After You Die by Eva Dolan; The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr; The Hollow Men  by Rob McCarthy; Dead Pretty by David Mark; Fire Damage by Kate Medina; The Ex by Alafair Burke ; In the Cold Dark Ground  by Stuart MacBride; The Appearance of Murder by John Nightingale; The Guilty One  by Sophie Littlefield  - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

February 2016 Crime Round-up

  • Eva Dolan, 
  • Philip Kerr, 
  • Rob McCarthy, 
  • David Mark, 
  • Kate Medina, 
  • Alafair Burke , 
  • Stuart MacBride, 
  • John Nightingale, 
  • Sophie Littlefield 

After You Die

By Eva Dolan

Harvill Secker 384pp £12.99 order from our bookshop


Eva Dolan writes crime fiction with a message. Earlier novels have focused on the rise of the Far Right in politics and the unregulated, unprotected lives of migrant workers. The issues in this third novel are the ‘right to die’ controversy and disability-related hate crime. A woman who has reported numerous episodes of harassment to the police is found murdered and her paraplegic daughter, crippled by a riding accident, has been left to starve to death. Dolan’s novels could almost be used as sociology textbooks, but most readers will simply enjoy them as very well-written thrillers featuring two sympathetic detectives, Inspector Zigic and Sergeant Ferreira. Her books are set in and around a city Dolan has described as ‘relatively small, post-industrial, with very little to mark it out’. We are not told whether the inhabitants of Peterborough agree with that description.

The Other Side of Silence

By Philip Kerr

Quercus Books 480pp £18.99 order from our bookshop


Welcome back to the alternative universe of Bernie Gunther, no longer steering his way through the terrifying territory that was Nazi-dominated Europe. The Nazis are finished and Bernie has moved to the French Riviera, where he works as a hotel concierge. But trouble follows him. An apparently casual introduction to Somerset Maugham whisks Bernie back into the world of spies and secrets at the writer’s famously beautiful and luxurious Villa Mauresque. At a time when homosexuality was a crime punishable by imprisonment and the Cold War was at its chilliest, real events and spies were hardly more strange than fiction; there is no need for a novelist to stray very far from history. This is an excellent, exciting and well-researched novel about a period and place that are still within living memory.

The Hollow Men 

By Rob McCarthy

Mulholland Books 368pp £7.99 order from our bookshop


Rob McCarthy is a medical student who has started writing crime fiction as an escape from his textbooks. His protagonist is Dr Harry Kent, once an army medic, now a hospital registrar, police surgeon and defender of lost causes. When Kent is called in to advise the police in a hostage situation, he finds himself defending the gun-toting hostage taker, Solomon Idris, who turns out to be not a seasoned criminal but a sick teenager. Why does nobody else seem to care what drove him to such a desperate crime? Harry does care; and investigating the reasons for his behaviour calls on all the skills he learned in the field of war. This is a good story, well told, and very much enriched by an insider’s knowledge of illnesses and their treatment and hospital procedure. My copy of the book came garlanded with praise for this one and promises about McCarthy’s next. I look forward to it.

Dead Pretty

By David Mark

Mulholland Books 336pp £12.99 order from our bookshop


Described on the dust jacket as a ‘DS McAvoy Novel’, Dead Pretty features not only the detective sergeant but also his wife, children, colleagues and boss. Their personal relationships are unusual, with the senior police officers, all of them women, devotedly protective of Aector McAvoy, whose own life’s work seems to be looking after them, his feisty wife and any other damsel, distressed or otherwise, who crosses his path. The discovery of a young woman’s dead and mutilated body is only the start of a complicated multi-murder investigation in which the chief suspect has already been convicted of the crime but was let out of jail because a police officer committed perjury at his trial. Nearly every British provincial city has been bagged for a crime series; David Mark’s books are set in Hull. It is the insalubrious aspects of the city and the squalid side of its policing operations that appear here, with too few officers and too many unsolved crimes, perjured evidence and some very nasty torture scenes, all apparently ultra-realistic. We are not shown the features that qualified Hull to be next year’s UK City of Culture.

Fire Damage

By Kate Medina

HarperCollins 400pp £12.99 order from our bookshop


Crime novels are often greatly enhanced by an author’s personal experience, for insider stories inevitably trump those based solely on research. Kate Medina has a degree in psychology and five years’ experience as an officer in the Territorial Army, so in casting her heroine, the psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn, as an army officer, she is writing with authority about a world she knows. And what a grim and shameful world it seems to be, as an endless procession of wounded and traumatised soldiers return from distant battlefields and, more or less inevitably and frequently, infect their families with the damage they have suffered. Jessie’s patient is a soldier’s son, a four-year-old boy with behavioural problems. Treating him brings Jessie into contact with crimes, criminals and detectives, and also makes her confront her own demons. Much of this book is gripping, but am I the only reader to find infants’ prattle unreadable?

The Ex

By Alafair Burke 

Faber & Faber 288pp £12.99 order from our bookshop


A New York lawyer takes on the case of her one-time boyfriend, whose wife died in a massacre carried out by a lunatic. The shooter died too, but now the widower, Jack Harris, is accused of the revenge killing of the murderer’s father. As always happens in American courtroom fiction, the defence attorney and her team turn themselves into detectives, unearthing evidence, gathering clues and second-guessing the authorities. This is one for readers who like dramatic trials, ingenious legal tricks and surprise solutions. The plot’s mystery may be solved, but arising from this book and most other courtroom dramas set in the USA, where there is little legal aid, is another, larger mystery that remains unanswered: with a lawyer and her team working full-time on a single case, who pays?

In the Cold Dark Ground 

By Stuart MacBride

HarperCollins 400pp £16.99 order from our bookshop


This is the fourteenth story in the immensely popular series featuring the Scottish detective Sergeant Logan McRae and his comically ghastly superior, DCI Steel. Plenty of black humour here, as well as dramatic incidents and a vivid, fact-based background. Highly recommended.

The Appearance of Murder

By John Nightingale

Spider Monkey Books 420pp £12.99 order from our bookshop


Any book whose jacket quotes praise from John Sutherland must be worth reading. In this witty and entertaining story of a crime writer who has lost interest in his recurring hero, and lost all memory of much of his life, there is a good deal to relish.

The Guilty One 

By Sophie Littlefield 

Head of Zeus 384pp £18.99 order from our bookshop


This book begins with the aftermath of a murder. Both the young female victim and her schoolmate killer were just children at the time. How can either set of parents ever manage to forgive or atone? Well written, quite moving, very Californian.

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