March Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

29 Seconds by T. M. Logan

Published by Bonnier Zaffre

Click here to buy this book

Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary

Published by Headline

Click here to buy this book

Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks

Published by Faber & Faber UK/Dutton US

Click here to buy this book

The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

Published by HQ

Click here to buy this book

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Published by  Sphere UK/Berkeley US

Click here to buy this book


Crime writers are fairly evenly divided between those whose aim is to recreate the reality of crime and punishment and those whose primary purpose is to entertain.  T. M. Logan has created a monster of misogyny and sexual self-indulgence in academic and television star Alan Lovelock, who will be satisfactorily hated by every reader with a brain.  Among his targets is Dr Sarah Haywood, a specialist in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

Sarah is the first of her family to go to university, mother of endlessly quarrelling Grace and Harry, abandoned wife of Nick, and beloved daughter of the utterly delightful and hugely supportive perfect father.  Lovelock has told her that he won’t support her promotion at the university – and may indeed put her at the top of the list for redundancy – unless she sleeps with him.  By a strange sequence of events she finds herself with the power to have him killed in a way that will never put her at any risk, in other words sell her soul to the devil like Doctor Faustus.

The resulting adventure is tense, twisty and highly entertaining, and the characters T. M. Logan has created work well.

Sarah Hilary takes her readers deep into the prison system in Come and Find Me, which opens with an unidentified inmate describing the start of a violent riot that led to the escape of notorious psychopath Mickey Vokey.  D. I. Marnie Rome, still reeling from the murder of her parents by her foster brother, has to find Vokey before he kills again.  Her mental comment on the riot neatly describes life behind bars:  ‘Two men died in their beds after smoke found its way under their cell doors and into their lungs.  Unlikely Marnie imagined, that they were sleeping at the time.  Stoned, or spiced; it was easier to get hold of drugs in here than it was to lay your hands on a clean towel.’

Marnie’s investigation of the riot and her hunt for the missing sadist lead her into an exploration of human cruelty – and credulity – at its worst.  This is a brutal and bitter novel, which is all too believable.

Closer Than You Know deals with a different kind of nightmare, when hardworking Melanie Barrick’s three-month-old son is taken away by social services on the grounds that she is a drug-dealer and unfit mother.  She and her PhD-student husband have been struggling to pay their mortgage and to be good parents to Alex, whom they both love unconditionally in spite of the fact that his real father raped Melanie.  Her attacker is a serial offender, who has not yet been identified.

Amy Kaye, the agreeable chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Augusta County, is determined to find and prosecute the rapist, just as Melanie is determined to clear her name and get her tiny son back.  Impoverished as she is, she is given an unprepossessing lawyer to defend her in court.  Injustices have been heaped on Melanie all her life, since she was taken from her own inadequate and violent parents to be brought up in care.  Just as every reader will hate T. M. Logan’s Alan Lovelock, so they will root for Melanie as she takes on yet one more battle for survival.

American journalist Brad Parks writes in an easy colourful style, pulling the reader on through the ups and downs of the two investigations.  The rapist is a little too much of a pantomime villain to give the novel as much emotional impact as it could have had, but it provides great pleasure.

Roz Watkins’s first novel, The Devil’s Dice, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award and introduces DI Meg Dalton of the Peak District.  She is an appealing character, although her lack of physical fitness would seem to make her an unlikely police officer.  She worries about her size and unhealthy diet, her beleaguered and incompetent mother and bedridden grandmother, and, of course, her work, which is made even harder by the presence of a misogynist and mocking colleague.

A body has been found poisoned in one of the many caves of the district, close to where a young woman hanged herself.  The investigation turns up horrible stories from the past and a family believed to have been cursed for generations.  Watkins efficiently sets up a spooky atmosphere before even more efficiently revealing the rational basis for everything that happens.  In a moving subplot, she also tackles one of the most urgent dilemmas of our time and makes her case well.

Clare Mackintosh knows all about the realities of crime, having served as a police officer herself, some of the time in CID.  In Let Me Lie, her third novel, she also suggests the existence of the supernatural and puts her main character, Anna, through hell.

Anna’s parents are dead.  The official police line is that they killed themselves.  Anna is certain they were murdered, but she can’t persuade anyone to believe her, except for a retired officer now working as a civilian with the local force.  Some kind of stalker starts tormenting her with notes and threats and horrible things left on her doorstep.  At the same time, she is trying to make a good relationship with the father of her baby, who was her psychotherapist until they fell in love.

Theirs is not the only difficult relationship.  The retired police officer is the main carer for his personality-disordered wife.  Mackintosh’s portrayal of the nightmare of being responsible for someone whose illness is unpredictable and carries great danger with it is wholly convincing, even though his saintliness is so extreme I found it a little hard to believe.  Never a cross word under such provocation would be impossible to achieve.

Clever, engagingly written, twisty and dealing in a straightforward way with severe mental illness, this is an impressive novel.

Comments are closed.