The cop who went into the cold

Sunday Times, 25 August 2013

Arnaldur Indridason is one of the greats of modern crime ­fiction. Strange Shores, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker £14.99/ebook £8.99), is the final novel in his Reykjavik series of detective novels. Indridason’s cop, ­Erlendur, has been indelibly marked by a childhood tragedy in which his brother disappeared during a blizzard. Now he returns to the ruins of the family home in rural Iceland and two stories entwine: Erlendur’s search for his brother’s remains and the unsolved disappearance years earlier of a woman who vanished in similar circumstances. Erlendur has never had any illusions about human nature, and he seeks something beyond conventional justice in this tragic and compelling novel.

Somewhere in a remote area of the Pyrenees, a hydroelectric power plant and an asylum for the criminally insane make unusual neighbours. When a headless horse is discovered suspended from a frozen cliff near the power plant, suspicion falls on the inmates of the ­asylum. Bernard Minier’s The Frozen Dead, translated by Alison Anderson (Mulholland £13.99/ebook £7.99), has been a bestseller in France where its gothic horrors — insane killers and ­sinister nursing staff — are ­­reminiscent of an old black-and-white film.

Minier’s detective, Servaz, is based in Toulouse and can’t understand why he has been ordered to investigate the death of an animal. But forensic evidence links the corpse to an inmate in a locked ward; Servaz is still puzzling over this conundrum when a series of macabre murders begins. Revenge is at the heart of this clever mystery, which involves a plot as cold-blooded as the slaying of the horse.

Few women worked in the police force in the 1960s. When WPC Helen Tozer gets involved in the inquiry into the death of a teenage girl in William Shaw’s deft first novel, A Song from Dead Lips (Quercus £14.99/ebook £10.99), she has to put up with scepticism from ­colleagues. But Tozer strikes up a rapport with the dead girl’s friends, a bunch of teenage Beatles fans who hang around the recording ­studios in Abbey Road.

London in 1968 is an evocative setting and Shaw skilfully re-creates an era of social turmoil and class conflict. Tozer’s reluctant partner in the investigation, DS Cathal Breen, is unpopular in ­Marylebone CID after deserting a colleague who was being held at knife-point. Their blundering but determined investigation is played out against a vivid background of pop culture, casual racism and Britain’s involvement in the bitter civil war in Nigeria.

Laura Wilson’s latest novel, The Riot (Quercus £20/ebook £13), is set 10 years earlier in west London. Where Shaw’s characters reflect the optimism of the 1960s, this is a version of the city still struggling to recover from the ­Second World War. Her detective, DI Stratton, has moved from central London to Notting Hill, where once-grand houses have been divided up by slum landlords.

Danny Perlmann, a Polish refugee who lets rooms to prostitutes and young West Indian men, is clearly based on the ­notorious landlord Peter Rachman. When one of Perlmann’s rent collectors is killed, Stratton is put in charge of the investigation and it offers startling insights into an unfamiliar world. A party goes disastrously wrong, ending in a riot, and the novel is a sombre reminder of just how poor and divided London remained in the 1950s.

Ruth Rendell’s detective Reg Wexford is well into his retirement, but that doesn’t stop him getting involved in the latest mysterious death in Kingsmarkham. The victim is the vicar, Sarah Hussain, whose background — she is mixed race and female — has upset conservative members of the ­congregation. No Man’s Nightingale (Hutchinson £18.99/ebook £9.99) is Rendell at her most traditional, but it is a novel for devoted fans rather than new readers.


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