Revenge is on the menu: the best of recent crime novels

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The Independent Culture

Harry Bosch is back where he belongs as a detective in LAPD homicide. But when a man's body is discovered murdered execution style, the FBI step in and Harry gets the hump. The dead man has access to irradiated material. A lot of it, and it could be used to make a dirty bomb for some insurgents to use on the city, so Harry has to stay one step ahead of the Feds to investigate the crime. But his eagerness puts him in mortal danger, and not just from the terrorists. In The Overlook (Orion 18.99), Michael Connelly has written a short and sweet crime novel that proves that brevity is often the best way to go. On this side of the Atlantic, in Peter James's latest Not Dead Enough (Macmillan 12.99) Detective Superintendent Roy Grace faces the same problem as the mystery of a man who appears to have been in two places at once, impinges on his own life. James just gets better and better and deserves the success he has achieved with this first-class series.

At this year's Harrogate Crime Festival, Allan Guthrie scored the Old Peculier Crime novel of the year award for his book Two-Way Split (Polygon 6.99). A bunch of low lifes get involved in a post office robbery in Edinburgh that goes wrong and ends in murder. The murder of the wrong person, as they soon discover when the son of the victim, an ex-con, gets on their trail. He's not a man to be trifled with, and so begins a classic chase that ends in more deaths. Two-Way Split is hardboiled Scottish crime noir at its best.

Most crime writers talk the talk, but have never walked the walk. There are a few exceptions, and Eddie Bunker was one. Junkie, robber, convict: you name it, he did it. And more, so he told me when we met. Stark (No Exit 12.99), was his first novel, written in 1963 while he was in jail, and never published before. It literally is stark in its telling of a small-time con man turned snitch. If ever there was a natural writer, the late, great Bunker was one. Read it, and mourn his loss.

Equally hard is The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey (Quercus 12.99) in which Michael Kelly, is a tough guy ex-cop turned private eye. Been there before? Sure we have, but this is as good as tough guy novels go. Guns, girls, murder, the whole nine yards, as old friends are killed and Kelly's up for the rap. Raymond Chandler would've loved it I'm sure, and so did I. He'd've loved Kiss Her Goodbye by Robert Gregory Browne (Pan 6.99) as well, where Alex Gunderson is the leader of a gang of urban terrorists who have been hunted for years by the ATF. There's money to be made out of all kinds of crimes, but bank jobs get the publicity Gunderson is hungry for. Then things go wrong, and his girlfriend is left in a coma, and their unborn child dies, after a car chase that ends in a collision with a police car. Revenge is on the menu when Gundersdon kidnaps the daughter of the cop who was driving, and leaves her in an unmarked grave with just enough oxygen to last a few days. So begins the hunt, not just for the bad guy, but for the innocent girl also. This is a metaphysical jump-start of a debut novel from a screenwriter of slam bang action films. Not to be missed.

At the beginning of Chasers by Lorenzo Carcaterra (Simon & Schuster 11.99) the niece of "Boomer" Frontieri, a cop invalided out of the force, is slaughtered in an assassination that kills innocent bystanders. When he decides to seek retribution, The Apaches, a loose collection of vigilantes, reform with new recruits from the walking wounded of New York's finest, including a sniffer dog with the heart of a champion and the soul of a killer, who took two bullets trying to save the life of his handler. No longer hog-tied by rules and regulations, Boomer and his compatriots start a street war against the guilty parties, a gang of South American criminals looking to take over the drugs trade in the city, that has to be read to be believed. Outstanding.

I can't finish without mentioning Cripple Creek by James Sallis (No Exit 12.99) which brings the welcome return of Turner, ex-cop, ex-convict, ex-therapist who has now settled down as sheriff in a small Tennessee town. But trouble is never far away, and when a driver is pulled up for a minor driving offence, and $200,000 in cash is discovered in his car, Turner fears the worst. And he's not wrong. Sallis is an unsung genius of crime writing. Hunt this one out and you won't be disappointed. Here's hoping there'll be plenty more novels of this calibre in 2008.