Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Article excerpt

Andrew Rosenheim is building a solid reputation for intelligent, thoughtful thrillers driven by character and theme rather than plot mechanics. His latest, Fear Itself (Hutchinson, £14.99), breaks new ground for him in that it is also a historical novel. Set mainly in the United States in the late 1930s and the first year of the second world war, it deals with the activities of the Bund, an outwardly respectable German-American organisation with a pro-Nazi agenda. Jimmy Nessheim, a young Special Agent in the recently established FBI, is given the job of infiltrating it. The stakes are high - President Roosevelt is trying to obstruct Hitler's increasingly ruthless advance in Europe, and the Bund's priority is to obstruct Roosevelt.

Underlying this, however, is a far more sinister plot designed to keep America permanently out of the war.

This wide-ranging and well-researched novel has a plausible scenario and meticulously detailed settings, both in the United States and in Europe. Its impact derives less from the routine excitements of the thriller than from Rosenheim's ability to create both richly textured characters and a vertiginous glimpse of a historical outcome that might indeed have changed the world.

The House at Sea's End (Quercus, £14.99) is the third novel by Elly Griffiths in her series about Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist working at a university in Norfolk. Ruth has an uncomfortable non relationship with a married police officer, DCI Nelson, now the father of her baby, which leads to some complicated emotional situations when the local force requests her to examine a long-dead body. In this novel, she has six elderly corpses, all of whom died as young men, concealed over half a century earlier in a cliff that is steadily being eroded by the sea. The police investigation soon embraces more modern murders, plus a rightwing MEP and his alarming dotty family who inhabit a grand gothic house on the brink of the rapidly eroding cliff.

In many ways the plot is the least satisfactory element of the book, though the basic idea is wonderful - think Dad's Army goes noir. Another problem is that flashbacks to earlier events clog the narrative, including a lengthy digression in Bosnia, 1996. But the characters are constantly engaging -particularly the vulnerable Ruth - and the writing is perceptive, as well as wryly humorous.

It is hard not to enjoy a novel that includes remarks such as (a propos a character in her nineties) 'the In Memoriam column is just a way of keeping up with your friends -Facebook for the over-eighties. …

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