I’ve started reading in earnest for this year’s Petrona Award so a lot of my reading has been from the Nordic countries. I’m not neglecting home-grown authors, though. Below are reviews of four crime novels by British writers that I’ve read recently.
Minette Walters is a favourite writer of mine. Her debut novel, The Ice House, would probably make it into my top ten crime books. Unlike other writers, her books have got shorter over time but retain the focus on the darkness that’s often hidden behind closed doors. The Cellar is the story of Muna who is kept as a slave by the Songoli. Unable to remember her early childhood, Muna beneath her calm exterior plots her revenge. It’s more a horror tale than crime novel but an excellent and compelling read.
I’m a fan of Michael J Malone’s novels and poetry and his new book, A Suitable Lie, marks a change in direction from him. He tackles the difficult and emotive subject of domestic violence in a realistic way and the book was a very moving read. It’s difficult to say more without giving away spoilers but its my favourite of Malone’s works so far as he grapples with a subject shrouded by innuendo and shame.
Rebecca Bradley is a former CID detective and her wealth of experience comes across in her books. Made to be Broken is set in Nottingham where a poisoner is wreaking havoc on the city. It’s good to see a police team where the reverberations of a previous case are still being felt and you know you’re in safe hands with Bradley’s writing. The city of Nottingham is well depicted and I loved the clever murder plot.
I read For Reasons Unknown by Michael Wood as the author was appearing at a festival I was having at my local village. It’s a top-notch police procedural that draws on the authors experiences as a journalist in Sheffield. The writing is superb and the book certainly didn’t read like a debut. Wood is a writer to watch.
I enjoyed the first outing of Glasgow detective Ray McBain. Blood Tears combined an emotive issue (abuse inside Catholic children’s homes) with an enjoyable and well-written murder plot. The follow-up has just been published and, in my opinion, is even better than the first. A Taste of Malice has a slightly more subdued feel to it, but again addresses difficult issues involving the abuse of children, this time within the family by someone you trust.
McBain is back at Glasgow CID but has been sidelined and told to keep his nose clean. Desperate for something to do, he hones in on two old cases, where a woman has inveigled her way into a family and found ways to manipulate and torture the children. He goes on a search for the woman, reinterviewing the children involved and following a cold trail. Meanwhile, in Ayrshire, another young family gratefully accepts help from a stranger who enters their lives. However, the mother’s loss of memory is masking deeper problems within the family that are ripe for exploitation.
Michael is an expert storyteller and in A Taste for Malice, we get two distinct plot lines that only merge in the final part of the book. The first, the investigation by McBain, sees him struggling with the trauma from his previous case in the face of Departmental indifference. Only his colleague, Allesandra Rossi, is prepared to assist him as he attempts to dig deeper into the abuse cases. The story of the family struggling to cope with the wife’s memory loss is suitably creepy and it is unclear for a fair amount of the book how the two cases converge. McBain is an attractive character. His childhood scars make him both vulnerable and prickly and his sex life is suitably tempestuous.
The book was an enjoyable and disturbing read. As well as appealing to those who enjoyed Blood Tears, it will also hopefully garner some new readers for this series.
Thanks to the writer for sending me a copy of the book.