Jessica Mann

July 2007 Crime Round-up

  • Charles McCarry, 
  • Stephen L Carter, 
  • Caroline Carver, 
  • Philip Kerr, 
  • Jason Goodwin, 
  • Michael Chabon, 
  • Caro Ramsay

Christopher’s Ghosts

By Charles McCarry

Duckworth 272pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Even if you haven't come across any previous episodes in this series about a family of spies, Christopher's Ghosts would be worth reading for its convincing portrayal of an American family in Berlin in 1939. Sixteen-year-old Paul understands more of what's going on around him than his novelist father, who cannot believe that American immunity won’t protect his family. But his wife is a German, endeavouring in desperate secrecy to make a bargain with the authorities; and meanwhile Paul is playing but losing the undefined battle with the Gestapo major who has discovered his secret: he has fallen in love with the daughter of a Jewish doctor. The second half of the book jumps to postwar Europe, when Paul is a CIA operative and is running a private operation to track down the Gestapo major. No happy outcome to the love affair was possible, but revenge is sweet. For McCarry fans the story fills in some gaps in the career of one of espionage fiction's most interesting heroes and incidentally explains some of the tantalising hints in the previous volume. But you don't need to be familiar with the characters to read this beautifully written book.

New England White

By Stephen L Carter

Jonathan Cape 556pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This is an enthralling literary thriller based on two murders: one, thirty years ago, which was covered-up, and one, contemporary, of a celebrated professor of economics who was a notorious lothario. Suspicion falls on his former lovers, one of them this book's heroine. The plot is gripping; but the description of ‘the darker nation’ in ‘the heart of whiteness’ is the most interesting feature. The author is an African-American professor at Yale, and the principal characters are an African-American power couple: the president of a university in New England and his wife, a dean at its Divinity School. These clever, distinguished, rich people may be best friends with the President of the United States, but in their minds they are suspicious and insecure, perpetual outsiders; it's a dangerous combination.

Gone Without Trace

By Caroline Carver

Orion 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

An exciting adventure, centered on the horrible legacy of the Balkans War. Jay McCauley, formerly a captain in the army, has not been in a war zone for five years but she still dodges plastic bags in the road because they might contain a bomb and still retains all her hard-won physical and intellectual skills. She certainly needs them as she confronts the worst kind of gangsters, all involved in people-trafficking, drug-dealing and putting the frighteners on; but Jay is something of a superwoman –multilingual, multiskilled, indefatigable, and always able to spring back as good as new from torture or endurance tests.

The One from the Other

By Philip Kerr

Quercus 384pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Bernie Gunther was an honest cop in a dishonest place and time, pre-war Berlin. We meet him again in 1949. He's been in the SS and he’s been a Russian prisoner of war, and now, in Munich, finds it’s a place bubbling with conspiracy and corruption, the war’s shadow inescapable. Bernie is setting up as a private eye and is offered a simple-sounding job: is his client’s husband dead? His investigation gets him involved with people who committed crimes during the war, and victims on the lookout for revenge. The relatively innocent but irredeemably remorseful Bernie is a good companion for visiting the horrors of the past.

The Snake Stone

By Jason Goodwin

Faber & Faber 308pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

It's a pleasure to meet again the infinitely civilised and intelligent Yashim, eunuch of Istanbul and amateur detective. In this second adventure he has been commissioned to find out more about a French archaeologist who has arrived intending to uncover a lost Byzantine treasure. Yashim finds himself investigating the archaeologist's murder instead. The vivid portrait of the lost world of the Ottoman Empire seems to carry with it the faint whiff of the mysterious East. There is the Sultan, (in theory all-powerful, in fact constrained like a jewel in a box), there is the melting pot of races, the temptation of treasure, the voice of reason and the cries of prejudice – a rich mixture adding up to an excellent and enjoyable crime novel.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

By Michael Chabon

Fourth Estate 432pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Two million of the ‘frozen Chosen’ live in Sitka, Alaska, the homeland lent to European Jews in 1939. Now the lease is up and the Jews are about to be evicted from their cold homeland. This is alternative history (Roosevelt really did plan to settle Jews in Alaska) combined with a murder mystery when a junkie chess master, son of an influential rabbi, is found dead. One good man, a drunk and disobedient cop, whose ex-wife is his boss , plunges into an underworld of orthodox gangs with rabbi bosses. The detecting is spiced up with wisecracks, lavish black humour and rather too much Yiddish wordplay. Chabon's energetic, expansive style and originality make this well worth reading, but it's a rich dish; only choose it if you're feeling strong.

Absolution

By Caro Ramsay

Penguin 416pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In 1984 a young police cadet, recently bereaved, is assigned the apparently easy job of sitting beside the hospital bed of the nameless, unrecognisable victim of an acid attack. When we meet him again in Chapter Two, twenty years later, the young cadet has become a happily married Detective Chief Inspector, but his dreams are still haunted by the long-dead young woman and her baby – and then two more young women are found dead, the scenes of the crimes horribly reminiscent of the unforgotten past. This is a very sophisticated and competent first novel to join the expanding brigade of Glasgow police procedurals: at once humane, horrifying and exciting.

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