Seventeen by John Brownlow; The Bookseller of Inverness by S G MacLean; Such a Good Mother by Helen Monks Takhar; 1989 by Val McDermid; No Country for Girls by Emma Styles; Alias Emma by Ava Glass; The It Girl by Ruth Ware; The Lost Man of Bombay by Vaseem Khan; Dark Music by David Lagercrantz (Translated from Swedish by Ian Giles) - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

August 2022 Crime Round-up

  • John Brownlow, 
  • S G MacLean, 
  • Helen Monks Takhar, 
  • Val McDermid, 
  • Emma Styles, 
  • Ava Glass, 
  • Ruth Ware, 
  • Vaseem Khan, 
  • David Lagercrantz (Translated from Swedish by Ian Giles)
 

Seventeen

By John Brownlow

Hodder & Stoughton 416pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Seventeen, the best hit man in the world, is sent to kill his predecessor, Sixteen, who has retired and is living in hiding somewhere in the United States. So far so predictable, but John Brownlow’s latest novel offers a pacey, angry narrative. The young killer has an appalling but all too believable back story, which is given in chunks over the course of the novel. The more we learn about him, the more likeable he becomes and the more his ultimate success matters. Plenty of technical details are provided as the assassin strives for the perfect shot. These are balanced with explorations of the psychological and emotional lives of the characters.

The Bookseller of Inverness

By S G MacLean

Quercus 416pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Set six years after the Battle of Culloden, this tender, well-researched novel is an excellent work of historical fiction: rooted in fact, with neither anachronism nor archly archaic language, and with the imagined characters and situations seamlessly stitched into recorded reality. The bookseller of the title is Iain MacGillivray, who is eking out a life that seems pointless, with so many of his friends and relations dead, and hoping for another rising against the Hanoverian king. MacGillivray’s dutiful routine is broken when a corpse is found in his bookshop. The Jacobite white cockade attached to the killer’s dagger suggests the dead man was a traitor to the cause. S G MacLean’s portrait of the Highlanders’ culture, with its courage, suffering, honour and reverence for loyalty, is seductive, but she makes it clear that there were good and honourable supporters of the Hanoverians too.

Such a Good Mother

By Helen Monks Takhar

HQ 416pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Helen Monks Takhar’s revenge thriller offers a study in bullying, envy, resentment and greed as seen through the eyes of first-person narrator Rose O’Connell. The area where she grew up as the neglected child of an adored but uncaring con man is being gentrified and her old school is now a sought-after academy. Rose wants her only son to get a place there and will put up with any humiliation to achieve this. Everything changes when the charismatic headteacher chooses Rose to join her inner circle and starts to lavish treats and money on her. Rose soon finds herself in a ferocious competition for dominance. Because this is a crime novel, there are murders, but they are an insignificant part of what proves to be an interesting exploration of how damaging people can be when their sense of victimhood leads to a self-righteousness that causes them to exploit anyone in pursuit of their own satisfaction, not caring how badly they hurt others.

1989

By Val McDermid

Sphere 432pp £20 order from our bookshop

This is the second volume in Val McDermid’s fictionalised history of the later 20th century as seen through the eyes of investigative journalist Allie Burns. Like her creator, Allie is hard-working, tough, sensitive and ambitious. She sees off misogynists and homophobes with the same grit she uses to deal with bullying bosses and the horror of being beaten up by a wrestler, and she has some hard stories to write. Allie covers the Lockerbie bombing and the Hillsborough disaster while resenting the way the owner of the paper where she works – a Robert Maxwell-like individual who goes by the name of Ace Lockhart – has reduced the staff and cut the budget for the kinds of investigations Allie loves. Unlike Maxwell, Lockhart has only one child, a daughter, who runs his publishing house and often travels behind the Iron Curtain. When Allie gets into trouble in East Berlin, only the Lockharts can save her. Grateful though she is, she is too much her own woman to let them get away uninvestigated, and so she turns to sleuthing, eventually uncovering the identity of the perpetrator of a clever murder described in the prologue.

No Country for Girls

By Emma Styles

Sphere 352pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Two young women, one a law student and the other still at school, are running for their lives through the Australian Outback in this impressive first novel. Neither trusts the other and they have different views on how to survive, but they fight everything their pursuers and the unforgiving country throw at them. Their frantic drive and our slow discovery of what has happened in the past to put them where they are now are well handled, and Styles describes the terrifying emptiness of the Outback and the drilling heat with absolute conviction. The ending is beautifully done.

Alias Emma

By Ava Glass

Century 400pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

For some reason, most spy fiction is written by men, which is odd, given how many successful real spies have been women. Ava Glass gives us one who has the codename Emma. Only recently out of training, she is sent to find the son of Russian exiles in London. Her first task is to persuade Michael Primalov, an NHS doctor, that if the Russians get their hands on him they will use him to manipulate his mother, who spied for the British for years. Then Emma has to get him across London to safety in MI6 headquarters south of the river. As the two of them face murderous Russians at every turn, I couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t simply steal an inconspicuous car and drive to Vauxhall, but if they had we would have been deprived of a fast-moving narrative that explores some of London’s most intriguing byways. The developing relationship between the two has great charm.

The It Girl

By Ruth Ware

Simon & Schuster 432pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This time-slip story about a group of adolescent friends in their first year at Oxford deals with uncertainty, manipulation and eventually murder. Hannah discovers the body of her friend April and gives evidence at the trial of her suspected killer. The convicted man never admits his guilt and ten years later, when Hannah is married to another of the group and pregnant, he dies in prison, still protesting his innocence. In the teeth of her husband’s disapproval, Hannah seeks out her old friends and returns to Oxford, determined to find the truth. This is a highly readable and persuasive novel.

The Lost Man of Bombay

By Vaseem Khan

Hodder & Stoughton 384pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Vaseem Khan’s spiky Inspector Persis Wadia has much to battle in her latest adventure in post-independence Bombay. She is the only child of her widowed father and they live together. Suddenly, his life is changing and he has started socialising in a worrying way. At the same time, Persis is in love with – and loved by – criminologist Archie Blackfinch, but she cannot have a relationship with an Englishman in 1950s India and so continues to fight off his attentions. She has difficulties at work with colleagues who don’t believe a woman should have a career, and she’s also facing a troubling case. A long-dead corpse is found frozen in the Himalayas and evidence links the death with two recent murders. Khan writes with a charming formality and brings his characters and their dilemmas to life in this intelligent and intriguing series.

Dark Music

By David Lagercrantz (Translated from Swedish by Ian Giles)

Quercus 384pp £20 order from our bookshop

Having written three instalments of the Millennium series begun by Stieg Larsson, David Lagercrantz has now produced something much more interesting: the first novel in a projected series about the investigations of Micaela Vargas and Professor Hans Rekke. Vargas is a police officer of Chilean descent with two criminal brothers. Rekke is the scion of a rich family with a professional background in the assessment of interrogations and the information they provide, a Sherlockian ability to decode what lies behind people’s physical characteristics, a heavy drug habit and bipolar affective disorder. Their first case involves the death of an Afghan football referee, and it takes in the Taliban’s hatred of music and musicians, the Americans’ use of torture in the ‘War on Terror’ and much else. This rich, engrossing novel also provides an interesting account of living with bipolar disorder, touching on the powerful bursts of creativity in the manic phases and the despair, anxiety and resentment felt by sufferers’ families and carers. It also hints at the part that choice can play in the disorder: ‘Mrs Hansson came into the room again and said that Micaela was on her way, so he decided to postpone his relapse for a little while.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter