On the Radar — You know that we get excited about crime fiction from overseas markets here on Crime Fiction Lover. South Korea already manufactures some of the finest smartphones and containerships in the world, but the country’s latest export is the crime novel The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong, which was a sensation in Seoul. If that doesn’t leave you spinning we’ve got a mouthy coke dealer being chased by hitmen, a murdered migrant in the sedate fenlands of Kent, and a terrorist attack on an Italian train… Read on to discover your next crime read!
The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong
Now is the time to jump into Asian crime fiction. You-jeong Jeong’s The Good Son sold a million copies in South Korea, and now the book has been translated into English for you to enjoy. It’s the kind of crime fiction that will intrigue you. Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood and discovers his mother’s dead body nearby. What to do? He’s sure he didn’t kill her, but not sure anyone will believe him. So he hides the evidence and sets off to catch the killer himself. Then other women start disappearing and he begins to wonder what’s going on, especially as things are starting to point back to his own family and its secrets. Out 3 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
The Price You Pay by Aidan Truhen
Jack Price is a coke dealer who thinks of himself as a modern start-up selling top notch merchandise in a free market gig economy. He’s also furious when his neighbour is murdered but mainly because he would rather have done it himself. So kicks off a gory revenge tale with a charismatic, wise-cracking, amoral sociopath. His initial payback has consequences and the Seven Demons, a crack team of hitmen, are contracted to take him out. Price couldn’t be happier as he doesn’t plan on letting up in a revenge romp that promises to be a guilty pleasure. Released 3 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Salt Lane by William Shaw
William Shaw has taken a break from his Breen and Tozer books to start a new series featuring DS Alexandra Cupidi, edging out of London onto the flatlands and fens of coastal Kent. Cupidi has already appeared, alongside her troubled teen daughter, Zoe, in The Birdwatcher. In Salt Lane she is probing the murder of a North African man who has drowned in a slurry pit and her investigations push into the vulnerable subculture of illegal migrant workers. We can expect some rich character studies from Shaw as he peers under the stones society would rather leave untouched. Out 3 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Kill the Angel by Sandrone Dazieri
The second in the series featuring Deputy Police Commissioner Columba Caselli and Investigator Dante Torre finds the pair on a trail which will take them from Berlin to Venice. A high-speed train from Milan arrives in Rome with a gruesome cargo – all of the passengers in the first-class coach are dead. It’s seen as an act of terrorism and the finger is pointed at a small group of Islamic extremists but Torre has other ideas. Could it be the work of a killer who has plans for even greater atrocities? We have previously reviewed Kill the Father. Out 3 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Escape and Evasion by Christopher Wakling
Welcome to a modern day story of a man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. London financier Joseph Ashcroft pinches $1.34 billion from his own bank, gives it untraceably to impoverished strangers worldwide, and then flees. But why has he done it, and how is he going to evade capture? Joseph is confident he can hide, but with the bank’s head of security old army friend Ben Lancaster on his tail, he will need his wits about him if he is to remain free. Out 3 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka
This is the second book in the Roxane Weary series and the private eye is still trying to cope with the aftermath of what happened in The Last Place you Look. But she must put all that behind her when a man engages her to check up on his fiancée, Marin Strasser. Then Marin is shot dead and Roxane’s client is the prime suspect. She’ll need all her skills to sort out the mysteries surrounding Marin and prove her client’s innocence – and as she edges closer to the truth, it looks like her own life is in danger too. Out 1 May. Pre-order now on Amazon
Written by Philip Kerr — Crime fiction lovers were shocked last month to hear of the death of Philip Kerr. Not just because he was still young, but also because he continued publishing great works right up to the end of his life. In between his Bernie Gunther novels, which he has written at a rate of roughly one a year for the past decade, Kerr has also written standalone novels, books for children, and works of nonfiction. The prospect of a new Bernie Gunther novel is something that gets readers around the world excited, and it is a true tragedy that after Greeks Bearing Gifts there will only be one more, Metropolis, due out next year.
Greeks Bearing Gifts is vintage Bernie Gunther, despite the ex-Kriminalpolizei detective’s name rarely appearing in the novel. It’s 1957, and Gunther is back in his adopted hometown of Munich, living under a new name and working as a mortuary attendant. He calls himself Christof Ganz and deals with the low pay, the poor hours and the freezing conditions in the hospital basement. His years heading up homicide investigations have given him a stomach more than strong enough to cope with with dead bodies. He’d just rather be somewhere else.
Soon, however, he’s getting other offers: firstly from the undertaker to be a replacement pallbearer; secondly from a corrupt ex-cop who manages to con Gunther into helping him commit extortion; and finally from a lawyer who wants him to work for Munich RE Insurance as a claims adjuster. He will use his investigative skills to uncover fraudulent insurance claims.
According to Gunther’s new boss, Munich RE is one of Germany’s largest insurance companies and is expanding through postwar western Europe. While the Nazi years saw them insuring concentration camps and other infrastructure of death, by 1957 they’ve branched out, also covering vessels anchored off the Greek islands. When one, belonging to Siegfried Witzel, a German living in Greece, catches fire and sinks off of Thessaloniki, Gunther is sent to Athens to investigate. With the help of the local Munich RE representative and Lieutenant Leventis, an Athens cop with a grudge against Germans shared by most of his compatriots, they first find evidence the claimant isn’t being entirely truthful, and then that someone is out to kill him. They find that out when they find him at his home, with both of his eyes shot out from close range.
The cops who find Gunther and his Greek associate with the body of the dead German offer them a deal: either help the police find the killer or go down for the crime. Not for the first time in the Bernie Gunther novels, the detective is forced to take a job he’d rather not. It’s not that he doesn’t have sympathy for the Greek cop, who grew up in Thessaloniki -which was called Salonika and had a large Jewish population – he just doesn’t trust him. Lieutenant Leventis has his own score to settle, against a German who killed an old friend of his in a concentration camp by shooting both eyes out at close range. Despite reports that the culprit died, Leventis is sure he is in Athens, and he wants Gunther to help stop him killing again.
Greeks Bearing Gifts is as dark and as smart as anything else in this historical crime series, showcasing Kerr’s atmospheric writing, his meticulous research and his gift for witty dialogue. References to Greek mythology are packed in for those who know what to look for, and I even learnt a bit about Greece and Greek history. If you haven’t read any of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels before this is a great place to start. It’s the 13th in the series but reads like the work of a young, fresh author, full of ideas. That’s what Kerr’s writing is like, and like every other Bernie Gunther novel Greeks Bearing Gifts can stand by itself on its own merits, not merely as one part of a series. Whenever I enjoy a book this much I long to pick up the next in the series, or the next book by the author. It is a tragedy that Kerr was lost to us so soon, and a tragedy that there is only one more Bernie Gunther book to come.
Written by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett — First performed in 1606, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the best crime stories ever written. Okay, it’s not a whodunnit – we know early on who the culprits are – but to this day it gives us a wonderful psychological insight into the desires of men and women, and how power corrupts. It has been fashionable of late to reinvent Shakespeare’s works in a modern literary context, so who better to turn the Scottish play into a contemporary crime novel?
And, oh boy, does Ian Rankin… Oh, wait. Umm.. Yes, sorry, let’s reset.
As I was saying, who better to take this dark tale of murder, obsession and madness and turn it into a contemporary crime novel than Jo Nesbo, the Norwegian creator of the Harry Hole series? After all, the story has many of the ingredients that Scandinavian authors like Nesbo use so ably – moody weather, the dark and tragic portents of fate, a subdued but well defined psychological underpinning, and cold-hearted killing.
While the skeleton of the story remains more or less intact, the author has revitalised nearly every feature of it. Just as you will see Shakespeare plays transferred to a World War I setting, or even South Central LA, we descend as a raindrop into a Scottish town in the year 1970 as Nesbo’s opener gives us an early taste of the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere he has done so well in previous books. But a few pages in, the hard-edged action gets underway with a drug deal by the docks involving the Norse Riders, a notorious motorcycle gang. Macbeth is the captain of the unnamed town’s SWAT team and, as per the story, he valiantly takes down his foes… just about. This earns him promotion to head of organised crime by his grateful boss, the police commissioner, Duncan.
Lady Macbeth has been shortened to simply ‘Lady’ in this telling, a flame-haired former prostitute who now runs The Inverness, a high-class casino. Strega, a transgender acolyte of mysterious crime lord Hecate has whispered to Macbeth, who by the way is a recovering drug addict, that he won’t land long in organised crime and will soon be chief commissioner himself. At first he finds this very odd but Lady drives the point home, demanding that he murder Duncan. She’ll set it up right there in the casino by arranging a celebration and inviting Duncan to stay the night in a luxury room upstairs.
If you’ve read the play, you’ll know how things progress. Duncan is drugged, Macbeth nearly backs out, but eventually sets to work with his daggers, Lady covers his trail, and before police colleagues like Malcolm, Banquo and Duff realise what’s going on they too are on the kill list.
This retelling is full of dark, imaginative and fascinating detail, as Nesbo puts the architecture into place for his dramatic set pieces. The town he creates – based on Edinburgh perhaps, with Fife mentioned across the bridge – has all the dark, crosshatched shading of Sin City, as rendered in Frank Miller’s incredible graphic novel. Macbeth expands the power that so intoxicates him on several levels – politically in the town, organisationally within the police, and socially by brutalising his every friendship. There are showdowns with the mayor and with Hecate. There are Gatling guns, bombs and armoured cars. And, there’s a murdered baby in a shoebox.
It’s a lot darker and more troubling than the play…
It’s also a lot longer. Too long, in fact. Nesbo’s Blood on Snow and Midnight Sun demonstrated how poetic he can be. They have a slightly abstract feel to them, intense characters, and storylines that convey a rainbow of emotions in a compact 200 pages or so. Macbeth goes between being an intense page turner and a bit of a slog three or four times during the course of its 500 folios. The supporting characters have too much backstory, too much bad feeling, too many horrible flaws and secrets. Getting into all the nooks and crannies of Macbeth’s relationships with the other cops slows things down, and clouds our understanding of the main character rather than showing him in sharp relief. Is he how he is because of his background?
This Macbeth grew up in an orphanage alongside Duff, and they are the cops from the wrong side of the tracks. There’s a bit of a play on social class, but the way they speak is no different to the other characters. Macbeth, more than anyone, is given such stilted dialogue that he’s hard to read. Literally. Lady, such an icon in English literature, gets off to an impactful start as a strong woman and a femme fatale, but turns weird rather than sympathetic in her guilt, and eventually just fizzles out.
There are certainly long passages where Jo Nesbo is on form, grabbing you and drawing you in with car chases and gun battles here in this amazing, dystopian tract of retro Scotland. However, the book lacks its ‘Out, damned spot!’ moment and is probably one for fans of the author rather than a good introduction to his talents.
Alison Gaylin writes tense crime thrillers. Megan Abbott is the queen of contemporary American noir. If you love crime fiction as much as we do, and enjoy a good graphic novel too, then you couldn’t have dreamed it much better. Last year, both authors teamed up with artist Steve Scott to create the comic book series Normandy Gold for Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics. The first set of issues has now been packaged up into a glorious graphic novel, which came out a month ago. Inside you’ll find 152 pages of kidnapping, drugs, prostitution and political corruption in a rough and ready 1970s Washington, DC, as Sheriff Normandy Gold searches for her sister. So, it’s high time we sat down with Alison and Megan to get the lowdown on their collaboration, and why they went retro.
How did both of you become involved with the project and how did the collaboration work in practice? Megan Abbott: We came up with the idea for Normandy Gold nearly 10 years ago. In my memory, we were on a train back from a crime fiction convention in Baltimore and we talked about wanting to write something based on our mutual love of 70s movies. And, most of all, we’ve always loved those cool, stoic, damaged male characters played by Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, etc. We were both frustrated with how rarely those characters are women. And so came Normandy.
Alison Gaylin: Yes! We first became friends when we were both nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel, and had been talking for quite some time about collaborating on a project. A graphic novel seemed an exciting way to explore this very visual idea.
The Conversation (1974) movie trailer - YouTube
1970s films like The Conversation were an inspiration for you. Why did you choose that time period and what is it about those movies that inspired you? MA: I think foremost it was that feeling of paranoia. The sense of living in a fallen world where all the big institutions are shown as corrupt and the characters have to find a way to operate in this fallen world.
AG: It’s also interesting how relevant those 70s themes are today. The sense of paranoia, cynicism and ultimately rage feel even more relevant than when we first came up with the idea.
Dressed to Kill Official Trailer #1 - Michael Caine Movie (1980) HD - YouTube
There is a grindhouse/exploitation feel to the book. How did you decide upon the balance you wanted between gritty reality and pulp entertainment? MA: I think it was pretty organic for us. We both love, say, the movies of Brian De Palma from that period, especially Dressed to Kill. We love how those films walk the line. And we knew if we were true to our characters we would never veer into exploitation.
AG: Yes. When we were writing it too, it was very important to us that the visuals and writing never felt jokey or cheesy. We love those movies. It’s an homage, not a parody, and we were always very aware of that.
Click to enlarge.
Normandy Gold is part of the Hard Case Crime comics line. Their novels have a strong identity. Is there a ‘look’ that the comics have to share? If so, how did this influence your approach? MA: I think it was just mutual taste finding each other. We’d already written Normandy when Hard Case approached us. And, through the crime fiction world, we’ve known Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case, for years and have always loved his mission of bringing back the aesthetics of mid-century pulp.
AG: One thing we loved about working with Charles is that he understood the look and the characters so well. Our script was full of movie stills, and the artist Steve Scott was able to capture the feel of them in ways that exceeded our expectations.
You are both successful novelists. Did writing for comics requires a different approach? How did you adapt? MA: There isn’t a necessary connection between writing novels and writing comics – other than a commitment to character and story. But there is a more direct connection between movies and comics and I think we drew on that a lot. We kept thinking about how we would tell this visually, as if a lost 70s movie was unspooling before our eyes. AG: There’s a complete reliance on visuals in writing a graphic novel script. It’s like storyboarding a movie, and while that’s a good deal more constricting than writing a novel, it’s also, in a way, quite freeing. It seemed like the perfect medium for this project and it was really so much fun.
Do the two of you plan to work together again, and what’s next for both of you? MA: I for one would love to work with Alison again. And, as for me, my next novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes out in July. It’s about two female scientists caught in a ruthless competition. They share a secret and, well, bad stuff happens. I’m also working on TV projects including adapting my novel Dare Me as a network series.
AG: I’d love to work with Megan, too! My most recent novel is If I Die Tonight – about a carjacking/hit-and-run in a peaceful Hudson Valley town and the lives it changes and destroys. I’m currently working on another novel, out next year, about a woman who learns, via a true crime podcaster, that her beloved mother may have been half of a couple who went on a mass murdering spree in the 70s.
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2018 longlist has been announced and it’s full of books that have been reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover – some favourably… some less so!
The longlist of 18 books features several Crime Fiction Lover five-star rated novels, including The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnett, The Long Drop by Denise Mina, A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin, The Intrusions by Stav Sherez and The Seagull by Ann Cleeves. The prize is open to UK and Irish crime authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1 May 2017 to 30 April 2018, which means that some of them arrived in hardback as far back as early 2016.
Among the top hitters that include Val McDermid and Lee Child there are debut novels by Jane Harper, Emma Flint, Joseph Knox, Imran Mahmood and Abir Mukherjee.
In the meantime, we’d love to know what your favourite crime novel of the year was. Please post details in the comments section below.
The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony hosted by broadcaster Mark Lawson on 19 July, the opening night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. They’ll receive a £3,000 cash prize and a carved beer keg presumably containing Theakston Old Peculier. The awards night will also feature the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award, with past recipients including PD James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, Lee Child and Colin Dexter.
Here are the books jostling for the prize, in alphabetical order by author’s surname. If we’ve reviewed the book you can click on the title to see what we thought
Written by James Anderson — James Anderson’s debut novel, The Never Open Desert Diner, recounted the adventures of short-haul truck driver Ben Jones, who drives a 100-mile stretch between two small towns in the high Utah desert. If the town of Price, Utah, is next-to-nothing, Rockmuse, at the other end of his route, is smack up against it. Jones drives the fictional highway 117 back and forth every day, delivering whatever people along the route need – groceries, water, auto parts, agricultural supplies, horse feed. In hot weather, it can be brutal.
Anderson’s books are literary novels, with elements of mystery and crimes of many kinds – the assaults and kidnappings and gun mishaps acknowledged by the legal authorities, and crimes of the spirit too. They are full of characters, since people who want to live well away from civilisation generally have their reasons. And they capture the essence of the high desert – its sunrises and sunsets, the brilliance of its stars at night, its smells, the amazing quiet, and its deadly hazards, human and otherwise.
In Lullaby Road, Jones finds himself in an especially tricky situation. On a winter morning he stops to fill up at the Stop ‘n’ Gone before starting his run to Rockmuse, only to be told something has been left for him out by one of the pumps. That turns out to be a Mexican child and a dog. A child not dressed for the freezing temperatures. The station owner has locked his door and doesn’t respond to Jones’s pounding. He has ‘no choice’ – a phrase Jones particularly loathes – but to take the child into his truck’s warm cab and sort things out later.
This is bad enough, but his young neighbour, Ginny, who saved his bacon in the previous book stops him before he can exit the truck stop and hands over her infant daughter. She has a litany of issues, and has ‘no choice’ but to ask him to take her baby for the day. Like it or not – and he does not – he’s left holding the diaper bag. So now you understand the book’s title.
Jones’s regular route is rough, subject to severe winds and torrential rains. In winter it may be at its worst, when blinding snowstorms barrel over the mountains, scouring the land and hitting the mesa to the east, only to come back to strike another blow on the folks in between. With its margins indistinct in the blinding snow, it’s like driving into oblivion.
Yet the child, the protective dog, and the infant Belle turn out to be good travelers. Belle mostly sleeps as Jones negotiates the road. The child doesn’t talk. Eventually, you find out why. Crimes have occurred in the desert that no child should have to witness. Jones has seen a lot and doesn’t expect much from humanity at its lowest, but even he is not prepared for the gruesome discovery the child leads him to.
On his hazardous journey with the kids, Jones encounters several of the area’s notable characters, including John, who trundles his heavy cross up and down the highway, regardless of weather, and Walt Butterfield, known as the owner of the Never Open Desert Diner, but not as the murderer of the four men who raped his wife. Guns are pulled on him more than once.
Jones does make it to Rockmuse on this inauspicious day, and temporarily turns the children’s care over to a woman he trusts when other, worse considerations necessitate. A hit-and-run driver has critically injured John, his body found when someone noticed his cross alongside the road. Author Anderson does a great job describing the constrained possibilities available to people in remote locales, without resources, and with limited access to communications, helicopter airlifts, and other take-for-granted trappings of modern life. Jones tries his best to overcome these difficulties. Much as he hates it, ‘no choice’ often is the choice.
The characters in this book were just as strong and interesting as in Anderson’s first, though it seems that Jones has changed. There is an occasional streak of meanness in him I hadn’t detected before. Perhaps this is the result of his earlier experiences, or perhaps Anderson himself sees this character differently. Yet, you do believe that Jones ultimately will move forward, unshouldering the weight of the past, even as he continues to retrace, back and forth, his daily journey.
Everything doesn’t turn out well for all the eccentrics and lost souls who people this novel. At the same time, it is generous in acknowledging that good people can make bad choices, it grieves for the innocent, and it leaves open the expectation that bad people may yet get what’s coming to them.
Written by Louise Candlish — “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…” The quote from Sir Walter Scott sums this book up perfectly, and there’s so much going on that you’ll soon be held tightly in its clutches.
It all starts so innocently, with a happy couple moving into their new home in the posh London suburb of Alder Rise. The wife is directing operations at their new address, while her husband keeps the movers on the straight and narrow at their old home. All is going well, until an hysterical woman arrives in the doorstep. It’s Fi Lawson. 91 Trinity Avenue has been her home for years and as far as she knew, it still was. What the hell is going on? Who are these people? Where is her furniture? And – most important of all – where is her husband, Bram?
The answer to that final one is soon revealed to us, because this story is told from two perspectives – that of Fi, mainly via the transcript of a popular TV programme called The Victim, and also by Bram, who is in Geneva and setting down his version of events in a Word document, prior to committing suicide. The whys and wherefores take a lot longer to unravel, with some of the revelations bordering upon the laughable. There are so many tricksy little reveals pepper-sprayed around the book that you’ll have your work cut out keeping everything in order. It wouldn’t be cool to to reveal any details here and spoil all the fun but in a plot this convoluted you’ll most likely spot a few loose ends… or maybe you’ve just missed something in the bombardment of information the author throws at us.
Our House is perfect TV material, featuring as it does a well-to-do couple who appear to have everything, but who let it all slip through their hands as we look on from the sidelines. Trouble is, it’s difficult to warm to either Fi or Bram and judging by the social media comments scattered throughout Fi’s side of the story, we’re not alone. Those little #victimfi snippets are well used by the author and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting each batch.
The Lawsons are a family who put much store on keeping up appearances. From the outside, their lives are pretty near perfect, but take a closer look at that happy portrait and you’ll spot the paint is cracking and worn. Both Fi and Bram have their secrets but the gradual revelation of their true characters do little to endear them to you. The final twist, when it comes, feels hugely satisfying.
Louise Candlish, the author of 11 novels, is a dab hand at making her characters come alive – but you don’t have to like them, do you? Her depiction of the fictional Alder Rise, a suburb which is on the up and up with property prices going through the roof, is so realistic you can almost smell the freshly brewed organically-grown coffee. Fi and her neighbours make a neat little coven, sipping prosecco while decrying their husbands and setting their little world to rights. Those ‘girlie’ scenes are particularly well portrayed.
So, a standalone that is entertaining if a little disjointed – perfect fare for the summer holiday sun bed. And if, like me, the title gives you a Madness earworm, just take a sip of that cocktail and ignore it.
This is How it Ends is the work of Eva Dolan, one of finest new voices in British crime fiction today. It tells the tale of Molly and Ella, two campaigners in London, where property developers are alevelling entire neighbourhoods left, right and centre to make way for luxury flats that will stand empty. It’s a cause worth fighting for, but when a man ends up dead in the lift shaft in the block Molly lives in, has the campaign gone a little too far? Who is he, and what’s his connection to Ella? You’ll be gripped at the edge of what’s true and what’s fake among Dolan’s brilliantly rendered characters and setting. Read the review here.
Luca Veste’s latest is a veritable horror crossover as Merseyside police detectives Louise Henderson and Paul Shipley arrive at the scene of a domestic disturbance. But it stirs up old stories of The Bone Keeper for Henderson, a seemingly urban legend that has terrified local kids for many years. The detectives examine some woods where the woman involved supposedly came from. They find a graveyard, with many bodies buried…. The background narrative of is so compelling it feels like the urban myth is based on actual events. Veste plays to his great strengths of characterisation and the Liverpool setting. This is a thriller with a sharp edge, and it’s one to read with the lights on. Read our full review here.
Caitlin Hendrix, the star of Meg Gardiner’s Unsub series of serial killer thrillers, hits all the right notes. She is vulnerable but resourceful, guided by her instincts but knows the rules of profiling. In Into the Black Nowhere she will need all her skills; she has left behind her father and mentor Mack to work the FBI, and her new team don’t know what to make of the rookie profiler, leaving her almost alone under the searing Texas sun with a killer Gardiner has modelled on the notorious Ted Bundy. Into the Black Nowhere is as fast as a killer’s knife, and as thrilling as the hunt. Read the full review here.
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