This week’s selection of criminal encounters goes beyond the usual police procedurals to uncover murder in the desert and monsters on the movie lot; eugenics in tomorrow’s world and courtroom dramas from yesteryear, and an assassin who kills for kindness…
THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly
It may be a touch long in the tooth – barely a mobile phone in sight, never mind the internet – but this legal thriller is a clever morality tale with multiple twists that doesn’t disappoint, even 15 years after it was written. Connelly is a skilful plotter and has a knack for creating engaging characters. Here he works a small miracle by taking a slightly slimy defence lawyer – the kinda guy who manipulates every opportunity – but makes him entirely sympathetic: a good guy in a grey world of uncertain moral outcomes. Hugely enjoyable.
MONSTERS, MOVIES & MAYHEM edited by Kevin J Anderson
The title of this anthology of short stories completely captures its theme, and these tongue-in-cheek tales are certainly a cut above the average collection. Some are simple chillers, others are nifty little mysteries and some steer into supernatural territory. Few breach the boundary between ‘thriller’ and ‘horror’ and there isn’t a dud among them. My faves include a splendid little ghost story which exemplifies the brilliance of brevity; a charming homage to the video rental store (with overtones of HP Lovecraft), and the sassy romp about a werewolf actor who has qualms about revealing all on-camera… while something deadly stalks the studio. Great fun all round, and plenty of variety in tone and content.
THE NIGHT OF THE MI’RAJ by Zoë Ferraris
A quietly magnificent mystery, set in Saudi Arabia around a decade ago. It’s a splendid example of what can be accomplished with ‘world crime’ where the insights into an unfamiliar cultural are every bit as relevant as the criminal investigation. The two aspects of this story are inseparable, in fact, and to understand the disappearance of a young woman and the discovery of a body in the desert sands we must necessarily be educated in the society she inhabits and its all-pervasive influence on everyday life. Somehow the author achieves this in an entirely sympathetic manner, creating complicated and convincing central characters who must overcome their own preconceptions to identify a murderer. Utterly loved it.
Q by Christina Dalcher
A dystopian domestic thriller which owes much to Brave New World. Spectacularly self-indulgent, it painfully plods through predictable chapters which draw parallels between the Holocaust, eugenics and the future possibilities for designer babies and an extreme form of social engineering. There’s a nugget of an interesting scenario buried in here beneath acres of maternal hand-wringing and entitled guilt-tripping. It’s like being trapped at a bourgeois dinner party where all the white middle-class couples are saying how bad they feel about sending their kids to the best schools. I kept waiting for the Soylent Green revelation but it never got quite that brave.
TWO WRONGS by Frank Westworth
Westworth delivers another thrilling short story with riveting action, tense scenes, and tongue in cheek humour. Stretch is one big, bad black dude, a US Navy Seal who enjoys hot sex with married women. He hides his sensitive side and is caught off guard when he falls for someone, who then tragically dies. Stretch is also involved of a murder plan of his own. Enter JJ Stoner, the British secret contract killer on vacation in the US. They become perfect alibis, and are calm as a cucumber when questioned by an FBI agent. The characters are unique, well-depicted, and the JJ Stoner series is well worth your time.
MISSING JUSTICE by Alafair Burke
The second in an American series following the career and cases of a female Assistant DA – a dedicated young woman who takes prosecuting criminals a touch too passionately. Sam Kincaid is a tough protagonist to like; she’s chippy, stubborn and confrontational. Prone to ignoring instructions from above and good advice from everyone, she frequently bends and breaks legal procedures to follow her hunches and her personal moral code.
So although the nitty-gritty legal procedural is fascinating, and the central story is intriguing, my enjoyment was continually interrupted by irritation when Kincaid yet again does entirely the wrong thing. As with the previous novel in the series, she doesn’t solve the mystery through dedicated research and seriously sleuthing, but instead blunders into the truth while putting herself – and potentially others – at extreme risk. Not a bad book by any means, but not series I’m inspired to continue.
For more quick thrills, find Two Wrongs at Amazon…