JUST why are the crime novels of RJ Ellory so avidly collected?

Certainly the choice of his A Quiet Belief In Angels as a Richard and Judy book club selection shifted thousands of copies but somehow Ellory, despite being highly prolific, has maintained the momentum with a series of novels that almost always enjoy critical praise and impressive sales.

What’s more these are never slim novellas but bulky, arm-straining epics.

His latest weighs in at more than 400 pages and Ellory is not interested in making things easy for himself but what’s the secret of his success? Like Lee Child, Ellory is an Englishman who chooses to set his novels in the States. Both men pride themselves on getting all the US detail correct but there the resemblance ends.

While Child chronicles the bone-crushing exploits of his series hero Jack Reacher, all of Ellory’s books are stand‑alones introducing us to a whole new set of characters and conflicts with each book. It is to his credit that he always succeeds in rigidly maintaining our attention throughout his vast, sprawling narratives. In the new book, as ever, the writing is pungent and lacerating.

Vincent Madigan is deeply in debt to heavyweight Harlem drug dealer Sandia (whose nickname is The Watermelon Man) and Madigan is desperate to find a way out.

An opportunity seems to arise. He will steal $400,000 from a group of thieves who, of course, will not be able to call the police. The charming, self-possessed Madigan sees this risky heist as a way of reclaiming his life but needless to say things begin to go sour very quickly.

Madigan is obliged to murder his co-conspirators in the theft and discovers that the stolen money is marked.

What’s more a child has been shot during the robbery and an extremely motivated New York police force is on his tail, not to mention the murderous Sandia.

Another problem is Madigan’s own conscience, which is proving to be as painful for him as everything else he is enduring.

Few of us will, thankfully, have tackled the problems that Madigan faces but such is Ellory’s skill that we are forced to identify with this compromised anti-hero.

This is a book that takes no prisoners and Ellory’s continuing commercial success is assured.

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by RJ Ellory

(Orion, £12.99)

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