Chistmas Books Special - Part Two: Crime

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The Independent Culture

Christmas is a time for old friends. So this year I've gathered together a bunch of books by some old friends of mine which I think count as the best of the year. Some of the authors I've never met personally, but they they seem like old friends to me as I've enjoyed their books so much in the past.

One of the reasons I started writing crime novels was reading the Spenser series by Robert B Parker. The books were short, as were the sentences, so there was plenty of white on the page and I could usually read them in a couple of hours. If he can make a living at this, I thought, I can too. Over 20 years later the same rules still apply with Dream Girl (No Exit Press £11.99). An old friend of Spenser's who runs a discreet brothel in Boston turns up in his office looking for help from a bunch of extortion artists who want to take over her establishment. Spenser and Hawk move in and clean up the bad guys. But there's a lot more to the case than meets the eye, and our hero faces more than one moral dilemma before the climax. This one finds Parker on top form.

G M Ford's Frank Corso books are masterpieces, and now Pan is publishing his earlier works. Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? (Pan £6.99) features Leo Waterman, a Sixties throwback turned PI, who still believes in the hippie philosophy. He is hired to find a missing heiress, and he and his oddball sidekicks are thrown into a plot worthy of Chandler. The answer to the question in the title is revealed in the story, but I must admit to referring to it as who the fuc is Wanda Hella?

Chris Haslam's latest novel, El Sid (Abacus £11.99) is a classic case of the biter bit, as small time criminal Lenny Knowles, stupid but convinced that his intellect is the equal of anyone's, meets Spanish civil war veteran Sidney Starman, aka El Sid, who claims he knows the whereabouts of a stash of hidden Republican gold. Lenny, Sid and Lenny's ex-cell mate Nick Crick set off to liberate the treasure and live happily ever after. No chance. The story cuts back and forth between the present and the past as Sid relates stories of the war, and the trio rage around Spain getting deeper into trouble every day, until a terrific climax where Lenny discovers he's not half as smart as the old soldier.

Eye of Vengeance (Orion £10.99) is the first stand-alone novel from Jonathon King, whose previous four books have featured ex-cop Max Freeman. Now King, a journalist, is on familiar territory. His new hero, Nick Mullins, works for the South Florida Daily News as a crime reporter, but of course he has a past. His wife and one of his daughters were killed by a drunk driver. Now criminals featured in his stories are being assassinated by a bullet to the head. Who will be next? No guesses, as the man who killed Nick's family is targeted by an ex-army, ex-cop sniper suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Actually my sympathies were with the shooter. See what you think.

Steve Hamilton's A Stolen Season (Orion £10.99) takes us back to Paradise, Michigan, where Alex McKnight, another ex-cop with troubles, is living through a miserable summer when he and his occasional partner Leon witness a boat crash. They save the passengers but lose something important from the craft. Something that the men want back badly. Badly enough to resort to violence. Alex's cop girlfriend is working undercover in Canada, and, as in all good crime novels, there's a connection. Hamilton is one of the handful of superb new American crime writers who aren't getting the attention they deserve. This novel should change that.

Mike Ripley's featuring his hero Angel is an antidote to the hard-boiled US crime fiction that I usually favour. Not that he can't be a bit harsh at times. In Angel's Share (Allison & Busby £18.99), Angel is still a reluctant private eye, bullied by the women in his life, although still able to pull more strokes than the Oxford and Cambridge boat race teams put together. This time he's searching for a client's missing long-lost love while helping dear old dad to recover from a stroke, no doubt brought on by his association with a Page Three stunna. Good stuff.

That's it for another year. As always there's been the good, the bad and the ugly. I hope that some of my recommendations find their way into your Christmas stocking.