Daring to be different

Sunday Times, 3 November 2013

Our critic applauds a bold departure into the past from Sara Paretsky and the welcome return of Rebus in her crime roundup

After the Second World War, a number of European scientists who had worked for Hitler went to America and worked on the atom bomb. Some had actively collaborated with the Nazis, a fact the Americans were willing to overlook in their rush to perfect nuclear weapons before the Russians. Sara Paretsky’s new novel, Critical Mass (Hodder £17.99/ebook £9.99), is rooted in this history. It plunges her private eye, VI Warshawski, into an unfamiliar world of cutting-edge physics, slave labour and the Holocaust.

Warshawski’s part in the mystery begins outside Chicago, where a crumbling farmhouse has been turned into a drugs factory. She is looking for a woman who has left a desperate message on the answering-machine of Warshawski’s old friend Lotty Herschel, a Viennese doctor whose family died in the Holocaust. What Warshawski finds is the body of a drug dealer and a trail of evidence which suggests that the woman’s son is missing. When Warshawski discovers he is the great-grandson of an Austrian ­scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project, she realises that something more than drugs is at stake.

Unusually for Paretsky, Critical Mass moves between the present day and the first half of the 20th century, when the Radium Institute in Vienna welcomed women. The novel’s most important character, Martina Saginor, is loosely based on the Austrian Jewish physicist Marietta Blau, who was overlooked for the Nobel prize. It is a daring departure for Paretsky, combining her interests in women’s history, science and the Holocaust — and is a career-crowning triumph.

William Brodrick has established his reputation with an unusual series of ­novels that focus on moral dilemmas. He is a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger and his latest novel, The Discourtesy of Death (Little, Brown £19.99/ebook £6.49), uses the demise of a paralysed ballet dancer to explore the ethics of assisted suicide. Jenny Henderson’s death certificate states that she died of cancer but an anonymous letter, sent to Larkwood ­Priory, insists she was murdered. Father Anselm, a monk who was a barrister in an earlier life, agrees to investigate in a reflective novel that sometimes veers into melodrama.

It always seemed unlikely that Ian Rankin would be able to wave goodbye to his most celebrated creation, Inspector Rebus, when he reached retirement age. Back on the force as a sergeant, Rebus is sent to check out a car crash on a country road outside Edinburgh in Saints of the Shadow Bible (Orion £18.99/ebook £9.99). The driver is in hospital and it is her connections — her boyfriend’s father is the Scottish minister for justice — that intrigue Rebus. But his past is about to catch up with him in a book that pits Rebus against Inspector ­Malcolm Fox, the protagonist of two earlier Rankin novels.

Fox works for the Professional Standards unit and he is interested in a case from 30 years ago when Rebus was a young DC. Rebus’s colleagues ironically called themselves The Saints, destroying evidence in a murder case against one of their informers. This latest Rebus novel is about two very different styles of policing, Rebus’s personal integrity and whether he can ­survive in a culture that has changed out of all recognition.

AJ Cross is a forensic psychologist and brings an insider’s knowledge to her compelling second crime novel, Art of Deception (Orion £12.99/ebook £6.49). Dr Kate Hanson is an academic psychologist in Birmingham but she also advises the police, consulting for the unsolved crimes unit. Their latest case involves the mummified body of a young man, an art student who went missing 20 years ago, which turns up in the boathouse of a country park. Hanson is an intriguing character, adept at reading human behaviour, in a series that shows the police in a very modern light.

 

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