Cop Town by Karin Slaughter; The Distance by Helen Giltrow; If I Should Die by Matthew Frank; Blood Med by Jason Webster; The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin; Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman (Translated by Ian Giles); The Swimmer by Joakim Zander; Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith; The Killing Room by Christobel Kent; The Killing of Anna Karenina by Richard Freeborn - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

July 2014 Crime Round-Up

  • Karin Slaughter, 
  • Helen Giltrow, 
  • Matthew Frank, 
  • Jason Webster, 
  • Jason Goodwin, 
  • Andreas Norman (Translated by Ian Giles), 
  • Joakim Zander, 
  • Dwayne Alexander Smith, 
  • Christobel Kent, 
  • Richard Freeborn

Cop Town

By Karin Slaughter

Century 416pp £18.99

The titular cop town is Atlanta, one of the most violent cities in America during the 1970s. It was a decade of liberation for the oppressed, a category that included women, gay men and black people – in fact, everyone not white and male. The plot, which describes the hunt for a killer, is enriched by the vivid portrait of the place and time. Atlanta’s cops have had to let women in, but their world, at work and at home, is still ruled by brutal men who treat women like prostitutes or housemaids. Two young female officers, one from a family of policemen, the other a middle-class war widow, get involved with a city-wide hunt for the murderer of a colleague. Beneath the attention of their male colleagues, the women conduct their own illicit investigation – successfully. This is a gripping thriller with a feminist subtext, describing the foreign country that is the recent past.

The Distance

By Helen Giltrow

Orion Books 400pp £14.99

Charlotte Alton is a well-connected, well-paid, modern woman who lives in a glamorous Docklands apartment and is a popular and prominent figure in London’s high society. As ‘Karla’, Charlotte was previously the head of a secret organisation that buys and sells information, roots around for secrets, fabricates new identities for those who need to lose their old lives and knows what is going on behind closed doors. Charlotte has put that former life behind her. But Karla must be resurrected one last time, to get a hit man into an experimental prison and then to get him and one particular inmate out again – which is when things cease to go according to Charlotte’s plan. This is a gripping story skilfully told and for about three-quarters of the book I was enthralled. But the build-up of increasingly revolting torture scenes became too much for me. Helen Giltrow writes so well that every word carries weight. Less squeamish readers will enjoy the whole of this very good first novel; wimps like me will enjoy most of it.

If I Should Die

By Matthew Frank

Penguin 416pp £14.99

The hero of this unputdownable first novel is Joseph Stark, a soldier who served in Afghanistan and is now a trainee investigator in the Metropolitan Police. He’s recovering from ghastly war wounds and to his sergeant he seems too self-confident and insufficiently deferential for a trainee. Why do senior army officers keep ringing him up? What makes him so sure that an ex-army rough sleeper is not the murderer of a gang member? And why does the boss always take Joseph’s side? The detection side of the book is interesting and well written, but the writer’s passion really comes through in the descriptions of the shabby treatment ex-soldiers receive from our welfare state and also in Joseph’s ruminations on the nature of military service and the compact between soldier and society. Well realised though the action scenes are, this is not so much a thriller as a portrait of one kind of soldier and one kind of policing. I do hope it is the first of a series.

Blood Med

By Jason Webster

Chatto & Windus 368pp £12.99

This engaging series set in contemporary Valencia features an unorthodox detective who solves crimes despite obstruction from a conventional superior. Max Cámara investigates deaths natural and unnatural, including that of his beloved grandfather. At the same time as being a proper whodunnit, this story also reads like a kind of reportage from the real world. The action is set against a background of political ferment as the king lies seriously ill in hospital and civil society seems to be collapsing all around. Greedy bankers and corrupt politicians are leaving ordinary people to go homeless and hungry in the worst social and financial crisis for nearly a century. Criminals are the face of innocence itself when compared with those who govern. This is a fascinating portrait of the city and some of its inhabitants.

The Baklava Club

By Jason Goodwin

Faber & Faber 288pp £12.99

It seems perverse to call a book about murder delightful, but that is the right adjective for the works of a very select few authors, such as Alexander McCall Smith and Donna Leon. Added to this list are the adventures of the ‘Ottoman Detective’ Yashim. As a eunuch he is the learned and trusted adviser of the Valide (the sultan’s mother) and when away from court, the lover of many a lucky woman. He is a master chef, skilled fighter and, of course, a talented detective. This is the fifth book about Yashim, enjoyable (though not quite a romp), set this time in Istanbul itself and full of topographical titbits and enthralling action.

Into a Raging Blaze

By Andreas Norman (Translated by Ian Giles)

Quercus Books 528pp £12.99

This book is an excellent and very up-to-the-minute novel by a Swedish author, set in Stockholm and Brussels, in which the villains are the British and American governments and the people who do their dirty work. A Brussels-based Eurocrat decides to leak the fact that the Brits and the Yanks are conspiring to spread disinformation as a preliminary to a military takeover of the EU’s defences. He picks upon Carina, a young female official from the Swedish foreign office, and hands her all the information he has found. She has no idea that she is holding her ticket to unemployment and to losing everything that matters to her. She gets the sack and her Swedish boyfriend, who is Egyptian by birth, gets much worse treatment: the mere fact of being a Middle Eastern immigrant immediately makes him guilty in official eyes. The portraits of British and American secret service personnel and the treacherous British government show a terrifying lack of conscience and a complete indifference to the rights of less-powerful nations and their citizens. Into A Raging Blaze is fiction, not reportage. But crime fiction often gives a truthful picture of the society it springs from. Is this how others see us now? If so, alas!

The Swimmer

By Joakim Zander

Head of Zeus 384pp £12.99

One could probably identify an event or news story that sparked the same idea in different writers’ imaginations; or just accept that coincidences happen, for this is another excellent first novel that features a young Swedish woman working in Brussels as a Eurocrat’s aide, with a Middle Eastern, naturalised Swedish boyfriend who comes under suspicion. The plot also concerns arrogant Americans who don’t think the Geneva Conventions apply to them. It’s a timely, relevant and exciting first novel.

Forty Acres

By Dwayne Alexander Smith

Faber & Faber 384pp £7.99

Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith is a gripping thriller in which the descendants of America’s slaves form a gigantic conspiracy to take revenge on the descendants of the slave owners.

The Killing Room

By Christobel Kent

Atlantic Books 400pp £14.99

In The Killing Room by Christobel Kent, we’re in Florence again with the reappearance of private investigator Sandro Cellini (and his wife and friends) and a murder mystery centred on a newly restored palazzo. This is an enjoyable, satisfying read.

The Killing of Anna Karenina

By Richard Freeborn

Dynasty Press 288pp £9.99

According to The Killing of Anna Karenina by Richard Freeborn Tolstoy’s heroine didn’t die under a train but disappeared to England, where she lives in an admirer’s stately home; murder, obviously, ensues. It’s an entertaining yarn by an old Russia hand and Oxford don.

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