Ian Rankin – Orion - $38.99
First off one has to say it comes as something of a shock to read a crime fiction novel set in Edinburgh by Ian Rankin, one of Britain’s great contemporary exponents of the art, which does not feature the indomitable and irascible Inspector Rebus. He was of course the star detective in some 18 of Rankin’s earlier novels before retiring from the force in his last book, Exit Music.
There is a brief nod to Rebus when DI Ransome asks DI Hendricks how things are at Gayfield Square and gets the reply, “A damn sigh quieter since you-know-who retired”.
This new title has few similarities and many differences to the long Rebus sequence.
It has the same wonderful Edinburgh detail, perhaps a little less grim, the usual bunch of dodgy crims’ but with somewhat less murky detail, along with all the twists and turns of the plot all delivered in Rankin’s consummate style.
This time though there is no murder, rather it features an art heist, and you sense from the beginning that the plan devised by three very successful. professional citizens (wannabe criminals) is doomed to failure. In fact Detective Inspector Ransome ( in place of Rebus) is on to them from the outset.
So not the usual crime fiction setting at all. In fact there are times when you wonder just who the good guys are. I guess overall the style is much more light-hearted than that Rankin employed in the Rebus stories.
Our three protagonists have dreamed up the perfect art heist. One is a computer whiz whose company was bought out for millions and he is now bored, the next a banker with a leading Scottish bank who feels he is a grey man, and the third a professor of arts at the Edinburgh College of Arts on the verge of retirement. They are all art lovers and art collectors and they decide to “liberate” a number of paintings for their own use from the National Gallery’s overflow storage unit in Granton. It is the professor’s annoyance at the fact that so many of the National gallery’s artworks are hidden away in storage and rarely seen that starts or unlikely trio on their adventure. The heist is planned to take place on Edinburgh’s annual “doors open” day when many of the major institutions throw their doors open to the public.
Everything seems to be progressing well until they have to involve a local crime boss and then things so to go seriously awry.
An entertaining read that builds to a superb climax complete with brilliant twist.
THE PRIVATE PATIENT
P.D.James – Faber - $37.99
I wonder if this might be the indomintable P.D..James’ last novel featuring Commander Adam Dalgleigh? I hope not but at 88 years of age surely the grande dame of British crime writing must be nearing the end of her writing career? Additionally she has finally, right at the end of this latest book, married Adam Dalgleish to his Cambridge academic girl friend Emma. I am so happy about that. Dalgleish is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, I am really fond of him, feel as if I know him well after 16 or 17 novels, and I reckon Emma is just perfect for him. So I wish them all the best and hope that P.D.James might yet give us another novel in which they feature.
Features of a P.D.James novel include superbly detailed characterization, plot-driven, elegant and eloquent language, astonishingly elaborate descriptions of places and a constant underlying feeling throughout that something appalling is going to happen, and usually does.
This is how The Private Patient begins:
On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon, and there in a consulting room designed, so it appeared, to inspire confidence and allay apprehension, made the decision that would lead inexorably to her death.
The private patient of the title
Rhoda Gradwyn is the private patient of the title and the first 100 pages of the novel are largely devoted to her. We really get to know her well, and all the time we know she is about to be murdered.
And an example of the detail in her descriptions, her brilliance at evocative scene setting:
High above, the arched timbers were blackened with age. Linen-fold paneling covered the lower parts of the walls, and, above it, a row of portraits, Tudor, Regency, Victorian faces, celebrated with varying talents, some she suspected, owing their place more to family piety than artistic merit. Facing her was a stone fireplace with a coat of arms, also in stone, above it. A wood fire was crackling in the grate, the dancing flames casting gules over the three figures who rose to meet her.
Although the story varies from the traditional crime fiction novel in that it becomes apparent around the half way stage who committed the murder it is in other respects a pretty classic treatment. A remote country house, a gaggle of potential suspects, a love interest, more than one actually, and the usual straining of credibility with all the implausible goings on.There is even a stone circle thrown in for good measure.
Not her best, perhaps her last, but certainly still a vintage P.D.James for her legion of fans who will welcome it gladly.
Peter Leonard – Faber - $37.99
I’m not sure whether it would be a plus or a minus to be writing your first crime thriller when your father is one of the most experienced and respected writers in the field in the US?
This is Peter Leonard’s first book, and his father is Elmore Leonard, best-selling author of almost 50 titles in this genre.
I guess it would have helped get an agent and get published but I can assure you that even if he had used another name this book would have still been published because it is a great read with some of the razor sharp dialogue for which his father is renowned as well as a great plot and some truly unforgettable characters, most low-life creepy crims.
Peter Leonard is a chip off the old block and it will not surprise me if he doesn’t give up his advertising agency work to become a fulltime writer. He has a great ear for dialogue and a good eye for detail and this is an impressive debut novel.
In brief this is the story of Kate McCall and her teenage son Luke who has just killed his father in a freak hunting accident. Luke is haunted by guilt & grief and goes badly off the rails. When he takes his father’s car and flees to the family holiday home, the scene of the accident, Kate follows him along with Jack, an old flame, who has just arrived on the scene. Trouble is Jack is just out of prison and brings along a cast of decidedly dodgy, unpleasant characters, all after a slice of Kate’s significant inheritance.
Plenty of guns and plenty of action, bound to be a movie, a bit of a surprise that it is published by Faber who tend to be more in the literary area. If you like well-written action packed crime thrillers where murder and mayhem abound then this is for you.
IN THE DARK
Mark Billingham – Lttle,Brown - $38.99
Billingham, who is also a stand-up comedian of some repute in the UK, was one of the star guest authors at the Christchurch Writers Festival in September this year. He is an acclaimed and popular crime writer in the UK with an increasing audience around the world.
He is best known for his series of London-based novels, seven published to date, featuring D.I.Tom Thorne which have won him a host of awards including the Sherlock Award, the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award plus no fewer than five CWA Daggers. And all seven titles have been top ten best-sellers in the UK.
Initially I was disappointed to find this was not another featuring Tom Thorne but disappointment was soon forgotten as I became caught up in the fast moving drama that starts on a rainy night in south London with a chilling gang initiation where shots are fired into a car which then swerves on to the footpath and into a bus stop costing an innocent bystander, off duty policeman, Paul Hopwood, his life. This is London gang warfare at its grimest making the book’s title especially relevant. This is a gritty, fierce piece of action-packed writing with a superb twist at the end.
Oh, for the record Tom Thorne does make a cameo appearance.
THE FIRST FINGERPRINT
Xavier-Marie Bonnot – Quercus - $35
Translated from the French by Ian Monk.
This is exciting for me, a crime novelist I have not previously read, or even heard of! A little quick research shows that Xavier-Marie Bonnot has a PhD in History and Sociology, and two Masters degrees in History and French Literature. The First Fingerprint is the first of a quartet of De Palma novels and has won two literary awards in France.
Good oh, get on with trnslating the next three I say.
The publishers claim is that The First Fingerprint introduces a policeman as polished as he is brutal, as charming as he is streetwise and as deceptively noble as he is coarse. Michel de Palma, called "the Baron" by his colleagues, knows the dark underside of the city of Marseille as do none of his rivals. But his enemies are everywhere: in the crime-infested sinks of the suburbs; in the sleek and squalid bars of the old quarter; even in the police ranks themselves.
In an underwater cave to the west of Marseille are the first human engravings known to man included among them a crude drawing of a three-fingered hand.
When Marseille is shocked by a series of brutal murders, each signed with a print of three-fingered hand, the Baron is called off his present case to investigate but then there proves to be a very strong connection between the two cases.
His case involves the puzzling death of a noted historian and it turns out that he was researching the cave containing the drawing of the three fingered hand. Voila, it is the same case.
Bonnot’s Michel de Palma reminded me somewhat of Ian Rankin’s D.I.Rebus, certainly he has the same intimate knowledge of his home city as does Rebus, and Marseille, .like Edinburgh, definitely has its very seedy side, something both authors portray with consummate skill.