There have been plenty of corrupt judges throughout American history, but the subject of John Grisham’s new novel The Whistler (Hodder & Stoughton, £20) is in a category of his own. Young investigator Lacy Stolz is tasked with investigating judicial misconduct among Florida judges, but then an indicted lawyer comes to her representing the whistleblower of a judge involved in organised crime. What follows is fraught with danger for everyone involved. Grisham, the odd misstep over the years notwithstanding, never forgets his primary purpose: to entertain. It’s a mission the author has been faithfully and uncomplicatedly carrying out since his first book. No stylistic flourishes, no elegant writing (not imperatives for this writer), but Grishamites will find all their buttons satisfyingly pressed with The Whistler.
Over the pond for Betrayal by Martina Cole (Headline, £19.99). Aiden O’Hara has been used to being top dog in his family since he was a child, and he has no intention of relinquishing his supremacy. The mother of his son, Jade, is the first to spot that his life has become precarious – and, what's more, the threat to Aiden is going to come from close to home.
Martina Cole’s success must be a source of envy to many. Right from the start, she has enjoyed massive sales for her strongly written, in-your-face fiction, and even the workaday TV adaptations of Dangerous Lady and The Jump merely brought more kudos her way (she’s been less lucky than Colin Dexter in her transfer to the screen – but she should worry). Betrayal is another winner for Cole.
This column began with a discussion of the new John Grisham book, and now we turn to one of the writers whose work is most often compared (favourably) with Grisham’s, Mark Gimenez and The Absence of Guilt (Sphere, £18.99). While, however, the new Gimenez novel trades in legal thriller territory, its ambitions are much wider. An Isis attack on the United States is thwarted when the FBI discovers a plan to detonate explosives during the Super Bowl in Dallas. Two dozen conspirators are indicted by a federal grand jury, including the hypnotic and influential Muslim cleric Omar Al Mustafa. But there is a problem – a conspicuous lack of evidence against the hate preacher. And newly appointed US district judge A Scott Fenney has a dilemma: if Scott sets him free, will there be devastating consequences? This is Gimenez at epic length, but the pages turn with great rapidity.
Time for some literary time travel. In the ever-more-crowded realms of historical crime fiction, LC Tyler occupies something of a unique position, setting sharply observed period detail against a witty, vividly characterised version of life in the 17th century. The wit, of course, is hardly a surprise, given the author’s long pedigree as a writer of comic crime. His latest outing, The Plague Road (Constable, £19.99), draws together his multitude of skills to produce his most involving novel to date. London is in the grip of the Great Plague. Canny lawyer John Grey is asked to find a stolen letter taken from the pocket of a murdered man. With a ruthless killer aware of his unwelcome interest, Grey undertakes a fraught odyssey through a plague-ravaged country, death ever at his elbow.
Finally, three very different books that are a reminder of what a broad church crime fiction is. The all-conquering Scandinavians are still a force to be reckoned with, and The Brother by Joakim Zander (Head of Zeus, £18.99, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel) is a prime slice of Nordic noir. Zander is part of the influx of new blood into the genre, and this third novel is both forceful and subtle. His protagonist Yasmine promised to protect her brother as a child, but left him to fend for himself in the Stockholm slums. But then she hears that he is dead, killed by a US drone in Syria – and her quest becomes an attempt to find out what turned her likeable brother into one of the US’s most wanted men. What we have here are the two crucial ingredients of Scandicrime: powerfully orchestrated tension set against a strong dose of social commentary.
Wapping, 2016, and Annie Hauxwell’s House of Bones (Arrow, £8.99) has heroin addict Catherine Berlin fighting to stay clean; she becomes involved with a Chinese orphan on a prestigious scholarship, and encounters dark machinations by the Chinese government. With focused, trenchant writing, this is a clear demonstration that Hauxwell is the real deal.
As is Fuminori Nakamura, whose The Kingdom (Soho Crime, £18.99, translated by Kalau Almony) has its anti-heroine from the Tokyo underworld posing as a prostitute then blackmailing clients. It’s a plot (let’s face it) that has seen service before, but Nakamura’s take on it is multilayered and intense, with monstrous crime lord ‘Kizaki’ a formidable nemesis.
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