The best new crime reads in October

CRIME BOOK OF THE MONTH


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A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill

About halfway through this book, I had to put it down – for something trivial like sleep, or dinner, or spending time with my family – and saw a review on the cover comparing Gentill to Evelyn Waugh. This holds some truth – there are a lot of ridiculously wealthy young people having far too much fun spending the early decades of the twentieth century getting into salacious situations, drinking heavily and offending their elders, while the ramifications of the war bear heavily on them. Yet, as someone who had to literally put down Brideshead Revisited because I found it so frustratingly meandering (and, this may shock you, but I generally love meandering writing), I couldn’t help but think that unlike Waugh, Gentill – on her eighth Rowland Sinclair book now – has a lightness of touch and a clarity to her plot that appeals much more than Waugh, at least to the likes of me.

When I wasn’t reading A Dangerous Language, I thought about it – wondered who the killers were, hazarded a guess or two about which characters in the book were based on real characters (delightfully, a vast amount). It is always a pleasure to follow Rowland Sinclair, a wayward grown child of the eminent Sinclair family of New South Wales, as he and his band of scandalous artist friends do their best to become immediately involved in a crisis every time they leave his estate.

Here, it’s 1934, and the international activist and journalist Egon Kisch is coming to Melbourne – unless the rising tide of fascism stops him from disembarking the ship he’s arriving on. Rowly is roped in by the Communist community his friends are part of to assist Kisch’s arrival, and will do all he can to get this man (who once saved his life) into Australia. Because, by God, he needs someone to spread the word of impending Nazism – something Rowly has been trying to convince the authorities of, with little success.

Combine this with an international air-race, a murder on the steps of Parliament House, withered relations between Rowland and his long-suffering stick of a brother Wilfred, the seductive reappearance of an adolescent lover, and a solid sprinkling of fisticuffs, and you have the ingredients for a story told in a most satisfying language indeed.


NEW CRIME FICTION


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After the Fire by Henning Mankell (translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Since his passing in 2015, readers have been eagerly awaiting the final book from Henning Mankell – the man who was at the forefront of the wave of Scandinavian crime that swept the world. Following on from 2006’s Italian Shoes, where his story started, 70-year-old retired surgeon Fredrik Welin now lives alone on a Swedish island, leading a solitary life (mostly due to his unpleasant personality), and swimming every day, even when he needs to cut into the ice to do so. When his house is burned to the ground, Fredrik escapes with barely more than two left-foot wellingtons… and complete bafflement when it’s later discovered that arson is the cause, and suspicion falls solely on him. As much a meditation on loneliness and ageing as it is a whodunnit, Fredrik, rambling about in his boots over the following weeks and months, contemplates friendship, his relationship with his newly-discovered adult daughter and her problems, and reflects on his past. Farewell, Henning – and thanks for all the crime.


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All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

Small-town crime books can open up such a wide expanse of humanity. The Alabama town of Grace, thinking itself at the safe end of a series of disappearances, opens wide indeed in this book, set in 1995. On the day Summer Ryan vanishes, her father calls his friends before the cops try to find her, since the authorities don’t look kindly on the Ryans. Summer, yes: a bright, good, church-going girl; her sister Raine, all wildness and trouble, no. But Raine is the one who searches for her sister with the most determination, as the police aren’t fit to trust – not when they’ve been unable to find the Bird, the monstrous, feather-covered taker of the town’s girls. Not when they have their own demons, their own emotions, to cloud what’s happening. The son of one of their fallen men finds himself helping. A brilliant, heated, storm of a read.


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Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Locke is one of those authors who can talk about bad things in a beautiful way – dead bodies, sore history – but she makes it real, deep and utterly readable. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is suspended from the position he believes in so dearly, one he thought dealt with his home state’s brutal racial tensions at the frontline, instead of behind a cushy desk. His efforts to help a friend have led both of them to trouble, and now all he can do to avoid the wrong people is take up another friend’s request to look into the two dead bodies washed up days apart in the bayou some miles away in Lark: a black man, then a white woman. On Highway 59, where the Aryan Brotherhood still lurks or shouts, and racial tensions are pulled tight across the state, they can only believe in Darren – past the booze and the shattering relationships – and hope that he can too.


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From the Shadows by Neil White

The first in a new series, this novel sees defence lawyer Dan Grant working on a last-minute case, thrown to him only weeks before trial. He’s supposed to just dot some i’s and cross some t’s, letting everyone go home happy – well, maybe except the accused. But Dan starts afresh, with his investigator Jayne Brett – a woman who owes Dan and his determination a very big personal debt – and they find much more in the case than expected. This is a suspenseful courtroom thriller where nothing is what you’d expect – from the obvious stalker killer to Dan himself.


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The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

John Grisham releasing a new book is kind of like Cadbury releasing a new bar of chocolate – a slightly different taste, sure, but delectable as always. Three law students, all with graduation in sight, come to the dawning realisation that the law school they’d forked out to attend is not quite up to scratch. Which, they find out, means they’re unlikely to pass, find a job, or survive without bankruptcy – and, since the school’s owner is only interested in making money from student loans – neither is anyone else at the school. So Mark, Zola and Todd decide that the only way to beat the system is to get out of the system… and drop the hell out of school before taking it down. And after a few drinks at the Rooster Bar, taking on a billionaire while faking qualifications seems like genius. The kind of idea, of course, that only Grisham could write you out of – and we’re always glad for it.


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Stockholm Delete by Jens Lapidus

On Värmdö, an island in Stockholm’s archipelago, a security alarm is triggered. The guard following the alarm expects nothing much – and definitely not the slaughtered, unidentifiable body he comes across in the house. Outside, in a car, is a man covered in blood: Benjamin Emanuelsson, who says nothing except to ask for Emelie Jansson to be his lawyer. So far, so logical – but Emelie has only just passed the bar and her company wants nothing to do with the case. Luckily, that never stopped a crime protagonist before – and this case, full of twisted loyalties and the past colliding with the present, has much in store for Emelie. Unexpectedly, it will also embroil Teddy, the ex-con assisting her with the case – a man once imprisoned for the kidnapping of the accused killer’s father. Another visceral, high-speed thriller for one of the crime genre’s most distractingly attractive authors.


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The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen (translated by William Frost)

Jussi Adler-Olsen is the master puppeteer, holding the threads of five different cases for his seventh book about Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold cases division. The team, headed by detective Carl Mørck, is in knots, wondering if these cases have anything to do with the elderly woman found dead in a park. Her death seems similar to one a decade ago, but they can’t quite fit them together – or with anything to do with the hunted women on the other side of town. While Denmark’s darker sides are brought to light, their colleague Rose is struggling against her own past, and the realisation that she herself might be connected to these crimes. This is a harrowing procedural, with a team you’ll happily perch on a desk to be beside.


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Trust Me by Zosia Wand

At the moment, British crime writers really love to give you an unreliable protagonist – someone you can’t trust to be telling you the whole truth, even as you follow them on the page. In the perfectly rendered, wish-I-was-there Lake District, 27-year-old Lizzie lives with her older husband and her stepson, Sam, only ten years younger than she. She’s happy, of course. Until Sam starts to withdraw from the family, and she suspects something’s wrong, that an older woman is grooming him – but their close-knit community has their suspicions set firmly on her. A gripping tale of a family tearing apart, a community closing in, and readers that can’t be sure of anything, beyond the need to keep turning pages.


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The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Marion Zetland lives in a sprawling but cramped house with her overbearing brother, John, and has for years lived this small-scale life: just her and John, some patronisingly well-meaning neighbours, and the bears she still sleeps with, even in her fifties. She is frightened of everything: saying the wrong thing, upsetting anyone, asking her brother the wrong questions about what’s happening down in the cellar. She understands some of what is down there – that John is only helping the visitors, of course – but she also knows what not to talk about with anyone from outside. No secret that is big enough to fill a room can stay hidden, however – and Marion’s own dark past comes scraping its nails against her thoughts. A dark, oppressive psychological thriller.


Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist, and also blogs about crime fiction at readingkills.com.

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The Rooster Bar

The Rooster Bar

John Grisham

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