SHE WHO WAS NO MORE by Boileau-Narcejac (Pushkin Press) There will be a welcome reissue in November for the classic Les Diaboliques/The Fiends, given a rather awkward English retitling. But do you know the names of the joint authors? The writing team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac enjoyed a spectacularly successful dual career writing highly efficient thrillers in their native France. The surprise for most readers when reading this taut and ingenious thriller is the gender-switch in the narrative from the famous Henri-Georges Clouzot film. Ravinel is a killer. His wife Mireille has been drowned in her bath, and (along with his mistress Lucienne) he has dumped her corpse into a river to give the impression of suicide. But if Mireille is dead, how is she writing to him from beyond the grave? Unfortunately, the plot for the Les Diaboliques has been plundered so often, the original has lost something of its novelty. It’s worth remembering that Hitchcock’s classic 1958 movie masterpiece Vertigo was based on Boileau-Narcejac’s D’entre les Morts/From Among the Dead (1957). It’s worth seeking out other work by the team, notably such slim and effective thrillers as The Victims and The Evil Eye. And Pushkin Press are (thankfully) promising other kindred items.
BLACK RIVER by Tom Harper (Hodder & Stoughton) I once called the talented and studious Tom Harper, ‘The thinking person’s Dan Brown’, and I see no reason to alter that judgement. In his new book, as lively as ever, he transports readers to the most lethal jungle on earth. His protagonist, Kel MacDonald, joins an expedition seeking a legendary lost city in the Peruvian Amazon, with (he hopes) adventure on the menu. What he finds is a nasty stew of paramilitaries, drug cartels, and wildcat prospectors hoping to strip the jungle clean — while local tribes struggle to protect their way of life. Maps of the region have been altered and an earlier expedition has vanished.
THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books) Rapidly becoming a familiar face on the Nordic noir scene in the UK (and British readers always warm to those Scandinavian writers prepared to travel frequently to these shores), the Finnish Kati Hiekkapelto deserves her growing reputation (finessed by a relatively new publisher, Orenda Books), as her individual writing identity is subtly unlike that of her colleagues. Rarely do her books read like any of her illustrious predecessors, and her socially committed style acquires more polish with each successive book. In The Defenceless, an old man is discovered dead, apparently the hit-and-run victim of a Hungarian au pair. Police investigator Anna Fekete peels back the skin of a baffling case and is soon confronting illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, violent death. Her illiberal partner Esko is involved with another investigation centring on an immigrant gang, until a bloody knife in the snow unites the two cases.
I KNOW WHO DID IT by Steve Mosby (Orion) Those who know their crime fiction have long been aware that Steve Mosby is one of the most idiosyncratic and ambitious of current UK practitioners, and this new book is well up to his customarily impressive standard. Charlie Matheson died two years ago in a car accident. So how is a woman who bears a startling resemblance to her claiming to be Charlie back from the dead? Detective Mark Nelson is called in to investigate and hears her terrifying account of what she’s endured in the ‘afterlife’.
HEARTBREAKER by Tania Carver (Sphere) Who is Tania Carver? It was an open secret that the original identity behind this nom de plume was a husband and wife writing team, but now it’s just Martin Waites on his own, and he is demonstrating that he is clearly able to sustain the impetus of those impressive early entries. Waites is a brave man: he had the temerity to take on the UK’s leading ghost story practitioner Susan Hill by writing a sequel to the latter’s The Woman in Black – and turned in a very creditable job (Waites is something of a horror aficionado). As mentioned above, he is also – in metrosexual fashion — ‘Tania Carver’, writing several books under this name in collaboration with his ex-wife Linda. In Heartbreaker, after years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband. She has taken one beating too many, and taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. But en route to Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, she disappears…
THE BANGKOK ASSET by John Burdett (Corsair) Royal Thai Police Force detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep — who has graced a variety of John Burdett’s acclaimed Bangkok novels — is in action again. The ex-Buddhist monk, struggling to protect his own sense of identity, is confronted with a far-reaching conspiracy. He is aided by another outsider, a young female inspector, who (unlike Sonchai), is socially and technologically adept. A demonstration of the superhuman strength of an American man who is seemingly controlled by a CIA operative, further complicates matters. Not the best of Burdett, but still (for the most part) the author is on typically cracking form.
IN THE DARK by Mai Jian (Penguin) After its legendary beginnings, the Penguin crime list languished a couple of decades ago, but here is yet more proof that under the stewardship of editor Rowland White the publisher is now firing on all cylinders once again, with some distinctive and unusual writers adding lustre to the list. The publisher has high hopes for this new novel by Mai Ji and the auguries for its success are good.. This second novel is composed of five interlinked stories. Each story tells of an unsung hero of the Intelligence Unit 701, first introduced in Decoded. They are from three divisions: The "Wind-Listeners" are people in charge of radio surveillance; The "Wind-Watchers" are code breakers; The "Wind-Catchers," field agents.
WATER ANGELS by Mons Kallentoft (Hodder) An enthusiastic support of the writer Mons Kallentoft is his fellow Swede Camilla Läckberg, and she praised to me (for Death in a Cold Climate) his skill at plotting, as well as his ability to create strongly-realised female protagonists – the best, Läckberg said, she’d read by a male writer. Kallentoft’s book Summertime Death/Sommardöden (2008) enjoyed a healthy stint on the Swedish bestseller list, while other things burnished his rising star: a three-book-deal with a Swedish publisher, a French rights deal with France and a film deal that included Midwinter Sacrifice, Summertime Death and two unwritten novels. This is the sixth in the acclaimed series about Mons Kallentoft’s doughty police inspector Malin Fors. She is the star of the police force; stubborn and skilful, intuitive and intelligent. Obsessed. Constantly on the run from herself, constantly absorbed by work. The new book is Kallentoft on quirky, unsettling form.
THE JUDGE’S HOUSE, THE CELLARS OF THE MAJESTIC & SIGNED, PICPUS by Georges Simenon (Penguin) There have been few more welcome initiatives for crime readers than Penguin’s wholly commendable reissue series of the great Maigret novels of Georges Simenon (under the careful stewardship of editor Josephine Greywoode). The newly commissioned translations have been notable for their attempts to get closer to the original intentions of the author, and these three latest additions (two translated by Howard Curtis and one by David Coward) continue that welcome trend. A recommendation is sui generis — if you love the crime fiction genre, these are books that should be in your library – and/or have read. And one of the three, The Judge’s House, is an authentic Simenon classic.
MYCROFT HOLMES by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse (Titan) I’ve just co-edited (with David Stuart Davies) The Sherlock Holmes Book, which has a section on Holmes By Other Hands. This intriguing new entry arrived too late for inclusion. Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised. Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports from home. There are rumours of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. The surprising product of sportsman and NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (not, one might have thought, a natural novelist) and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes deals in novel fashion with Sherlock’s older brother (not an easy task, given the systematic mining over the years of all byways of Holmesiana).
SOLOMON CREED by Simon Toyne (HarperCollins) Immense popularity can come with a price in the world of books. Dan Brown can shrug off the now-customary dismissal of his writing skills (success being the best revenge). But it is harder if you toil in similar territory further down the bestseller lists and glean the disdain without the massive remuneration. Simon Toyne, thankfully, has largely been spared cutting comments, even though his books are in that familiar mould: breathless, picaresque page-turners with plots underpinned by the threat of some cataclysmic event (in The Tower, strange weather phenomena and mass migrations suggest the End of Days). Toyne must be well aware that there are people who will find such synopses off-putting precisely because of the Da Vinci Code-like associations, but he is no doubt hoping to channel the American writer’s Midas touch. In fact, Toyne deserves it; he may trade in the familiar elements (his Robert Langdon figure is tyro FBI agent Joseph Shepherd), but he delivers his outrageous plots with a far more intelligent use of language than his publishing model.
BENEATH THE LAKE by Christopher Ransom (Sphere) While the parameters of the crime thriller genre are hardly stretched by this new novel by Christopher Ransom, few will complain given the expertise with which the narrative is dispatched here. Three decades ago on a camping trip to a secluded remote lake, the Mercer family enjoyed the vacation of a lifetime — until violent tragedy struck. In the present, the younger Mercers learn their father is dying, and family arranges a reunion at the lake, seeking closure. But grim and relentless menace awaits.
A HARD WOMAN TO KILL by Alex Howard (Head of Zeus) If you are wearying of by-the-numbers thrillers, juggling a variety of warmed-over elements (and God knows there are enough of them), take heart – there is still stimulating fare to be found, even if some of the elements utilised are familiar. As with this new novel by Alex Howard. In Chechnya, a security officer who cannot be bought is killed, while in Berlin, a child mourns for his father. In the East, a grossly fat psychopath inaugurates his ambitious criminal career. DCI Hanlon is tasked with helping a Russian woman track down her missing husband. Hanlon is reluctant until she hears a name she knows: that of the unpleasant and brutal pimp, Arkady Belanov.