May Crime Round-Up

N.J. Cooper

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Published by Bantam

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Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Published by HarperCollins

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Wrong Way Home by Isabelle Grey

Published by Quercus

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A Secret Worth Killing For by Simon Berthon

Published by HQ

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May’s crime novels are all reminiscent of real cases, full of tragedy and suffering, malice and incompetence.  Belinda Bauer’s Snap has three children – Jack, Joy and Merry – abandoned on a motorway hard shoulder while their pregnant mother walks to the emergency phone to get help.  Three years later, Jack, now fourteen and growing fluffy stubble, is in charge at home.  Their father has disappeared too and so there’s only Jack to make sure Social Services do not take his siblings, that they all eat healthily and someone provides enough books for the voracious Merry.

Bauer is one of those writers adored by critics and prize judges.  Her first novel, Blacklands, won the Gold Dagger and was remarkable for the way she recreated the mind of her child hero.  Jack is an even more impressive creation.  Bauer has a clear understanding of the way children make their own reality bearable and her account of the way he and his sisters live is both shocking and immensely moving, as well as full of warmth and humour.  The ultimate revelations add layers of emotion and make this a serious novel, in which the crime and its solution are the least important parts.  If there is any justice Snap will propel Bauer to the top of the bestseller list.

Sarah Pinborough has already inhabited that slot with Behind Her Eyes.  In Cross Her Heart she takes on one of the most troubling phenomena in the world of crime, real and fictional.  If I’m to avoid spoilers, all I can say is that this novel deals with an old but iconic case of murder, a very modern example of internet grooming, and a terrifying chase that ends in a desperate battle of wills.  Pinborough’s experience in young adult fiction makes her teenage characters as convincing as their seniors, and the novel moves at the greatest speed.

Isabelle Grey is another writer admired by all intelligent critics.  Wrong Way Home tackles a series of cold cases when DI Grace Fisher is convinced that new developments in DNA testing may shed much-needed light on a rape and murder from twenty-five years ago.  Heather Bowyer died on the night that the Marineland resort in Southend burned to the ground and a local hero rescued two teenage boys.  Grace is bruised after her relationship with DS Blake Langley stalled, but that makes her only more determined to get justice for Heather and the other women who may have suffered at the hands of the same killer.  Interspersed with her team’s investigations are sections from a podcast by a young tyro journalist, who is determined to make a name for himself, even if that means sexing up his ‘news’ to a dangerous degree.  Soon he involves Grace’s old source and friend, alcoholic newsman Ivo Sweatman.

Grey’s research is impressive.  Here the psychology, forensic science, police procedure, and old failings of honesty in the force are all convincing as the novel builds to a climax of intense suffering on many layers, which are all the more troubling because they are rooted in reality.

Another disturbing novel comes from historian and documentary film-maker Simon Berthon, who looks back to the Troubles in Ireland in A Secret Worth Killing For.  The narrative opens in 1991 with young Maire being sucked into the struggle by her boyfriend.  Her boundaries are clear:  she helps on this one occasion but is determined to have nothing more to do with the boys and instead move on to university and a new life.  Twenty-six years later, human-rights lawyer Anne-Marie Gallagher is elected to parliament as member for Lambeth West and, puzzlingly, offered a junior ministerial job immediately.  Soon the revelations begin.  The story of her past is revealed in snatches throughout the novel, as she discovers that what’s been done can never be forgotten and that things she thought she knew were never quite as they seemed.  This is a fast-moving and engaging thriller, but troubling in its convincing portrayal of all kinds of treachery and hideous cruelty.

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