DI Antoinette Conway’s ambitions were triumphantly realised when she was posted to Dublin’s murder squad, and tragically let down when she found herself the squad pariah, the butt of sick and sexist jokes, and partnered with Stephen Moran, another loser. The Trespasser begins with this disappointed pair investigating a dull domestic murder: dead girl, suspected lover, all perfectly routine – until it dawns on Antoinette that things are not what they seem. As the two officers work their way into the story, its implications come closer and closer to home – to the squad of Ds, as the detectives are called. The life and internal politics of a murder squad room are brilliantly portrayed, and I believed every word. The claustrophobic atmosphere, the use of English in a way that provides a constant reminder that Ireland is a foreign country, the convincing characterisation: these elements all add up to an outstandingly good if unnecessarily long crime novel.
In a small town in Middle America, a three-year-old boy called Harry goes missing. Everyone wants to help but nobody can, and the days of the child’s absence mount up. Harry’s desperate mother drinks, takes drugs and sleeps around. She is closely watched by the local police chief and by several teenagers. There is Jerry, a photographer who lives at his bedridden mother’s beck and call; Manny, in training to be a mafia capo, whose absent father has left him with some odd ideas about the world; and the town of Tall Oaks itself, with its old-fashioned habits and prejudices. The plot is not much more than a mechanism, but some of the characters are unforgettable. I found this a very enjoyable tale with an interesting mystery to solve, until the end, where the solution seemed to me unacceptably unlikely.
This book is not so much about the detection of a criminal as it is about the analysis of what he has done and what he intends to do; and it contains not so much a description of suspects as it does a portrait of the interaction – or lack of it – between a killer and his victims. Ordinary people travel by train for ordinary reasons. They are on the way to work or going shopping or setting off on a holiday or due at a job interview, each in a bubble of individual preoccupations, uninterested in the other passengers. Nor is the young man with a rucksack interested in them. He is on a mission to destroy in order to ‘cleanse, to renew, to wipe out corruption. Fire and flood, to scour the places clean.’ The Silence Between Breaths is a painfully credible story, vividly imagined. I recommend it highly, but don’t read it on a train. I wish I hadn’t!
Set twenty years ago in Newcastle, this book was the winner of the Northern Crime Competition. It is about Charlie, whose job is in the local bail hostel. She is permanently exhausted, for her work as mother and friend is never done. When a teenaged boy is found killed in the local park Charlie has to look after his mother, and – as if she didn’t have enough to do – she gets involved with the hunt for the murderer. In helping a friend, Charlie cannot avoid neglecting her own household; as she comes closer to identifying the murderer, she brings danger nearer her family. Hard Wired is an atmospheric, intriguing tale, very firmly rooted in its time and place, and cleverly written so that the dialogue, though obviously a reproduction of the Newcastle accent, is not full of the gaps and apostrophes that make so many renderings of regional speech unreadable.
John Grisham’s name on a book jacket guarantees excitement. He writes superbly, his plots are always clever and original, and his depictions of proceedings in court and outside it draw readers in quickly. When he exposes corruption in the administration of justice, one can’t help feeling that the story is based on more than mere imagination. The Whistler is a book about judicial conduct. It has been alleged that a female judge in Florida has accumulated a not-so-small fortune through illegal earnings from a casino on a Native American reservation and from the newly built condos in its neighbourhood. Investigating is the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, a pompous title for what is, in effect, a two-person team. It consists of a young woman called Lacy Stoltz and her partner, who, early in the book, is killed in a car crash that appears not to have been accidental. The Whistler is not Grisham’s best, but it is still much better than most crime novels – and so, read on.
When I started writing this column it was often a struggle to keep a balance of male and female writers. I never discovered whether women’s books were less likely to be sent out for review or simply whether fewer were published. But over the course of a few years things have really changed. Almost every day I receive a domestic or psychological thriller written by, and featuring, contemporary women who are not too young, not too old and, above all, not too posh. These books take normal life as a starting point. In The Couple Next Door it’s a dinner party with the neighbours. The guests’ baby daughter is asleep on the other side of the party wall and one of her parents checks up on her every half-hour… until, suddenly, she has disappeared. There follows a well-written story twisting and turning like a complicated dance as family members, neighbours and old friends appear in turn. The ending is unexpected and, I’m afraid, unconvincing.
Charles Holborne, barrister at law, was charged with murder in Simon Michael’s previous book and, unsurprisingly, acquitted. But now nobody wants to work with him. He is about to leave the bar in despair when he receives an important brief. Representing his new client is a severe test of Charles’s skills and integrity, as well as an interesting demonstration of clashing cultures. You either love or loathe legal thrillers. I enjoy them greatly, and was happily absorbed by this insider’s view of the daily workings of barristers’ chambers and of conducting a case at the Central Criminal Court. More, please.