‘Where The Bodies Are Buried’, Chris Brookmyre

‘Where The Bodies Are Buried’ was touted on release as something of a departure for the author, now officially “Chris” Brookmyre. And it would be fair to say that he’s crafted something a little more overtly hard-boiled, a little less satirical, than much of his previous work. Initially there are two plot threads being followed: in one, weary Glasgow detective Catherine McLeod follows the trail of what looks like a gangland war; in the other, out-of-her-depth actress-turned-private-detective Jasmine Sharp tries to find out what happened to her missing boss, who is also her uncle.

Brookmyre has a solid grasp of his plot, of his well-rounded characters, and of the sometimes morally ambiguous nature of crime-fighting; at stages the book reminded me of Kate Atkinson, which of course is a very good thing. While the book might be a little more serious than what we’ve come to expect from Brookmyre, what hasn’t changed is the ironic Glasgow noir dialogue in which many of his characters speak. Demotic yet stylish, it’s a kind of Chandler-by-the-Clyde: personally I love it, at least in part because it’s how I would like to sound if I were witty and articulate enough, and it’s good to know that he hasn’t lost his touch in this department.

As ever with Brookmyre I have a personal reason for liking this book: I’ve said before that one of my reasons for reading foreign crime fiction is the insight you get into what might be regarded as “ordinary” life. The same could be said of the current wave of subtitled TV drama – you never see the Eiffel Tower on Engrenages, for example, whereas you would never be away from it were a British production company to make a French crime show. With Brookmyre’s fiction, though, most of which is set within a half-hour drive of where I live, there is much which is familiar: while reading this book the other day, for example, I had the experience of sitting on a train while reading about the station the train was in; even more strikingly, I then returned to my home and read about a character’s house which could be, both geographically and architecturally, the one I live in.

More important than any personal investment I might have, though, is the fact that it’s a fast-paced, crackling, witty, page-turner of a book, which I raced through. I’m very much a Brookmyre fan, and I’ll certainly be following these new characters wherever they take us; I loved it.

‘The Broken Window’, Jeffery Deaver

The-Broken-Window-MM-UK-100Arthur Rhyme, cousin of quadriplegic crime-fighting genius Lincoln Rhyme, is in prison awaiting trial for a murder he says he didn’t commit.  In the face of apparently overwhelming evidence Lincoln and partner Amelia Sachs get to work, and quickly discover a sinister pattern leading to the door of shadowy data-mining corporation SSD, which holds a vast amount of detailed personal information.  Plumbing our fears about identity theft and the extent to which governments and businesses know about our private lives,  ‘The Broken Window’ is terrific entertainment and one of Deaver’s very best; the last fifty or so pages perhaps make heavy weather of tying up the loose ends, but by then you’ll be too breathless to care.

‘Arctic Chill’, Arnaldur Indridason

21SjJQLMaSL__SL500_AA180_Inspector Erlendur is back on the Reykjavik beat, this time investigating the murder of a half-Thai schoolboy and the disappearance of his brother.  Assisted as ever by the enigmatic Sigurdur Oli and the practical Elinborg, his enquiries inevitably lead him to consider whether there could be a racial element to the murder.  The crime also has a considerable personal effect on Erlendur, who has a ghost from his past to contend with, while dealing with the problems wrought in the present by his own children.   Like Erlendur, Indridason’s writing and plotting isn’t flashy, but this is a taut and well-constucted crime novel which, like Donna Leon’s ‘The Girl Of His Dreams’, recently reviewed here, finds time for a subtle examination of the challenges of multiculturalism.  ‘Arctic Chill’ is unlikely to thrill, but it’s as satisfying as Indridason’s work always is.

‘In The Dark’, Mark Billingham

In my review of ‘Death Message’ I suggested that a rest from his central character DI Tom Thorne might do both Billingham and us some good.  It did.  ‘In The Dark’ is terrific, his best for some time.  Liberated from police procedural conventions Billingham has room to sketch out a gritty, twisty tale of grief and revenge set against a backdrop of a clash between new-style gangstas and old-style gangsters.  (An additional bonus is that we don’t know who’s going to survive and who’s going to die.)  The plot is meticulously constructed and surprising; the dialogue feels authentic; and in common with many other authors Billingham can’t quite bring himself to neglect his favourite creation, so DI Thorne gets the occasional line.  This is much more than a palate cleanser: it’s a major addition to Billingham’s canon.

‘The Miracle at Speedy Motors’, Alexander McCall Smith

A woman, adopted in childhood, wants to know if she has living family: it’s business as usual at the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  After the questionable morality (and book design) of the last in the series we’re back on more familiar territory here: love and kindness are ultimately stronger than hate; we need to connect with others; we should be thankful for what we have.  All of which might sound trite, but if you’re going to have a message it might as well be that as anything else, and the quiet charm and understated humour of the writing ensure, as ever, that fans of McCall Smith will be amply satisfied.  And Mr J.L.B. Matekoni cries.

Mind you, a little of this goes a long way: I’m now off to read something which I hope will be much nastier.

‘The Brass Verdict’, Michael Connelly

‘The Brass Verdict’ marks the return of Mickey Haller, hero of ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’.  Haller’s been out of the game for a couple of years but inherits the caseload of a murdered colleague.  As an additional treat for Connelly fans, the murder investigation is being conducted by Harry Bosch, and the Haller/Bosch exchanges have a real charge to them; with good reason, as it turns out.

The focus of the book is one of Haller’s inherited cases: a Hollywood bigshot’s on trial for the double murder of his wife and her lover.  Connelly knows how to keep the reader turning the pages, and after the slight misstep of ‘The Overlook’ this is confirmation that his powers remain intact: by the climax of ‘The Brass Verdict’ this reader was turning the pages so swiftly that at one point I had to go back to double-check a key plot detail.  Thrilling, breathless stuff.

‘The Girl Of His Dreams’, Donna Leon

Business as not-quite-usual for Donna Leon and Commissario Guido Brunetti in number 17 of the series.  The suspicious death of a Roma child – the book’s main case – isn’t introduced until a third of the way in.  Until then, Brunetti is more concerned with the death of a family member and, arising out of that, an investigation into the activities of a cleric who might  be working a scam.   The cases aren’t really connected, but are brought together at the end in a moving and satisfying way.  

Brunetti’s investigation of the child’s death, though, obliges him to face up to prejudice, his own and that of others – including the Roma – and, uncomfortably, the extent to which it might be justified.  Or at any rate defensible.  Leon is too clear-eyed a writer to provide easy answers, but ‘The Girl Of His Dreams’ is written with her usual gently ironic touch and lightly-worn morality, and can happily be recommended.

‘Hold Tight’, Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben’s standalone thrillers generally mine the insecurities of apparently secure, middle-class suburbanites.  In ‘Hold Tight’ he jangles the nerves of parents of teenagers.  Mike and Tia Baye’s sixteen year old son, Adam, has been acting very strangely since the death by apparent suicide of one of his closest friends.  They decide to install software on his computer which enables them to spy on his online activities.

Meantime, a previously beloved teacher is facing the end of his career over a thoughtless but cruel remark made to a student, and a sadist is torturing and killing women.

These three apparently unconnected plots are of course connected, and part of the fun is waiting for, and trying to work out, the explanation (which is handled with typical Coben expertise).  The zeitgeisty-hot-button issue – how much should parents know about what their kids are up to? –  is given due prominence without feeling preachy.  And for fans of last novel ‘The Woods’, heroes Paul “Cope” Copeland and Loren Muse have more than walk-on parts.

Everything is present, in short, for one of Coben’s peerless thrillers.  Not quite as good, for my money, as ‘The Woods’ this is nonetheless superior entertainment for the train, big armchair, or bed, with a sympathetic Everyman, Mike Baye, as its beating heart.  And the really excellent news for Coben diehards is that Myron Bolitar is back next time out.

‘When Will There Be Good News?’, Kate Atkinson

This is the third in Kate Atkinson’s series of novels featuring Jackson Brodie, former soldier and policeman turned sort-of-private-detective.   It follows the excellent ‘Case Histories’ and ‘One Good Turn’: the former, in particular, being a truly exceptional novel.  The great news is that this book is every bit as good as its predecessors.

As well as Jackson there’s a welcome return for Edinburgh policewoman Louise Monroe.  She and Jackson have unfinished business, and Atkinson keeps them apart for most of the book – when they finally meet again, it’s as sparky as fans of ‘One Good Turn’ could have hoped for.

But the story here is primarily about Joanne Hunter, a doctor who mysteriously goes missing with her baby, and the engaging Reggie (short for Regina), Joanne’s old-before-her-time childminder, who seems to be the only person who thinks there’s something wrong.  “Everyone’s dead”, Reggie remarks more than once, and so it seems.  The book is steeped in death and its characters surrounded by it – murder, accident, old age.  Spouses die; relatives die; rail passengers die; children die; everyone dies.  And yet the book is a triumphant affirmation of the importance of life and love.

From its astounding opening to its satisfactorily messy conclusion, ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ is a delight.  The pacing could not be better; the plotting, characterisation, and dialogue likewise.  Atkinson is able to write about weighty topics with an immensively attractive lightness of tone.  I couldn’t wait to turn the page.

Can you enjoy this book if you haven’t read the others?  I would say so.  As Jackson and Louise are returning characters Atkinson doesn’t spend much time on their backstory: Jackson, in particular, might seem a bit elusive.  But whether you start here or not this is a terrific book; absolutely terrific.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

‘The Draining Lake’, Arnaldur Indridason

Thanks to authors such as Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo, there’s a lot of top quality crime fiction coming from Scandinavia at the moment.  Some of the very best work is coming from Iceland’s Arnaldur Indridason, and this, the fourth of his novels to be translated into English, maintains the high standard.

This Reykjavik-set series features the sad-eyed, rumpled Inspector Erlendur.  Indridason and Erlendur don’t deal in the wildly zig-zagging plot twists of a Harlan Coben or a Jeffery Deaver.  Instead, Erlendur works patiently,  investigating and accumulating detail, yielding the truth and the lies underlying the crime.

In ‘The Draining Lake’ Indridason alternates between modern-day Reykjavik and a convincingly-drawn cold war era Leipzig, as a body with a Russian listening device tied to it is found in a lake.  An elderly Icelandic man recalls his ideologically-fuelled younger self’s decision to study in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, and the betrayal and loss which followed.  The novel is wholly successful, and it’s a measure of Indridason’s increasing assurance as a novelist that both environments are evoked so satisfactorily.  The ending is hopeful and haunting in equal measures, but feels unforced. 

If pushed I would have to concede that I marginally preferred ‘Voices’, the last in the series, but that’s only because I enjoy spending time with Erlendur, his colleagues, and his Reykjavik.

‘The Draining Lake’, however, is great.  Crime fiction fans should not miss out on Indridason, and now that one of his novels has been made into a film (released here under the title ‘Jar City’) it might well be that he will be in line for a bit of spin-off success in the UK.