Jessica Mann

February 2013 Crime Round-up

  • Andrew Taylor, 
  • Mark Oldfield, 
  • Peter Murphy, 
  • Ann Cleeves, 
  • Parker Bilal, 
  • Diana Souham, 
  • Ruth Dudley Edwards, 
  • Belinda Bauer, 
  • Liza Cody, 
  • Cassandra Clark

The Scent of Death

By Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins 480pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

It’s 1778, the American War of Independence is raging, and Manhattan is the last corner of America left under British control. Crowds of loyalist refugees gather there, demanding compensation for all they have lost. A clerk from London is sent to New York to consider their claims. He is found lodgings with an influential family – an elderly judge, a ne’er-do-well son with a beautiful wife, and several black servants – and soon finds himself caught up in their secrets and lies. Then there is a murder, its investigation carried out against the vivid background of armies assembling and training. This is an intriguing, interesting mystery but it is also an excellent novel – beautifully written and highly original. Andrew Taylor’s earlier books have already won him multiple prizes, and this book is as good as any he has written. Lay your bets!

The Sentinel

By Mark Oldfield

Head of Zeus 592pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This remarkably accomplished and interesting debut is the first in a projected trilogy. The story flicks between Spain in the present and under Franco, 13 years after he took power. In the still-troubled country of today, a young, female forensic investigator finds herself exploring the past actions and present whereabouts of the head of Franco’s secret police. Oldfield paints scenes of disgusting brutality, all too sadly convincing. In providing this credible and atmospheric picture of what life was like under the dictator, he leaves his readers uneasy about the present and future state of a country still scarred by its past.

A Higher Duty

By Peter Murphy

No Exit Press 320pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

I have vivid and resentful memories of applying to be taken on as a barrister’s pupil at a time before the equal opportunities legislation of the mid-1970s, when the response could legally and shamelessly be ‘we don’t take women’ (or Jews, or non-white people). So I was fascinated by this novel, which is set in the 1960s and focuses on the rivalry between several barristers and two bright pupils, a Jewish man and a young woman. The crime concerned is not a murder, and the story is set so firmly in the arcane world of London chambers that the book is not likely to be a popular read. That’s a pity, because it’s engrossing to follow the machinations of insiders as they suppress potential scandals. One senior lawyer explains his duty to maintain the status quo at all costs, even if it means breaking the law: ‘I take such steps as I have to.’ Half a century on, women, Jews, the working classes and other former outsiders are allowed to join in, and to a certain extent they have brought daylight with them. Murphy describes an exclusive society that has disappeared. Good riddance.

Dead Water

By Ann Cleeves

Macmillan 400pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Ann Cleeves expertly combines a traditional detective story and a novel about love and death. The first book in her Shetland Quartet introduced Inspector Jimmy Perez and the fourth ended with the murder of his partner. Back in Shetland again, we find Perez sunk in the depression of bereavement. He has been out of action for months, to the extent that when a London journalist, once a local boy, is found murdered, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted in to conduct the investigation instead. These books are very precisely set in their unusual geographical environment, and every character, encounter and conversation is as carefully described as each harbour and hillock. Up to page 366 the reader is shown everything, so it comes as a shock reminder – when the detective takes a call that sends him running off to the action and the reader is not told who rang or what he or she said – that this enjoyable novel is actually a conventional whodunit.

Dogstar Rising

By Parker Bilal

Bloomsbury 400pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

Sitting on the deck of a luxurious boat as it floats down the Nile is as near to heaven as many of us will get, though nowadays tourists see very little of the real Egypt, its political arguments and violence. This excellent crime novel is a useful corrective, with its descriptions of crowded, sweltering Cairo, the murderous traffic, the political unrest and the widespread poverty and squalor. The hero is a Sudanese policeman who has fled to Cairo and is working as a private detective, hired by the boss of a travel agency to track down the anonymous sender of threatening letters. I found the plot quite hard to follow but it didn’t matter at all because the pleasure the book offers is the realistic, eye-opening picture of a place and a lifestyle. Parker Bilal has written several novels but this is only his second mystery. More please.

Murder at Wrotham Hill

By Diana Souham

Quercus Books 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Ann Cleeves expertly combines a traditional detective story and a novel about love and death. The first book in her Shetland Quartet introduced Inspector Jimmy Perez and the fourth ended with the murder of his partner. Back in Shetland again, we find Perez sunk in the depression of bereavement. He has been out of action for months, to the extent that when a London journalist, once a local boy, is found murdered, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted in to conduct the investigation instead. These books are very precisely set in their unusual geographical environment, and every character, encounter and conversation is as carefully described as each harbour and hillock. Up to page 366 the reader is shown everything, so it comes as a shock reminder – when the detective takes a call that sends him running off to the action and the reader is not told who rang or what he or she said – that this enjoyable novel is actually a conventional whodunit.

Killing the Emperors

By Ruth Dudley Edwards

Allison & Busby 320pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

A serious argument underlies this jolly romp. Ruth Dudley Edwards has decided that conceptual art and the contemporary art world are lunatic con tricks. Wielding her fictional cosh on actual people such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Nicholas Serota, she and her outspoken heroine want ‘to fill the tumbrils with the critics, the dealers, the curators and all the rest of the charlatans and dunderheads peddling trash in the name of contemporary art’. The mystery element is a vehicle for rants, jokes and genuine indignation about an interesting and divisive subject.

Rubbernecker

By Belinda Bauer

Bantam 320pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

A brilliant description of autism from the inside. Patrick is obsessed with death, so joins medical students learning to dissect corpses. He realises that one of them died unnaturally and in struggling to reveal the truth learns indelible lessons about himself and humanity.

Miss Terry

By Liza Cody

iUniverse 238pp £17.95 order from our bookshop

Liza Cody is a genuine original whose books are full of new ideas and unexpected developments. She is also a trailblazer, as she was the first British writer to feature a professional private eye who was female. Miss Terry, the story of a demure, young, second-generation immigrant and her supposedly enlightened neighbours is as good as anything Cody has written. Highly recommended.

A Parliament of Spies

By Cassandra Clark

Allison & Busby 320pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

A neat, enjoyable 14th-century mystery story, which features the reappearance of the Abbess Hildegard of Meaux, solving crimes as she travels from York to the royal court in London where she finds nobles and clerics busily plotting against each other, the King, or both. Interesting and atmospheric.

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