November Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

The Silent Room by Mari Hannah

Published by Macmillan

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A Cold Death in Amsterdam by Anja de Jager

Published by Constable

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Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Published by Sphere UK, Mulholland US

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The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home

Published by Penguin

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Mari Hannah’s sixth novel is a standalone, without her familiar and appealing detective, Kate Daniels.  Kate’s place is admirably filled by DS Matthew Ryan, an intelligent, loyal, thoroughly decent man, who has the knack of making enemies among those who don’t share his qualities. When his friend and mentor, the disgraced DI Jack Fenwick of Special Branch, is being driven to prison to serve a long sentence, armed men stop the van and whisk him away.  Ryan comes under suspicion of involvement in the plot and is suspended.  Unable to believe that Fenwick is guilty of the offences for which he’s been convicted, Ryan goes off-piste to continue the investigation on his own.  His enquiries take him from the north of England to Norway and back again, putting him and his family at great risk.

Hannah knows how to keep up the pace of her narrative with an excellent mixture of action scenes and engaging characters.  Even better, she creates a wholly believable police force, not so much by the inclusion of all the latest acronyms and jargon as by her psychological perception and her knowledge of the cock-ups and conspiracies that get in the way of quick and efficient detection.  Best of all, she creates high drama without using psychopaths, paedophiles, or lost children.

A lost child has a powerful role in Anja de Jager’s first novel, A Cold Death in Amsterdam, but in a more original way than usual.  Lotte Meerman, the police officer who discovered the child’s body after a fifteen-year investigation, cannot forget how her enquiries ended.  She is celebrated in the press for succeeding where everyone else had failed, but she herself is tormented by conscience over her own conduct.  Regret and guilt get in the way of her work on a new investigation and her struggles are intensified by her fear of what her colleagues may know, or discover, about what she did.  The new enquiry is further complicated by the involvement of her estranged father, a retired cop, who, she suspects, may have been on the take.  All of this takes place in a vividly rendered, ice-bound Amsterdam.  De Jager, who is herself Dutch, writes in English, which is impressive.  But she often allows herself unnecessarily melodramatic phrasing.  ‘My feet pushed against the pedals of my bicycle…My back felt as if boiling water was running down my spinal cord.  It was from being pulled in so many different directions by a kaleidoscope of feelings from sadness to anger.’  ‘[Anton’s] eyes, nose and mouth were huddled together as if they were worried they’d take up too much space and encroach on the area kept for thinking.’  There is more than enough psychological drama in Lotte’s predicament to provide the intensity readers enjoy without this kind of overwriting.

Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, includes both serial killing and paedophilia in Career of Evil. A severed leg is delivered to the office shared by Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott and sends them on a fast-paced and high-risk hunt for four suspects, all of whom have reason to hate Strike.  He has regained the charm he showed in The Cuckoo’s Calling, and it is easy to see why Robin has such a difficult time choosing between him and her fiancé.  We learn more about her back story in this novel and soon understand why she is driven to take such risks in her pursuit of the men who rape little girls and cut bits off adult women.

Galbraith is a brilliant story teller and it is a pity that she has followed the over-used fashion for including passages from the point of view of the unnamed serial-killer, full of the most sadistic misogyny.  Publishing folklore has it that ‘dead men don’t sell books; dead women do’.  Isn’t it time to move on?

Mark Douglas-Home brings a new (to me) investigative expertise to his first novel, which was originally published in 2011 and is now reissued in a new edition by Penguin.  Cal McGill is a specialist in tracking the movement of objects through the seas, owning and running Flotsam and Jetsam Investigations.  When some feet, each one wearing a trainer, are washed up in different places, he is commissioned by DC Helen Jamieson to work out where they came from.  He is also investigating his own family’s history, which involves outrageous injustice, and he becomes embroiled in the flight of Basanti, a victim of paedophile traffickers.  Cal is a great character, and the three investigations provide plenty of action, seasoned with his relationships with four women: his ex-wife, an exploitative journalist, Basanti, and Helen Jamieson, who has her own battles with misogyny in the office.  The Sea Detective is intelligent and well written and brings some bracing   fresh air to the genre.

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