The Facts of Life and Death by Belinda Bauer; Touching Distance by Graham Hurley; The Accident by Chris Pavone; A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh; East of Innocence by David Thorne; Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly; The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal; The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne; Water Music by Margie Orford - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

March 2014 Crime Round-Up

  • Belinda Bauer, 
  • Graham Hurley, 
  • Chris Pavone, 
  • Louise Welsh, 
  • David Thorne, 
  • Paula Daly, 
  • Parker Bilal, 
  • Jane Thynne, 
  • Margie Orford

The Facts of Life and Death

By Belinda Bauer

Bantam Press 336pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

This is Belinda Bauer’s fifth book, and like the others it is set in an area that most people think of as a place for idyllic holidays. In this story, she takes us to north Devon. But Limeburn, a rural slum at the bottom of a steep valley near ‘the greedy sea’, is very far from an idyll. It is a dank place that reeks of kelp, with only twenty houses and five children, who are forced into a semblance of friendship. One of them is ten-year-old Ruby Trick, whose mother has to work because her father has lost his job. When several women are abducted and forced to ring their mothers, who must hear them being murdered, the village’s unemployed men set up as vigilantes. Ruby tells herself that she will help her father catch the killer because then he will love her more. There is a terrible inevitability to the rest of the story. I’m usually allergic to adult books with juvenile protagonists, so was surprised to find myself hooked by this one, partly because I was in flooded Cornwall while reading Bauer’s description of the West Country’s incessant rain, but mainly because she writes so beautifully, plots so cleverly and exhibits a razor-sharp understanding of people and places.

Touching Distance

By Graham Hurley

Orion Books 352pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

‘This is how you’d crack the bad guys: By being cleverer than them. By getting inside their evil little heads. By figuring out why they’d done stuff to begin with and what they were liable to do next. Do it right and you get to play God. Fuck it up and you’re looking at a new career in traffic-cone management or the lost property store.’ Graham Hurley’s cops get inside those evil heads. In all his books, the humanity of his police officers is as important as their ingenuity as detectives, in fact it is their sensitivity that makes this thriller, based on the dreadful traumas suffered by our forces in Afghanistan, admirable rather than tasteless. Having now completed his D I Joe Faraday series of police procedurals set in Portsmouth, Hurley has transferred his attention, and a few of his younger characters, to the Devon and Cornwall Police, and this book, the second in the new series, is as thought-provoking and vivid as his previous writings.

The Accident

By Chris Pavone

Faber & Faber 400pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

An unidentified author submits his book to a New York literary agent. She is respected and influential but afraid that she is about to lose her job. As she begins to read the anonymous offering, she realises that the book is as dangerous as a ticking time bomb, but could be sold for enough money to transform her life. The anonymous author has written a no-holds-barred biographical exposé of a Murdoch-style media mogul with political ambitions. It describes an accident the mogul was involved in when young, in which a woman died (see Senator Edward Kennedy at Chappaquiddick). He and the CIA are determined to prevent the manuscript getting into the public domain. Illicit copies begin to circulate and the list of unnatural deaths connected with the manuscript begins to grow. I was impressed by the early part of the book and enjoyed its illuminating insider’s description of the life of agents and publishers, but my interest weakened as less original thriller ingredients took over. However, The Experts, Chris Pavone’s previous novel, from which some characters reappear, became a bestseller and no doubt The Accident will too.

A Lovely Way to Burn

By Louise Welsh

John Murray 368pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

This is a murder mystery that also describes the end of the world as we know it. It is set in London in the near future, when civilisation has collapsed, not because of nuclear war or climate change, but as a result of a lethal epidemic known as ‘the sweats’. The heroine, Stevie Flint, catches it early on, before the illness has even been recognised, and survives, only to find that everyone around her is dropping like flies. Death stalks the city and anarchy looms. But when Stevie finds her boyfriend, a research medic, dead in his bed, she also discovers that he, along with two colleagues, has been working on a secret project. Somebody will kill to retrieve the information on the laptop that Stevie takes from his apartment. She becomes both hunter and hunted. Louise Welsh writes elegantly and has visualised London in extremis with immense and detailed clarity. It is all very exciting, and there are two more volumes to come in a projected trilogy called Plague Times.

East of Innocence

By David Thorne

Atlantic Books 320pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

‘Essex man’ is commonly seen as a political figure, an example of a typical middle-of-the-road voter. But there is another, less benign definition: a clever, brutal criminal who gets away with it and probably lives in an ostentatious property guarded by frightening dogs. It is just such a category of villain that Daniel Connell encounters. Previously, he was a lawyer with a big City firm and earning megabucks. Now disgraced and sacked, he has set up a solicitor’s practice in his home town, where his clients are losers or thugs. One of them involves him in trouble with the local cops, who are themselves all brutal criminals; home is a place he avoids because he hates his father, and his mother disappeared when he was little. It’s a pretty grim set-up, but it’s well described and the story has a happy ending of sorts. And as this is the first of a series to be set in Essex, all the villains may yet get their comeuppance.

Keep Your Friends Close

By Paula Daly

Bantam Press 336pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

In this confident and well-written second novel, wife and husband Natty and Sean Wainwright find their lives turned upside down. They were together at school, at university and then in business as joint owners of one of the Lake District’s best hotels. They are rather smugly content, with their two teenage daughters, two fast cars and their one best friend, Eve. But Eve is not all she seems. While Natty is away at her sick daughter’s bedside, Eve neatly seduces Sean, so when Natty returns it is to find herself usurped at home and at work. But it is not difficult for her to find out more about Eve – what atrocities she has committed in the past and what crimes she’s probably planning. Excluded from her own home and job, Natty goes on the offensive and everything turns out all right for the Wainwrights in the end.

The Ghost Runner

By Parker Bilal

Bloomsbury 432pp £11.99 order from our bookshop

A fascinating portrait of life in today’s Egypt, built around one man’s search for the killers of a teenage girl, whose death the authorities accept as an ‘honour killing’. This quest takes private detective Makana out to the Western Desert and the Siwa Oasis – but very far from the parts of it that tourists visit, and equally far, it seems, from the rule of law.

The Winter Garden

By Jane Thynne

Simon & Schuster 432pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

A courageous young actress, half-English, half-German, moves to Berlin where she is taken up by Nazi bigwigs. This gives her the opportunity to collect information useful to the British. Prewar Germany’s atmosphere of repression, terror and Nazi hubris is vividly evoked in a gripping but sad tale.

Water Music

By Margie Orford

Head of Zeus 336pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Another in this excellent South African series featuring the psychological profiler Dr Clare Hart. The story concerns a lost teenager and an unidentified infant found near death on a freezing Cape Town mountain; it could be summed up by one of the heroine’s remarks: ‘Jesus Christ, the things people do to children.’

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