Crime Fiction Lover The site for die hard crime & thriller fans Fri, 03 Apr 2020 08:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 On the Radar: Messing with your head Fri, 03 Apr 2020 08:43:34 +0000 With many parts of the world on lockdown due to Covid-19, reading is one potential escape from the tense situation going on around us. Crime isn’t everyone’s cup of tea at times like this – it can mess with your head – but for crime fiction lovers like us it’s certainly comforting to sit back with a book for a few hours and focus on a good old mystery rather than worrying about the news. This week’s new books column brings us a London-based mystery from Rod Reynolds, two interesting debut crime novels, a conspiracy thriller from Tony Kent and a very tasty looking piece of Nordic noir from Norway, the land of the fjords…

Blood Red City by Rod Reynolds

Blood Red City Rod Reynolds

Following his Charlie Yates series, which was set in the US, crime author Rod Reynolds moves the action to his hometown of London with Blood Red City. Arriving on 11 April on Kindle from Orenda Books, the novel introduces journalist Lydia Wright who is sent footage of a murder appearing to take place on a train. The trouble is, she can locate neither the victim nor the perpetrators and if she pushes this story too hard she’s going to be labelled a purveyor of fake news. But more than a story, Lydia wants to know what happened and to get justice. How far will she go to achieve these aims?
Pre-order now on Amazon

Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay

Seven Lies Elizabeth Kay

Let’s welcome debut author Elizabeth Kay to the crime fiction fold – her psychological thriller is out now for Kindle and it’s destined to mess with your head. Meet Jane and Marnie, who have been pals since they were kids. In their early 20s they both fell in love and married handsome young men. But Marnie’s husband wasn’t Jane’s cup of tea – she found him loud and obnoxious, too keen to be the life and soul of every occasion. Now he’s dead, and Jane faces a dilemma: if she hadn’t lied then maybe her best friend’s husband might still be alive. It’s time to come clean, but is Jane the all-round good egg she makes herself out to be?
Buy now on Amazon

Power Play by Tony Kent

Power Play Tony Kent

British author Tony Kent has extended his Killer Intent series with a new thriller that is out now for Kindle and on 16 April as a paperback. Lawyer Michael Devlin and UN intelligence agent Joe Dempsey are called into action when the plane carrying a US presidential candidate explodes over the Atlantic, killing all on board. Who wanted the man dead? Was it terrorists, or was it the US government itself? Whoever it is, they want Devlin and Dempsey out of the way too in this conspiracy thriller that moves between DC, London, New York and Afghanistan. Kent knows of what he writes – he’s been a criminal barrister for 20 years.
Buy now on Amazon

4 Riverside Close by Diana Wilkinson

4 Riverside Close Diana Wilkinson

Bloodhound Books brings us another debutante author in the form of Diana Wilkinson, with her psychological thriller 4 Riverside Close. It’s out now and offers food for thought for those of us addicted to social media. Riverside Close is an innocuous cul-de-sac in North London where everyone lives in harmony, but after its residents sign up for a new social network things begin to go murderously awry. The idyllic life of Caroline and Jason Swinton cracks apart when Jason is found dead and his wife is put firmly in the frame. But as the police investigate, it soon becomes clear that the other residents have plenty of motives for wanting him dead too…
Buy now on Amazon

Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl 

Sister Kjell Ola Dahl Scandinavian crime fiction

Already out for Kindle, the paperback version of the ninth book in Kjell Ola Dahl’s Oslo Detectives series will arrive at the end of April – and it’s another densely plotted slice of Nordic noir. Detective Frank Frolich has been suspended from duty and is working as a private investigator when a workmate of his girlfriend asks for help for a young female asylum seeker who is about to be deported and faces an uncertain future. The girl claims to have a sister in Norway and Frolich agrees to try to find the sibling, but when he succeeds, it opens a whole new can of worms and he’s warned off by his former police colleagues. Things are about to take a deadly turn, with the key to everything hidden in an old investigation and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…
Buy now on Amazon

Read about last week’s new books here.

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The Bramble and the Rose by Tom Bouman Wed, 01 Apr 2020 20:11:17 +0000
The Bramble and the Rose wilderness noir by Tom Bouman

The third book in Tom Bouman‘s Henry Farrell series has arrived, and it takes us back to Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania. The place has a fitting name. Sitting deep in the woods, nature is on everyone’s doorstep. Sometimes, it’s at their necks. Which is exactly how The Bramble and the Rose begins, as Farrell is called out to look at a grisly find – a headless, half-rotten, eviscerated corpse lying at the bottom of a ridge.

Farrell’s first suspect is a bear he calls Crabapple that he’s spotted a few times during his nature walks in the area. Like the bear, Farrell is a loner. He’s the only cop in Wild Thyme, answering to the sheriff’s office in a nearby town. Most of the time he’s sorting out disputes between neighbours or convenience store hold-ups. With all the hunting trails in the area, there are lots of guns in the community and this too causes problems for Farrell. This time, though, along with some folks from the state’s wildlife department, he’s on the trail of a bear that has tasted man flesh.

However, closer inspection of the corpse reveals that although the bear dined on it, the animal wasn’t the cause of death. It looks like the man might have been hit by a car, and his head was removed with a blunt object rather than torn off by an animal. Seeing as racoons have made off with the head and somewhat devoured it, identifying the body might prove difficult. Even tougher will be finding out who killed him, and why.

From the sometimes clipped language to his descriptions of the dense woodlands, author Tom Bouman really draws you into this wilderness noir setting. Farrell’s work feels isolated and creepy and, while he hunts Crabapple down it seems there’s always the chance that the man’s killer will pop out from behind a tree and shoot him. The state police are getting involved, but Farrell wants to solve this mystery himself. He’s like that, you see. Intense, individual, a lone wolf war vet now in a lone wolf law enforcement role.

There’s a lighter side to him too. Farrell has recently married for the second time. His first wife died a decade ago and is part of the reason he’s so turned in on himself. New wife Julie is making him happy once again, and while he works on the case he recalls his recent wedding and the announcement that Julie is already with child.

Whether Farrell will actually get to see that child is another matter. As it turns out, the murder in the woods is a lot closer to Farrell’s past than he expected. As the crime story develops, the wild, outdoor atmosphere developed early on begins to dissipate. An old flame appears in town, someone Farrell had an affair with. She has information on the murder but never gets to share it with him. Now Farrell himself is being hunted by the state police and his new life is turned upside down.

To add insult to injury, his nephew has been kidnapped.

What else is there to do but to revert to his back-woods instincts, hide out and ask for help from old friends? It’s tooth and nail stuff as Farrell evades the law he used to serve, and tries to hunt down whoever’s been setting him up. Man versus nature, man versus man, man versus his own nature. Bouman nails the visceral, elemental conflicts that make wilderness noir so compelling to near perfection. Which will prevail, the bramble or the rose?

The other thing that feels so right is Farrell’s character. He likes being alone, yet he’s lonely. He needs comfort and attention, but is wary of it. He knows he can’t always achieve what he wants to through communication, so sometimes avoids talking and prefers to take action. He suffers the consequences. A lot of men will be able to relate.

Also see Hold the Dark by William Giraldi, or CJ Box’s novels set in Wyoming. The Farrell series begins with Dry Bones in the Valley.

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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The Boy from the Woods Mon, 30 Mar 2020 21:19:38 +0000
The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben front cover

Written by Harlan Coben — In a world where crime novel reading can sometimes feel a little samey, here’s an author you can always rely upon to come up with something that bit different.

So meet Wilde, the boy from the woods of the title. He’s an attractive loner who lives in an eco-capsule in the middle of a forest. A cross between Jack Reacher and Tarzan, Wilde is something of a free spirit. A former soldier who now does a bit of private investigating, he’s a hit with the opposite sex. And he also has an intriguing history – 30 years ago, young, near-feral Wilde was found in the backwoods of New Jersey. Who he is and how he got there are questions that have never yet been answered satisfactorily.

So far, so unusual, and for Coben fans things are about to take a pleasing turn. Because Wilde is also connected to someone they’ve met before, several times, as a supporting player in some of the author’s other books. In this book, celebrity lawyer Hester Crimstein finally gets her place in the spotlight and the contrast between the handsome, virile, happy-to-stay-in-the-shadows woodsman and the savvy, outspoken, publicity-loving 70-year-old widow couldn’t be more stark. It really works though, and their offbeat partnership is one of the joys of this book.

Hester contacts Wilde when a young girl goes missing from the small town of Westville, New Jersey. Naomi Pine was the class outcast, so why is Hester’s grandson, Matthew, so worried about her? Wilde is Matthew’s godfather and he agrees to help. But what he eventually discovers doesn’t seem to add up.

Then Crash Maynard, one of the school’s most popular students, goes missing too and things really notch up a gear. There’s evidence that Crash had bullied Naomi, but again, something is a bit off about it all. When a ransom demand is received, it looks like Crash’s disappearance could be connected to rumours about a presidential hopeful who is good friends with his father. Dash Maynard is a filmmaker and over the years he has amassed a huge amount of hidden camera footage too. It’s said he has the goods on Rusty Eggers, though Dash denies this vehemently – even when evidence comes forward that his son is in real danger.

The Boy from the Woods has a wide ranging cast of characters and a sweeping storyline that takes you up all manner of winding paths. Some lead to a satisfying conclusion while others leave things in mid-air. A prime example of the latter is Wilde himself. He’s firmly sketched in place but the finer detail just isn’t there and by the end of the book there are still a busload of mysteries yet to be sorted out. No surprise, then, to discover that Harlan Coben is planning a series featuring this most unusual protagonist, and Hester could be along for the ride too.

There’s something very visual about this book and I could easily see it becoming another Netflix success for Coben (who has already seen adaptations of The Five, Safe, and The Stranger find a place on the hugely popular streaming service). For the reader, though, the satisfying minutiae that makes a book such a great experience is somewhat lacking and by the end I had a number of questions that went unanswered.

The Boy from the Woods is a solid start for a new series and there’s plenty for Coben to build on in the future, but if I were reading this as a standalone I’d be feeling somewhat short-changed.

You’ll find another enigmatic loner in The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver, while Bluff by Michael Kardos also takes New Jersey as its setting.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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The Interpreter Sat, 28 Mar 2020 20:51:25 +0000
A J Sidransky. The Interpreter

Written by AJ Sidransky —World War II and the excesses of the Nazi regime have provided endless inspiration for crime and thriller writers. While I’ve read my share of books set in that era, I rarely find one with a fresh and appealing story line that equals AJ Sidransky’s in this new political thriller.  

The war in Europe is winding down when US Army Intelligence recruits Vienna-born GI Kurt Berlin to help in its interrogations of captured Germans – Nazis, Wehrmacht officers and members of the SS and Gestapo. At first Berlin isn’t interested. Even the idea of speaking German again repulses him. Too much bad personal history there.

Berlin grew up in a Jewish family in Vienna. His family hung on as long as they could but finally escaped to Brussels in 1939 and eventually made their way to the United States. Not one step of their journey was easy or without intense danger.

The book describes the challenges faced by father Hertz, a veteran of World War I, and mother Berta. They face the stress of living In Vienna under the Nazi regime, a difficult decision in sending 17-year-old Kurt ahead to Brussels via the Kindertransport, and the interminable wait for the papers that will let them travel to the United States. Meanwhile in Brussels, a romance sprang up between teenage Kurt and the refugee Elsa Graz, but the German threat followed them into Belgium, dooming their acquaintances there and sending the family on a harrowing flight through occupied Europe.

The tension-filled chapters recounting the family’s perils contrast well with the alternating chapters describing Kurt’s later role, as an Army Intelligence interpreter and his life in post-war Brussels. But don’t think those chapters will be tension-free. In fact, although the claustrophobic interview situation – involving Kurt, his two superior officers, and German interviewees – may lack physical dangers, the psychological and moral dangers are acute.

While Kurt was initially reluctant to accept this new assignment, the fact that it will return him to Brussels is an irresistible inducement. With a young man’s obsession over first love, he’s determined to try to find Elsa or at least what happened to her. ‘Brussels held the answers to Kurt’s most piercing questions, whether those answers were miraculous or disastrous.’

In Brussels, Kurt works for Captain Johan Rosenthaller, another Jew, whom he assumes shares his views about the Nazis, and Colonel Anderson McClain, who’s preoccupied with the Communist threat. He wants Kurt to help him identify German officers who would be helpful in that cause, much as Americans scoured Germany for rocket scientists and engineers under Operation Paperclip. McClain senses a likely prospect for recruitment to his anti-Communist cause in arrogant, unrepentant Captain Joachim von Hauptmann – the kind of villain you love to hate.

Sidransky’s choice of the title ‘interpreter’ rather than ‘translator’ is an interesting one, because what makes his novel so compelling is the unbearable position Kurt finds himself in. He is not a human version of Google translate: enter the German words and out they come in English. He cannot help but hear and feel the German’s responses to the interrogators’ questions through the filter of the tragedies he has seen and the losses he has experienced. While he faithfully renders the German’s meaning, an even greater challenge is keeping his emotions in check when faced with von Hauptmann’s casual anti-Semitism. Kurt’s position is excruciating.

As the lengthy interrogation drags on, Kurt realises that von Hauptmann had a direct responsibility for his own family’s experiences, the fate of the Belgians who protected them, and the disappearance of Elsa. As this awareness grows, so does his suspicion that von Hauptmann will never pay the price for these and his many other crimes. In fact, he sees McClain warming to the man – a prime recruit in his anti-Communist crusade. As Kurt approaches a possible breaking point, you pray he won’t end up emulating the Nazis he reviles.

Sidransky has a few more turns of the screw up his sleeve in this well-plotted story. Interestingly, in a foreword, he notes that it draws on the experiences of some of his relatives in Europe a half-century ago. Perhaps that’s why it crackles with realistic emotion.

Like this? Other recent books you may enjoy: Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements or Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey.

Black Opal Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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Don Winslow’s back with six novellas Fri, 27 Mar 2020 14:43:42 +0000 On the Radar — It’s pretty exciting when an author like Don Winslow drops you a line. We received a letter from the author last week telling us about how he’s doing the literary equivalent of changing his event. Known for his marathon crime stories set down on the US-Mexico border, he has decided to become a middle-distance runner and has written six novellas. Sounds like a great idea to us. We’re going to start this week’s column with Broken, and then look at four more new crime releases with stops in Oxford, South Australia, backwoods Pennsylvania and… yep… London.

Sign up for the CFL weekly newsletter here.

Broken by Don Winslow

Broken crime novellas by Don Winslow

With page counts averaging well over 600 words, the books in Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog series might be good examples of ‘the great American novel’ but they also require quite a commitment on the part of the reader. Fear not – with Broken, the author presents a series of shorter works, all six of which are crime stories set in different locations around the United States. New Orleans, San Diego, Hawaii and, of course, there’s one set down on the Mexican border. One or two characters from previous novels will pop up, and you’ll meet some lowlifes and scumbags as well as valiant officers who hold back that tide of crime along the way. Watch for it on 7 April.
Pre-order now on Amazon

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

Magpie Lane psychological crime novel by Lucy Atkins

The dreaming spires of Oxford provide the backdrop for this psychological thriller that’s out on 2 April as a hardback. When the eight-year-old daughter of a college master disappears in the middle of the night, the police turn their attention to her Scottish nanny, Dee. Her story is a compelling one, revealing the secrets of a dysfunctional family with poor, silent, lost little Felicity at its heart; a child haunted by ghosts and the death of her mother. But can Dee be relied upon to tell the whole truth? Should we be worried about her burgeoning friendship with the eccentric Linklater? And most important of all, why was Felicity silent? The book is out now for Kindle.
Buy now on Amazon

Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher

Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher Australian crime fiction

We’ve hit a rich vein of Aussie crime books in recent years – Jane Harper’s The Dry and Chris Hammer’s Scrublands are just two examples – and on 9 April a book that’s already been a big hit at home finally reaches the UK. Former city detective Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen finds himself demoted to constable and sent to a dead end bush town in South Australia after blowing the whistle on his colleagues. Hirsch is having a hard time of it. There’s someone trying to set him up for a fall and he’s handling more crime than one solo officer should have to deal with. Then a young girl is murdered and it’s time for Hirsch to show his true mettle.
Pre-order now on Amazon

The Bramble and the Rose by Tom Bouman

The Bramble and the Rose wilderness noir by Tom Bouman

Henry Farrell is the only police officer in Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania and he likes it that way. He’s had a tough past, in the military and widowed, but things are looking up here in his third outing. He’s remarried and they’re expecting, but the rural idyll is about to be torn apart when a man’s body is found in the woods. The corpse has been savaged by a bear but there are signs that this was a very human beheading and as Farrell gets closer to hunting down who did it, he becomes the hunted. If you like wilderness crime fiction, this one’s for you. It’s out 31 March. See also Dry Bones in the Valley and Fateful Mornings.
Pre-order now on Amazon

When Angels Sleep by Mark Griffin

When Angels Sleep crime novel Mark Griffin

Holly Wakefield, criminal psychologist for the Met Police, is back in a new serial killer thriller, out 2 April, and she has her work cut out for her with this one. It’s the height of winter when the body of a young boy is discovered in Epping Forest in a perfectly staged crime scene. The body is pristine, his head laid on a pillow and an angel pendant clenched in his hand. DI Bishop brings Holly on board and soon the pair are floundering as the body count rises. Can Holly get inside the head of a psychopath and stop him before he adds any more angels to his growing collection?
Pre-order now on Amazon

Catch last week’s new books column here – more great ideas for your reading pile?

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The Molten City Thu, 26 Mar 2020 20:08:33 +0000
The Molten City by Chris Nickson, Leeds historical crime fiction

Written by Chris Nickson — The publication of The Molten City comes as Chris Nickson is celebrating 10 years of writing historical crime fiction set in Leeds. His output covers every decade from the 1890s to the 1950s and he has written a number of series. In this book he returns to Detective Superintendent Tom Harper for his eighth outing.

It is 1908 and Harper has learnt that the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, is visiting Leeds. He knows that this will likely lead to demonstrations from both disgruntled workers and from suffragettes. Meanwhile, he receives an anonymous letter giving information about a child who was snatched 15 years earlier. The letter doesn’t name the person who took the child, but it suggests it was done to order for a wealthy local family, the Cranbrooks.

The disappearance of the child did happen but it soon becomes clear that the original investigation was woefully inadequate. This leads Harper to reinvestigate the case, and to consider the motives of the original investigating officer. As he does so he discovers further crimes. He faces a number of ethical dilemmas and sensitively deals with the people touched by the case. Still, there are consequences, and he has to face up to the impact on all the people involved, perpetrators and victims, of disturbing what happened years ago.

While he is balancing this complicated work life, he also has conflict at home. His wife Annabelle has a big decision to make. Annabelle and his daughter, Mary, both support women’s rights but differ on the best way forward. Annabelle is a suffragist – one of the women who believed in campaigning for the vote by empowering women through education and organisation – while Mary is drawn to the suffragettes. They believe that legal measures and reasoned argument have been ignored, and that only disruption through direct action will lead to meaningful change. The stage is set.

Harper is a likeable character, a natural leader who cares for his team, supported by his strong home life and a relationship with his family based on trust and mutual respect. Leeds itself has a prominent role. The work of the police takes them across the city. The Harpers live in the (real) Victoria pub in Sheepscar. Annabelle is strongly engaged in the work of the community and Mary is just beginning her career as a secretary for a solicitor.

There is a strong focus on the issues of the day – not just the national issues exemplified by the prime minister’s visit and those who want to disrupt it, but the issues on the ground in Leeds – the poverty, the class structure, and the opportunities that are (or are not) open to different people. Andrew Cranbrook, the man who is alleged to have paid for the child-snatching, is a man who has risen to prominence from humble beginnings. Harper’s role, particularly during Asquith’s visit, also brings him into contact with the upper classes.

A number of less well-known historical figures make an appearance, including the suffragette Jennie Barnes and Alf Kitson, who headed up the unemployed men. It’s also interesting seeing the records and information that the police are able to access. The various issues are threaded skilfully through the story and the personal and professional lives of Harper and his fellow police officers.

Nickson has previously said that he intends to take Tom Harper’s story up until the end of World War I, so we can look forward to more of his series.

Read our interview with Chris Nickson.

Severn House

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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The Blood is Still Wed, 25 Mar 2020 16:12:04 +0000

Written by Douglas Skelton — Can it be a whole year since we first met reporter Rebecca Connolly in Thunder Bay in the wilds of Scotland? It certainly is, and we’re well overdue a catch up!

After her adventures on the island of Stoirm, we find Rebecca back at her desk at the Highland Chronicle, based in Inverness. Actually, that’s stretching it a bit, because Rebecca is much happier out in the world, chasing up her next story on the hoof, grabbing face to face interviews and ending up in the thick of all manner of bother.

In a world filled with keyboard warriors, she’s a bit of a luddite, still clinging to her trusty notebook and nose for an exclusive. And that isn’t sitting well with Rebecca’s bosses. The Chronicle is going the way of all small regionals, laying off staff and putting pressure on those who remain to come up with a quota of clickbait-able stories every day.

Which isn’t Rebecca’s style at all, so in her first appearance in The Blood is Still we find her on the sidelines at a demonstration aimed at stopping the rehousing of a known paedophile in a run down housing estate on the edge of the city. Taking the head and shouting the odds is Mo Burke, matriarch of a prominent local crime dynasty and she has the crowd eating out of her hand until well-known right wing politician Finbar Dalgleish turns up and steals her thunder.

Just as things are getting interesting, Rebecca’s freelance photographer pal Chaz gets a call about a breaking story – a body has been found on Culloden Moor, site of an historic battle. He’s dressed in full Highland regalia and has a claymore – a Scottish sword – stuck in his chest. The demo was a good story, but THIS is much more up Rebecca’s street and soon she and Chaz are there at the scene of the crime. Although trying to get any information out of the police is like getting blood from a stone.

Skelton soon has his trademark sense of place firing on all cylinders. The area is steeped in history and it is immediately clear that the past is about to play a huge part in this story. Rebecca and Chaz are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of what happened on Stoirm, while one member of the Burke family has his eyes firmly set on a future away from the criminal dealings with which his family is so closely associated. The past is also about to come back to haunt DCI Valerie Roach, CIO on the murder up at Culloden. She is running on empty as the death toll doubles, leaving the investigative team floundering to find a motive for the crimes.

So there’s plenty going on in a crime novel with more strands than piece of unravelling knitting, but in the hands of an experienced storyteller like Skelton it is pretty easy to keep up. Standing front and centre in all the chaos is Rebecca, who seems determined to act like a good old fashioned hack even with her job on the line. She and DCI Roach have plenty in common and I enjoyed the interplay between them. There’s even a hint of romance chucked into the mix!

It would be so easy to romp through The Blood is Still – the plot is compelling and the characters are so darn realistic, but I advise you to hold fire and take time to savour some of the gorgeously lyrical prose that’s sitting there in among all of the drama. Douglas Skelton is a fine creator of Scottish crime fiction, and this is an excellent example of his work.

Also see our roundup of 10 of the best crime novels about journalists, and if you like your crime with a soupçon of black humour, try Douglas Skelton’s Tag You’re Dead.


This book is free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited.

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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Mexico Street Sun, 22 Mar 2020 17:50:19 +0000
Mexico Street, Simone Buchholz

Written by Simone Buchholz, translated by Rachel Ward — German crime author Simone Buchholz has won numerous awards for her noir thrillers. Her most recent book, an energetic police procedural, is newly translated into English and won the German Crime Fiction Prize in 2019.

Like Buchholz’s previous two novels, Mexico Street features public prosecutor Chastity Riley and a cast of well characterised lovers, former lovers and police colleagues. She works hand-in-glove with the Hamburg police department and, in fact, with a couple of the detectives, that relationship is even closer. One of these is Chief Inspector Stepanovic, and they’re brought together to investigate the latest in a rash of car fires. But this one’s different. Inside the smoke-filled car is a man. A man who – asleep? drunk? – made no effort to escape. The smoky fire reeks of foul play. Although it’s quickly put out and he’s rescued, alas, he soon dies. Documents in the glove box reveal the dead man as Nouri Saroukhan, an identification that leads Riley, Stepanovic and crew to some very dark places, well off the beaten path of the typical urban crime thriller.

Reading Buchholz’s book is like viewing a series of intriguing snapshots. Each short chapter paints a vivid scene, and it takes a while to assemble the whole picture. Meanwhile, Riley and the police are struggling valiantly to do the same.

They recognise at once that their victim is from a notorious gang family based in Bremen. The Saroukhans and their rival clans are a law unto themselves, notorious gangsters who engage in drug dealing, thievery, auto theft, setting cars on fire and murder. Some of these killings are internecine murders that escape official attention. Nouri’s murder is the first sign these gangsters may be expanding their territory into Hamburg.

Riley and Stepanovic leave the murder squad in charge of the local investigation and trek to Bremen, where they’re given a crash course on the insular world of the Saroukhans and the other Mhallami clans. Originally from southeast Turkey, on the border with Syria and close to numerous Mideast flashpoints, they were mercenaries– ‘ancient tribal structures, who were paid, over centuries, to perceive everything outside their structure as the enemy,’ the Bremen police explain. Today, their enemies are the authorities. Buchholz’s picture of the Mhallami culture describes a world and family life that operate under different rules than the rest of society, and the Bremen police have had to adapt their style of working to it.

While Riley and Stepanovic are worried about the clan’s possible expansion plans and hope to learn more from the family directly, they must approach them carefully. And they have good reason to: they need to inform them of Nouri’s death. One of the Bremen detectives accompanies them on this mission and takes the conversational lead. The Saroukhan family’s position is clear. Their son was already dead to them; in fact, he never existed. Nothing more to be said. Leave now. Was Nouri rejected because he’d left Bremen? Because he’d gotten a job in the ‘straight’ world, working for an insurance company? Was the job a cover for something more sinister?

Though most of the story comes first-hand from Riley, whose commentary on situations, on her colleagues, and on their behaviour is both surgically precise and wryly insightful, some chapters take a look back at the late childhood of Nouri and Aliza, the girl who became his best friend. These chapters follow them up until the time of his death. Unlike her older sisters, Aliza refuses to be forced into marriage with one of the gangsterish clan members and, as a teenager, fled Bremen for good. It took time, but Nouri finally found her. Now, she knows he’s dead and thinks she knows who did it.

Riley is a refreshingly modern, street-smart character – someone who knows what she thinks and tells it straight. And while Buchholz’s writing is powerful, it isn’t without humour. The multi-level conversations between Riley and Stepanovic are especially entertaining.

Rachel Ward’s translation is lively, though it took me a chapter or two to mentally fix the characters in Hamburg because of her free use of UK slang.

Read a CrimeFictionLover profile of this talented German author and check out her book Beton Rouge here.

Orenda Books

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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CFL wins Danish web prize Fri, 20 Mar 2020 19:26:36 +0000 Banners for Top Novel and Books blogs 2020

Coronavirus or not, the members of the Crime Fiction Lover team are used to reading and writing in isolation. So an unexpected email from Denmark came as a welcome surprise. has named our site as one of the Top 20 Novel and Books Blogs of 2020 and we’re thrilled and delighted! “I can feel the passion and the dedication that you possess. It takes a lot of talent and creativity to come up with such amazing articles,” said Anna Hansen of

Thanks Anna! And thanks also for the shiny little badge that goes with the accolade. Click here to see what they had to say about us and all the other winners.

And there’s no shortage of Danish crime fiction on our site, either. Click here to discover that particular treasure trove.

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The good old bad old days Fri, 20 Mar 2020 06:30:56 +0000 On the Radar — We’re living in troubled times, and as we all struggle to come to terms with what’s happening in the here-and-now it’s mighty tempting to hark back to the past. But were the good old days really all they’re cracked up to be? Judging by this week’s crop of new releases, the answer to that is a resounding ‘no’. This week our new books column has got friends with secrets, toxic relationships and even a stray dog to contend with. Sound like the perfect ingredients for some classy crime reading in self-isolation.

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan front cover

Her last book, Anatomy of a Scandal (reviewed here), has already sold more than 200,000 copies, so hopes are high for Sarah Vaughan’s latest slide of domestic noir, out on 2 April. In Little Disasters, Liz and Jess are old friends but when disaster strikes that friendship begins to crumble. Liz is the doctor on call when Jess arrives at hospital with her 10-month-old baby. The infant has a head injury and Jess’s explanation is decidedly suspect. On the surface, her life is perfect, but as Liz probes deeper, all manner of dark secrets begin to emerge. How well do you really know your best friend?
Pre-order now on Amazon

Wild Dog by Serge Joncour

Wild Dog by Serge Joncour front cover

This is the first novel by French author and screenwriter Serge Joncour to be translated into English and it’s out 2 April. Franck and Lise rent a remote cottage in the French countryside to get away from the stresses of their hectic lives in the movie industry. It all seems so idyllic, with no phone signal and lots of peace and quiet. Then a mysterious dog comes calling, looking for a new master, and as ghosts of a dark past threaten the tranquility that Franck and Lise both long for, they are about to witness nature at it’s most brutal and unpredictable…
Pre-order now on Amazon

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker front cover

CWA New Blood Dagger winner Chris Whitaker is back on 2 April with We Begin at the End, a new thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Murderer Vincent King is released after 30 years in jail and returns to live in the town where it all happened. The residents of Cape Haven, California, aren’t happy – especially Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend and sister of the girl he killed. But it’s Star’s 13-year-old daughter, Duchess, who is about to set off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.
Pre-order now on Amazon

The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway

The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway

A group of old pals agree to put the past behind and travel by ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland in this hugely anticipated book by Brian McGilloway, a master of socially-conscious storytelling. It’s 30 years since four friends went into a woodland near Glasgow and only three emerged. Ever since, Tony, Hugh and Karen have done their best to bury memories of what occurred back then, but as they endeavour to right a wrong and put ghosts to rest, the lingering legacy of the Troubles is about to threaten the present once again. The Last Crossing is out 2 April and is a standalone.
Pre-order now on Amazon

You Don’t Know Me by Sara Foster

You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster front cover

Young Noah Carruso fell hard for Lizzie Burdett. She was his first crush, and his brother’s girlfriend. Then Lizzie disappeared and Tom Carruso left town under a cloud of suspicion. In the present, Noah meets Alice while on holiday in Thailand and the pair become an item. She reminds him so much of Lizzie! But the holiday romance must end and as Noah returns home for Lizzie’s inquest and a reunion with his estranged brother Tom, life is destined to take an unforeseen turn… This book by Aussie author Sara Foster is out on 31 March in the US and is already a hit in Australia.
Pre-order now on Amazon

Read about last week’s new releases here.

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A Conspiracy of Bones Thu, 19 Mar 2020 19:58:10 +0000
A Conspiracy of Bones by Kathy Reichs front cover

Written by Kathy Reichs — We’re at book 19 featuring forensic anthropologist Dr Temperance ‘Tempe’ Brennan, and as A Conspiracy of Bones opens, our heroine is at home in North Carolina recovering from neurosurgery following an aneurysm. It’s the first sign that this novel is a little different from all the rest.

Tempe’s brain isn’t firing on all cylinders and neither is her mobile phone, which is destined to lose power in all manner of inopportune moments as this story unfolds. Both facts are important to the plot, and at times Tempe’s struggling synapses really blur the lines between fact and fiction. Does everything she thinks she experiences actually happen? Sometimes, it is hard to tell.

But back to the beginning, where Tempe’s pesky mobile receives several crime scene photos from an anonymous source. Yes, she’s supposed to be taking things easy but this is a corpse without a face or hands – enough to pique the interest of any self-respecting forensic anthropologist, surely? Then a mutilated body matching those images is discovered and Tempe is all for jumping in to help with the investigation. But she has a new boss following the death of her superior and friend Tim Larabee, and the newbie and Tempe have history and can’t stand each other. In fact, chief ME Margot Heavner soon makes it abundantly clear that she needs no help from Tempe at all, leaving her out in the cold and seething at the injustice.

So Tempe goes home and puts her feet up. Ah, who am I trying to kid? Of course she takes no notice and is soon teamed up with former cop Skinny Slidell, now retired and working as a private detective while volunteering at the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department’s cold case unit. The pair begin their own investigations and are immediately dragged into the world of the Dark Web, underground bunkers, poisonous podcasters, missing children and rampant conspiracy theories. Yep, Reichs is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at this one!

They have no real standing in the legal sense, but that’s not going to stop our pair and while Tempe and Skinny conduct their illicit enquiries, it leaves little time for her to actually do the job for which we know her best. In fact, we barely see inside a morgue throughout this book. Which is a great pity, because those quiet moments when Tempe is alone with her bones have been some of the highlights of this series. Instead, she is out and about, taking all kinds of risks and putting herself in danger. The woman has just had a major operation and her bordering-on-the-ridiculous behaviour stretches credulity somewhat.

A Conspiracy of Bones is a sprawling story with myriad little plot offshoots. It all gathers at a steady pace – then there’s a huge flurry of loose end tying that’s rushed and leaves the reader feeling a wee bit short changed. It’s a pity, because fans have been waiting for this one with bated breath.

In her notes at the end of the book, Reichs reveals that she took a year off from writing last year for treatment on a cerebral aneurysm – the same illness she hands on to Tempe in this book like a baton in a relay race. I found the insights into the condition, and its after-effects, intriguing and fascinating and it’s certainly brave to bring it to life in such a well-loved and solidly established character.

Will there be more? Well this one is left up in the air, with a final sentence that could lead to book 20 or be… maybe… final. We will just have to wait and see, won’t we?

Find out how Tempe Brennan got into forensic anthropology in The Bone Collection, a set of four novellas, reviewed here. Old bones play a big part in Val McDermid’s Broken Ground.

Simon & Schuster

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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Interview: Chris Nickson Tue, 17 Mar 2020 16:12:21 +0000

Chris Nickson is celebrating 10 years of crime writing about Leeds with the publication of his 22nd novel, The Molten City, on 31 March. He has written a number of historical crime series set in different periods, and this one sees the return of Nickson’s Edwardian detective DS Tom Harper. Here, the author shares with us some of his thoughts on historical crime fiction, the pleasures of research, and his deep commitment to writing about his home city.

What are crime fiction lovers going to love about The Molten City?
All of it, I hope! Seriously, there’s the cold case mystery of a stolen child at the heart of the book, but also the strand of a riot by the suffragettes and the unemployed when the prime minister comes to Leeds, meaning Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his men have to try and keep order.

It’s the eighth book in the series, with the familiar characters back again. There’s suspense, proper old-fashioned detection well, it is 1908, so the closest we come to forensics is the very early days of fingerprints. We have a few dead bodies, several dead ends, and a race to find the person behind it all. Hopefully you won’t be able to guess who that is – and the whole thing will be thrilling. I think that covers the highlights.

The Molten City by Chris Nickson, Leeds historical crime fiction

I’d finished the writing before I realised that this has the theme of families. Some broken, some solid, some yearning – that puts me very much in Ross MacDonald territory, but set in Edwardian Leeds, not 1950s California. Yet some things never change, of course, especially relationships.

Tom Harper feels like a very grounded character, and has a strong marriage. It’s quite a refreshing change from the dysfunctional detective. Was that a conscious decision?
When I started writing crime fiction with my Richard Nottingham series set in the 1730s, I made definite decisions. He would be married and have children. The loner detective who drinks too much is a very tired cliché. Most people are married, they have lives outside of work, worries with their partners and kids. That’s how the world is for most people. And by having scenes with the family, it rounds out a character; we see a different side of them. I’ve had one character who was single, Dan Markham in my 1950s books. But those are deliberately noir – and even then he had a regular, and very strong, girlfriend.

At the start of the Tom Harper series, in Gods of Gold, Tom was engaged. His marriage to Annabelle happened at the end of the book. A couple of years later they had a daughter who’s 16 years old in The Molten City and quite headstrong. But Annabelle herself is a strong, working-class woman. I like to have strong women as characters; there are plenty of them in the North, and certainly here in Leeds. And most women I’ve known have been strong. I’d have been hard-pressed to keep Annabelle out really. She insisted on having bigger and bigger roles in the books. She’s the emotional heart of the series. But she’s definitely not part of the police work.

Tom Harper’s wife Annabelle is a suffragist while their daughter is increasingly drawn to the suffragettes. The suffragettes are much better known now. Is that why you wanted to highlight both strands of the campaign for women’s votes?
That was a happy accident. In an earlier book in the series (Skin Like Silver, which takes place in 1893), Annabelle becomes converted to suffragism. In The Tin God, set in 1897, after women could stand for some local offices and all ratepayers could vote in local elections, she becomes a working-class woman running to be a Poor Law Guardian as a suffragist. The suffragettes didn’t even exist then. But Mary, the daughter, would inevitably be attracted by the deeds not words actions of the suffragettes. It was pure luck, but it created the kind of generational tension most parents know very well. It also gave me the chance to show both sides of pro-votes for women argument – the talk of the suffragists and the militancy of the suffragettes, which are a stark contrast. And Tom, of course, is a man stuck in the middle.

How do you go about researching your books?
Leeds history has been a passion of mine for years. That said, when I was young, I couldn’t wait to get away from here – but so many of us are like that, aren’t we? When I was 21 I moved to the US, but I’d come back annually to see my parents, and I started buying books about Leeds history. Once eBay started, I could find many more Leeds history books through that, even if the shipping was expensive. In 2005 I moved back to this country, and they all came with me. Since then I’ve acquired many more. I’m also a bit of a history buff in general terms. So I have the framework and some of the resources. We’re fortunate to have an excellent Family and History Library here, and also the Leeds Library, Britain’s oldest subscription library, which also houses material from the Thoresby Society, which is all local history. Between those and people who specialise in different issues, I’m able to look pretty fully into things. Part of the joy of writing historical crime fiction is the discovery of research.

You have to be careful with what you learn, though. No information dumps, no lengthy descriptions or exposition, just try to weave it in naturally, little strands here and there. Layers of small things end up making a bigger, immersive picture. And never include something purely for its own sake. It might be clever, but if it doesn’t help the plot or the characters, it doesn’t belong. I learned all that by trial and error!

One element of the plot in The Molten City touches on child snatching. How did you get this idea? Did it arise out of your research?
There were different kinds of child theft, there always have been, and still are. They happen for different reasons. There was nothing specific that sparked it in this book, though. It was more the idea of Harper receiving an anonymous letter and the police failings it exposed – or corruption, and the ripples it can cause. Back then, the police were very poorly paid, less than many workers. It was no surprise there were plenty of bent coppers.

How do you manage to be so prolific, especially when your books are so research-heavy?
People tell me I’m prolific, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that way to me. I write every day, but it’s only 1,000 words on a book. It all builds up, though. I was a journalist for a long time, which means I had to learn to get things down more or less right the first time, as tight deadlines don’t offer the freedom to keep revising. A book generally takes me four to five months from start to finish, which doesn’t seem incredibly speedy to me.

By now, the overall research is easier. I know Leeds history, and working on a series means I keep up my overall familiarity with a time period. So the research takes less time that you might imagine, more on specific issues or years.

How does the research fit into your writing process?
Sometimes research will give me an idea for a plot thread or an incident. In The Molten City, the Suffragette Riot of 1908 formed the backdrop. I needed to exactly know what happened, who was involved, how many people, where the action happened, how it panned out, and then aftermath. I know a suffrage historian who was incredibly helpful, but there are other things – what motor cars were around at the time, how transport had changed, the new building that had gone on in the city. With the 20th century, life was speeding up, things were altering at a rapid pace, and I needed to get that right, too. So while my knowledge of the time is generally sound, it’s the details that require work. The more I know, the more confidently I can write.

The story incorporates the real-life visit of Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, to Leeds. How do you manage the trade-off between drama and accuracy?
As the saying goes, when the choice is truth and a good story, choose the story… Honestly, I try to be accurate where I can, although I will sometimes bend the truth. Several of the characters in The Molten City are real: Asquith and Gladstone, who was the Home Secretary. But they’re really just walk-ons. Jennie Baines, the suffragette organiser, was real enough, and has a meatier role. The same with Alf Kitson, who headed up the unemployed men. The Tom Harper books do have a heavy sprinkling of real people, more than the other series I’ve written, but much of that is due to the fact there several have a backdrop in local politics.

The suffrage historian I know has advised me on a couple of the books, and had plenty of background to the 1908 riot which is such an important part of this book – in fact, she’s put together an exhibition about it that will be on all April in the Family and History Library in Leeds. Having that information right there helps keep me honest, as it were.

You’ve written about a range of historical periods, from the 18th century through to the 1950s. Do you have a favourite period?
I realised the other day that I’ve set a book in every decade from the 1890s to the 1950s. I’ve achieved that goal, daft as it is. And in a twisted fashion, that’s a way of answering your question. To me, Leeds is a character in my books, evolving and changing over the years, yet someone immutably Leeds, and I love it. Chronicling the place and making people feel they’ve experience it is important to me. At my greediest, I want to live it all.

But… if I was really pressed, I’d say from 1890-1918, to see the world of the Harpers, and also what the city was like when my father was born. I’ll read about something that happened and think “Tom and Annabelle would have known that,” before I realise that no, they wouldn’t. They’re my creations, they never existed. Yet they’re as real to me as anyone I know. The series has turned into one that’s not just crime, but also about their family and its changes, and about Leeds itself, I think. It wasn’t deliberate, it seems to have happened that way!

What do you plan to write next?
I’m actually a few books ahead. I have a one featuring Simon Westow, the thief-taker in 1820s Leeds, coming out in the autumn, the third in that series, and another Tom Harper set for next spring – that one takes place in 1913, and heralds some very big changes for the all the Harper family. At the moment I’m working on yet another Simon Westow. I have plans for more of the Tom Harper series. Annabelle hasn’t finished with me yet!

I still do a little music journalism, which was my living for 15 years. These days, though, it’s just a few reviews to keep my hand in. The bottom has fallen out of that in terms of trying to make money.

I’m also compiling a very brief history of Sheepscar, the area of Leeds where Tom and Annabelle lived. My great-grandfather ran the Victoria, Annabelle’s pub, for 20 years, and a couple of other ancestors lived in the area, so I have a personal connection. The houses were demolished in the 1960s as part of the slum clearance; it’s all light industry now. But no one’s ever written about it, to my amazement. I’m not a trained historian, but I’m enjoying hunting around from a ton of different sources. A fragment here, another there, then trying to piece them together over time.

I’ve been publishing crime novels set in Leeds for 10 years now. It’s gone by in a flash. The things that have happened because of it have astonished me. A couple of plays involving my characters, one with a live jazz band. With the historian I know, I helped to put together an exhibition called The Vote Before The Vote, about the local Victorian women who worked towards the vote in the 19th century. So much I’d never expected.

I’ve also just become the very first writer-in-residence for Abbey House Museum here. It can’t think of a better way to celebrate a decade of doing this. It’s a huge honour, one more thing I could never have imagined when The Broken Token came out in 2010.

Really, above all, I’m grateful that publishers still believe in my work and even more to the people who read it. And bonus points to those who enjoy it!

Read some of our reviews of Chris Nickson’s novels.

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The Creak on the Stairs Mon, 16 Mar 2020 17:00:30 +0000

Written by Eva Björg Aegisdóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb — When you’ve developed your taste for Scandinavian crime fiction with the Swedish and Danish authors, it’s time to move on to the Norwegians and Finns. Then you’re properly hooked, and it’s Iceland you turn to for the premium, high-proof stuff. The landscape. The furious seas. The isolation of Europe’s least densely populated country. And a gift for storytelling that allows a tincture of human warmth to illuminate an otherwise bleak backdrop. These are the things that bring Icelandic crime fiction to the fore, and with its deep literary tradition, the country has more than its fair share of top crime authors. Now meet Eva Björg Aegisdottir, the latest Icelandic crime fiction author to reach our shores, and she has produced a chilling and troubling debut.

The town of Akranes sits on a peninsula about 10km north of Reykjavik. It’s not the sort of place where murder takes place and when the body of a woman is found on the shore near the lighthouse the first assumption is that she jumped. Soon, forensics come back with evidence that she had other injuries and a murder investigation begins. Who was she, and why was she in the sea?

It’s a case for the Akranes Police Department, where we meet Elma, her colleague Saevar, and Hordur, the chief. Elma has freshly returned to the town where she grew up after a failed relationship. It’s certainly a step back from working in the Reykjavik police – the murder in Akranes has interrupted a case involving some feral cats. Hordur doesn’t like it. He knows everyone in the town and doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but a murder inquiry means awkward questions.

Soon Elma and Saevar are unravelling the victim’s unusual past. Elisabet was in her 40s and originally came from Akranes, but had moved away and turned her back on the place. She was married with two children, but was a quiet and distant person. Was she planning to leave her husband? Why did she visit one of Akranes’ wealthier families just before she died? Why did they turn her away? And why has her car turned up in the garage of someone who has just returned from holiday? Even more troubling is an old photo of a pre-teen girl, semi-naked, found in the vehicle.

As Elma asks questions and follows up leads, the police procedural aspects of the novel come to the fore. She’s thoroughly professional, but knows she has to sidestep a boss who’s grown too comfortable with small town policing. At the same time, she is coping with the loneliness of becoming newly single after her serious relationship ended. It’s hard to sleep, and hard to think about anything else. Other than the case, that is, the facts of which trouble her mind even more.

Elisabet, the victim, did not have a good upbringing in Akranes. Her father and little brother died when she was young and her mother turned to the bottle. Late night parties. Men coming and going at all hours. A depressed and neglectful mother. They turned the girl in on herself and she grew up with some dark secrets. No wonder she hated the place. What Elma suspects grinds on her just as it will grind on you, each new revelation bringing a pang of sympathy and a furrowed brow. However, Eva Björg keeps you guessing, always just in the shadows of what really happened back during Elisabet’s childhood, and a week or two ago when she was killed.

This book is a slow burner. There’s a real sense that you’re in a small community where everybody knows a little bit about each other’s business. People keep checking whether they remember Elma or not, and whether they know her parents, when she interviews them. Yet as tight knit as Akranes seems, you feel that it’s a place where people will look away when something unpleasant happens, rather than intervene. There’s never much sense of imminent danger, just a gathering unease, and eventually something snaps.

Tonally, The Creak on the Stairs is reminiscent of Jorn Lier Horst‘s Norwegian procedurals. Much of the narrative is restrained and minimal, practical, honest, matter of fact, pretty grey, even. This means that the key emotional aspects of the story, and its moments of action, seem to stand out even more. It’s a book that makes an impact, but gives itself time to sink in.

The Creak on the Stairs is out now for Kindle. Print copies come out in May in the UK and in November in the US.

Orenda Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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Summer of Reckoning Sun, 15 Mar 2020 19:57:04 +0000

Written by Marion Brunet, translated by Katherine Gregor — Some teenage summers are just too awkward and painful to revisit. In this psychological thriller, which won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, French crime fiction author Marion Brunet expertly describes a summer of that exact type, except that, unlike most summers, it ends with a brutal murder.

The story is set in Luberon, a region in the South of France that has three mountain ranges running across it and villages in the valleys between. The nearest big city and the one the characters in this novel relate to is Marseille. Tourism promoters emphasise the area’s picturesque villages, but that is not the kind of place where 16-year-old Céline and her 15-year-old sister, Johanna, live with their brutish father, Manuel, and unsympathetic mother, Séverine.

Brunet does a superb job of describing the tedium of living in a bleak, poverty-stricken town where not much is going on, the simmering resentments of teenagers, the way even the smallest community has its corrosive secrets, and the uneasy transitions between adolescence and adulthood and between young adulthood and worn-out middle age. It’s one of those places that has violence hanging over it, and if the truth ever came out, well . . .

An opening scene has the family walking with barely concealed excitement to one of the summer’s highlights – a funfair with rides and all. Céline is the more glamorous of the sisters, ‘revealing her indecent beauty with outfits that were too tight, her denim shorts cut so high the fold between her buttocks and thighs opened and closed with every step she took’. Jo is uninterested in her appearance, wearing skinny jeans with dirty knees and a shapeless black tank top. Her eyes are her only distinctive feature, one green, one blue.

At the funfair, Céline flirts outrageously with the boys, while Jo watches her sister critically, ‘a year older, a birdbrain with the bearing of a queen’, she thinks. On a ride called the Tarantula, which plunges from a great height, Céline gets sick to her stomach and vomits when the ride stops. The parents rush to her side. ‘Your daughter’s not pregnant, is she?’ asks a family friend. Then the fun really starts, because Céline is indeed pregnant.

Céline’s father is determined that she tell him who the father of her baby is, and Céline is equally determined not to. Fortunately, Johanna doesn’t know, so she can’t be cajoled, bribed or beaten into revealing the secret.

Manuel isn’t letting go of his anger, and settles into a nightly routine of beer-drinking, letting notions of revenge blossom in his addled head. Long-buried resentments – the too-soon pregnancy of Séverine and her precipitous unhappy marriage to Manuel, the disdain Séverine’s family feels for her husband – and the destructive prejudices born of ignorance all rise to the surface. But will he act on this rage? Even Jo embarks on an erratic effort to try for a better school and better friends, which goes awry when she steals her wealthier friend’s clothing.

As the summer drags on Jo’s grandfather dies, and her best friend Saïd goes missing after an unexpected display of wealth. No one much worries about his until the police show up for a desultory inquiry. The ill-fated summer drags on.

Nicely written and translated, well-paced, unsentimental, Summer of Reckoning puts the four family members under a microscope, and none of them comes off unscathed. Brunet writes with economy, and though the book is relatively short at 218 pages, it creates an indelible impression of a certain kind of life, far from the idyllic picture typical of the South of France.

Marion Brunet was born in the Vaucluse, also in the South of France, and is a well-known, prize-winning author of young adult novels in her native country. This experience no doubt contributes to her effectiveness in capturing the spirit and preoccupations of teenage girls. Summer of Reckoning is her first novel written for adults and the first to be translated into English.

For another winner of the prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, try Hannelore Cayre’s The Godmother. Find more French crime fiction here.

Bitter Lemon Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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Come out of the woods and read crime fiction Fri, 13 Mar 2020 09:59:02 +0000 On the Radar — Harlan Coben can usually be counted upon for a novel with a unique concept, and his latest heads up our On the Radar Column because it looks like a doozy. It features a deep woods man who becomes key in the search for a missing child. From New Jersey, we’ll then take you on a crime fiction tour that takes in Poland, Florida, Scotland and Louisiana. Cold, hot, cold hot, you could say… Read on and pick your next crime fiction novel.

Subscribe to the CFL newsletter here.

The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben

The Netflix series of his book The Stranger is currently getting people talking, now the king of the twisty-turny thriller, Harlan Coben, is back with another story that will keep you guessing, out 19 March. It’s 30 years since a near-feral young boy was found eking out a life in the New Jersey backwoods. Now ex-soldier and security expert Wilde is living off the grid again and generally shunned by society. Until a child goes missing and his help is needed – but even Wilde’s exceptional skills can’t find her. Then things take a sinister turn and a finger arrives in the post…
Pre-order now on Amazon

Blinded by the Lights by Jakub Zulczyk

Hailed in the marketing materials for this book as the Polish James Ellroy, Jakub Zulczyk’s Blinded by the Lights was a hit in his own country and now finds its way into English translation. It follows the trail of Kuba, a Warsaw cocaine dealer who normally doesn’t sample the product. One day when collecting his fees from a local nightclub owner, Kuba loses his cool and so does his client. Kuba is swept along in the consequences, putting his life at risk. Zulczyk is also a screenwriter and with its success Blinded by the Lights has already been made into an HBO Europe TV series. The book lands 16 March.
Pre-order now on Amazon

The Swamp Killers

Also out on 16 March is The Swamp Killers, a collection of stories edited by Sarah M Chen and EA Aymar and set in Jacksonville, Florida. Each of the 16 participating authors has been given a short synopsis of a crime and been asked to write their version of what happened, and it should make for fascinating reading. What we know is that small-time criminal Timmy Milici has run off with Melody Dulpass, heiress to an Atlanta crime family. Her mother has put a price on his head, alongside the return of her daughter. A great chance to try the work of Aymar, Chen, Hilary Davidson, Alex Dolan, Wendy Tyson and more, in a hot and sweaty setting.
Pre-order now on Amazon

The Blood is Still by Douglas Skelton

We first met local reporter Rebecca Connolly in Thunder Bay, now she’s back for a second instalment. The body of a man in full Highland dress is found with a sword through his chest on the historical site of the Battle of Culloden. No one knows who he is, but Rebecca senses a story and is determined to get it. Meanwhile, the imminent rehousing of a known paedophile on an Inverness estate triggers protests and sets tempers to boiling point – but why does a member of a well known criminal gang want to get Rebecca on side? This one is out now.
Buy now on Amazon

No Truth Left to Tell by Michael McAuliffe

This debut legal thriller from former federal civil rights prosecutor Michael McAuliffe is out now. It’s set in Louisiana in the mid-1990s, where a renegade bunch of Ku Klux Klan members are burning crosses and terrorising the residents of a small town. The hate crimes summon up horrific memories for one of the victims, elderly Nettie Wynn, who as a child witnessed white townspeople lynch a black man. Federal civil rights prosecutor Adrien Rush and Lee Mercer, a seasoned local FBI special agent work together on the case, but their investigation styles are worlds apart – and that clash of ideologies could lead to guilty men walking free.
Buy now on Amazon

Read about last week’s new books here.

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Rules for Perfect Murders Wed, 11 Mar 2020 22:56:14 +0000
Rules for Perfect Murders, Peter Swanson

Written by Peter Swanson — Anthony Horowitz calls this entertaining new puzzle mystery by Peter Swanson ‘fiendish good fun’, and that really hits the nail on the head. It pulls together some of the best plots from past crime novels and combines them in a deliciously innovative way.

Malcolm Kershaw is part-owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts, which specialises in crime and mystery novels. Near closing time on the night of a huge snowstorm, he’s visited by FBI agent Gwen Mulvey who sees parallels between a series of unsolved murders and a blog post Kershaw produced some years before. It’s surprising he doesn’t ask Mulvey for identification or question FBI involvement in a set of murders linked less by solid evidence than intuition. He’s never sure whether she really wants his help or considers him a suspect, but you’ll have your own opinion on that.

Kershaw’s blog post was titled Eight Perfect Murders – cases where the murderer is not and almost certainly cannot be caught. The eight stories in his list will mostly be familiar to crime readers and film buffs: The Red House Mystery by AA Milne, Malice Aforethought by Anthony Berkeley Cox, The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie, Double Indemnity by James M Cain, Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, The Drowner by John D MacDonald, the play Deathtrap by Ira Levin and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. What’s fun is trying to determine which of these familiar plots (with the aid of the synopses Swanson provides) the events of the novel best parallel.

Agent Mulvey sees a similarity between the themes of two of the novels in Kershaw’s blog post and recent unexplained deaths. Her suppositions are tenuous, but as she and Kershaw discuss the possibilities, they become increasingly persuaded. Three murder victims – Robin Callahan, Jay Bradshaw, and Ethan Byrd – seem linked by their names, as were the ABC murder victims. Another body, found alongside train tracks, is reminiscent of Double Indemnity.

Kershaw is intrigued, and they discuss the difficulties in carrying out some of the plots. In Ira Levin’s, for example, a wife with a heart condition is so frightened by the plotters that she has a heart attack and dies. To replicate such a ‘natural death’ requires a particularly fragile victim. And they find one: former Boston resident Elaine Johnson, recently relocated to Rockland, Maine, found dead in her home of a heart attack.

With Johnson’s death, the murder spree veers much too close to Kershaw. She was a particularly troublesome regular at Old Devils Bookstore who’d moved away, thankfully. He hopes to hide this connection from Agent Mulvey, and it’s only the first of his many cleverly disguised secrets, as you gradually realise what an unreliable narrator you have on your hands. Mulvey isn’t telling him everything either, of course, and from the beginning you may have doubts about her and the entire investigation.

At first you may cut Kershaw some slack, perhaps thinking he doesn’t ask all the questions he might because since his wife Claire died in a car accident, he’s not thinking too clearly (the alcohol doesn’t help). After Claire’s death, he stopped reading stories about sudden death and loss, so refreshes his memory about the eight books in his blog post by rereading them.

Kershaw and Mulvey set up some rules for examining crimes that might link to them. First, should the murders be copied exactly, or only the idea behind the murders? They decide it’s the idea that matters. And they consider the possibility that the victims should be – Kershaw uses the odd word ‘deserving’. And, they’re pretty sure the killer is someone he knows, or who knows him.

Is the murderer trying to frame him, to catch his attention, or will he be the next victim? As the body count continues to mount, Kershaw inevitably tries to protect himself by starting his own investigations into whom the murderer might be. The number of twists that course of action takes will have you second-guessing Kershaw, the FBI, and yourself!

Swanson maintains the story’s unflagging momentum throughout, and by the time you reach the end, you realise yet another classic mystery is in play. I will let Kershaw himself tell you which it is.

Like this? You might also like England’s Finest, by Christopher Fowler or The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda.

Faber & Faber

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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