Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Article excerpt

Modern living and modern publishing often seem to force crime writers to produce thin, badly thought out novels, unworthy of their best work. Tony Hillerman is not one of these. The Fallen Man (Michael Joseph, 16.99) is, as usual, set in Navajos National Park, New Mexico and has acting Lieutenant Jim Chee of the tribal police investigating the death of a man whose skeleton is found under the peak of Ship Rock, a sacred mountain. He is also investigating some local cattle-rustling. His mind is, however, on other things, particularly his floundering romance with a pretty, Americanised lawyer. In consequence, it is his old, retired boss Leaphorn who does most of the salient investigation on this one.

The skeleton turns out to be that of Hal Breedlove, who went missing 11 years earlier, a week after his 30th birthday, when he inherited a large ranch. He left an inconsolable young widow who still runs the ranch with her environmentalist brother Dermott and some pretty angry cousins who had hoped to develop the ranch for its molybdenum deposits had Hal lived. Leaphorn is hired by the cousins to investigate how Hal came to die (they suspect he was murdered), and as interest quickens in Hal's life and death others are murdered and Chee is attacked. Good detective work is, as always, at the centre of developments and at the end justice is delivered after a fashion, although truth is subverted for the greater good.

Ed McBain is another writer who follows the evidence and delivers the goods. In Nocturne ((Hodder & Stoughton, 16.99) two unrelated murders are being investigated by the night shift cops at 87th Precinct. One is a classic whodunnit: an elderly alcoholic woman who lives in genteel poverty in an apartment house is found with two bullets in her heart. Her cat has also been shot dead. The apartment smells of fish. Carella and Hawes, the cops called out to the killing, soon discover that the victim has an unexpected history. In her youth she was an international concert pianist called Svetlana Helder. Her only relation turns out to be a callously selfish, egocentric nightclub singer called Priscilla Stetson whose two bodyguards act as sexual playmates. She becomes interested in her grandmother's murder when it transpires that the old woman who she thought did not have 'a pot to piss in' had, shortly before her death, been to the bank and cashed $150,000 dollars. The murder weapon is found in a drain. Then the fun begins, as Carella and Hawes track the gun back through its night's journey, covering all sorts of weird and wonderful happenings after dark in the city.

The parallel case is very different. Three private-school teenage boys out on the town and drunk out of their skulls pick up, with the help of a dope-dealing, low-life black man, a pretty, white, young prostitute. The evening gets seriously out of hand as the boys, happily engaged in group sex, turn sadistic. Again it is Carella and Hawes, all in a night's work, who take the call when the body is found wrapped in a sheet in an alley. They soon discover who her pimp was, but by the following evening two more related deaths have occurred, and it is fat, squat, racist officer, Ollie Weeks, who unravels these particularly unsavoury murders.

McBain's 87th Precinct novels are a mixture of humorous, laconic dialogue and vivid descriptions of violence, written in a graphic, shorthand style. …

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