Crime Round August 2003

  • P D James, 
  • John Sandford, 
  • Julian Rathbone, 
  • Michael Dibdin, 
  • Charles Cumming, 
  • Walter Mosley, 
  • Jake Arnott

 

 

 

The Murder Room

By P D James

Faber & Faber 371pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

CLASSIC, copper-bottomed whodunit, guaranteed to delight all crime addicts, especially those who prefer their gore to be top-drawer. Superior people involved here are members of the Dupayne family, trustees of a private museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath, dedicated to the decades tucked between 1919-1939 and featuring in one of its galleries an exhibit from the most notorious murder cases of that period: the bloodstained trunk into which a body was stuffed, then left in a Brighton cloakroom. 'Murder is a paradigm of its age', murmurs part-time poet Commander Adam Dalgliesh. He's called in to investigate the death of one of the trustees, whose body is found, drenched in petrol, in a blazing Jaguar. It reminds Dalgliesh of the notorious Rouse motor murder, already featured in the museum. And the subsequent discovery of a female corpse in the museum's souvenir trunk suggests that imitation is once again afoot. A rich list of suspects includes family members who may lose out if the threatened closure of the museum takes place and members of a sex club (coyly known as 96) whose orgies are conveniently held on museum premises. Meanwhile Dalgliesh is pondering his own love life and whether or not he should quit the constabulary and concentrate on being a husband and Doet. Difficult to decide: 'His job had ensured his privacy and protected him from the obligations of his success ... above all from being part of the London literary establishment.' Don't worry about horrors like that; our boy's made of the right stuff. So is the novel. James marshals her characters and her plot with total confidence and brings it all home without a loose end. Very traditional; very gratifying.

Mortal Prey

By John Sandford

Simon & Schuster 354pp £10 order from our bookshop

CLARA Rinker, the best hitwoman in the business ('trademark extreme close shooting with 22 calibre silenced pistol'), is hit herself by mob-hired gunman who accidentally kills her lover and unborn babv in the Drocess. Rinker takes time to recuperate, then calmly proceeds to take her revenge on the St Louis mob who wanted her dead. Two down, one to go when the FBI snatch her retarded brother in a bid to bring her to heel. The boy commits suicide, Rinker goes ballistic and promises a bloodbath. Who'll be the last man - or woman - left standing? Sympathies finely balanced in brilliantly devised revenge thrdler, as only Rinker and a sympathetic Minneapolis cop rise above grimy US law enforcement fracas with their motivation intact. Cleanly, fiercely told, with good jokes (a drug-dealer conceals his business by 'selling native art to the aesthetically impaired', a dimwit is shrugged off as 'dumb as a bowl of mice') and images that stick in the mind like grit (the cell in which Rinker's brother has slashed hs wrists has 'the bloody steak smell of sudden death'). Sometimes Sandford takes you to places you'd rather not be. But the sheer quality of the writing makes hm unrnissable.

As Bad As It Gets

By Julian Rathbone

Allison & Busby 259pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

RATHBONE'S louche, leftie private investigator Chris Shovelin leaves Bournemouth for faraway Mombasa to determine whether the death of millionaire's son in scuba accident was suspicious (verdict: no one to blame) and blunders into murderous scam by international food congolmerate involving GM crops. Much violence, with Shovelin soahng up most of the punches (delivered by evil GB-trained Africans). Thrilling escape across wild-life infested country led by varsity-groomed Masai warrior, followed by terrifying flight from heavies through sewer below Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Satisfjring and exciting from start to finish, but no happy ending. With this material (GM makes vdlainy the norm), Rathbone7s too honest to let the good guys win.

Medusa

By Michael Dibdin

Faber & Faber 280pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

AURELIO Zen, investigator and civil servant extraordinaire, battles present-day bureaucrats and postwar fascists when he seeks to identify a corpse found by cavers in an abandoned military tunnel in the Italian Alps. Chances are it's a bedroom warrior, much-loved by ladies and officially reported dead in an air crash decades ago. But how could he perish twice? Too many people - especially members and backers of a 1970s right-wing military group codenamed Medusa - want the secret kept and murders multiply as Zen rakes up the past and sniffs out the truth. Intricate cloak-and-dagger stuff, with political dinosaurs lumbering out of their caves to do the dirty while Zen muses on the irony of time past treading painfully on the heels of time present. The first fictional blast (in crime fiction anyway) against Italy's embattled but still belligerent Prime Minister Berlusconi. 'He is the first politician since Mussolini to grasp the vital importance of presentation', sardonically observes one commentator. "'Trust me" was his message. And the voters did. He didn't win the election. His opponents lost it.' Don't despair. Dibdin's novel suggests, sort of, that scepticism's on the agenda and the fight goes on.

The Hidden Man

By Charles Cumming

Michael Joseph 352pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

ILL-OMENED reunion between stylish old M16 hand Christopher Keen and his two sons Mark and Benjamin, who've not seen their father for twenty years. Much bad blood to be siphoned off, much secret history - the West's bungling of its part in the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, postwar gangsterism in present-day London - to be laid bare. Christopher is murdered after an unsuccessful reunion dinner at the Savoy with Ben, and Mark is dead soon after. Not much wringing of hands; more of a passing shrug. Cumming's depiction of contemporary intelligence work makes it sound even shabbier than Le Carrt's, but his account rings painfully true with its supporting cast, including hard-boiled Evening Standard hackette (one with 'an arse so firm you could crack an egg on it') and espionage plotters all prowling greedily through locations, up-market and down. As an entertainment it's rather like watching sharks being fed. Disquieting, brutal, riveting. I hardly dared to put the book down. Anything might happen while you're looking the other way.

Six Easy Pieces

By Walter Mosley

Serpent's Tail order from our bookshop

NOT quite a novel but, as the title implies, six ingeniously linked episodes in which Easy Rawlins - school janitor and neighbourhood troubleshooter - seeks redemption for what he thlnks is the death (certainly the dsappearance) of his psychopathic friend Mouse, who stopped a bullet on his behalf. A fidl package of hopes, fears, triumphs and chsasters all worlung themselves out on the race-troubled streets of Watts. A prostitute is lulled, there's a triple murder and suicide, air hostess Bonnie - with whom Easy has hopefdly set up home - is pursued by an African prince, Mouse breezes back kom the dead, and Easy talks love and peace to his adopted children. In Mosely's hands it's a parable of America going about its business, the dream as well as the nightmare. These are notes on the stuff that social studes leave out.

Truecrime

By Jake Arnott

Sceptre 338pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

THIRD and last (for the time being) volume in Arnott's criminal retrospective of the past four decades, with interest focused on search for gold buhon stolen in famous robbery thirty-odd years ago and traced - after fugitive chef thief is spotted at Kray hneral - to hlding place beneath floor of East End warehouse chosen as location for new Britcrime film. Able and authentic-soundng, with heavies - mostly pseudonymous - giving cred to both words and deeds. But less gaudy, less interesting and less vital than Arnott's earlier instalments.

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