A cracking good read

Crimefile: A good crop, this time round, beginning with Gerard Murphy's fine first excursion into crime fiction, Death without…

Crimefile: A good crop, this time round, beginning with Gerard Murphy's fine first excursion into crime fiction, Death without Trace.

Following the American rather than the English tradition, his protagonist is an amiable private detective, who sidelines as a brewery foreman - considering the amount that fictional gumshoes drink, this is not too hard to swallow. Mike Madigan is his name and seeking out errant husbands is his game. The glamorous wife of a university professor hires him to keep an eye on hubby, whom she suspects of having an affair. Taking on the chore catapults Mike into more trouble than he's ever had before, and he nearly loses his life before coming out more or less safely at the other end. Murphy writes an in-your-face, wisecracking prose style that never flags as regards pace or delivery, and his cast of characters is as believable as the constituent parts are weird. Madigan is a finely realised anti-hero - among other things he listens to the news in Irish because he doesn't want to know what's going on in the world - and I look forward to his future adventures. Death without Trace is a cracking good read, and the one-liners at times approach the best of those of the master, Raymond Chandler.

The longevity of some crime writers is phenomenal: Elmore Leonard is well into his 70s, Donald E Westlake likewise, and Ed McBain, who has just survived throat cancer, is trembling on the brink of 80. And still they continue writing! McBain's latest 87th Precinct novel, Hark!, was published before Christmas, and now, here, in Alice in Jeopardy, he is beginning a new series in which each novel will feature contemporary women "in jeopardy". Alice Glendenning has lost her husband to a boating accident and now works in a real estate agency to help bring up her two children while she waits for the insurance check. Then one day the children disappear and soon afterwards a woman rings to say she has them and that they'll be killed if Alice doesn't come up with a quarter of a million dollars. The police are called in, but make a mess of things, and it is then left to Alice herself to find the children and rescue them. McBain, the old pro, cranks up the tension to breaking point, and, even though it is fairly obvious from early on who the villain is, he keeps the reader's attention right to the final denouncement. One can only sit back and admire.

Adrian McKinty was born in Carrickfergus, but has lived in the US for a number of years. His debut novel, Dead I Well May Be, caused quite a stir, and he has now followed it up with an equally engrossing second effort, Hidden River. It starts off in Belfast, where ex-policeman Alex Lawson is asked to go to Colorado to investigate the killing of an old sweetheart named Victoria. She had worked for an environmental charity dealing in millions of dollars, and her parents believe she had been on the point of stumbling across an embezzlement ring. Lawson travels to the States and infiltrates the company working the charity, thus involving himself in a ring of deceit that proves dangerous to untangle. How he does so makes for an exciting read, and, although there are a few longueurs along the way, the hand on the wheel stays fairly firm.


Stephen Leather is a master of the thriller genre, and Soft Target does not disappoint. The background to the drugs trade, as elucidated in the opening chapter, immediately grabs one's attention, and the pace never lets up from then on. The story concerns the efforts of undercover policeman Dan Shepherd to uncover the identity of the London gang, who are ripping off drug dealers at gunpoint. It soon turns out that they are maverick cops, who are either acting as vigilantes or are doing it for their own purposes. Leather gives the impression that he has done his research thoroughly, and his attention to detail is immaculate. The result is a gripping read, the equal of anything of its nature being published on either side of the Atlantic.

In Detour, James Siegel has written as original a crime novel as one is likely to come across. Americans Paul and Joanna are desperate to have a baby, but after years of failing to conceive or adopt they are now on their way to the Santa Regina orphanage in Colombia to bring home their new daughter, Joelle. Happiness like that just has to have its downturn, however, and Colombia being the dangerous country it is, Paul soon finds himself in as difficult a situation as one could imagine. Because of the fact that he's an American and can safely travel back there, he is given 18 hours by a high-profile gangster to get a mysterious consignment to an address in New York. If he doesn't, his wife and new baby will be horribly murdered. Old hat, you might think, but Siegel invests the story with enough twists and turns to keep even the most cynical of readers happy. A real cracker.

Then there is Boris Akunin's Turkish Gambit, set at the time of the Russo-Turkish war in the 1870s and featuring his likable amateur sleuth Erast Fandorin. Nicely old-fashioned in the manner of Conan Doyle or Dorothy Sayers, the story loops around Fandorin's efforts to unmask a traitor in the Russian camp, while at the same time staying out of the clutches of the delectable Varvara Suvorova, who is journeying to join her fiancé. Akunin has a dry wit that admirably suits the progress of his story, the result being a warmly humorous tale told with no little panache.

Finally, I would like to recommend Rilke on Black and Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice (Serpent's Tail at £7.99), two reissues of novels by Galway-based writer Ken Bruen. T If you haven't come across the excellent Bruen up to now, then these two weird and wonderful novels will act as a suitable introduction.

Vincent Banville is an author and critic

Death without Trace By Gerard Murphy The Collins Press, €9.99 Alice in Jeopardy By Ed McBain Orion, £12.99 Hidden River By Adrian McKinty Serpent's Tail, £9.99 Soft Target By Stephen Leather Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99 Detour By James Siegel Timewarner, £10.99 Turkish Gambit By Boris Akunin Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99