The Last House by R G Adams; Suspect by Scott Turow; The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly; Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson; Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths; The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker (Translated from French by Robert Bononno); One of Our Ministers is Missing by Alan Johnson - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

September 2022 Crime Round-up

  • R G Adams, 
  • Scott Turow, 
  • Erin Kelly, 
  • Simon Stephenson, 
  • Elly Griffiths, 
  • Joël Dicker (Translated from French by Robert Bononno), 
  • Alan Johnson

The Last House

By R G Adams

riverrun 320pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Kit is a young social worker, not long out of university, who stumbles on a troubling case. An anonymous telephone call warns her department that a young man is at risk. He has dropped out of school and is living in an isolated house with his paranoid mother. Kit follows up and is so concerned that when her boss tells her to close the case, she goes underground and persists with her investigation in private. She is an endearing character, fearless and able to stand up for herself in almost any situation; she has a desperate family background and is the carer of last resort for her alcoholic mother and her various tricky siblings. Social workers often get a bad press but this thoughtful and moving novel, written by someone with plenty of experience of the profession, shows how impossibly difficult their job is.


By Scott Turow

Swift Press 464pp £20 order from our bookshop

Scott Turow’s first novel was Presumed Innocent, a terrific legal thriller that introduced readers to the lawyer Sandy Stern. Here, in the twelfth book in the series, Turow writes from the point of view of Stern’s granddaughter Pinky Granum. She is too much of a rule-breaker to have become either a lawyer or a cop and she now works as a private investigator. She has tattoos and wears what looks like a nail through her nose, is an incredible shot, he sleeps with anyone (of any gender) who takes her fancy and has difficulties in traditional social settings. She becomes increasingly appealing as she searches for evidence to defend the chief of police of Kindle County from an accusation that she offered three male colleagues promotion in exchange for sex. The development of the twisty case is skilfully handled, Pinky’s eccentric voice works, the villains are satisfactorily vile and there are several touching relationships that provide a nice counterweight to the wickedness.

The Skeleton Key

By Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton 512pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Inspired by Kit Williams’s Masquerade, the clue-filled story of a hidden golden hare in which she delighted as a child, Erin Kelly has written a highly imaginative time-slip novel about vanity, arrogance, murder and deceit. Fifty years ago, her fictional author, Frank Churcher, made a fortune from producing a dark version of the golden-hare mystery. His treasure hunt involved the bones of an imaginary dead woman named Elinore, which he claimed to have buried around the country. Readers had to find the full set in order to allow Elinore to rise again. The last bone, the pelvis, has proved too hard to find. In the decades between publication and Churcher’s planned revelation in 2021, the hunt has taken a nasty turn, with mentally ill fans treating the fantasy as reality and growing violent in their determination to see Elinore reborn. Of all the family members, only Churcher’s admirable daughter has withdrawn herself from the drama and renounced the wealth the treasure hunt has brought them, and it is she who narrates the parts of the story set in the present. Highly entertaining, in spite of the vividly described distress of many of the characters, this is an excellent psychological thriller.

Sometimes People Die

By Simon Stephenson

Borough Press 368pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Unlike the many young doctors who are writing non-fiction about the exhausting, dehumanising, guilt-plagued years they have spent in hospitals, Simon Stephenson has used his experiences to write a novel. Here a young medic comes from Scotland to London in 1999 after being suspended for stealing pethidine from patients for his own use. Now clean, he gets a job at St Luke’s, which is understaffed and under-resourced. He suffers the usual horrible stress and finds himself in beastly accommodation but eventually lands a room in a flat with George, an orthopaedic surgeon and the nicest man anyone has ever met. Complicating our hero’s life is a series of unexplained deaths at St Luke’s that are proved to be cases of murder. The investigating officers suspect that he could be the killer. Inserted into the narrative are short chapters about real doctors and nurses who have been convicted of murder. By the end of the novel, our young doctor has identified the real killer and moved on twenty years, enabling him to offer a bleak, sad explanation for why some medical professionals decide to murder their patients.

Bleeding Heart Yard

By Elly Griffiths

Quercus 352pp £22 order from our bookshop

Elly Griffiths made her name with a series featuring the appealing Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist. Her other series stars Harbinder Kaur. Originally working and living in Brighton, Harbinder has now been promoted to detective inspector and moved to the Met. She is distinctly likeable, gay and single, making her way in a professional world still often antagonistic to women and people of colour. In this instalment she leads an investigation into the murder of a Conservative MP at a school reunion. Garfield Rice was part of a group of student friends with a dreadful secret: one of them was killed by being pushed off the platform of a disused underground station in London. No one was ever charged with his murder, but the others, hating certain things he had done, had previously discussed killing him, or at least frightening him into better behaviour by pretending to kill him. One of them is now a police officer under Harbinder’s command. Soon, another member of the original group is murdered, complicating the investigation. Filled with Griffiths’s trademark good humour, this is not only a well-researched police procedural but also a very comforting novel.

The Enigma of Room 622

By Joël Dicker (Translated from French by Robert Bononno)

MacLehose 576pp £20 order from our bookshop

This complex novel sees a fictional Joël Dicker taking a holiday in the Hotel Verbier, meeting the beautiful woman staying in the next-door room and joining with her to investigate the mystery of why the hotel has rooms numbered 621, 621A and 623, but not 622. Soon they learn that a body was once found in 622 and that the hotel manager changed its number to avoid troubling future guests. The mystery takes Dicker inside a private bank in Geneva that is riven by competition among its directors to become the next president. The narrative swings between his investigation and the competition for the presidency. The author also offers a series of reflections on the writing and publishing of successful fiction, dedicated to Bernard de Fallois, the great French publisher who helped make Joël Dicker’s second novel, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, into an international bestseller. In the process, The Enigma of Room 622 becomes a meditation on creating fiction in life as well as on the page, on truth and love, on self-deception and, above all, on the ability of fathers and sons who do not have a good relationship to find surrogates who can provide what they lack. At times the translation seems rather literal, but a note at the end from Robert Bononno explains why that is so.

One of Our Ministers is Missing

By Alan Johnson

Wildfire 384pp £20 order from our bookshop

Alan Johnson uses his experiences as home secretary to add authenticity to this novel about the disappearance of a deeply unpleasant member of the House of Lords during a holiday in Crete. Assistant Commissioner Louise Mangan of the Met is sent to the island to liaise with the Greek police because she knows the area and because her boss is well aware that she misses detection in her senior but drearily administrative role. Divorced and lonely now that her two daughters have left home for university, she has the luck to meet a sad but attractive Greek detective who has plenty of problems of his own. The writing will never win prizes for elegance, but there are good and convincing characters, the plot is neat and the scope is wide enough to take in international organised crime as well as small-scale violence.

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