March Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan

Published by Headline

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Shot Through the Heart by Isabelle Grey

Published by Quercus

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Siren by Annemarie Neary

Published by Hutchinson

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The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

Published by Hodder & Stoughton UK/Grand Central US

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Claire McGowan becomes more assured with each novel in her Paula Maguire series, tracing the dangerous trails left in the aftermath of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  Here all kinds of ordinary words carry at least twice their normal weight:  disappeared; hunger; punishment; truth; vengeance; justice.

Paula is a forensic psychologist, working with the police, coming to terms with the disappearance (and perhaps death) of her mother many years ago, the ambiguous paternity of her two-year-old daughter, Maggie, and her dread of the formal wedding that will link her for ever to the man Maggie calls Daddy.  In this outing, Paula is called to advise on the disappearance of a student, whose three best university friends can’t help.  Worryingly, Alice was last seen in the church where another young woman, who looked very like her, disappeared thirty-odd years ago.  With Alice has gone the church’s famous relic:  the finger bone of Saint Blannad, protector of the hungry.

With flashbacks to the 1980s, when ten men starved themselves to death inside Long Kesh prison, A Savage Hunger raises more questions than it answers about the Troubles and offers shocking insights into emotional manipulation, selfishness, and the exploitation of other people’s bodies that some men believe is their right.  This is a powerful and disturbing novel.

Isabelle Grey also explores the dangerous consequences of vengeance and tribal loyalties in Shot through the Heart, but these tribes are quite different from the men and women of Northern Ireland.  Grey’s DI Grace Fisher is confronted with a spree shooting on Christmas Day in Essex.  A lone gunman kills a police officer, then four other people, before shooting himself.  Grace must not only untangle the killer’s psychology but also track down the underworld gunsmith who provided the weapon and take on the powerful Police Federation.  As always, Grey’s research is impeccable, her writing is crisp, and her understanding of human distress adds depth to an excellent police procedural.

Back in Ireland, Annemarie Neary’s Siren deals with another aspect of life after the Troubles.  In this case, it is the reinvention of the IRA as straight politicians that forms the backdrop to a fast-moving novel with a vulnerable woman at all kinds of risk.  We meet Roisin both as a young teenager during the Troubles and now, as a woman of means and a determination to assuage her own guilt by exposing that of people even worse than she feels herself to be.  If her younger self seems a little more naïve than anyone growing up in Belfast could possibly have been, she is nevertheless an interesting character.  And it is easy to sympathize with the vengeance she wants to achieve.

Jeffery Deaver knows all about the passion for vengeance – or justice.  His latest thriller has quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme separating himself from the police to concentrate on teaching and private clients.  While his long-term partner, Amelia Sachs, tracks a serial killer, Rhyme and his new intern are busy trying to find someone to sue for the death of a man who fell through a gap in an escalator and was chewed up by the machinery below.  Coincidentally, Sachs was on the scene and plunged down to try to save the man, thereby losing the suspect she was tracking, so that both investigations intertwine.  Deaver is an expert in giving information without ever boring, which when the information in question is about the law of tort is pretty clever.  He also keeps the pages turning faster than almost anyone else and is an absolute master of misdirection.

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