Jessica Mann

August 2011 Crime Round-up

  • Anne Holt, 
  • Camilla Läckberg, 
  • Mark Douglas-Home, 
  • N J Cooper, 
  • Alice LaPlante, 
  • Johan Theorin, 
  • Shumeet Baluja

Fear Not

By Anne Holt

Corvus 400pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In Anne Holt’s Norway, everybody takes for granted the changes of the last quarter-century. Same-sex marriage, women bishops, an equality of rights and opportunities that earlier feminists could not have imagined – such sociological phenomena begin as local colour but soon edge their way into the story itself. It concerns the murder of an elderly woman bishop, and the discovery of the body of a boy nobody has even bothered to report as missing. Set against the backdrop of a snowy midwinter Oslo (all scenes are scrupulously described), this is a gripping novel and an authoritative one, for Holt knows more than most about crime and punishment in Norway, having worked for the Oslo Police Department, run her own law firm and served as the Minister for Justice. Her experience and insight enhance her writing but it’s a pity that, like so much contemporary crime fiction, this book is self-indulgently long.

The Hidden Child

By Camilla Läckberg

HarperCollins 400pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

Erica is a crime writer married to a cop who is on paternity leave. They live in a small Swedish town where everybody knows everyone else, as did their parents and their grandparents before them. But in Erica’s own family there is a mystery. Why was a Nazi medal hidden among her late mother’s possessions? What made her so cold and unloving a parent? Is there a connection between a present-day murder and the secrets of the Second World War? While her husband juggles baby-minding and helping his colleagues with a murder case, Erica tries to find out more about her own family. Soon the two mysteries converge. Läckberg is scrupulously accurate about the minor details of life, and never ignores the domestic difficulties that loom so large in the lives of real women. All the same, she portrays a society in which equality between the sexes is not legend but actual fact. This lengthy saga drags a bit, but it’s worth persevering.

The Sea Detective

By Mark Douglas-Home

Sandstone Press 320pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This first novel by an experienced editor and journalist is a real find. It features a collection of interesting characters: a clever but plain WPC and her objectionable boss, a tragic Indian teenager sold into sex slavery in Britain, and a postgrad student oceanographer who is trying to find out what really happened to his grandfather, an outer islander lost at sea during the war. Three parallel strands are plaited together in a cleverly plotted mystery. The language is straightforward, the characters are credible and sympathetic, and the settings vivid. I enjoyed the book very much, gobbled it in one concentrated session and hope there will soon be more from the same author.

Face of the Devil

By N J Cooper

Simon & Schuster 400pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

N J (aka Natasha) Cooper has said, ‘with each novel published, I have learned to be that bit more free in what I write’. This narrative seems uninhibited, honest, and even amusing – as she has also said, ‘laughter is an essential antidote … to the grimness inherent in any realistic crime novel’. There is plenty of grimness here: a girl of fifteen is murdered and the obvious culprit is the schizophrenic Olly. The forensic psychologist heroine and the two men in her life, a neurosurgeon and a cop, find themselves personally involved in the case. The combination of a well-described setting in the Isle of Wight and Cooper’s sensitive understanding of human behaviour lend conviction to an intriguing, enjoyable puzzle.

Turn of Mind

By Alice LaPlante

Harvill Secker 320pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

I didn’t expect to get much further than page one of a book with an Alzheimer’s sufferer as heroine and narrator. But this one is so cleverly and well written, with so moving a portrait of a once-brilliant surgeon fighting to retain some vestiges of her former self, that I was quickly hooked. Dr Jennifer White lives with her carer and has frequent visits from her son and her daughter. Her lifelong friend has been murdered, the body found with four fingers surgically severed, and Jennifer is suspected. The story of Jennifer’s life and the progress of the criminal investigation are built up through notebook entries, a series of short paragraphs and staccato conversations. Dementia really doesn’t sound like an enticing subject for fiction but Alice LaPlante, a teacher of creative writing at two American universities, has pulled it off in this unusual first novel.

The Quarry

By Johan Theorin

Doubleday 416pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

This is the third volume in a projected quartet by the latest Swedish star. Again set on the island of Oland, the story includes elves, trolls and other supernatural Nordic figures – and pornography. (Even in liberated Sweden, lads’ mags are kept hidden.) The hero, Per, runs himself ragged as he deals with unrelated problems: his dying daughter, a senile father, peculiar neighbours and the sinister goings-on in a disused quarry that worry him a good deal more than the arson and attempted murder that concern the police. The characters are realistic and interesting and the rather grim environment springs to life. However, the multiple ingredients of an over-complicated plot never quite amalgamate into a likely story.

The Silicon Jungle: A Novel of Deception, Power, and Internet Intrigue

By Shumeet Baluja

Princeton University Press 350pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

The author is a senior scientist at Google. His novel has sixteen pages of academic references and the text is frequently interrupted by passages of scientific explanation. In literary terms it is a disappointment. But when an insider offers an ‘awful warning’ about his own profession it’s worth taking notice, and the description of a Google-style enterprise by an insider is fascinating. The subject of the book is the danger inherent in online data collection and exchange. We are shown that the notion of privacy is obsolete in the Internet age, and that modern search technology is too powerful, too dangerous, and too easy to misuse. If there are any guards, who will guard them?

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