Crime and thrillers February 2013

by The Listener / 14 February, 2013
Bernard Carpinter’s monthly roundup of crime and thrillers.
HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET (Profile, $36.99) is Adrian McKinty’s sequel to his excellent The Cold Cold Ground, again featuring Sean Duffy as a Catholic officer in the largely Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary during the Troubles of the early 1980s. Among all the bombings and assassinations, Duffy has to investigate a murder case that requires extra effort because the victim was American. He also has to contend with terrorist attacks, universal antipathy towards the police, obstruction from the local aristocracy and his irascible boss who makes him help with the crosswords. But the real strength of the novel is its evocation of the atmosphere of the Troubles, the viciousness and the insanity, always there, in the background if not the foreground.

Elizabeth Haynes used to be a police analyst and she must have enjoyed making Annabel Hayer, a lead character in HUMAN REMAINS (Text, $37), a member of the same profession. Hayer finds a badly decomposed body in the house next door, which inspires her to dig around in the statistics and discover that a disturbing number of such bodies are being found in her part of England. The other main character is Colin, who learns techniques of persuasion and uses them to convince depressed, lonely people to starve themselves to death. Colin then visits his corpses to observe their stages of decay. Yes, it’s creepy, but it’s beautifully written – as was Haynes’s debut, Into the Darkest Corner – and it has some important things to say about isolation and friendship in contemporary society.

Nele Neuhaus’s SNOW WHITE MUST DIE (Macmillan, $37.99) certainly has a compelling title and it has already sold a million copies. Tobias Sartorius returns to his small German village after serving 10 years in prison for the murder of two teenage girls – murders he does not remember committing. The villagers are hostile, and even more so after another teenage girl goes missing. Investigating that disappearance, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff begins to suspect Tobias was innocent of the murders. It’s a good plot, well handled, but the large cast of characters – villagers, police and others – makes it hard to remember who’s who, and hard for any of them to come to life as real people.

GUN MACHINE (Hodder, $36.99), by Warren Ellis, opens with disillusioned New York cop John Tallow seeing his partner’s head blown off by a naked man with a shotgun, then finding a room full of guns. Forensic investigation shows that each gun has been used to commit one murder. Whereupon “Tallow thought he could detect the beach landing of a major headache at the back of his head”. Meanwhile, an unnamed hunter prowls the streets and parks of New York imagining he is a 17th-century Native American. Killings continue, always graphically described, while Tallow makes progress with the aid of Crime Scene Unit nerds Bat and Scarly, whose conversation provides the best humour in this hugely energetic and compulsively readable novel.
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