The game warden Joe Pickett is the hero of this long-running series set in the Wyoming wilderness. Eternally decent, he regularly encounters the most vicious and violent of men; perhaps the worst of all is the villain in this gripping, exciting book. Corpses are scattered like confetti as an ex-special forces rogue and his former companion track each other through the empty mountains. Parallels are drawn between men trained to hunt and kill and falconry (there are many fascinating details spread throughout the book). But ‘when you’ve devoted your life to studying and worshipping birds of prey, you can lose your empathy for mere humans’. This gripping tale is also an illuminating portrait of people who are at home in a landscape completely unsuited to human beings.
Alan Furst’s subject is the death of old Europe. His books are spy novels told in a style that is at once meticulously detailed – the complete menu, the vintage of the champagne, the colour of the tablecloths – and impressionistic. Nearly all his books are set in the years just before, and at the beginning of, the Second World War, and he provides memorable portraits of the people caught up in the extraordinary events of those years. The hero of this novel, although modest and discreet, is a Hollywood filmstar on location in Paris. He is protected by his fame from most of the indignities heaped upon exiles but by birth he is Austrian, and in prewar Europe he is unable to remain uninvolved with corruption, Nazi thugs and unwelcome secrets. This is not a glamorous or a fast-moving story, but it brilliantly captures the tense and frightening atmosphere during the last days of free Paris.
Inspector Singh of the Singapore police and his formidable wife are going on holiday to a family wedding in Bombay. Singh was born in India but left it as a child. Like anyone else from the rigidly regulated society of Singapore, he is astonished and horrified by India’s public squalor and seduced by the private affluence, as rich relations put the wedding guests up in five-star hotels and provide them with limousines. When the bride is discovered dead and hideously mutilated, her grandfather commissions Singh to investigate. It’s not an easy task for a waddling, wheezing stranger without official status in an almost incomprehensible society, but this rather charming and unconventional detective wins through. Gentle detection, leisurely described and pleasant to read.
Like almost everyone I know, I was hooked by the two-hour weekly marathon of the Scandinavian detective thriller The Killing, an unexpected hit on British television considering how enormously long and how densely plotted it was. So when this vast volume was delivered – 610 pages of small print – I really did not expect to read more than a taster. But David Hewson has achieved the seemingly impossible. His novelisation of the drama is a different take on the original, the narrative as terse as stage directions and much of the dialogue taken directly from the screen, but familiarity doesn’t spoil the story, which proves just as gripping as the television serial. Whether you missed, hated or loved The Killing on TV, this book is worth reading.
We meet Ted Stratton again nearly a decade after his previous appearance. In this fourth book in the series, set in 1956, the older, wiser detective-inspector finds himself investigating the goings-on in the Foundation for Spiritual Understanding, where a charismatic but mysterious leader called Roth directs his obedient disciples under the benevolent eye of a twelve-year-old boy – the product of an allegedly virgin birth – who has been proclaimed as spiritual leader. The pragmatic and unspiritual policeman wields the metaphorical machete in the undergrowth of unreason. This is not unknown territory for crime fiction, but here it is described with rather less scorn and derision than is usual. An afterword explains why. Laura Wilson’s parents were themselves members of a similar organisation founded by a charismatic egoist, so despite her own unbelief she is more sympathetic than other writers to incredible dogmas and credulous worshippers. An excellent, thought-provoking read.
Nick and Amy have been married for five years. There has always been competition verging on conflict between them, so when Amy disappears on the morning of their wedding anniversary, Nick is immediately suspected of having harmed her. The investigation throws up unexpected evidence. Amy’s friends tell the police that she was frightened of Nick. But it also appears that she kept many secrets from him. Alternate voices tell the highly convoluted story. Flynn has created a gripping tale and a page-turner. But at the same time I had to force myself to go on reading, because the characters are really not people one wants to spend any time with. A crafty, clever account of a marriage made in hell.
Living in Totnes, Joan Brady got involved in a long dispute with South Hams District Council. Its ‘relentless attacks gave me practical lessons in how to hate’, she admits in an afterword. In this novel Brady has transferred south Devon’s hated councillors to a small town in Illinois, where corruption and greed are endemic at every level of administration. The local ruling family and the elected mayor compete for ownership of the water supply, now so valuable as to be called ‘blue gold’. Controlling it gives life-and-death power. But when the water supply goes bad, even the richest and most powerful of Americans is helpless. This is an environmental thriller, while also an instrument of authorial revenge – an interesting oddity.