Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Article excerpt

Natasha Cooper's heroine, Trish Maguire, is a barrister who subverts the stereotypes, an outsider whose troubled background sometimes gives her more in common with clients than colleagues. At the start of A Greater Evil (Simon & Schuster, £17.99), the latest novel in the series, Trish's private life is on a relatively even keel. At work, her attention is on a complex insurance case involving the Arrow, an elegant addition to the City's skyline which is developing some unexpected cracks. The opposing team includes a heavily pregnant friend, Cecilia.

Then Cecilia is brutally attacked in the studio of her sculptor husband Sam. Her baby is born prematurely as she dies. Sam, who has a history of violence, is the police's prime suspect. Trish has a professional connection with the sculptor, once an abused and abandoned child. A woman charged with the murder of her baby is claiming to be Sam's birth mother and is desperate to get in touch with him. To add to Trish's problems, the officer investigating Cecilia's murder is one of her closest friends -- a desperately ambitious woman inclined to interpret Trish's support of Sam as personal treachery.

Cooper is a first-class crime novelist.

The narrative of this powerful and densely plotted novel is driven by her sense of injustice, and by her empathy for the vulnerable who so often become victims.

She is particularly good on the brutal Byzantine intrigues of office politics and the hidden machinery of the legal system.

All in all, this is a strong addition to a series that grows steadily more impressive.

Ann Cleeves, winner of last year's inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger, is another fine author with a strong, credible female protagonist. Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, a heavy-drinking, lumbering loner marooned in middle age, bears little outward resemblance to the traditionally fit and feisty feminist detective who is such a familiar figure in the contemporary crime novel. Hidden Depths (Macmillan, £12.99), the third title in the series, centres round two murders near Newcastle. A mother finds her son, a teenager with learning difficulties, strangled in the bath, with wild flowers floating around his body.

Soon afterwards, an attractive student teacher is found dead in a rock pool, and there are flowers around her too.

Cleeves' particular skill is characterisation. Her characters range from affluent students to a spoiled woman filled with diffused sexual yearnings, from nurses to academics, from painfully doting parents to a group of middle-aged bird-watchers, all with their own secrets. …

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