South African author Deon Meyer’s Benny Griessel series is one of the high spots of contemporary crime fiction, and the fifth title, Icarus (translated from Afrikaans by K.L. Seegers, Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99) is his best yet. Detective Captain Griessel of the Cape Town police is a recovering alcoholic whose sobriety is derailed by the news that a colleague has committed suicide after killing his family. Potentially career-destroying benders and attempts to get back on the wagon punctuate his investigation into the strangling of Ernst Richter, owner of the adultery-facilitating website Alibi. It soon becomes clear that Richter, who isn’t averse to a spot of blackmail, has not honoured his promise of client confidentiality, and an anonymous Twitter user threatening to reveal the cheaters’ names causes a media frenzy. There’s a parallel narrative involving the troubled family history of winemaker Francois du Toit, but it’s not until the end that the link between these two equally fascinating strands becomes clear in this expertly-engineered maelstrom of sex, lies and fraud.
DCI Jane Tennison is familiar to most of us as the battle-hardened, uncompromising character played by Helen Mirren in the Prime Suspect television dramas, but in Tennison (Simon &Schuster, £20.00), series creator Lynda La Plante turns back the clock to 1973, introducing her to us as a 22-year-old WPC fresh from Hendon Police College. Intelligent and ambitious, Tennison is keen to learn, but is relegated by old-school chauvinist Sergeant Harris to general dogsbodying until she catches the eye of DCI Len Bradfield and becomes involved in investigating the murder of a young woman. It’s a rite-of-passage novel with an absorbingly twisty plot (a second case involves a bank job). There’s some grinding of gears – chunks of exposition and some clunky dialogue – but overall, it’s a pacey and enjoyable read.
Northumberland-based DCI Vera Stanhope, derived from the novels of Ann Cleeves and played by Brenda Blethyn, has, in recent years, become another stalwart of small-screen policing. The Moth Catcher (Macmillan, £16.99), Cleeves’s seventh ‘Vera’ novel, has the dogged, dishevelled and often tactless detective investigating the apparently unconnected murders of two lepidopterists at a big country house in peaceful, idyllic Valley Farm. In a nearby group of barn conversions live the ‘retired hedonists’, three couples in late middle-age who have retired early to take it easy in the country, and whose lives appear to revolve around drinks parties – although, as Vera discovers, they are not as carefree as the self-description suggests. The Moth Catcher is a splendid, solidly plotted modern take on a golden-age ‘closed circle’ mystery and Vera, as always, is a delight.
Blood and Bone (Quercus, £18.99) is the third outing for V.M. Giambanco’s Detective Alice Madison of the Seattle Police. The murder of a householder apparently killed during a burglary turns out to be the work of a serial killer whose victims number the living as well as the dead – those who have been wrongly convicted for the crimes he committed and are now serving life sentences. Madison and her colleagues are strongly written, compelling characters and the primary plot is high-octane stuff; the sub-plot, a carry-over from previous books, will have less resonance for readers new to the series.
Originally published in English in 1956 under the title The Living and the Dead, Vertigo, by the French crime-writing duo Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, has now been re-issued (translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury, Pushkin Vertigo, £7.99). Set in France during and after the Second World War, this dark and powerful account of a man’s descent into obsession is well worth the read, whether or not you are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of the same name.
(c) Laura Wilson, 2015