Babar creator Laurent de Brunhoff Photo: Nathan Denette/AP/PA

Alexander McCall Smith

8 February 2014

As any author will tell you, literary festivals differ widely. If you are invited to Willy Dalrymple’s Jaipur Festival, with its renowned final party, you say yes within minutes of… Read more

A marijuana store in Colorado

The only way to end the war on drugs is to stop fighting it

11 January 2014

It’s surprisingly boring, legalising weed. In Colorado, where recreational doobie has been utterly without censure for, ooh, about a week and a half now, the Department of Revenue (Marijuana Enforcement… Read more

10 August 2013

Other people’s rocks Spain threatened to introduce a €40 border-crossing charge and find other ways of making life difficult for people of Gibraltar. A reminder of some Spanish colonial possessions:… Read more

Crime fiction - review

8 June 2013

‘We no longer believe in God but hope nevertheless for miracles,’ remarks Frederic Mordaunt, one of the characters of John Harwood’s third novel, The Asylum (Cape, £14.99). He’s being over-optimistic,… Read more

Gin Lane

Less alcohol, fewer drugs: how the British seem to be shedding their harmful habits

25 May 2013

Gripped by his habitual despair, the French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote to a friend in 1872, ‘I am appalled at the state of society. I’m filled with the sadness that… Read more

Crime fiction reviewed by Andrew Taylor

18 May 2013

An epigraph taken from Goebbels’s only published novel certainly makes a book stand out from the crowd. A Man Without Breath (Quercus, £18.99) is the ninth instalment in Philip Kerr’s… Read more

Burglar's Entrance

The thrill of the chase

18 May 2013

I was in my garden office on Monday afternoon when I heard a loud noise behind me, as if someone had jumped over the back fence. Seconds later, a strange… Read more


A date with death

2 June 2012
Midnight in Peking: The Murder that Haunted the Last Days of Old China Paul French

Viking, pp.260, £12.99

On 8 January 1937, an old man was taking his prize songbird for an early morning walk in the eastern section of Peking when he came across a woman’s body… Read more


The American way of justice

21 April 2012
A Price to Pay: The Inside Story of the NatWest Three David Bermingham

Gibson Square, pp.384, 8.99

Conrad Black sympathises with the NatWest Three — victims of British cowardice and a corrupt US legal system It was the misfortune of David Bermingham and his co-defendants to be… Read more



3 September 2011

Dr Temperance Brenner, like her creator, Kathy Reichs, is a forensic anthropologist. She works in North Carolina, specialising in ‘decomps and floaters’. This ensures that in Flesh and Bones (Heinemann,… Read more


Art for ransom

27 August 2011
Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Story of Notorious Art Heists Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg

Palgrave Macmillan, pp.272, 15.99

Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners Sandy Nairne

Reaktion Books, pp.224, 20

These two books make mutually illuminating and surprisingly contrasting companions, given the similarity of their subjects. Both are written by those with hands-on experience in the field of art preservation… Read more

Recent crime fiction

23 July 2011

John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series constantly surprises. A Lily of the Field (Grove Press, £16.99), the seventh novel, has a plot stretching from… Read more

Recent crime fiction

4 June 2011

Mo Hayder has a considerable and well-deserved reputation as a writer of horrific crime novels that often revolve around the physical violence men do to women. Her latest, Hanging Hill… Read more

Recent crime fiction

9 April 2011

Henning Mankell bestrides the landscape of Scandavian crime fiction like a despondent colossus. Last year’s The Man from Beijing, was a disappointing stand-alone thriller with too much polemical baggage. His… Read more


Massacre of the innocents

12 March 2011
The Killer of Little Shepherds: The Case of the French Ripper and the Birth of Forensic Science Douglas Starr

Simon & Schuster, pp.312, 16.99

‘La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite’ — Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminals it deserves. ‘La justice flétrit, la… Read more

When the best defence is no defence

12 March 2011
A Just Defiance Peter Harris

Portobello, pp..00, 14.99

This remarkable book is the account by their lawyer of the trial, imprisonment and sentencing to death in the late Eighties of a group of young men who came to… Read more


Theatre of the macabre

8 January 2011
The Invention of Murder Judith Flanders

Harper Press, pp.556, 20

Sam Leith marvels at Victorian Britain’s appetite for crime, where a public hanging was considered a family day out and murder became a lurid industry in itself On my satellite… Read more

Mean streets

27 November 2010

Christmas is coming, which generally leads to a surge in sales of crime fiction. Fortunately for readers, some delectable crime novels have appeared in the past few months. Among them… Read more

Troubled waters

29 September 2010
Heartstone C.J. Sansom

Mantle, pp.633, 18.99

This is the fifth in C. J. Sansom’s engrossing series of Tudor crime novels. This is the fifth in C. J. Sansom’s engrossing series of Tudor crime novels. His hero… Read more


Innocents abroad

18 September 2010
Our Kind of Traitor John le Carré

Viking, pp.306, 18.99

In John le Carré’s fiction, personal morality collides messily with the grimly cynical expediencies of global politics. In John le Carré’s fiction, personal morality collides messily with the grimly cynical… Read more


Dark Satanic thrills

4 September 2010
The Anatomy of Ghosts Andrew Taylor

Michael Joseph, pp.467, 18.99

If you have not yet gone on holiday, do pack The Anatomy of Ghosts. It is excellent airport reading; and this is no trivial recommendation. Airports are where one needs… Read more


Fearful symmetry

21 August 2010
Started Early, Took My Dog Kate Atkinson

Doubleday, pp.352, 18.99

Kate Atkinson’s latest novel is the fourth in her series about Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier, ex-police officer and ex-husband who now works in a desultory way as a private investigator.… Read more

A choice of first novels

7 August 2010

Write what you know. Isn’t that what aspiring novelists are told? Write what you know. Isn’t that what aspiring novelists are told? While two first-timers have taken the advice this… Read more


Good at bad guys

7 August 2010
The Burning Wire Jeffery Deaver

Hodder, pp.423, 18.99

Thriller writers, like wolves and old Etonians, hunt in packs. In the summer months, roaming from city to city, we can be found at assorted festivals and crime fiction conventions,… Read more

King and his killer

7 July 2010
Hellhound on his Trail Hampton Sides

Allen Lane, pp.459, 25

In the late days of the Bush administration, it was fashionable among liberals to call George W. Bush the ‘worst’ president since the founding of the republic and to suggest… Read more