BOOKS: CRIME IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
Blood Rain by Michael Dibden (Faber pounds 16.99). I've never read a Michael Dibden novel before. I thought he operated in that rarefied world where genre writing meets literature and it would all be a bit too subtle for me. But how wrong I was.

A body in the final stages of decomposition is found in an abandoned railway wagon at a derelict station near the city of Catania. Could it be the son of the local Mafia Don, killed by a rival family, or someone else looking to start an inter-famiglia war? After a move to Sicily from his previous billet in Piedmont, Inspector Aurelio Zen of the Direzione Investigativa Anti-Mafia is put in charge of the case, and when a local judge is assassinated, along with Zen's daughter, it gets messy and extremely personal.

The novel is dense and layered, with a truly explosive ending that leaves the reader wondering what has really happened and even whether Zen will return to solve more cases. Superb.

Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell (Little, Brown pounds 16.99). It must be true confession time, because I've never finished a Patricia Cornwell novel before either. Now's the time to have another go. Cornwell is one of the biggest-selling crime authors in the world, and this is beautifully written and perfectly researched, I'm sure, but it left me cold.

Someone's getting at Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of the state of Virginia, through her email and on the Internet, and she seems to have secret enemies everywhere. Plus, a badly decomposed body - yes, another one - has turned up in a sealed container at the Richmond docks en-route from Europe, which leads to a world-wide hunt for a serial killer on the loose.

Just a thought: if Scarpetta is supposed to be so bright, how come she didn't know what a loup-garou was? I did, and I more or less got slung out of school. Maybe she should read more.

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