Favourite Featured Fiction Reviews

Best Crime Writers of 2008 by Elvis McBeth

Here we go again. Another year older and deeper in debt, literally, if you believe everything you read in the papers. But there are still a lot of great crime novels out there to keep your mind off the credit crunch this winter. So stick around and check out these winners with me.

Kicking off the list in fine style is the latest D.I Faraday novel, The Price Of Darkness by Graham Hurley (Orion H/B £9.99). It all starts off with what looks like a professional hit on a property developer. He has an interest in a M.O.D. site in Portsmouth which could yield rich pickings if turned into residential homes.  Then a government minister is assassinated. What’s the connection? Also, there’s a problem with ex-copper and Faraday’s old sparring partner Paul Winter. He’s now working for Bazza Mackenzie, Pompey’s leading crime lord. But has he really left the side of the angels? As I’ve said before, Hurley just gets better and better, and this book is his best so far.

“Are the slowest Crime Writers British?”

Another writer who rarely disappoints is Jonathan Kellerman. His new novel, Obsession (Michael Joseph H/B £14.99) featuring psychologist Alex Delaware is no exception. A patient from the past shows up at Alex’s office to try and discover what terrible secret her mother tried to divulge on her death bed. With the assistance of cop buddy Milo Sturgis, Alex delves deeply into what turns out to be a plot involving the great and the good of Los Angeles high society and the dregs of the city’s low life. A read-in-one-go book.

The same could be said for Eye Of The Beholder by David Ellis (Quercus H/B £14.99). Once again, the past throws up secrets that were better hidden. Attorney Paul Riley discovers that the case that he built his career on may not have been all it seemed. A serial killer brought to justice fifteen years previously could have had accomplices. More grisly murders in his style are perpetrated, and the killer has Riley in his sights. Edgar Award winner Ellis delivers the goods from the first to the last page.

Twenty-five years ago, fourteen-year-old Cynthia Bigges’ family just vanished one night. A lot of time has passed she’s none the wiser as to what happened to them. It was a cause celebre for a while, then forgotten, but not by her, or the man she subsequently married. Then a cold case TV show highlights her story and suddenly it’s front-page news again. People are being murdered left, right and centre and that’s not all. Mystery piles up on mystery in a striking debut, No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay (Orion H/B £9.99) If you admire the novels of Harlen Coben, then this book should be top of your Christmas list.

The best Crime Writers in the World

Disgraced ex-cop Joe Denton gets out of prison and finds he’s not welcome in the town he used to police. His wife and daughter have fled. His mother and father can barely stand him near them, and his old colleagues want him dead or gone, or preferably both. Attacked, and then wrongly accused of rape, Joe just won’t leave things alone, as his life appears to resemble a car crash in slow motion. Violent, but with an edge of graveyard humour, Small Crimes by David Zelserman (Serpents Tail P/B £7.99) shows the author to be the natural successor to Jim Thompson, which as far as I’m concerned can be no greater accolade.

Cold In Hand by John Harvey
Cold In Hand by John Harvey

Fans of John Harvey and there are many, will celebrate the resurrection of Charlie Resnick in Cold In Hand (William Heinemann H/B £12.99) Charlie is now living in harmony with DI Lynn Kellogg. But when she’s shot and blamed for the death of a young black girl, things start going pear-shaped. Resnick is called into the case which causes some aggro at home, but worse is to come. Much worse, and he goes into decline. Understandably. But eventually, all comes clear and he manages to find some peace in a far-off country. Harvey writes what is definitely in the top three police procedurals in the UK, filled with humanity and understanding of the human condition, plus a few sharp words on our immigration policy. No wonder he’s collecting so many awards these days.

Has Elvis left the building?

What could be a better time to disappear off the face of the earth than in New York in the aftermath of 9/11? This is the premise of the latest, and finest novel so far featuring Detective-Superintendent Roy Grace by Peter James (Dead Man’s Footsteps -Macmillan H/B £16.99) as the Brighton based copper travels to the Big Apple to investigate the last days of a local businessman who just doesn’t seem to be as dead as he wants the world to believe. Cracking, with a real sting in its tail.

As Los Angeles burns around them, Elvis Cole and his buddy, Pike roam the city, looking for proof that, seven years ago, the pair didn’t provide tainted evidence that freed a guilty man on a murder charge, leaving him able to kill and kill again. Crais is among the best of the best, and Chasing Darkness (Orion H/B £12.99) proves it once again. Elvis (Crazy name, crazy guy) has definitely not left the building!

And finally, a reprint that’s been a long time coming but has been well worth the wait. Homicide — A Year On The Killing Streets by David Simon (Canongate P/B £12.99) first published in the early nineties is the big, fat true crime masterpiece featuring the Baltimore police force that begot the wonderful TV series Homicide-Life On The Streets that begot The Wire. Need I say more?

Happy new year.

Main image courtesy of Shots Magazine.

Authors Featured Fiction Reviews

Book Review: The Prince of Darkness by Graham Hurley

The latest D.I. Faraday novel, The Price Of Darkness by Graham Hurley starts off with what looks like a professional hit on a property developer. The dead man was involved in an M.O.D. site in Portsmouth with potentially rich pickings. Then a government minister is assassinated. What’s the connection? Also, there’s a problem with ex-copper and Faraday’s old sparring partner Paul Winter who is now working for Bazza Mackenzie, Pompey’s leading crime lord. But has he really left the side of the angels? Hurley just gets better and better, and this book is his best so far. Elvis McBeth

Authors Favourite Featured Fiction Reviews

My Favourite Novel by Mark Timlin



The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece. The best crime novel ever written bar none. Almost single handedly Chandler invented the genre of the hard drinking, hard smoking, hard loving, sharply dressed, first person, private detective, with a wisecrack for every occasion, and a bullet for every bad guy and gal. Over the last seventy years his hero Philip Marlowe has been the template for dozens of crime writers. Just think Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker,  Derek Marlowe, Alan Sharp, Timothy Harris, Roger L. Simon, Robert Crais, and yours truly, plus loads more. (Not all first person I admit, but well in the Chandler groove, and if you don’t know any of these authors, Google them)

The novel opens with a paragraph that has been quoted time and time again as a classic of the genre. I don’t intend to reprint it here, just read the book if you haven’t already. And if you haven’t shame on you.

Simply, the plot of the novel is that a rich old man with two beautiful daughters who make Paris Hilton look tame, is being blackmailed. Enter Marlowe, who cuts a swathe through the Los Angeles demi monde, and solves the case quick fast.

Great plot, great characters, great atmosphere. Just the greatest.

Rarely out of print, Penguin put out a new paperback edition in 2005.

Featured Fiction Reviews

Book Review: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

There’s an eternal debate about whether the best Crime Fiction can ever hold its head up as the equal of the literary novel. ‘Proper’ authors like Martin Amis, William Boyd and even Charles Dickens turned their hand to mystery fiction. And there exists a strata of ‘crime’ novelists who can be counted among the great and the good of literature. James Lee Burke is among the best.

Let’s not pretend that the average Christie/ Rendell/ PD James pot-boiler is anything other than (in Graham Greene’s words) an ‘entertainment’. But some Mystery authors are extraordinarygood. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking John Harvey, George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, David Peace and Raymond Chandler. A good crime novel can be a good novel. This by James Lee Burke falls very much into both categories.

The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

When the stink of destruction and death lifts off the page and you can practically hear the cries of anguish, you know that the author is a novelist to be reckoned with. Whatever the genre. That’s what James Lee Burke has done with ‘The Tin Roof Blowdown’.

This powerful post-Katrina novel features James Lee Burke’s main series policeman, Dave Robicheaux. Called out of his own police district of New Iberia to help out in the beleaguered Big Sleazy. The disappearance of a Catholic Priest and a seemingly random shooting and looting divert Dave’s attention. Not to mention, the unexpectedly rich pickings from the home of old-school mobster and florist, Sidney Kovick. In Burke’s skilled hands, there are more shades of grey than you’ll find in an eye-specialists’ wall-chart. No one is all bad: nor is anyone (Robicheaux and the Priest included) – beyond reproach.

Step up Otis and Melanie Baylor…

Otis and Melanie Baylor seem to be at the centre of everything. Middle-class whites, their daughter was raped by young black men. Admittedly no angels, the same men show up unwittingly to loot the houses in Baylor’s street. Otis gets mad. His father and uncle took part in Ku Klux Klan burnings in Alabama, so his background isn’t too promising. Shots are fired. But the Baylors deny being part of it

It’s Robicheaux’s job to check it out. But one of the looters, Bertrand Melancon, sees his brother shot and seriously wounded and a young friend killed. He also soon becomes aware that the diamonds and cash they’ve stripped out of Kovick’s walls are likely to get him tortured and disposed of, as a couple of psychopaths take up his trail. As Robicheaux’s ex-partner, renegade bail-bondsman Clete Purcel tells him: “Hey, kid, if you stole anything from Sidney Kovick, mail it to him COD from Alaska, then buy a gun and shoot yourself. With luck, he won’t find your grave.'”

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina came as a devastating blow to a country that thought its racial divide was largely behind it. New Orleans has always been a powder keg of race relations. Black players couldn’t get served in numerous hotels and businesses in the Big Easy in the early 1960s. This led to the 1965 New Orleans Football Boycott. White cabdrivers routinely refused to carry black passengers, no matter what their status. The treatment of the poor black population in the aftermath of the Hurricane’s devastation recalled these days and Burke puts a fictional but very insightful spin on real-life events and emotions.
‘The Tin Roof Blowdown’ is James Lee Burke’s masterpiece. How can he possibly better it?
Jim Driver

Featured Fiction Reviews

Book review: Exit Music by Ian Rankin

Exit Music is the final case for Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus. At least, that’s what the PR people tell us. Ian Rankin returns to the form that established his name as one of Britain’s keenest crime writers back in the mid-1990s. The most recent outings lacked the vigour and richness of the series’ undoubted highlight, Black and Blue. But Exit Music ends on a genuine high.

Before DI John Rebus’ scheduled retirement in November 2006, he and Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke are attempting to clear up a batch of unsettled cases. Rebus is recalled to investigate a dissident Russian poet killed in a botched mugging.

Russians in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is playing host to a Russian delegation and the powers that be are keen that the case should be wrapped up as quickly and discretely as possible. But Rebus and Clarke aren’t too sure, especially when a second, seemingly connected, death occurs. When someone murders his long-term nemesis, gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, Rebus becomes the prime suspect.

Exit Music is pretty much a book of two halves. In an unacknowledged homage to John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series, the first line on the first page repeats the opening sentence in the very first Rebus book, Knots and Crosses: ‘The girl screamed once, only the once.’ After that, the novel clip-clops along without too much sparkle. Rebus looks back on his life and on his ‘career’. We get to go along for the journey. For a while, there’s the fear that there’s just too much navel-gazing and too little investigation.

Then the professional mastery we know and expect from Ian Rankin kicks in and the final half of Exit Music entertains, surprises and ultimately satisfies. Anyone who thought they had the solution licked by page 100 will certainly be admitting defeat before they hit the last page.

Along the way, Rankin drops hints as to what the next move will be. Who will be Siobhan’s CID partner and will she take over the series, with Rebus perhaps acting the part of a weird, whiskey-sodden Mycroft Holmes? Or maybe Rebus will be reluctantly invited to join the Serious Crimes Review Unit looking – in the style of BBC TV’s New Tricks at cold, unsolved cases? Perhaps both; maybe neither? Jim Driver

Fiction Reviews

Book review: Death Message by Mark Billingham

Death Message
Mark Billingham, Little Brown
The latest outing for overworked London DI Tom Thorne kicks off when our hero receives a grisly, blurred photograph on his cellphone. It shows what looks very much to the very likeable Inspector (who’s become something of an expert in such matters) like a corpse. But there’s no hint as to who the victim is – never mind any clue as to the identity of his assumed killer. And when another picture of a different dead man arrives, it’s getting serious and Thorne shows just why bookshops all over the world look forward to the latest title by Mark Billingham.

It’s easy to pretend that writing winsome detectives into gripping police procedurals is a simple matter. It’s obviously not. Among those who set the gold-standard are Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, and Peter Robinson. It’s difficult because so many others have tried and failed.

Mark Billingham (largely) avoids the Cliches

On the one hand, it must be tempting to follow a tried-and-trusted formula. The obvious Holmes-Watson scenario of clever detective aided by bumbling assistant must be avoided at all costs. Or, at least swerved. That’s why so many second characters these days seem to be clever female ‘Watsons’. At the very least they are younger and more ‘clued-in’ than their fuddy-duddy bosses. Mark Billingham has managed to avoid most of the cliches. Presumably, that’ why his novels are always worth reading.

All in all, ‘Death Message’ is another cracking thriller from the former stand-up comedian and TV writer. Billingham has proved himself one of the unexpected long-stayers of British crime fiction. Recent Thorne outings may not have been quite up to the early standard set by ‘Sleepy Head’ ‘Lazy Bones’ and ‘Burning Girl’ but ‘Death Message’ is a definite return to form. Recommended. Jim Driver

death message by Mark Billingham

Buy ‘Death Message’ at full discount from Death Message
Buy from (USA) click here

Fiction Reviews

Book review: The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson

The Blind Man of Seville
Robert Wilson, Harper Collins
Those paying attention to events at the literary end of crime fiction will know Wilson as the author of six previous thrillers, all of them stylish and enhanced by exotic locations. The first four were magical, enthralling works of detective noir set in west Africa. The next, a darkly mysterious World War II puzzler, ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’, was the deserved winner of Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for best crime novel of 1999. Its follow-up ‘The Company of Strangers’, saw Wilson knocking at the door of bestsellerdom.

This startling new novel follows Wilson’s general trend towards darker, more disturbing fiction, and introduces a complex new character: homicide detective Javier Falcon of the Seville police. It is a book that exists on multiple levels, kicking off as an off-key detective story and ending up as (amongst other things) a tense psychological thriller and a literary investigation into perception and family loyalties.

The revelry of Semana Santa (Holy Week) is interrupted by the bizarre murder of a leading restaurateur, whose body is found, bound and gagged, in front of a TV screen. To force him to watch the images, the killer had surgically removed Raúl Jiminéz’s eyelids. Although Falcon’s perceived coldness earned him the nickname ‘The Lizard’, he is uncharacteristically shocked by the killing and drawn into discovering details of the dead man’s life. As he digs, Falcon discovers to his horror that his famous dead artist father was involved in the background to the mystery, and maybe more. A wonderful, if essentially dark and disturbing, literary detective novel. Martin Radcliffe
Buy ‘The Blind Man of Seville’ at full discount from The Blind Man of Seville
Buy from (USA) click here

Fiction Reviews

Book review: London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

London Boulevard
Ken Bruen, The Do-Not Press, £6.99
Galway writer Ken Bruen lived over a decade in Brixton and Kennington as a special teacher for so-called ‘low achievers’. Along the way, he picked up a Runyonesque feel for south-east London and its people that first exploded on to the page in the acclaimed noir, ‘Rilke on Black’. This is his sixth since.

To call it a crime novel is like saying wine is something to drink. On one level it’s a reworking of Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’, on another it’s a modern morality tale, thick with misfits, losers and those who prey on them.

Mitchell is released from Pentonville after serving three years for a vicious attack he doesn’t even remember. He’s met at the gates by Norton, a former associate with plans – plans that include violence, extortion and payback. Mitchell is an anti-hero in the tradition of Thompson and Goodis, a flawed character with a curiously twisted sense of morality, but even he realises that things are going too far. Attempting to distance himself from his turbulent past, Mitchell takes a job as handyman in sunny west London, a cop-out those south of the river don’t approve of.

The cast of characters in ‘London Boulevard’ is rich and Dickensian. In Holland Park, there’s fading actress Lillian Palmer and her east European butler, Jordan. Back in cold, dark SE11, the list is headed by loan-shark and general bad guy, Tommy Logan. But the best of the bunch is Mitchell’s sister, Briony. Disturbed and maybe a slug short of a massacre, her love for Mitchell pulls him back on to the straight and narrow — almost. ‘London Boulevard’ is truly great entertainment, permeated with a dark and disturbing strand that’ll stay with you long after the final denouement. Treat yourselves. David Peters