Jessica Mann

March 2011 Crime Round-up

  • Sara Paretsky, 
  • Gordon Reece, 
  • S J Parris, 
  • Jason Webster, 
  • Kathryn Fox, 
  • Matthew Glass

Body Work

By Sara Paretsky

Hodder & Stoughton 464pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Women write approximately one-third of the crime novels published, but their books comprise only about one in ten of those sent out for review. Sara Paretsky long ago broke through that unacknowledged barrier. So here is another excursion into downtown Chicago where Paretsky’s indomitable Private Eye takes on a case the implications of which gradually spread from the personal to the political. This is the seventeenth in the series, so by now you either like or loathe V I Warshawski and her badly trained dogs, her solicitous landlord and the idiotic cousin brought in to provide light relief. Newcomers, don’t start here.

Mice

By Gordon Reece

Mantle 256pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Sixteen-year-old Shelley has been tormented by schoolmates, and her mother, a solicitor, has been tormented by her unfaithful husband. Neither is capable of fighting back, for both are submissive and frightened. They are, in spirit, mice. So they retreat, moving to a remote cottage where Shelley is privately tutored and the two women can keep themselves to themselves – until the night when an armed intruder breaks in. For the first time in their lives these mice find themselves fighting back. By the end of the book, nature’s victims have transformed themselves into predators. The teenage narrator is a very convincing character, her mother perhaps slightly less so. Their predicament is a genuine one and it’s fascinating to see how they deal with it. A very good first novel.

Prophecy

By S J Parris

HarperCollins 416pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

After C J Sansom’s books set in the reign of Henry VIII, here follows another series with one-word titles (last year’s was Heresy) set in his daughter Elizabeth’s reign. Where Sansom has a hunchback lawyer as detective, Parris’s hero is the sexy, scholarly spy Giordano Bruno, now working for Sir Francis Walsingham, the right-hand man of the queen. Bruno has embedded himself in the household of the French ambassador where his mission is to find evidence against those who are plotting to oust the Protestant Elizabeth and put Mary Stuart of Scotland on the throne. He finds himself involved in the murders of two of the queen’s ladies in waiting, in the prophecies of Doctor Dee, and in the elaborate plots being concocted by the Catholic opposition. This sixteenth-century James Bond undergoes repeated physical punishment from which he recovers remarkably fast, but it is worth suspending disbelief about Bruno for the sake of Parris’s portrait of Tudor London.

Or the Bull Kills You

By Jason Webster

Chatto & Windus 304pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

After writing four non-fiction books about life in Spain, Jason Webster has used his expert knowledge to write an excellent first novel. It is not particularly original in form – it features yet another police officer who drinks too much and is at odds with his bosses but solves the case in the nick of time through intuition and human sympathy. However, the author’s voice is fresh and authoritative, and both the setting (Valencia at the height of the bullfighting season) and the underlying subject (the rights and wrongs of bullfighting) are fascinating. Chief inspector Max Camera, an abolitionist at heart, is an unwilling spectator but finds himself enthralled, as he gradually comes to understand that the corrida is ‘violence transformed, made something subtler, transcendent’. Highly recommended.

Death Mask

By Kathryn Fox

Hodder & Stoughton 384pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

This is a novel with an important message that is as relevant in this and other countries as it is in the author’s native Australia. The series heroine, Dr Anya Crichton, a forensic expert in sexual assault, goes to New York to educate professional football players about the difference between right and wrong sexual behaviour. Her audience certainly needs telling. The author is a medic who writes crime fiction in order to examine the ills of society, one of which is the predatory gang culture ingrained in sports teams who use women as sex objects for vilification and humiliation. The sports stars’ disgusting attitudes to women are matched by their own mercenary exploitation at the hands of owners and managers. There is rather too much teaching and telling in the first half of this novel, but plenty of action and an interesting story soon follow. It makes one see the life of a WAG in a completely new light.

End Game

By Matthew Glass

Corvus 400pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

If reviewers paid for their books, I’d be responding to the advertisement on this one’s cover: ‘The best thriller you read this year or your money back.’ This is certainly an interesting tale – instructive, informative and rather frightening – but thrilling it isn’t. The plot concerns a financial crash caused by a Wall Street investment company gambling against a bank’s shares but unaware that the majority of them belong to the Chinese government. America’s Republican president finds himself helpless in this case and also when a rescue mission in Uganda and Sudan (part of the Chinese sphere of influence) goes wrong. Suddenly the two superpowers, China and the USA, are on the brink of war, without either of their presidents having intended such a confrontation or understanding how it has come about. The author is an insider who can’t reveal his true name, according to the blurb. As an outsider I can’t see that he’s giving away big secrets since the moral of his story is obvious to anyone not in his imagined Oval Office: the world has changed since the days of independent nation states, which must cooperate or perish, for ‘the big problems aren’t 

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