Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Article excerpt

The Murder Farm (Quercus, £8.99) is Andrea Schenkel's first novel and has been hugely successful in her native Germany and elsewhere.

Based on a real case, it is set in the 1950s and deals with murder of a farmer, his wife, daughter, grandchildren and maid. It is a short book with an unusual structure -- an account of the case which seems to be compiled by a narrator from outside the area is intercut with witness statements giving glimpses of events, people and relationships in this isolated rural setting, and also with a handful of impassioned prayers.

Gradually the reader, who is in the privileged position of knowing more than any of the characters, assembles information about what really happened and why it had to end with a frenzied murderer wielding a pick-axe. The remote community in which the drama unfolds has a universal quality. This short but impressive novel is a dark and powerful fable whose ending leaves unresolved the ultimate question of why people sometimes run amok and kill each other.

There's a welcome return for H.R.F. Keating's long-running series hero in Inspector Ghote's First Case (Allison and Busby, £19.99). Ghote first appeared in The Perfect Murder (1964), earning his creator the first of his two Gold Daggers. Self-effacing, humane and tenacious, he has now appeared in 23 books. Here, Keating takes him back to 1960.

It is a time of great excitement for Ghote: he has just been appointed inspector and has won a coveted transfer to the Detection of Crime Branch of the Bombay Police; and his wife Protima is heavily pregnant with their first child. Sir Rustom Engineer, the formidable retired Commissioner, asks him to look into the suicide of the wife of an old British friend. The case seems sad but straightforward. But there are deeper currents here, and Ghote finds himself drawn towards old tragedies and their unexpected consequences. Expertly plotted, the novel shows that Keating has lost none of his skill. The postimperial twilight casts long shadows over the characters and their concerns. Ghote is a detective for all seasons. Let us hope this is the first of many returns.

Another series protagonist returns in Laura Lippman's Another Thing to Fall (Orion, £18.99). Tess Monaghan, her Baltimore private investigator, is hired to protect the monstrously spoiled young star of a TV series which is being made in the city. But what looks like a bread-and-butter assignment turns into a complex case involving kidnapping, murder, arson and several varieties of good, old-fashioned theft. …

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