Lennon takes the lead


Rampaging ex-paramilitaries, undercover cops and the return of familiar serial killers – there’s lots out there for lovers of the crime genre, writes DECLAN BURKE

“Rendell’s eye for telling detail when it comes to characterisation, a quietly elegant style, an acerbic take on modern Britain and an irrepressible delight in storytelling that results in a novel bursting at the seams with ideas, narrative digressions and twists and turns

IN THE context of Northern Ireland, “collusion” is an ugly word denoting state-sponsored murder during the Troubles. In Collusion(Harvill Secker, £12.99), Stuart Neville takes pains to illustrate the extent to which collusion “worked all ways, all directions”, and continues do so in the murky world of covert operations. Belfast Det Insp Jack Lennon, a minor character from Neville’s debut, The Twelve, takes the lead here as he investigates the fall-out from the slaughter that accured when ex-paramilitary Gerry Fegan went on the rampage. The novel has the page-turning quality of Neville’s debut (published in the US as The Ghosts of Belfast), which recently won the Los Angeles Times’s Mystery/Thriller of the Year, but it’s Neville’s clear-eyed appraisal of the real-politik of the post-Ceasefire Northern Ireland that gives it real heft.

In Faithful Place(Hachette Books Ireland, £12.99), Tana French also gives prominence to a minor character from a previous novel. Undercover cop Frank Mackey appeared in both In the Woods and The Likeness, but here he is the narrator, sucked back into his former life when the corpse of the girl he’d once planned to elope with to England is discovered on his old stomping ground, Faithful Place in inner city Dublin. As always, French is as exercised by the psychology of criminality as she is by the investigation of the mystery, and the result is a gripping, literate thriller laced with black humour.

The latest in her Inspector Sejer series, Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions(Harvill Secker, £11.99), is another novel that trades heavily in the psychology of the criminal mind. Fossum sets up a scenario in which no actual crime is committed when a young man steps off a boat into a lake, to subsequently drown, but explores instead the morality of those who were with him as they finesse the details to their own advantage. Tautly told in a crisp translation from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund, the story is a riveting exploration of the consequences of crime, a whydunit rather than the traditional whodunit.

Two aging brothers are murdered within hours of one another in River of Shadows(MacLehose Press, £18.99), the debut from Italian author Valerio Varesi. Commissario Soneri investigates against an atmospheric backdrop of a wintry northern Italy, as the Po floods its banks. The plot neatly explores the ramifications of the Italy’s internal Fascist-Communist struggle during the second World War, and Joseph Farrell’s translation is appropriately poetic, but Soneri himself is rather less fascinating, being yet another in a long line of urbane, sybaritic Italian detectives. Surely there are Italian policeman who are not obsessed with their stomachs?

Equally atmospheric is Alan Furst’s Spies of the Balkans(Weidenfeld Nicolson, £18.99), the 11th in his Night Soldiers novels, which are set in Eastern Europe prior to and during the second World War. In Salonika in 1940, undercover policeman Costa Zannis awaits the inevitable invasion of Greece by Italian forces, and finds himself drawn into establishing an underground railway for Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. The literary style belies a deftly paced plot in an old-fashioned spy thriller more reminiscent of John Le Carré and Graham Greene than Ian Fleming. Highly recommended.

Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter is Delicious(Orion, £12.99) is the fifth in his series about a homicidal Florida psychopath who harnesses his urges and only kills for the good of society. The twist here is that Dexter, who can barely describe himself as human, has his entire life overthrown when his wife gives birth to a baby daughter. Struggling to deal with emotions for the first time, Dexter has to deal with the appearance of his equally homicidal brother, all the while helping to investigate what appears to be a cannibalism spree. Lashings of gallows humour help to sugar the pill, but even though the tale moves swiftly towards its climax, it’s difficult to ignore the nagging thought that Dexter might well have outlived his novelty.

Don’t Blink(Century, £18.99) is the latest offering from James Patterson, co-written with Howard Roughan. Magazine journalist Nick Daniels is plunged into peril when he goes to interview a former baseball player at a New York restaurant, only to witness the Mafia lawyer at the next table get his eyes gouged out. The usual Patterson tropes of very short chapters and cliff-hanger endings help to move the action along at a furious pace, but the characters couldn’t have been more crudely drawn had Patterson and Roughan used crayons and cardboard. The story somehow manages to be utterly implausible and entirely predictable, and has all the literary merit of a laundry list. If you’re in the mood for a migraine, this is the book for you.

Ruth Rendell is one of the few authors who can claim to be as prolific as the James Patterson factory, although, despite publishing her first novel in 1964, she has yet to learn how to pander to her readers. Tigerlily’s Orchids(Hutchinson, £18.99) features a host of characters, all of whom live in or near the flats of Lichfield House in north London, most of whom have their lives impacted by a number of crimes that occur in the locality, ranging in seriousness from identity theft to marijuana farming to murder.

It’s by no means a conventional crime novel; in fact, it’s much more a social novel that incorporates criminal activity. That the tale succeeds brilliantly on both levels is due to Rendell’s eye for telling detail when it comes to characterisation, a quietly elegant style, an acerbic take on modern Britain and an irrepressible delight in storytelling that results in a novel bursting at the seams with ideas, narrative digressions and twists and turns that are as heartbreaking as they are unexpected. In a nutshell, a wonderfully satisfying novel.

Declan Burke is the author of The Big O. He hosts a blog, Crime Always Pays,which is dedicated to Irish crime writing