Tomblands (Mantle, £20.00), the long-awaited seventh novel by CJ Sansom to feature lawyer Matthew Shardlake, is a thumping 847 pages of glorious Tudor pageantry that certainly won’t disappoint. It’s 1549, and the sharp-minded, crook-backed hero must ride to Norfolk to look into a murder case on behalf of the Lady Elizabeth, younger sister of boy king Edward VI. She is anxious about the fate of her distant relative, John Boleyn, who stands accused of murdering his wife, Edith and is – the family having been in disfavour since the 1536 beheading of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne – unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing. With the state coffers being emptied in pursuit of a fruitless war with Scotland, it’s a turbulent time: not only is there religious conflict, but the existing social inequality is being exacerbated by the enclosure of common lands, as wealthy landlords with an eye on the increasingly profitable wool industry fence them off to graze their sheep. Shardlake and his assistants finds themselves caught up in Kett’s rebellion, a real, but little-known, peasants’ revolt, which has dramatic and bloody consequences. Although the main storyline sometimes risks getting forgotten in all the hurly-burly, Sansom handles his huge cast with aplomb in this totally immersive and vividly-written tale which, as the nights draw in, will be compelling reading for history lovers and crime aficionados alike.
Modern Nigeria has more than its fair share of troubles in Leye Adenle’s second novel, When Trouble Sleeps (Cassava Republic, £8.99). When the Lagos State gubernatorial candidate is killed in a plane crash, the party choose a replacement who will be assured of winning the rigged election. Chief Ojo, however, has a closet bursting with skeletons, not least his involvement in a secret sex club called The Harem, where a woman was beaten almost to death. Amaka, unofficial social worker to the city’s many prostitutes, has incriminating evidence against him, but it gets stolen. When Ojo’s powerful father-in-law sends his thugs after her, she becomes caught up in a web of corruption and sleaze, where violence and blackmail are part of everyday life. The title of this complex, fast-paced and utterly gripping thriller isn’t a misnomer – as Fela Kuti sang, ‘When Trouble sleep, yanga (provocation) go wake am.’
Another city with a dark heart is Los Angeles, the setting for Michael Connelly’s latest novel, Dark Sacred Night (Orion, £20.00). Detective Renee Ballard, who made her first appearance in The Late Show, published last year, returns here in the company of Connelly’s long-standing serial character Harry Bosch, who, having retired from the LAPD, is now working on cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department. The two outsiders – Ballard has been given the graveyard shift after complaining about harassment by a superior – team up to solve the 2009 murder of 15-year-old runaway Daisy Clayton. Both are investigating other cases – in Bosch’s case, the execution-style killing, 14 years earlier, of a gangster known as ‘Uncle Murda’, which has drawn unwelcome attention from the still-very-much-alive members of the Varrio San Fer 13 mob. Past master Connelly keeps all the plates – including the porn industry, corrupt cops and a religious zealot – spinning beautifully as the pair battle towards a solution.
The beginning of the second novel in Lilja Sigurdardottir’s Reykjavik series, Trap (Orenda Books, £8.99, translated by Quentin Bates), finds cocaine smuggler Sonja in Florida, where she has taken her young son in the hope of starting a new life. When her ex-husband Adam kidnaps the boy, she has no choice but to accompany them back home and resume her former trade. As she attempts to extricate herself from the situation with help from her one-time nemesis, customs officer Bragi, she finds she’s in deeper than she’d originally thought – drug lord Mr Jose has a fearsome reputation and a hungry tiger in his cellar. Sonja’s former lover Agla is in trouble, too: not only is she awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct, but she also owes money to some very powerful and dangerous people… Tense and pacey, with an all-too-human cast of characters, this intriguing mix of white-collar and white-powder crime could certainly be enjoyed as a standalone, but I would suggest reading its excellent predecessor, Snare, beforehand.
If, after all that, you wish to slip into something a little more comfortable, the second novel in Jessica Fellowes’s ‘Mitford Sisters’ series is, as Nancy and co. would say, absolute blissikins. Set in 1925, Bright Young Dead (Sphere, £12.99) is a delightful mash-up of real and fictional characters, not only the Bright Young People with their jazz, clubs and all-round hedonism, but also an all-female London criminal gang known as the ‘Forty Thieves’, who have recently widened their shop-lifting remit to include the provinces. When a treasure hunt at Pamela Mitford’s 18th birthday party on the family’s Oxfordshire estate ends in the murder of waspish posh boy Adrian Curtis, the police soon identify the culprit as servant and former gang member Dulcie Long. Her friend, nursery-maid-turned-chaperone Louisa Cannon, believes she is innocent, and, after a chance reunion with her old admirer Sergeant Guy Sullivan, turns to him for help in finding out who really dunnit.
© Laura Wilson, 2018