The point of the “Blast from the Past” category is to bring together my reviews of books that aren’t new but are still good – usually very good.
They may be out of print completely and only available second hand or they may have been reissued via eBook format (whole series I feared lost to new readers have come back that way, noticeably the Bognor stories of Tim Heald recently).
Either way they are books that I think deserve to be brought back into the light and re-assessed for a modern audience.
Absolutely the best thing that I have read this year is Carlo Lucarellis De Luca trilogy (Carte Blanche (Carta Bianca), The Damned Season (L’estate Torbida) and Via delle Oche ) – small delicately shaped morsels (the longest is 160 pages and all three together are shorter than your typical doorstop novel).
In the last days and aftermath of World War II Italy, the world of Commissario de Luca, a fundamentally good man driven by a desire for justice who is (and has been) forced by circumstance to work for people with evil in the hearts is, to my mind, one of the great creations of modern crime fiction. I have the award winning TV movie adaptions on my to-be-watched list for Christmas and can’t wait.
Best of 2011
Of the new releases in 2011 (either in paperback or hardback), I would recommend (not in any particular order)
Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason (the 9th book in the series but using Elinborg rather than Erlendur as the chief protagonist)
Bad Boy by Peter Robinson (the 19th Inspector Banks novel)
Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James (7th Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel)
Bryant & May and The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler (9th book about Arthur Bryant, John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit)
The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser (5th Chief Inspector Van Veeteren book)
Scream by Nigel McCrery (3rd Chief Inspector Lapslie novel)
Down these Green Streets edited by Declan Burke(an anthology of essays and short stories on Irish crime fiction)
Of the new releases in 2012 (either in paperback or hardback), I would strongly recommend (in alphabetical order by author as I don’t want to choose an order)
Fowler, Christopher – BRYANT & MAY AND THE INVISIBLE CODE (10th novel about Arthur Bryant, John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit – another strong Bryant & May novel with a very intricate plot with lots of twists and turns; some new characters (some of which are almost fantastical) are introduced to set up for the future which he has got a 2 book deal for starting with BRYANT & MAY AND THE BLEEDING HEART).
James, Peter – NOT DEAD YET (8th Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel)
Nesbo, Jo – THE BAT (the 1st Harry Hole novel chronologically – it was nice to see the back plot to the later novels explored in more depth)
Rankin, Ian – STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE (Rebus is back – I read it in a day and loved it)
Robinson, Peter – BEFORE THE POISON (not a DCI Banks book but it takes the well-used idea of somebody becoming obsessed with solving a decades-old murder and executes it very well)
Other 2012 releases that had good points were
McKinty, Adrian – THE COLD COLD GROUND (the 1st Sean Duffy novel set in 1980s Northern Ireland; yes I am biased as I go past most of the places in this novel on my train to work every day but this is an assured police procedural in the main – the next book (I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET) is just out as I write and if it is just a tad better then that is one of my 2013 best reads sorted)
Staincliffe, Cath – DEAD TO ME (the 1st Scott and Bailey tie-in novel by Cath Staincliffe; yes this is a tv tie-on but it captures the characters and is compellingly written)
Tursten, Helene – NIGHT ROUNDS (the 4th Irene Huss novel; this is a good novel but I have seen the first 6 Swedish TV movie adaptions so I spoilt it for myself).
Wanner, Len – THE CRIME INTERVIEWS VOLUMES ONE AND TWO (These are available most easily for Kindles but if you like tartan noir, they are a good insight into how authors minds work as they have interviews with 19 crime writers between the two volumes)
‘Blasts from the past’ series reread or read for the first time in 2012 are
Crispin, Edmund – the Gervase Fen series (I re-read these in the Summer. They are whodunit novels with complex plots written in a humorous, literary style with references to English literature, poetry, and music; my favourites are THE MOVING TOYSHOP (1946) and FREQUENT HEARSES (1950) – it is a crying shame that Crispin went 25 years between the penultimate and the last novel in the series).
Burley, W J – the Wycliffe series (I remember the tv series with Jack Shepherd well and recently bought them on DVD but had never read the books; yes they are dated and even the later ones read like those written in the 1970s (they were 22 written from 1968 to 2000) but they are also tightly plotted concisely written books with a great sense of place and a complex main character)
Edwards, Martin – the Lake District Mystery series (these were a new read for me and as said elsewhere on the website these are very classy page turners with a good sense of history and the area it is set in – the English Lake District)
Harvey. John – the Charlie Resnick series (I am just over halfway through re-reading this quality police procedural series set in Nottingham in the late 1980s and 1990s in the main – the last one was published a decade later in 2008)
Again, they reflect in the main my liking for police procedurals.
Of the new releases in 2013, I would strongly recommend (in alphabetical order by author as I don’t want to choose an order)
Brett, Simon – A DECENT INTERVAL (the 18th of the Charles Paris novels by Simon Brett and the first to be published for 16 years; somewhat darker than before but still a good read)
McKinty, Adrian – I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET (the 2nd Sean Duffy novel set in 1980s Northern Ireland; yes I am biased as I go past most of the places in this novel on my train to work every day and part of this one is set in my village but this is a very assured police procedural with just one more in the series (AND IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE) to be published in January 2014)
Nesbø, Jo – POLICE & COCKROACHES (both tr. Don Bartlett) (the 10th & 2nd Harry Hole novels chronologically – POLICE carries on from PHANTOM and with COCKROACHES it was once again nice to see the back plot to the later novels explored in more depth)
Rankin, Ian – SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE (Rebus is back on the force, older but not wiser – demoted back to his 1987 rank so he could return with Siobhan Clarke as his boss)
Tursten, Helene – THE GOLDEN CALF (tr. Laura A. Wideburg)(the 5th Irene Huss novel in the series and to be translated into English; a fairly conventional police procedural with a likeable main character, well plotted with a good core idea and excellently realised characters who interact with one another realistically and are likeable).
Tursten, Helene – ‘The Golden Calf’ (translated by Laura A Wideburg)
Hardback: 340 pages (Feb. 2013) Publisher: Soho Press ISBN: 1616950080
This is the fifth of the Irene Huss novels to be translated into English and the second translated by Laura A Wideburg – there are 10 in total published in Swedish thus far.
Irene Huss is a detective-inspector with the Violent Crimes unit in Göteborg – an especially busy day for Huss and her long-time associate, Tommy Persson, starts with the murder of Kjell Ceder – nicknamed “The Golden Calf” for his ability to attract investors. His body was discovered by Sanna, his much younger wife upon her return home with her infant son. Prior to her marriage, Sanna had been newsworthy for her involvement in a spectacular dot-com enterprise failure; the unit learns that the victims in the double-homicide that it is also investigating were tied to the same enterprise and to Sanna. Three years before, Huss and Persson had unsuccessfully investigated the disappearance of another principal in the business and Huss does not believe in coincidence. The trail that Huss follows is a complicated one taking her from Göteborg to Paris and back.
THE GOLDEN CALF is my favourite of the five Irene Huss novels translated thus far. This is a fairly conventional police procedural with a likeable main character, who unusually for such books has few personal problems. It is well plotted with a good core idea and excellently realised characters who interact with one another realistically and are likeable. The only significant flaw for me is that the ending seems a bit rushed.
I will definitely buy the next Irene Huss novel and will look at for other translations by Laura A Wideburg as she was also responsible for translating the previous one in English (NIGHT ROUNDS) which I also enjoyed.
Simms, Chris – ‘Scratch Deeper’
Hardback: 256 pages (Sep. 2012) Publisher: Creme de la Crime ISBN: 1780290357
This is the first in a projected series of novels featuring Detective Constable Iona Khan who is half Scottish and half Pakistani; she was born in Scotland but spent most of her life in Manchester.
She finds herself on her first day in the Greater Manchester Police Counter Terrorism Unit being left to her own devices to investigate a query raised by a group of tunnel explorers called the Sub-Urban Explorers who became concerned when someone of perceived Middle Eastern origin tries to join their number and get details of tunnels under Central Manchester at the time of a Labour Party Conference at the Manchester Centre. The rest of the Counter Terrorism Unit are focusing on the conference itself above ground and DC Khan is left to deal with the potential threat mostly by herself with support from police colleagues outside the Counter Terrorism Unit, the CCTV operators and the academic supervisor of the potential terrorist when he was a student. The situation becomes more complex when the cousin of the potential terrorist is linked to the murder of a British Law Lord in Mauritius – the cousin came to visit the UK and now the potential terrorist and his cousin have disappeared.
This novel does keep your attention as the plot moves along reasonably quickly with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged – although even at around 260 pages, the novel could be trimmed a teensy bit.
There is a lot of useful character background in terms of developing the supporting cast, for example there is conflict between Iona’s sort-of-ex-boyfriend and her new boss going back to when they were both in the Army in Iraq. This with her family background means that we see Iona as existing in a realistic world leaving plenty of room for future novels to spin out from this backdrop.
Overall, SCRATCH DEEPER is a good police procedural with an interesting and engaging lead character, about whom I would be interested in reading more.
Robinson, Peter – ‘Before the Poison’
Paperback: 436 pages (Feb. 2012) Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks ISBN: 1444704850
An important warning – BEFORE THE POISON is not a DCI Banks book. It is however a very good thriller which takes the well-used idea of somebody becoming obsessed with solving a decades-old murder and executes it very well.
Chris Lowe returns to his native Yorkshire from Los Angeles after the death of his wife from cancer. He has been working as a film score composer but now wants to spend time on a piano sonata in peace and quiet. For this period of solitude he purchases Kilnsgate House which lies in a secluded location far from other houses. Gradually he becomes aware of the tragic past of the house where 60 years earlier Grace Fox was alleged to have poisoned her husband – a crime she was tried and hanged for. Chris becomes fascinated by her story and the more he discovers from his investigations, the more he becomes convinced that she couldn’t have murdered her husband.
The narrative alternates between (fictional) primary documents at the start of each chapter: a contemporary account of Grace’s trial at the start and later on her wartime journals of Dunkirk, Singapore and Normandy where she was a Queen Alexandra’s nurse, and Chris’s quest for the truth.
Robinson’s love of music moves from background in the DCI Banks books to foreground here and this combines with his usual skill in prose to give us a well written gripping novel. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot as you learn more about the character of Grace Fox and your own opinion changes as you start to question her guilt and there are multiple twists at the end although some are signposted to a certain extent earlier on.
I love the DCI Banks novels but on the basis of this it would be nice to have a standalone novel from Peter Robinson more than once a decade (the earlier ones were CAEDMON’S SONG in 1990 and NO CURE FOR LOVE in 1995).
Dead Man’s Time by Peter James, June 2013, 416 pages, Macmillan, ISBN: 0230760546
DEAD MAN’S TIME is the ninth in the series of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novels by Peter James.
In 1922 New York, 5-year old Gavin Daly and his 7-year old sister Aileen board the SS Mauritania to Dublin and safety – their mother has been shot and their Irish mobster father is missing. A messenger hands Gavin a piece of paper and his father’s pocket watch – on the paper are written four names and eleven numbers, a cryptic message that haunts him then and for the rest of his life. As the ship sails, Gavin watches Manhattan fade into the dusk and makes a promise that he will return one day and find his father.
In Brighton in 2012, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace investigates a savage burglary where an old lady has been murdered and ten-million-pounds worth of antiques taken including a rare vintage watch. To his surprise, the antiques are unimportant to her family who care only about the watch. As his investigation continues he realizes he has stirred up a mixture of new and ancient hatreds with one man at its heart, Gavin Daly, the dead woman’s 95-year-old brother. He has a score to settle and a promise to keep which lead to a murderous trail linking the antiques world of Brighton, the Costa del Crime fraternity of Spain’s Marbella, and New York.
Again, Peter James produces crime fiction for those who like to have well-rounded detectives with a believable private life. The short snappy chapters are still there (126 chapters in 416 pages) but so is the slight hint of unrealism in the significant figure from his past and this is dragging on far too much and it really is the case now that you will appreciate this book much more if you read the series in sequence.
The other issue with this book for me is that the ending did seem rather too reliant upon coincidence to tie up the loose ends rather the intervention of Grace and his team.
Brett, Simon – ‘Blotto, Twinks and the Riddle of the Sphinx’
Hardback: 224 pages (July 2013) Publisher: C & R Crime ISBN: 1472103033
This is the fifth of the ‘Blotto and Twinks’ novels by Simon Brett, and there is another financial crisis at Tawcester Towers which leads the Dowager Duchess (mother of our hero and heroine, Blotto and Twinks) to make the decision of selling off the less important of the family possessions long consigned to the attics of the ancestral home.
Blotto and Twinks are dispatched to help the valuer carry out an inspection with little of worth being found until the valuer spies some Egyptian artifacts, collected by the tenth duke. Blotto and Twinks are drawn to a sarcophagus decorated with hieroglyphs which Twinks (the brains and beauty of the duo) translates as ‘Anyone who desecrates this shrine will be visited by the Pharoah’s curse…’ – just as Blotto prises the lid off.
From then on unpleasant incidents start happening at Tawcester Towers and Blotto and Twinks have to stop the accelerating sequence of disasters.
If you have read and enjoyed any of the earlier books in the series then it is probably enough to get you to read it to just tell you that this is more of the same with some new twists and a new location for the ending, but the same characters.
If you are new to the world of Blotto and Twinks, then think of a world that is a cross between PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and a traditional cozy mystery with just a dash of slapstick – if this sounds interesting to you, then read a Blotto and Twinks; it should raise a smile at least. If not a belly laugh.
Where will the next stop be for Blotto and Twinks – India, China?