Jessica Mann

October 2006 Crime Round-up

  • Andrew Taylor, 
  • Ian Rankin, 
  • Lisa Scottoline, 
  • Henning Mankell, 
  • Jed Rubenfeld, 
  • Emma Cole, 
  • Tess Gerritsen, 
  • John Mortimer, 
  • Benjamin Black, 
  • Frederick Forsyth

Naked to the Hangman

By Andrew Taylor

Hodder & Stoughton 416pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Taylor returns to provincial England in the 1950s, not a glamorous time or place but one that has proved a fascinating setting for crime fiction in the Lydmouth novels. This is number eight, a brilliant take on the classic golden-age mystery updated with contemporary candour and enhanced by Taylor's ability to make characters rounded and real partly through his intuitive understanding of obsolete habits. So close to the war, when death and destruction were familiar, society had re-assumed its traditional reticence as well as the hierarchies and prejudices of an earlier era, which makes the intrusion of violence seem all the more shocking. In this episode the action is in rainy England but its spur is a shameful secret in the past of the familiar Detective Inspector Thornhill, who began his career in the Palestine police. It adds up to a gripping and intelligent novel; highly recommended.

The Naming of the Dead

By Ian Rankin

Orion 416pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

The dour drunk rebellious Rebus is two years off retirement and has been sidelined. But he ignores his boss's prohibitions, the obstruction of visiting secret policemen and the enmity of the local criminals to carry on detecting. The elaborate plot concerns a serial killer, but it is secondary to the much more interesting setting. Rankin's home provided him with a brilliant backdrop for a crime novel: Edinburgh during the crazy week in 2005 when the G8 came to town. Almost every police officer in the United Kingdom seems to have been on the other side of the protesters' barricades while Rebus chased his suspects: 'He wouldn't rest till his demons had been quelled. Yet each victory was fleeting, and each fight drained him a little more.’ We are told he has two years till retirement. Can it be that Rankin is preparing his fans for Rebus, like Colin Dexter's Morse, to meet an irrevocable end?

Dirty Blonde

By Lisa Scottoline

Macmillan 384pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The heroine of this courtroom thriller wears Chanel and Manolos under the robes of a Federal Judge. In court she takes sides and out of court takes male prostitutes to motels. When outed she insists that her private life has nothing to do with her job, so fights to keep it and finds herself involved in a stalking/chasing/murder drama. Scottoline is both a lawyer and a bestselling, award-winning mystery writer. She also teaches a university course called ‘justice and fiction’ about which this book is supposed to make us think. She believes that there is a 'shocking double standard' on sexual conduct by men and women, and implies that similar behaviour by a male judge would be perfectly acceptable. Only in America.

Depths

By Henning Mankell

Harvill Secker 416pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The narrow distinction between a crime novel and a straight novel is hard to define or even recognise, but might, I think, be something to do with concentrating on crimes and criminals without a detective or narrator to represent the reader's humanity. Mankell's new novel is an intimate dissection of a naval engineer sent to chart the Swedish seas during the First World War. He is obsessed by measuring distances both geographical and personal. People are not wholly real to him, not his wife nor shipmates nor the woman who obsesses him, a wild widow living alone on a barren island. A leisurely series of very short chapters shows an apparently conventional naval officer turning into a murderous psychopath for whom other people exist only in relation to himself and his own impulses. The end result is some brilliantly atmospheric writing and insightful analysis. But only a professional shrink could care about this mad, bad man. Mankell's dark psychological thriller may be some kind of masterpiece but unlike his more conventional detective novels, I did not find it a good read.

The Interpretation of Murder

By Jed Rubenfeld

Headline Review 416pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Dr Freud did not enjoy his only visit to the United States, in 1909. That much is historical fact, as are the details given here about his relationship with the once-worshipful Carl Jung and the construction of the Manhattan Bridge. Another of the intertwined mysteries, criminal, historical and fictional, discussed here or solved, is the long-running dispute about Hamlet's motivations. Freud's detractors gossip and one of his American disciples uses psychology to track a strangler who tortures and mutilates female victims. One young woman got away but has no memory of her traumatic experience, so the analyst/detective, guided by Freud himself, elicits her repressed memories; meanwhile the official investigators confront the self-made billionaires whose control of New York is no less rigid for being unofficial. Fact and fiction are nicely blended in this clever and unusual novel by a law professor at Yale.

Every Secret Thing

By Emma Cole

Allison & Busby 416pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

A nice example of the ‘woman in peril’ sub-category of crime fiction. Kate is a Canadian journalist, which gives her both excuse and opportunity to ask questions as she investigates the death of a chance acquaintance – an old man who seemed to know her grandmother. When he dies, Kate finds herself in danger and then is caught up in a conspiracy dating back to the Second World War. All-knowing and all-seeing enemies in London, Washington and Lisbon are out to get her. It's an enjoyable mystery, if not an entirely credible one, as Kate breathlessly rushes between continents and the narrative switches between periods. Emma Cole has written several romantic novels and this hide-and-seek thriller, though not about love, has some undertones of that genre, though that does not make it any less enjoyable.

The Mephisto Club

By Tess Gerritsen

Bantam Press 355pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Women friends, a pathologist and a detective, have an unhappy Christmas when a female victim is murdered, decapitated and dismembered with a Satanic symbol, drawn in blood, on the wall. I found the mixture of brutality and demonology both revolting and uninteresting, but Gerritsen's gory stories have a huge following so this was predictively labelled 'bestseller' before going on sale.

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror

By John Mortimer

Viking 192pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The new records of Rumpole plus She-who-must-be-obeyed, in the latter’s own words for the first time. This is a splendid addition to the canon, complete with the veteran libertarian's voice-crying-in-the-wilderness about political corruption and the assault on civil liberties.

Christine Falls

By Benjamin Black

Picador 300pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

John Banville, the Booker Prize winner, has turned to writing crime fiction, its detective a pathologist only known as Quirke. The novel is set in Dublin and Boston in the 1950s and concerns babies, wanted or unwanted, a murderous conspiracy in the Irish Establishment and some criminal priests and nuns. Beautifully written (obviously) but in a mood as dark as the author's pseudonym.

 

The Afghan

By Frederick Forsyth

Bantam Press 343pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Brave Brit passes for Al Qaeda Afghan to get inside information and pass it on and out. Exciting, frightening, instructive and it doesn't really matter whether Forsyth really knows and tells how secret services and undercover operations work, or if he's making it all up.

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