Posts tagged ‘Crime’

June 20, 2017

Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Cornerstone, £18.99, out nowDonna Leon EARTHLY REMAINS

Commissario Brunetti, the senior Venetian police officer and star of Leon’s previous books, is sent to recuperate from stress in a secluded house on Sant’Erasmo, an island in Venice’s laguna.  While there he makes friends with a local man.  They spend days rowing in the laguna, tending to the man’s bees, and talking.  But the bees start to die, and then his friend is found dead…

I have read many of the Brunetti books, and this is the best so far in my view.  Set in Venice, the books are stuffed with spectacular surroundings, wonderful food, and chaotic corruption in public life.  They are easy to read, and strangely addictive.

Brunetti wrestles with what is right when dealing with crimes, but also when dealing with the opaque and shifting concerns of the various authority figures he comes across, and as he addresses the other complexities of family and political life. I don’t always agree with the politics presented in the books, but I have a sneaking fondness for his arch and progressive wife Paula.

A previous winner of the prestigious Silver Dagger Crime Writing Award, Donna Leon has maintained both her popularity and the quality of her work over a long and impressive career.  Ecological themes feature increasingly strongly in her work, as this interview makes clear, and this only adds to the relevance of her work (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/15/donna-leon-interview-commissario-brunetti-earthly-remains).  Earthly Remains is a thoughtful, interesting summer read.

Review by Bethan

November 5, 2016

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Faber and Faber, £10, out nowp-d-james-the-mistletoe-murder

This is a very welcome collection of four new short stories from the much missed author of exceptional psychological crime mysteries.  Val McDermid’s introduction commends James for taking us to places that are “dark, vicious and shocking.  But always beautifully written”.

My favourite is the deeply menacing and highly believable A Very Commonplace Murder, which reminded me of a Shirley Jackson short story in its precise and convincing suburban horror.  A man asks for a key to view a rental flat, and the house agent suspects he is not genuinely interested in renting it.  The agent is right.  “It was the first time he had been back since it all happened sixteen years ago.  He came neither as a pilgrim nor a penitent.  He had returned under some compulsion which he hadn’t even bothered to analyse”.  And so we are compelled to find out what happened in this flat, and what this man’s relationship to it was.

I was glad to meet favourite detective Adam Dalgleish again in The Twelve Clues of Christmas.

In a lovely small hardback edition, this is great gift for fans of crime fiction, especially those who thought we’d never have another new thing from P D James to savour.  If you’re buying one Christmas crime book this year, make it this one.

Review by Bethan

September 7, 2016

His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Contraband, £8.99, out nowgraeme-macrae-burnet-his-bloody-project

This Booker-longlisted novel is the story of a 17 year old boy facing the death penalty for a triple murder committed in a remote village in the Scottish highlands.  It is 1869, and Roderick Macrae is the son of a crofter who is living in a feudal society.  His Bloody Project is presented like a true crime story, with an account by the killer of what happened and documents from other parties involved.  The novel is introduced by the author, in his own name, suggesting that Roderick Macrae was a relative of his.  You have to bring your brain to this collection of purported primary sources, and the main question you have to answer is not whether Macrae committed the crime, which he admits, but whether he was mad at the time.  If it could be proved that he was insane, he might avoid the otherwise inevitable death penalty.

What has happened to Macrae that may have led to this point?  Through his partial account we hear of brutality, unfairness, bereavement and extreme poverty.  As a study in the abuse of power, and the impunity that goes with it, the book is excellent (to be more specific would be to risk spoilers).  The language used by every character in the documents is evocative and convincing – for example, Macrae calls winter in the village the ‘black months’ and summer the ‘yellow months’.

His Bloody Project grips tighter and tighter as the pages run out.  As we find out more about the murders and the killer, we inevitably think more about how we test whether a defendant was insane or not, an issue as present today as in 1869.  Equally relevant now, is the question – when you are subject to the law but the law does not protect you when you need it, can the society you live in really be said to be based on the rule of law?

Review by Bethan

August 20, 2016

Dead Man’s Blues, by Ray Celestin

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Mantle, £12.99, out nowJacket cover

For his second crime mystery novel, Celestin takes us to Jazz age Chicago.  Louis Armstrong is transforming the cornet solo, and Al Capone largely owns the city, which is corrupt at every level.  The novel opens with a gangster funeral almost Roman in scope, where the crowds are showered with blue petals from airplanes.

Three sets of unconventional detectives have cases that converge.  Dante Sanfilippo is a New York booze runner returning to Chicago from exile in New York at the request of Capone, who wants internal gang troubles investigated.  Michael Talbot and Ida Davis, agents at the Pinkertons private detective agency, are looking for a missing heiress.  Jacob, a police photographer, is investigating a gruesome alley death, on his own time.

And so we are introduced to the several different worlds of the city.  The diversity of the characters, in terms of race and class, gives us access to these.  There is complacent old money, garish new money, smoky jazz clubs, dangerous meat yards, and lakeside views.

Ida and Michael will be familiar to readers of The Axeman’s Jazz (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/the-axemans-jazz-ray-celestin/).   Those who loved the vivid portrayal of 1919 New Orleans in that novel will be equally pleased with the 1928 Chicago of Dead Man’s Blues.  You don’t have to have read the first one to read this – it can stand alone – but this is the second in a planned quartet, each set in a different city, so it is worth reading in order.  Luckily we have both in stock!

Review by Bethan

January 10, 2016

Disclaimer: Renee Knight

by Andre

Disclaimer RENEE KNIGHTDisclaimer is yet another book being marketed with comparisons to Gone Girl on the cover. In fact, this clever debut set in London and Spain has its own distinctive style and deliciously sinister concept. When Catherine Ravenscroft and her husband downsize, she finds an unfamiliar book by her bedside just as she’s settling into a new chapter in her life. To her horror, the story of The Perfect Stranger is apparently her own: a 20-year-old secret about the tragic Spanish holiday she’d tried to forget. Its lurid plot details a holiday seduction by a married woman who’s also a bad mother – a deadly combination to appear in print. To underline the mysterious author’s baleful intentions, the standard disclaimer is scored through with red ink: any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is definitely not a coincidence.

Catherine is an award-winning documentary maker; perhaps this professional woman who charms her way into other people’s lives deserves this fictional intrusion into her privacy. Disclaimer’s dual narrative pits her against disgraced teacher and widower Stephen Brigstocke, who discovers a fiction manuscript by his wife that reveals his family’s fatal connection to Catherine. When he self-publishes and carefully distributes The Perfect Stranger, Catherine has to fight to regain control of her life – and her story – as the poisonous prose suggests a reckoning is coming. Knight is adept at creating suspense as the gradual revelation of family secrets builds to a shocking denouement in the Spanish sun. Disclaimer is a superior psychological thriller shot through with cruelty, tragedy and insights into the artful nature of fiction, though perhaps not best suited as a beach read.

October 20, 2015

The Murderer in Ruins, Cay Rademacher

by Team Riverside

Arcadia Books, £8.99, paperback out now

“Still half asleep, Chief Inspector Frank Stave reached an arm out across the bed towards his wife, then remembered that she had burned to death in a firestorm three and a half years ago. He balled his hand into a fist, hurled back tCay Rademacher THE MURDERER IN RUINShe blanket and let the ice-cold air banish the last shades of his nightmare”.

So opens The Murderer in Ruins, a gripping historical crime novel set in Hamburg in 1947. The city is experiencing the coldest winter anyone can remember, and refugees and displaced residents are living in the ruins. Hamburg is occupied by the British after being destroyed in the conflict, and it appears that a serial killer is leaving unidentifiable naked bodies in the frozen ruins. Stave has his own problems – his young soldier son is missing, and he is a frequent visitor to the Red Cross reunification office, without success.

The description of the barely-functioning city is completely convincing, and the mystery is satisfyingly gripping and surprising. The lingering poisons of the Third Reich and the war are shown to touch relationships and power structures in post war life. Translated four years after its German publication, and released here by a small press with the support of the Goethe Institute, it is intended to be the first part of a trilogy. I hope Arcadia Press crack on and publish the next two, as I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Review by Bethan

June 6, 2015

The Axeman’s Jazz: Ray Celestin

by Team Riverside

Ray Celestin THE AXEMAN'S JAZZA serial killer is targeting residents of New Orleans. It is 1919, and the Axeman is being pursued not only by Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, but also by his nemesis, busted former corrupt cop Luca d’Andrea. Alongside, Ida Davis, a secretary to a private detective with ambitions to be a PI herself, brings in her friend Louis Armstrong to help her solve the case.

Celestin writes so well about the food and music of the city, as well as the communities and physical places, that it made me hunger to visit. This is quite an achievement when the story concerns a real life psychotic axe killer terrorising the population. The jazz, smoke, po’ boy sandwiches, Mafia, style, and corruption all went straight to my head.

He also explores the explosively segregated nature of the city, with different groups living alongside each other but remaining entirely separate. A very young Louis Armstrong provides a useful way for us to encounter some of the jazz, the poverty and the racial violence of the period. This is another historical crime thriller to have a real person in a fictionalised detective role (a similar one is Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder, which features Freud and Jung in New York in 1909). Based on a true story, this is a very satisfying historical crime mystery – I ate it up in a single bite and was ready for more.

Review by Bethan

September 15, 2014

Ruth Rendell & Penelope Lively

by Andre

Ruth Rendell THE GIRL NEXT DOORAmmonites and Leaping Fish PENELOPE LIVELYIt’s a truism that old age brings a reawakening of childhood memories. For almost every writer, memory is a rich resource, but things get especially interesting when they undergo that memory reboot in their seventies or eighties. At the age of 84 – and 50 years since her debut From Doon with Death – Ruth Rendell has written a captivating novel about that experience. The Girl Next Door is nominally a crime novel, though the killer is identified at the beginning and the crime (a double murder) occurred in 1944. The case is brought to light by the unearthing of a pair of severed hands. What’s fascinating is the effect the grisly discovery has on the 70-somethings who used to play on the site as children. Memories are stirred and lives are shaken up at a time when the days, months and years might appear to be predictable and unchanging.

Penelope Lively’s brief, meditative memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, is a treasure trove of memory – from childhood in Alexandria to the ‘hospital years’ of old age – filtered through her precise and discursive prose. She is especially good on the working of memory and how it becomes “the mind’s triumph over time”, as well as childhood amnesia and the importance of teaching history (our collective memory). At 81, Lively has written a rich, absorbing memoir that has you hoping for further novels from this former Booker Prize winner.

April 27, 2014

My Criminal World: Henry Sutton

by Andre

Henry Sutton MY CRIMINAL WORLDTake pity on the struggling, middle-aged crime writer. In the case of David Slavitt, his sales are nothing to shout about, younger rivals are coming up with ever more grisly plots, and his career-focused, academic wife doesn’t really think that working from home is a full-time job. And she might be having an affair. As a confessional account of the life of a crime writer, this novel is indispensable. But our fictional, rather ineffectual author doesn’t seem quite ready to kill off his wife’s academic colleagues who sneer at the detective novel; the story’s crime element is rather more subtle and depends on the blurring of fiction and reality as Slavitt gets further into his latest book.

As the police procedural he’s writing takes shape – My Criminal World’s chapters alternate between Slavitt’s humdrum life and his grisly book – he keeps spying a shadowy figure on the street and begins to believe the life he’s created with his wife and young children in suburban Norfolk is under threat. Perhaps he has a love rival ready to oust him, or maybe the danger is something that his subconscious has invented as some kind of psychological response to the travails of the mid-list author.

There are plenty of neat in-jokes in My Criminal World, including the unaccountable popularity of Slavitt in Latvia, where Sutton has also enjoyed success. He’s sharp, too, when it comes to lonely, obsessive fans, unglamorous award ceremonies and bullying agents. It’s a clever, captivating novel that will make you feel a little more sympathy towards the nation’s neglected crime writers.

September 7, 2013

Standing in Another Man’s Grave: Ian Rankin

by Andre

Ian Rankin STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN'S GRAVEIan Rankin SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLEThe return of John Rebus has been one of the great comebacks of the past 12 months, along with that of The Rolling Stones – one of the fictional Edinburgh detective’s favourite bands. (Ian Rankin even named Let It Bleed and breakthrough novel Black and Blue after albums by the Stones.) Having retired Rebus after 17 books, Rankin started on a new crime series featuring the reformed alcoholic Malcolm Fox, an internal affairs police investigator.

Fox is a cold fish and readers have not relished the series as much as several hours in the company of the bloody-minded Rebus. So it was a cunning move by Rankin to bring Rebus back as a civilian working cold cases with Fox as a minor character, who’s cast as the ex-cop’s nemesis and determined to prevent him taking advantage of the raising of the police retirement age to re-join the force. Standing in Another Man’s Grave begins with Rebus contented – he still enjoys a drink in the Oxford Bar and listening to classic rock on vinyl as he nods off in an armchair – and coping with boredom by winding up the young, ambitious boss in cold cases. He’s even reached a truce with arch-enemy and local villain “Big Ger” Cafferty.

This routine’s disrupted when Rebus is persuaded to follow up on the case of a missing girl by her mother. Soon patterns are emerging with that disappearance in 1999 and recent cases of missing women, and Rebus leaves the familiar Edinburgh streets (and pubs) for a road trip along the A9 to the Scottish Highlands. He’s also reunited with his English protégée, DI Siobhan Clarke, and their relationship, fractious but with an unbreakable bond, is at the heart of a novel that has some sly references to the upcoming 2014 independence referendum. Rankin and Rebus are on fine form here – and it promises good things for the next book in the revived Scottish crime series, Saints of the Shadow Bible (out 7 November).

July 27, 2013

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Robert Galbraith

by Andre

Robert Galbraith THE CUCKOO'S CALLINGThis debut novel by Robert Galbraith was published in the spring and attracted admiring notices from fellow crime writers Mark Billingham and Val McDermid. It’s since emerged that it’s J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym and there are certainly plenty of clues this is an author who might not be a fan of the tabloids (Rowling was a witness at the Leveson Inquiry). Her crime novel about the death of a supermodel begins with sardonic description of the media feeding frenzy in the days after Lulu Landry falls from her Mayfair balcony. Yet Rowling avoids striking a high moral tone by virtue of being wickedly funny. “So many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column,” she writes of the coverage of the suspected suicide.

The first book in a new series introduces the gruff, ale-drinking, ex-army private detective Cormoran Strike and his young temp Robin, whose nascent ability for investigation contrasts with the burden of sensible career expectations she expects will consign her to an office “full of gossipy women… all engaged in activities that meant nothing to her”. But I suspect we’ll see more of this double act.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is an ingenious, evocative mystery that takes in London high-life and low-life and Rowling tackles celebrity and wealth with a sly wit. Her insight into football and media rights shows a less sure touch: somehow Strike manages to watch Spurs v Arsenal live on a Saturday afternoon on a portable TV he’s just installed in the Soho office where he’s been camping out since splitting with his girlfriend. And I’m almost pedantic enough to investigate the appearance of handstraps on the Bakerloo Line in Rowling’s novel, though it is set in 2010. A braver editor might have cut some of the descriptive passages but this is still a stylish reinvention of the classic whodunit and a gripping read that will keep you guessing until the end.

July 19, 2013

Jack Glass: Adam Roberts

by Andre

Adam Roberts JACK GLASSAdmirers of Adam Roberts have suggested his clever, playful prose might earn him a Booker Prize nomination if it wasn’t for the fact he writes science fiction. His latest book is a mash-up of SF and Golden Age detective fiction with the exuberance of Anthony Burgess and the self-aware intricacy of academic crime author Michael Innes. Teasingly, the novel is introduced with the revelation that Jack Glass is the murderer in each of its three ensuing mysteries, though his methods and ultimate culpability may be less clear-cut.

After that Dr Watson-style teeing up of our tale, the reader is propelled into a disturbing and ingenious narrative set on an asteroid that’s both prison drama and locked room mystery. As well as being a remarkable display of Roberts’s imaginative power and ironical tone, it also introduces some running themes: the burden or absence of gravity (try cleaning up blood in zero g), the meaning of murder when life is cheap, and a Marxian perspective on intergalactic economics that perhaps places Roberts somewhere to the left of Iain M. Banks. “We’re always the cheapest option, we’re losing absolute value with every generation,” is how humanity’s economic fate is summed up under the authoritarian, trade-obsessed Ulanov regime.

However, Jack Glass is ultimately a dazzling futuristic romp that adroitly negotiates theoretical concepts such as Faster Than Light travel alongside explosive action sequences and cunning crimes. Glass is a gnomic anti-hero with the steel-trap mind of Sherlock Holmes and sagacity of Obi-Wan Kenobi. In part two he comes to the aid of a teenage dignitary, who finds herself tasked with solving what is effectively a country house whodunit (with gravity a key part of the investigation). It’s another virtuoso novel by Roberts and a deserving winner of the John W Campbell Award in the US and the BSFA award in the UK.

June 16, 2013

Generation Loss: Elizabeth Hand

by Andre

Elizabeth Hand GENERATION LOSSThis first book in an edgy new US crime series introduces us to burnt-out punk photographer Cass Neary. Cass is a mess but at least she hasn’t sold out: she’s hooking up with younger men (and sometimes women) in gnarly New York clubs, still listening to Patti Smith and refusing to ditch her ancient Konica for digital. We’re soon rooting for Cass – though we’re also a bit scared of this hard-drinking, tattooed kleptomaniac and her steel-tipped cowboy boots.

Granted a rare journalistic assignment to interview an influential, reclusive photographer, Cass takes a drug-fuelled drive to Maine where she finds a desolate coastal town dotted with posters of missing teenagers. After reaching the photographer’s isolated island (‘what you’d imagine a fairytale would look like if you fell into one’), the interview doesn’t go to plan; now she’s stuck there. So she drinks, hangs out with the more arty locals and picks up on dark hints about an abandoned commune. Cass can’t help stirring up old secrets, though as one character says it’s more that she makes things weird not worse.

This is a story where the crime is revealed, like death-fixated Cass’s creepy photos in the darkroom, slowly and with a sense of dread. Hand also follows Stephen King’s dictum that readers love the intricacies of work by rubbing our noses in the chemical smells and processes of pre-digital photography. Generation Loss is an eerily atmospheric crime novel with an unrepentant bad girl snarling acerbic one-liners between swigs of Jack Daniel’s. Yet Hand’s prose, preoccupied with creative power and its decline, gleams with a luminous beauty even as it’s pulling the reader to an explosive finale. A Sequel, Available Dark, is out on August and Hand’s next book will take Cass on a trip to London – a terrifying but thrilling prospect.

May 25, 2013

The Shining Girls: Lauren Beukes

by Andre

Lauren Beukes THE SHINING GIRLSLauren Beukes has sprung herself from the South African science fiction ghetto into more lucrative high-concept thriller territory, following her sardonic cyberpunk debut Moxyland and the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Zoo City. The Shining Girls is a serial killer story set not in Cape Town but Chicago, and it’s based firmly in the 20th century. True, Harper Curtis – a limping drifter who guts his victims, usually moments after a burst of folksy charm – can track his targets (his ‘shining girls’) at various points in time via a portal in a creepy, abandoned house. But, like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, the constrained time travel is a fantastical conceit that you accept within a few pages.

Beukes’s restless narrative certainly jumps across the decades: Harper will be shuffling around Depression-era Chicago then committing a grisly murder in 1943 a few pages later, while in 1993 his pattern of killings is confounding the novel’s protagonist, journalism intern Kirby Mazrachi, the shining girl who got away four years earlier. The writing is economical and affecting and the use of research is almost as formidable as Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels: Beukes weaves in toxic period detail – racial inequality during World War II, underground abortion clinics in the Sixties – while her authorial voice has an all-American register even if it was honed 8,500 miles away in Cape Town.

The violence is shocking and graphic and Harper is not a murderer we ever really understand. The real strength of the novel is the voice Beukes gives to Harper’s victims, whose lives are documented with humanity and a keen historical perspective. If Studs Terkel had written Silence of the Lambs it might have turned out something like The Shining Girls.

April 6, 2013

The Teleportation Accident: Ned Beauman

by Andre

Now in paperback – £8.99

Ned Beauman published a precociously confident debut novel, Boxer, Beetle, in 2010. He’s followed that with an audacious comic romp that made the Man Booker Prize longlist. The globe-trotting story begins in Berlin in 1931 where sex-starved set designer Egon Loeser is working on a production about his 17th century stagecraft hero, the mysterious Adriano Lavicini, and his Extraordinary Mechanism for the Almost Instantaneous Transportation of Persons from Place to Place. As a result of Loeser’s self-obsession and his desire for a former pupil called Adele Hitler, he fails to take much notice of the rise of her namesake. Loeser’s wilful political ignorance sets up some bad taste but very funny jokes that tease the reader’s familiarity with 1930s Nazi notoriety.

Beauman flirts outrageously with genre fiction: H.P. Lovecraft is an influence and his story The Shadow Over Innsmouth plays a part in the plot’s science fiction elements. Then there’s Loeser’s pursuit of a serial killer and his inability to read anything other than the brutish crime stories of (fictional) author Stent Mutton – perhaps the Lee Child of his day. The Teleportation Accident is a highly readable, amiably bizarre novel that’s unafraid to play with structure and has a serious point to make about history being a nightmare from which you really need to wake up.

March 12, 2013

Crime & Guilt: Ferdinand von Schirach

by Andre

Ferdinand von Schirach CRIME & GUILTLike John Mortimer’s Rumpole, the unnamed lawyer in Crime & Guilt is a defender of the underdog. In this case, though, the underdog is always guilty, usually of a terrible crime and sometimes of a bizarre offence such as planting pins in shoes. Either way, the build-up to the crime is always described in calm, efficient prose from the perspective of the seasoned lawyer steeped in the quiddities of the legal system.

The book is a compendium of two volumes that were huge in von Schirach’s native Germany. A defence lawyer himself, the author draws on his experience to reveal the human story behind these fictional crimes and the deracinated individuals – abuse victims, long-suffering carers, the psychologically traumatised – who were sometimes driven to kill. Crime & Guilt is both terrifying and engaging as the unnamed lawyer details grisly crimes and considers the nature of justice in a legal system where a violent murder has to be explained and considered before punishment can be dispensed. It’s not your typical genre book, though the subtle suspense and keen psychological insight are coldly compelling: these crimes may be fictional yet von Shirach’s personal casebook has clearly informed his chilling prose.

March 7, 2013

Richard III: biographies and classic crime

by Andre

David Baldwin RICHARD IIIJosephine Tey THE DAUGHTER OF TIME

The surprise reappearance of Richard III, dug up in a Leicester car park, is a timely opportunity to try and disinter the truth about a king portrayed as a Machiavellian villain by Shakespeare. “We have to concede the curved spine was not Tudor propaganda, but we need not believe the chronicler who claimed Richard was the product of a two-year pregnancy and was born with teeth,” as Hilary Mantel said in her (unfairly) infamous lecture on royal bodies. “The king stripped by the victors has been reclothed in his true identity.” If you want to learn more about the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, there are a pair of updated historical biographies that feature the car park dig: David Baldwin’s Richard III and – not so snappily titled – The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill.

Perhaps the most enjoyable piece of historical revisionism for Richard III, though, is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a unique and classic crime novel in which a bed-ridden Inspector Alan Grant decides to investigate the real facts behind the murderous ‘hunchback king’ after seeing a contemporary portrait of Richard. Could such a sensitive, noble face really belong to one of the most infamous villains of history? It’s a fascinating premise for an exquisite crime novel which, 62 years since publication, is more inventive and adroit in its plotting than almost any modern genre author can manage.

December 24, 2012

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn

by Andre

Gillian Flynn GONE GIRLThis disquieting psychological crime novel is one of the most talked about books of the past year, partly for the simple reason that people love discussing other couples’ marriages. In this case, it’s the Dunnes: Amy’s a trust fund girl from the Upper East Side who inspired her psychologist parents’ children’s books, Nick’s a refugee from declining New York magazine journalism. After their careers crash simultaneously, Nick moves them home to recession-ravaged Missouri, where his parents are dying and his twin sister’s also retreated. When Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is obviously going to be scrutinised by the police and a public used to spouses coming unstuck on real crime shows and 24-hour news.

This episodic novel swings back and forth between Nick’s story in the days after Amy’s disappearance and his wife’s diary building up to the same event, until their accounts collide halfway through. The plotting is audacious but it’s the knife-edge narrative that makes this such a queasily disturbing, compulsive read – a 21st century Patricia Highsmith. Gone Girl is a crime thriller but it’s also a novel about the uncertain conspiracy involved in being a couple. As a reader, you pick a side, change your mind; but you’re never sure whether husband or wife will get the last word.

October 21, 2012

Foreign Bodies

by Andre

To echo this week’s triumphant Booker speech by Hilary Mantel, you wait years for a Riverside blog on foreign crime fiction and then two turn up at once. But Radio 4’s scrutiny of European literary detectives in the weeks ahead cannot go unmentioned, and the station’s dramatisation of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s series featuring detective Martin Beck is likely to create huge demand for these exemplary crime novels set in Stockholm. Between 1965 and 1975, the husband and wife writing duo published 10 captivating police procedurals that also held up a mirror to Swedish society and clearly influenced fellow Swede Henning Mankell.

The accompanying 15-part series Foreign Bodies is a typically ambitious Radio 4 project. It might have the alarmingly portentous subtitle ‘A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives’ but we should be in safe hands with presenter Mark Lawson, who regularly recommends continental crime writers on Front Row. The series will show how crime fiction reflects society’s tensions across Europe by focusing on popular detectives (Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Nesbo’s Harry Hole and Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano) and venerable literary creations such as Maigret and Poirot, as well as introducing genre-bending crime authors Friedrich Durrenmatt and Nicolas Freeling.

The Martin Beck series starts at 2.30pm on 27 October and Foreign Bodies begins on 22 October at 1.45pm (and available on iPlayer Radio).

October 14, 2012

Andrea Camilleri: Inspector Montalbano

by Andre


THE Scandinavian invasion has defined crime fiction in recent years as we embraced chilly, bleak and ingeniously gruesome novels from Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo and Hakan Nesser. Perhaps readers are now ready for a warmer crime climate. Just as Mankell’s Wallander novels benefited from TV adaptations, 87-year-old Andrea Camilleri’s enjoying a sales boost for his Sicilian policiers thanks to the Inspector Montalbano TV series on BBC4.

Montalbano is hot-blooded but astute, a dedicated investigator with his own moral code. Italian society’s problems – corruption, the mafia, political instability – add a dose of disturbing reality to Camilleri’s concise yet labyrinthine crime stories. This veteran author’s observations on his country enrich these novels as much as Montalbano’s obvious pleasure in Sicilian cuisine: in The Potter’s Field (published in paperback in November) the detective breaks off from his investigation to tuck into a picnic including a whole tumazzo cheese and a flask of wine. Beginning with The Shape of Water, there are 14 Montalbano novels to be devoured. Follow that feast with Marco Vichi’s series set in 1960s Florence, featuring the reflective Inspector Bordelli, a former partisan and dedicated gourmand whose favourite pork chops recipe is printed at the back of the second novel, Death and the Olive Grove. Italian crime series by Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon and Gianrico Carofiglio are also worth investigating.

July 23, 2011

The Talented Mr Ripley: Patricia Highsmith

by Suzanne

A brilliant psychological thriller and one of the best crime novels of the 20th Century. Highsmith is a masterful storyteller and has written an insanely readable book. A supremely stylish page turner with one of the most wonderfully amoral protagonists of all time. 

March 25, 2011

Jar City: Arnaldur Indridason

by Nicola

I can’t see this series of books being endorsed by the Icelandic Tourist Board any time soon but don’t let that stop you. In this first instalment of the ‘Reykjavik Murder Mysteries’ we are introduced to troubled detective Erlendur. He’s been sent to investigate the murder of an old man in his Reykjavik flat. The only clues left are a cryptic note and a photograph of a young girls grave. Many years ago the victim was accused of a terrible crime, Erlendur must find out if it came back to haunt him. Every city in the world has a dark side and award winning author Indridason paints for us a plausible picture and will leave you begging for more!

February 11, 2011

Death in a cold climate

by Team Riverside

Dark and seedy Scandinavian crime thrills thrillers are by no means a new genre but there’s no denying they have enjoyed something of a resurgence on the bestseller lists since Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  Of course there’s nothing new coming from that direction so instead, if the inkling for more remains, it might be worth reading some of these…

Jo Nesbo

Arnuldur Indridason

Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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December 5, 2010

How The Dead Live: Derek Raymond

by Matt

Derek Raymond’s quartet of factory novels feature some of the bleakest descriptions of low life London put down on the page. Raymond manages to conjure in his view of 1980’s Britain a similar sense of morbid detail and helplessness that the painter Walter Sickert captured in his portraits of London’s waifs and strays a hundred years before.  Whilst I am a huge admirer of Raymond’s work and his observations of London changing landscape rival any of those to be found in Iain Sinclair’s writing (there is a chapter dedicated to Raymond in Sinclair’s ‘Lights Out For the Territory’), there have been times whilst reading the factory quartet that I have had to put down the book and walk away, such was the uncomfortable detail of the violence when it inevitably explodes. There are time then, that ‘How The Dead Live’ , the thirds in this series, strangely feels like a breath of fresh air after having your head forced under water.  Like the classic detectives from the golden age of American crime fiction, Raymond’s anonymous charge, in this book, has a real flair for snappy one-liners, wry social observations and there were times, reading this, when I imagined the writer himself doubled over and howling with laughter as he sat behind his typewriter. At times I was reminded of Kenneth William’s diaries, Joe Orton’s plays (and diaries) as well as the philosophy of Sartre and Camus whose combined influences more obviously pervades these books sense of isolation and loneliness.

In this book, our unnamed detective from Scotland Yard’s Unexplained Deaths arrives in the small town of Thornhill to investigate the disappearance of the eccentric (he’s been struck off the list) doctor’s wife last seen, six months before, wandering around town looking like a shadow of her former self, wearing a thick veil, obscuring the lower half of her face.

The morning after he arrives, our narrator, already smelling something suspicious underfoot, and staying in the local B & B, comes down for breakfast to find that he has already missed it. Raymond’s description of the girl behind the switchboard and his dialogue with her is the priceless chatter of classic detectives only Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade had never tried to get up in time  for breakfast in an English B & B.

An old blonde whose head looked as if it had been left behind in a train and whose bra was too big for her breasts sat behind the switchboard. She wore a ring with a big enough stone in it to deter a sex maniac, but had a nose like a pea shooter that would have put him off anyway.

“What was you wanting?”

“Breakfast.”

“Too late!” she crooned triumphantly. “Kitchen shuts sharp at half eight, nothing till lunchtime now. Here,” she said, pointing at a notice board behind her with a finger that looked like it as if it had been borrowed from an archery course, “can’t you read?”

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November 14, 2010

Charles Willeford: Cockfighter

by Matt

Until the mid-eighties when he hit pay dirt with his Hoke Mosely quartet Charles Willeford’s previous books seemed destined to remain buried in paperback obscurity. His mid-eighties commercial success, thirty years after his first novel, ‘The High Priest of California’, was published changed this and suddenly his previous paperbacks were being sought after by collectors. This would eventually lead to them being reprinted and so his audience would grow. Unlike the Hoke Mosley detective novels Willeford’s earlier titles don’t feature recurring characters (or detectives) and perhaps this is why, previously, they failed to stand out more from the crowd. This is because Willeford was writing in a world where the turnover of writers was so high in the glory days when he began writing that the only way to make a living was to keep churning out title after title or fall by the wayside your reputation buried under the avalanching mountain of new titles. The truth is though that these earlier Willeford books aren’t typical of the crime writing or any other genre. Whilst detectives do occasionally feature, and people committing crimes are in abundance, these earlier Willeford’s novels are closer in spirit to those of Hemingway or Flannery O’Connor at their most hard boiled, writing against the clock ticking, stripped of any hint of sentimentality or melodrama. His stories and characters reflect his own colourful biography that included a stint of riding the rail roads along the Mexican border for a year at the age of thirteen. Cockfighter is a story told in the first person through the eyes of Frank Mansfield, a mute cockfighter, down on his luck, who after losing everything he owns in a bet, is determined to make one last go at winning the coveted ‘Cockfighter of the Year’ title (the “ultimate achievement in one of the toughest sports in the world,”). Frank is prepared to sacrifice everything (and already has) and his passion is infectious. By way of this story we are taken on a fascinating tour of the rural Deep South’s underbelly that most readers today would otherwise never have a chance of experiencing. The film starring Warren Oates directed by Roger Corman and featuring a cameo from Willeford is pretty cool too.

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