Who is Harry Brett? Time to Win (Corsair, £16.99) is an assured piece of crime writing, and one wonders why we’ve not encountered this writer before. Debut novel? Only for Harry Brett, who, in fact, doesn’t exist – the pseudonymous Harry is experienced crime writer, journalist and academic Henry Sutton, so it’s hardly a surprise that this thriller set in great Yarmouth delivers on a variety of levels. In Time to Win, a local crime baron is killed, and there are a host of possible suspects from different backgrounds. Ian Rankin has described the book as ‘The Godfather in Great Yarmouth’ and the writer Megan Abbott has supplied the encomium: ‘A winner on all counts’. The book is a very different kettle of fish from previous work by Sutton under his own name, but the auguries are that Harry Brett will be around for a while.
Macmillan Collectors Library has been steadily producing some very cherishable editions of classic crime for some time now, and great names of the past such as Margery Allingham have been well served (declaration of interest: this writer has been involved in the series, contributing a foreword to Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock). Two of the latest titles by Allingham to appear are Sweet Danger and The Tiger in the Smoke (Macmillan Collectors Library, £9.99 each). The latter, of course, is the writer’s signature novel, and if its picture of the London underworld is now perhaps a trifle quaint (reading a little more like Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera than anything realistic, but in the murderous Jack Havoc character we have one of the first great psychopaths of crime literature, and the book’s reputation is secure.
The first item discussed in this column was a pseudonymous novel by Henry Sutton, and sports a connection with the next item under discussion, Frost at Midnight by ‘James Henry’ (Bantam Press, £12.99). James Henry is also a pseudonym for the writer and editor James Gurbutt, and both he and Sutton earlier collaborated on new outings for the late R.D. Wingfield’s curmudgeonly detective Jack Frost, but the franchise is now in the exclusive purview of Gurbutt. As in earlier books in this series, there is an interesting synthesis between a simulacra of Wingfield’s style and a more modern sensibility (Gurbutt/Henry is not necessarily in love with the abrasive character of Frost, and that’s all for the best). After the discovery of the body of a young woman in a churchyard, the involvement of DS Jack Frost is inevitable, although he has been without a home for months since his wife’s family deposed him from the matrimonial house. The press release has a quote from this writer (from the Independent in its print incarnation): ‘A palpable hit’. And I can confidently say that Frost at Midnight (title from Coleridge?) is unquestionably another such success.