July Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke published by Faber UK, Harper US

Letters to My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe published by C & R Crime

The Extremist by Roger Pearce published by Coronet

Research by Philip Kerr published by Quercus


All crime novels deal with the way killers are brought to justice, but few examine the morality of the process as painfully as Alafair Burke in her new novel, All Day and a Night.  Anthony Amaro, a convicted serial killer, has been in prison for many years when a new victim is discovered, with all the markers of his particular taste in post-mortem injury.  The police do not believe it’s the work of a deliberate copyist because the precise nature of the injuries was never made public during the first series of murders, which raises disturbing questions about the original conviction.  A new enquiry is opened, led by Ellie Hatcher and J.J. Rogan.  The hunt is complicated by a junior member of Amaro’s legal team, who is the sister of one of the original victims.  Told both from Ellie’s point of view and that of the young lawyer, this well-written novel is convincing as well as involving.  Burke is herself a professor of law, and her expertise is used to great effect.  Her novel is a gripping crime drama; but it is also a serious indictment of a system of ‘justice’ in which the threat of grotesque sentences is used to bully defendants into plea bargaining.

Another writer using professional experience as the background to fiction is Roger Pearce, once Commander of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch.  Here an undercover officer, Melanie Fleming, is put in an impossible position during an operation in which her husband is badly injured.  How she acts and how the two of them deal with the experience provide the emotional spine of this thriller, in which the police have to foil the activities of a terrorist network of extreme ruthlessness, while fighting off the devious interference of their rivals in the security service.  The novel zips along with plenty of vigorous action, a psychotic killer, an air of authenticity, and a portrait of London that makes it look so dangerous I’m almost hesitating about going out to lunch today.

Cath Staincliffe’s Letters to My Daughter’s Killer is an infinitely more painful novel, which explores with quiet skill the agony of the mother’s loss.  The letters she writes to the man in prison provide an original and effective way of describing the investigation of murder.  As the horrifying truth emerges on the page, the reader is left with little doubt about the identity of the killer but plenty of questions about one witness.  Only at the very end of this short but important narrative are those questions answered.  Staincliffe has a way of dealing with the toughest of emotional problems that makes them entirely understandable and leaves you aching with pity and terror.

For any reader contemplating switching sides and joining the writers, Philip Kerr’s Research could be a useful handbook to the joys and nightmares of the novelist’s life.  This is a wicked thriller about a multi-millionaire producer of bestsellers that are actually written by a team of ghosts.  When his wife is found shot with his gun in his apartment in the tax haven of Monaco, he becomes the prime suspect and must depend on the oldest of his friends (and one of the ghosts) for help.  The narrative is shared between the two of them and while never straying into the realms of any kind of emotional pain provides great entertainment – and a scary account of the state of publishing in the twenty-first century.

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