Kill count: The best of recent crime fiction

Mark Timlin rounds up the usual suspects, and some newcomers
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The Independent Culture

Let's kick off with the annual autumn battle of the British Detective Inspectors looking to top the bestsellers come Christmas time. Peter Robinson's DI Banks returns in Friend of the Devil (Hodder £14.99). An old case rears its ugly head when a woman is found murdered on a lonely cliff top near Leeds. She is a quadriplegic who once loomed large in Banks' legend and almost got him killed. Banks himself is leading a team investigating a rape/murder in the city. Could there be a connection? Robinson once again puts his skills to work in a police procedural that grips like pliers.

Then there's Ian Rankin's latest DI Rebus novel, Exit Music (Orion £18.99), featuring the murder of a Russian dissident poet. It could be our hero's last case, but I somehow doubt it. Rankin is on top form in this one, and of course it will sail to the top of the charts.

Finally, there's Mark Billingham's DI Tom Thorne in Death Message (Little, Brown £14.99) possibly his best novel yet. A prisoner framed for murder, who has done his time without complaint, finds out that his girlfriend and child have been killed just weeks before his release. Once free he sets out on a revenge mission and kills everyone who has ever hurt the ones he loves. It's DI Thorne's job to bring him in. Simple. Until it gets personal for him, and all hell breaks loose. It's going to be interesting to see who wins this battle.

In Silence by Thomas Perry (Quercus £12.99), the ex-LAPD cop turned PI Jack Till had helped a woman who was on someone's hit list and needed to vanish, presumed dead. It worked. Now, six years later, Eric, the lover/business partner who got rich by her fake demise, needs to prove he didn't kill her, as all the evidence suggests. The only thing is, in order to save Eric, she needs to come back to life. Till could be in big trouble for what he did, but he couldn't care less. Eventually Till tracks her down, but the hit is still on, so this time he has to keep her alive. Perry is such a good writer that the book just begs to be finished in one go, with great characters – especially the two hit artists – and a real sting in its tail.

Another cop turned private detective is Max Mingus, who first appeared in Mr Clarinet by Nick Stone and now features in the prequel, King of Swords (Michael Joseph £12.99), which is set in Miami in 1981. In it, Max is still a police detective who is called to the scene of a suspicious death with his partner, and they become involved in a bizarre case when they find a Tarot card inside the victim's stomach, and his family slaughtered. Full of magic and mystery, King of Swords boosts Stone's reputation as an up-and-coming master of crime.

More crime and horror mix in Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindquist, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (Quercus £12.99), in which a young boy meets his dream girl, who just happens to be a vampire. Blackenberg in Sweden is a new town with old secrets, where a bunch of alcoholics meet in a Chinese restaurant and vanish, one by one. Some murdered, some changed into the undead (although they are not aware of the change). Reminiscent of Stephen King at his best, there are some truly scary bits in the book that will haunt your dreams. Best read by sunlight I think.

Jake Landry is just another working stiff at Hammond Aerospace, who keeps his head down and gets on with the job. But then he's called in to deputise for his boss at a retreat way out in the boondocks, where there are no phones, no transport, and no one has much time for him, including his ex-girlfriend, who is now a big cheese at the company. That is, until the place is attacked by armed men who take everyone prisoner and demand cash. Lots of it. You see, Jake has another side to him, a side he tries to keep hidden. He's a stone cold killer, and only his expertise can save the day. Power Play by Joseph Finder (Headline £19.99) is a real blood-pumper, with surprises on every page. Good stuff.

Last but not least is Daddy's Girl by Lisa Scottoline (Macmillan £12.99), in which law professor Natalie Greco doesn't realise the trouble she's letting herself in for when she agrees to teach a class at Chester County Correctional Facility near her home in Pennsylvania. Just another day at the office, she figures, until a riot breaks out, people are killed and her comfortable life is turned upside down. Accused of murder, she goes on the run to try to understand the mysterious message a prison guard gave her just before he died. Scottoline just gets better and better. Miss this one at your peril.

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