December already – with Christmas creeping up on us here are a few new books that might take your fancy. Treat yourself or someone you love, there’s a lot of really good crime fiction out there this year.

The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis. The second of Ellis’ Brontë mysteries is a delight to read. The famous writerly sisters are drawn out of their Yorkshire parsonage to confront thieves and cut-throats in the grand metropolis – London. It’s a cosy crime tale and fans of the writers will instantly get it’s charm despite its criminal invention. Likewise crime fans with a literary interest will also love it. Everything from the author’s pseudonym, which pays homage to the sisters’ pen names, demonstrates Rowan Coleman’s understanding and admiration of the Brontës. That includes a sympathetic portrait of troubled brother Branwell, a broken individual looking for redemption in helping his sisters in their London caper. The voices of Charlotte, Emily and Anne are credible and there’s plenty we know about the real sisters that chimes with these characters. Each has their familiar traits; timidity, boldness, fire and reticence but each is nuanced and thoughtfully portrayed. The mystery also riffs on other literary sources of the time but is more then homage. Red Monarch also has a couple of intriguing twists.

Lydia Roxby is abed with her husband when the men burst into the room and threaten them with blades and clubs. Harry is dragged from her arms, accused by the leader of stealing from him. Pregnant Lydia jumps to her husband’s defence to the amusement of Mr Noose, lord of the St Giles Rookery, the worst thieves and murderers in all London. Taking a liking to Lydia’s spirit Mr Noose offers her a pact. The jewels are more important than revenge. Return the jewels her husband took and all will be forgiven. Harry says the man supposed to deliver the jewels to him never showed up he has no idea where they are. Lydia has one week to find them or Harry will be killed and she will be hunted down to share his fate. With no idea where to start Lydia accepts the deal and Harry is dragged away.

Lydia writes to her mentor Anne Brontë at the parsonage in Howarth. The sister’s are reluctant to leave. After all Lydia’s bed is of her own making, having run away with Harry, become estranged from her mother and fallen into bad company. Yet Anne feels responsible for her former charge and eventually they agree to head to the city. Branwell will not be left behind. London is everything they had imagined, noisy, dirty, vast and treacherous. Fully in Lydia’s confidence they must figure out a way of saving Harry – the clock is ticking.

Teeming with details of the Brontës, of the times and the city, this is such a pleasurable read. Light but intelligent.

Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, out now

Personal/group read 5*

House with No Doors by Jeff Noon

This is a genuinely spooky read. I was hooked from the strange and intriguing opening that leaves you feeling dread for what might have happened in the house where the police find a dead man – an apparent suicide.  House with No Doors is a proper page turner and as you try to keep up with how odd details hint at dark doings the plot will confound you. A familiar set up is flipped completely as the story unfolds.

The novel opens in 1962, a peasouper has settled on London again. The smog kills, you literally can’t see your hand in font of your face. People fall in the canals and wander miles in the wrong direction. In Soho a woman leans against lamppost, unable to move, blood dripping to the ground from a hidden wound. 1981, detective Hobbes is trying to ignore the phone call from his ex-wife, he doesn’t know what to say to Glenda anymore. His phone rings again this time it’s DS Meg Latimer, they’ve got a strange one, he needs to see it for himself.

The house is a time warp, everything stuck in the 1950s. The body of the old man is in the kitchen, he’s sitting at the table, vodka and pills in front of him. He wearing his best suit, a bound scar on his wrist – classic suicide. The neighbour says Leonard was ill, he never got over his wife. So Hobbes wonders why it was worth dragging him out for this. In the front room is a dress, floral, torn, blood smeared on the slash. In all there are fourteen such dresses, some with Graves blood, others animal blood or paint. Hobbes searches, the house is a warren, then scratched on the wall in the cellar is: RIP Adeline. Though he’s supposed to be missing his wife Mary a note in his pocket says ‘Dearest Adeline, I’m so sorry. For everything.’ Hobbes is now convinced there is something sinister in the cellar and seeks the son’s permission to dig it up looking for a body. Meanwhile Glenda has been visited by their estranged son Martin, he didn’t look well, he wanted money, he hit her. Martin is 17 and living in a squat in Peckham. But is there something more sinister about the people he is with.  While dealing with his son Hobbes digs into Leonard’s family history, secrets emerge but who on earth is Adeline?

A mystery that gets increasingly creepy, avoids some obvious tropes and remains intriguing all the way to the denouement. A police procedural with interesting characters that borders on the Gothic.

Black Swan, Penguin paperback, ISBN 9781784163549, out now

Personal/group read 4*

New & Recommended

 

Dohany Street Adam LeBor – The third Balthazar Kovacs thriller set in Budapest in 2016. Elad Harrari, a young Israeli historian has gone missing. Elad was investigating the fate of Hungarian Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Plenty of twists and turns in this intelligent and pacy tale. (Head of Zeus).

The Killing Hills Chris Offutt –  A dark slice of rural noir from northern Kentucky. The first female sheriff in the town’s history  calls on her vet. brother, ex-military CID, to help solve a murder. One of the best noirs of the year, beautifully written. (No Exit Press)

Dolphin Junction Mick Herron – one of our top spy writers proves he can write crime short stories which are as brilliant as his novels. Slough House features but this is an eclectic mix of tales. Herron is a one off. (John Murray)

Night Hunters Oliver Bottini – Translated by Jamie Bulloch The latest Black Forest Investigation is a treat, a strong mystery, a great central character in Louise Boni and a dose of black humour. Euro-noir heaven. (MacLehose Press)

Vine Street Dom Nolan – A superb historical crime novel. A woman is murdered in 1930s Soho, other victims are uncovered, a pimp also meets his end. Detectives Geats and Cassar investigate. The story spans decades and Geats is one of the detective creations of the year. (Headline)

Where God Does Not Walk Luke McCallin – Some readers will be familiar with German officer Gregor Reinhardt’s WWII detective exploits. This novel takes us back to 1918, to France and the first case for the front line lieutenant as one of his men is accused of blowing up the divisional HQ. Sharp, fast and very enjoyable. (No Exit Press)

Best of the Year:

 

 

Riccardino Andrea Camilleri – Trans. Stephen Sartarelli. With sadness we have to face the fact that this is the last of Detective Salvo Montalbano. Riccardino is a truly fitting end to the long running series. (Mantle)

Razorblade Tears SA Cosby – Two fathers, one white, one black, both with their own chequered pasts and prejudices are shaken by the murder of their gay sons. Seeking to atone and to avenge they set out for justice. Heart-breaking, violent, beautifully written. One of the books of the year. (Headline)

Winter Counts David Heska Wanbli Weiden – The best debut of the year, a First Nations thriller set on the Rosebud Reservation in Dakota. A bounty hunter called Virgil Wounded Horse is out for justice when his nephew falls foul of the gangs, elders and the federals fighting a turf war across the reservation. He’s the only one who cares about the little people. More Virgil Wounded Horse asap. (Simon & Schuster).

SILVERVIEW John le Carré’s swansong doesn’t have the bite of his finest work but is streets ahead of most of the chasing pack, intelligent and thought provoking. Julian Lawndsley leaves a high power city job for a seaside bookshop. Everything gets very murky when a polish émigré visits Lawndsley one night. Another sad farewell. (Penguin)

Good Cop Bad Cop Simon Kernick – Is Metropolitan detective sergeant Chris Sketty a hero or a villain? It all centres on a terrorist incident at the Villa Amalfi restaurant in London. A line of duty style police procedural, possibly the most spectacular of the year. Twisty as hell and bags of fun. (Headline)

Lemon Kwon Yeo-sun – A study in the aftermath of a terrible crime. A young girl is killed, the survivors have to live with that tragedy, the pain and grief never go away. A compassionate and poignant tale, elegantly told and loaded with insight. (Head of Zeus)

True Crime Story Joseph Knox – this is fiction written in the true crime vein. It follows an investigation that highlights what happens when a person goes missing. In this case, based on a real incident in Manchester. Zoe Nolan’s disappearance is a powerful exploration of misogyny, loss and male violence. Unique, deeply thought provoking and poignant. (Doubleday)

Tokyo Redux David Peace – The final part of Peace’s trilogy spans the decades and as ever is huge in scope. Using the crime novel to speak against violence in society. It all begins with the murder of the head of the national railways in 1949. A chunk of post war Tokyo history. Intelligent and insightful. (Faber & Faber)

Brazilian Psycho Joe Thomas – Thomas concludes his quartet of Sao Paulo set stories with a novel that tops and tails the other three. Beginning with the murder of a school teacher in 2003 and ending with Bolsonaro’s election and early days 2019. A chronicle of modern Brazilian society, it’s broken politics and culture. A superb end to a fascinating series. (Arcadia)

Hotel Cartagena Simone Buchholz – The penultimate Chastity Riley story and it’s a cracker. Chastity is caught up in a siege at a classy dockside hotel, while Stepanovic watches on from the outside. The best of a superb series that shows Buchholz to be one of Europe’s leading crime fiction writers. (Orenda)

The Great Silence Doug Johnstone – the welcome return of the Skelfs. Criminal investigators and undertakers.  This family of women is a brilliant creation and Johnstone is one of Scotland’s finest contemporary writers. (Orenda)

A Line to Kill Anthony Horowitz – murder at the Alderney Crime Festival, a detective at odds with the man who writes about his exploits, colourful characters including Mr. Horowitz. Fun, funny and consummately written. (Century)

The Fortunate Men Nadifa Mohamed – The true life tragic story of Mahmood Mattan fictionalised. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. A story of racism and prejudice set in Tiger bay, Cardiff in the early 1950s. An innocent man is charged with murder but is convinced it will work out. Beautifully written and totally relevant. (Viking)

Judas 62 Charles Cumming – Lachlan Kite finds himself on a Russian hit list in the tense, zeitgeisty follow up to Box 88. One of the leading contemporary spy writers. (Harper Collins)

The Shadows of Men Abir Mukherjee – The latest Wyndham/Banerjee mystery (5). This time Surendranath Banerjee is in the frame for murder and arson following the death of a religious leader. Then things get worse. Brilliant storytelling; humour, a bit of history and a decent mystery.  (Harvill Secker)

The Night Will be Long Santiago Gamboa – Colombian murder mystery from an exceptional writer. Corruption, violence, inequality. A powerful indictment of church and state. (Europa Editions)

The Quiet People Paul Cleave – A husband and wife writer duo speculate on the perfect murder. When their son goes missing they are suspected of a terrible crime. Twisty, dark, witty and clever. Did I mention twisty, this will get you. (Orenda)

The Khan Saima Mir – The female godfather set in a fictional northern city not unlike Bradford. A powerful tale of murder, gangsterism, motherhood and family.  A stunning debut, a brilliant protagonist. First in a series. (Point Blank)

Little Rebel Jerome Leroy – a French-North African police inspector is shot dead by a white colleague when he is trying to prevent a terrorist attack. A slim novel that encompasses so much and says a lot about racism and social problems of modern France. (Corylus)

Silenced Solveig Palsdottir – Icelandic psychological noir, elegantly written with a great female protagonist. A dark and edgy read. (Corylus)

Outlaw James Swallow – Marc Dane and a small band of colleagues are all that remains of Rubicon. They have to stop The Combine, dedicated to overthrowing democracy and increasing their hold on the world’s financial markets. A full on action spy thriller. There’s so much fun to be had here. (Zaffre)

Never Ken Follett – What if a set of circumstances brought the world to the brink of war and nobody was willing to step back? Could trouble in North Korea and a missing US drone lead to world war three? A well thought out thriller in the considered manner of Follett’s fiction. (Macmillan)

The Stoning Pete Papathanasiou – Even more gritty rural noir from the outback. The death by stoning of a local schoolteacher is blamed on the new immigrant detention centre but this is a town with many secrets. Another classy debut. (MacLehose)

The Strangers of Braamfontein Onyeka Nwelue – Life and death among the migrant community in a Johannesburg ghetto. Powerful, sobering account of murder, gangs and marginalised people. (Abibiman Publishing)

Re-release/Paperback:

 

Find You First Linwood Barclay – a tech-millionaire discovers he has Huntington’s, an hereditary life limiting disease. Years before he was a donor at a sperm bank so he needs to trace his offspring and tell them that they have a 50/50 chance of having this condition. But before he can get to them someone is bumping them off. Fast, clever and with an ingenious twist. (HQ)

The Year of the Gun HB Lyle – Wiggins, Sherlock Holmes’s protégé, now with the Secret Service, is drawn into a world of gangsters, political types and gun running in an all action historical spy adventure Set in 1912 Dublin, New York and at sea. (Hodder & Stoughton)

Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth – Unsworth’s victim centred reimaging of the Hammersmith Jack the Stripper murders is as potent as when it was originally published in 2009. A devastatingly poignant novel of misogyny and male violence. Beautiful and original. (Strange Attractor)

Happy book hunting.