October Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

Published by Orion UK/ Little,Brown US

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Shell Game by Sara Paretsky

Published by Hodder & Stoughton UK/ Wm Morrow US

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Tombland by C. J. Sansom

Published by Mantle UK/Mulholland US

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When Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle

Published by Cassava Republic

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The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus

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Many crime writers with long careers intersperse series novels with standalones to refresh their imagination and keep readers entertained.  Sometimes it works and sometimes readers long for the familiar characters they love.

Ian Rankin, who decided at the beginning of his series that John Rebus would age in real time, has kept his promise to the reader.  Rebus is now a grandfather, retired and ill.  He has what used to be called emphysema and is now known as COPD.  He can barely climb a flight of stairs without difficulty.  But his protegée DISiobhan Clarke still turns to him when she has a tough case to investigate.  Here he is helping both with a case involving a decomposed body found in the boot of an abandoned car and with a more personal investigation of the stalker who is spraying graffiti on her front door and subjecting her to silent phone calls.  The plot is so complicated that the reader must concentrate hard, and at times it seems a little hard to care just which villain had it in for which drug dealer, but the pleasures offered by Rebus and Siobhan remain.

Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski is a lot healthier than Rebus and can still run and fight, but she has not lost any of her determination to protect the vulnerable and expose the greedy and powerful.  In Shell Game a nephew of her beloved Dr Lotte Herschel becomes a murder suspect when his phone number is found in the pocket of an unidentified corpse.  Only a little later, a niece of V. I.’s dreadful ex-husband turns up begging for help in tracing her twin, who has disappeared from a Chicago apartment.  As V. I. does her best to help both families, while keeping her existing (and paying) clients happy, they all become embroiled in some very modern crimes, which stretch across the globe.  In all her efforts V. I. is both helped and hindered by her downstairs neighbour, Mr Contreras, who would be about a hundred years old in real time.  V. I. is as engaging as she has always been and the battles she chooses are important ones.  This is one of the great series of twentieth- and twenty-first-century crime fiction.

C.J. Sansom has written only nine novels, but he became established as one of the genre’s stars very early in his impressive career. The latest novel, Tombland, features his hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, in the investigation of a peculiar murder and also in Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk during the reign of Edward VI. Sansom has the enviable ability to mix serious research with easy prose and great storytelling, and he has added some touching human relationships to this story of privation, cruelty, and punishment.

A much more recent figure on the crimewriting scene is journalist Leye Adenle, whose brave heroine, Amaka, was introduced in his first novel, Easy Motion Tourist, fighting to protect the sex workers of Lagos.  A lawyer and the daughter of an ambassador, Amaka has more options than many of the beautiful, intelligent, often well-educated young women who are forced to become the playthings of rich and powerful men, but she puts herself at terrible risk to expose their tormenters.  Adenle’s portrait of a political class that is corrupt in every way is as terrifying as his account of the casual brutality that exists everywhere in the city.

Elly Griffiths has won crowds of admirers with her series about archaeologist Ruth Galloway, but now she has moved away from Ruth and her East Anglian adventures with a fascinating novel about gothic fiction and murder.  Clare Cassidy is a single mother and teacher of English literature and creative writing.  She is quite as appealing as Ruth, and so is her teenage daughter, Georgie.  The novel consists of a clever intertwining of narratives, which show us Clare’s life through sections of her diary, the investigation of a series of murders carried out in and around the school, and chunks of the gothic short story Clare uses in her creative-writing course.  In spite of the narrative complexity, the novel is easy to read, and the mother-daughter relationship is absolutely convincing in its mixture of frankness and secrecy.

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