Peter Lovesey sprang to success when his first book won a crime fiction competition. Since then he has collected almost every prize there is, at home and internationally, and each new book displays his humour and humanity. This one is the sixteenth in Lovesey’s series set in contemporary Bath and featuring police officers as the leading characters. Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond (incidentally, the only case I have come across of an author giving his own name to his hero) investigates the death of two policemen in a car crash. He rescues a third victim, an elderly tricyclist who proves, after an unofficial search of his workshop, to be a serial killer. Has Diamond saved the life of a murderer? A series of surprises leads up to a skilful and unexpected conclusion. Another triumph for the old master.
Linda Fairstein’s series of thrillers featuring Alexandra Cooper is immensely successful, partly, at a guess, because readers enjoy their increasing familiarity with the stroppy heroine. Cooper is Manhattan assistant district attorney for the Sex Crimes Unit, which Fairstein herself headed for many years. Fairstein’s experience lends authority to her writing, as does her careful research. This novel reveals the criminality that is rife in New York’s fashion industry. ‘The process of getting beautiful garments from the drawing board to the factory to the catwalk to the showroom to the retail outlet and into our closets’ involves violence and corruption. Luckily our heroine is protected by her profession and by her large private income.
‘You can never know the whole truth of anything. And if you could, you would wish you didn’t.’ So says the newly elected state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland. Luisa’s husband has died, leaving her with baby twins. She has moved back in with her father, returning to her childhood home and arranging for her children to be looked after by the same housekeeper who cared for Lu as a child. What’s more, just as Lu followed her father into law school, she has further emulated him by standing for the position of state’s attorney. Once elected, she leads the investigation into the first homicide that occurs on her watch, that of a middle-aged single woman who was strangled in her own apartment. Although this is a crime novel, identifying the killer is not the sole object of the plot. This is a beautifully written and absorbing account of family duties and obligations – and of life in an ambitiously utopian American new town.
Fashions in crime fiction change as dramatically, if not quite as quickly, as fashions in clothes. The most hyped crime novels at present are based on an everywoman’s everyday nightmares. Set in the familiar world of not-too-posh suburbia, Clare Mackintosh’s second book is about Zoe Walker, who finds a photo of herself in the classifieds section of a London paper. How did they get it, why are they showing it and what is going on? Then other women whose faces have appeared in the same advert are found murdered. Is someone out to get Zoe too? After many years as a police officer, Mackintosh knows what she is writing about (though it’s not always easy to keep the characters apart, with a Kelly, a Katie and a Kyle) and writes very well.
It is unfortunate that Richard Kelly’s ambitious portrait of a Conservative Cabinet minister didn’t appear a few weeks earlier, when it would have slotted neatly into the passionate discussions about senior politicians. Public attention may have moved on, but this thriller is well worth reading all the same as an interesting and original portrait of a politician of our time. From a modest background and with experience as an army officer, David Blaylock went into politics for unselfish reasons. As home secretary he is overcome by his responsibilities. He has to make sure that Britain’s streets are safe. It’s a lonely job, all the more so because he is separated from his wife and children and has few friends. In both his public and his private lives, he believes that ‘the knives are out’ for him, and he’s right. This is a serious, not to say solemn novel that might have seemed heavy going had it not been so interesting.
Louise Penny’s regular hero, Armand Gamache, has stepped down from his post as head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec and has made a bizarre choice for his next job: he has taken over as commander of the corrupt and brutal Sûreté training academy. Running parallel with the story of Gamache’s efforts to clean up this notorious institution is his involvement in the search for the killer of a former colleague who died with a map of Gamache’s home village in his possession. The pretty, remote village, called Three Pines, has featured in most of Penny’s fiction and has seen a remarkable number of murders and thefts since Gamache moved there. In this, his twelfth appearance, we are back in the village’s familiar environment, with the usual chorus of resident eccentrics and breath-of-fresh-air visitors from the outside world. As always with Penny, this is a very enjoyable read.
A few months ago I reviewed a book by Kate Medina that described in meticulous detail the sessions during which a highly qualified psychologist spent hours and hours sitting silently as she tried to get through to a young boy who wouldn’t speak after seeing his mother being abducted. In Kate Rhodes’s excellent new novel, her recurring heroine, the forensic psychologist Alice Quentin, goes through the same experience with the young son of an abducted female scientist. Reading about an unresponsive, traumatised infant requires some of the patient endurance of the professional shrink. The plot is based on the true, fascinating and shocking story of the infected blood that was imported from the USA and given to haemophiliacs in the 1970s and 1980s. In Britain nearly five thousand victims developed hepatitis C, many of whom also contracted HIV. No wonder they felt vengeful, though (as far as we know) the only revenge that has been taken is fictional.