Crime writers of both sexes — from various countries — often grumble about the fact that America’s crime heavyweights (usually white, male, and late middle-aged) are accorded a gravitas that others struggle to achieve. But I’m afraid this column can’t help the grumblers this week because it begins with three novelists who fit that description perfectly.
Michael Connelly may be America’s most consistent writer, his face clearly belonging on the Mount Rushmore of crime fiction. Over the course of 25 novels, his hard-nosed detective Harry Bosch has been at the center of searing investigations that cover the entire canvas of American society, but perhaps also a farewell appearance Desert star (Orion, £22) is unbelievable — Harry seems to have unattainable longevity. The ex-cop has put his gun down, but Renée Ballard (Connolly’s other main protagonist), tasked with reactivating the cold case unit, tempts him to come out of retirement to investigate a decades-old murder. Longtime fans need not hesitate; Connolly’s writing parts remain in good working condition.
Like those of his contemporary Robert Crais, whose Racing the Light (Simon & Schuster, £18.99) begins with the disappearance of porn star and Crais duo Elvis Cole and Joe Pike on the trail of a sinister male and female pair known, bizarrely, as “Meatball” and “Scarecrow”. The author tackles social problems – corrupt business cartels and lying politicians – along with his famous examination of male friendship. Three decades after the inauguration of the Cole/Pike series, it remains in bad shape.
And still with mature American writers: bow to This train (No Exit, £9.99) by James Grady. Cinematic’s new novel may not be as richly textured than his earlier works – esp Six days of the Condor (which lost three days in its film version) — but takes the reader on a speeding train ride through the heart of America. A host of skillfully drawn characters (including a sinister manipulator) brave a host of dangers from bombs to ingenious heists. This is the third novel this month by an American master that deserves attention.
The films were written by Tim Sullivan A handful of dust and Where angels fear to treadand he also worked on Jeremy Brett’s classic Sherlock Holmes series — so it’s no surprise if both elegant writing and a firm grasp of the crime medium are his forte. Politician (Head of Zeus, £20) is the latest in his Bristol series featuring Avon DS George Cross and Somerset Police. We’ve had detectives on the autistic spectrum before, but Sullivan’s copper is one of the most distinctive features. After the death of a local politician who died during a burglary, Cross realizes that her fearless intervention as a blogger and fighter against a construction company may have led to the murder. A convincingly written price.
Two British writers of considerable achievement are on form with their latest offerings. Charlotte Northedge People Before (HarperCollins, £14.99) features a London family who move to a secluded place in Suffolk, with disturbing results. This is as successful as Northedge’s debut The House Guest, with an equally precise and fine-tuned use of language, is by no means always a given in the genre. AND Sanctuary (Hodder, £16.99) Emma Haughton’s convincing attempt to bring to life the locked-room thriller, set in the mysterious sanctuary of the same name, Sanctuary in the Mexican desert. Zoey, whose memory is blank, wakes up there and despite the outward improvement, finds a place where some residents will not leave alive. Haughton’s transition from young adult thrillers to thrilling crime novels for adults proved to be a very shrewd move.
Steve Cavanagh conquered the market with British iterations of the John Grisham/Scott Turow-style legal thriller, with razor-sharp dialogue. An accomplice (Orion, £12.99) sports courtroom shenanigans delivered with customary authority. When the wife of a serial killer is accused of multiple murders, Eddie Flynn decides to defend her – what he doesn’t need is the killer’s own ruthless intervention, targeting witnesses. Equally certain are the new arrivals of the two Icelandic “Ice Queens”, Fraud by Jónína Leósdóttir (Corylus, £9.99) and Red as blood Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Renda, £9.99). The first has Reykjavik detective Soffíja single-handedly investigating a series of malicious acts across the city, while the second has Sigurðardóttir’s heroine Áróra searching for a woman who disappeared from her home and her own missing sister. Cool narratives that can raise the reader’s temperature; both translated by Quentin Bates.
Finally, the recent dispute over Agatha Christie’s estate querying publishers Val McDermid using the description “Queen of Crime” (claiming it belongs exclusively to their illustrious estate) might be an opportune occasion to re-read both McDermid’s work and Christie’s handsome new editions. Mysterious affair in Styles and The murder of Roger Ackroyd (both HarperCollins, £14.99). Readers may find that both queens of crime deserve the royal title.
Barry Forshaw is the author of ‘Simenon: The Man, the Books, the Films’
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