and completely convincing, a thought unseen but which, once glimpsed, cannot be unthought.
Brilliantly paced, complex and without easy answers, a thriller in the true sense of the word.
Beau Death, by Peter Lovesey (Sphere; 14th December 2017)
Classic Peter Lovesey, with the mixture of devious plotting and gentle humour devotees of his writing have come to relish. Beau Death, set in the stately streets of Bath, starts with a wrecking ball and ends with an explosion. In between questions are raised, bodies found, dastardly doings revealed – is the skeleton revealed by the demolition crew in fact Beau Nash? what goes on behind closed doors in a very select secret society? can Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond solve the case and save a life?
Gentle, stylish and poignant, and highly enjoyable.
Short stories are a very particular form, and not one, I confess, with which I am generally very much at home, either as a writer or as a reader. The short story anthologies put together by the International Thriller Writers association (ITW) have become, however, a publishing event I look forward to every year. In Match Up, we have men and women writers, all of great standing, all with iconic characters, working together to create entirely original short stories in which their characters work together to solve a crime – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan, Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan with Peter James’ Roy Grace, Gayle Lynds’ Liz Sansborough with David Morrell’s Rambo…
All the stories are ingenious and enjoyable – some, like Lynds’ and Morrell’s Rambo on their Minds, cleverly squaring the fictional circle of placing the characters together in the same chronological and geographical space, others, like McDermid’s and James’ Footloose, sardonic, knowing and very, very funny.
An excellent anthology for the devoted mystery and crime fiction reader – and a way of supporting the indefatigable work done by the ITW.
Jeff Abbott certainly can spin a yarn. This is one of those ‘don’t start late one evening if you have to be up early the next morning’ books. The pace is relentless, the characters vivid, and the plot ingenious.
Jane Norton is racked with guilt over a car crash of which she has no memory – a crash which she is thought to have caused and in which a boy, her next door neighbour’s son, was killed. As Jane’s memory begins to return, she finds herself embroiled in a vicious plot which begins by threatening her sanity and ends by almost costing her life. Highly recommended.
There are times when books transcend genre, and are quite simply great books. Love Like Blood is one of those books. Yes, it fits comfortably into the DI Thorne series, developing and deepening our understanding of Thorne, Hendricks, Kitson et al. Yes, it is crime fiction, a murder mystery, a thriller, with a sprinkling of police procedural on the side (I really don’t envy the marketers who have to decide on these increasingly casuistical distinctions), but those labels don’t begin to describe it.
In Love Like Blood Billingham looks with anger and compassion at honour-based violence in contemporary Britain and especially at so-called honour killings. DI Nicola Tanner, on the hunt for a pair of killers who she is convinced are behind a series of apparently unconnected deaths, comes home one day to find her partner brutally mutilated and murdered. Bereft and on compassionate leave, she has only one thought on her mind – revenge against the men who had wanted to silence her, but had instead killed Susan. She enlists Thorne’s help. He becomes involved, first off the books and then, as things escalate, officially. Billingham cleverly avoids the potential for easy stereotyping by having the hub of the exchange between the killers, the middlemen and the ‘dishonoured’ families a multi-faith group, bringing together Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, making it clear that a violent response to disobedience and deviation has its roots less in any religion than in does in particular cultural norms. It is not a didactic book, though it is certainly a book from which much can be learned, but Billingham does include at the end a straightforward Author’s Note in which he sets out some of the research behind the book: “The results of a ComRes poll carried out by the BBC in 2013 state that over two thirds (sixty-nine per cent) of young British Asians across all the major faiths believe that families should live according to the concept of honour, or izzat. Three per cent believe that the ultimate sanction of honour killings is justified, including the same number of Muslims and Hindus, but rising to four per cent for Sikhs and Christians.”
All this to say that Love Like Blood is a complex, subtle book, looking at highly challenging issues. It is not, though, an ‘issues’ book, nor in any way polemical. As with all the Thorne series, it is rooted in the humanity of the central characters, their weaknesses, their courage, their humour. Tom Thorne is a flawed man, but a man we can trust, and it is through his eyes that we see the bulk of the story unfold, as he deals doggedly with the limitations of his understanding and of his legal powers. But we don’t only have Thorne’s perspective – the killers, the go-betweens, the families, and the broken-hearted DI Tanner are all given their own distinctive voices, each involving the reader ever more deeply in the fears and obsessions that lie at the heart of the book. And the more we care, the more we worry as it seems as though nothing will save those targeted by the hired killers, nor bring justice for those they’ve already murdered. And the ending is completely right, and utterly unforeseen. A gripping, artfully paced and deeply compassionate crime novel, true in the way that only fiction can be. Absolutely brilliant, and very, very clever.
One of the greats of contemporary Canadian crime writing, Louise Penny brings us back to the tiny village of Three Pines as Armand Gamache, now Commander of the Sûreté Academy, weaves a complex web to catch a killer.
After finding an old map in the walls of the bistro at Three Pines, Gamache follows its strange path to a murdered professor and his cadets. As the investigation goes on, eyes are drawn to the professor’s protégée, the angry and rebellious Amelia Choquet, yet the closer Gamache gets to her, the more questions arise about his own involvement with the crime.
Another wise, compassionate, and challenging tale. Penny’s characters are engaging and charming, and the story brilliantly weaves elements of the gothic and fairy-tale to create a story which is unique and memorable. Despite being the twelfth in the series, this book remains just as fresh and enjoyable to read as the first. Louise Penny is a New York Times bestselling author and winner of the 2006 CWA John Creasey Dagger. She lives in a small village south of Montreal and was granted The Order of Canada in 2014. This is the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series.
A dark psychological thriller in which a mother and daughter are found murdered in a remote farmhouse, one arranged like Sleeping Beauty, and one attacked with multiple stab wounds. Clinical psychologist Joe O’Laughlin finds himself caught up in the murder inquiry when a former student with his own warped agenda threatens to derail the police case.
As the case becomes more complex and fraught on all sides, Joe finds a link between this case, and a series of attacks where murdered men and women are found with an ‘A’ carved into their foreheads. Robotham’s tale is a highly complex web of contorted passions and troubled characters, with Joe and his family threatened on all sides.
Beautifully paced and deeply scary, Close Your Eyes is an emotional rollercoaster that provides a haunting tale as well as a deeply personal narrative that will keep you anchored to this story and its characters.
The Caller, by Chris Carter (Simon & Schuster, 23 February 2017)
Be careful before answering your next call; it could be the beginning of your worst nightmare. Alone in her apartment after a tough week at work, Tanya Kaitlin is settling down for a quiet night in when her phone rings. It is a video call from her best friend, Karen Ward. Tanya takes the call, and that’s when the horrors begin. Stripped naked, bound to a chair, and gagged, Karen is helpless, terrified, and unable to communicate. Instead, a distorted, demonic voice begins speaking. Tanya must not look away, call the police, or hang up the phone, or the killer will come after her next. Instead, the predator gives her two questions that she must answer correctly to save Karen’s life.
In this new novel by Chris Carter, detectives Hunter and Garcia are confronted with a sadistic and merciless killer who feeds on his victims’ worst fears, and terrorizes families and friends. Lurking in the streets and on their social media pages, this killer is slippery, clever, and incredibly dangerous. Not for the faint-hearted, Chris Carter presents a gripping and terrifying tale that realises all of our worst fears.
This is a classically brilliant detective story with a strong lead detective, and a story that will creep you out and make you think twice next time you answer a video call.
A mother and daughter are snatched on their drive home from a cinema. The crime has a number of chilling similarities to a cold case Professor Nick Fennimore had been lecturing on. Then Fennimore begins receiving taunting messages – is he being targeted by the kidnapper?
Meanwhile, a photograph emailed from Paris could bring Fennimore closer to discovering the fate of Suzie, his daughter, now missing for six years. He seeks help from his old friend, DCI Kate Simms, recently returned from the US. But Kate is soon blocked from the investigation…
A mother and child’s lives hang in the balance as Fennimore and Simms try to break through police bureaucracy to identify their abductor. Immaculately observed and beautifully crafted. It keeps you guessing right to the end – and beyond. Truth Will Out expertly blends storylines together in a seamless and captivating manner which you can’t help but be sucked into. Both lead characters are well-crafted and likable, and the personal aspect of the book, teamed with the outside, yet all too familiar, kidnapping case makes for a fantastic read.
This is the third book by writing duo Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper under the A. D. Garrett name. Margaret Murphy is a prize-winning novelist who has currently written nine psychological thrillers. Helen Pepper is a senior lecturer at Teeside University and is an expert in the field, having been an analyst, Forensic Scientist, Scene of Crime Officer, Crime Scene Investigator, and Crime Scene Manager.
For Sam and Danny Capra, the first order is that they don’t ever leave each other behind. And Danny has gone to extraordinary lengths in the past to make sure his little brother wasn’t left behind. But 6 years ago, he left his brother behind when he was executed by extremists in the Afghan desert. Except that Sam now suspects he wasn’t.
As Sam digs deeper, he uncovers the dark and terrible truth about his brother and now he must race to find his lost brother before he commits an act so dreadful the price could be not only his life, but war between East and West. The two brothers speed towards each other on a collision course, and the impact can only be massive. Jeff Abbot’s writing pulls the reader in from the very start. His meticulous research creates a wholly believable background of intrigue and tension and the excellently written characters will keep you up all night to discover their fate. Look over your shoulder, Jack Reacher; Sam Capra might be coming up behind you.
London in 1665 is no place to be – the plague is rampant, anybody who can leave has left, and those few still walking the streets do so in fear and suspicion. Death is everywhere, and at first it seems as though one corpse the more or less to be tumbled into the plague pit is neither here nor there. That is, until it is found that this one corpse has not died of the plague, but has been murdered. John Grey, lawyer and problem-solver to the rich and powerful, is called in by Lord Arlington, the Secretary of State, to investigate the murder. Not so much to discover the murderer, though, as to track down a crucial secret letter which the victim was known to be carrying when he was killed.
The story takes Grey and an array of associates, enemies, and allies on a chase through London and across the countryside to Salisbury, with attacks, counter-attacks, lies, double-dealing, and corruption swirling round them every step of the way. The plot is intricate and ingenious, unfolding with satisfyingly complex inevitability, while the principal characters are sympathetic and engaging. What sets the book apart, though, and makes it so fascinating, as well as so enjoyable, is the way in which L.C. Tyler is able to conjure up the realities of mid-seventeenth century England, deftly weaving eye-catching historical facts into the narrative to bring the period and its people vividly to life. A book to be savoured. Not least because we can visit that time of plague and paranoia in the reliable company of such a witty and perceptive guide as L.C. Tyler.
The stifling summer of the Deep South simmers with racial tension. It’s just after the end of the Second World War. Georgia is fiercely segregated, and the Klan enjoy solid support. However, in the capital, a political and social experiment is being tested. 8 men have taken on the task of representing the colored community as the first serving black police officers. With limited powers and institutional racism, they face hostility, abuse, and disrespect from every quarter, including their own people.
Two young men, one standing either side of the race chasm, both fiercely proud of their heritage, are forced to confront and question their loyalties as they take on the might of the corrupted system. As the Confederate South desperately tries to maintain its grip on power, they must decide how far they are willing to go to root out the darkness that has everything, and nothing, to do with skin colour.
A profoundly moving subject, the author perfectly captures the atmosphere of fear, distrust, and contempt between the black and white communities. The book plucks at the nerves, gently but relentlessly turning the screws, as the stakes get higher on both sides. Mullen has a wonderful talent for creating characters that are truly multifaceted and real. This book should become recommended reading in schools and colleges across the world.
Out of Bounds starts with the repercussions of death and the complexities of survival. Four young men, wasted, exhilarated, go joy-riding. Three die, one survives, but only just. Also only just surviving is DCI Karen Pirie, head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit. The death of her colleague and partner, Phil Parhatka, has left her bereft, desperately working her days and walking her nights away in a hopeless effort to numb the pain. When a routine blood test on the surviving joy rider throws up a DNA hit on a cold case rape murder, Karen follows the threads of the evidence with the same exhausted doggedness as she follows the unknown streets of Edinburgh on her nighttime explorations. She comes across dark alleys, dead ends, and unexpected crossroads, and, through the gradual mapping of a route to justice for the murder victim killed decades before, she fights her own demons, living and dead, and comes to a kind of peace.
As with all Val McDermid’s books, this is a gripping story, tightly told, with characters you want to reach out to and reassure – or reach over to and punch. There is knowledge and understanding in Val McDermid’s writing – knowledge of how things work and understanding of how people work. Her deep sense of compassion coupled with her intolerance for greed, brutality, and unkindness create a world we recognise and in which, held by her wit and skill, we can, through it all, feel safe. This is Val McDermid’s thirtieth novel, and arguably her best yet.
In 2002 Mark Hardie completely lost his sight. So what did he do? He decided to become a writer, of course. Having completed a creative writing course, followed by an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, achieving a distinction in both, he went on to write his first novel, Burned and Broken, which was published by Sphere on 23rd June 2016. This is a debut novel we strongly recommend you don’t miss.
Set in Mark Hardie’s home town of Southend, the Essex seaside resort is revealed to harbour a host of grim and gritty secrets. The brilliant new creations of DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell of the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve a particularly gruesome murder when one of their colleagues is found burned to death on the seafront, and to do this, ideally, without bringing disrepute on the local force. Thoughtful, witty, well-observed, and tightly plotted, Burned and Broken marks the arrival of a strong new voice onto the increasingly popular scene of “small-town England noirs”.
Robin Blake, an art critic and the author of two superb biographies (one on Van Dyck and the other on Stubbs), has now set his hand to writing historical crime fiction, to extremely good effect. The Scrivener is the third book in the Cragg and Fidelis series, set in the mid-eighteenth century in Preston, Lancashire. Titus Cragg is the town coroner, while his close friend and confidant Luke Fidelis is an up and coming doctor. Together with Titus’ wife, the astute Elizabeth, they make a formidable group determined to get to the heart of the mysteries which arise in their troubled town, and to ensure that justice is done.
At first sight, The Scrivener seems like a classic locked-room mystery when Philip Pimbo, a wealthy pawnbroker, is found shot dead in his study, behind, indeed, a locked door. It soon transpires that nothing is as clear-cut as it first seems, and Titus’ enquiries soon lead him to learn that Pimbo’s death is inextricably linked with the ‘golden triangle’ and the iniquities of the African slave trade.
Immaculately researched and beautifully written, this is a series to savour.
A really, really chilling book, The Loving Husband is a psychological thriller which keeps you edgily guessing right up until the final dénouement. Fran Hall is to all appearances a happily married mother of two small children, and the wife of the devoted Nathan.
But it’s a Christobel Kent book – Christobel Kent, creator of the stunning The Crooked House – and so, of course, nothing is at it seems. Everyone has a secret, some darker than others, and Fran soon finds herself tangled in a dangerous web of deceit, lies, and half-lies. Who can she trust, when she can’t even trust herself?
A really good read, but don’t expect to be able to put it down once you’ve started it…
May Day Murder, the third in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series, sees the quiet seaside town, home to private investigator and chief Pearl, once again left reeling in the wake of a terrible crime. When fading starlet Faye Marlowe returns to her native Whitstable, having left the town more than two decades earlier, she succeeds only in causing a stir amongst the town’s inhabitants and igniting tensions between her past lovers. When Faye is found brutally murdered, her body hanging from the May Day Maypole, the town’s perfect façade begins to falter and the ever-brilliant Pearl must step in once again to uncover the truth.
This quintessentially British murder mystery is a true testament to Wassmer’s impeccable writing and style. May Day Murder’s strengths lie predominantly in its characters, who are brilliantly imagined and unfalteringly real. Pearl for one, is an intelligent, witty, and wonderfully developed protagonist, whom it is so easy to care about and believe in. Her charms, coupled with a host of colourful town characters, drive the novel, and this alongside a richly-developed plot make May Day Murder a truly riveting read.
May Day Murder stands up to the rest of Wassmer’s gripping series and it will be exciting to see what unfolds for Pearl and Whitstable next.
The Father is a heartbreaking, wise, and deeply disturbing book. It is very much a crime story – three brothers and a close friend, all under 24 years old and with no criminal record, committing ten outrageously daring bank robberies across Sweden in the course of just over two years. It is also a story of boys and their fathers, boys and their brothers. Both the robbers and the policeman who tracks them down have brutal and brutalising fathers, and have protected and been protected by their brothers. On top of all this, it is an extraordinary exploration of the boundaries between fact and fiction.
The core of the story – the string of bank robberies by the press-dubbed “Military League”, the youth and family bonds between the men committing the robberies, the dynamics between the brothers – all this is based on fact, and fact that has been intimately and agonisingly gathered. Anton Svensson is the pseudonym for co-authors Anders Roslund and Stefan Thunberg. Roslund is an award-winning investigative journalist, and well-known to crime fiction readers as part of the bestselling Roslund & Hellström duo. Thunberg is one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated screenwriters – and it was his brothers who made up the Military League. He witnessed, in real time, the events fictionalised in the book. “I was one of the family,” says Thunberg in a fascinating and thoughtful interview included at the end of the book. “Between us brothers there were never any secrets. And then, after they had committed their first armed robbery, I was sitting there on the sofa as they congratulated themselves, high on adrenalin, and we followed the police hunt on the TV while working our way through a case of Kronenbourg beer. It may sound strange, but that’s how my brothers and I had been raised by our tough dad – to never, ever, betray anyone in our family.”
The book is extraordinarily well written, with the details of the crimes, the police operations, and the family dynamics brought out in high relief made all the more poignant by the knowledge that all this did actually happen – and that it could only end badly for all those involved. Which, of course, it did.
When her son Rob is killed in Thailand, apparently in a diving accident, the fragile balance of Rosalie’s family is broken into fragments. Her semi-estranged husband Luke is pushed away as Rosalie collapses into grief, and their daughter Maddie disappears into a maelstrom of guilt and self-destruction. It is only when they meet Jed, a beautiful young man, in a bereavement counselling session, that the family seems able to begin to recover. But Jed’s beauty masks a deadly secret which threatens to destroy them all.
There is a lot that is absolutely superb about this book – beautifully observed and thoughtfully written, with a sense of building tension. In the end, though, there is an uneasy rottenness at the heart of the story which is not quite cleansed when the storm breaks.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a creation of genius, a character you treasure spending time with. Now, in this volume, he is recovering from terrible wounds, retired from being chief of the Québec police homicide division, and recuperating in the tiny village of Three Pines. Slowly, slowly he is putting himself back together, with the help of Reine-Marie, his wife, and all the other inhabitants of Three Pines, each of them in their own way a refugee from pain and brutality. Then Gamache is asked by Clara Morrow, one his dearest friends, to help find out what has become of her missing husband, Peter. Of course he has to come to her aid, and it is not long before he and Clara, his police detective son-in-law Jean-Guy, and a heterogeneous group of devoted amateurs are all involved in finding out what has happened to Peter Morrow.
The trail leads all over French Canada and Europe, from Québec to Dumfries, before ending in the tiny, remote fishing village of Tabaquen. The resolution is brilliant, inevitable, and utterly surprising – one of those plot turns which has you re-reading the entire book, but in a way the plot is the least of it. Louise Penny writes elegantly and thoughtfully, and is generous with her wisdom. A book to be treasured, read, and relished.
On the cover it says ‘A Jack Parlabane Thriller’, and of course it is that. Another delightful sortie into murky world of the shoddy, shabby, brilliant reporter. The Jack Parlabane series is immensely and deservedly popular – over a million copies sold in the UK alone – but, without diminishing Brookmyre’s achievements in the earlier books, this is, it seems to me, far and away the best thing he has written to date.
The central character, Diana Jager, a surgeon and a fierce campaigner against sexism in the workplace, is all but destroyed when a vengeful cyber attack reveals her personal details across the internet. Tentatively rebuilding her life, she meets loving, generous Peter, and it seems that now she can really be happy. Within six months they are married. Within six months more he is dead in a road accident. But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe it was an accident, and provokes Jack Parlabane into investigating what actually went on behind the romantic façade. The book opens with the ensuing trial for murder.
A brilliant, complex, compassionate book that will keep you reading far into the night – and then starting all over again. It is a book in which nothing is quite as it first seems, and which genuinely demands to be read at least twice.
This is a book displaying the grim realities of life, making the reader realise everyone is selfish at the core, but that doesn’t mean they are bad people. The Darkest Secret revolves around the disappearance of one little girl that has affected all the characters in different ways. Some people lie to keep the truth from hurting others. Some kill to protect themselves. And others keep the truth hidden and slowly let the grief and guilt eat them up. It is not entirely bleak. Characters change and come together, creating newer, more lasting relationships.
The Darkest Secret reminds you that it’s never too late to make amends, but still makes your trust in humanity stagger a bit along the way. Tortuous and with an ending you wouldn’t expect. Well worth a read.
Jessica Treadway’s book follows the story of Hanna Schutt, a mother who is trying to figure out who attacked her and her husband on Thanksgiving three years before. The boyfriend of her youngest daughter, Rud Petty, was imprisoned for the crime, but, with his upcoming parole, Hanna finds herself searching for her missing memories of that dreadful night and uncovers a truth she never expected to find…
It is a chilling and uneasy book, with a brilliant blend of the protagonist’s present life and her past memories of her daughter’s childhood, providing both doubt and suspicion as to whether the right person was convicted. Succinctly narrated, psychologically complex, and full of flawed and deeply human characters,the story explores the mind-set of the widowed victim of a violent assault superbly. A powerful and troubling book.
I have a confession to make. The first thing I had to do when I saw the cover of this outstanding debut novel was look up on the net just where Inishowen is. It’s the biggest peninsula in Ireland (thank you Google maps), on the far corner of Northern Ireland – keep going and the next stop is Iceland. So, yes, remote. And remote was exactly what Ben O’Keeffe, the heroine of this new series, was looking for, to get away from a messy past into a mundane, desirably unexciting present as a conveyancing solicitor in a tiny town in this far-off corner of rural Ireland.
It doesn’t stay unexciting for long, though. Ben is acting for the purchasers of a deconsecrated church when a human skeleton is discovered in the crypt of the church, and gradually the dark secrets of the local villagers are thrown under the spotlight of a police investigation led by the attractively moody police sergeant Tom Molloy.
Threats, traps, murders, and mishaps abound in this delightfully written and exciting new novel from Andrea Carter. Andrea is a barrister living in Dublin, with a nice wry tone and a telling eye for detail. I am very much looking forward to revisiting Inishowen in her next book.