Here is another gripping crime novel by Val McDermid, again featuring the forensic psychologist Tony Hill, DCI Carol Jordan and all the other members of her specialist team. They are on the hunt for a man who gate-crashes weddings to find himself an unattached woman, whom he later takes out, not for the usual reason but in order to kill. The body of his latest victim is found in her own burnt-out car. But an episode from the previous book in the series has come back to haunt Jordan and her team, interrupting the investigation. Just before taking up her present post, Jordan committed a drink-driving offence; now a local reporter is on the case. She wants to know how Jordan got away with it, why she was not charged and who has been protecting her. A parallel plot line, full of interesting technical detail, follows the cyberbullying of Jordan’s adopted teenage son. Insidious Intent presents a complicated, ambitious mixture of stories. This is an exciting book by one of today’s most accomplished crime writers.
Successful authors of children’s books need one particular talent among many others: they must know how to grab and then to keep the reader’s attention. Anthony Horowitz has this ability in spades. You may not like his principal characters very much (I didn’t) and you might become impatient with their adult anxieties (I did), but it makes no difference. Having started, one is hooked for the full length of the story, in this case involving a bestselling author of children’s books – Horowitz himself – who is dragged into a murder investigation. The victim was a rich widow who went to an undertaker to make plans for her own funeral and six hours later was violently killed. I found the book fascinating because it is full of presumably autobiographical information about Horowitz’s working life: the contracts that fall through, schemes that come to nothing and how he created the character of Christopher Foyle for the long-running television series Foyle’s War. As for the actual murder mystery, it is not exactly dull, but neither is it very exciting.
Here is a new series and a new detective, from an author regarded by many readers as the greatest crime writer of all. Renée Ballard, who is thirty-four, grew up in Hawaii and is now a detective with the Los Angeles police. Her career seems to be going nowhere. Having accused her former boss of sexual harassment and failed to make the charge stick, she has scuppered her chances of promotion. Renée’s punishment was permanent assignment to night duty. But in fact it suits her fine, as she can spend the day surfing, swimming, sunbathing and sleeping in the back of the van in which, illicitly, she lives. She doesn’t go in for obeying orders, so when told to leave two killings, both of young women, to someone else, she carries on investigating. Her calm and admirable efficiency is enhanced by acute intelligence. Renée is an excellent new character. I hope Connelly sticks to his pattern of writing a whole series of books featuring the same detective.
This is the first in what is to be a series of crime novels featuring actual people, or at least using their names – those of the novelist Nancy Mitford and her family. In this first instalment, set in 1919, Nancy is still in the schoolroom, waiting impatiently to ‘come out’. She befriends the new nurserymaid and together they investigate a murder, which is based on an actual unsolved case: that of a retired nurse, Florence Nightingale’s goddaughter, who was thrown out of a train on the Brighton line and died a few days later. Fiction and historical fact are ingeniously mixed. Jessica Fellowes, who wrote the official companion books for the television series Downton Abbey, carries it out well, making good use of contemporary newspaper reports, interviews with witnesses and the profusely documented lives of the Mitford sisters. The story involves much urgent rushing along the same platforms or through the same places and, like most crime novels these days, it would have been better if shorter, but it is a good read all the same.
Unlike the Mitfords, the crime novelist Josephine Tey did not court or enjoy publicity, and I have felt a little uncomfortable reading earlier books in this series, in which a character called Josephine Tey becomes an amateur detective, because Tey herself would have found them so offensive. This episode, however, takes the fictional heroine into a world I doubt the real one ever knew, involving the most senior members of Cambridge colleges. Well-researched flashes of reality (such as M R James reading aloud his own ghost stories) add authority and the political subtext is interesting. The story is set after the First World War, when the male-dominated establishment did not take sexual assault on women sufficiently seriously. Women subsequently fought hard for their rights, although, as Upson explains in her afterword, even in the 1970s the increasingly violent attacks by the ‘Cambridge Rapist’ endangered the freedom they’d won. This is a complicated, subtle novel in which Upson manipulates her material most skilfully.