Anyone reading Literary Review must love bookshops, and everyone who loves bookshops has ideas about the perfect one. It might be a vast emporium selling everything, or a small one reflecting the manager’s taste. It might conform to my own ideal and sell old and new books side by side. The well-read proprietor understands and provides for regular customers and their interests, and knows when to converse and when to keep quiet; if any of his customers are writers themselves, their books are always in stock. John Grisham describes just such a perfect bookshop. Its proprietor was previously an expert thief who, with his gang, broke into a supposedly impregnable vault at Princeton University and stole the manuscripts of F Scott Fitzgerald’s five novels. When a broke novelist suffering from writer’s block moves to live near the bookshop, she is recruited by the FBI to gather information about this master criminal. The book’s ending is predictable and the narrative style is curiously distanced, almost clinical, but it’s not often that bookish readers are a thriller’s target audience, so this one is very welcome.
Pinocchio is the name of a newly developed device that detects lies and which the government has decided to use in law courts. It is supposed to perceive and interpret facial expression and body language, its conclusions providing more accurate judgements than any jury could reach. Regarding this machine as infallible is a dangerous and plausible idea that is central to this fascinating tale. The automated lie detector is up against two female lawyers and their client, a brilliant but mildly autistic schoolboy who has been accused of the murder of one of his teachers. Not so much thrilling as interesting, this is a good read and an excellent first novel.
Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freedland, a journalist who knows his stuff; and his stuff is international current affairs. If he had brought out this sixth novel a year ago it would have been regarded as a fantasy. The citizens of the USA would never elect a malevolent, vain, criminal demagogue as president, would they? In Bourne’s novel, they have done just that, and now the world is poised on the brink of disaster, with the president’s finger on the nuclear button. One of the few good people left in the White House is Maggie Costello, familiar from Bourne’s previous books. She discovers a plausible plot to assassinate the president. Should she interfere, or leave the conspirators to get rid of the dangerous man in charge? This dilemma lies at the heart of Bourne’s intriguing work, which would have been infinitely more enjoyable had one not known that the actual truth is even stranger.
Meghan has everything that women in their thirties dream of in 2017. She is married to a man she loves, who earns enough to maintain the family while she looks after the house, her children and her mummy blog. Agatha has nothing that she or anyone else would want. She stacks the shelves in a supermarket and lives alone. Both women are pregnant, which ought to be good news – if Meghan were not afraid that her pregnancy might be the result of a much-regretted night with her husband’s best friend and Agatha were not simulating by tying a prosthetic bump round her middle. The excitement and the crime come quite far into the story, but it is all very neatly worked out. It is unusual for a man to write a book in which the story is entirely told in women’s voices and is all about pregnancy, labour and childcare. The claustrophobic atmosphere is subtly evoked and Michael Robotham proves himself an excellent ventriloquist.
Anne-Marie Gallagher, the minister of state for security and immigration, has only just been elected to Parliament for the first time, but her reputation is such that the prime minister defies convention to appoint her to this government post. Before being elected, Gallagher was a clever, feisty human rights lawyer in London. But earlier in her life she was called Maire Anne McCartney and lived and studied in Dublin. Her brother was an IRA thug and her lover an English postgrad. Now she is so much in the public eye it is almost inevitable that people from her past will reappear, and so they do, alive and dead. An anonymous call leads the police to a body buried in a field near Belfast. Anne-Marie gets a message from a man she had believed was dead. Is her political career over almost before it has begun? This is a cleverly written novel by an author whose experiences as an investigative film-maker, often in Northern Ireland, gave him the information and the ideas for this first book. More, please.
At a crime fiction festival last year I picked Celia Fremlin as an author who had been forgotten but should not have been. It was rather a shock to see how few of the enthusiasts in the audience had heard of this excellent writer. Now Faber has republished her first novel, which on publication in 1958 won praise and prizes. It is about a young mother, exhausted and driven almost insane by sleep deprivation. Both Fremlin and her readers took it for granted that the protagonist alone was in charge of her older siblings, her new baby, making meals and all other domestic duties. This sharp, tense, clever novel, still readable and relevant all these years later, is a testament to changing social attitudes.
This study of the mid-20th-century British thriller is a fascinating reminder of the predominance of British writers in the field of spy stories and adventures. Many of the authors, such as Ian Fleming and John le Carré, are still familiar now. Others will be recognised by enthusiasts, while some of the more obscure books covered here are finding a second life in the rush to republish on paper or electronically. Mike Ripley is a crime writer and reviewer himself, and is immensely knowledgeable about all the varieties of the genre. In this interesting, nostalgic and enjoyable volume he recalls the books that influenced him as a young man in ‘that action-packed period around the Sixties when, having lost an Empire, Britain’s thriller writers and their fictional heroes saved the world.’