Crime fiction: Persuasive humanity in society's darkest corners

From Philip Kerr's The Other Side of Silence to Not so Thin Ice by Quentin Bates

Barry Forshaw
Thursday 03 March 2016 13:32
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Tense delights: the French Riviera of the 1950s, which features in Philip Kerr's new book
Tense delights: the French Riviera of the 1950s, which features in Philip Kerr's new book

The current crop of crime fiction affords the aficionado some tense delights – and at least one mild disappointment. But let's start with some writers who deliver the goods.

The formidable visual qualities (and historical detail) of Philip Kerr's The Other Side of Silence (Quercus, £18.99) are exactly what his admirers turn to his work for. It's 1956, and on the French Riviera Kerr's compromised Nazi-era sleuth Bernie Gunther is trying to forget his association with his corrupt superiors and is working as a concierge at a hotel under an alias. But when a former official responsible for genocide on a massive scale (not to mention the death of a woman who Bernie loved) resurfaces in the retired detective's life, Bernie's old skills are once again called into play. A particular pleasure here is the appearance in the dramatis personae of the writer Somerset Maugham, a target for blackmail by the mass murderer. And Maugham is not the only real-life character to figure in this choice Gunther outing.

Standard American police procedural it may be, but Tami Hoag's The Bitter Season (Orion, £19.99) is well handled and satisfyingly tense. A middle-aged couple are cut into pieces in their own home with a samurai sword. And from two decades earlier, the death of a policeman in his own garden remains unsolved. Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac are obliged to find the woman who can point out the links between the two killings – before she, too, is hacked to pieces. The persuasive humanity of the characters are a given with Hoag.

Still in the US, Jeffery Deaver's The Steel Kiss (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) grips comprehensively, with every individual detail registering rather than Deaver relying on contrived revelations. Quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme and detective Amelia Sachs are up against a murderer with a total command of technology.

And one more American: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (Century, £18.99) is standard Coben fare, adorned with that peerless brand of storytelling he always provides. Coben can always be celebrated for doing exactly what he sets out to do with every novel; consistency is a watchword. We're in domestic noir territory again, with special ops pilot Maya discovering that the husband she thought was murdered is apparently alive and well. A reminder of how safe we are in these hands.

To the UK, and a surprise from Kate Medina, whose Fire Damage (HarperCollins, £12.99) swerves off in a radically different direction from her phenomenal debut White Crocodile. That book took the reader into a phantasmagorical, nightmarish Cambodia, but there's nothing so radical in the new book, which introduces a series character, psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn, here unlocking the memories of a traumatised child. If this is a more quotidian affair than her debut, Medina still demonstrates that she's a considerable find.

A Savage Hunger (Headline, £13.99) by Claire McGowan is a solid outing (the fourth) for her sequence featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire; it's a reminder why McGowan has been described as Ireland's answer to Ruth Rendell. And Shot Through the Heart (Quercus, £16.99) demonstrates that Isabelle Grey has all the command as a crime novelist that she has channelled as a television writer.

Finally, two new entries in the Nordic Noir genre. The Swedish queen of the genre, Camilla Läckberg, gives us The Ice Child (HarperCollins, £16.99), beginning with a brutalised, semi-naked girl found wandering in the snow before being hit by a car. More than half of the novel is exceptionally rigorous and powerful, but finally there is a sense that this is not quite the writer firing on all cylinders – something she has conditioned us to expect. Not so Thin Ice (Constable, £8.99) by Quentin Bates, a particularly atmospheric entry for doughty detective Gunnhildur, facing down cack-handed low-rent hostage takers straight out of Elmore Leonard.

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