A woman caught in a crim­i­nal and fi­nan­cial snare; a dis­turb­ing tale of Nazi gold; a brother on the CIA hit list; and a dead man walk­ing in Dun­geness

The Guardian - Review - - Review | Fiction - Barry For­shaw

The Nordic crime wave just keeps com­ing. In

Snare by Lilja Sig­urðardót­tir (Orenda, £8.99, trans­lated by Quentin Bates), young mother So­nia is cop­ing with an ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorce and try­ing to keep cus­tody of her son. Des­per­a­tion drives her to smug­gle co­caine into Ice­land; she ini­tially en­joys the ex­cite­ment, but is soon won­der­ing whether she is tough enough to sur­vive in a new and ruth­less crim­i­nal en­vi­ron­ment – par­tic­u­larly with cus­toms of­fi­cer Bragi on her tail. The epony­mous “snare” here is a Hy­dra­headed mon­ster: So­nia is caught in a crim­i­nal, fi­nan­cial (em­body­ing her coun­try’s re­cent fi­nan­cial crash) and even a sex­ual snare – her new lover Agla is not at ease with their re­la­tion­ship, con­stantly claim­ing that she is re­ally straight. Sig­urðardót­tir avoids invit­ing easy sym­pa­thy for any of her char­ac­ters, even the be­lea­guered So­nia, but she keeps us read­ing.

The next crime wave will not be com­ing from Rus­sia; there sim­ply isn’t a crit­i­cal mass of au­thors be­ing trans­lated. But ask most read­ers to name a Rus­sian crime writer and they will men­tion Boris Akunin, who has made some­thing of a break­through in the west. All the World’s a Stage

(Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son, £20, trans­lated by An­drew Brom­field) once again fea­tures Akunin’s sleuth Erast Fan­dorin, who is fre­quently com­pared to both Sher­lock Holmes and James Bond. The Fan­dorin books are lively, en­er­getic mys­ter­ies with lash­ings of Slavic his­tor­i­cal colour. In this novel, El­iza, an ac­tor with a scan­dalous pri­vate life, is the es­tranged wife of a de­scen­dant of Genghis Khan – and her hus­band has threat­ened to kill any­one who courts her. Fan­dorin is en­joined by a friend (the widow of Chekhov, no less) to keep an eye on El­iza, but he finds him­self – very ill ad­vis­edly – fall­ing in love with her. This is Akunin on char­ac­ter- is­tic form: the book has the most glanc­ing re­la­tion­ship with any no­tion of re­al­ity, but that hardly mat­ters as the pages race by.

The tra­jec­tory of most of Chris Petit’s work has been that of the cool, ex­is­ten­tial road movie – lit­er­ally so, in the case of his films – but his som­bre new novel has graver am­bi­tions. Set in 1943,

Pale Horse Rid­ing (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £14.99) fea­tures Ger­man de­tec­tives Sch­legel and Mor­gen, who are sent to Auschwitz to dis­cover how stolen gold is be­ing smug­gled via the postal sys­tem. The gold is from the teeth of the Nazis’ vic­tims, and the real skill of this rig­or­ous, dis­turb­ing novel lies in the way Petit steadily and un­sen­sa­tion­ally al­lows his pro­tag­o­nists to dis­cover the full hor­ror of the hell­hole they are in.

Clas­sic who­dun­nits re­quire a clois­tered set­ting, a corpse, a care­fully de­lin­eated drama­tis per­sonae of sus­pects and a tena­cious sleuth. But Agatha Christie hardly springs to mind when read­ing

Places in the Dark­ness by Chris Brook­myre (Or­bit, £18.99), as the set­ting is outer space, with the coun­try house re­placed by a space sta­tion. Brook­myre has as­sured read­ers that he is not leav­ing the crime genre, but the fas­ci­nat­ingly de­tailed as­pects of life in or­bit are more likely to ap­peal to sci­ence fic­tion afi­ciona­dos than crime read­ers. The in­ves­ti­ga­tor Blake, sent from Earth to track down a mur­derer, is in the great tra­di­tion, but your re­sponse will de­pend on how you re­act to genre splic­ing.

Joakim Zan­der’s The Brother (Head of Zeus, £18.99, trans­lated by El­iz­a­beth Clark Wes­sel) has a frag­men­tary struc­ture drawn to­gether in au­thor­i­ta­tive fash­ion. Yas­mine has grown up in poverty in Stock­holm, vow­ing al­ways to pro­tect her younger brother. But life in­ter­venes and Yas­mine feels guilty for aban­don­ing him. On hear­ing that he is per­haps dead, killed by a US drone in Syria, she is com­pelled to dis­cover what turned her gen­tle brother into some­one high on the CIA’s hit list. Com­pro­mised char­ac­ters are set against moral is­sues in­volv­ing ter­ror­ism and fa­mil­ial re­spon­si­bil­ity; Zan­der gives no easy an­swers.

Si­mon Booker’s long ex­pe­ri­ence in writ­ing for tele­vi­sion has granted him a sure grasp of char­ac­ter, and his skills do not desert him in Kill Me Twice

(Zaf­fre, £7.99). An­jel­ica is do­ing time for burn­ing her ex, Karl, to death; but then jour­nal­ist Mor­gan Vine comes across the sup­pos­edly dead man out­side her iso­lated shack in Dun­geness. Booker’s touch is firmly in place, and Vine, while cut from fa­mil­iar cloth, is a dis­tinc­tive hero­ine.

Chris Brook­myre’s SF de­tec­tive story swaps the clas­sic clois­tered coun­try house for a space sta­tion

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