There’s a long history of literary novelists turning out mystery stories and publishing them pseudonymously, though many crime novelists feel that it’s rather patronising, the implication being that ‘literary fiction’ brings prestige but crime fiction attracts readers. Certainly Benjamin Black – aka John Banville – did well out of pseudonymous crime, and no doubt Tim Binding, described as a ‘chronicler of Middle England’s mores and obsessions’, will be successful in his new guise as T J Middleton. His hero is Al Greenwood, a would-be murderer who keeps missing his target. He lives in a seaside bungalow, loves his car, his caravan and his two Koi carp, and wants to get rid of his wife. The book begins with Al setting off to murder Audrey but shoving somebody else’s wife over a cliff instead. Such semi-slapstick accidents continue until Al’s eventual comeuppance. Enough people will love this Pooterish romp for it to be immaterial that I didn’t.
Another gritty Scottish novel about a serial slaughterer of prostitutes. This one buries them in Glasgow’s necropolis. Lin Anderson is a good writer who brings reality and also a kind of human warmth to the seediest and nastiest of settings. Her team of cops, forensic anthropologists and social workers has a new member, an Orcadian professor of psychology. All of these investigators use unusual methods. The professor has an exceptionally well-developed sense of smell, following his nose like a truffle hound; the chief forensic officer of the Strathclyde force relies on intuition which is ‘simply psychology in action’. In the end, the murder is exposed by less cerebral methods, with dramatic scenes in a flooded sewer and excavated mausoleums. The book has an air of persuasive reality but I’d like to know how much of it to believe. Does each human really have a unique smell which another human can identify?
This novel is furnished with a complete critical apparatus: a reader's guide, a conversation with the author, and a list of topics for readers’ groups to discuss; it also includes, perhaps as an in-joke, several characters called by the names of prominent contemporary archaeologists. For the theme is the intersection of history and contemporary life, as various academics from Texas find present plots and past preoccupations overlapping. The heroine, a classical scholar, is involved with a project aiming to restore the charred scrolls of Pompeii. In a millionaire's villa in Capri she finds herself working with a team made up of her own brilliant, beautiful student, other colleagues from the University and the enigmatic millionaire who is funding the work. But there is murderous competition for the archaeologists' finds, in particular a lost Pythagorean manuscript. Books about ancient treasures featuring history, mythology and endangered contemporary heroines have become a separate sub-category of thriller but this one is much better written than most. Highly recommended.
Veronica Stallwood’s Oxford is a crowded, often uncomfortable commuter dormitory, rather closer to today’s reality than Morse’s picturesque if murderous city of scholars and dreaming spires. One resident is the novelist–detective Kate Ivory, whose pressing problems are emotional (does she want to stay with her current boyfriend?), practical (should she move away from her little house in Jericho?) and professional (does she trust her agent? What books should she propose to her publisher?). In this, the fourteenth novel in the series, she finds herself involved in another murderous mystery. There is trouble in a research laboratory and neither the animal-rights protesters nor a hit-and-run killing are what they seem. The book is not exactly traditional but it is in the good old tradition of polite detection – very enjoyable.
Imagine the home life of the Kellerman family: father Jonathan, mother Faye and son Jesse all turning out crime novels at an industrial pace. All their books are full of knowledgeable psychology and police procedure, and all are set in southern California. Jonathan’s new book Bones, published by Headline, features his forensic psychologist Alex Delaware; Jesse’s The Genius came out last April; and here is another of Faye’s semi-domestic mysteries in which LAPD’s Lieutenant Decker works with the help of his daughter, a Hollywood detective, and the active involvement of his orthodox Jewish wife, Rina. All of them are always competent and carefully plotted. The Kellermans make Los Angeles look terrifying and crime writing look easy. There must be a catch in it somewhere.
In this subtle, ambitious novel translated from the Spanish, the narrator is Luisa Davila, a successful crime novelist. Her fictional amateur detective, Carmen O’Inns, is investigating the death of a boy at a posh school; but in parallel with the novel’s progress, events at the real posh school attended by Luisa’s daughter start overlapping with Luisa’s story. The boundaries between fact and fiction, memory and reality become blurred, and reading this book feels like being in an endless hall of mirrors where distorted versions of the original story are constantly repeated. Posadas is a prize-winning author and this is a clever and original book liberally scattered with interesting ideas about the clash between imagination and reality. One needs to concentrate.