MMM’s tireless team of criminal masterminds have been sifting the wow! from the wtf? in this month’s selection of international thrillers and gritty BritCrime. Read on for hardboiled Aussie noir, death in Bethlehem and a southern-gothic serial killer story which crosses one too many lines…
BAD DEBTS by Peter Temple
The first of the Jack Irish series of Aussie noir investigations – fiercely written, crammed with brutal and brilliant creations, with gems of dazzling dialogue enlivening every encounter. It’s a bit less ‘literary’ and a lot less gruelling than some of Temple’s standalone stories, which tends to leave you feeling emotionally hollowed out. But it retains all of the author’s acerbic skill at single-line character assassination, and his outstanding use of colloquial English to masterfully portray a sense of place and purpose. Witty and gripping: a cracking additional to the international crime scene.
Ideal if you enjoyed Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt or Steve Hamilton’s Canadian thrillers.
A LAST ACT OF CHARITY by Frank Westworth
An intriguing book. A fast-paced thriller which leaves you occasionally wanting to come up for air. It is brutal, erotic and mesmerising. It really doesn’t compare with anything else in this genre. Be warned, the ending is not what you might reasonably expect.
I read it non-stop and have ordered the next one. Lord save me!
I recommend you try it.
Four stars (AS)
THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS by Matt Rees
Hard going, this. It’s a carefully plotted and well executed example of a technically excellent thriller, saturated with cultural detail, but it’s unrelenting, gruelling reading. The action takes places near Jerusalem, in a Palestinian neighbourhood that’s being torn apart by continual fighting between Muslim militia and the Israeli army. Mafia-style gangs terrorise local businesses, corruption is rife in the police and legal systems, and justice is at best arbitrary.
There’s a solid story and a grimly authentic atmosphere, but little in the way of moral resolution. it’s not unlike reading about The Troubles in Ireland, and every bit as depressing.
IF LOOKS COULD KILL by Beverly Barton
A highly commercial hybrid of Southern belle romance and serial killer mystery. Starts with explicit encounters and continues with smouldering sexual tension that would do Heathcliff and Cathy proud. Also features cardboard cut-out characters, weak plotting, graphic intimacy and lots of typos.
The graphic moments of intimacy made my skin crawl after a while, and I wasn’t too happy with the gleeful use of violence against women for little more than trashy titillation.
But what do I know? It was, apparently, an NYT bestseller. Sheesh.
ZERO DAY by Eden Sharp
A tight, taut tale which highlights a single – but formative – episode in the eventful life of Angela McGlynn. If you’ve not met her before, McGlynn is one of crime fiction’s most compelling female characters; a stealthy avenger with a lethal skill set and smarts to match.
In this quick thriller she’s just a teenager but already comes equipped with mean martial arts, the confidence to use them and a raging sense of outrage when she observes an act of injustice.
As with the author’s full-length novels, you’re not spoon-fed every single step in the story but instead follow the emotional beats, piecing together the unspoken evidence of evil and revelling in the inevitable righteous comeuppance.
A finely honed, illuminating interlude. A great place to start if you want an intro to this series of superior thrillers.
DEAD CAT BOUNCE by Robert White
Robert White is an addictive experience – or rather, his books are. This is the third of his seriously gritty novels I’ve read in succession, and the experience just gets better and better.
Is theft from a dead woman actually a crime? Of course it is, because the money belongs to surviving family members, but when those family members have looked for it, failed to find it and given up? The entire book is packed with subtle moral questions – rendered almost invisible by the full-on confusion and violence which is the author’s trademark. The bad guys range from the seriously bad all the way to the almost likeable guys – but they’re all bad. There are no saints, no saviours – as in real life, maybe.
This is a great romp. Chasing the money, then chasing the guy who finds it in a relentless high-powered chase through working class USA. If you enjoy the writings of James Crumley, Walter Mosley, you will love this. Honest.
Five Stars (FW)