October Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

 

Next to Die by Neil White published by Sphere

Cross and Burn by Val McDermid published by Little, Brown UK, Atlantic Monthly Press US

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norman published by Macmillan UK, Minotaur US

Kill and Tell by Adam Creed published by Faber & Faber

 

In Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers makes her crimewriting sleuth Harriet Vane wire her agent to say that she absolutely refuses to introduce ‘love interest’ into her current novel.  Today’s equivalent would be a writer texting her agent to say that she absolutely refuses to introduce ‘fem jep’ into hers.  Stories of women in peril are saleable and therefore appealing to publishers.  Of all the dangers that threaten women, the most horrible (and, it sometimes seems, the most saleable) is that of the serial offender stalking and imprisoning victims either simply to kill them or to have untrammeled and violent sex with them. 

All crime fiction uses cruelty and death for readers’ entertainment and so it would be illogical to object to this theme because of the appalling real cases that have come to light in the last few years, nevertheless I find its popularity disturbing.

Neil White, who is the author of a Kindle bestseller, is a practising lawyer.  In Next to Die he has set up a potentially fascinating, almost fratricidal conflict between two brothers:  one a police officer, whose job it is to collar the criminals; the other, a defence barrister, whose job is to get them off – or at least mitigate their sentences.  The possibilities for gut-wrenching moral dilemmas and real tragedy are subsumed in the so-familiar plot, when a woman close to them both becomes the latest victim in a string of kidnaps.

Much better written is Val McDermid’s Cross and Burn, the latest instalment in the agonizing relationship between Dr Tony Hill and DI Carol Jordan.  Their dark personalities and private tragedies make a happy ending seem unlikely, but their continuing need for some kind of peace together draws us on through all the miseries they inflict on each other.  In this case a serial stalker/kidnapper/killer is picking on women who look like Carol....  McDermid is a regular on bestseller lists around the world, but perhaps that is not so much because of the fem jep element in her plots as her powerful writing and interesting ideas, as well as the compelling characters she creates.

Carla North is a journalist who co-operated with the prosecutor in a real case to write Perfect Victim.  Now North has produced a novel, The Edge of Normal, which starts with the rescue and subsequent therapy of a fictional victim.  North has plenty of interesting and important things to say about what such crimes do to everyone involved and the best ways in which the survivors can be helped back into normal life and satisfactory relationships.  She also has a survivor taking on one of the worst perpetrators and showing that it is possible for women to beat both official inertia and psychopathic cruelty, but either she or her editor decided she must include the statutory chunk of fem jep and we’re back with a perpetrator grabbing a juicy victim. 

Adam Creed has an entirely different kind of kidnap and motive in Kill and Tell, which comes as a relief.  This is a novel which has no time for police acronyms or explanations of investigative procedure – or fem jep.  Instead he has Staffe – DI Wagstaffe – and his friends and enemies at work investigating two crimes:  one the murder of a low-life, for which DS Pulford is on remand in Pentonville; the other, the disappearance of a retired Sicilian gangster-millionaire, Carmelo Trapani.  On the way to the solution of both mysteries, Creed shows us specific parts of the City and north London as a grimly convincing background to a group of players who are all pulled by opposing forces.  There are very few entirely clean hands here and most of the otherwise unappealing characters are shown to have flashes of touching humanity.  The novel starts slowly but builds into a strong sad drama that is more satisfying than many of its more pyrotechnic rivals.

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