Fathers, sons and guns
CRIME BEAT:TWO OF THE VETERANS OF THE crime genre, James Lee Burke and Henning Mankell, delivered meditations on aging and mortality earlier this year, in The Glass Rainbowand The Troubled Man, respectively, and Michael Connelly ploughs a similar furrow with The Drop(Orion, £18.99).
Harry Bosch is presented with the ideal opportunity to stave off his impending retirement when a politically sensitive case presents itself, and a former nemesis surprisingly requests that Bosch personally investigate the apparent suicide of his son. A secondary investigation into a cold case finds Harry engaging against his will with a child abuser in order to track down a killer, but of all the conflicts that underpin The Dropthe most significant is Harry’s – and perhaps Connelly’s – fear that he is losing his grip. “I am thinking that I’m tailing off, you know?” says Bosch. “Like anything . . . there’s a drop-off of skills at a certain point.”
Whatever about Harry Bosch, there’s no apparent diminution of Connelly’s skills at blending grimy realism into the classic police-procedural structure, the novel’s questioning tone sharpened by a former journalist’s take on the friction between the media-literate LAPD and their peers in the fourth estate.
Another former journalist, Colin Bateman, resurrects the mouthy newspaperman Dan Starkey for his first outing in six years in Nine Inches(Headline, £19.99). No longer a reporter, Starkey has set up as a private detective, in which capacity he is commissioned by a shock-jock radio host, Jack Caramac, to discover who kidnapped his young son. A slew of nefarious characters hove into sight as Starkey’s investigation moves from the well-heeled suburbs to working-class loyalist enclaves, in the process proffering a rather jaundiced view of the officially peaceful Northern Ireland landscape. Oddly, the ex-paramilitaries Starkey encounters are far more terrifying than those he outwitted when Bateman was writing during the Troubles, perhaps because, back then, there was always the hope the psychopathic parasites might melt back into the shadows when the new dispensation dawned. Dotted with Starkeys blackly comic observations, Nine Inchesis an unsettling, breathless and very funny novel.
Aly Monroe’s Icelight(John Murray, £19.99) is her third novel to feature the understated British spy Peter Cotton, who has survived the second World War only to find himself stuck behind a desk in dreary old London during the winter of 1947-8, with the city in the deathly grip of a deep freeze. Cotton is seconded to Sea-Snake, an operation designed to flush out any pro-communist agents operating in the British secret services, which leads him to investigate the suicide of an experimental physicist notorious for consorting with rent boys. The stately pace and avuncular tone belie Monroe’s capacity to generate tension and momentum from the most innocuous of incidents, and the political context deliberately foreshadows more famous incidents in the cold-war years ahead, as former allies – Britain, Russia and the US – jockey for position in the postwar years.
The Betrayal of Trust(Chatto Windus, £14.99) is Susan Hill’s sixth novel to feature the police detective Simon Serailler, a series centred on the idyllic English village of Lafferton that should appeal to those who prefer their crime novels to err on the genteel side. Here Serailler opens up a cold-case-style investigation when the skeletons of two young women are discovered after a mudslide, but Hill also weaves a number of narratives into the tale, raising intriguing questions about euthanasia and assisted suicide. The series is evolving into something of a epic embracing the wider Serailler family, but The Betrayal of Trustis entirely accessible as a standalone read, and Hill’s blend of functional police work, sharply drawn characters and philosophical conundrums makes for a satisfying combination.
Cell 8(Quercus, £12.99) is Swedish duo Roslund and Hellström’s follow-up to their bestselling Three Seconds. It centres on a mysterious young man, John Meyer, who is arrested in Sweden for aggravated assault but quickly revealed to be a man who supposedly died of heart failure while awaiting execution in jail in the US. How and why Meyer escaped death row forms one aspect of the narrative, with another consisting of a number of Swedish characters attempting to prevent his extradition back to the US. Essentially, however, this is a lectern-thumping polemic on the death penalty, particularly Sweden’s semi-official facilitation of the extradition of those already condemned to death. The pace is swift, but the exploration of the central theme lacks all subtlety, and the finale is laughably preposterous.
George Pelecanos returns with a new hero, Spero Lucas, in The Cut(Orion, £12.99). A specialist in finding lost items and ferreting out information, the former marine trawls the mean streets of Washington DC, commissioned by a drug kingpin to discover who is stealing his consignments of dope. Fans of the author, who was one of the lead writers of the TV series The Wire, will recognise Spero as a Pelecanos archetype who harks back to his earliest novels: the DC setting, the streetwise argot, the Greek-American background, the penchant for blues, jazz and soul. Languid in style and taut in execution, the story riffs on a motif of fatherless sons and sons betrayed by their fathers, as Spero and those around him come to terms with the philosophical notion that each man must step out of his father’s shadow and take responsibility for his own sins. Hard-boiled, thoughtful, pragmatic and charismatic, Spero Lucas is the latest tarnished knight to excel at doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons.
Declan Burke is a journalist and author. His latest novel, Absolute Zero Cool, is published by Liberties Press