Jessica Mann

December 2009 Crime Round-up

  • Lisa Unger, 
  • Louise Penny, 
  • James Ellroy, 
  • Camilla Noli, 
  • Alan Glynn

Die for You

By Lisa Unger

Arrow 368pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Isabel Raine is a successful novelist. Marcus has a thriving software company. They live in a smart New York apartment. Life is good – until one morning Marcus leaves for a routine meeting and never comes back. Isabel soon discovers that the man she loved and thought she knew never existed. Her husband is a criminal from Prague who stole the identity of an American. He has betrayed everyone he ever met and now it’s Isabel’s turn to find her bank accounts empty and life demolished. Isabel follows her instincts and her ex-man, and ends up wiser, poorer and scarred. It’s a good story, but despite the obligatory gushing gratitude to dozens of people who (according to the author’s note) read, comment and ‘edit’ her work, the finished product is full of misspellings. Its tricksy shifts of viewpoint and period are cleverly done – though you do have to concentrate – and the story is original. The heroine (and presumably the author) believes that novelists are smarter and more observant than non-writers. I wonder. I wish. 

The Brutal Telling

By Louise Penny

Headline 384pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

The village called Three Pines is turning into a Canadian Midsomer, as the murder count rises with each successive volume of Louise Penny’s prize-winning series. This time there is an unidentified body in the bistro. Re-enter Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec and his colleagues, Inspector Beauvoir and Agent Isabelle Lacoste, all now familiar with the environment of Three Pines and well acquainted with its inhabitants. But it’s a pleasure for readers to revisit the village and its cast of local eccentrics. It includes an acerbic poet with a pet duck, a newly ‘discovered’ artist whose painter husband is trying not to be jealous of her instant success, the hospitable hostess at the village B&B, and the murder suspect, proprietor of the excellent bistro as well as owner of an antiques business. The victim turns out to be a hermit who lived in a shack in the forest, guarding an extraordinary secret. A clever, competent crime novel interwoven with a kind of Canadian pastoral.

Blood’s A Rover

By James Ellroy

Century 656pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

This novel completes the trilogy consisting of American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. Fact and fiction are fused in a story set in 1968, when J Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes and The Mob are competing to control America. Cops are rogues, FBI reports faked, officials crooked and the story – at least to me – incomprehensible. I was baffled by the extreme minimalism of the language, and left cold by the explicit delight in violence and the total paranoia with which every single conspiracy theory about America’s official agencies is set into stony words. These are not novels people take or leave, they are to love or loathe. This is a very long book made up of very short sentences and an inscrutably intricate plot. No doubt it will thrill and enthral Ellroy’s many fans.

The Mother’s Tale: A Novel

By Camilla Noli

Orion 256pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

This is a book for anyone who has ever woken in the night hating the baby that woke her; anyone who has ever been frustrated by the obduracy of a speechless infant; anyone who has ever wondered how she will survive one more day alone in the company of a small child. Of course these moments pass and mother love returns; but just supposing it didn’t? The Mother’s Tale is a clever psychological thriller that puts inadmissible thoughts into well-chosen words.

Winterland

By Alan Glynn

Faber & Faber 480pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The story concerns two men who share a name. Both meet a violent death on the same night. One woman is determined to find out why. This is an exciting, involving tale, set in modern Dublin, a spruced-up setting for ever dirtier politics and business. Whether or not the book gives an accurate portrait of contemporary Ireland, it’s a very good read. 

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