Small, but perfectly formed

On the Radar — This week we have our usual choice of full length novels, but also several novellas and a collection of short stories. The short story is reputedly one of the hardest forms of fiction to master, and the American science fiction writer Michael Swanwick put it perfectly when he said, “…each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end. The ideal short story is like a knife – strongly made, well balanced, and with an absolute minimum of moving parts.” Check our selection this week, and see if you agree.

The Scent of AlmondsThe Scent of Almonds by Camilla Lackberg
The popular Swedish author seems to be following in the footsteps of Agatha Christie, with a story reminiscent of And Then There Were None. Martin Mohlin and his girlfriend are stranded on the island of Valön, offshore from the west coast fishing port of Fjällbacka. With all communication to the mainland cut off, and the head of the family lying dead, Mohlin works his way through the list of suspects. Originally published in 2013 as part of a collection, this edition has been reworked as a stand-alone Kindle novella. Out on 11 December.
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Rose and HelenaRose and Helena Save Christmas by Jana De Leon and Denise Grover Swank
Kindle and eBook files don’t make very good stocking fillers, but this pre-Christmas novella, if it had a physical version, would be ideal. The authors bring together their favourite characters, Rose Gardner and Neely Kate Colson, in a short but entrancing festive offering. Christmas is looming in New Orleans, with the paranormal, psychics and plain old fashioned murder. With much coveted seats for a performance of Wicked in the bag, Rose and Neely Kate have to solve a murder in quick time to make sure that the festive season can continue without hindrance. Published on 9 December.
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Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 20.00.24Black Sands by Carl Goodman
Goodman’s debut novel is a techno-thriller which focuses on a very contemporary us-and-them world. In the Blue Corner we have corporate information gatherers, government spooks and data analysts. In the Red Corner, we have a group of highly educated, computer-literate hackers who, depending on your viewpoint, are either anarchists or glorious revolutionaries. These ‘hacktivists’ were led by Danny Bowen, but now he is reduced to jobbing work for a security firm, and most of his former colleagues are in jail. He is recruited by one of his former enemies, a private equity firm, to head off a cyber attack by the ubiquitous Russian mafia, but this time he is not fighting for some student ideal – he is fighting for his life. Black Sands is published on 5 December.
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KIller PlanKiller Plan by Leigh Russell
DI Geraldine Steel is now firmly established in the character-driven pantheon of British police procedurals, alongside such luminaries as Banks, Grace, Thorne, Christie and Jordan. Steel’s latest case is as grisly as they come, but when she investigates why a man has been bludgeoned to death she is angry when she finds out the dead man’s wife is concealing the identity of the killer, then stunned when she learns that the case impinges on her own life. Does she front up with vital information that would probably terminate her career, or does she keep her own counsel, and hope that she can track down the killer and keep her job? Available on 11 December.
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OffshoreOffshore by Ann Cleeves
There is certainly something about islands, whether it is Agatha Christie’s fictional one in her masterpiece And Then There Were None, or a more recent one such as Mark Billingham’s Bardsey in The Bones Beneath. In Offshore, Anne Cleeves takes us to Skokholm, Uist, Shetland, Hilbre and Holy Island as she spins an elegant collection of mysteries which contrast the idyllic coastal settings with the darker side of human nature. She is also happy to lend her established characters George and Molly Palmer-Jones to Lynne Chitty, who appears in Postcard from Skokholm as part of the collection. Out now.
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Murder at Mallowan manorMurder at Mallowan Manor by Lesley Cookman
This is a special Christmas short story, and it ticks most of the boxes if you like a cosy crime mystery. We have a grand English country house with the obligatory stern-faced butler, and a cast of strange characters who may or may not be responsible for the strange goings-on which are preventing the owner from selling the house. Actress-cum-sleuth Libby Sarjeant is on the scene with her friend Fran, and she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. So, throw another log on the fire, light the candles and close the curtains in the library, for murder most foul is about to be committed. Available from 15 December.
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Taken for DeadTaken For Dead by Graham Masterton
The author has made use of his five years living in the Irish city of Cork to give inspiration to his Katie Maguire series, which is set there. This one sees the garda officer investigating a rather unfortunate climax to a local wedding. Amid the dad-dancing, drunken relatives and general gaiety, the happy couple ceremonially cut the cake only to reveal the severed head of the baker who made it embedded in the lower tier. As Maguire struggles with opportunity, motive and suspects, another grisly death occurs, and this time the finger seems to point in the direction of The Kings of Erin, who are a savage and sadistic criminal gang, despite their lofty title. Published on 15 December.
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The LynchpinThe Lynchpin by Jeffrey B Burton
After years at the sharp end of the FBI’s investigation division, Drew Cady has suffered serious physical and mental trauma, and he has been moved upstairs to work part-time in the calmer environment of the Bureau’s fraud section in Minnesota. As he helps his fiancée with her hospitality business he is starting to put his black days behind him, but then a woman’s body washes up on the shore of Lake Superior, and Cady’s Washington bosses insist that he return to full operational duty and try to catch the killer. His days of peace and quiet are well and truly over, because in addition to hunting the Lake Superior killer, Cady must try to save his best friend, who is is suspected of treason and murder. Out now.
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badblood copyBad Blood by Casey Kelleher
Casey Kelleher’s latest gritty urban thriller is set in Soho, synonymous for decades with corruption, sleaze and organised crime. Harry Woods used to be a boxer, and was reared in the ring. Now retired he is deeply embedded in the criminal underworld, and he certainly doesn’t abide by any rules, Queensbury or other. Despite his conspicuous wealth and power, Woods was unable to prevent the tragic death of his wife, and now he clings even closer to his grown-up children for support. When they are threatened, it’s gloves-off time for Harry Woods and there will only be one person left standing at the end of this particular contest. Published on 16 December.
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Payton EdgarPayton Edgar’s Agony by MJT Seal
Next up is  a novel from a new author, and it centres on Payton Edgar, a 1960s food critic. He writes his acerbic reviews for The London Evening Clarion, and many a restaurant proprietor has suffered from his barbs. Much against his better judgment he agrees to stand in for the paper’s absent Agony Aunt. When he gets a particularly worrying letter, he becomes embroiled in a murder plot which threatens to turn his normally urbane life upside down. You can read one of Payton Edgar’s vitriolic reviews here. Author MJT Seal is an oncology nurse, and all proceeds from this book go to the Sussex Cancer Fund. Out now.

abruptphysicsofdying100The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E Hardisty
Our final book this week is set in one of the most dangerous and unstable places on earth – Yemen. Though oil-rich, it is hotbed of terrorism, religious extremism and violence. Caught up in this is Clay Straker, an oil engineer simply trying to do his job. Near the giant refinery run by Straker’s company is the village of Al Urush, and its children are suffering from a mysterious illness which almost always proves fatal. When Straker and his driver are captured by Islamic extremists, they are faced with a stark choice. Unless Straker can discover what is poisoning the youngsters of Al Urush his driver, Abdulkader, will be killed. As he investigates the source of the poison, he uncovers secrets which make the dangerous game he is playing one of life and death. Published on 15 December.
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To see last week’s new releases click here.

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