Here’s a trawl of mystery, thriller and crime novels published during lock down; we stopped them slipping through the net and scooped them up on deck for your inspection:
Trouble is What I do by Walter Mosley
Mosley has created two of the most robust and entertaining detectives in modern crime fiction; Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins and, more recently, Leonid McGill. This is the latest McGill, a black gumshoe operating in contemporary New York. Trouble is What I Do is a quietly angry political novel taking a swipe at Trumpian demagoguery and the racist nature of old American money and privilege.
Politics aside; for all his flaws Leonid is likable, strong but with more soft edges than his huge frame would admit to. Leonid McGill’s complicated life and messy family affairs add rich detail to the mysteries and Mosley is a born storyteller and veritable ideas factory. This is the least complex of the McGill tales; it’s a slight story, a novella, so there aren’t so many strands to pull together. That said this is still hugely entertaining and a pulpy pleasure I wouldn’t want to forgo.
This hardboiled detective story is stylish and wholly in the best tradition of the genre; with the fun comes a bitter and brutal portrait of the black experience. I would like more meat on the bones of the story but this is an exciting read and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
W&N, hardback, ISBN 9781474616522, February, 2020.
Tokyo Traffic by Michael Pronko
A Detective Hiroshi Mystery
Tokyo Traffic is an exotic and involving read. Set in modern day Japan it is rich in local colour and culture. Diving deep into the dark underbelly of Tokyo night life; sex trafficking and the pornographic film industry – it’s fascinating, if disturbing. There’s a subtlety in this novel, the story is not only grittily real but also thought provoking and emotionally alive. It’s easy to feel for the plight of the central characters, particularly Sukanya, a child trafficked from Thailand to Tokyo’s sex industry. However, the villains are fleshed out too and more interesting for it. The first novel in The Hiroshi series, The Last Train published in 2017, promised much. Tokyo Traffic, the third in the series is a mature thriller, a nice melding of suspense, engaging detective team and a mystery with a few twists.
This is the most accomplished of the Hiroshi Mysteries. There’s a real sense of peril and a serious theme – the story of a girl lured from her home to Bangkok on the promise of a job only to be abused, beaten and transported to Japan to ‘work’ in the sex film industry. The other novels in the Hiroshi series are The Last Train (2017) and The Moving Blade (2018).
Raked Gravel Press, Paperback, 20th June, ISBN 9781942410195, also available as an eBook.
Blood Red City by Rod Reynolds
Rod Reynolds first UK set thriller is a proper page turner. The opening is really intriguing and we’re on board immediately. Blood Red City is about an investigative journalist falling foul of some very nasty villains; her investigation into a possible murder stumbles across a sinister financial conspiracy. Lydia Wright finds herself following leads that take her deep into the underbelly of the City of London. There’s plenty of jeopardy and edgy action, the sense that something even darker is just around the corner pervades. Blood Red City is topical, right up to the minute; modern London and the newspaper and financial worlds are deftly realised, Reynolds has an eye for telling detail. He also knows how to throw a curve ball at the reader and the denouement is well disguised.
Blood Red City is quite hard to define, it straddles a few sub-genres with ease, part financial thriller, part chase/adventure drama, part proto-detective tale. Make your own mind up.
This is an exciting thriller, the chase across London to find answers, witnesses, and a body, is full on. Personally I would have liked a tad more darkness but Reynolds is a very good writer, this demonstrates his versatility.
Orenda Books, paperback, 9781913193249, 11/6/20
Deep as Death by Katja Ivar.
The second Hella Mauzer thriller.
Evil Things was an impressive debut. Set in Lapland in 1952 it plumbed the depths of the Cold War and it was obvious that detective creation Hella Mauzer would be one to follow. Hella had recently moved to Ivalo in Lapland from Helsinki, where she had been the first woman in the homicide squad. Often the second novel speaks more to longevity, just so here. The impressive debut augured well but Deep as Death shows that Ivar to be an inventive storyteller with ideas in her armoury and her psychological portrait of Hella Mauzer is both subtle and fascinating. Hella is intelligent and strong, although that is tempered by the kind of blindness we all have to problems in our personal lives, she is highly competent, also a bit stubborn. I might have been tempted to call her as a rebel but as I read Deep as Death I realised that it’s not so much that as the fact that ‘she is who she is’, it’s in her DNA to be herself regardless. Hella is a woman who doesn’t consider that she is any less valuable or useful as a detective than any of the men. In fact, she’s better for not carrying some of the prejudices the men have, and that’s particularly important in this investigation of the death of a prostitute. Hella won’t be bound by patriarchal norms; ‘be a good housewife’, ‘speak when spoken to’, ‘this is no job for a woman’. She’s not a pioneer because she’s fighting a cause, she a pioneer because she’s a natural detective, it’s her. The misogyny of the age is a reflection on society’s failings which her personal driving force is in conflict with. The setting, both the local colour and character and this deeper pervading sexism and patriarchal tradition are perfectly realised.
Of course, plenty of very good women writers are creating superb female leads but the combination of background, period, location and extraordinary dynamic character arc make Hella special. In Deep as Death she’s lost her job as a police officer in Ivalo and is back in Helsinki operating as a private eye, If anything Deep as Death impressed me more than Evil Things, it’s dark, moody and chilling, I can’t wait for more…
Bitter Lemon Press paperback, June 2020, ISBN 9781912242306.
Interview with Katja Ivar:
https://nbmagazine.co.uk/interview-katja-ivar-meets-paul-burke/ Jan, 2019.
Virgin & Child Maggie Hamand.
This novel opens with the first walk about of newly elected Pope Patrick, the first Irish Bishop of Rome, he arrives in a time of turmoil within the Church. His outlook gives some measure of hope to progressives while worrying conservative elements of the Vatican Curia. However, Pope Patrick is about to discover a secret that has the power to shake the very foundations of Catholic faith.
Often when novels speak of a secret that will blow the reader’s mind it leads to anti-climax, not so here, Maggie Hamand really does present us with a devastating and shocking secret. A scenario that highlights the difficulty of modern theological thinking in a rapidly developing scientific world.
This is a novel deserving of wide public attention, it’s both thought provoking and hugely entertaining. Virgin & Child addresses some weighty themes but the novel is very accessible and while it never takes its subject lightly there’s plenty of humour and thrills here. Virgin & Child also demonstrates that a novel set in the high echelons of the Vatican can be both compassionate to the ideas of faith, the faithful and a belief in God and yet subversive and interrogative.
Virgin & Child is undoubtedly a literary novel, this is an exploration of faith and religion in the modern world. It’s philosophical and theological themes revolve around the patriarchal mind-set, the Church and societal attitudes to gender politics, (the role of women, fertility and sexuality).
Ask yourself, what would shake your faith? How devastating would a revelation have to be to cause you re-examine your fundamental understanding of the world and your beliefs? Of course, it isn’t necessary to believe in God to consider this; imagine the scientific tenets that underpin your life crumbling. The secret at the heart of Virgin & Child causes Pope Patrick and the inner circle of Vatican power to feel the world has tilted from its axis. As to the secret – each reader needs to come to it for themselves, first reactions are crucial. Be open minded, this is not an attack on faith but it questions outdated values, beaurcracy, and patriarchy. The novel is not flip with faith, the point is not whether you accept the interpretation or even the premise, but whether you engage with it. Surely, a faith that can’t stand criticism or examination is no faith at all?
Maggie Hamand was the first winner of the World One Day Novel Cup, for The Resurrection of the Body, she is a theologian, publisher, teacher and writer. Her books are unique, bold, and challenging none more so than Virgin & Child.
ISBN: 9781909954342, Barbican Press, hardback, April, 2020.
Rogue by James Swallow.
The fifth Marc Dane/Rubicon thriller.
Rogue is a high octane thriller, perfect escapism. There’s action a plenty in this new high tech, up to the minute, version of a James Bond style adventure but without the misogyny and stereotyping of old. The women characters are just as tough as the men and are portrayed as rounded individuals and the team leader is black African. Although I enjoyed Shadow (2019) I thought it was a little off the pace this is a massive return to form. Action flows into action, there’s hardly time to draw breath and it all connects up very smoothly. The story is about the survival of Rubicon itself against seen and unseen enemies who are coming for them. Once again Marc Dane and his partner Lucy Keyes are thrown into a maelstrom of treachery and deception, violence and mayhem. Swallow proves that it is possible to write a full on action/adventure novel that thrills and is alive to modern sensibilities. The jaunt through modern-tech and across the globe is as much fun as ever. Fans will love this latest instalment in the Marc Dane series, newcomers this would not be a had place to start.
Zaffre hardback, 9781838770556, 30/5/20, £12.99.
A Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker
Every avid crime fiction reader has glaring gaps in their library, the Chief Inspector Bruno novels of Martin Walker are one of mine – until now. As the Dordogne mysteries reach a baker’s dozen I make my first foray into the crime world of the Périgord region of France and find myself wishing I could be there for real – murderer/criminals on the loose or not! Covid-19 aside the Dordogne tourist board must be thankful for Walker’s novels for their love of place and beautiful descriptions of local life, (this is Walker’s own home). The setting is superb; the sense of community and camaraderie, of small town friendships and interconnectivity, feels very authentic and genuinely warm. The novel has a very easy, almost laid-back style and the way the mystery plays out fits snuggly into that and yet there is depth here and the tension and darkness do ramp up significantly. There’s a wonderful contrast between the beauty of the landscape and nefarious dealings that surface through Bruno’s investigation. This is consummate storytelling, a highly entertaining read.
It all begins with suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of a local farmer. This is a gentle but also substantial murder mystery, a rough one for Bruno. Nothing is forced, the early signs of darkness are masked by the idyllic setting but nonetheless its brewing away. This is a seductive and engaging read. It’s a satisfying mystery that almost appears to be giving too much away at the beginning as we find out more about farmer Driant’s death but there is much more going on. Some way in A Shooting at Chateau Rock readers will realise that it hasn’t actually happened yet, the story is building to it, engendering a sense of anticipation. A complex and relevant modern mystery unfolds slowly. Martin Walker was a superb journalist and it turns out he’s a very good crime novelist too. Highly recommended fun.
Quercus hardback, ISBN 9781787477681, May 25th.
The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith.
Eventually the Crisis came and nothing ever returned to normal:
‘Twenty years after they were imposed, emergency border controls and trade embargoes will remain in place for the thirteen countries who do not yet meet the international health risk standards…’
In The Waiting Rooms everyone in the post Crisis world lives in fear. The world has become a very dangerous place, antibiotics are rationed and no one over seventy is eligible, a simple injury or infection could spell death. A few mutations, an uncontrollable pandemic and this future could become a reality.
This novel might have been a greater feat of imagination for readers if it weren’t for the real tragedy of Covid-19 and the lock-down which has revealed just how different our world could become in a very short space to time. If ever a book hit the zeitgeist it’s this one. A few months ago I could imagine readers enjoying The Waiting Rooms but seeing it as pure fiction rather than possible reality. Reading The Waiting Rooms is very different experience now, this dystopian world isn’t far fetched at all, it’s scarily plausible! Covid-19 shows how prescient and grounded this novel is.
What happens if antibiotics no longer work? The possibility is very real, it’s a problem that is slowly being addressed recently after years, if not decades, of medical science and governments burying their heads in the sand. Eve Smith has used this urgent debate as a catalyst for a gripping ‘what if?’ scenario that will chill your bones as you read:
“No one touches each other’s hands anymore. Not unless they’re intimate.”
The Waiting Rooms is such a good title, it sounds innocuous, conjures up images of boredom, and is so typical of the human need to hide the real meaning of something terrible, as if that normalises it. The use of language in the novel is very clever. Smith creates two fascinating time lines, pre and post Crisis. The characters and their personal stories are emotional and very relatable. This is a novel set in an extraordinary landscape, dystopian and frightening but it deals with age old issues of grief and loss, even euthanasia and most of all what makes us human. I don’t accept the premise that people want fluff in times of crisis, personally I want real and I want challenging. This novel is dark and may make you uncomfortable but there are some essential truths best not ignored.
Orenda Books, paperback, July. Isbn 9781913193263, available as eBook now.
The Butcher of Casablanca by Abdelilah Hamdouchi.
From Morocco have we have Kasbah-noir. Crime fiction infused with the fragrant spices of the Casablanca souks, there’s plenty of local colour and culture in this new and exciting setting for the murder mystery. Hamdouchi was one of the first writers to address an Arabic speaking audience through crime fiction and this translation by Peter Daniel allows readers in the US and the UK to access a different take on the genre that comes from the particular socio-political background in Morocco and the culture of the Arab world. A lot of this novel is about the relationships between characters, and between the past and the present and even comparisons between mundane and more exotic murder, (most crimes practically solve themselves). This is a competent police procedural, the second to feature detective Hanash, after Bled Dry in 2017. I haven’t read Bled Dry but I have read Hamdouchi’s slightly earlier novel The Final Bet (2016) which was intriguing but this novel is more polished, better at achieving what it set out to do.
The Butcher of Casablanca is entertaining, at times very funny but it always has that thread of social critique about it that pulls the reader up, we are laughing at dark things sometimes. Personally I love this insight into a country I know very little about but if you’re a fan of the type of serial killer novel that reeks of blood and revels in the gruesome thus terrifying the reader this is not for you. This is a much more subtle novel, a more intelligent novel, closer to the literary thriller model. In The Butcher of Casablanca the dark is tempered by humour, the social setting and the investigation are not intended to foster a full on thrill fest. The terror is reserved for the characters in the book, the people of the city, the killer on the loose unsettles a society that is not used to such a crime occurring in its midst. The readers involvement is detached from that fear and the attitudes it engenders, focused more on what the novel says about crime, policing, class and society in Morocco. The mystery alone would not sustain this book, the crime has significance in other ways. It’s a measure by which other tragedies are measured, other crimes, societal norms, even the past:
‘Repression in exchange for security: the ideal situation for reducing crime rates.’
‘New era’ policing is very different from the way it was done in the past, less brutal but also less lucrative for the police. In the ‘old era’, when the Interior Ministry were in charge, the experience of a suspect in police hands was bleak, guilty or not you were likely to confess. Guilty or not you might never return from the police station. It was a ‘nadir for human rights’; illegal detentions, torture and extra judicial murder, there were no come backs. Even to speak of this would have wound you up in jail.
Hamdouchi sets the scene with a recap of the country’s past, of Hanash’s past. Now Hanash is chief of detectives, responsible for the investigation of the most serious crimes in the city. While he might appear to be an ordinary policeman he is a product of that earlier time, came up in one system and now lives in the more liberal other, (although there are radical threats to the new democratic way). This dark past is in contrast with the first image of Hanash, when we meet him here he setting out on a normal family holiday. A workaholic hoping he can some how get out of the trip. It’s also a reminder that the real horror in this story is the scarring of the past, a brutal, repressive unaccountable regime and a rigid class structure not the apparition that is the serial killer who stalks the pages. This is crime fiction as social critique as much as it is a ‘who done it?’
The novel highlights the plight of the policeman out of his depth, under pressure for results, but wily and sharp. There’s a lot about the family in the novel and more ordinary crime, however, what the serial killer is up to is an interesting revelation.
The Butcher of Casablanca is intriguing and insightful, unless you’ve read Hamdouchi before I doubt you’ll have read a crime novel like this before.
Hoopoe Fiction, AUC Press, 9789774169687, On sale now.
When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby.
A convincing and gripping tale of a wartime love triangle entangled in intrigue and the tragedy of war. When We Fall maintains a balance between thrills, adventure and romance creating a rounded and emotionally engaged tale, a rich reading experience. This is a reminder that wars are about individual actions, individual courage, it’s the little contributions that make up the bigger picture. This story explores the, sadly and predictably, neglected role of women during the Second World War and the Katyn massacre.
When We Fall set in Poland and England during WWII. The idea for this novel came to Kirby, before she wrote Cora Burns, when she saw the 2008 obituary of Diana Barnato Walker, one of the women air auxiliary pilots who flew planes across Britain to fighting squadrons during the conflict. That said, this book was clearly written after Cora Burns, and has the feel of a second novel, more comfortable in style, exactly what you would expect from a really good writer. When We Fall is more confident, the writing flows naturally and the narrative is more direct and a little freer. Kirby combines momentous events and personal drama beautifully, the setting is spot on and clearly a lot of research went into this book which flavours but doesn’t encumber the story.
An engaging thought provoking read that may appeal more to a female readership because of its romantic theme but then male readers would be missing out.
Published by No Exit Press, paperback, 7th May, £12.99, ISBN: 9780857303950.
Bent by Joe Thomas
A pacy crime novel set in early 60s Soho, contemporary in style but firmly rooted in period. This is a landscape of clubs, gangsters, girls, punters and cops; there’s an air of menace, a stench of corruption and decay. The protagonist is infamous real life copper Harold ‘Tanky’ Challenor; London legend, war hero, corrupt policeman and possibly certifiable ‘lunatic’. A man with a lousy sense of humour and a brutal sense of justice. Tanky is a loner, he means to clean up his patch, the how is not so important, any criminal in his sights is fair game. Tanky’s got a plan – set the thugs against each other, get them fired up enough to make mistakes and then pounce on them. A fit-up is fine, after all they’re all guilty of something. If it comes to a battle of wills, or fists for that matter, Tanky only knows how to win, he’s always on the attack. He’s non-stop – a man on a mission, booze fuelled, sleep deprived, driven. It won’t end well for the villains but it won’t end well for Tanky either; career peak ’62 – career end ’64. At his own trial he contemplates letting down Doris, his wife, while the court decides if he’s fit to plead or not.
This is a quick read and yet it’s rich in detail and story, it’s not just the narrative drive it’s the style that is exciting. This is one hell of a story, an indelible part of London history, folklore, made real, earthy and bitter sweet. You may know the glamour, the pop, the style of the sixties, this is the other side of the coin – darker, grittier, real. Tanky went to battle twice, once during the war, then again in 60s Soho.
This is the first novel in a loosely connected trilogy of London books that will deal with the cities recent history. Thomas is a fine writer, getting better with each book. Many readers will know his work through the Mario Leme quartet set in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which will be completed in march next year when the fourth volume, Brazilian Psycho, is published.
Arcadia Books, April 30, paperback, £9.99.
Fall Out by M N Grenside.
Plenty of it and super nasty bad guys and stories so outrageously crazy they can only be true. We got McGuffin plotlines, the real deal (buried treasure), assassins, WWII, war criminals, dodgy coincidence, plot twisting surprises, Apocalypse Now, the fall of Saigon, a Buddha, the Cannes film festival and locations galore: Switzerland, France, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, and California. There’s film people and nice people – actually, scratch the last one, there are no nice people. With all that in mind – you aint seen nothing yet.
I just had a lot of fun letting this book carry me away. The story sounds kind of complex with plots inside the plot but it’s so well done by Grenside that it’s easy to follow. Firmly tongue in cheek and yet with enough excitement that it doesn’t just become farce. There’s parody and pastiche and boundless energy but also the exploitation of a clever idea.
Fall Out is inventive and, at times intentionally filmic, it’s about a script that could be a gold mine and a deadly secret connected to a unexplained unfinished film project that wrecked a number of careers. This novel has that insider humour that lampoons the preposterous over blown, skewed nature of Hollywood while still feeling the love we all share for the film capital of the world. From the opening where Sam Wood, writer, takes a bullet in an unnecessarily complicated assassination The fun doesn’t stop for 440 pages. The hit is made to look like a robbery/stabbing which it just as easily could have been in the first place – but hell! That’s not Hollywood: think big, outlandish, strange.
Some films are murder – literally!
Grenside is working on the follow up novel Bastion which will be released in 2021. I’ll be looking out for that.
URBANE Publications, available as eBook now, paperback 21/5/20, ISBN 9781912666751
Wild Dog by Serge Joncour.
‘People tend to forget past catastrophes just as they fail to see new ones developing.’
Aint that the truth! Everything is so dominated by Covid-19 at the moment that I can’t help reading a sentence like this without it slapping me in the face, it seems so relevant. Chien-Loup was published in France two years ago, and, of course, this has nothing to do with the current crisis. On the other hand, as this book is taking a long hard look at what it is that speaks to our humanity that little observation is spot on.
Wild Dog reflects on our capacity to forget, to be taken by surprise over and over again, learning little from history, constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel and in doing so losing our sense of what it is that distinguishes us from the animals. This is an immensely powerful read examining our place in the world. If reasoning distinguishes us why is it so easily diverted by primal instincts? How come we are capable of greater transgressions against our own and other kind than other species exhibit? This is nothing less than a rumination on our coexistence with nature.
Wild Dog is a magnificent philosophical thriller and an equally stunning read. Every word matters, each thought runs into the next with purpose and clarity. This is a perfect example of the power, energy and insight of French crime fiction. Brunet examines the psychology of a family and a small town, Joncour tackles even grander themes around the psychological impetuses of mankind in the context of a riveting mystery. On the back of this one novel I would say Joncour ranks with Vargas and Lemaitre in his exploration of morally complex issues. Set over two time frames over a century apart Wild Dog tells a unique story with style and wit. This is a novel pregnant with suspense and unpredictability, wickedly tense and portentous, doom laden. The parallels and connection between the two stories are far more apparent than the paths the stories will take, the themes are clear, the mystery is something Joncour manages to maintain to the end.
Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter with a substantial body of work behind him but Wild Dog is his first novel translated into English, something accomplished beautifully by Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh. Winner of the Prix Landerneau Des Lecteurs 2018. I can only hope that more will follow.
GALLIC BOOKS, paperback, March ISBN 9781910977793
The Devil by Nadia Dalbuono
The Devil is the fifth novel in the Leone Scamarcio series and is a welcome return for one of Italy’s most distinctive and intriguing fictional detectives which is saying something given the competition. Despite a CWA Steel Dagger longlisting and critical praise the Scamarcio novels are still not making it to the big time, which is a literary injustice. Dalbuono is as good as Michael Dibdin, Madeleine Nabb or Donna Leon, maybe more niche, certainly her novels are darker, more intense and stronger on the social critique but they are easily as well written as any of the above. If like me you’re heavily into Italian crime writers the comparisons could be made with the best there too, I have no hesitation in comparing her work to de Giovanni, Carlotto, Lucarelli, and Saviano when it comes to her understanding of the dark heart of Italian society. To date this is a fine series and The Devil carries on in that vein. The opener in 2014, The Few, introduced Scamarcio, the cop with a father in the mafia trying to get out from under the cloud of suspicion that always hangs over him. Given the nature of the cases he’s had to deal with Scamarcio has been forced back on old relationships from time to time, often caught between the police and his family connections – just who the good guys are is not always clear. In the Devil he’s a much more settled character but still an outsider, still edgy, he’s about to become a father and is terrified by the prospect. Scamarcio is a lone wolf, quick to anger and not good with people. This is exemplified in The Devil in the tension between Scamarcio and Inspector General of the Vatican police, Davide Cafaro, who is insinuates himself into the murder investigation because a Cardinal is involved. Of course, Scamarcio is intent on bulldozing his way in as usual. The Devil is a dark slow burn murder mystery with a satisfying denouement. The novel is rich in setting; Rome, it’s politics, religion, power and corruption. The story is populated with interesting characters but none more so than Scamarcio, a detective who can carry a story. This is an intelligent grounded thriller, the latest in one of the best police procedural series currently being written. If crime writing this good to being overlooked it is criminal.
SCRIBE UK paperback, ISBN 9781911617945, March, £8.99
Summer of Reckoning by Marion Brunet
This clever psychological crime thriller has a depth you might expect of a much larger literary novel. Of course, the French have never been snobbish about the crime versus contemporary literature divide and aren’t afraid of exploring complex themes in this genre, even so this is an exceptional read. An utterly gripping story of small town mores and the dark side of human nature. The Summer of Reckoning is elegantly written and beautifully structured, every sentence is relevant, each passage is heavy with meaning. The constant comparison and contrast between now and the past, between generations is sharply observed and very striking.
Summer of Reckoning revolves around an apparently simple event, the unexpected pregnancy of a young girl, but Brunet manages to weave a complex and involving tale that not only encompasses the girl and her family but says something about the whole community, an exposé of the mentality of a hamlet trying to hold back the tide, as if the modern world will go away if ignored. The characters are so well drawn that the impact of the pregnancy can be witnesses through attitudes and reactions across the community and when people react it’s often with poisonous results born of their own failings and failures. Céline’s pregnancy sparks a storm but it’s clear that the family, the hamlet already had many problems. The tension is palpable; jealousy, anger, anxiety, thwarted dreams, envy, spite, machismo, racism, brutality – a cornucopia of raw feelings all building towards a tragic event.
This portrait of a family and the hamlet is heavy with an atmosphere of poverty, of failing spirit and outdated attitudes and with the mental torpor and dissatisfaction of unfulfilled lives. It’s a touching portrait of two very different teenager girls and their poor start in life but both have spirit. Is Jo’s escape to a new job temporary? Is there hope here?
A powerful novel that crackles with a malignant energy. It’s easy to see why this brilliant novel was the winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, 2018. This is a wonderful translation by Katherine Gregor.
Bitter Lemon Press, March, ISBN 9781912242269.
The Final Game by Caimh McDonnell
Comedian Caimh McDonnell turned to crime writing a while back and fair play he’s pretty damn good at it. There’s plenty of variety in this list of novels but there’s nothing else quite like this – The Final Game is like Black Books meets Knives Out set in Ireland. I’ve read all four volumes of the Dublin trilogy and dallied with Bunny McGarry’s America sojourn and enjoyed them all – runaway plots, wise cracking characters and laughs – the literary equivalent of having some craic. The final Game is a bit different, by necessity the story is more contained, the long set up is essential, consequently this is a slower build. When it comes to the humour there’s more down time, more careful plotting. It’s actually something that might make the novel more accessible to a wider readership. The blurb says this is an ideal starting point for new readers, I’d absolutely agree with that. This is a one off tale that demonstrates McDonnell, who can handle the short con, is equipped for the long game too.
Paul Mulchrone has good reason for missing the call to tell him Dorothy Graham is dead. He’s in the middle of a sting operation set up by his girlfriend Brigit, MCM investigations. At a remote warehouse he’s the only one without a gun and maybe the only one who hasn’t killed anybody before. The operation goes belly up but Paul comes out the other end in time for Dorothy’s funeral. The fun really starts with the reading of the will. The family are going to have to play a game, a winner takes all adventure, a test of mental and physical ability – The Money Game, (read Hunger Games). Paul isn’t a relative but Dorothy wants him in the game, she leaves him a letter, she wants him to stop her loathed relatives getting their hands on ‘all the marbles’, and to find out who killed her. The Garda say there are no suspicious circumstances. Brigit hires ex-cop, grieving widower, Jimmy Stewart to help with that. And so it begins…
If I have a quibble it’s that The Final Game is perhaps a little too long but it never looses it’s enjoyable bounce and at times it’s very funny. McDonnell is inventive and knows how to weave a story. Pure escapism. McDonnell has two new novels out this year, Welcome to Nowhere, (August), and The Quiet Man, (October).
McFori Ink, paperback, ISBN 9781912897100, March 2020.
Tell me there’s something there you like surely?