A new female sleuth making her debut in a child abduction mystery heads this roundup of crime fiction

Sunday Times, 17 July 2011

The abduction of a young child always attracts media attention. In Nicci French’s Blue Monday (M Joseph £12.99/ebook £6.49), a psychoanalyst is treating a man who dreams about a missing child, but the boy’s face is all over the newspapers and she can’t be certain that her client is not involved. When Dr Frieda Klein begins to suspect a link with an unsolved disappearance 20 years earlier, she is torn between her fears for the missing boy and her duty to her client.

Blue Monday is a departure for French, the pseudonym of writing couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who have together produced a dozen hugely successful crime novels. It’s the first in a planned series with Klein as the central character, and marks a move away from the young-woman-in-jeopardy format that has become French’s trademark. The novel has a carefully calibrated build-up of suspense, and Klein’s solitary midnight walks across London suggest mythic elements to her personality, but she’s a promising amateur investigator in a field dominated by hard-boiled cops.

Karen Campbell used to be a police officer and her inside knowledge of investigations contributes a gritty sense of reality to Proof of Life (Hodder £19.99/ebook £10.99). This is Campbell’s fourth novel featuring a woman detective, Glasgow-based Chief Inspector Anna Cameron, and it presents her with the toughest ethical dilemma of her career. Seven months pregnant, Cameron faces disaster when she recognises a dead woman who’s just been pulled from a canal and realises that the killer is out to get her as well. Campbell has the makings of a fine crime writer if she learns to pare her prose down to the essentials.

The Dinosaur Feather (Quercus £12.99) arrives in the UK with glowing testimonials for its author, Sissel-Jo Gazan. It’s been voted Danish crime novel of the decade and it can lay claim to a singularly bizarre method of murder: the first victim dies an agonising death, biting off his own tongue when he is deliberately infected with a rare parasite. The death of Lars Helland, a professor of biology at Copenhagen university, coincides with the imminent arrival of a Canadian academic who is a furious critic of his work.

The novel’s title refers to an academic dispute about whether birds are descended from dinosaurs, and Helland’s graduate student, Anna Bella, initially seems more anxious about defending her thesis on the origin of birds than her teacher’s freakish demise. The unusual plot doesn’t entirely compensate for a ponderous structure, and the means of Helland’s dispatch reduces the number of suspects to a small group with access to the parasite in question.

Arnaldur Indridason’s new novel, Outrage (Harvill Secker £12.99/ebook £13.56), is further evidence that he’s one of the most brilliant crime writers of his generation. With the introspective Inspector Erlendur away from Reykjavik on mysterious business of his own, Indridason’s female detective Elinborg takes on a case involving a young man found murdered in his flat. There’s no evidence of a break-in and the case takes a sinister turn when the corpse’s mouth turns out to be stuffed with a prescription drug associated with date rape.

Elinborg has featured in previous Reykjavik novels but here she comes into her own. The case is linked to a number of unsolved rapes and Elinborg faces the dilemma of a woman cop sympathetic to the female victims but also aware that her job is to catch the killer. The novel contains tantalising hints that her absent boss Erlendur is in trouble. This is a superb read, handling the delicate subject of rape in a way that’s both riveting and unsensational.

An Evil Eye (Faber £14.99/ebook £12.99) is the latest outing for Jason Goodwin’s charming Ottoman detective, the eunuch Yashim. Sultan Mahmut II has just died, throwing the women of his harem into turmoil. Goodwin vividly recreates the sinister atmosphere of the harem, where women and babies can simply disappear, and Yashim’s privileged access is crucial to solving a mystery involving political rivalries at the highest level.

Ernesto Mallo’s crime novels are set in 1980s Argentina, where scores from the years of brutal dictatorship are still being settled and victims of criminal gangs turn up next to people murdered by death squads. In Sweet Money (Bitter Lemon Press £8.99), Mallo’s Superintendent Lascano is recovering from a near-fatal shooting under the protection of the man who’s about to become police chief of Buenos Aires. When his mentor is removed by a ruthless rival, it’s too dangerous for Lascano to go back to his old job and he’s hired by a bank to track down an old adversary who’s just pulled off a huge heist. Mallo’s novels are mordant, political and utterly compelling.

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