What to read right now
What to read right now
Julie Anderson’s top picks of crime reads that are rather different
The crocuses bloom and spring approaches but the cold weather hasn’t gone away, so there’s still the indulgence of curling up by the fire with a good book. Here are three recommendations, which could broadly be classed as ‘crime’, but which are very different.
First, Vine Street by Dominic Nolan (Headline, 2021). This remarkable book has been correctly described as ‘epic’, ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘beautiful’. It is gritty and savage, but love is at its heart, in its many guises. Set in Soho, the tale runs from 1935 to the present day; we visit the jazz dives and spielers, its working girls and junkies, as cocaine-fueled aristocrats and ordinary punters are drawn to the dangerous excitements of London’s red-light district. This is gang territory, so we meet the Sabinis, the Comer and Hill gangs, or their fictional equivalents, pursued by a marauding Flying Squad across boundaries geographic and moral. We visit Soho in 1941, with its bomb-craters and black-outs, death coming, not from a knife or a gun, but from the skies; then 1946 as London and Britain regathers post-war. Nolan takes us to 1963, when the cast changes a little, but Mark Cassar, one of the superbly drawn main characters at the centre of the book, still pursues the murderer he failed to catch before and Leon Geats, his friend, is still determined to mete out justice. This is a riveting book of resonance and power, which stays with you long after you have read the final page.
My second book is very different, Stay Mad, Sweetheart by Heleen Kist (Red Dog Press, 2019) is a psychological revenge thriller for the #Me Too generation. This is set in Edinburgh in the world of data technology start-ups, corporate take-overs, media consultancies and the online world. There are three women at its centre. All of them are ambitious and career driven, but each of them experiences insidious discrimination and Laura, the main narrator, loses her close friend, Emily, after a vicious sexualized campaign of cyberbullying. How the trio get their own back is the plot driver, but this book examines the whole landscape of harassment and culpability in the workplace, the women as well as the men. It shows that guilt and innocence aren’t as obviously clear as may at first appear and that there is a difference between justice and revenge. The internal motivations of the main characters are considered as well as the shifting dynamic between them as they join forces to redress the balance. This is a thought-provoking and topical genre-defying novel, which is also very difficult to put down.
Finally, The Accidental Medium by Tracy Whitwell (Pan Macmillan, 2022). Fun and frothy, this channels the best elements of Bridget Jones, as its narrator is a self-conscious single woman in a conversation, largely, with herself, as she worries about growing older. Our heroine Tania, or Tanz, is thirty-seven years old, determinedly grown-up and of the twenty-first century. She might consume large quantities of wine, but she has ambitions (even if her acting career is in the doldrums), doesn’t need a man (though she enjoys one when she finds one) and is learning about herself and human nature. It has a decidedly northern twang, even if it is set in North London where, given the state of her career, Tanz is forced to find alternative paid work and takes a job at a New Age shop. To her surprise she starts receiving messages from beyond the grave and a new career beckons. It’s not all comforting the newly bereaved or helping the recently demised, however, as murder rears its head and Tanz finds herself in mortal peril. This is a fun read with a pacy plot and a strong central voice which will make you smile. It does, you should be warned, contain angels.
Three very different books showing what a wide genre ‘crime’ fiction is. I hope you might enjoy reading one or all of them.
- Julie Anderson is a writer based in Clapham. Her latest novel Opera (Claret Press, September 2022) is available in book shops and on Amazon