Crime fiction – what to read right now
Crime fiction – what to read right now
Julie Anderson on the crime fiction awards short lists
It’s award season in the world of crime fiction writing with the recent announcement of the long and short lists of the Crime Writers Association Daggers and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year (not to mention the Crime and Thriller category of the British Book Awards, or ‘Nibbies’). I must declare an interest here, in that my latest novel, ‘Opera’, was on the long list of twelve for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2023. It didn’t make the final list of six, however, so now I’m free to review those books which did without any potential personal bias.
A contender for the CWA Gold Dagger and the Theakston’s Prize is ‘The Lost Man of Bombay’ by Vaseem Khan (£8.99, Hodder & Stoughton). The fourth in the Malabar House series, set in post-independence, 1950s India it features Bombay’s first female police Inspector, Persis Wadia and Archie Blackfinch, the scientifically minded criminalist from the Metropolitan Police. The period detail is spot on, the two leads and their relationship are fascinating, bound up with the power relationships between old and new India as well as between man and woman. India itself is seen as a country which is redefining itself, but not yet able to shake off the shackles of the past. It also has a puzzling plot of Christie-like complexity, all of which makes this a very strong contender in all the prizes.
M.W. Craven’s ‘The Botanist’ (£9.99, Little, Brown) appears on both the CWA Steel and Theakston’s lists and is the latest adventure for the engaging pairing of Washington Poe, ex-squaddie police sergeant and Tilly Bradshaw, socially challenged information genius. It centres on a series of apparently impossible (and fiendishly clever) murders of high-profile media hate figures, which are announced in advance. At the same time, one of the duo’s colleagues, and Poe’s inamorata, has been charged with killing her father and must be exonerated. Amusing as well as intriguing this promises to be as popular as its predecessors.
Robert Galbraith’s (J. K. Rowling) latest novel ‘The Ink Black Heart’ (£12.93 hardback, Sphere) in the Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott series also features the online and media world; on this occasion a popular cartoon and its creator. At over 1,200 pages this might daunt some readers and it could, in my humble opinion, benefit from some further editing, but Rowling knows how to tell a good story and her sales numbers don’t lie. Crime and detective aficionados might come for the mystery, but they continue reading for the relationship between the two central characters. This features on the CWA Steel Dagger short list.
Bucking the trend for male: female partnerships is Alan Park’s ‘May God Forgive’ the fifth book in the D.I. Harry McCoy series set in 1970s Glasgow (£8.99, Canongate). Already the deserved winner of the William McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year, it conjures up in vivid detail the gritty Glasgow which was formerly the province of the father of Tartan Noir himself. Mean streets and hard men, on both sides of the law, fight to survive in a violent, unforgiving world and the reader is utterly immersed in the twisting story until the final word. Highly recommended, this features on Steel Dagger and Theakston’s lists.
Another male protagonist is in ‘Agent Seventeen’ by John Brownlow (£8.99, Hodder & Stoughton). This modern variation on the ancient tale of Priest of Diana at Nemi, who holds his position by virtue of murdering his predecessor and keeps it only as long as he kills all the pretenders to it, begins fast and furious. At first, this seemed too shallow for me, but I persevered and found the story deepening into a tense, addictive thriller about the battle of wills between two assassins, neither of whom can afford to allow the other a scintilla of advantage. Already signed up by Hollywood this is a strong contender for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.
Some enthralling, high octane reading. The Dagger winners are announced on 6th July and voting has closed for the short list for the Theakston’s Award, the winner of which will be announced on 20th July. My next crime fiction column will review some of the excellent books which didn’t quite make it.