Jessica Mann

March 2016 Crime Round-up

  • Jason Matthews, 
  • Samuel Bjork (Translated by Charlotte Barslund), 
  • Isabelle Grey, 
  • Steve Burrows, 
  • Neil Jordan, 
  • Chris Ould, 
  • Gillian Slovo, 
  • Chris Pavone, 
  • Raj Persaud, 
  • Lucy Dawson

Palace of Treason

By Jason Matthews

Michael Joseph 544pp £10order from our bookshop

Here is a thriller you can’t put down by an author described as a retired senior officer in the CIA. Jason Matthews’s writing certainly has an air of authenticity. His previous thriller introduced us to the beautiful Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and Nate, her lover, who is a senior CIA officer. In this book Dominika cleverly works her way into the favour of Putin himself, juggling, as she goes, her feelings of love for Nate, hatred for her Russian colleagues and terror of the president. She uses the sex tricks she learned at a school for prostitutes to seduce and get information from one of her bosses. She employs her painfully acquired skills to move between safety in the West and a precarious existence in Moscow, and judges everyone’s truthfulness by the useful coloured auras she perceives around their heads. This is a sophisticated and sadistic story about the still-continuing Cold War.

I’m Travelling Alone

By Samuel Bjork (Translated by Charlotte Barslund)

Doubleday 480pp £12.99order from our bookshop

This is a book for Scandinavian noir devotees, who are legion. The Nordic novels that reach me are nearly always written with skill and empathy, feature sympathetic police detectives of both sexes and describe horrific crimes with almost dispassionate exactitude. This one, the first of a planned series, is from Norway. A brilliant but suicidally depressed detective is tempted back to work by her former partner. He is convinced that she is the only person observant and intuitive enough to track down a serial murderer who preys on six-year-old girls. The story is exciting, the setting cleverly evoked, the translation excellent and, despite the appalling nature of the crimes, there is very little explicit sadism. Welcome to a new voice and variations on an old theme.

Shot through the Heart

By Isabelle Grey

Quercus Books 416pp £19.99order from our bookshop

In a small town in Essex on Christmas Day, a man with a gun shoots five people, one of them a police officer, another a teenage girl. Then he shoots himself. Grace Fisher, the heroine of Grey’s earlier books, is now a detective inspector and finds herself in charge of the inquiry into this massacre. Her work is not made any easier by her colleagues, who seem to be keeping information from her, or by the parallel investigation being carried out by a crime reporter, or by the multiplying evidence of corruption within the police force itself. Quite often Grace goes it alone, private-detective style, so this is an unusual police procedural. It is beautifully written, full of interesting insights, and atmospherically set in a corner of England where bird-watching is more a religion than a hobby.

A Siege of Bitterns

By Steve Burrows

Oneworld 352pp £8.99order from our bookshop

Coincidentally, here is another thriller based on bird-watching. Steve Burrows, who lives in Canada, has ‘birded’ on five continents and asserts that careful observation plus deductive reasoning are the qualities that make a good birder and a good detective. Detective Inspector Domenic Jejeune – a much-publicised poster boy for the police, whose wife is a famous journalist – takes a posting in north Norfolk in order to watch rare birds but is, of course, obliged to seek the less interesting (to him) criminals. His first case concerns a prominent ecologist activist found hanging from a tree. Domenic’s handling of the case is unconventional, but he and his sergeant are intriguing characters. The book is well written (though there is some jarring un-British vocabulary, such as ‘gotten’) and instructive. We are promised a series of birder murder stories: good!

The Drowned Detective

By Neil Jordan

Bloomsbury 264pp £16.99order from our bookshop

A British couple – the wife an archaeologist, the husband a private detective – live with their small daughter, Jenny, in a central European city. (It is left unnamed, but has a lot in common with Budapest.) Jonathan takes on a very cold case: to trace a girl who disappeared twenty years ago. He finds a girl and rescues her when she jumps into the river and… It’s at this point that the book turns into a ghost story, punctuated by the eerie playing of cello suites by J S Bach. Neil Jordan writes beautifully (his first novel won the Guardian Fiction Prize) and he is an award-winning film director, so readers with a taste for the supernatural will find a good deal to enjoy in this book.

The Blood Strand

By Chris Ould

Titan Books 448pp £7.99order from our bookshop

Crime writers are like empire builders, planting their flags in unoccupied territory. Soon there will be nowhere left to colonise, as the Shetlands, Orkneys, Hebrides and now the Faroe Islands experience landgrabs. This last archipelago was briefly in the news at the time of the recent solar eclipse as the only place in Europe where a total eclipse would be visible. Don’t go, it will rain, I was warned; so I didn’t, and it did. I mention that because there is suspiciously little bad weather in this straightforward crime novel, in which a London police officer, while suspended from duty, returns to the remote islands from which his mother had escaped a generation previously. Naturally, he gets involved in helping the local police with their investigations. This is a carefully planned and competently plotted police procedural novel, rendered fascinating by its setting.

Ten Days

By Gillian Slovo

Canongate 352pp £14.99order from our bookshop

Moving seamlessly and persuasively between a run-down council estate and 10 Downing Street, this political crime novel compares and contrasts poor tenants, all salt-of-the-earth types, with the cynical, greedy, self-serving men and women who govern them. The home secretary is a cheat in private life and no better than a con man in public. Meanwhile, the benevolent Cathy Mason, a pillar of her despised community, frequently comes to the rescue of her incapable neighbours. The contrast between the disenfranchised and those who oppress them is a little simplistic, but this is a very readable, perhaps even rabble-rousing tale about a roused rabble and the water-cannon-firing ‘forces of law and order’.

The Travelers

By Chris Pavone

Faber & Faber 448pp £12.99order from our bookshop

Will Rhodes, a travel writer caught in the net of officialdom, is forced to work for the CIA. He has secrets; so do his wife, his boss and his friends. Is he serving his government or a criminal gang? Is everyone he knows in disguise? This book is something of a romp. It is also highly ingenious and enjoyable.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

By Raj Persaud

SilverWood Books 388pp £11.99order from our bookshop

A good read, in which a young psychiatrist who studies stalkers gets involved with a glamorous, female foreign secretary and with a rock star. Both are being stalked, despite having constant protection. The novel is full of accurate accounts of real-life stalkers and is followed by a page of academic references and four pages of music credits.

You Sent Me a Letter

By Lucy Dawson

Corvus 272pp £7.99order from our bookshop

The heroine wakes to find a strange man in her room. He gives her a letter, which she is to open at her fortieth birthday party that evening – or else. This book has a promising beginning; then there’s a lot of frantic frenzy, which certainly holds one’s attention. It’s almost as exhausting to read as it must be for the characters to live through.

Sara Stewart


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