With Father’s Day just a few weeks away (Sunday 16th June), the editor [Hello! – Erin] suggested that I keep an eye out at CrimeFest* last week for ideal gift books, so here are a few recommendations:

A Private Investigator Novel:

Murder in Bel Air by Cara Black (6th June, 2019)

The Blurb: Aimie Leduc is about to go onstage to give the keynote address at a tech conference that is sure to secure the Leduc Detective Agency some much-needed business contracts, when she gets an emergency phone call from her infant daughter’s playgroup: Aimie’s own mother, who was supposed to pick Chloe up, never showed. Abandoning her hard-won speaking gig, Aimie rushes to get Chloe, annoyed that, yet again, her mother has let her down. But as Aimie and Chloe are leaving the playground, Aimie witnesses the body of a homeless woman being wheeled away from the neighbouring convent, where nuns run a soup kitchen. The last person anyone saw the dead woman talking to was Aimie’s mother – who has vanished. Trying to figure out what happened to Sydney Leduc, Aimee tracks down the dead woman’s possessions, which include a huge amount of cash. What did Sydney stumble into? Is she in trouble?

PB: This is number 19 in the series, I’ve read six or so and I’ve enjoyed every one of those. Black says there are no plans to stop producing this brilliant series about the Franco-American detective in Paris, which is good news for PI fans. When I heard Black introduce her book I knew it was one for me, a simple but intriguing premise. Long-term fans will be pleased that we finally get to know more about Aimee’s mother.

Action Thriller:

Sleeper: The Red Storm by JD Fennell (2018)

The Blurb: 1943. Sleeper spy Will Starling has been drafted into the SOE, joining forces with the French Resistance in the fight against the Nazis; but Will’s memory is fractured and only occasional flashbacks reveal fragments of his past. Despite this, he has not forgotten his pledge to find and rescue his sister, Rose – if she is still alive. When his mission in France is compromised, Will suspects he’s been betrayed. Back in London he hears that VIPER are developing a new and deadly weapon. As he and MI5 agent Anna Wilder set out to destroy it, their every move is anticipated by their enemies. Who is the mole in the British Secret Service? As they close in on VIPER’s Swiss headquarters, it seems no one can be trusted. Are Will and Anna able to prevent the unleashing of the Red Storm that will bring mass destruction on a scale even the Nazis haven’t dreamt of? While Will tries to save the world, Rose has become the key to VIPER’s future plans and is drugged to dull her kinetic powers. But Rose faces danger from an unexpected enemy and her time is running out.

PB: Northern Irish writer Fennell says that historical novels reflect on modern society and growing up at during the Troubles plays into his work. This is a slightly left-field choice, there weren’t many full-on action thriller writers at the festival and this one is a crime novel with a supernatural feel to it, so be sure your father is open to that. Otherwise, this sounds like an awful lot of fun.

Historical Crime:

The Conviction of Cora Burns  by Carolyn Kirby (April, 2019)

The Blurb: Birmingham, 1885. Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her. Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of scientist Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment. But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora…? Carolyn Kirby’s stunning debut takes the reader on a heart-breaking journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts.

PB: The Conviction of Cora Burns is a rich, multi-layered tapestry of a novel, with many strands woven ingeniously together to create a compellingly intricate tale with a powerful heroine at its heart. It’s an accomplished and immersive debut that is sure to delight historical fiction fans, as well as anyone seeking an insightful and intricate read. It’s a well trodden period of history – perfect for a reader open to a story that features science but also the experience of women at the time.

Friends and Traitors by John Lawton (April, 2019)

The Blurb: It is 1958. Chief Superintendent Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard, newly promoted after good service during Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Britain, is not looking forward to a Continental trip with his older brother, Rod. Rod was too vain to celebrate being fifty so instead takes his entire family on ‘the Grand Tour’ for his fifty-first birthday: Paris, Siena, Florence, Vienna, Amsterdam. Restaurants, galleries and concert halls. But Frederick Troy never gets to Amsterdam. After a concert in Vienna he is approached by an old friend whom he has not seen for years – Guy Burgess, a spy for the Soviets, who says something extraordinary: ‘I want to come home.’ Troy dumps the problem on MI5 who send an agent to debrief Burgess – but when the man is gunned down only yards from the embassy, the whole plan unravels with alarming speed and Troy finds himself a suspect. As he fights to prove his innocence, Troy discovers that Burgess is not the only ghost who has returned to haunt him…

PB: Once seen never forgotten, John Lawton is a natty dresser and he is also a consummate thriller writer. His Troy series is a chronicle of the mid-twentieth century, 1930s to 1960s. Friends and Traitors also falls into the police procedural category.

Police Procedurals:

Deadland by William Shaw (May 2019)

The Blurb: YOU CAN RUN – The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it. YOU CAN HIDE – On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law. YOU CAN DIE – But as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide. Kent and its social divisions are brilliantly captured in Deadland, a crime thriller that’s as ingeniously unguessable as it is moving and powerful.

PB: As police procedurals, go this is up there with the best of the current crop, if you want a page turning crime novel Deadland fits the bill. But for me there has to be more, I want a novel that examines the links between society, lifestyle, background and crime and I love the energy and drive of Deadland. This second novel in the DS Alexandra Cupidi Investigations series is an excellent read.

Rogue Killer by Leigh Russell (May, 2019)

The Blurb: A man is killed in apparently random attack, and suspicion falls on a gang of muggers. Only Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel thinks this is the work of a more deliberate murderer. Two more victims are discovered, after further seemingly indiscriminate attacks. The muggers are tracked down, with tragic consequences. And all the while the killer remains at large. When Geraldine finally manages to track down a witness, she finds her own life is in danger…

PB: A fast-paced thriller that proves that the British crime fiction is alive and well, up to the minute and thoroughly exciting. Russell is one of the best exponents of the police procedural and Geraldine Steel is an idea character to centre her thrillers. The new location of York is an excellent backdrop. Rogue Killer has the essential edge of darkness and mix of contemporary themes that make it realistic and relevant.

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Unfortunately, none of the following will be out in time for Father’s Day, but they are well worth keeping an eye out for in the future:

Joe Country by Mick Herron (20th June, 2019)

The blurb: ‘We’re spies,’ said Lamb. ‘All kinds of outlandish shit goes on.’ Like the ringing of a dead man’s phone, or an unwelcome guest at a funeral . . . In Slough House memories are stirring, all of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process. Meanwhile, in Regent’s Park, Diana Taverner’s tenure as First Desk is running into difficulties. If she’s going to make the Service fit for purpose, she might have to make deals with a familiar old devil . . . And with winter taking its grip Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can’t ignore the dried blood on his carpets. So when the man responsible breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score. This time, they’re heading into joe country. And they’re not all coming home.

PB: There’s something of the modern state of Britain in Mick Herron irreverent and truly brilliant Slough House series. Take a bunch of has-beens, misfit spies, ‘the slow horses’, put them all together and they will wreck havoc – but they get there in the end, sort of. Herron has that the same dry, dead pan, humour on a panel that comes across in his novels, very satisfying to find that out. Edward Wilson, Alan Judd, and one or two others are at the top of the spy game but the Iron Throne belongs to Mick Herron.

Wolves at the Door by Gunnar Staalesen (4th July, 2019)

The Blurb: One dark January night a car drives at high speed towards PI Varg Veum, and comes very close to killing him. Veum is certain this is no accident, following so soon after the deaths of two jailed men who were convicted for their participation in a case of child pornography and sexual assault … crimes that Veum himself once stood wrongly accused of committing. While the guilty men were apparently killed accidentally, Varg suspects that there is something more sinister at play … and that he’s on the death list of someone still at large. Fearing for his life, Veum begins to investigate the old case, interviewing the victims of abuse and delving deeper into the brutal crimes, with shocking results. The wolves are no longer in the dark … they are at his door. And they want vengeance.

PB: Staalesen is a classy writer of PI fiction in the hard-boiled vein. His books are set in Bergen, Norway. There’s a reason why Varg Veum is so enduring – he’s a great anti-hero. Staalesen is one of the founding authors of Nordic Noir. I kid you not, there is a statue of Varg Veum in his home town.

Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide by Barry Forshaw (October, 2019).

The Blurb: Are you a lover of crime fiction looking for new discoveries or hoping to rediscover old favourites? Look no further. There are few contemporary guides that cover everything from the golden age to current bestselling writers from America, Britain and all across the world, but the award-winning Barry Forshaw, one of the UK’s leading experts in the field, has provided a truly comprehensive survey with definitive coverage. Every major writer is included, along with many other more esoteric choices. Focusing on a key book (or books) by each writer, and with essays on key crime genres, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (with a foreword by Ian Rankin) is designed to be both a crime fan’s shopping list and a pithy, opinionated but unstuffy reference tool and history. Most judgements are generous (though not uncritical), and there is a host of entertaining, informed entries on related films and TV.

PB: Forshaw’s guides are essential reading for die hard crime fans. Tons of information and insight into crime novels and the sub-genres. Forshaw also brings a touch of the personal, a bit of character to his encyclopaedia/guide. This would make a good Christmas book (sorry!).

The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl (11th July, 2019)

The Blurb: How do you mend a broken heart? It’s been three months since Alison Miller-Juul’s world fell apart when her six-year-old daughter, Amalie, died in an accident. Three months of sympathy cards, grief counselling and gritting her teeth, but it’s still only the vodka and pills that seem to help. Across town, Iselin Berg’s life is finally looking up. Her seven-year-old daughter, Kaia, has survived a life-changing operation. After years of doctors, medication and hope, they can now start thinking about the future. When Alison uncovers a dangerous secret, she is left in turmoil. She can now see a way to heal her broken heart, but will she risk everything to do so?

PB: Last year’s The Boy at the Door was spooky and original, stylish and scary but ultimately very realistic. I can’t wait to see what Dahl comes up with next.

Also of note: H.B. Lyle, author of The Irregular and The Red Ribbon ,is adapting those novels for TV and, similarly, Mick Herron’s Slough House novels are to be adapted for TV.

*CrimeFest is an international convention of crime writers, readers, bloggers, journalists, and publishers held in Bristol every May.

Paul Burke
May 2019