Let’s Pretend by Laura Vaughan; The Cook by Ajay Chowdhury; Yesterday’s Spy by Tom Bradby; Overboard by Sara Paretsky; Bad Actors by Mick Herron; The Dark by Sharon Bolton; When I Close My Eyes by Jemma Wayne; Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister; Those Who Return by Kassandra Montag - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

May 2022 Crime Round-up

  • Laura Vaughan, 
  • Ajay Chowdhury, 
  • Tom Bradby, 
  • Sara Paretsky, 
  • Mick Herron, 
  • Sharon Bolton, 
  • Jemma Wayne, 
  • Gillian McAllister, 
  • Kassandra Montag

Let’s Pretend

By Laura Vaughan

Corvus 336pp £14.99

The murder in this novel of deception and fakery happens near the end, by which time we have got to know Lily Thane, an actor who had tremendous success as a child but now has to fight for even tiny parts. Her bank balance is restored by a contract to act as Adam Harker’s girlfriend on the red carpet and elsewhere. They were at drama school together and he is now set for big success. They rekindle a genuine friendship, but their romance is faked for publicity purposes. When death comes, the police decide it’s suicide, leaving Lily to do the investigating. Laura Vaughan’s story of the demeaning shifts to which Lily and other actors are reduced works well and the ultimate twist is both sad and shocking in its credibility.

The Cook

By Ajay Chowdhury

Harvill Secker 368pp £12.99

Kamil Rahman, the hero of Ajay Chowdhury’s first novel, The Waiter, has been promoted to chef in his uncle’s Brick Lane restaurant, Tandoori Knights. But the skills he developed as a detective in Kolkata are still with him, and as he stumbles on body after body in London he cannot resist investigating. The Met detectives keep warning him to leave the investigation to them and Anjoli, who manages the restaurant, is equally insistent that he must do his job there, but Kamil won’t stop. His life is complicated by his feelings for Naila, who fled an abusive marriage in Pakistan and is training to be a nurse in London. Chowdhury’s portrait of multicultural London is as effective as his portrayal of the mixed feelings of his characters, who may enjoy aspects of their lives there but still long for the pleasures they have left behind. Kamil thinks of ‘our old cook Suresh, his family gathered around him, tending to a pot bubbling on a fire in a village surrounded by lush emerald fields in Bengal, as the lavender evening drifted down and the wheeling and swooping black mynah birds over the green river cried home home home’.

Yesterday’s Spy

By Tom Bradby

Bantam 384pp £16.99

Harry Tower is an officer in SIS who met his bipolar wife in Berlin before the Second World War. By 1953 she is dead and their only child, Sean, who is a Cambridge dropout now working for the Manchester Guardian in Tehran, blames him for that. When Sean disappears, Harry goes to Iran to find him, calling on many old contacts and evading the attentions of his colleagues, who are convinced he must be the Russian mole the Americans believe SIS is harbouring. Working with Sean’s girlfriend, Shahnaz, Harry becomes embroiled in the American-supported coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s prime minister, and has to decide who they can trust and who their most dangerous enemies are. Bradby makes the complicated history and politics of the region admirably clear.


By Sara Paretsky

Hodder & Stoughton 400pp £20

Sara Paretsky introduced her Chicago private investigator V I Warshawski forty years ago in Indemnity Only. Since then, the intrepid Vic (as she is known) has been beaten up, burned, half-drowned and suffered in myriad other ways in her pursuit of justice for the vulnerable and punishment of the corrupt and greedy. The villains she has gone after have been industrialists, politicians, police officers and others who think profit is more important than the wellbeing of people. This time, Vic’s dogs find an unconscious female adolescent hidden on the rocky shore of a lake. She has burns on her legs and no form of identification. Awakening briefly, she murmurs the Hungarian word for ‘grandmother’. Vic wraps the young woman in her own red jacket and gets her to hospital, only to find herself on the receiving end of intimidation, violence, arrest and torture. Written during – and featuring – the coronavirus pandemic, the novel is as full of passion as ever, but shows a few, albeit understandable, signs of tiredness.

Bad Actors

By Mick Herron

Baskerville 352pp £18.99

Anyone who enjoys Mick Herron’s masterful political satires and fantastical spy fiction must be afraid that one day his powers of invention will falter. It hasn’t happened yet. Bad Actors is as good as ever. Devotees waiting to hear of the fate of River Cartwright, poisoned by a nerve agent smeared on a door handle in the last instalment, must wait a bit longer, but the other slow horses of Slough House are in fine form, joined by a newcomer who may or may not be the meek victim she sometimes seems. The prime minister’s chief adviser, self-proclaimed disruptor Anthony Sparrow, has his sights on Diana Taverner and her successful spies at their headquarters in Regent’s Park. But she and her dark shadow, Jackson Lamb, head of Slough House, have plans of their own, and the slow horses continually put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good. This novel contains some serious, hard-hitting emotions alongside the wit, neat plotting, great action scenes, beautiful descriptions and wonderful schoolboy smut (placed in the mouth of Lamb) we have come to associate with Herron’s writing. This is entertainment of the highest class.

The Dark

By Sharon Bolton

Orion 464pp £14.99

After a prologue dealing with an aborted suicide attempt at Beachy Head, this novel turns its attention on a group of incels who stir up resentment, violence and terrorism among others of their kind. Trying to contain the damage and identify the leaders are some of London’s best police officers, including Lacey Flint, who is working on the Thames with the marine unit, DI Dana Tulloch and her partner, Helen Rowley, who have just had a child, and DCI Mark Joesbury and his team. Not only is this novel a scary examination of the fury and loathing a certain kind of man has for women, but it is also a fast-moving thriller written in a confident, easy style. An enormous coincidence makes the plot work, but they happen in real life too. This is a step up for the always interesting Sharon Bolton.

When I Close My Eyes

By Jemma Wayne

Legend Press 288pp £8.99

Lilith, named after the child-killing first wife of Adam, grows up sleepwalking and therefore terrified of what she might do unintentionally to her beloved little brother. As she becomes an adult, her fears stay with her and she makes it a rule never to spend the night with anyone and, occasionally, to get her best friend to lock her in her bedroom so that she cannot leave it in her sleep and cause mayhem. The fates compensate her for this crippling disability by giving her tremendous success as a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood. There, she has a relationship with Patrick, who accedes to her rules about never spending a whole night together. Into this successful but constrained life comes her best friend from childhood, whose wife has recently died and who now has to make a new life for their three-year-old daughter. Lilith is trapped between her love for him, her growing delight in the child and her terror of what she herself might do. When the child disappears and Lilith wakes in bed with sand between her toes, she is terrified. Jemma Wayne is a journalist and novelist whose writing is both impeccably clear and full of sensitively realised emotion.

Wrong Place Wrong Time

By Gillian McAllister

Michael Joseph 416pp £14.99

Gillian McAllister takes detective fiction in a new direction with this novel. Jen is waiting up for her teenage son to come home when she sees him stab a stranger to death in the street outside her house. Asking herself what went wrong during his upbringing, and what signs of violence and rage she missed, she travels back in time, first day by day, then over months and even years. At each interval, Jen is fully in the moment and yet simultaneously aware of how things will pan out in the future. This allows her the painful luxury many people would like of going back over her own behaviour and acting – and reacting – in a more generous way than she did first time round. Her relationships with her son and his father are convincingly portrayed, and the criminal plot is cleverly designed, but to my mind McAllister’s determination to give readers an upbeat ending is misplaced.

Those Who Return

By Kassandra Montag

Quercus 368pp £16.99

Dr Lorelei Webber survived a terrible childhood, which left her with ferocious but undeserved guilt. She became a psychiatrist serving with the FBI until an operation went wrong. Now she works with emotionally disturbed young people in a residential facility in Nebraska. She is not the only member of staff who seems almost as troubled as the clients and some of the few neighbours, but it is not until one of the children is found murdered that she begins to understand the depths of suffering and rage concealed within the local community. Kassandra Montag is a poet as well as a novelist and occasionally her writing strays into excess, but this is a powerful exploration of many different kinds of emotional and physical damage and the possibility of overcoming them.

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