The Infidel Stain, by M.J. Carter, Penguin/FigTree, RRP £14.99, 355 pages
M.J. (Miranda) Carter’s writing career has taken off on surprising tangents: biography (a book on Anthony Blunt), history (The Three Emperors), then a header into ripping yarn territory with the deliriously enjoyable The Strangler Vine, which fused Wilkie Collins with Sax Rohmer via Conan Doyle. That book introduced her ill-matched sleuths Jeremiah Blake and William Avery in a vividly realised Victorian India. The Infidel Stain, the second outing for the duo, is even more fun, with the same audacious blend of derring-do and elegant writing (the latter not necessarily a sine qua non of this genre). Back from India, Blake and Avery find Britain in 1841 a changed place and struggle to readjust, not least to the English cold. But a series of brutal killings in the world of London’s yellow press re-energises their faltering association as they track down a killer enjoying the protection of people in high places. Delicious stuff, to be consumed at just a few sittings.
No Other Darkness, by Sarah Hilary, Headline, RRP £13.99
Daunted by the army of new crime writers? Cut to the chase and pick up a book by Sarah Hilary, whose heroine, Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, may have echoes of other female coppers (such as Lynda la Plante’s Jane Tennison) but who has been quickly established as a highly individual character. No Other Darkness, the second appearance of Rome, involves a case of two boys locked in a bunker and left to die. Once again, there is a canny juggling of elements: Rome’s own personal vulnerabilities and the elements of social commitment that distinguished Hilary’s earlier Someone Else’s Skin — here, the fraught nature of family life and the scars it leaves on so many souls. At the centre is a queasily equivocal moral tone that forces the reader into a constant rejigging of their own attitudes to the characters. And did I mention the plotting? Hilary’s ace in the hole — as it is in the best crime thrillers.