June Crime Round-Up

N.J.Cooper

Take Me In by Sabine Durrant

Published by Mulholland

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Firefly by Henry Porter

Published by Quercus UK/Mysterious Press US

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The Old Religion by Martyn Waites

Published by Zaffre

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Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall

Published by Sphere UK/Grand central US

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The text behind this month’s crime novels could well be: ‘Man hands on inhumanity to man’ (with ‘man’ obviously meaning human rather than the male of the species).   Few crimes are without ancestry and these novels all trace the origins of what happens back to the damage done to the perpetrators in the past.

Sabine Durrant takes her readers back to the Greek Islands in Take Me In, this time in the company of Tessa and Marcus and their three-year-old son, Josh.  While Tessa changes in the taverna, Marcus drifts off to sleep and Josh nearly drowns, saved only by a tattoo’d stranger.  The episode brings all the underlying tensions of their marriage to the surface and the consequences of her absence, his failure, and the intervention of the stranger lead to increasingly terrifying events.  Clever and engaging, as well as enraging in its revelation of the characters’ self-indulgent risk-taking, this novel plays with perception and sympathy and delivers an effective final twist.

Henry Porter’s characters live in a world so dangerous that they have no time for self-indulgence.   The title character is a thirteen-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker, fleeing unspeakably cruel ISIS terrorists and trying to make a better life for the family he has had to leave behind.  The terrorists are not the only people trying to find him.  Among the others is Luc Samson, who once worked for MI6 before he was unjustly thrown out and has now found a profitable career in the private sector.  His old colleagues are also on the case, as is an admirable psychiatrist working in a refugee camp.

Porter provides a superb account of two of the great international crises of the time:  migration and the terrible activities of those rootless, inadequate, resentful people who are sucked into extremism and encouraged to act out all their own emotional distress in the physical torture of their victims.  Horrifying and yet exciting, Firefly is one of the most impressive thrillers of the year.

Martyn Waites, who has been writing pseudonymous novels for a decade and now makes a welcome return to his own persona, also looks at the way the inadequate and distressed can be manipulated by a powerful personality working behind the mask of religion.  His hero is a retired undercover police officer who has been relocated to the far south-west of England.  There he encounters not only the alarming oddities of a backward rural society but also the absolutely modern crimes of urban drug-dealers moving out of their own world and taking over a vulnerable local in order to extend their business.  Written with verve and perception, this novel shows how country life can seem a lot more frightening to an urban incomer than the grittiest of the inner cities.

Laura Marshall’s second novel opens with a distraught mother watching the rape trial of her beloved elder son in 2007.  Ten years later one of the young women who gave evidence against him is still very much embroiled with members of his family and with her memories of what led up to the trial.  Marshall offers an engaging picture of two young girls from impoverished and constricting families discovering a whole world of colour, culture and charisma when some exotic incomers move into their neighbourhood.  Misunderstandings, deliberate lies, casual insensitivity and awful secrets combine to cause the inevitable disaster.  Marshall sways the reader’s sympathies this way and that before revealing the real history behind the various crimes.  I was left unconvinced by one aspect of the plot and very impressed by her compassion for her characters.  Rarely has the old ‘tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner’ seemed less appropriate to me, however much sympathy I had for the relevant character.

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