Rapid reviews: six of the best

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…

Best Crime Books 2019

The books we’ve read in the past 12 months have been packed with murder and mayhem, crime and punishment, despair and redemption – the very essence of the human condition, boiled down to brilliant crime-thriller fiction. We read more than 200 mystery and thriller books in 2019, from literary fiction by big-name bestsellers to dazzling…

Metropolis: a goodbye to Bernie

Long before it was fashionable to write detective fiction set in Nazi Germany, Philip Kerr created his Berlin Noir trilogy. That series established an entire genre and inspired a generation of crime writers to set their stories not in Agatha Christie’s golden age of the English upper class but instead in Berlin’s sleazy backstreets. Unlike…

The Conviction Of Cora Burns: a fight for freedom

This might be an historical crime novel, set below stairs in Victorian England, but it’s about a far from cosy crime as you can imagine. This is a gritty, character-driven thriller with a deeply conflicted yet credible protagonist. Cora Burns pretty much sums up the capacity of the human spirit to overcome adversity… although the…

The Courier: mainly history, not so thrilling

If you rate a book by its historical context, social insight and technical accomplishment then this Scandinavian story would be a full-on five-star phenomenon. It’s a consummate construction of complex timelines set in WW2 in Norway, the mid-1960s in Sweden, and the 21st century. A cold-blooded killing committed in the past can only be solved…

Paris In The Dark: a world of war

It might be set more than century ago, in a foreign land filled with political puzzles and unfamiliar factions, but Paris In The Dark delivers a completely convincing story, grounded in a solidly credible scenario. There aren’t so many characters that your head spins trying to recall them all, and the narrative itself is pretty…

The Shadow Killer: Iceland at war

It seems that there’s an insatiable appetite for crime novels which are also war stories – historical fiction which uses the international upheaval of WW2 as its dramatic backdrop. I blame Bernie Gunther… but find these philosophical investigations as compelling as any contemporary thrillers. It’s as if we still can’t come to terms with what…

Mission Khyber: a killer woman with a psy side

Psychic spy Tana Standish has a habit of appearing slap-bang in the middle of the most significant historical upheavals of the 20th century. This time she’s in Afghanistan in 1979, providing intel for the British secret intelligence service, running interference for freedom fighters, side-stepping a Soviet plot to kidnap her, liberating victims of oppression, avenging…

The Ashes Of Berlin: a shattered society

This is not a book to wolf down in one sitting, nor one you can nibble away at in brief bites. It’s too densely detailed and emotionally intense for that. Like a giant supertanker, The Ashes of Berlin takes quite a while to get going – but once you’re absorbed in the plot and characters…

G-Man: gangsters and gun culture

Just when it seemed that Stephen Hunter might’ve run out of puff with his Swagger family series, which went seriously wonky a while back (‘Night Of Thunder’ is the one to avoid at all costs), a change in direction has revitalised his writing. G-Man is the latest ‘retrospective’ Swagger story and it’s a stonking great…