Image above copyright Paul Norman "Caterpillar Cocoon" taken 23rd April 2018
Sharon Bolton: Blood Harvest
Published by Corgi 28th April 2011
Sometimes I wish that she’d just leave me in peace . . .
Psychologist Evi has taken on a new patient: a grieving mother who lost her daughter in a fire two years ago - but who is convinced her little girl is still alive.
Meanwhile, the new vicar in town is not being to feel welcome. Disturbing events seem designed to scare him away.
And all the while, a young boy keeps seeing a solitary girl playing among the graves in the churchyard.
But who is she, and what is she trying to tell him?
This title was being sold in Tesco for £2 if you bought a copy of the Sun newspaper. I approached my wife, who was by now in the fruit section of the store with the trolley, and broke the news to her that I needed this book and that it involved buying the Sun. Her response was that I could throw the "newspaper" away in the bin as we left the store, and this I did, touching it only for a brief few seconds. This book is quite old, but newly reissued in paperback, and it showcases the magnificent writing of Sharon Bolton in spectacular style. It's a modern equivalent of a Victorian Gothic mystery, with legends and apparitions that literally make the blood run cold. Through it all there is also the superb crime procedural investigation running alongside the ghostly goings-on, and the end result is a chiller that represents all that s best in modern crime fiction. Absolutely superb.
Peter James: Dead If You Don't
Published by Macmillan, 17th May 2011
Roy Grace, creation of the CWA Diamond Dagger award winning author Peter James, faces his most complex case yet in Dead If You Don't. Kipp Brown, successful businessman and compulsive gambler, is having the worst run of luck of his life. He’s beginning to lose, big style. However, taking his teenage son, Mungo, to their club’s Saturday afternoon football match should have given him a welcome respite, if only for a few hours. But it’s at the stadium where his nightmare begins. Within minutes of arriving at the game, Kipp bumps into a client. He takes his eye off Mungo for a few moments, and in that time, the boy disappears. Then he gets the terrifying message that someone has his child, and to get him back alive, Kipp will have to pay. Defying instruction not to contact the police, Kipp reluctantly does just that, and Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is brought in to investigate. At first it seems a straightforward case of kidnap. But rapidly Grace finds himself entering a dark, criminal underbelly of the city, where the rules are different and nothing is what it seems . . .
As recently as 2015 Peter James was voted by W H Smith customers as the greatest crie writer of all time. I'm not sure I agree with that - what about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie? And why have the Roy Grace novels not made it to the small screen just as Colin Dexter's Morse, Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks, Reginald Hill's Dalziell and Pascoe and a host of others have? Don't get me wrong, I love the Roy Grace novels (I could have sworn that Glen Branson, Grace's second in command, turned out to be a villain in Need You Dead, the one before this one), and I really enjoyed this one immensely. The Grace novels follow a formula, and in a way more predictable than some others I could mention, but it's a tried and tested formula that has earned James a massive following, and this will naturally top the best sellers list when it's released in the middle of next month. My only beef with this one is that Kipp Brown is an intensely unlikeable person who has a lot of dealings with some pretty unsavoury characters, and he deserves to suffer by way of losing track of his son; yet he survives, almost unscathed, and I would have preferred to see him go to prison or at least to suffer for his misdeeds and his crass stupidity in carrying on gambling. I have other favourite crime writers, as you well know, but I was happy to start reading this almost the minute it arrived, and I still regularly check the charity shop shelves for Roy Grace novels tat I haven't yet read. No hesitation in choosing this as my crime novel of the month! Superlative writing from one of the very best in the business.
Susie Steiner: Persons Unknown
Published by The Borough Press 5th April 2011
Second literary thriller from bestselling author of MISSING, PRESUMED. A brutal murder. A detective with no one left to trust. A YOUNG MAN MURDERED. A city banker bleeds to death yards from a Cambridgeshire police headquarters. A DETECTIVE OUT OF HER DEPTH. DI Manon Bradshaw’s world is turned upside down when the victim turns out to be closer to her than she could have guessed. WHO SHOULD SHE BELIEVE? When even her trusted colleagues turn their backs on her, it’s time to contemplate the unthinkable: are those she holds dear capable of murder?
The latest from Susie Steiner and featuring DI Manon Bradshaw - described as literary crime fiction, a label that leaves me totally mystified. I've always thought that "literary fiction" was a term applied to highbrow tales that were somewhat unapproachable for people who like the cut and thrust of modern fiction such as you might read by Stuart MacBride or Anne Cleeves; but Persons Unknown is totally approachable, brilliantly constructed and conceived, and compellingly resolved. The dialogue is superb and realistic, the characters are ordinary, normal people suddenly caught up in a terrifying murder enquiry, and the whole thing comes together in spectacular fashion. I found it very difficult to tear myself away from for such mundane things as eating and sleeping, and enjoyed it so much that I have added Susie's name to my growing list of authors to search out in the local charity shops and boot sales. Yesterday I managed to find a copy of Missing Presumed... Really, really good and hugely entertaining.
James Henry: Frost At Midnight
Published by Corgi 19th April 2018
The fourth prequel to R. D. Wingfield's A TOUCH OF FROST, for anyone who loved watching David Jason as Jack Frost, and readers of sharply plotted detective crime novels.
August, 1983. Denton is preparing for a wedding, with less than a week to go until Detective Sergeant Waters marries Kim Myles. But the Sunday before the big day, the body of a young woman is found in the churchyard. Their idyllic wedding venue has become a crime scene.
As best man to Waters, Detective Inspector Jack Frost has a responsibility to solve the mystery before the wedding. But with nowhere to live since his wife's family sold his matrimonial home, Frost's got other things on his mind.
Can he put his own troubles aside and step up to be the detective they need him to be?
I absolutely love James Henry's tales of the slightly younger Jack Frost but it sees to me that in this latest escapade, he makes far too much of Jack's slobbery and uncouthness than in previous outings. I remember reviewing this when it came out in hardback, and probably raved about it then. I would rave about it now but some of the characteristics he attributes to the brilliant detective are a little over the top. Otherwise faultless.
Steve Berry: The Lost Order
Published by Hodder and Stoughton 19th April 2018
The Knights of the Golden Circle was the largest and most dangerous clandestine organization in American history. It amassed billions in stolen gold and silver, all buried in hidden caches across the United States. Since 1865 treasure hunters have searched, but little of it has ever been found. Now, two factions of the Knights want that treasure - one to spend it for their own ends, the other to preserve it. Thrust into the battle is former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone, who has a personal connection to the knights. His ancestor, Angus "Cotton" Adams, holds the key to everything. Complicating matters are a reckless Speaker of the House and the bitter widow of a Senator, who together are planning radical changes to the country. From the Smithsonian Institution to the rugged mountains of northern New Mexico, The Lost Order is a perilous adventure into a dark period of history - and a potentially even darker future.
I was tempted to put this one on the SF and fantasy page, but it's neither, it's a thriller in the same mould as The Da Vinci Code, so here it stays. Steve Berry tells a compelling tale, and in The Lost Order he is at his very best.
Vaseem Khan: Murder At The Grand Raj Palace
Published by Hodder and Stoughton 3rd May 2018
In the enchanting new Baby Ganesh Agency novel, Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick go undercover to investigate a murder at Mumbai's grandest hotel.
For a century the iconic Grand Raj Palace Hotel has welcomed the world's elite. From film stars to foreign dignitaries, anyone who is anyone stays at the Grand Raj. The last thing the venerable old hotel needs is a murder... When American billionaire Hollis Burbank is found dead - the day after buying India's most expensive painting - the authorities are keen to label it a suicide. But the man in charge of the investigation is not so sure. Chopra is called in - and discovers a hotel full of people with a reason to want Burbank dead. Accompanied by his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, Chopra navigates his way through the palatial building, a journey that leads him steadily to a killer, and into the heart of darkness . . .
I'm not a massive fan of this series, probably for the same reason I'm not a fan of Scandi crime or American crime fiction.
Leigh David: Five Rites
Published by The Book Guild 28th March 2018
The face of somebody long thought to be dead appears on the BBC evening news programme. The newscaster names him as Mikhail Morozov but secret service agencies around the world know him as Margaret Rotheram's former favourite, Michael Frost. He's been abducted by terrorists. Urgent meetings are convened around the globe to discuss what to do next, nobody wants what's in Frost's head to come out. Not everybody survives those meetings... The story delves into the murky family history of Margaret Rotheram. Her father was killed while working as a spy for British Military Intelligence when she was still an infant. She is adopted by a neurotic family and given a new identity. As a grown up, Margaret comes to the attention of dark forces who are determined to recruit her. Michael Frost, mute until the age of three, speaks his first words. He sees visions of demons that until now he hasn't been able to tell anybody about. Being different to most other children, Michael is routinely bullied at school. Despite his many obstacles he does well in his studies and leaves school to join the army. Posted to W. Germany, Michael attracts the wrong type of attention and becomes in danger of his life. Margaret and Michael meet under perilous circumstances while she is planning to steal Soviet Missiles. Margaret seems to have lost the battle to gain control of the Organisation as her enemies appear to get the upper hand...
This is a book that was begun in the 1940s by the late great Ngaio Marsh, and Stella Duffy has done a magnificent job is finishing it. Inspector Alleyn is ensconced at the hospital, keeping a low profile when Mr Glossop's wages delivery goes missing, along with £100 of one of the other inhabitants' . Alleyn assumes control of the situation and what ensues is a classic locked room mystery as he tries to work out what happened to the money, and to discover who committed what at first appears to be two bizarre murders. With bodies disappearing all over the place and a brilliant cast of characters, this is a shining example of why Dame Ngaio was one of our favourite crime authors, and full marks to Stella for pulling it off so spectacularly!
The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twenty-first year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.