Jessica Mann

November 2007 Crime Round-up

  • John Connor, 
  • Armand Cabasson (Translated by Michael Glencross), 
  • Camilla Trinchieri, 
  • John Hart, 
  • Zoe Sharp, 
  • Chris Simms, 
  • Michael Dobbs

Falling

By John Connor

Orion 304pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Karen Sharpe is a detective constable with a stroppy teenage daughter, a live-in lover she no longer loves, and problematic relationships, both personal and professional, with her superior officers. It’s a life that is complicated enough even without hints of Karen's even more complicated past, which are all quite frustrating unless one has read the earlier books. I haven't, which might be why I was as irritated by this heroine's unprofessional behaviour as I was interested in her individualism. But the writing is skilled and the West Yorkshire background described with authority in a plot based on racial tensions and their explosive repercussions. This is a joyless book suffused with suffering; not a comfortable read but a gripping one.

The Officer’s Prey

By Armand Cabasson (Translated by Michael Glencross)

Gallic Books 356pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

It is 1812 in Poland, where Napoleon is assembling his Grande Armée of 400,000 men. When a Polish woman is found to have been mutilated and killed in a village inn, it seems that the murderer is a French soldier. The young and idealistic Captain Quentin Margont is put in charge of the investigation. As the largest army Europe has ever seen marches eastwards it becomes clear that the murderer is actually one of four senior officers. The investigation and the narrative take us to Moscow and then back again on the horrible winter march that so few of Napoleon's soldiers survived. Yet the investigator persists, still determined to pinpoint the culprit, leading the reader to question the importance of individual victims when hundreds of thousands of men are dying. Actually the murder mystery is much less interesting and memorable than the vivid portrayal of the Grande Armée as it advances and then tragically retreats, but it's worth reading this novel by a prize-winning writer who is also a psychiatrist and historian.

The Price of Silence

By Camilla Trinchieri

Soho 272pp £13.99 order from our bookshop

One day a young Chinese woman walks into a New York classroom where Emma is teaching English as a foreign language. An-Ling is an immigrant from rural China. Emma is a middle-aged woman with a husband and son and a life that looks good but has been overshadowed by the loss of her infant daughter years before. Emma unexpectedly becomes so obsessed with An-Ling that she moves in with her, and when the young woman's body is found, Emma is charged with murder. The narrative method is as complex as it could possibly be, leaping backwards and forwards between courtroom cross-examinations and flashbacks, from emails to the first-person musings of different characters, but it is done with great skill, with each section given a recognizably different tone of voice so there is never any problem in following what is happening and, more importantly, why. This is a clever tale of secrets, lies and good intentions, beautifully written and ingeniously plotted.

Down River

By John Hart

John Murray 336pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

Adam Chase returns home to North Carolina five years having after being run out of town, following his acquittal in a sensational murder trial. The chief witness against him was his stepmother. Everyone in town, including his father and brother, still thinks he did it. He is not welcome; beaten up, under suspicion for another death, but determined to reconnect with his family, he is plunged into a complicated stew of epic emotions, secrets, and jealousies. Meanwhile the local situation is turbulent, as some people welcome a huge industrial project while others refuse to sell the necessary land. More violence and murder ensue. This is a beautifully written drama about love, redemption and forgiveness, and about the love of place. ‘Everything that shaped him happened near that river ... Now its banks are filled with lies and greed, shame, and murder.’ Hart skilfully manipulates a large cast of characters and their complicated stories in an excellent second novel.

Second Shot

By Zoe Sharp

Allison & Busby 288pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Charlie is an ex-SAS bodyguard; she is not a woman you would expect to pose convincingly as a nanny for her charge’s four-year-old daughter. More difficult still is protecting a client who won't do what Charlie tells her. Simone, who has won lottery millions, walks out on her partner and flies to America to find her long-lost father. She disobeys her bodyguard so consistently that it's hard to believe that Charlie wouldn't have walked out. Instead she finds herself and her charges in danger and, after a shootout in the snow, in hospital yet again. This is the sixth book in the series about the indestructible, indefatigable Charlie, and it’s a fast, furious and very good read.

Savage Moon

By Chris Simms

Orion 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The name of Saddleworth Moor has horrible connotations in British memory. Its mention on the dust jacket gives warning of a sinister story even before a couple of horribly mutilated bodies are found. A black panther is loose on the moor, so the question for D I Jon Spicer is whether he is dealing with a tragedy or a crime. It's a high-profile investigation, not helped by his sleepless nights (he’s a well-trained hands-on dad, whose baby doesn't sleep and whose wife has incipient post-natal depression) or by his professional rivals within the police force who won't hesitate to edge him aside. An intricate plot is enhanced by good writing and human sympathy: highly recommended.

The Lords’ Day

By Michael Dobbs

Headline 352pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

After a private tour through the House of Lords, Michael Dobbs concluded that the security surrounding the State opening of Parliament is seriously flawed. In this thriller uses the flaws he draws on his experience to demonstrate that ‘something must be done’. His story is certainly plausible: immigrant cleaners employed by a private company manage to smuggle explosives into the building and, on the one day of the year when all they are all in the same room, take as hostages the Queen, the Cabinet, and Lords Spiritual and Temporal. It's a gripping tale which of course ends happily for the home team but it leaves behind deeply uncomfortable thoughts, not only about the vulnerability of our institutions but also about guilt, responsibility and revenge. As the leader of the terrorists says, ‘your bombers brought us death. They broke our women, children, our villages. And when we crawled out from under the rubble to bury our dead, you sent the bombers back to strip the meagre plots of land that the mountains give us to grow crops.’ Not even a fictional prime minister can deny it.

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