Hard Case Crime Graphic Novels: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Peepland, Mycroft Holmes  Various writers & artists (Titan Books)   If you are in any doubt as to the rude health of the graphic novel medium, perhaps you should sample Titan Books’ selection in this batch, which ranges from adaptations (notably that of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to original material, all distinguished by a readiness to innovate and a welcome reluctance to court the prudish or the squeamish; although the graphic novel is essentially a glossy upmarket version of the comic book, this material is most definitely not for children. The style of illustration is in the current idiom, which represents a move away from the superb photorealist style of such artists as Neal Adams towards a broader, less realistic mode. That being the case, the illustrators here are top-notch with the work perfectly at the service of the often brutal and unsparing material. A key recommendation for all three books listed above.

Blood Rites by David Stuart Davies (Urbane Publications)  For those who are only familiar with David Stuart Davies’s polished and inventive Holmes pastiches, his novels featuring Detective Inspector Paul Snow will come as a bracing surprise, and Blood Ties is the perfect introduction to this other strain of the writer’s talent. Set in 1980s Yorkshire, the plotting here is adept, but it is the character of Snow himself — desperately trying to keep his homosexuality secret in this unenlightened age — who rivets our attention. Snow is one of the most distinctive police protagonists in modern crime fiction.

Cold, Cold Heart by Christine Poulson (Lion Hudson)  Christine Poulson has long been one of the most reliable talents in the crime/thriller field, and her style, understated but forceful, is well in evidence in this latest ingenious variation on the cloistered locale mystery. Scientist Katie Flanagan has an undeserved reputation as a trouble-maker and her career has foundered. When an accident creates an opening on a remote Antarctic research base she seizes it, flying in on the last plane before the sub-zero temperatures make it impossible to leave. Meanwhile patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont has been asked to undertake due diligence on a breakthrough cancer cure. But the key scientist is strangely elusive and Daniel uncovers a dark secret that leads to Antarctica. Out on the ice a storm is gathering. As the crew lock down the station they discover a body and realise that they are trapped with a killer…

That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unsworth (Serpent’s Tail)  That Cathi Unsworth should utilise the title of the classic 1942 Harold Arlen song for her quirky and compelling murder mystery will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her celebrated retro tastes. But while Unsworth may nurture a savouring for the culture of an earlier era, no-one in the past wrote quite like her – hers is a very individual and modern sensibility, synthesising elements from a variety of times and genres. That’s very much the case with this latest offering; the jacket strapline ‘pitch-black’ is more than a propos.

The Coming Thing by Anne Billson  Those familiar with such quirky Billson fare as Suckers and Stiff Lips will be well aware that she is a writer quite unlike any other, possessed of a deeply idiosyncratic vision. The Coming Thing is more substantial than most books by the author, weighing in at nearly 500 pages, but maintaining a fairly inexorable grip throughout. Setting out her stall at an early stage with superscriptions from authors as disparate as Ian Fleming, Kim Newman and WB Yeats, Billson sets her novel in what might be loosely described as The Omen/Rosemary’s Baby territory (though bizarrely refracted), with the heroine attempting to deal with the fact that her best friend is pregnant with the Antichrist — and the attendant inconveniences that fact brings. The narrative is shot through black humour, and the prospect of Armageddon has rarely been so diverting.

The Nordic Riveter  West Camel, editor  This third edition of West Camel’s scholarly but diverting magazine is subtitled ‘Riveting Nordic writing’, so it’s appropriate that one of the great heroes of that genre – the veteran Nordic Noir writer crime Gunnar Staalesen (currently published in the UK by Orenda Books) – contributes the guest editorial. The contents are as varied and mouth-watering as one might wish. And there’s the added bonus of striking design. It’s a tempting acquisition for anyone (such as this writer) with even the mildest interest in the subject.

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