Jessica Mann

December 2010 Crime Round-up

  • Elly Griffiths, 
  • Simone van der Vlugt, 
  • Edward Wright, 
  • Jo Nesbo, 
  • David Baldacci, 
  • Belinda Bauer

The House at Sea’s End: A Case for Investigator Ruth Galloway, Forensic Archaeologist

By Elly Griffiths

Quercus 352pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This is the third book to feature the forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. She is fair, fat and forty, and has a young baby, the result of a one-night stand with the local chief inspector. Ruth is fighting a losing battle to fulfil all her responsibilities: baby-minding, university teaching and solving the crimes she is called in to analyse. In this case, the remains of six German soldiers from the Second World War are found in a beach cave. Each man had been shot in the neck, execution-style. The unravelling of events from a past that some local people can just remember is cleverly done, and there is a well-balanced combination of details about Ruth’s private life and professional expertise. Griffiths’s excellent series is well-informed and original, and its setting, in one of the bleaker corners of East Anglia, vividly evoked.

Shadow Sister

By Simone van der Vlugt

HarperCollins 352pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

This is a creepy tale of twins, physically identical but very different in character. Lydia, the elder by fifteen minutes, is married to a prosperous businessman, and has a daughter and a good job as a teacher. She has always protected her less worldly, less successful sister Elisa. The chapters are narrated in the alternating voices of the two sisters, and we soon learn that Lydia is dead. So the book consists of Lydia describing the period before her murder, when she finds herself the target of an intimidation campaign, apparently by one of her pupils; and Elisa telling us about her new, bereft life and various efforts to identify Lydia’s killer. I found this psychological thriller competent but not gripping, though this is probably a minority view; van der Vlugt is a bestseller in her native Netherlands.

From Blood

By Edward Wright

Orion 320pp £6.99 order from our bookshop

Someone has tortured and murdered Shannon’s harmless, academic parents. They seem the unlikeliest of victims. But Shannon’s mother’s dying words are a message to an old friend. Shannon discovers that this long-lost friend was one of a pair of notorious radical students in the 1960s who became murderous terrorists. Forty years on they are still at large and at work. The race is on to track them down before the authorities or their enemies do. For most readers this story’s background will simply be interesting if impersonal history, but the book will revive old memories for survivors from the days when students protested about international politics rather than their own finances. An interesting novel.

The Leopard

By Jo Nesbo

Harvill Secker 624pp £6.99 order from our bookshop

One by one, someone is killing a group of otherwise unconnected people who happened to spend a night in one of Norway’s mountain refuges. The baffled authorities are left with a single option: Inspector Harry Hole. Once he has been retrieved from Hong Kong’s opium dens, he finds himself making intellectual connections that other detectives have somehow missed. Characters are delineated, places described and motives analysed with scrupulous care and clarity. It’s fascinating to discover, from the incidental details, what it is like to live for much of the time in a world under snow. The narrative almost reaches and then withdraws from a series of apparently final climaxes. Though Nesbo writes beautifully, a repeatedly deferred conclusion, stretching the story out to 624 pages, was too much for me.

Hell’s Corner

By David Baldacci

Macmillan 400pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Baldacci’s books are among the many whose jackets are pre-printed (long before a single copy has been sold) with the words ‘The Number One International Bestseller’. His invincible hero, Oliver Stone, is repeatedly shot at, followed, and whisked away at gunpoint by men in black cars (always Escalades) with darkened glass. He either frees himself with one bound or finds himself having private meetings with the President of the United States and the heads of the CIA, FBI and British MI6, at which he disrespectfully demonstrates his independence, integrity and indispensability. This episode concerns a bomb planted in a park in central Washington.

Darkside

By Belinda Bauer

Bantam Press 256pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The CWA Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year has hardly ever been awarded to a first book, but in 2010 it went to Belinda Bauer for the excellent Blacklands. She has matched that remarkable debut with an outstandingly good second novel, also set in the remote Exmoor village of Shipcott. After it is blocked off by thick snow, a killing spree disposes of several immobile residents of a care home, two demented villagers and other disabled people. Someone has apparently decided to end the lives of the insane or infirm. The murder squad called in from Taunton is getting nowhere, while the village bobby, a local boy whose wife is crippled by MS, uncovers secrets an outsider could never understand. An unusually gripping tale, with places and people vividly evoked and an unguessable – if only just credible – conclusion.

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