If you have any doubts as to what a broad church (no pun intended) the current field of crime fiction is, you might care to take a look at a quartet of recent (and not so recent — but recently issued) books to see the variety on offer to readers today. For instance, one might start with the anthology Killer Women Crime Club Anthology #1 (Killer Women Limited, £7.99), which is a literary encapsulation of the aims of achievements of the all-female collective of crime writers who had such a successful launch-cum-festival in London’s Hoxton last year. With a foreword by Crime Queen Val McDermid (who else?), this intriguing collection has entries from such talents as Melanie McGrath, Sarah Hilary, Kate Rhodes, Jane Casey, Louise Millar and Laura Wilson, as well as several other gifted members of the group. What strikes one most about these stories is their enviably wide range – not to mention their welcome lack of misandry; men are not invariably painted in these pieces as the implacable enemy (as in so much fare from collectives of women writers). And gender politics aside, these writers know to deliver short, sharp blasts of pungent writing in a field which is notably difficult to bring off: the short crime fiction story.
Very different anthology fare is to be found in Continental Crimes (British Library Classics, £8.99), edited by the indefatigable Martin Edwards. This toothsome collection of vintage crime stories from the Golden Age is edited by the man most qualified for the task; Martin Edwards won a slew of awards for his impressive Golden Age of Murder, which anatomises an era on which he is the preeminent specialist. The entry by Josephine Bell is a choice item, although such familiar names Conan Doyle also make an appearance.
There is a pleasurable serendipity when an unpublished book by a deceased author makes a belated appearance, and that is the case with Forever and a Death by the late Donald Westlake (Hard Case Crime, £16.99). This curio is the result of the producers of the James Bond movies hiring the much-respected Westlake two decades ago to write the scenario for what was to be the next Bond film. The film was never made, but Westlake wrote a new novel based on the premise. It turns out to be unpretentious fun; not typical Westlake, certainly, but with some of the panache that was so characteristic of his work.
Finally, an intriguing debut: Abi Silver’s The Pinocchio Brief (Lightning Books, £8.99) is an energetic entry from a new author, a lawyer by profession. A teenage schoolboy is accused of the savage murder of one of his teachers, and his lawyers, the veteran Judith and the more youthful Constance, uncover dark secrets about the teacher and the school. Some missteps here, but it’s a debut that hits the ground running from a writer who may have a future in the genre.