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 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