Fever of the Bone (Little, Brown, £18.99) is the sixth novel in Val McDermid’s Jordan and Hill series.
Fever of the Bone (Little, Brown, £18.99) is the sixth novel in Val McDermid’s Jordan and Hill series. Someone is using a networking website to lure young teenagers, both boys and girls, to their deaths. Meanwhile Detective Chief Inspector Jordan is struggling with the demon drink, and also with a new boss, who questions both the cost-effectiveness of her unit and the nature of her personal and professional relationship with clinical psychologist Tony Hill. As for Hill, a father whom he never knew has just left him a posh house, a lot of money he doesn’t want and yet more doubts about his own self-esteem.
McDermid expertly blends her ingredients into a tense and often frightening crime novel. She writes incisively about the world we live in, ranging confidently from teenage technobabble to the politics of modern policing. Carol Jordan and Tony Hill are surely the most impressive double act in contemporary crime fiction. In the end this is, on many levels, a story about some of the toxic possibilities of the parent-child relationship.
David Hewson’s The Cemetery of Secrets (Pan, £6.99) is a revised edition of a novel published some years ago as Lucifer’s Shadow. Set in Venice, it is a standalone thriller whose story unfolds partly in the present and partly in 1733. The narrative opens with the ghoulish exhumation of a corpse and the theft of an antique violin. It spreads out to embrace a louche Oxford academic, glamorous musicians, Venetian lowlife, eccentric antique dealers, Vivaldi, Rousseau, the restrictions placed on Jews in the 18th century and much else.
There are some big themes here as well as a high bodycount and also a reassuring sense of solid research underlying the descriptions of Venice, past and present. Hewson handles the two storylines of this brisk, intelligent thriller with aplomb, using each to counterpoint the other in a way that is entirely appropriate to a plot that has so much to do with music. Con brio, one might say.
Philip Kerr won this year’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger with If the Dead Rise Not (Quercus, £17.99). It’s the sixth of his novels to deal with the exploits of Bernie Gunther, the German detective whose career stretches from the 1930s to the 1950s (so far). The plot begins in Berlin in 1934 but has to wait until 20 years later in pre-Castro Cuba to come to its conclusion. Bernie, whose first-person narrative style owes much to Raymond Chandler, is working as the house detective at the Adlon Hotel. The Nazi regime is plumbing new depths of brutality and corruption. A couple of corpses complicate preparations for the forthcoming Berlin Olympics; and the involvement of two inconvenient Americans at the Adlon brings Bernie into the case. The novel builds into a strong thriller, firmly based in its times and places, and offering some blunt reflections on personal and public corruption.
At one time, a Christie for Christmas was a hardy perennial of the British booktrade. This year there’s a chance to revisit the ghosts of Christmas past with John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks (HarperCollins, £20). Christie’s grandson gave John Curran, a Christie expert, unfettered access to the 73 notebooks in which the author recorded working notes for most of her writing life. The result is this book. It does not set out to be a comprehensive edition of the notebooks, which Christie used for many other purposes (including bridge scores and French homework). Instead, Curran organises the material by theme, exploring how Christie mined an idea or an approach in different novels and short stories. The result gives an unusually intimate glimpse of a writer at work, toying with murderous possibilities in the midst of a tranquil domestic routine. The book, which also includes two previously unpublished short stories, is not for the general reader but it’s a treat for the aficionado who still hankers after the annual Christie.
Usually reviewers work resolutely in the present tense but the Faber Finds imprint provides a welcome opportunity to look back. The ever-expanding list uses print-on-demand technology to make worthwhile but out-of-print books available, either over the internet or from any good bookshop. There has been some debate about whether print-on-demand is good for authors but no one can doubt its value to readers.
Among the 550 titles currently available is some wonderful crime and thriller fiction — the late Lionel Davidson’s novels, for example, and Joseph Hone’s sophisticated Peter Marlow spy thrillers. Best of all, perhaps, is Colin Watson’s Flaxborough series, arguably the funniest crime novels ever written — try Coffin Scarcely Used and Bump in the Night. Faber have also made available Watson’s Snobbery With Violence, a critical account of the thriller genre’s early years which is both mercilessly perceptive and even funnier than the novels.