Jessica Mann

February 2015 Crime Round-Up

  • Pierre Lemaitre (Translated by Frank Wynne), 
  • Robert Ryan, 
  • Helen FitzGerald, 
  • Elizabeth Haynes, 
  • Harri Nykanen, 
  • Christobel Kent, 
  • Chris Brookmyre

Camille

By Pierre Lemaitre (Translated by Frank Wynne)

MacLehose Press 368pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This original and poignant story is the final instalment in a trilogy that has been a dazzling success in the author’s native France and elsewhere. The first to be published in English was the second volume, Alex, which won international prizes, including one from the British Crime Writers’ Association, as well as attracting a good deal of criticism for its sadism, of which there is plenty more in this final episode. Lemaitre believes that if people choose to read crime fiction they must both expect and perhaps even enjoy brutality. This is not the place for me to dispute that idea, but I must admit to skipping some pages of Camille, the extremely graphic descriptions of which struck me as gratuitously shocking. Its principal character is Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a Paris police detective. He is physically diminutive, the effect of foetal hypotrophy (in other words, his mother’s smoking when pregnant stunted his growth). But he is an intellectual giant. In each book, his task is to find the (male) perpetrator of some inventive torture of a good-looking woman. Lots of intuition and a sprinkling of police procedure always do the trick.

A Study in Murder

By Robert Ryan

Simon & Schuster 464pp £20 order from our bookshop

Almost as many Sherlock Holmes stories have been written since Arthur Conan Doyle died as he wrote in his lifetime. Very few of these unauthorised sequels are a patch on the originals, but the books in Robert Ryan’s series featuring Dr Watson are an exception. This one follows on from The Dead Can Wait, last year’s thrilling First World War adventure. Major John Watson has been caught by the enemy and taken deep inside Germany to one of the more unpleasant prisoner of war camps, where he is the target of unwelcome attention both from the commandant and from the senior British officers. Watson uncovers serious crimes in the camp, but it doesn’t seem likely that he will have the chance to inform anyone in authority. And if he were to, would they in any case care? All is sorted out by the end of the book, leaving Watson injured, but free to fight another day. A Study in Murder is a very good read.

The Exit

By Helen FitzGerald

Faber & Faber 320pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

No one believes a ten-year-old and no one believes an oldie, especially when she is slipping into dementia. The infirmities of old age and the prospect of imminent death underlie everything in this clever, perceptive novel. Badly treated as a child evacuee, Rose’s complaints were ignored at the time. Now in her eighties, her complaints are once again being ignored. She can’t make anyone believe there is something awful going on in her care home. Then a new carer, Catherine, arrives. She is a 23-year-old graduate but rather immature and still dependent on her mother’s criticism and advice, which she nearly always follows. Her mother has always organised every moment of her own and other people’s lives: it was she who directed Catherine to get a job at the local care home. Before long she becomes a resident there herself, dying as she had lived, always in control – and, in doing so, she teaches her daughter (and the reader) a good deal about several unmentionable, or at least unmentioned, subjects.

Behind Closed Doors

By Elizabeth Haynes

Sphere 416pp £13.99 order from our bookshop

Elizabeth Haynes’s great strength as a writer, in this novel as in her previous, award-winning Into the Darkest Corner, is her intimate understanding of contemporary police procedure, derived from seven years’ experience as a police intelligence analyst. She is also very well informed about the niceties (or should that be nastinesses?) of contemporary crime. In this case, her subject is the appalling abduction and enslavement of young women, enticed away or abducted from their homes and forced into prostitution. Ten years before Behind Closed Doors begins fourteen-year-old Scarlett disappeared while on a family holiday in Greece. The failure to find and rescue her is one of Detective Inspector Louisa Smith’s greatest regrets, so she expects answers to many questions when Scarlett suddenly reappears. The book is well written, well informed and likely to leave readers feeling hopeless and helpless.

Behind God’s Back

By Harri Nykanen

Bitter Lemon Press 208pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

Ariel Kafka is a lieutenant in Helsinki’s violent crime unit. He is a slightly unusual policeman, being one of only two Jews in the Finnish police service, so when a Jewish businessman is murdered, he ends up with the case. He is astonished by the tales of smuggling, gangland killing and other crimes within the Jewish community, which he had thought he knew so well. Then there is a second murder, which brings the Security Police into the case. It even looks as if Mossad is involved. Kafka is nonconformist as a cop and unconventional in his private life, but in the end he can be relied on to deliver the goods. The writing is quite dry and unadorned and the prominent characters are all men, but the book is informative about aspects of life in Finland and the plot is carefully designed, so it is an interesting, if not exciting, read.

The Crooked House

By Christobel Kent

Sphere 358pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The Crooked House is a melodrama set in a suitably sinister place, a village on a muddy estuary in East Anglia. Alison accompanies her boyfriend to a wedding there, but doesn’t tell him that as a teenager she had lived there herself, in a place called the Crooked House. She was called Esme in those days. One day her brother, sisters and mother were murdered, and her father was convicted of massacring his family. As the sole survivor, she was given a new name and whisked away to distant Cornwall, putting her old life behind her. Back in the village many years later, Alison inevitably tries to investigate her own past – and equally inevitably has dramatic confrontations with deceit and danger. Christobel Kent always writes with skill and elegance, but I do hope she will return to her series about an Italian detective in Florence.

Dead Girl Walking

By Chris Brookmyre

Little, Brown 384pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

This book is not easy reading for someone who knows nothing about pop music or about Brookmyre’s earlier books featuring an antihero called Jack Parlabane, an investigative journalist. Dead Girl Walking begins when he has lost everything – marriage, career and self-respect – though we are not told how or why. He is given one last chance – his job is to find out what has happened to a pop star, the beautiful Heike Gunn, who has gone missing from a European concert tour. The tour itself is described in alternate chapters by Parlabane and an inexperienced young singer who is on the bus taking the group from one capital city to another. Brookmyre writes beautifully and describes an unfamiliar world vividly and credibly. Although baffled, I was hooked and enjoyed reading on to the end.

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