November Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

Crash Land by Doug Johnstone

Published by Faber & Faber

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Truth Will Out by A. D. Garrett

Published by Corsair

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Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah

Published by Macmillan

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Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

Published by Orion UK/Little, Brown US

 

November’s novels all come from the north, from Orkney, Manchester, Northumberland, and Edinburgh, and all of them deal with the interestingly wobbly lines between guilt and innocence, responsibility and self-justifying carelessness.

Doug Johnson’s Crash Land involves his hero, Finn Sullivan, with a classic femme fatale right out of the original noir fiction.  He meets Maddie on his longed-for flight away from Orkney and is soon enmeshed in her web.  She’s sexy, needy, dangerous and leads him into all kinds of trouble.  Well written, intriguing sometimes touching and with no certainties of any kind, this is a novel that grips you to the end and then leaves you thinking.

A. D. Garrett is a writing duo of Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper.  The combination works well in this instalment of their Fennimore and Simms series, when a mother and daughter are kidnapped in Manchester.  Murphy brings all the perception and clever writing of her own fiction, while Helen Pepper’s experience as forensic scientist, CSI, and senior lecturer in policing adds a faultless sense of reality.  At first I was reluctant to read about yet one more suffering child, but Lauren Myers is a wonderful creation, whose greatest disability – her inability to process food additives without going berserk – becomes her greatest asset.  And the novel is full of incidental pleasures such as Professor Nick Fennimore’s brisk comment that, ‘Einstein said common sense was the collection of all the prejudices acquired by the age of eighteen.  So let’s ditch the common sense and do some actual fact-checking instead.’  Fennimore’s own tragic background adds emotional depth to this tense adventure.

Mari Hannah is another writer who knows the real background to her fiction well enough to avoid forcing her readers into impossible feats of suspension of disbelief.  DCI Kate Daniels is having more trouble in her private life, with her partner and with her father, when she’s faced with the nightmare of working with an old enemy in DCI James Atkins.  Kate should be away on holiday but the discovery of a young man’s corpse hanging from a gibbet involves her in a complex and painful case that gets in the way of any private pleasure.  As with all the best crime fiction, her discoveries at work have an impact on her own life and ideas.  Her difficulty accepting the need for compromise and so an imperfect kind of justice make the questions raised by this novel even more interesting than usual.  At one moment she bursts out with fury in discussing the likely killer:  ‘It goes against the grain to treat him like a patient and not the violent perpetrator he is.  Give guys like him a label and they think they’re home and dry...  I don’t give a stuff about his various manifestations.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s a bully out of control.  There’s a lot of it about.  Treatment didn’t do him much good, did it?’  Where does responsibility for the effects of dysfunctional behaviour lie?  Who can be blamed if their brains or psyches malfunction?  How should their victims be protected?  And what kind of redress should those victims be offered?

Ian Rankin’s Rebus is now genuinely retired and facing a possible diagnosis of lung-cancer, but nothing can stop him fighting crime.  In spite of his civilian status, he interviews suspects, nicks Malcolm Fox’s business cards in order to impersonate him, invites Siobhan Clarke out to dinner so that she can provide evidence of a warrant card if his suspect demands it, and so on.  The villains are the old familiar crew of Darryl Christie and Big Ger Cafferty, with some new charmers to add spice and danger.  As usual crime travels all the way up and down the social scale and Rankin introduces us to some intriguing – and touching – characters.  Even the notoriously pure Malcolm Fox becomes sucked into the mire.  And the twin threads of suspense – whether Rebus has got cancer and who is at the bottom of the current crop of crimes – keep up the novel’s momentum until the last page.

The idea of a retired cop making himself free of police stations, computers, evidence and suspects in the way Rebus does is hard to swallow.  But who cares?  Rankin is so good and the revolving cast of cops and villains is so alluring that does precise verisimilitude doesn’t seem to matter much.

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