Philip Oakes

Crime Round Up March 2003

  • Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, 
  • Lee Jackson, 
  • Lee Child, 
  • Donna Leon, 
  • Nicolas Feeling, 
  • Ed McBain, 
  • Robert Crais

The Silence of the Rain

By Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Picador 261pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

GLACIALLY spaced-out detective story, more concerned with atmospherics than deduction, set in sharply delineated Rio de Janeiro, where sexually profligate company executive Ricardo Carvalho ('Women were nothing more than a constant reminder of his power to seduce') blows out his brains in city car park. He leaves behind money and instructions which - if acted on - will make his suicide look like murder, setting in train a life insurance claim for $lm. Unexpected glitch aborts larcenous plot and results in torture and murder of two non-beneficiaries. Investigation by disenchanted Inspector Espinosa - forty-two years old, living alone in barren flat, brooding about death and women who might take his mind off the Reaper. A rather odd translation; not exactly stiff, but unrelaxed. Like wearing a new shirt for the first time; you half expect to be stabbed by the pin that's been keeping the collar in place. Light years away from US cop procedurals and home whodunits. A cast of cold, self-absorbed people who go through their paces modishly and efficiently, rarely breaking into sweat, whatever the provocation. Strewn with rueful asides ('Every written secret is meant to be discovered'), unremittingly intelligent, distinctly different. You don't need to love it to admire it.

 

London Dust

By Lee Jackson

Arrow 296pp £6.99 order from our bookshop

POWERFUL piece of scene-setting which reads rather like notes for a secret Dickensian masterwork in which tarts, thieves and Salvationists strut their stuff against a London oozing fog, sweat and squalor. A reedy plot strung precariously on the death by drowning of a music-hall singer, but action out-gunned by the city itself - grimy, vital and picked out as precisely as a street map. When Jackson has a tale to tell as robust as his backgrounds he will be a writer to reckon with.

 

Persuader

By Lee Child

Bantam Press 395pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

FIRST-PERSON narrative by action man Jack Reacher, ex-military-cop-turned-trouble-shooter, here pursuing murderous gun dealer Francis Xavier Quinn, who, Reacher thought, he had permanently disposed of years earlier, only to spot him sitting snugly in a limo outside New York's Symphony Hall. What he's plotting now, it transpires, is a massive deal involving drugs and/or guns. Reacher goes undercover with government help to bring him down. Very tense stuff, with JR working surreptitiously in the enemy camp in order to find and liberate female federal agent who's being held captive. Real urgency as previous female captive - Reacher's lover - was tortured and killed by sadistic Quinn. A scrupulously structured thriller, notable for its down-to-earth skill in demonstrating, step-by-step, how deeds (good and bad) are performed. An ocean blow-hole off the Maine coast is used to suck corpses far out to sea where hungry sharks are waiting. A bodyguard-cum-assassin, gorged on steroids and impervious to pain, is demolished, limb by limb, by the indestructible Reacher. What Childs succeeds in doing, against all odds, is exorcise the comic strip aura. His fiction is a thrilling and reputable read which can be savoured - in public, if need be - without once moving your lips.

 

Uniform Justice

By Donna Leon

Heinemann 272pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

SHAMEFUL tale of strings pulled and justice denied, with Leon's impeccable cop, Commissario Guido Brunetti, fighting corruption and city hall to expose the graft that triggers the death (murder disguised as suicide) of a young cadet in Venice's elite military academy. Deeply sympathetic portrait of a truth-seeker at war with monied time-servers, with Brunetti's reflections (he thinks of Parliament 'in the way most Italians thought of their mother-in-law . . . still demanding obedience and reverence while never behaving in a manner that would merit either') giving point and poignancy to the conflict. Twelfth in a series which grows increasingly desperate and despairing. How long will Brunetti have the courage to fight the good fight?

The Janeites

By Nicolas Feeling

Arcadia 167pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

SHORT, savage comedy which explores the loves, hurt feelings and salvaged honour of husband, wife and lover in diplomatically frigid Strasbourg, where the bonding between the three is complicated by cancer which is contracted by the husband, treated by the doctor (who believes that intense reading of Jane Austen subdues the symptoms) and teased into near-remission by the wife who eventually slips back into her married status. Some violence - a beating-up and a bombing - which is presumably what puts the book on the EuroCrime shelf. But, really, a meditation on changing times, bad manners and good, and how devout Janeites (ie admirers of Jane Austen's fiction) employ the lady's contempt for the world as the only way to regard life's absurd ups and downs. Marvellous grumpy throwaways: 'One can refuse atheism, but that's no barrier to being anti-clerical.' Some difficulties with high style disdaining the complexities of a tangled plot. Essential reading for Freeling admirers: acid, addictive and inimitable.

 

Fat Ollie's Book

By Ed McBain

Orion 271pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

IRRESISTIBLY comic 87th Precinct caper starring Fat Ollie Weeks, the slob with a badge, whose career takes an unexpected spin when, while investigating the murder of an up-and-coming politician tipped to be the next mayor, his car is broken into and the manuscript of his cherished book, a docu-novel called Report to the Commissioner, is stolen. The thief - out of his head on smack - takes Ollie's story for real and distils from the turgid tome directions to a hidden hoard of diamonds. The politician's murder, a gang of drug dealers, the fictional hot rocks and Ollie in pursuit of his missing book marvellously collide, revealing McBain as an expert farceur who never forgets when guns need to go bang. Mer fifty years on the job both his talent and his stamina seem unassailable. Don't take it all for granted; give thanks that you share the same time span with an absolute master. There is nothing and no one around guaranteed to give the same sharp excitements, the same steady delight.

 

The Last Detective

By Robert Crais

Orion 279pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

ELVIS Cole, white knight of American noir, seeks help from old friends encountered in earlier fiction (Joe Pike from LA Requiem, Carol Starkey from Demolition Angel) in finding small son of lover Lucy Chenier, who is snatched by persons unknown from Cole's secluded home. No clues to identity of kidnapper but Cole is threatened with unspecified revenge by caller claiming knowledge of secret (and spurious) crimes committed by the PI twenty years ago in Vietnam. Mercenaries on the international hit list turn out to be the hands-on heavies. But who hired them? Who has it in for innocent Cole? Brilliant and convincing detective work, suspense that erupts in shoot-out in abandoned airport. Deeply satisfying stuff, but chancy too as both the deductions and the daring rest psychologically on Cole's memories of a scarred childhood and a war-torn adolescence. What we need to get us through, implies Crais, is fortitude and loyalty. It's the stuff of heroes, the rare meat of crime fiction. Crais lets his convictions show and delivers a prime cut.

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