Books: Independent Choice New British whodunnits

Pick of the Week: Freeze My Margarita by Lauren Henderson Hutchinson, pounds 10, 304pp

THE PREWAR Golden Age of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie still casts a long shadow over British crime fiction. In this quartet of new novels, all take the traditional theme of the small community beset by murder, sometimes with conscious allusions to the past.

Margaret Yorke's False Pretences (Little Brown, pounds 15.99, 310pp) demonstrates a twist recently displayed by other Queens of Crime, notably P D James, presumably in an attempt to appeal to new readers. This is the encounter between middle-class values and lower-class violence. The lower orders always featured in Golden Age detective stories, but could be conveniently stereotyped as servants, whereas modern writers feel obliged to make more of an effort.

Here, a suburban heroine finds her comfortable world upset when a long- lost goddaughter turns out to be a shaven-headed waif who has been living rough on eco-protests. A murky and dangerous entanglement of child abduction and violence follows. Yorke is a lot happier with the world of the Crusties than is Baroness James, though her portrayal of an ugly working-class male character doesn't convince. Never mind: Martin Amis has had the same trouble.

Like Yorke, Reginald Hill has honed his skills over many novels. The Long Kill (HarperCollins, pounds 15.99, 272pp) is not one of his Dalziel and Pascoe police thrillers but instead stands in the tradition of John Buchan and Geoffrey Household. Its male narrator is pursued by foreign powers through the rough terrain of the Lake District. The twist is that the quarry is himself a professional assassin, who falls in love in the course of the chase. There's plenty of suspense, with a plot built like a Bentley.

Andrew Taylor is a younger crime-writer who is working his way backwards. The Judgement of Strangers (HarperCollins, pounds 15.99, 320pp), set in the Seventies, is the second in a trilogy which will go back to the Fifties. It is full of consciously darkened references to Christie and Sayers: there is a village spinster disastrously modelling herself on Miss Marple, and an unfortunate cat called Lord Peter.

Taylor is a complex writer with lots of sinister implications, but tends to fall on the slow side of subtlety. The trouble with chronicles of minutiae is that they can seem just that. It's a long way to the first murder.

These three writers represent the great crime tradition in another way: they are all immensely productive. Yorke and Hill have published over 30 books each; Taylor is on his nineteenth.

Since the outcry when Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, the convention has been that the detective story must be in a series form, with the same main character appearing in book after book.

The "new Christie" used to be an annual event; now it is the new Rendell, the new Yorke. This is dictated by publishing and marketing as much as by the nature of the genre. According to publishers' received wisdom, crime fiction is sold by building up a series to run along the shelves of bookshops and libraries.

The success of Internet book sales has not dented this principle, since the Web is a very successful way of marketing backlists. Readers attack crime fiction is a particular way: an absorbing book is gutted at top speed, its sequels avidly purchased, and the author's previous works sought out.

It's no wonder, then, that writers try to vary their formulae. Beneath the conventions, one senses that Yorke, Hill and Taylor all have the admirable goal of trying to move the traditional crime novel on to some deeper level of exploration. All three books feature middle-aged characters: Yorke's unhappily-married housewife, Hill's hit-man losing his most prized asset, Taylor's disturbingly lecherous vicar, for whom the murder story is part of their own life crisis.

Yet these attempts at depth can seem portentous and the writing tends to suffer from exhaustion, however skilled the narrative.

All three authors write "civilised" detective fiction: that is, there is a presumption of high culture understood between reader and fictional narrator. Freeze My Margarita (Hutchinson, pounds 10, 304pp), by Lauren Henderson, at first seems a new voice altogether. Her hard-living investigator, Sam Jones, is outwardly a British version of Janet Evanovich's tough and witty Stephanie Plum. Sam, the sort of sculptress who casually wields a blow- torch, gets caught up in a cast of murderous types putting on a production of... hang on, something familiar here?

Yes, it's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and they were all at Cambridge together. Sam, for all her brash exterior, falls for a type with a long patrician nose and a Peter Wimsey drawl. This is a world safe for middle-class values after all.

Nevertheless, this is only Henderson's fourth book, so she is an unselfconscious tyro in crime-fiction terms, and doesn't carry the same heavy professional baggage as the other three. For freshness, wit, sharp observation and a plot that surprises, this is my pick.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect