Jessica Mann

July 2008 Crime Round-up

  • Jacqueline Winspear, 
  • Susan Hill, 
  • Jason Goodwin, 
  • Reginald Hill, 
  • Alan Furst, 
  • Karin Fossum, 
  • Irvine Welsh

An Incomplete Revenge

By Jacqueline Winspear

John Murray 278pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The psychic investigator and psychologist Maisie Dobbs is still living in the long shadow of the First World War. She undertakes an assignment in the Weald of Kent and finds herself caught up in the affairs of a village where almost every young man joined up in 1914 and never came home. The whole community is suffused with grief and guilt. A group of gypsies and the Londoners who have come to pick hops live uneasily with the inward-looking villagers. The hypersensitive Maisie feels everyone’s pain – and her own: she makes weekly visits to the hospital where the war hero she would have married has been unconscious for many years. In this book, he finally dies. This melancholy novel, the fifth in the series, is psychologically convincing and so realistic about the tragic time and place as to be deeply dispiriting.

The Vows of Silence

By Susan Hill

Chatto & Windus 336pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Most crime novels are by definition full of sorrow, but in this case the suffering of the numerous victims of an apparently random shooter is matched by the personal vicissitudes of Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serailler and his family. They suffer repeated bereavement as parent, brother-in-law, and friend are all in turn diagnosed with dire diseases. The movingly detailed account of a brain tumour from diagnosis to death, like the depiction of the close family life of the characters, doesn't have much to do with the plot but adds richness to a gripping and beautifully written novel. The investigation is scrupulous and the terrorised community cleverly evoked, although by the end of the book I did wonder whether the detective’s private life was a distraction from the crime story – or vice versa.

The Bellini Card

By Jason Goodwin

Faber & Faber 306pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Goodwin’s previous books took us into the alleys and byways of nineteenth-century Istanbul. This is an equally vivid and well-informed account of Venice in 1840. Palazzos are crumbling and empty, the canals are silent and the residents decadent, impoverished and despised by their Austrian masters. Yashim, the Ottoman detective, has been sent there by the Sultan to find and retrieve a stolen painting by Bellini. Naturally Yashim co-opts his ally, the Polish ambassador to Istanbul. Both the hero and his old friend are civilised men whose company is a pleasure, and the plot is lively and interesting; but the real delight in this book is the atmospheric portrait of a fascinating place.

The Roar of the Butterflies

By Reginald Hill

HarperCollins 313pp £10 order from our bookshop

I am usually not keen on crime fiction that is meant to be funny but Reginald Hill has such a nice line in gentle wit that this series about the black private eye Joe Sixsmith makes delightful light reading. The fact that it is set in Luton in the middle of a boiling hot summer and that Joe is small, broke and not very brave means that his prowess as a detective is an apparent contradiction. When Joe is commissioned to discover why a member of a very exclusive golf club has been accused of cheating, the unlikeliness of the situation somehow adds to the joke. Underlying it all is the author's shrewd, cynical view of modern life. The result is highly entertaining.

The Spies of Warsaw

By Alan Furst

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 288pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Warsaw, 1937: a venal engineer from Breslau on a regular journey to see his Polish mistress and sell information to the French; a handsome, aristocratic hero of the First World War who has taken up a new post as military attaché at the French Embassy; a beautiful French woman of Polish descent; the senior German officer in Warsaw; a pair of Russian spies; a vicious SS Major – and this cast list includes only a few of the spies and spy hunters to be found in the city’s diplomatic drawing rooms and dangerous back alleys. The story of their machinations is enriched by the author’s expertise about the period and the reader’s foreknowledge. Alan Furst’s spy fiction is serious, even solemn: a good but never light read.

Broken

By Karin Fossum

Harvill Secker 272pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

A long queue of people stands outside the narrator's house, all waiting for her, the author, to tell their stories. But one night she wakes up to find that a strange man has jumped the queue and walked into her bedroom. This is one of her prospective characters, determined to be brought to life immediately. He is single, inward-looking, careful to avoid surprises or upsets in his uniform days. But everything changes when a young heroin addict comes into the gallery where he works. He frantically tries to control his own destiny; his inventor realises that she cannot control the character she has created. This fascinating and brilliant exploration of the line between a crime writer’s life and her imagination might at first seem less relevant to a reader who is not also a writer, but anybody interested in the process of creation will be interested in this novel of psychological suspense.

Crime

By Irvine Welsh

Jonathan Cape 344pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Invariable features of Welsh’s writing are in-your-face obscenity, which leaves me cold, and transcribed dialect, to which I’m allergic. So if the editor hadn’t insisted, I wouldn't have read this book, and I didn’t enjoy the vocative maundering of a guilt-ridden Glasgow cop called Lennox who has taken his girlfriend to Florida. But there’s much to admire in the powerful, passionate writing on the serious subjects of child abuse and its survivors, of guilt, mortality and innocence. Paedophilia, as Lennox discovers, transcends borders, as likely in the sunshine state as in rainy Scotland, and its perpetrators are no less elusive. The meaningful climax beside the Holocaust memorial could easily have been schmaltzy and misplaced but Welsh gets it just right.

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