Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Crime Novels

Article excerpt

Any new novel by John Harvey is cause for celebration. He produces beautifully written, solidly engineered crime stories that probe the flaws and sensitivities of British society. Gone to Ground (William Heinemann, £12.99) begins with the murder of Stephen Bryan, a lecturer in media studies bludgeoned to death in the shower of his house in Cambridge. The narrative focuses on the investigations of two police officers and of Bryan's sister, a journalist.

The victim was homosexual, and the police are open to the possibility that either a former lover or a casual pick-up may have been responsible. But Bryan's laptop is missing, and another line of investigation leads to a book he was writing. This is a biography of Stella Leonard, a minor British filmstar of the 1950s best known for her role in the noir thriller Shattered Glass.

Leonard's maverick great niece, herself an actress, is due to star in a remake, and fragments of film script are scattered through the text. Gone to Ground is a powerful novel with an unusual depth of characterisation, and it lingers in the mind after you've finished it.

The Savage Garden (HarperCollins, £12.99) is Mark Mills' second novel, following his debut The Whaleboat House, which won the John Creasey Dagger. Adam Strickland graduates from Cambridge in 1958 with a degree in art history. His professor arranges for him to spend a few weeks in Tuscany, studying the garden of the Villa Docci. Laid out in the 16th century to commemorate a dead wife, it is an enigmatic survival from another age, its groves and grottoes encoding their secret meanings in the complex symbolic language of neo-classical horticulture. The house, its garden and its inhabitants shelter more recent secrets, notably the truth behind the murder of one of the family during the closing hours of the German occupation. Not all secrets are in the past: Adam gradually realises that he is in danger of becoming a puppet in a contemporary drama unfolding around him. The book has perhaps too many literary echoes, and some of its surprises do not altogether surprise. But there is real talent here - a fine sense of period and place, a well-managed narrative, crisp prose and fascinating information about the iconography of Renaissance gardens. Mills is one to watch.

A rather different Italy forms the backdrop of Saturnalia (Century, £17.99).

Lindsey Davis's Falco returns to the mean streets of first-century Rome where he plies his dangerous trade as an informer. …

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