A Darker Shade of Blue, By John Harvey

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These dark, gritty crime stories set in the mean streets of modern Britain – in Soho, Sheffield, Nottingham – and peopled by gangsters, cops, drug addicts and prostitutes, aren't feel-good reading, but they are compelling.

A number of characters crop up throughout, such as the private investigator Jack Filey, tough, decent, a one-time football pro; the unprincipled PR man Adrian Costain; and the experienced, seen-it-all-before, jazz-loving DI Charlie Resnick.

The stories are full of atmosphere, and one often genuinely fears for the safety of the weaker characters (and with good reason). A running theme is that there is no such thing as justice or fairness in some places – only the rule of the strongest. One story, "Favour", is a horrific lesson in what it can mean to stand up to someone who's both ruthless and powerful. "Sack O'Woe" is a heartbreaking story of a paedophile trying to go straight. "Snow, Snow, Snow" is the tale of a contract killer with a difference – he carries out hits on those who've escaped justice in the courts. Don't expect many happy endings – but there's a genuine sympathy for the characters that makes these hard-boiled stories palatable.