Philip Oakes

Crime Round Up November 2003

  • Sara Paretsky, 
  • Jefferson Parker, 
  • Robert Barnard, 
  • Walter Mosley, 
  • Denise Hamilton, 
  • Carlo Lucarelli (Trans Oonagh Stransky), 
  • John Fullerton

Blacklist

By Sara Paretsky

Hamish Hamilton 432pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

EMOTIONALLY sand-bagged by the events of 9/11 and with her lover, hotshot journo Morell, oceans away cloak-and-dagger reporting in Afghanistan, normally self-reliant Chicago private investigator V I Warshawski fends off fears and foreboding by taking on routine stakeout in retirement estate for the rich where 91-year-old mother of important client claims to have seen lights late at night in derelict family home. Creatively snooping (her favourite tactic) to ascertain what's what. Warshawski first encounters spoiled but idealistic teenage daughter of family that's employing her (possibly helping to hide terrorist suspect), then the body of smart black journalist drowned in ornamental pond. No connection there, surely. Think again. Everything Warshawski touches (in this case whilst looking into the murder of the journalist) clangs and clamours like alarms reverberating round an echo chamber. Her investigation stirs memories of McCarthyism, with motives for murder going back to 1957, an era teeming with witch-hunters and supposedly arrow-straight WASPS. Have the rules for official persecution changed so much over the years? Warshawski begs leave to doubt. Narrative a bit strung-out, with old treacheries (all germane to the action) somehow less resonant than they ought to be. But Paretsky's compelling look at the dark side of nostalgia is tough and true. Good guys are not as good as they should be. True love has a hard time of it. Warshawslu too, but she wears her bruises with distinction. She complains a lot about colds and cramps. She is incorrigibly nosy (like all good PIS, she believes in her God given right to know all). She is prickly, honest, brave, funny, liberal without being self-righteous and genuinely likeable - a quality lacking or poorly defined in most female crime-busters. Sara Paretsky shows her skill and good sense by allowing her detective to come of age on the page - dedicated, determined and so vulnerable that she's a casualty as much as she is a heroine. Your sympathies are properly engaged. Learning that Morell, wounded by Tahban fire, is alive and on his way back to V I for tender loving care thls reader, at least, allowed himself a small cheer.

Cold Pursuit

By Jefferson Parker

HarperCollins 360pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

FEUDS and rivalries between tuna fishing families in San Diego lie behind the murder of Portuguese dynast Pete Braga, found clubbed to death in his bayside home, 'his face a bloody mask of surprise and confusion'. Investigation headed by Irish homicide cop Tom McMichael, whose grandfather was shot dead long ago by Braga in a pay dispute and whose father allegedly carried out a revenge attack on Braga's teenage son which left the boy permanently brain-damaged. Further complication when McMichael fds for Braga's beautiful blonde nurse, who may or may not be implicated in his murder. Intense, heavy-breathing stuff. with macho men and ambitious women whose "gl ands work overtime, emitting a heady blend of testosterone, vanity and greed that a naked flame could set alight. Background of corporative hustling with something illegal being imported from Mexico (Could it be drugs? Could it be much, much worse?) craftily inked in. Well-detailed police procedures, with graft and jealousy gumming up the works. Tefferson writes complex a and intriguing thrillers which he pares down, leaving the essentials intact, into the speediest, most shapely model on the block. This one will burn up the reading hours

 

A Cry From The Dark

By Robert Barnard

Allison & Busby 260pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

BETTINA Whitelaw, elegant, eighty year- old grande dame of contemporary Brit lit, sits in her Holland Park flat composing her memoir of a childhood spent in the Australian outback, from whence she escaped to Europe after a teenage rape - attacker still unidentified. Bettina realises she may be in danger again after a former housekeeper is attacked by mystery assailant. Are the memoirs revealing secrets best kept hidden? Rather rambling who-dun-what, with narrative divided between Bettina's teen years in faraway Oz, and her golden autumn, cruelly under threat. Barnard snipes enjoyably at recent literary icons (Kingsley Amis gets a well-deserved shin hacking), but there's not much mystery and the tale-telling dawdles. There are two genres in tandem here, but they are not pulling together.

Fear Itself

By Walter Mosley

Serpent's Tail 320pp £12 order from our bookshop

MOSLEY'S return to perfect form continues with a second outing: for U Fearless Jones (sex machine, faithful friend and the most dauntless private eye on the block), on the trail of murder, an end to the plight of the wealthiest black woman in LA and the whereabouts of a unique family heirloom. a book documenting: the history of a Negro family back 70 its slave days in Africa. Eloquently told by Paris Minton. bookseller. friend to Fearless and fervent coward. As he puts it: 'I'm afraid of rodents and birds, bald tires, fire and loud noises. Any building I've ever been in I know all of its exits.' Eventful, exciting and deeply funny. Time to stop worrying about how often Mosley switches genres and beg him to stick with Fearless. Crime fiction needs him.

The Jasmine Trade

By Denise Hamilton

Orion 279pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

IN January Orion launches novels by nine new authors (including Alafair Burke, daughter of the great James Lee Burke) under the banner of the 'New Blood Crime Syndicate'. Denise Hamilton's The Jasmine Trade is a promising early sample, dealing with tribulations of so-called 'parachute kids' - the children of wealthy Hong Kong residents, dumped in Los Angeles with ample funds, but with absentee parents who prefer to stay at home where they're striking it rich. Researching the phenomenon, LA Times reporter Eve Diamond finds herself investigating the murder of seventeen-year-old Marina Lu. shot in the car park of a shopping centre where she had been choosing outfits for the bridesmaids at her coming wedding. Suspicious circumstances grow like bindweed and soon Eve finds herself poised to blow the gaff on a thriving syndicate of prostitution, with sex slaves toiling in Asiatic brothels. Pacy, lucid story-telling which never runs out of road or fuel, but dithers slightly about its final destination. Full marks, though, for new material and freshness of approach. If this is the standard we can expect from New Blood books to come, crime writing is in for a major transfusion.

 

Almost Blue

By Carlo Lucarelli (Trans Oonagh Stransky)

Harvill Press 169pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

SERIAL killer stalks, slaughters and dismembers students in backstreet Bologna and is pursued by neophyte female detective DI Grazia Negro. No one knows the killer's identity except for Simone, a blind recluse who spends his days 'scanning silence in the way an electronic scanner sweeps the airwaves for sounds and voices' and, between times, listening to the Chet Baker recording of Almost Blue. Pellme11 account of hunt for the killer, with the city itself wired for sound by way of the blind listener. Vivid and impressionistic rather than soberly set down. Something like the music it celebrates; a virtuoso performance.

A Hostile Place

By John Fullerton

Macmillan 293pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

HARSH, cold-eyed thriller, absolutely the antithesis of a flag-waver, which follows bounty hunter Thomas Morgan - ex-para, veteran of the Falklands - who trails through the wastelands of Afghanistan to gun down top terrorist Osama Bin Laden for a $25 &on jackpot offered by Washington. No heroes identified by Morgan on the alliance side, certainly not 'sociopaths like Rumsfeld and Sharon and that grinning mat, Tony Blair', but ample evidence of the code of honour maintained by Mghani hard men. Fullerton puts the politics on hold and tells his story with heart, guts and go. A brilliant performance, with a fierce, uncosy intelligence setting off the fireworks.

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