Watching the detectives’ styles
Declan Burke rounds up the new crime fiction
Refreshing ambition: Jeffery Deaver. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
The crime novel may depend on violence for its narrative impetus, but fire needn’t always be fought with fire. Jeffery Deaver’s The Kill Room (Hodder & Stoughton, €15.99) is his 10th novel to feature the cerebral quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhymes, who here learns the hard way that an unthinking reliance on weaponry can cause the mind to disastrously oversimplify a complex situation.
Opening in the Bahamas with the assassination of a US citizen, an outspoken opponent of American foreign policy in Central and South America, the novel finds Rhyme and his team commissioned by a New York assistant district attorney to investigate the unlawful killing, as the “kill order” was issued in the state of New York by the National Intelligence and Operations Service.
Deaver might well be expected to rest on his laurels at this point in his career, but his 30th novel is refreshingly ambitious, as his labyrinthine twists lead the reader ever further into a fog of ambiguity about misdirected patriotism, the deliberate misreading of intelligence, drone warfare, whistle-blowing and free speech.
Fred Vargas is a three-time winner of the Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger award for crime fiction in translation, and The Ghost Riders of Ordebec (Harvill Secker, €18.75) is the eighth in her Commissaire Adamsberg series (and her 13th novel in total). A Paris-based police detective, Adamsberg is lured to the Ordebec region of Normandy by lurid tales of a medieval ghost army that has “seized” a number of locals, who are subsequently murdered.
Adamsberg is a rather whimsical creation, a man who tends to put more faith in instinct and lateral thinking than he does in such fripperies as physical evidence, but even he refuses to believe that an occult force is responsible for the murder spree. Fans of grittily realistic crime fiction may baulk at the offbeat tone and Adamsberg’s irreverent approach to policing, but Vargas has a deft touch when it comes to characterisation and setting (the story is crisply translated by Siân Reynolds), and the backdrop of idyllic villages, dank forests and cursed “ghost riders” gives it all the beguiling quality of a Charles Perrault fairy tale.
Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Faber and Faber, €18.60) makes an interesting counterpoint to Commissaire Adamsberg, not least because Claire DeWitt, its private eye, is heavily influenced by the (fictional) French criminologist Jacques Silette, a man who was, according to his classic manual, Détection, as likely to employ karma as a magnifying glass in his investigations.
Gran’s second outing for her unique private detective, which is set in San Francisco, finds DeWitt investigating the suspicious death of her former lover Paul Casablancas, a musician. Once his body is discovered, Gran abandons any pretence at a traditional crime-fiction narrative, instead bending the genre’s tropes out of shape as the charmingly idiosyncratic DeWitt stumbles along to the beat of a drum only she can hear.