The Ignorance of Blood (Harper Collins, £17.99) is the fourth of Robert Wilson’s novels to feature Inspector Javier Falcon of Seville, and it completes a planned quartet examining some of the demons, old and new, plaguing modern Spain.
The Ignorance of Blood (Harper Collins, £17.99) is the fourth of Robert Wilson’s novels to feature Inspector Javier Falcon of Seville, and it completes a planned quartet examining some of the demons, old and new, plaguing modern Spain. A fatal traffic accident leaves an absconding Russian gangster dead. In his Range Rover, the police find more than eight million euros, drugs, compromising DVDs and a gun. As the August heat increases, Falcon is sucked into a turf war between Russian mafiosi. The ramifications stretch deep and wide into both the organised crime industry and the intelligence community, in Spain and elsewhere. There are connections to the unresolved Seville bombing at the heart of Falcon’s last big case. And it gets grimly personal when the eight-year-old son of his lover is kidnapped.
This is a big, serious thriller with echoes of le Carré. Falcon is a dark and driven protagonist who champions the vulnerable, especially children, almost against his will. The plot is a Hydra; as soon as you understand one part, it sprouts another tendril in its place. The narrative is frequently confusing but there’s a taste of authenticity about it, for Wilson writes with an impressive sense of inside knowledge, both about contemporary Seville and about its criminal underbelly.
The first sentence of Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report, translated by John Cullen (MacLehose Press, £18.99), has an almost tongue-in-cheek element of artifice: ‘My name is Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.’ Set in a remote and unnamed village probably located between France and Germany in the aftermath of a war, the novel describes the murder of a stranger, a gentle artist, and its consequences; and in writing his report the narrator, recently returned from a concentration camp, is compelled to make a parallel investigation, this time into the disasters of his own life. Brodeck himself is an outsider in this community, whose difference makes him terribly vulnerable.
Set in a world imprecisely aligned with our own, this is a bleak fairytale about man’s inhumanity to man and about how love seems to survive in unexpected places. It’s also about how society creates scapegoats to deal with inconvenient memories. There is certainly crime in this novel, but whether it’s crime fiction is a different question. Whatever it is, it’s well worth reading.
Jim Kelly has already built up a solid reputation with his crime novels about a journalist in the Fens. With Death Wore White (Penguin paperback original, £7.99) he has branched out into a new series based around King’s Lynn. At the heart of it are two CID officers, the ambitious Detective Inspector Shaw whose career is haunted by the disgrace of his father, also a police officer, and his father’s former colleague Detective Sergeant Valentine, an old-style chain-smoking detective tarnished with failure. A blizzard strands eight vehicles on a remote coast road. Three hours later one of the drivers is dead. There are no footprints in the snow, so this is an apparently impossible murder. From here the story branches out into a complex investigation involving, among others things, cockle-pickers, the unresolved case that ruined Shaw’s father, and a lot more bodies. Though the plot is perhaps a little too busy for its own good, Kelly breathes new life into vintage elements of the genre — the impossible murder and the closed circle of suspects. He’s excellent on the setting too, capturing the essence of contemporary West Norfolk with an intelligent sympathy shorn of sentimentality.
James Fleming’s Cold Blood (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) is set in Russia during the revolution. His previous novel, White Blood, introduced the naturalist Charlie Doig, half-Scottish adventurer, half- Russian aristocrat. Widowed on his honeymoon, Doig has now a single goal in life — the preferably painful destruction of Prokhor Glebov, the man who foully murdered his wife and others he loved. The problem is that Glebov is now high in Lenin’s favour, and Russia is a very big country. None of this matters much to Doig, the sort of hero who could teach Richard Hannay a thing or two about true grit. Commandeering an armoured train, Doig and his allies set on in pursuit of Glebov, now in charge of the Tsar and his family.
The prose is tight, brusque and colourful. The book also gives off a reassuring sense of authority — Fleming clearly knows his stuff. The bare outline gives little idea of the sheer energy of the novel. The story rattles along like an absconding locomotive. It’s not for the squeamish — Fleming’s Russia is a brutal place, but his hero is well able to deal with it on its own terms. Doig may operate in a John Buchan world, but he gives the impression of being permanently high on steroids, amphetamines and the occasional dose of viagra. He is almost as terrifying as the revolution itself.
Andrew Taylor’s latest novel is Bleeding Heart Square (Penguin).