Four Quick Crime Reads

I read the last four crime books at great speed – almost slurping them in (unlike the much slower reading of the meticulously detailed and long Six Four). Each of them was satisfying in very different ways. Yes, none of them are translations, which is a bit of a shame on a #translationthurs, but they take place in Scotland, Iceland, US and …erm… Hampstead. Does that count?

oswaldJames Oswald: The Damage Done

I normally steer well clear of crime fiction which contains supernatural elements, as I feel it ‘doesn’t play fair’ with the readers and solving the case. But in this case (and it was my first Oswald novel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect), I found it woven in so plausibly and to such chilling effect, that I was won over. My full review is over on Crime Fiction Lover and I’ll be seeing the author in Lyon in April.

frasersampsonGuy Fraser-Sampson: Death in Profile

A quick, easy read for lovers of Golden Age type puzzles, this one is quite openly an homage to Dorothy Sayers and her most famous creation Lord Peter Wimsey. Implausible and oddly ‘outside time’ though this tale is, there is a lot of entertainment value in the sheer audacity of its set-up and fun interaction between its witty (and on the whole very well-behaved) characters, reminiscent of an earlier age. One for puzzle fans, although the author doesn’t play entirely fair at one point. I do love the Hampstead/Belsize Park setting too!

thiniceQuentin Bates: Thin Ice

I think that Bates is developing a Nordic comic noir style all his own, almost lampooning at times the seriousness and gloom that we have started to associate with Scandinavian crime fiction. There are touches of Fargo about the set-up of this latest in this Officer Gunnhildur series, which not only has the delightfully down-to-earth, middle-aged Gunna as the main crimebuster (think an Icelandic equivalent to Catherine in ‘Happy Valley’), but also a motley bunch of rogues and their victims hiding out in a boarded-up hotel in the middle of nowhere. A really fun read – for my in-depth review see here.

Layout 1Joe Flanagan: Lesser Evils

Europa Editions is better known for its translated literature (some of it dark, but often simply literary), so this is a bit of a departure for them. Flanagan is an American speechwriter and freelance writer and I believe this is his debut novel. It’s a recreation of Cape Cod of the late 1950s and it’s got a great sense of time and place, as far as I can tell, having lived through neither. But this is a trope that is so familiar to us from film depictions of the US during that time that I could almost imagine Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford or Charlton Heston brooding on by, under hats pulled low over their foreheads and perhaps laying aside their trench-coats for a minute because it’s summer after all.

The book shows us the darker side of the ‘golden years’ of America, with a detective, Bill Warren, who is well ahead of his time in terms of empathy, compassion, sensitivity and integrity. At times, it does feel a little hard to believe that everyone else in the book seems to be so rotten and corrupt, and that he is the single hero in search of justice and the truth. Too much Lone Ranger perhaps, and the undercurrent of Mafia influence and willingness to look away are overdone. Some readers will be repulsed by the child killings, although the scenes are never overly graphic. What kept me reading were the complex characterisations and motivations of many of the characters. All in all, an absorbing story, revealed in a way that felt fresh despite fitting well within the traditional noir canon.