Death Under a Little Sky by Stig Abell; No Place to Hide by J S Monroe; Cast a Cold Eye by Robbie Morrison; White Fox by Owen Matthews; Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater; The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende (Translated from Spanish by Tim Gutteridge); The Lock-Up by John Banville; Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy; City of Dreams by Don Winslow - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

April 2023 Crime Round-up

  • Stig Abell, 
  • J S Monroe, 
  • Robbie Morrison, 
  • Owen Matthews, 
  • Alice Slater, 
  • Mercedes Rosende (Translated from Spanish by Tim Gutteridge), 
  • John Banville, 
  • Margot Douaihy, 
  • Don Winslow

Death Under a Little Sky

By Stig Abell

HarperCollins 352pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Jake has inherited an isolated farmhouse from an eccentric uncle at just the right time. His marriage has failed and his work in the police has left him with something like post-traumatic stress disorder. The farmhouse is set in ‘one of those anonymous rural counties in the middle of England’. It is beautiful but has no internet or phone coverage and is short of bathrooms, washing machines and so on. Jake has no experience of land management or even gardening, but he sets out to learn, while also running the five-mile perimeter of his estate every day and plunging into the icy lake. An attractive single mother provides the necessary love interest as he stumbles on a cold case of possible murder. Describing Jake’s progress, Stig Abell shows how beautiful and satisfying the countryside can be but also how hard life there is for those without the kind of money Jake has inherited, how boring it can be and how its small, inward-looking communities can breed both secrets and violence, particularly against women.

No Place to Hide

By J S Monroe

Head of Zeus 384pp £20 order from our bookshop

Adam was a medical student at Cambridge in the 1990s, the first of his family to go to university, and is now a consultant at a south London hospital and married with two children. The story of his undergraduate years is told in the first person, opening with his performance as Doctor Faustus in a student production, the girl of his dreams playing Mephistopheles. His adult life is related in the third person. We see Adam trying to deal with the fear that he is being watched, followed and photographed wherever he goes. A series of increasingly serious incidents make it clear that someone is out to get him. Monroe builds up the tension well, offering a battle between good and evil and bringing in the kinds of questions most people ask themselves. Am I an okay person? What exactly did I do that time when I was incandescent with rage – or drunk? Will I ever have peace? This novel is also an intelligent examination of the dangers to which we open ourselves with every piece of technology we allow to link us to the internet.

Cast a Cold Eye

By Robbie Morrison

Macmillan 480pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Glasgow in the 1930s provides the grim setting for Robbie Morrison’s latest novel about DI Dreghorn and DS McDaid. Violence is everywhere, including within the police force. In spite of this, both Dreghorn and McDaid are likeable characters, fighting their own demons as hard as they fight the gangs and IRA terrorists threatening the city. Morrison writes with vividness and perception, and he is effective at showing action from multiple perspectives. Fast-moving and engaging, this is an excellent sequel to the first novel in the series, which won the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime Debut of the Year award in 2021.

White Fox

By Owen Matthews

Bantam 304pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

White Fox is the last part of Owen Matthews’s impressive trilogy about Alexander Vasin, a KGB officer in Cold War Russia. Vasin is a fundamentally good man trying to survive in a corrupt and brutal world. His mentor, boss and nemesis, General Orlov, has sent him to run an Arctic penal camp as punishment for the way he behaved during their last operation together. The conditions are dreadful and the cold almost unsurvivable, but Vasin struggles on. News of John F Kennedy’s assassination comes over the radio and Orlov informs him that a special prisoner is about to be sent to the camp under a false name. Vasin is soon faced with his usual practical and moral dilemmas, and the action takes him from the Arctic to Tallinn, which offers a tantalising view out onto the free world. Matthews’s knowledge of the USSR and the Cold War gives the novel a feeling of authenticity. A personal note at the end shows why Vasin’s struggles are both so convincing and so affecting.

Death of a Bookseller

By Alice Slater

Hodder & Stoughton 384pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Alice Slater’s intriguing first novel offers an original take on the serial killer thriller. One of her two main characters, Laura, is the daughter of a woman murdered by a man now in prison; the other, Roach, is a true crime fan. Both want to be published writers and are earning a living as booksellers. They meet at work in the Walthamstow branch of Spines. Roach is a surly, badly dressed social misfit who doesn’t understand the correct use of pronouns, while Laura is loved by customers and colleagues, always matching her beret and shoes, wearing perfectly chosen lipstick and selling more copies of the book of the month than anyone else in the shop. Roach longs for Laura to be her friend, while Laura’s skin crawls at the thought of Roach and she does everything she can to keep her distance. Both drink gargantuan quantities of alcohol and it is clear that something frightful will happen. In spite of various loathsome characteristics, both women evoke sympathy and it is impossible not to care what happens to them.

The Hand That Feeds You

By Mercedes Rosende (Translated from Spanish by Tim Gutteridge)

Bitter Lemon Press 288pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

This cleverly constructed novel is a cross between a crime caper and a belated coming-of-age story. Set in Montevideo, Uruguay, it features two sisters in their forties. Luz, the elder, married money and is now divorcing her husband in order to marry an even richer man. Ursula, the younger, still lives emotionally in the shadow of their dead father, whose critical voice echoes in her mind, tormenting her. She becomes involved in an armed robbery, orchestrated by a corrupt and drug-dealing lawyer working in concert with equally corrupt police officers. With guile, sleight of hand and a gun, Ursula and an accomplice get away with the villains’ haul and manage to hide it from all the interested parties. Funny, exciting, moving and enraging, The Hand That Feeds You is an elegant and original contribution to the genre.

The Lock-Up

By John Banville

Faber & Faber 352pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Two of the most difficult men in crime fiction lead the investigations in John Banville’s series, set in 1950s Dublin. Quirke, a pathologist, is Catholic, an alcoholic and a self-confessed bully who once refused to acknowledge fatherhood of his daughter. Detective Inspector Strafford is a ‘shabby-genteel’ member of the Protestant ascendancy, so emotionally constipated and lacking in self-awareness that he doesn’t know whether his wife has left him forever or is merely staying away for a while, and he can’t bring himself to ask. In this instalment, they have to investigate the faked suicide of Rosa Jacobs. Their enquiries lead them first to Trinity College and then to the estate of some rich German immigrants who do a lot of business in Israel. The novel opens with an account of an unnamed German man fleeing his country at the end of the war, before moving on to Dublin several years later. Banville sets his scenes beautifully and takes us into the unhappy minds of both men as they conduct slightly unlikely love affairs and uncover many crimes, some involving the Catholic Church, whose hypocritical elite bully and blackmail their way to complete power in Ireland.

Scorched Grace

By Margot Douaihy

Pushkin Vertigo 320pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

Sister Holiday is an unlikely sleuth: a musical, tattooed, gay nun doing her best to earn redemption with the Sisters of the Sublime Blood, a teaching order in New Orleans. Two of her pupils are badly wounded and one other person is killed when an arsonist sets the school on fire. Sister Holiday rushes into the blaze to save her charges and becomes determined to identify the criminal, in spite of the police’s equal determination to stop her interfering in their investigation. She is a terrific character: her life is intensely sad but she is as far from a moaner as it is possible to be and her introspections are often very funny.

City of Dreams

By Don Winslow

HarperCollins 352pp £22 order from our bookshop

The second part of Don Winslow’s New England-based organised crime trilogy sees Danny Ryan fleeing his past to build a new life as a good father and a good man somewhere beyond the orbit of his family and their enemies. His wife has died of cancer, leaving him as sole carer of their infant son, and he is partly reconciled with his rich and powerful mother. He has taken with him some of his fellow hard-men, who need both supporting and controlling as they become involved in a Hollywood re-creation of the war they all fought to control the underworld in Rhode Island. Winslow can’t write a boring sentence and his account of Danny’s attempts to escape his heritage and his violent past is gripping.

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