Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Fiction

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Fiction

Article excerpt

In numerical terms, British police procedurals about maverick inspectors in big cities are probably at an all-time high.

Few of their authors, however, have Mark Billingham's talent for reinvigorating a flagging formula. Good As Dead (Little, Brown, £18.99) is the tenth of his Londonbased Tom Thorne thrillers. On her way to work, Detective Sergeant Helen Weeks, who previously appeared in Billingham's standalone In The Dark, calls into her usual South London newsagent's.

This time she doesn't come out with a bar of chocolate: the owner takes her and another customer hostage. Amin, his teenage son, has recently committed suicide in the young offenders institute where he was serving an eight-year sentence for manslaughter. The newsagent is sure that his son was murdered, and he wants Thorne, the officer who put together the manslaughter case against Amin, to find out the truth.

This may well be Billingham's best book yet. The narrative twists and turns over three breathless days, moving between Thorne's investigation, the police operation outside the shuttered newsagent's and the increasingly grim conditions inside. Billingham has a shrewd sense of timing, which he puts to excellent use, especially with a neatly orchestrated series of jaw-dropping surprises towards the end of the novel. He writes convincingly about the police and modern London. As for Thorne, he may be a maverick inspector, but he's no cliche: he becomes more and more interesting with every book.

Meanwhile, the Scandinavian invasion continues. The Hidden Child (translated by Tiina Nunally, Harper, £7.99) is Camilla Lackberg's fifth novel to appear in the UK.

It features her Swedish detective, Patrik Hedstrom, and his crime-writer wife, Erica Falck. Though Patrik is on paternity leave, once again the couple stumbles into a murder case on their own doorstep. Erica finds a Nazi medal among the possessions of her recently deceased mother. She takes it for identification to a retired history teacher with a lifelong obsession with the Nazis. A few months later the old man is found brutally murdered in his study.

The police investigation is paralleled by Erica's own investigation into her mother's past. All this is interspersed with flashbacks to the dark days of the war, which is of course where the heart of the mystery lies.

The book is never less than readable, with some wonderfully gruesome scenes juxtaposed with the domestic minutiae of life with small children. Lackberg skilfully manipulates a very complex narrative. …

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