December Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

Published by HQ

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Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant

Published by Mulholland Books

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Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor

Published by HarperCollins

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Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin

Published by Argonaut Books

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The fashion for crime novels about women on the edge, who may or may not be mad, continues.  Its popularity suggests that there is a huge constituency of people (not necessarily all female) who feel like Cassandra, with no one hearing or believing or respecting what they say, which is alarming.  The latest offering is Ross Armstrong’s first novel, The Watcher, which has Lily Gullick using her ornithologist’s binoculars to observe her neighbours just as obsessively as the local birdlife.

The setting is more interesting than usual because Lily inhabits a newly built flat on the fringes of an old local authority housing estate, which is being demolished to make way for more high-spec developments.  Some of the original inhabitants of the estate have meekly left for new homes further away from their old communities, while others are protesting in more or less violent ways.  With many Hitchcockian references, this is a fast-moving, if not always wholly credible, thriller with enough social comment to give it heft.

A quite different unreliable narrator takes the lead in Sabine Durrant’s Lie with Me, which came out in hardback earlier in the year and is now available in paperback.  Paul Morris is a self-deluding, lazy sponger, who once had a brief success with his first novel and feels that the rest of the world owes him a living because of it.  He has the luck to fall in with Alice, a rich unhappy widow with some deeply unattractive friends, who looks like being a terrific meal ticket.  Not only has she got a desirable house in London and apparently plenty of money, she also owns a holiday place in Greece.  Paul persuades her to include him in her last holiday there and he displays all his least appealing qualities as he gazes at the young daughters of her friends, steals and lies.

But he’s not all bad and does what he can to support Alice in her quest to find out what happened to the thirteen-year-old daughter of friends, who disappeared at the resort many years ago.  She could have been killed or kidnapped, or perhaps wandered away to find asylum with some local hippies.  Not surprisingly her disappearance almost destroyed her parents, and Alice has been campaigning on their behalf ever since.

With great skill, Durrant entices the reader into feeling some sympathy for the shabby hero as the psychodrama proceeds to entangle all the characters in each other’s miseries.  The eventual revelations are entirely credible and make this one of the most impressive novels in this particular subgenre.

Andrew Taylor, who has had some pretty weird characters of his own, particularly in The Roth Trilogy, offers three creepy stories in Fireside Gothic.  With all his usual elegance and compelling characterization, he provides the ideal entertainment for those forthcoming days when the weather is too bad for walking and we’re all too full of Christmas food even to think about playing games or reading a whole novel.

Talking of food, for everyone who misses Yashim, the delightful eunuch detective of Jason Goodwin’s Ottoman crime novels, a new treat has just been published by Argonaut Books.  The beautifully designed Yashim Cooks Istanbul is full of enticing recipes, intriguing anecdotes, fascinating fact, wit and great charm.  Much like the novels, in fact.

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