New crime: Bosch and Rebus dust off their gumshoes
Crime reviews: Declan Hughes on the latest from Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and JK Galbraith and a compendium of women crime writers
Michael Connelly: creator of Harry Bosch
Among the many qualities of the Harry Bosch series, it is the way that Michael Connelly, its author, depicts the rivalries and political wrangling within the LAPD that has perhaps been most striking. In The Crossing (Orion, £19.99), the newly retired Bosch has left it all behind, apparently content to spend his days restoring a vintage Harley Davidson, revelling in his escape from the work day, the tension, “that slow-moving river of steel and light”. But deep down he knows where he belongs and he agrees to investigate a case for lawyer Mickey Haller. He soon finds himself operating as a PI for the defence, exciting the contempt of his former colleagues for attempting to stop a murder trial, and raising misgivings of his own for having crossed to the dark side. Brash showman Haller and brooding, relentless Bosch make a winning combination. There are terrifying rogue cops from a James Ellroy fever dream, two shoot-outs and a climactic courtroom scene. When Michael Connelly is on form, as he is with The Crossing, he is irresistible.
As ever with a long-running series, it’s the human touches that linger; Bosch’s awkward relationship with his teenage daughter will resonate with many a parent: “He had given up trying to understand the way Maddie thought . . . He invariably failed and said the wrong word or celebrated the wrong achievement or complimented the wrong thing.”
Even the Dogs in the Wild (Orion, £19.99) is the third entry in Ian Rankin’s welcome Rebus reboot, and while the man is gratifyingly the same, his role is less than clear. He’s already retired for a second time when Siobhan Clarke asks him to investigate the murder of a senior lawyer, largely because allegedly retired gangster Big Ger Cafferty, who is connected to the death, refuses to deal with anyone else.
Add the arrival of a Glasgow crime family in Edinburgh, with an undercover squad of Glasgow detectives on their trail, and Rebus, Clarke and Malcolm Fox have their hands full. Rebus is described here as a consultant, and his life is a lot quieter now that Fox is no longer investigating him. In a subtle, moving novel sometimes redolent of his Edgar-winning Resurrection Men, the plots dovetail satisfyingly in classic Rankin fashion.
There’s something a little too cosy for comfort about the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty, though, and Rebus’s uncertain status is bound to prove a headache for Clarke’s superior officers in future instalments: I predict storms.
Writing as Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling is clearly enjoying herself immensely in Career of Evil (Sphere, £20), the third novel to feature PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. (Career of Evil’s title is taken from the Patti Smith lyric for a Blue Öyster Cult song, and every chapter features a Blue Öyster Cult epigraph: metal fangirl kudos to Ms Rowling.) A severed leg of a woman is delivered in a parcel to Ellacott. With the killer taking an occasional chapter to share his violent, misogynistic thoughts, and an amicable relationship with Wardle of the Met, the case proceeds as you might expect. But sometimes the plot of a crime novel is like the steel joist in a roof: you’re glad it’s there but it’s not exactly the point.
Beery, fleshy, irascible Strike is a compelling creation, and his will-they-won’t-they relationship with Ellacott, who emerges in the novel as a capable and possessed detective in her own right, is extremely well done.
English PIs are rare, and one of the characteristics of the sub-genre is its sense of place, perhaps because there’s no police station to retreat to; the road trips to Melrose and Barrow are wonderfully atmospheric, and the squalid London of sticky-floored lunchtime lap-dancing pubs is vividly rendered. I wish she wouldn’t write phonetic dialogue, especially when her ear for speech is so acute, but this is terrifically entertaining stuff.
Sarah Weinman has been a significant presence in the crime fiction world for more than 10 years, as an influential blogger, reviewer and publishing insider.
In 2013 she edited Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, a collection of short fiction from the 1940s and 1950s that sought to reintroduce to the public the pioneering voices of domestic suspense. Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Dorothy B Hughes, Vera Caspary and others were the forerunners of Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippmann and of course, Paula Hawkins, whose The Girl on the Train has been the crime fiction publishing story of the year. Yet apart from Highsmith, their names and their work had mostly been forgotten; Weinman meant to restore their reputations in the way forgotten male writers like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Charles Willeford had been rediscovered.
Now, with the two volume Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s (Library of America, $70) Weinman has delivered on that project in style.
The best-known novel here is The Blunderer, perhaps Patricia Highsmith’s finest non-Ripley novel; all Highsmith’s uneasy, anxious-making virtues are on display in this tale of a man whose innocent wish to escape his suffocating marriage leads him relentlessly, almost determinedly towards his own destruction.
Vera Caspary’s Laura and Dorothy B Hughes’s In A Lonely Place will be known to some for the superb movies made of each. The books are quite different and demand to be read in their own right.
New to me was Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s haunting, claustrophobic The Blank Wall, which Max Ophüls filmed as The Reckless Moment.
The jewel in the crown of the collection is the great Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, a terrifying portrait of female cruelty and psychosis, written in the most exquisite, elegant prose.
Of a switchboard operator: “She was an emaciated blonde with trembling hands and a strained, white face, as if the black leech of the earphones had already drawn too much blood.”
And of a young, self-regarding mother: “. . . the conversation was conducted by Verna Clarvoe, who would chatter endlessly on the I-me-my level. Neither of the children had much to say, or if they had, they had been instructed not to say it. They were like model prisoners at the warden’s table.”
Millar is worthy of an anthology of her own, but all of these writers should be better remembered. Sarah Weinman and Library of America have done us a valuable service in bringing them back into focus. This is a sumptuous collection, a real treat for any serious crime fiction reader.
Declan Hughes is the author of the Ed Loy series. His latest book is All The Things You Are (Severn House)