What have you been reading during lockdown? We’ve gone for a classic espionage thriller, a smattering of short sharp stabs, an angry, radical thriller and a masterclass in modern American literature. All of them turned out to be four- or five-star high fliers. Take your pick…
SS-GB by Len Deighton
This may be in the ‘classic’ category of wartime crime, but it’s every bit as good as its current counterparts. Deighton imagined an alternate reality where England fell to Nazi forces early in WW2. There are pockets of resistance in the distant countryside but blast-damaged London is firmly under the fascist boot, and the Abwehr and SS vie for supremacy in the occupied territory. An unusual murder triggers a fraught investigation for a British police detective who’s pressured by his military masters, sinister intelligence agencies and homegrown freedom fighters. It’s a cracking story with brilliantly tangled threads, set in Occupied England that feels spookily authentic. Read this if you like Philip Kerr’s Hitler’s Peace or The Man In The High Castle.
FEARLESS JONES by Walter Mosley
I enjoy Walter Mosley’s writing so much that I ration the stories. This book has been languishing on my Kindle until such time as had the time to read it slowly, so that I could read it carefully and enjoy what is seriously classy writing. Four years, almost, from buying it to reading it. That is restraint. Which has given me the opportunity to read all three of the Fearless Jones books in straight succession — one after the other.
Sometimes I wonder whether Mosley’s passion for his racial views dilutes the stories in some way. But I always decide that it doesn’t. Instead it offers a truly unusual approach to historical fiction — which in one sense this is. It’s also fascinating and engaging as well as being an exciting and gripping read.
Narrating the tale through the eyes / words of Paris Minton rather than our eponymous hero is unusual, but very effective. Recommended.
NINE LIES by Frank Westworth
The latest instalment of the JJ Stoner series, former-sergeant Stoner, ‘former jolly hitman for Her Maj’, is now teamed up with Stretch McCann (an American counterpart) in the assassination game. His next job comes in the guise of a green dragon memory stick given to him by his boss, The Hard Man. When the job goes wrong they suspect it has been a set up due to the failure of the equipment, but which one of them was the target? It’s a dangerous game being an assassin and anything can happen when your only ally is another assassin.
Book nine in the series and JJ doesn’t get any less cool, just a couple more scars to show off to the ladies on the beach! More cool writing from Frank Westworth.
♥♥♥♥♥ Pat McDonald, British crime author
NOTHING IMPORTANT HAPPENED TODAY by Will Carver
Dangerous. Challenging. Disturbing. Disjointed. Actually nasty in places. A brave book, showcasing many unpopular home-truths about the social-meeja generation.
Bitter and extremely bleak, told from different perspectives across skewed timelines. A masterclass in plotting and choreography. Perfect for people who like Derek Raymond or James Crumley. Probably too twisted and intense for many readers of traditional police procedural type ‘thrillers’. Bravo to the author and publisher for taking real risks when most writers play it safe.
THOMAS HAFTMANN, PI: SHORT STORIES 2 by Robb White
Robb White has produced a truly memorable PI with his Thomas Haftmann character. Really. Never have I read a more dogged seeker of job satisfaction. In this considerably brutal story, our hero (in some senses, possibly) is trying to find a young runaway woman to return her to her parents. Sounds unremarkable, no?
Except… it’s entirely remarkable. The action is vivid and stark. Haftmann narrates his own story, so the reader gets to (to and) understand his motivations, which are superficially simple but functionally frightening. If you enjoy tales of a smart guy in what appears to be a decline towards a death wish, this is outstanding. I found myself endless instructing Haftmann not to do the stupid, heroic, vainglorious thing, startled in the knowledge that he would do it. And he always did.
Was the prize worth it? Only the author knows, but I was both exhausted and exhilarated by the end. And this is so not for the squeamish…
A LAST ACT OF CHARITY by Frank Westworth
The writing hooked me – it just did. I’ve no experience of making music, yet was absorbed in the descriptions of doing so here, to the extent where I found myself yearning, in the same way as hearing music from my past makes me ache for something lost. Convoluted, dense, frenetic and not sure what is going on a lot of the time, but in a way that kept me reading, and ensures I’ll be ordering the other two in the series.
♥♥♥♥♥ Sandra Davies
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