Jessica Mann

November 2006 Crime Round-up

  • Fred Vargas (Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds), 
  • Barbara Cleverly, 
  • Peter Quinn, 
  • Louise Penny, 
  • Michael Connelly, 
  • Meg Gardiner, 
  • Petros Markaris

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand

By Fred Vargas (Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds)

Harvill Secker 400pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

So much for the popular notion that the best crime fiction is written in English; this is a brilliantly original, subtle detective novel featuring the fascinating Superintendent Adamsberg, who detects through emotion and intuition. In this case his childhood nightmares are revived as he hunts a killer who has haunted him for decades. Simultaneously he is hunted himself on suspicion of having committed murder while in Canada on a training exercise during which there was more clash than cooperation between the bluff Canadians and the urbane French team. Adamsberg is a role model for his subordinates so they conspire to hide him, using working practices rather different from those familiar in English or American crime fiction. The sinister, surreal details of an unusual crime kept me hooked throughout. Highly recommended.

Tug of War

By Barbara Cleverly

Constable & Robinson 288pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

A sad, absorbing story looking back to the aftermath of the First World War, the third (by my count) this year based on the tragic problem of survivors who would or could not quite believe in a loved one’s death, and hoped that by some miracle he might return even years later. Ex-soldier Joe Sandilands (now a police officer) is back from the scene of his previous adventures in India and Afghanistan. He is dispatched to help the French authorities in identifying an amnesiac patient, and combines the assignment with escorting his sixteen-year-old niece through France. With the help of this preternaturally knowing young woman he performs a judgment of Solomon between four rivals for the unknown warrior's custody, all plot-twists neatly tied up in a clever conclusion.

Hour of the Cat

By Peter Quinn

Duckworth 400pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The shadows of the two World Wars loom over this ambitious novel. Alternate chapters switch between contrasting settings. In the high command in Hitler's Wehrmacht a few senior officers are dithering about attempting a coup; the other storyline concerns lowlife in New York City, and a run-of-the-mill homicide for which the wrong man has been convicted. A disillusioned American cop and the aristocratic Admiral Canaris are both confronted with the moral dilemmas posed by the eugenics movement. This combination of murder and medicine with fact and fiction is well informed, interesting and a demonstration of how to write a spy thriller that although slow-moving and instructive, still manages to be exciting.

Dead Cold

By Louise Penny

Headline 320pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

This is the sequel to Penny's prize-winning first novel, cosily set in a Canadian paradise. Everybody in the storybook village knows and helps everybody else, except for the nightmare newcomer in the big house. When she is killed, the clues owe a lot to Christie and crosswords, and gore and violence remain offstage. The detective, Chief Inspector Gamache, is all set to become a popular series hero, in spite of a problem with colleagues and superiors which apparently arose out of the previous case. Interesting though much of this is, especially the setting and the portrayal of interaction between French- and English- speaking Canadians, the many references to previous events made the story hard to follow. This one does not quite stand alone.

Echo Park

By Michael Connelly

Orion 384pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Harry Bosch is a lone wolf detective, and a loose cannon subordinate. Now relocated from the LAPD's homicide division, he is working in the unsolved cases department, when one of his own cold cases resurfaces. A man accused of two murders promises to confess to other killings, including that of Marie Gesto, in exchange for clemency. Having hunted and hated Marie's killer for thirteen years Bosch is consumed with guilt on hearing that he and his partner missed a clue which would have identified the murderer and prevented nine others that followed. He is so set on putting things right that his usual cool judgment is pushed off-balance, but he retains an infallible instinct for corruption, and eventually the aging detective is vindicated. This is a skilfully structured, richly atmospheric addition to the series.

Kill Chain

By Meg Gardiner

Hodder 352pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

Heroine Evan Delaney uses every means of human propulsion to race between three continents, chased by goodies, baddies, allies and special agents who all swap roles and change shape with incredible ease and speed. There's a lot of explicit brutality, implausible endurance, and baffling references to previous adventures, but the action is fast and furious.

Zone Defence

By Petros Markaris

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