Reading Round-Up

I’ve been busy reading for various panels and events that I’m moderating over the coming weeks and also working hard on my own writing. Tomorrow, I’m off to Bristol for CrimeFest, the crime fiction convention which I always look forward to. On Saturday, we will announce the winner of the Petrona Award and more on this will appear on Crimepieces. In the meantime, below is summary of some the excellent books I’ve read over the last few weeks.

That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unswoth  is the story of a spy ring during the second world war who use black magic in an attempt to destabilise Britain. Ross Spooner is the detective who is forced to enter a world of mediums and occultists to discover who is at the heart of the mischief. Unsworth cleverly weaves in the real life mystery of a woman found inside an ancient tree and there’s also a hint of Dennis Wheatly about the dark practices as enemy agents attempt to promote the Nazi cause. It’s a fascinating and unusual read.

Barry Forshaw turns his attention to historical crime fiction for his latest pocket essential guide. I’ve always admired the huge commitment to research that writing  crime fiction set in the past demands and there are some giants of the genre in this book. My natural inclination is to go to the authors I have read and it was great to see substantial entries for Philip Kerr, Kate Griffin and Kate Ellis in Historical Noir. Presented in chronological order, Lindsey Davis opens the book and it ends with the less familiar Gaute Heivoll who writes about 1970s Norway. As always, Forshaw’s books are fascinating to read and provide a handy insight into new authors to try.

Mari Hannah, always a strong writer, has excelled herself with her new book The Lost. A woman returns from a holiday with her sister to discover that her young son has disappeared. Alex’s husband, her son’s stepfather, comes under suspicion but the police investigation reveals a more complex web of lies. Hannah is excellent at continually unsettling the reader and the ending was a genuine surprise. A great start to what promises to be an excellent new series.

MW Craven’s new book, The Puppet Showhas an atmospheric backdrop of the Cumbrian countryside. Police are hunting a serial killer known as the ‘immolation man’  who mutilates and burns his victims. When the name of disgraced detective, Washington Poe, appears carved into the chest of the latest corpse, Poe is brought back from suspension into the investigation. It’s a fascinating premise and Craven delivers a satisfyingly dark thriller.

Review: Barry Forshaw – American Noir

I’ve reviewed all the previous books in this enjoyable series by Barry Forshaw published by Oldcastle Books: Nordic Noir, Euro Noir and Brit Noir. You get a useful overview of the genre in the introduction, individual entries for writers of note, a section on film and TV and a ‘top thirty’ of the best books.

American Noir was a slightly different read for me  because, as I looked through the entries, I realised  that there were a raft for writers I hadn’t heard of. I read a lot of female PI books in my twenties: Marcia Muller, Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton and am a huge fan of, and continue to read, Jonathan Kellerman and James Lee Burke. Perhaps because my early reading erred towards the British Golden Age rather than US noir, I appear to have missed out on a number of contemporary authors writing in that genre whose books sound fascinating.

It was good to see the inclusion of some writers I did recognise and are less well known here: Nevada Barr, Paul Doiron and Sarah Gran. There are also some interesting entries for writers I don’t necessarily associate with the crime novel such as Joan Brady and Paul Auster and for writers such as Tami Hoag and MG Gardiner who I have stopped reading and need to revisit their more recent works. It’s the mark of an excellent guide that you want to read or re-read the authors that are featured.

Forshaw states in his introduction that  it was hard to fit all living writers in the pages and helpfully guides readers to his Rough Guide to Crime Fiction. There you will find Lawrence Block whose Matt Scudder books are one of my favourites.

American Noir is a delightful addition to the series and fans of the crime fiction genre will love it. I’m looking forward to dipping in and out of it in the future and adding to my already toppling TBR pile.