When I met the mother-and-daughter duo who were ‘P.J. Tracy’ (sadly, the mother died recently), I found that — rather like the male and female components of ‘Nicci French’ — they did not divide their writing duties along the lines one might expect; as Sean French and Nicci Gerrard swap male and female characters, P.J. and Traci Lambrecht did not exclusively deal with characters from their own generations; the reverse, in fact. This clearly was a winning strategy, as such books as Two Evils comprehensively proved. Now we have Nothing Stays Buried (Michael Joseph, £12.99); Traci will continue to write under the PJ Tracy name in honour of her mother’s legacy. Nothing Stays Buried is an electrifying, non-sop action thriller, and the eighth in the ‘Monkeewrench’ series, (the book also works well as a standalone). The series has a hugely dedicated fan base – with sales in the UK alone close to a million copies. Marla Gustafson vanishes on her way to her father’s farm, her car left empty on the side of an isolated country road, even Grace MacBride and her eccentric team of analysts are stumped. Meanwhile in Minneapolis, homicide detectives Gino and Magozzi have a serial killer on their hands – two women murdered in cruelly similar fashion, with playing cards left on the bodies. But one card is an ace, the other is a four – it seems the killer is already two murders ahead. Pluses here include plotting of immense ingenuity and a gift for genuinely speakable, sardonic dialogue (the latter a rarer skill than you might imagine in the crime and thriller field).
With The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich (No Exit Press, £7.99), we are reminded that the post-cold war era when the field of literary espionage sank into the doldrums is, thankfully, long behind us. Readers can now enjoy a slew of talented new practitioners as they join the old masters of the genre. And in Paul Vidich, we have a writer who justifies Joseph Kanon’s encomium (proudly displayed on the jacket) ‘Cold War spy fiction in the grand tradition’. The director of the CIA commissions reluctant ex-agent George Mueller to visit Cuba as the Batista regime breathes its last. His assignment: to investigate Toby Graham, a CIA operative under a cloud after apparently assisting Castro’s rebel fighters with CIA weaponry. What follows is both a satisfyingly labyrinthine narrative shored up with scene-setting evoking the great names in the part, notably Graham Greene. Vidich is not in that exalted category yet, but his is clearly a name to watch.
Persons Unknown (HarperCollins, £12.99) by Susie Steiner has had some heavyweight endorsements, including “I doubt I’ll read a better crime novel this year. I’m already a Steiner addict,” from Mark Billingham, and “I loved it… Persons Unknown is like walking on quicksand, for reader and detective alike”, from Val McDermid. Steiner’s accomplished novel sees Detective Manon Bradshaw return for a murder enquiry quite literally on her doorstep. As dusk falls a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding heavily from a stab wound. He dies where he falls; cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life. DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest – these days she only handles cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works. And, it turns out, is the father of her nephew. She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. Steiner is able to re-invigorate the shopworn police procedural format with considerable skill.
Lee Child is among those who have extolled the virtues of Rachel Howzell Hall’s City of Saviours (Titan, £7.99) and his confidence in the book is not misplaced. Los Angeles resident Hall is indeed (as the British writer says) ‘a fresh voice in crime fiction’, and she has steadily been building up a reputation for her Detective Eloise Norton series. In the new novel, 73-year-old Eugene Washington has died what appears to be an unremarkable death, but Norton has intuited that something isn’t quite right – especially with the involvement of the Blessed Mission ministries led by Bishop Solomon Tate. Lou Norton has a distrust of organised religion, but it is not that that which prompts her notion that the Bishop is hiding a wolf in his fold. This is strong, vividly written crime fare that deserves the encomiums coming its way.
As someone who has interviewed – several times – the director Mike Hodges, I’m well aware that the success of his striking film Get Carter is as much down to his transformational skills as to the source material. Which is not to say that Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis is not one of the most trenchant gangster novels that this country has produced, and Nick Triplow’s Getting Carter (No Exit Press, £15.99) is a perceptive and detailed study of (as the jacket asserts) ‘one of the most important writers you’ve never heard of’. Born in Manchester in 1940, Lewis produced other books than his signature title, and his life and achievement is celebrated here with great enthusiasm. Triplow’s writing is always elegant and perfectly at the service of the material.
I suppose I should declare an interest in that I have written introductions for Macmillan’s Collectors Library series, but that’s not the reason I am particularly pleased by the latest batch of issues. The series is celebrated for its beautiful small editions of some of classics of literature – not least in the crime/thriller genre. We now have a quartet of Graham Greene’s most accomplished books in the thriller genre, and they are much to be welcomed. With Brighton Rock, Our Man in Havana, The Third Man and The Ministry of Fear available in highly collectable new editions, any recommendation is strictly de trop. Only one thing needs to be said that if you have not read these novels by one of the greatest of English writers, you should remedy that omission immediately – and here is the perfect opportunity to do so. Be warned – most modern writers seem less substantial after Greene.
Sandrone Dazieri’s much-acclaimed Kill the Father (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) arrives on these shores festooned with praise – and most readers will feel those encomiums are largely justified. In the past, Dazieri’s books have featured a protagonist who is a refracted version of the author himself, enjoying a sybaritic (but occasionally fraught) life in Milan. Kill the Father is something different: the first in a new series and the author’s first book written in English. A woman is decapitated in a park outside Rome and her six-year-old son goes missing. The police unit assigned to the case opts to arrest the woman’s husband and await his confession. But the Chief of Rome’s Major Crimes unit has his doubts and co-opts two of Italy’s keenest analytical minds: Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli, a tough detective coping with having survived a gruesome debacle, and Dante Torre, a man who spent his childhood trapped inside a concrete silo by the sinister kidnapper ‘The Father’. Dante has been left with appalling claustrophobia but also a hyper-analytical mind. And it seems that ‘The Father’ is back… Dazieri’s English may not yet be as assured as his native tongue, but his storytelling skills are implacable; the five hundred pages here turn very swiftly.
Tim Weaver’s I Am Missing (Michael Joseph, £7.99) features at the centre of the narrative a man who does not know who he is. Naming himself Richard Kite, he spends the next ten months desperately trying to find out his identity. But despite media appeals and the efforts of the police, no one knows him. Richard’s last hope may be private investigator David Raker — a seasoned locator of missing people. But Raker has more questions than answers. Who is Richard Kite? Why does no one know him? And what links him to the body of a woman found beside a London railway line two years ago? Could Richard be responsible for her death – or is he next? Weaver’s credentials are sui generis, and they are burnished by this latest novel.
Woman of State by Simon Berthon, (HQ, £12.99) is a tautly written political thriller that channel the currently revivified appetite for the genre. In 1991 Belfast, Maire Anne McCartney is reassured that her IRA honey trap mission will be non-violent. Inevitably it isn’t. She escapes to a new life across the border. And in present day London, Human rights lawyer Anne-Marie Gallagher becomes Minister of State for Security and Immigration, and receives a fateful communication that will bring danger from the past. Finally, a heads-up for anther in Penguin’s welcome reissue program for Georges Simons Maigret novels – every one of ‘em. The latest in the series is Maigret and the Minister (Penguin, £7.99); vintage fare, this time graced with an impeccable translation from the reliable Ros Schwartz.