The first crime novel from screenwriter and novelist Isabelle Grey, Good Girls Don’t Die (Quercus, £6.99), is set in Essex and introduces Detective Sergeant Grace Fisher. Having left her previous job under a cloud, Fisher has everything to prove when tasked with investigating the disappearance of student Polly Sinclair, last seen in a state of inebriation outside a Colchester bar. When another student is murdered after an evening’s drinking, Fisher begins to wonder if there might not be a connection. Good Girls Don’t Die, which gets Grey’s projected series off to a flying start, is assured, convincing and especially good on the contentious areas of contributory negligence and the delicate – and often dodgy – nature of the relationship between the police and the press. More, please.
Swedish bestseller Henning Mankell announced that The Troubled Man, published in English in 2011, was to be the last Kurt Wallender novel. The good news for those suffering withdrawal symptoms is that An Event in Autumn (translated by Laurie Thompson, Harvill Secker, £9.99,) is a never-before-published novella featuring the gloomy old sod, with an interesting afterword from the author about his decision to write crime fiction and the creation of his most famous character. The story is set in 2002, when Wallender, taking stock of his life, has decided that he needs to move house. The country home that a colleague is selling on behalf of a relative seems ideal – until Wallender trips over a skeletonised hand sticking out of the soil in the garden. It turns out that not one, but two, murder victims have lain there for decades, apparently unmissed. Things become somewhat implausible towards the end, but the mystery is engaging, with many reflections on the all-conquering nature of time along the way.
The second novel from Israeli author D. A. Mishani, A Possibility of Violence (translated by Todd Hasak-Lowy, Quercus, £16.99) definitely lives up to the promise of its excellent predecessor, The Missing File. Back from a long summer holiday, Inspector Avraham Avraham of the Tel Aviv police conducts an enquiry into a suspicious device found outside a children’s nursery. There’s an eyewitness description of a man who fled the scene but not enough evidence to detain him, so Avraham’s focus shifts to Chaim Sara, father of one of the young attendees. Sara, whose wife seems to have disappeared, is certainly peculiar, but then so is the abrasive Chava Cohen, owner of the nursery. Strong on police procedure and quotidian detail, with a refreshingly average and self-doubting protagonist, A Possibility of Violence is both tense and touching.
Three-times winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Andrew Taylor has produced another pitch-perfect mystery, this time set during the French Revolution. The Silent Boy (HarperCollins, £16.99) is the story of young Charles who, rendered mute by the shock of witnessing the murder of his mother in Paris, is brought to England by an aristocratic émigré. Charles’s mother Augusta is the estranged wife of Edward Savill, who, acting on behalf of Augusta’s uncle, goes to claim the boy. Just when Savill believes he has won the ensuing custody battle, Charles, who, despite the best efforts of science and religion, remains speechless, is abducted. Taylor has not only succeeded in constructing a labyrinthine plot that is gripping to the last page, but he has also created an entirely believable child, traumatised but resolute, whose plight is the fuel for true suspense.
Another distressed child holds the clue – literally, this time – to the mystery in Winter Siege, which is, sadly, the final novel from the late Ariana Franklin, seamlessly completed by her daughter Samantha Norman (Bantam Press, £16.99). It’s 1141 and Stephen and Matilda are fighting for the crown. England is full of mercenaries happy to change sides at the drop of a groat and nobility who are in constant danger of being forced into switching allegiance. Compared to Franklin’s previous novels, the mystery element, centring on the parchment that poor eleven-year-old Em, brutally raped and left for dead, is clutching in her hand, is fairly slight, but it’s a strongly flavoured tale, thoroughly researched and well imagined, with the eponymous siege magnificently vivid and exciting.
Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay (£8.99) is one of a number of forgotten ‘golden age’ detective novels being reissued by British Library Crime Classics. Set in 1934, the year of original publication, when rush hour barely existed, let alone lasted for most of the day, it begins when Miss Euphemia Pongleton, resident at the Frampton Private Hotel, is found strangled on the stairs at Belsize Park tube. This is mystery presented as emotionally neutral puzzle, and some readers may find the what-larks flippancy and breezy snobbery a bit much, but it’s an enjoyable period piece, as are Hay’s other two novels, Death on the Cherwell and The Santa Klaus Murder, also reissued.
© Laura Wilson, 2014