Philip Oakes

Crime Round Up April 2003

  • Neil Cross, 
  • Nicci French, 
  • Laura Wilson, 
  • John Malcolm, 
  • Richard Dooling, 
  • Frances Fyfield, 
  • Robert Ferrigno

Holloway Falls

By Neil Cross

Scribner 406pp £10 order from our bookshop

DISTINCTIVE original, often bamng account of trauma shared by exdetective William Holloway (hunted as rogue cop and murderer) and psychic Andrew Taylor, who leaves his home and family with hudulently acquired 438,000 and a scary habit of dreaming of deaths to come. Real murders and mutilations happen horribly, with a creepy assassin doing the deeds. Meanwhile, both men's problems are joined and compounded by hudulent cult leader Rex Dryden, notable for his 'refined intelligence and phlegmy lascivious East London cackle'. Scores settled, questions (at least some of them) answered in pyrornaniacal climax which leaves survivors racked and convalescent. Rather like a sustained nightmare, methodically recorded and seeded with touchstones that make the impossible just about credible. Powerfully atmospheric and hypnotically rendered, with a cast of oddballs who cling to the norm like the flimsiest of life-belts. At the book's end you may not be able to say precisely where you've been, but you'll know you've taken a hell of a ride.

 

Land of the Living

By Nicci French

Michael Joseph 309pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

INGENIOUS adroit thriller, cunningly constructed to explain itselfbackwards with kidnap victim Abbie Devereux - who escapes from cellar prison where she has been kept in the dark by unknown villain, tethered, hooded and in fear of imminent death - trying to convince disbelieving police that she was a genuine prisoner and at the same time striving to remember and reconstruct her missing days so that she can identie and track down her kidnapper before he can grab her again. Truly frightening. Hotly recommended, but not to any reader prone to even the mildest strain of paranoia.

 

Hello Bunny Alice

By Laura Wilson

Orion 247pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

SAD Sixties memoir by ex-Bunny Girl Alice Conway, cotton-tailed fiancee of famed comic Lenny Maxted, who ends their three-day engagement by hanging himself in a cottage owned by a friendly toff. More bad news for Alice seven years later when she's sent a newspaper cutting telling of a decomposed body found in a car dumped in the lake near the suicide cottage. The only identification is a bunny girl costume containing the bones. They belong, Alice realises, to a tarty former colleague who unaccountably disappeared after she went to a party with Lenny. Suspicions of murder loom large when Lenny's former comedy partner, Jack Flowers, turns up on her doorstep. What does he know about the body in the lake? Why did Lenny hang himself? Disappointingly self-evident answers to questions stemming from Sixties sexual frolics, with two-way mirrors and a blackmailer's camera spoiling the fun and games. Plausible and menacing enough, but Wilson misses out on the grubby essence of the tat that turns to terror. The Playboy ambience, in which good humour goes dangerously to the bad, is not fleshed-out. The vital on-stage, on-camera relationship which makes Lenny and Jack such a star duo is never adequately explained. In her three previous novels Wilson has used time past as a background or a trigger to interpret the present. Here she misses the vital connections. The past remains another country, where the road signs are few and the natives are unhelpful. Wilson remains a fine, fluent writer, following no one, marking out her own patch. A pity that this time round she seems so uneasy with the terrain.

 

Circles and Squares

By John Malcolm

Allison & Busby 232pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

TRIM, gossipy and knowledgeable art thrlller with upmarket rugger bugger Tim Simpson up to his ears in old adulteries and present-day murder when he seeks out paintings by Sir William Nicholson and his abstract artist son Ben to add aesthetic lustre to White's Art Fund. Lots of old bedroom intelligence about who cheated on who in the dirtv Thirties and a dreadful warning that forgeries of Ben's work in the 1980s may have lopped k2m off his market value. Irresistible snippets about the late Iris Barry, famous film critic and lover of Wyndharn Lewis, whose last attachment was to an olive oil smuggler she met at the Cannes Film Festival. Verv crisp, funny and entertaining.

 

Bet Your Life

By Richard Dooling

Secker & Warburg 340pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

ALL YOU ever wanted to know (and perhaps more than you can absorb) about insurance fraud, especially 'viaticals', life insurance policies sold at a discount to terminally ill patients in order to lay hands on some ready money. Cheerless and hectic setting in Omaha, Nebraska, the insurance capital of America's Midwest, where Carver Harnett and Miranda Pryor (the touch-me-not sexpot of Reliance Insurance) investigate the allegedly natural death of company hotshot Lenny Stillman, recently fired for his improper rejection of the claims of twenty dead Nigerians all called Mohammed Bilko. Well, of course it was murder, but with so many illegal substances on the go, how do you prove it? A steady fall-out of jet-black jokes, with sex, dope and cupidity chosen as the main targets. Blisteringly hnny, but you may have trouble staying up with the comic idiom.

 

Seeking Sanctuary

By Frances Fyfield

Little, Brown 277pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

THERE is growing daftness about Fyfield's recent novels - flungtogether plots, logic replaced by happenstance, characterisation best described as whimsical - which suggests a slackening of technique coupled with a galloping selfindulgence. Others view her difLerently 'The best female crime writer in this country', murmurs one dazed reviewer who probably regards Jefrey Archer as a master of the short story. But Fyfield's latest will put all loyalties to the test. In his will. Theodore Calvert. presumed dead, enemy of his deceased wife (a creature of 'terrible holiness') leaves the vroceeds of a trust hnd to his two Lghters, Anna and Therese, on condition that for two years they remain free of sin (defined as incest, cruelty and treachery). He does not mention or leave a bequest to Jack, the son of hs housekeeper, who believes wrongly that Theodore is his father and sets out to corrupt Anna and Therese (incest is his chosen weapon) so that by sinning they do themselves out of their legacy. Jack reinvents himself as Francis, an angelic-looking handyman at the convent where Therese is a probationer. He is beloved by the nuns but utterly evil, so much so that he lures the dozy Therese to his garden shed where he is about to have his wicked way when a drunken nun (you see what I mean about characterisation) lumbers to the rescue with a penknife at the ready. The allegedly dead father also reappears (he has been waiting in the wings as one of the phone customers of the taxi firm where Anna is employed) and even an old, ruined priest who thought hs life was over is allowed to join in the family celebrations ('he thought he had never heard anythung more beautiful than laughter'). My own laughter was less charitable. Seeking Sanctuary is banal, limply written, superstitious (rather than reverent) and deeply, irredeemably silly. It's unlikely that Fyfield cares one jot what I think of her novels. But, for my own comfort and out of a deep respect for the genre, this is the last of them that I ever intend to review.

 

Scavenger Hunt

By Robert Ferrigno

Hutchinson 324pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

CALIFORNIA noir with movie-buff columnist Jimmy Gage investigating supposed death of young Tarantinostyle director just out of jail clutching reputation-saving script &er serving seven years for rape and murder of blonde starlet. He confessed to the crime, committed in drunken rage. But did he do it? And if not, who? Very tough, very busy, with the usual cast of Hollywood wannabes, grisly Scene of Crime interludes and a monstrous female cop, surprisingly good at her job, who makes eating a steak look like assault with a deadly weapon. The noir tradition is alive and well. Ferrigno does it proud.

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