House of the Hanged by Mark Mills; Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark; Good as Dead by Mark Billingham; Rack, Ruin and Murder by Ann Granger; Death in August by Marco Vichi; The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

July 2011 Crime Round-Up

  • Mark Mills, 
  • Marcia Clark, 
  • Mark Billingham, 
  • Ann Granger, 
  • Marco Vichi, 
  • Erin Kelly

House of the Hanged

By Mark Mills

Harper 400pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

The setting is familiar from many biographies and memoirs – the French Riviera of the 1930s before overdevelopment spoilt it. In this beautiful hide-out, artists, ex-pats and refugees fill in their empty days with parties, sailing and elaborate treasure hunts. Under the carefree surface, however, most of them are preoccupied by old secrets and new dangers. Tom Nash has spent his adult life in mourning for the Russian lover he failed to save in 1919. Now a rich, lonely, middle-aged man, he has retired from the Secret Intelligence Service and wants to put his past behind him. On holiday nearby is his former superior. Other neighbours – White Russian exiles and German émigrés – live in comfortable exile. But the apparent security is shown to be an illusion when an intruder tries to kill Tom at night. Luckily he hasn’t forgotten his professional skills, and comes out best in that fight and several more before the true enemy is identified and old conspiracies exposed. Mark Mills writes beautifully, so though an unlikely story it’s very enjoyable.

Guilt by Association

By Marcia Clark

Mulholland Books 368pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The really interesting aspect of this thriller is that it is full of inside information about the Californian legal system. The heroine is a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, a post formerly held by the author herself, who was the lead prosecutor in the O J Simpson trial – a historical event that was more exciting than this novel. Its heroine is Rachel Knight of the Special Trials Unit that handles prominent, sensitive and controversial cases, with the prosecutor working with the detectives from the beginning as an investigator in the field. Rachel is good at her job but bad with bosses – an insubordinate know-it-all. Clark has said her heroine is ‘patterned after me and other women that I know. Women with big smart mouths and very little regard for authority, obsessive compulsive and dedicated to the mission.’ Luckily Rachel’s detective friend Bailey is equally ready to infuriate the rich and powerful, and between them the two women track down the murderer of a district attorney colleague and live to fight another day.

Good as Dead

By Mark Billingham

Sphere 400pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

A policewoman goes into a corner shop to pick up her usual newspaper and sweets. An ordinary moment in an ordinary day – until the amiable Indian shopkeeper is suddenly transformed into a hostage-taker with a gun. Instead of going to work, Helen finds herself chained to a radiator, worried about her family and trying to understand what it is going on. It turns out that her captor’s son died in a young offenders institution and it has taken this desperate action to get the death investigated by Detective Inspector Tom Thorne (if you get Sky TV, Thorne will be a familiar character). Nearly every one of Mark Billingham’s ten volumes so far has been a prize winner or nominee. This one, like its predecessors, is carefully researched and has scrupulously placed clues and credible characters. A sombre, thought-provoking police procedural.

Rack, Ruin and Murder

By Ann Granger

Headline 320pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Several writers are returning to the English village mystery, a genre which not so long ago seemed to be moribund – as, some pundits thought, was the traditional English village itself. Granger’s portrayal of country life and her police detectives may not have much in common with Agatha Christie’s, or for that matter with the murderous Midsomer, but the line of descent is evident. However much its inhabitants and appearance have changed, the English countryside is still an ideal setting for fictional murder. This story opens not with a butler finding a body in the library, but with an eccentric old squire finding a body in the drawing room of Balaclava House, which, Inspector Jess Campbell discovers, ‘holds secrets’. Good, straightforward prose and a traditional setting updated – very enjoyable. 

Death in August

By Marco Vichi

Hodder & Stoughton 353pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This is the first Inspector Bordelli book, and the first to be published in English. By placing the story in 1963, the author manages to avoid the problem with contemporary police procedurals, namely that forensic science has become too sophisticated to leave much room for conventional detection. In fact Bordelli doesn’t do much, in one of Florence’s hottest summers, except eat, drink, chat, sweat, and have frequent flashbacks to his experiences as a soldier during the war. But he takes very seriously the murder of a rich old woman, and the story consists of his efforts to pin it on her unpleasant nephews. This is a promising start to a series of – so far – four books. I look forward to their English editions.

The Sick Rose

By Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton 352pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Clever, ambitious but weedy Paul leads his illiterate friend Daniel through the booby traps of daily life, each providing for the other according to their respective needs and abilities. This symbiosis ceases to function when a leap is made from familiar petty crime to murder. Daniel is charged and Paul, a protected witness, is sent to fill in time until the trial by working on restoring an Elizabethan garden. Happy in this hide-out, he starts an affair with Louisa, old enough to be his mother and with a back story as complicated and criminal as his own. Erin Kelly manages the complicated strands of her plot with great skill, mixes action, emotion and history in exactly the right proportion and keeps up the suspense to the last page. It’s unusual for a second novel to be even better than the first but Kelly has pulled off that difficult trick.

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