Three thrillers: two hits, one miss

What have you been reading recently? These three novels all fall into the ‘crime fiction’ category, but they couldn’t be more dissimilar. A brilliantly bizarre British mystery which plumbs the dark depths that ‘Inspector Corner of the Yard’ would never dare explore; a breathless, twisting EuroCrime caper which aims to confuse and certainly succeeds, and a solid American police procedural – one lifted far above the average by the storyteller’s skills. Something to suit all tastes, then…

THE BERESFORD by Will Carver
That Will Carver bloke is a bit of a rogue, frequently pushing boundaries way beyond anyone’s comfort zone. But in this standalone story he tones down the shock and gore, and amps up the black comedy. The result is a gleeful spree of blunt force trauma and gooey dead body disposal, as we go behind the scenes in an unconventional apartment building which appears to breed cold-blooded killers. Oddly, the elderly landlady doesn’t seem too perturbed by how many of her tenants disappear without trace.

Carver doesn’t sidestep painful social issues or miss an opportunity to excoriate indulgent self-importance. His characters reflect real-life situations and personalities: the abused wife, the unrecognised artist, the eccentric and isolated elder, the young woman seizing an opportunity to escape small-town suffocation and find her way in the big city. He places what feel like genuine people into a bizarre situation…

…and then slices and dices their life hopes and our expectations with malicious mischief. Some people might find the supernatural aspects of this story push the boundaries of crime fiction to far, but for me it added an extra aspect of uncertainty to this grisly, witty tale.

THE SOUL BREAKER by Sebastian Fitzek
Note to self: don’t be fooled by the bestseller blurb on Fitzek’s other books. This daft concoction isn’t the clever psychological mystery it’s touted to be. Instead it’s a chaotic mishmash of jump-scares and chapter-end cliffhangers, centred on yet another amnesiac (hence unreliable) narrator, barely held together by a storyline full of gaping chasms where logic and plausibility are sacrificed on the altar of the great god Plot Twist.

It’s so ridiculously preposterous that the author is forced to tell the whole story again in the penultimate chapter, just to explain all the absurd events which led to the equally unlikely conclusion. A nonsensical, unsatisfying experience.

ROUGH COUNTRY by John Sandford
Scoundrel / lawman Virgil Flowers is back, dragging his boat behind his truck and trying to get some quality time in the wilds. No sooner does he cast his first line than there’s a murder at a lakeside lodge, and he’s the nearest available investigator…

What follows is an entirely entertaining whodunnit, spiced up by the inevitable amorous engagements that comprise Flowers’ social life. This is a small-scale murder mystery in an isolated rural community; no international narcotics rings or human trafficking organisations. This story revolves around the good old-fashioned motives for murder: money, love, sex and jealousy. Virgil uncovers a tangled web of all of the above – with a country band that’s teetering on the brink of the big time; a charismatic female lead singer and her lovelorn companions. But are they the reason for the death of a city-slicker businesswoman, or just a distracting sideshow?

Fast-paced, engaging entertainment, Rough Country doesn’t pack an emotional wallop, bare the soul or delve too deep into the human psyche. It’s almost like a traditional PI mystery – although Flowers has the backing of the statewide investigative agency, he’s a loose cannon in the gumshoe tradition.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s makes a pleasant change from gruelling serial killers and their increasingly unlikely cruelty, or gaslit girlies who don’t know who to trust.

Solid storytelling, intriguing secrets and a cracking central character. One who is having an interesting debate about his own morality and the existence of divinity, in entirely incidental intellectual interludes. Just one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments which illustrates the skill of an experienced author, enjoying himself.

All reviewed by Rowena Hoseason


If you like long-form, slow-burn literary mystery…

…seek out A LAST ACT OF CHARITY at Amazon

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