Hope springs eternal in the reviewer’s breast. One starts each book open-minded and optimistic, but closes too many disappointed. It is a rare treat to find oneself reading a new book with real delight, admiring the prose style and getting caught up in the story. I experienced all of this while reading this fascinating novel set in the near future. It is ‘the day after tomorrow’, when the Arctic sea ice has melted. International businesses are carving up the region, cruise ships take tourists to see the last polar bears and to stay in one of the modern hotels, built by Sean Cawson and his friend Tom Harding where the old whaling stations had been. Although it is habitable now, it is still dangerous; three years before the story begins, Tom died in a melting ice cave. Sean has managed to reach middle age without losing his innocent illusions, and in one section of the book we see him growing up. The story is a good one and there are some charming illustrations, but what makes The Ice unforgettable is Laline Paull’s well-informed description of the setting and, above all, her outstandingly good writing.
This is the thirteenth novel in an excellent series featuring Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Peter James has the knack of ensnaring readers with his fully imagined characters and original plots. He writes in a way that makes his stories seem not just interesting but also realistic. His plots and characters are based on detailed and scrupulous research, which means that a good deal of fact underpins his fiction. Grace is an insightful, brave detective and an affectionate family man. His first wife disappeared, and he was unable to track her down. He eventually discovers that she is dead and that he has a ten-year-old son. He has to endure a series of testing emotional challenges; presumably the next instalment will bring explanations and perhaps retribution. In this book Grace’s private life seems (at least to me) more interesting than the crimes he is investigating. But altogether this series is exciting, informative and absorbing.
On 11 August 1999, at eleven o’clock in the morning, there was a total eclipse of the sun. The only place in the British Isles where it was possible to view the eclipse in its entirety was Cornwall, and visitors flocked westwards to see this rare celestial phenomenon. This is the setting of Erin Kelly’s latest novel. Laura and Kit travel to Cornwall to see the eclipse. The weather is bad, one of the biggest disappointments of Kit’s life (the cloudy sky was, incidentally, one of mine as well). Laura, less interested in eclipses, wanders off and stumbles upon a man and a woman having sex. But it is not consensual. Laura calls the police. The man is tried in Truro Crown Court and it is Laura’s evidence that persuades the jury to reach a guilty verdict. But Laura lies in the witness box, and she pays a high price for her crime. Fifteen years later she and Kit are living in hiding, their lives ruined. Their comeuppance is one of the most interesting features of this very readable book.
This is an exciting first novel. To start with, it is highly original; what’s more, it is cleverly plotted and convincingly written in a voice obviously not the author’s own. Imran Mahmood is a barrister with more than twenty years’ experience. He has met many brilliant young men who are socially disadvantaged and, having left school without a single qualification, victims of our educational system. When these men become entangled in our legal system, they are tried by juries that are never made up of their peers. In the case at the centre of the novel, a barrister has represented the nameless protagonist throughout his trial, but the story begins with the accused sacking him and making his own closing speech. It takes ten days and the whole of this 400-page book, and is fascinating throughout – and salutary. Is the system, on which we pride ourselves, as fair as it should be? I was left admiring this novel – and feeling uneasy.
Mark Billingham wrote this book in a state of shock and fury. A successful crime novelist, he recently found out about the crime known as ‘honour killing’. This expression, which we are told is used in Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities, means the murder of a young man or woman, sometimes after rape and torture, by his or her own family or by criminals the family has employed for the purpose. About a dozen such killings are reported every year, as well as many offences short of murder motivated by the same considerations (such as mutilation, kidnap and acid attack), but Billingham believes that the actual number of such crimes could be close to twenty thousand. He felt it was necessary for him to ‘step up and write about something very real and very shocking’. DI Tom Thorne, a recurring character in his novels, and DI Nicola Tanner investigate what looks like a case of honour killing. This is a campaigning novel, which, Billingham says, ‘was written with a fury at brutality and injustice that I have not felt for a long time’. The author’s rage, combined with his skill as a crime writer, makes this a gripping and genuinely tragic story.
One of the greatest successes of recent British crime-writing has been Mick Herron’s series about the disgraced secret agents who are sent to finish their unsuccessful careers in a dismal, distant outpost called Slough House. Sophie Hénaff’s novel concerns a French equivalent. Commissaire Anne Capestan, having fired one bullet too many, is banished to an apartment in a distant district, where she is charged with setting up a task force to reopen ‘cold cases’. It is no surprise to find that Anne’s team consists of well-known troublemakers, and it is both amusing and interesting to watch this awkward squad gradually acquiring an esprit de corps, despite the fact that they are frequently told that the assignment is a dead end, or perhaps because of this. This very enjoyable tale has deservingly won several French literary prizes.
This book is a new departure for Michael Ridpath, whose previous novels have been financial or action thrillers. In a way it’s a new departure for crime fiction as a whole, since using an octogenarian as the principal character defies conventional wisdom, which insists that nobody wants to read about geriatrics. Alastair Cunningham was a doctor, but he has retired and is living in a cottage by a Scottish loch. He has had a fall and lost his memory, so Clemence, the great-niece of one of his friends, has come to care for him. She finds a manuscript in which Alastair seems to confess to killing the only woman he ever loved. Clemence decides to discover the truth, which involves her in various alarming experiences and mishaps. This is a pleasingly convoluted story with numerous twists and turns, and time shifts between the recent past and the frightening present.