In the middle of the second lockdown in England, I’m reading more than ever. It’s such a shame that bookshops have had to close their doors but good news we can still order online. I’ve read some great new crime books recently and my reading pile is tottering with novels for the coming weeks.
As soon as No Exit Press sent an email saying they had review copies of Angel‘s Infernoby William Hjortsberg, I couldn’t wait to read the book. It’s the follow up to Falling Angel which was made into the successful film, Angel Heart. I reread the original book for a workshop I was giving on novels which successfully mix crime and the supernatural and Hjortsberg is a master of this. Angel’s Inferno follows the investigation of Harry Angel who now knows of his role in the disappearance of Johnny Favourite. He’s determined to track down Louis Cyphre and his journey takes him to the Paris underworld in the hunt for the magician who goes by numerous devilish names. It’s written in Hjortsberg’s trademark noir style and the darkness at its heart holds the reader’s attention until the end. A very accomplished follow-up that will delight Hjortsberg’s readers.
I’m a huge fan of Ann Cleeve’s writing and her latest Vera book, The Darkest Evening, is a delight. It has many of the Golden Age tropes that I love: a country house, a family with thrilling secrets and the possibility of a disputed inheritance. It is also packed full of atmosphere.
The body of Lorna Falstone is found on a snowy evening after she abandoned her child in a neighbours car. Vera, finding the child, takes it to the nearest house belonging to her estranged relatives. Lorna’s story enfolds, a child of loving but overprotective parents, she’s spent time in a clinic for her anorexia and has refused to name the father of her child. Vera must put old family hurts aside to discover Lorna’s murderer. In this book, we see more of Vera’s frailty but she’s as redoubtable as ever.
Margot Kinberg is an old friend to Crimepieces. Way back in 2011 when I first started blogging, she was a supportive commenter and promoter of this blog which has continued to this day. Margot is a talented crime writer and I reviewed her novel, Publish or Perish back in 2012. A Matter of Motive is her latest novel. Newbie detective Patricia Stanley has her first murder case. Ron Clemons is found dead in his car. At first, it appears he’s a victim of a heart attack but suspicions are raised by medics and, as Patricia digs beneath his apparent faultless life, professional and personal tensions become apparent. A Matter of Motive is written in Kinberg’s witty prose and there’s a lovely classic crime feel to the plot. I loved it.
I’ve been reading a mix of genres recently and it’s hard to find a common thread except to say that all the novels below pulled me deep into their worlds which, during these strange times, is exactly what you want.
Witch Hunter is the first in a new series by the Finnish author Max Seeck. It begins with an unsettling premise. A bestselling novelist’s wife is murdered and the ritualistic killing mirrors a death in one of the author’s Witch Hunter novels. As events turn darker and more victims are selected, Helsinki detective Jessica Niemi is convinced the killings aren’t the work of a single person. But she has her own secrets to hide and her duplicitous life might start to unravel. We’re in classic Nordic noir territory here – the brutal killings, stark setting and clever plotting – and I can see why the author has been liked to Jo Nesbo. I found it a compelling and twisty read with a decent female protagonist.
Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi is a dazzling story of a man living in a house with infinite rooms. He is called Piranesi by the only other human he meets who he nicknames ‘the Other’ but is sure that he has another name. He’s aware that his memory is transient and keeps notebooks which chart his journey around the many rooms. The book draws you into its world and shows how a man can be content living with his loneliness. You’re always wondering what world we’re in – the man’s imagination, an altered state or perhaps the story serves as an allegory for what ever the reader chooses. However, there is a revelation which turns the narrative and which is wholly satisfying for the reader. Piranesiis perfect bedtime reading. I dropped off to sleep with dreams of great floods and sea creatures.
Publisher, Abandoned Bookshop, are to rerelease a 1930s debut from the talented writer, GE Trevelyan. Appius and Virginia is a moving tale of a women who raises an orangutan from birth and attempts to give it the upbringing of an ordinary child. Virginia’s motives feel initially benign, she is a scientist with knowledge of animal behaviour. However, as she tried to dress, educate and teach Appius to speak, she’s revealed as rigid in her views and exasperated by the orangutan’s essentially animal nature. The novel addresses ever present themes of how we try to mould our animals to our own needs and, in the passages I found especially moving, how hard our animals try to please us.
The Embalmer is an engrossing new thriller from the talented Alison Belsham. A recently mummified body is found inside a display cabinet in Brighton Museum. A clue to the death lies in tattoos on the body and Egyptian canopic jars found nearby. DI Francis Sullivan suspects he is looking for a serial killer and with his partner Marni Mullins the hunt is on. As the list of suspects narrow, we enter the twisted mind of a disturbed murderer. The book is fast paced and engrossing and there are plenty of surprises for the reader. I particularly liked the Egyptology element and there are some genuinely frightening moments. The Embalmer is out in ebook in November.