Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Recent Thrillers

Magazine article The Spectator

A Choice of Recent Thrillers

Article excerpt

Assassins crop up in a significant proportion of crime novels, sometimes attached to a country's intelligence services, sometimes hired by crime syndicates. Usually they are fit, macho men who know a lot about guns and hand-to-hand combat. Lawrence Block's killer in Hit Man (Orion, 16.99) is different. For one thing, he can't shoot for peanuts, so he's a contract killer, which means that he often gets to know his victims, and is not beyond empathising with them and even on occasion changing the scenario. He is also capable of feeling sympathy while still carrying out the commission. Keller is a most likeable psychopath (if that is what he is: certainly his emotional reflexes are far from normal).

His commissions take him from his New York apartment right across America and he likes to prepare for them in a leisurely manner: settling into a hotel, finding a favourite eating place, fantasising about the lives of those with whom he exchanges the time of day. He is a loner who falls in love with each and every place he visits and wonders about retiring and settling down. In his own strange way he seems relaxed and contented until he starts experiencing weird dreams and goes, under an alias, to a therapist to have them explained. Hit Man is a comic delight from beginning to end. Lawrence Block even succeeds in introducing a dog without getting egg on his face.

Minette Walters's The Breaker (Macmillan, 16.99) is a curiously fractured tale that takes you this way and that without ever really settling down. Despite this, the shifting plot does hold. Set on the south coast, it opens with two boys finding the body of a young woman washed up on the beach. She is identified as Kate Sumner, housewife and the mother of three-year-old Hannah who is found wandering beside a main road 15 miles away, near Poole. Hannah does not speak and screams hysterically whenever she sees her father, William, who is a scientist. He soon becomes the chief suspect. But there are others: a goodlooking porn star, Steve Harding, who is there when the body is found and who had been stalked by the dead woman, and his unattractive friend, Tony Bridges, a chemistry teacher at the local comprehensive who is jealous of his success with women and was rejected by Kate. There is a subplot only tangentially connected with the death concerning one of the policemen investigating the murder and his relationship with a horse-riding, embittered divorcee.

Minette Walters's first two novels, The Ice House and The Sculptress, were so strongly realised and well-plotted that her more run-of-the-mill subsequent thrillers have inevitably disappointed reviewers. …

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