Manda Scott is a very good writer and an insightful historian who has brought a variety of characters, including Boudica, to life in her fiction. Into the Fire is set in two periods. The contemporary story features Inès Picault, a tough female police inspector dealing with a series of murderous arson attacks on victims who have one thing in common – a connection with the story of Joan of Arc, who is at the centre of the alternating chapters, which are set in the 15th century. Scott believes there is no way that the Maid of Orléans could really have been, as the story has it, a simple peasant. Without long training and education nobody could ride and wield weapons, concoct strategy and command an army. But the secret of the young woman’s identity is still a dangerous one centuries later, bringing mayhem to Picault’s Orléans. This is an exciting story, vividly told – with a persuasive thesis, at least for readers who are not medieval historians. Whether sense or nonsense, it is a very good read.
Maria used to be a television presenter in Stockholm. She has a husband, two grown-up children and a dog called Castor. She has done something dreadful and needs to disappear, so she moves into an isolated house on Exmoor, where she spends the winter walking Castor in the wild countryside, making superficial friendships with local people, re-examining her memories and concocting an elaborate plan of action come the spring. The narrative is calm and low key, the dramatis personae mostly in middle age and far from glamorous and the plot moves forward via dialogue rather than action. But the smooth, silky prose holds the reader’s attention from start to finish, and it’s no surprise to discover that this book won the Palle Rosencrantz Prize for best thriller of the year.
No crime-fiction reader can have failed to notice the current fashion for novels featuring a women in a fix, often self-created. These are the contemporary version of what used to be called ‘Had I but known’ novels. Their hapless heroines are often police officers, and I can’t deny that my heart sank when I read the blurb on Kate London’s Post Mortem. I was wrong, because this one stands out from the crowd. It is knowledgeable, thoughtful, sensitive and well written, telling the story of one mistake and the ripples and waves that result from it. A young policewoman, Lizzie, is partnering a long-serving constable in London’s East End. He is accused of making racist remarks but is killed while rescuing a small child from danger. Dead, he becomes a legendary hero. Lizzie, meanwhile, lies low. The changing priorities of policing and the evolving prejudices of society in general are ever-present undercurrents in this excellent and thought-provoking novel.
This is a well-planned and intriguing thriller, set in an only too plausible near-future, when America can no longer pay its debts; in lieu of money, the Chinese have established extraterritorial enclaves in, among other places, California. Life goes on, but underlying work, leisure, politics and everything else is the fact of the macro-political situation: Americans are no longer in control of their own country. This shameful awareness informs every aspect of daily life, including the less than routine moments, as we follow a brilliant young investigative journalist who has discovered that her younger sister has been murdered. The plot is complicated but credible, the storytelling persuasive and exciting, and the characters convincingly painted.
Taking over an earlier author’s characters (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and so on) is fashionable, profitable and widely accepted. Making fictional use of the actual author is something else. Much as I admire Nicola Upson’s writing, I find it impossible to forget how distasteful Josephine Tey, who died in 1952, would have found this use of her name (or, rather, her pseudonym) for a fictional character. But it can’t be denied that Tey’s status somehow enriches the adventures Upson has invented for her amateur detective. This clever mystery, the sixth in the series, is also one of the best. It is set mainly in the newly built Broadcasting House just before the coronation of George VI in 1937. Tey’s friend Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose is called in to investigate the murder of a famous broadcaster. Upson supplies lots of fascinating, carefully researched period detail and information, as fact and invention are seamlessly combined.
Books that are meant to be funny tend to provoke a severe sense of humour failure in me. So I was surprised to find myself giggling, hooked by this tale of rampaging women growing old disgracefully. Three are in their sixties and one is a wheelchair-bound valetudinarian. They are advised by an octogenarian gangster and enriched by their first revenge-robbery from a non- listening bank. They drive off to France and down to the Riviera, add a teenage hitchhiker to their team, get entangled with a Russian mafia gang and live happily ever after on their well-gotten gains. An enjoyable romp spiced up by the author’s sharp and perceptive eye.
HMS Tenacity is a nuclear submarine on which an officer has committed suicide. On shore, Lieutenant Danielle Lewis, recently reassigned to a subdivision of the Royal Navy’s special investigation branch, is assigned the case. Dan, like so many current detective-heroines (especially those invented by male authors), is disobedient, gutsy, indefatigable and alone. It’s almost needless to say that she has a horrible time on board HMS Tenacity, or to add that her mistreatment only makes her the more determined to expose what’s wrong. This is Law’s first thriller; previously he was in the navy and served on submarines. His descriptions of the claustrophobic, cramped conditions on board and the behaviour of submariners of all ranks is fascinating and convincing. Tenacity is an excellent debut.
This is a competent, carefully planned take on a thriller theme that has become a regrettable cliché: the abduction and murder of a series of young women. The story is told by Tessa, who at sixteen was the only target of a serial killer to survive. Her testimony helped to convict him years ago. But now Tessa is being teased or tormented by someone who keeps planting in her garden the flower after which the killer’s victims were named. In alternating chapters, featuring Tessa in the present day and Tessa in the past, the story unfolds. What really happened all those years ago and what is really happening now?
In this final volume of Goddard’s admirable ‘The Wide World’ trilogy, James Maxted travels from Paris to Japan, where he discovers the truth about his father’s death and his own birth. A clever, twisted tale, credibly mixing crime, history and adventure.
An expensive call girl gives an uncensored account of how she earns her living. Gradually the reader discovers why she has chosen that dangerous career and how she can use it to get even. Interesting, instructive and gripping, but definitely for adults only.