Amanda Jennings has been slowly and surely building a reputation as one of the most reliable current practitioners of the crime novel, and The Cliff House (HQ, £12.99) adds lustre to her growing acumen. This is a dark tale of obsession set against the North Cornish coastline. Sixteen-year-old Tamsyn spies obsessively on the wealthy and privileged Davenports, envying their luxurious lifestyle. But her obsession is to lead to disastrous consequences. Jennings’ unassuming command of narrative keeps things moving inexorably towards a tense finale.
The writer James Carroll had already made something of a mark for his Jackson Winter series, the first of which was Broken Dolls. But writing in a new style for a new publisher, (with his name contracted to ‘J.S. Carol’), the author proves with Kiss Me Kill Me (Zaffre, £7.99) that there is more than one string to his bow. And, what’s more, that the encomium by Lee Child on the jacket is more than justified. As so often in the contemporary genre, the subject here is dangerously misplaced trust. Zoe has fallen for the seductive and intelligent Dan, but after they marry, she realises that her new husband is both paranoid and brutal. She is aware that she has to escape the marriage, but Dan has his own malign agenda. This is psychological crime writing of real authority.
Similarly, William Shaw, with Salt Lane (riverrun, £16.99) is able to deliver his measured effects with total assurance, something that readers of his earlier work, such as A Song from Dead Lips, will hardly be surprised by. DS Alexandra Cupidi is Shaw’s new protagonist, engaged here in the case of a murdered migrant. Some may prefer Shaw’s earlier work, which did not conform to the police procedural mode, but this is unarguably a powerful and socially committed piece. Admirers of William Shaw (and they are plentiful) need not hesitate.
Ruth Downie has long had the measure of the ‘Crime in Ancient Rome’ idiom, and while Memento Mori (Bloomsbury, £9.99) may borrow a title from Muriel Spark, it is still a fiercely original piece, the eighth in her ‘Medicus’ series. A scandal has blighted the spa town of Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath), and while Medicus Gaius Ruso would much prefer practising medicine, he once again finds himself reluctantly investigating crime. It’s highly diverting fare from the reliable Downie.
Still with historical crime, R.N. Morris’s The Red Hand of Fury (Severn House, £12.99) shows that the author’s skills remain as acute as when he was writing his atmospheric period mysteries featuring Dostoyevsky’s detective from Crime and Punishment, Porfiry. The new book is set in 1940 London, and fascinatingly details the sinister ramifications of two apparent suicides.
Dead If You Don’t by Peter James (Macmillan, £20) is the latest in James’s long-running (and invariably bestselling) Brighton-set series featuring Detective Inspector Roy Grace. As ever, James may be dealing with familiar material, but always manages to render it afresh, his narrative (here involving the kidnapped son of a successful businessman) is made tauter by the adroit characterisation of the principal participants.
If you are one of those yet to discover the quirky charms of the French writer Sebastien Japrisot, that is an omission which can (and should) be speedily rectified with this latest novel to appear in English (in a sympathetic translation by Alan Sheridan), One Deadly Summer (Gallic, £8.99). The exquisite Elle effortlessly captures the attention of every man in the village. But it is the local car mechanic who becomes obsessed with her. After a single date, she moves in with him, but she has a plan – one that involves avenging a great wrong from the past. 1970s France is eloquently conjured in a novel which is slightly longer than is necessary for the customarily economical Japrisot.
In the annals of idiosyncratic crime writing, Christopher Fowler remains sui generis and the latest Bryant and May outing, Hall of Mirrors (Doubleday, £16. 99) is one of the most sheerly diverting outings yet for his eccentric detective duo, this time in a loving homage to the country house mystery This one of the most consistent series in the contemporary field.
Is there a current writer in the genre who can be guaranteed never to repeat themselves – and who comes up with an original premise for each new book? Yes there is — and it is the highly individual Belinda Bauer. Snap (Bantam Press, £12.99), her latest novel, continues this pleasing trajectory. On one hot summer’s day the youthful Jack and his sisters are sitting in a car after it has broken down, awaiting the return of their mother. But she is not to return — ever. Jack retains charge of his sisters, ensuring that nobody knows they are alone in the family house. But there is to be a very unwelcome visitor. There are echoes of earlier novels here: Julian Gloag’s Our Mother’s House and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden, but Bauer (as ever) is very much her own woman, and produces something that exerts a considerable grip on the reader.
While he has long been one of the mainstays of the Scandinavian crime genre, the veteran Kjell Ola Dahl has (in this country at least) not quite captured the readership that is his due – and that some of his less talented colleagues have enjoyed. The Ice Swimmer (Orenda £8.99) will hopefully right that egregious wrong, particularly as the translation here is by the doyen of the Nordic noir genre, Don Bartlett. A dead man is recovered from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour, and detective Lena Stigersand’s life becomes ever more complicated – as do those of her more seasoned colleagues Gunnarstranda and Frølich. Very persuasive on the level of the plotting, The Ice Swimmer also manages to incorporate social commentary – a sine qua non of the Scandinavian crime genre.
Finally, non-fiction. Few would argue that David Simon’s The Wire was one of the most significant and complex longform crime dramas in the history of television, bringing a novelistic richness and ambition to the genre. The series left an indelible impression on all of those mesmerised by it, including Jonathan Abrams, who with All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire (No Exit Press, £12.99) deilvers the definitive chronicle of the series. Written in the form of an oral history, this is utterly compelling fare, with every aspect of the series – not least, the work of such key creators as David Simon and (of course) George Pelecanos treated to forensic and penetrating attention. One effect of the book is clearly going to be to send us all back The Wire – and provided we can find time for that enterprise, why complain?
Barry Forshaw’s latest book is Historical Noir (Pocket Essentials/No Exit Press)