McDermid’s books are getting better and better, as her writing becomes less explicit and more empathetic. This book, her twenty-third, concerns a series of psychopathic murderers of children of primary-school age, a subject horrible enough in itself to need no atmospheric embellishment. It is in the words that aren’t written, the comments that aren’t made, that the subtlety of this story lies, all the more tragic and frightening because the reader is left something to imagine. By contrast there is much careful description of the intelligent deductions of DCI Carol Jordan and her familiar team, all backed up by the anguished insights of her friend and colleague Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist who works for the police as a profiler. This contemporary story includes a motive for murder that writers such as Agatha Christie would never have dreamed of, though tradition is observed to the extent that the murderer, fingered only in the last few pages, really is by far the least likely person. But this is less a guessable puzzle than an absorbing novel of character. Highly recommended.
Susanne encounters her double in a lift, a strange, apparently random experience until Nadia turns up again and offers the impoverished and unemployed Susanne big money in exchange for playing the part of a substitute wife. The fee offered is irresistible and so, quite soon, are the luxurious lifestyle and the oblivious husband. If it was ever a game it isn’t for long. Susanne finds herself increasingly drawn into the other woman’s world, as everybody, including the husband, accepts the substitution without question, and the increasing complications of the swapped identity drag both women into ever more tangled deceptions. The writer’s difficulty lies in making us believe that the husband would not notice the difference between the two women. But surely even the most unobservant of men would be aware of it in bed, at least, and probably elsewhere too, since identity consists of much more than mere appearance. So although the narrative is compelling it is also incredible.
A former VAD in the Great War turns herself into a private eye, or, as the publicist puts it, into what Miss Marple must have been in her youth. In this book, the first of a promised series, Kate Shackleton is asked by an old friend to find her father, who went missing in dramatic circumstances in the second year of the War. He was the master of a wool-weaving mill, and this well-plotted and atmospheric tale is enriched by technical expertise and a vividly imagined Yorkshire setting. Kate Shackleton joins Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver in a subgroup of young, female amateur detectives who survived and were matured by their wartime experiences. As self-reliant women in a society that still regards them as second-class citizens, they make excellent heroines.
This is an unusual police investigation, featuring the Icelandic cop Erlendur. The book opens on an obvious suicide and no crime is suspected, but the death preys on Erlendur’s mind and he asks questions as though he had a case. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any others; perhaps in Reykjavik the police really do have time to spend all day away from their desks, walking, brooding and making unofficial visits to ask unauthorised questions. Erlendur is also preoccupied by his own dysfunctional family, his life overshadowed by memories of a brother who was lost in a snowdrift as a child, and whose body was never found. This is an insightful human story, beautifully written and translated, but it’s hard to believe that so melancholy and leisurely a Maigret, unburdened by bureaucracy and dependant on intuition, is doing the work of a contemporary police chief.
It’s difficult to read a book dispassionately when before it is even published it is awarded the most valuable prize for crime fiction in the world, as this one has been. It is the latest in a series featuring Bernie Gunther, a wisecracking glutton for punishment. This Philip Marlowe-style private detective – the man who must go down mean streets unafraid – goes down streets where anyone would be afraid, those of postwar, pre-Castro Cuba, full of escaped Nazis in disguise, and of Berlin under Hitler and afterwards. ‘In a society founded upon lies, the discovery of truth will become more and more important,’ he is told by his lover, who is collecting information about what is going on in Germany in order to persuade her government to boycott the 1936 Olympics. Bernie will do anything to solve his cases, however dangerous, whatever crimes he must commit in the process. Cheeky and equally unimpressed by Nazi bigwigs, senior policemen or American gangsters, he tells a good story about a bad time and bad places.
This clever thriller from New Zealand concerns dead bodies in the wrong grave or in no grave at all. It opens on a private detective observing a routine exhumation in a cemetery in Christchurch and suddenly realising that corpses are beginning to rise to the surface of the lake. Theo Tate is a loner, his wife and child having been killed in a car crash a few years previously, and he is nowhere near back to normal. So there is a panicky, hysterical undertone to the story, which teeters on the brink of becoming farcical without ever toppling right over. The portrayal of Christchurch as a city 'slowly spiralling into full panic mode' is very well done, as a series of deadly games of hide and seek with excavated bodies, a violent murderer on the loose and a private eye out of control provide good reasons to panic.