THE HAMMERS STRIKE
The domination of the bestseller charts by Scandinavian crime fiction continues as inexorably as ever, but now readers are able to choose between books from the Nordic countries and even the UK; British writers are contributing splendid work set within cold foreign climes. Currently it’s possible to sample LIZA MARKLUND’S taut Lifetime (Corgi), which begins with the most famous police officer in Sweden found murdered in his bed, with his son missing. It’s a typically lean and focussed example of Marklund’s series featuring investigative reporter Annika Bengtzon. Or by contrast, the launch of Bloomsbury’s new Nordic initiative with The Hammers, LOTTE AND SØREN HAMMER, whose The Hanging (first in a six-part series) is a truly compelling and unusual novel from the brother and sister team who are already enjoying much acclaim in their native Denmark.
But don’t forget what the British are now achieving in the field. There are new books from the U.K.’s market leaders in this territory, QUENTIN BATES and MICHAEL RIDPATH – though one of these is non-Nordic. Bates’ Chilled to the Bone (Constable Robinson) is one of the Hampshire author’s smartly turned Icelandic murder mysteries featuring his resourceful female copper Gunnhildur looking into the death of an elderly shipowner. The novel comes emblazoned with praise from no less than the Queen of the Icelandic crime thriller, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, which should be encomium enough to anyone. Michael Ridpath’s Traitor’s Gate (Head of Zeus) is an entry from the other key British practitioner of Nordic crime, but this book is an exception, a persuasive period-set novel with Nazi Germany its locale. It boasts all the intellectual rigour and sheer storytelling nous which distinguishes Ridpath’s best work.
KING DOES CRIME; SILVER ON DEATH ROW
Crime round-ups such as this do not often feature STEPHEN KING, but an exception must be made in the case of Joyland (Hard Case Crime) which is a typically compelling King novel, though not in horror or SF mode. It’s a carnival-set piece dealing with murder and coming-of-age. Clearly, King feels the need to keep his batteries charged by tackling different material to that for which he is best known, and this economically written piece proves to be most accomplished. King could clearly have held his own in the pulp era – but we knew that.
More translated crime from BENJAMIN TAMMUZ, Minotaur (Europa/World Noir), translated from the Hebrew by Mildred Budny and Kim Parfitt. This is character-based espionage fiction with the sophistication of the masters; an Israeli secret agent encounters a seductive Englishwoman and begins a curious takeover of her life using all his professional skills. As a novel of obsession, it is shot through with bitter power and is as much a study of thwarted love as an examination of the tropes of the crime/espionage novel.
Last — but certainly not least — in this particular round-up is the truly mesmerising THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON (Headline), a remarkable novel by a young American writer, Elizabeth L. Silver. The eponymous Noa has been confined to death row for the murder of a woman and has languished there for a decade. Her execution is imminent – but the victim’s mother, Marlene, has other plans. As well as functioning with great authority on the narrative level, this is a book with something to say — but Silver never imports ideological points at the expense of gripping storytelling.