The Mother by T M Logan; Twin Truths by Jacqueline Sutherland; The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor; The Institution by Helen Fields; The Close by Jane Casey; The Lost Girls by Kate Hamer; The Half Burnt House by Alex North; The Translator by Harriet Crawley; Freeze by Kate Simants; Fear and Clothing: Dress in English Detective Fiction between the First and Second World Wars by Jane Custance Baker - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

March 2023 Crime Round-up

  • T M Logan, 
  • Jacqueline Sutherland, 
  • Andrew Taylor, 
  • Helen Fields, 
  • Jane Casey, 
  • Kate Hamer, 
  • Alex North, 
  • Harriet Crawley, 
  • Kate Simants, 
  • Jane Custance Baker
 

The Mother

By T M Logan

Zaffre 432pp £16.99

Joining the interesting subgenre of post-sentence crime fiction, journalist T M Logan’s seventh novel follows first-person narrator Heather Vernon as she emerges from prison on licence, having served nine years for the murder of her husband, Liam. He was an MP and the son of successful business owners who have a grand townhouse in Bath and a weekend place in Gloucestershire. Heather always felt that her parents-in-law looked down on her, though her sister-in-law, Amy, was a friend as well as a useful substitute carer for Heather’s two boys. Now her licence conditions preclude her from having any contact with them or anyone who took part in the trial. But she is determined to find out who really killed Liam, in spite of the risk of being sent back to prison. Helped by a fellow inhabitant of her ‘approved premises’ and by an obsessive freelance journalist, she tracks down everyone who might have played a part in stitching her up. The book is exciting, if not always strictly credible, and a good example of how a novelist can write successfully in the voice of someone of a different gender from their own.

Twin Truths

By Jacqueline Sutherland

Point Blank 288pp £9.99

The mother in Jacqueline Sutherland’s second novel has no parole officer to contend with, but she does have a guilty secret. Belle is an appealing figure, telling the reader her story as she swims every morning, braving the cold of Southwold’s winter sea. Her twin daughters are due to come home from university to celebrate her fiftieth birthday and one wants to bring a new boyfriend. Both Belle and her husband are reluctant but acquiesce, and their contented lives are soon threatened by the invader. Fast-paced and convincing, Belle’s story builds to a dramatic climax before ending with a neat, quiet and disturbing twist.

The Shadows of London

By Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins 464pp £20

Andrew Taylor continues his series about London after the Great Fire with this masterly instalment dealing with the seduction of Louise de Kérouaille by Charles II. Taylor’s engaging heroine, architect Cat Hakesby, is working for a client building new almshouses in Holborn. Work has to stop when the mutilated corpse of a man is found on her site, along with the body of the night watchman’s dog. As usual, her interests dovetail with those of her friend and suitor, James Marwood, and they work together to identify the dead man and his killer. Their activities reveal much about the corruption that runs through the king’s court and administration, the international and domestic politics of the era and the behaviour of the powerful, which hasn’t changed much in the centuries since. This novel has all the charm of earlier titles in the series but with added substance. It is the result of both research and imagination, and shows Taylor’s skill in making use of the language of the time without falling into either anachronism or deadening accuracy.

The Institution

By Helen Fields

Avon 432pp £14.99

Criminal psychologist Dr Connie Woolwine is a globally celebrated forensic profiler. In her latest case, she has to work undercover in a high-security prison hospital which houses some of the most dangerous serial killers in the country. An inmate has murdered one of the nurses, having surgically removed from her womb the child she had been carrying for nearly nine months. The killer has taken the apparently living child and is demanding that the dead woman’s bereaved family pay a ransom in cryptocurrency. Connie is remarkably emotional in her work and also remarkably credulous, but that does not spoil the pace and tension of this novel, Connie’s touching back story or the relationships she develops with other individuals in the institution.

The Close

By Jane Casey

HarperCollins 416pp £14.99

Jane Casey’s recurring characters DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent, who are fighting their shared inclination to be more than colleagues, are sent undercover to a suburban close to look for evidence of a peculiarly horrible crime. The novel is set during a well-described heatwave and it combines solidly researched police activity with Maeve’s convincing struggle to resist everything she wants from Josh. Their going undercover as a couple makes this fight particularly complicated: Maeve is required to dress in a far more frilly style than her natural one and gaze adoringly at her ripped and gorgeous partner. Their relationship is not the only one Casey explores as the action develops. The author’s emotional intelligence adds lustre to the police procedural elements.

The Lost Girls

By Kate Hamer

Faber & Faber 368pp £8.99

This sequel to Kate Hamer’s Costa Award-shortlisted first novel, The Girl in the Red Coat, deals with Carmel, who was abducted by a religious con man when she was eight. Rescued five years later, she was returned to her mother, with whom she now has a tricky relationship, in London. The novel is set between 1999 and 2013, with some sections narrated by Carmel and some by her mother. As Carmel battles to find a way to live free of the so-called preacher and her mother walks on eggshells to avoid putting too much pressure on her, Hamer explores themes of love, guilt, loss and hope with compassion.

The Half Burnt House

By Alex North

Michael Joseph 384pp £14.99

This is a tough novel on many levels, dealing with abuse, cruelty, vicious sibling rivalry, mental illness, addiction and all kinds of distress. Two siblings brought up by a serial killer father take different routes into adult life. One works as his father’s ‘angel-making’ assistant, while the other breaks free. We are dropped into their story when the police launch an investigation into the death of an elderly man in a large and gloomy house. Interspersed throughout the narrative are discussions of such ideas as predestination and free will. North ends the novel with an encouraging suggestion that it may be possible to live as one chooses and not as a prisoner of one’s background and experiences.

The Translator

By Harriet Crawley

Bitter Lemon Press 416pp £16.99

Harriet Crawley worked in Moscow for almost twenty years and uses her experience to great effect in this grown-up novel about grown-up characters living on the edge as they make life-and-death decisions. Clive Franklin is a Foreign Office translator, summoned at the last minute to accompany the British prime minister to a meeting with the Russian president. Clive’s opposite number in Russia is an old love, Marina Volina, who left him to marry one of her fellow countrymen and whom he hasn’t seen for a decade. Their relationship is full of desire and mutual wariness. The details of their work are convincing, as is the portrayal of Marina’s simultaneous devotion to Russia and hatred of the current regime and high-level corruption. The plot is clever, the writing elegant, the characters sympathetic and the action exciting.

Freeze

By Kate Simants

Viper 400pp £14.99

The traditional locked-room-mystery format has been updated in this story of a reality television show being filmed in the Arctic on the tightest possible budget. Will, the producer’s home-based partner, has cut costs to the bone, which means an underqualified researcher is in charge of the logistics and a much smaller and less well-equipped ship has been substituted for the one originally specified. The weather is threatening and an unfeasibly large number of the characters are harbouring secrets, guilt, hatred and vengeful thoughts. But if plausibility is not your concern, this novel has a lot to offer. It moves fast, the tension is high and the two main characters are likeable in their different ways.

Fear and Clothing: Dress in English Detective Fiction between the First and Second World Wars

By Jane Custance Baker

Bloomsbury 264pp £85

In this expanded version of her PhD thesis, Jane Custance Baker offers an entertaining analysis of the clues provided by descriptions of clothes in interwar crime fiction. These are clues to far more than fictional crimes, covering changing attitudes to masculinity, women, foreigners, empire and, above all, class. The book also suggests reasons for crime fiction’s popularity then and now, quoting one commentator who believes that reading a thriller has much the same effect on the brain as snorting cocaine. And for those who consider the genre too frivolous to be taken seriously, Baker quotes Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writing in the 18th century: ‘Perhaps you will say, I should not take my ideas of the manners of the times from such trifling authors; but it is more truly to be found among them, than from any historian: as they write merely to get money, they always fall into the notions that are most acceptable to the present taste.’

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