Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Crime Novels

Article excerpt

'We no longer believe in God but hope nevertheless for miracles, ' remarks Frederic Mordaunt, one of the characters of John Harwood's third novel, The Asylum (Cape, £14.99). He's being over-optimistic, as Georgina Ferrers, the niece of a London bookseller, soon discovers when she wakes in a strange bed to be told that her name is in fact Lucy Ashton and that the year is 1882. It appears that she has admitted herself as a voluntary patient at Tregannon House, a Cornish mental asylum run by the charismatic Dr Straker. Tregannon, the ancestral home of the Mordaunt family, is tainted with madness; and the young heir, Frederic, assists Dr Straker in his selfless philanthropic work.

Harwood has a talent amounting to genius for channelling the spirit of 19thcentury sensation fiction. It's all here: maverick science, threats to personal identity, missing wills, lost heirs, illegitimate children and a pervasive sense of unease, of threats half-seen. The prose is an unusually good Victorian pastiche, a rare pleasure in the Gothic genre. The novel naturally has a plot of vertiginous complexity. (At one point the unfortunate Georgina wryly reflects, 'The experiment might end with my being hanged for murdering myself.') Wilkie Collins himself would have admired the sly, subversive resolution, though he wouldn't have dared to use it in his own fiction.

Walter Mosley's new novel is set nearly a century later and 5,000 miles away in Los Angeles. Little Green (Weidenfeld, £18.99) is the latest in his Easy Rawlins series - itself unexpected, a form of resurrection, since the previous book was billed as the last in the sequence. Easy is a middle-aged black private eye in a city still seething from the combined effects of the Summer of Love and the Watts Riots. Hired almost on his deathbed to trace the missing son of a friend of a friend, he pursues an investigation that leads him among hippies and whores. A local wise woman provides him with artificial energy in the form of flasks of 'Gator's Blood', a supercharged mystic pick-me-up. Further sustained by the love of several good women - yes, Easy is that sort of private eye - he finds that his health steadily improves, despite the rigours of the case.

Familiar though its format is, three qualities make this book well worth reading. Easy provides a black slant on a white man's world, all the more telling because it's so casually done. Second, Mosley has an acute sense of historical context - a real bonus in a series spanning several decades. …

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