Jessica Mann

May 2010 Crime Round-up

  • Scott Turow, 
  • Donato Carrisi, 
  • Lynn Shepherd, 
  • Tom Knox, 
  • Camilla Läckberg, 
  • Walter Mosley, 
  • Karen Campbell, 
  • Jeremy Simpson

Innocent

By Scott Turow

Mantle 256pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

It is two decades since Scott Turow initiated a new sub-genre of courtroom thrillers with his brilliant, best-selling Presumed Innocent. Its principal character, Rusty Sabich, was a married prosecutor accused of the rape and murder of the colleague he had an affair with. Now sixty-year-old Rusty reappears as the Chief Judge for Kindle County’s Appellate Court, tipped for election to the State Supreme Court and still married to his severely depressive wife. One morning Rusty finds her dead in bed beside him, but it takes twenty-four hours for him to call a doctor, the police, or even his own son. Is he concealing evidence, or is he just in a state of shock? One of Rusty’s old enemies is his former colleague Tommy Molto, who twenty years ago had prosecuted Rusty for murder. Molto’s career never recovered from Rusty’s acquittal, so now he leaps at the chance to try him for murder – again; and Rusty is once more defended by the brilliant lawyer Sandy Stern. The verdict is no surprise. Some readers may need, as I did, to stop and reread the first book to understand this one. Even then the complicated, tricksy tale takes concentration. But it is worth the effort. Innocent is bound to be a bestseller and deserves to be.

The Whisperer

By Donato Carrisi

Sphere 384pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

Advertised as the best-selling thriller ever written in Italian, this tale of a manhunt is certainly interesting and gripping, with its unspecific setting and creepy plot. A mass kidnapper-killer amputates and displays the arms of the young girls he has abducted. A policewoman who specialises in missing children cases has her own reasons for involvement, and so, as it gradually turns out, do other members of the investigating team. The relationships between the various detectives shift and merge over the days of interrogation and clue-hunting, until twist after corkscrew twist in the cleverly misleading plot eventually bring solutions. The story depends on psychological expertise that a lay person is not qualified to dispute. All the same, my doubts gradually increased, making suspended disbelief crash before the end. 

Murder at Mansfield Park

By Lynn Shepherd

Beautiful Books 320pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

Prequels, sequels and pastiches of Jane Austen would fill a sizeable library, so it is too late to object to the takeover of Mansfield Park as a setting, or the use of that novel’s characters in a plot that Jane Austen would never have considered. Actually, if any of her work is to be colonised for a murder mystery, this is probably the least offensive to choose. The trouble is that the characters are nothing like the originals. One might agree with Kingsley Amis that Austen’s Fanny Price is ‘a monster of complacency and pride, who under a cloak of cringing self-abasement dominates and gives meaning to the novel’. But here Fanny is transformed into the richest and prettiest girl at Mansfield, as well as the nastiest, giving full rein to her ‘talent for the underhand and the insulting’. When crime comes to Mansfield, a London thief-taker is called in and the sweet and gentle Mary Crawford becomes his aide. Lynn Shepherd’s pastiche of tone and style is neatly done (though occasionally spoilt by words like ‘retrospecting’) and, rather against my own principles, I found myself reading to the end of this clever piece of literary sacrilege.

The Marks of Cain

By Tom Knox

Harper 448pp £6.99 order from our bookshop

Tom Knox is the pseudonym of Sean Thomas, a journalist and author of literary fiction who, to make money, has turned to writing thrillers based on careful research into curious byways of history. This one whisks us energetically round the world, from Mexico to the Faroe Islands, but its plot derives from legends of the Basque country and is based on a genuine mystery: a strange tribe of pariahs in medieval France and Spain called the Cagots. No one knows who they were or why they were ostracised but they were kept in their own ghettoes, had separate doors to enter churches and were suspected of being cannibals or witches – for which they suffered savage torture and death not only in the Middle Ages but (in this plot) right up to today. When an American with Cagot connections inherits an unexpected fortune from his uncommunicative grandfather, he goes to Europe to research his family history, which proves a dangerous pursuit. No more, or as much of, a potboiler as most crime fiction, this one is also pacey, punchy and instructive.

The Stone Cutter

By Camilla Läckberg

Harper Collins 480pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Läckberg is one of Sweden’s crime-writing stars and The Stonecutter is the next installment in her series about the remote town of Fjallbacka and its residents, in particular the police detective Patrick Hedstrom and his family, colleagues and neighbours. It tells a sad story of child abuse, child neglect, mother-love and its absence. The book is very long, information is conscientiously imparted and each of the many characters carefully described. We learn a lot about post-natal depression and intolerable mothers-in-law; about policing in a town so small that victims, suspects and detectives are well acquainted in private as well as official life; about children with ‘special needs’, and about human pettiness. The story seems more competent than inspired, told with a certain heaviness and lack of spontaneity. I did want to read to the end, but it was a book that I could put down.

Known to Evil

By Walter Mosley

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 336pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

This is the second in the veteran crime writer’s new series featuring a guilt-ridden detective who is suffering not so much a midlife crisis as a ‘god-damned lifelong catastrophe’. Leonid McGill is ‘a survivor from the train wreck of the modern world’ who stumbles through his own emotional crises backed by a lethal sidekick and a dysfunctional family. Leonid suffers the disadvantage of a newly developed conscience. It won't let him leave his unfaithful wife for his faithful girlfriend. His sons are in trouble – one has a girlfriend with a shady past, the other is a charming rogue; Leonid’s client, a Mister Fixit at City Hall, would be dangerous to cross, but it would be equally dangerous to make enemies at the NYPD. The more accumulated trouble the better the story, so Mosley loads his hero with multiple problems, and finds unorthodox solutions.

Shadowplay

By Karen Campbell

Hodder & Stoughton 480pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Anna Cameron’s life is exhausting even to read about. Promoted to Chief Inspector, she moves to a new division with a female but imposing and unfeminine boss. Anna’s mother is overseas and ill, and work problems seem insoluble as gang murder, oldie-napping and assaults on a police officer coincide. What this post-feminist heroine needs is a wife.

Dark Knights of the Soul

By Jeremy Simpson

Quartet Books 204pp £10 order from our bookshop

This is a chase and race story in which a gang of sinister megalomaniacs, self-described Knights Templar, plan to destroy the Moslem Dome of the Rock and take control of Jerusalem’s holy places. A trio of academics must foil their dastardly plots. Early in the book one of them says, ‘How do you recognize a lunatic? Answer: Sooner or later they talk about the Templars.’ Enough, really, said.


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