The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton & James Patterson; A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott; Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn; Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas; The Death Knock by Elodie Harper; Cruising to Murder by Mark McCrum; Nightfall in Berlin by Jack Grimwood - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

July 2018 Crime Round-Up

  • Bill Clinton & James Patterson, 
  • Manda Scott, 
  • Anthony Quinn, 
  • Claire Douglas, 
  • Elodie Harper, 
  • Mark McCrum, 
  • Jack Grimwood

The President Is Missing

By Bill Clinton & James Patterson

Century 528pp £20 order from our bookshop

Anyone who enjoys inside the White House stories (The West Wing, Designated Survivor and many other such series) will be fascinated by the idea of a contribution to the genre from the ultimate insider, a former president. Will it reveal new secrets and unexpected details? Sadly, no. Bill Clinton’s description of the fictitious President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan’s public and private life is all very familiar, except for the fact that there are no sex scenes. Clinton’s coauthor, James Patterson, is a thriller writer. Patterson’s books consist of very short sentences in very short paragraphs. In this tale the president has recently been widowed. Cyberterrorists have threatened to release a virus that, when activated, will permanently shut down every operating system in America. Duncan sneaks out of the White House unobserved and takes matters into his own hands. Meanwhile the terrorists are having second thoughts. There is even that cliché of a denouement in which the hero is up against a ticking clock. Unless the president’s nerds manage to find the enemy’s codeword before the virus activates, the total destruction of computer-dependent society will result and the United States will be knocked back to the Stone Age. Will they, won’t they…? To those questions there can be only one answer. Presidents, fictional and factual, usually live to fight another day.

A Treachery of Spies

By Manda Scott

Bantam Press 480pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

A quartet of books about Boudica and another four set in ancient Rome showed the depth of Manda Scott’s research and her talent for making the past seem as real as the present. Now she has jumped forward to the mid-20th century and the French Resistance during the Second World War. The story begins in the present day with the violent death of an elderly woman whose brutalised body is found at the wheel of her own car in a station car park. It soon becomes clear that the woman’s death has something to do with her actions many years previously, when, as a member of the French Resistance, she was trained in Britain and parachuted into France. The reconstruction of those terrifying times is very well done and makes one understand how the shadow of painful experiences so long ago can still darken the lives of anyone who was involved. The setting and characters may be more familiar than in Scott’s previous books, but A Treachery of Spies is still instructive and exciting.

Our Friends in Berlin

By Anthony Quinn

Jonathan Cape 288pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This tale of wartime espionage is clever, perceptive and a very good read. It is set in London during the blackout, with air raids every night. Looking back from our time of peace and plenty, life in the besieged city seems hardly credible, but Anthony Quinn’s vividly imagined portrait is entirely convincing. The story begins in 1941, when a young woman who works in a Mayfair marriage bureau meets a man who is, effectively, a spy-hunter. He is trying to find someone she used to know, now an active member of a group of pro-Germans. This story is beautifully written and very elaborately plotted. The characters seem to be products of their own time, not (as in many historical crime novels) 21st-century people in fancy dress. Quinn’s previous six books have attracted rave reviews, along with enthusiastic readers. If they are as good as this one, the plaudits are well deserved.

Do Not Disturb

By Claire Douglas

Michael Joseph 400pp £7.99 order from our bookshop

Kirsty and her husband, Adrian, with their two daughters, are having a major life change, moving from sophisticated London to a Welsh village, where they intend to run a guest house. The villagers are not friendly, the house renovations are not complete and the children are discontented. Then Kirsty’s mother moves in, as does Kirsty’s brother and his wife and a cousin from whom Kirsty has been estranged for years. It is all very low key and domestic, with descriptions of breakfast trays, bed-making and other details of an attentive landlady’s busy life. In fact nothing much happens until halfway though the book, when one of the family is found dead at the bottom of the stairs and the police, suspecting foul play, arrive in force. None of this was what Kirsty had dreamed of when fantasising about the perfect life she and her family could lead in the countryside. This enjoyable tale is very contemporary – an almost sociological presentation of the preoccupations of married people in early middle age in 2018.

The Death Knock

By Elodie Harper

Mulholland Books 336pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

This book’s heroine, Frankie, is a reporter for a local television station. She is being forced by a new boss to stop being sensitive and cautious with the people she interviews, and to pry, probe and wound without hesitation – in order to get a better story, anything goes. Frankie is covering a murder: the bodies of three women have already been found and another woman has disappeared. The police will not admit that the cases are connected, but Frankie is pretty sure that they are and puts herself in danger as she follows the clues. They lead her to an online underworld peopled by men who hate women and urge other men to do vile things to them. This is the kind of crime novel, full of sadistic action against young women, that I normally will not read, though it is perhaps less offensive when the author is a woman. For those who enjoy this subsection of crime fiction, Harper’s book is well plotted and well written.

Cruising to Murder

By Mark McCrum

Severn House 215pp £20 order from our bookshop

Back in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, an amateur detective solved murder mysteries in an enclosed environment. Mark McCrum’s version, with a crime novelist as detective and a cruise ship the setting for a mysterious death, is set in the present day but otherwise conforms to the pattern. Traditionalists will love this book.

Nightfall in Berlin

By Jack Grimwood

Michael Joseph 464pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Berlin during the Cold War is a familiar setting. This story takes place in 1986, but at the time no one dreamed that these were the last days of the Berlin Wall. A British intelligence officer, Major Tom Fox, has been charged with organising the return to England of a notorious British defector, now very old and wanting to come home to die. But everything goes wrong and Fox finds himself alone in East Berlin, hunted by East German and Russian officials and wanted for murder on both sides of the Wall. It is a hide-and-seek story. Its ingredients will be quite familiar to readers of the many other books in the genre, but this tale is very well told and curiously involving.

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