Death in the desert, disappearances at sea

The Sunday Times, 2 February 2014
Egypt and Sudan are rarely out of the news these days. Parker Bilal’s crime novels pre-date the current troubles, but offer revealing insights into the recent past; his detective, Makana, is a refugee, an honest policeman driven out of Sudan by political strife, and struggling to make a living in Cairo. The Ghost ­Runner (Bloomsbury £11.99/ebook £7.99) is the third in this fine series written under a pseudonym by the acclaimed novelist Jamal Mahjoub.
Makana has been hired to follow a husband whose wife suspects he is having an affair, only to discover that the man is visiting a young woman horrifically injured in a fire. Makana suspects an “honour” crime, and travels to the girl’s home town on the edge of the Sahara. Not for the first time, a literary novelist uses the crime genre to terrific effect, exposing official complicity in historic crimes against women.
Locked-room mysteries are a  staple of crime fiction. The Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir has come up with her own, and it’s a corker. The Silence of the Sea, translated by Victoria Cribb (Hodder £13.99/ebook £7.49), is about a family trip on a luxury yacht that turns into a nightmare. By the time it arrives from Lisbon, crashing into a jetty in Reykjavik, no one is on board.
Among the missing are the captain and a couple with their twin daughters. The children’s distraught grandparents ask a lawyer to investigate their disappearance, and, as she begins making inquiries, events on the yacht are revealed in a series of flashbacks. The novel is gripping and claustrophobic, and ends with one of the most dramatic twists in recent crime fiction.
Thomas Enger’s novels feature Henning Juul, an Oslo newspaper reporter badly scarred in a fire. The first two books in the series, Burned and Pierced, are inter­national bestsellers and the theme continues with Scarred, ­translated by Charlotte Barslund (Faber £7.99/ebook £6.99). Juul is pursuing a story about a sadistic murder in a nursing home when his estranged ­sister, a government minister, is accused of sexually harassing a young male aide. Enger’s portrayal of a ­successful woman targeted by a malicious accusation makes for a very modern plot. But the parallel murder investigation is ­contrived, making this a novel of two poorly connected halves.
Two series of infant deaths, more than a century apart, are the focus of Elly Griffiths’s The Outcast Dead (Quercus £16.99/ebook £10.99). Her forensic archeologist, Ruth Galloway, unearths the body of a woman hanged for murder in 1867. ­Jemima Green was a Victorian “baby farmer”, accused of killing infants in her care, and Ruth is taking part in a ­television documentary about her. At the same time, local police are investigating the deaths of three ­children, in a compassionate novel that raises questions about parental love and guilt.
Allan Massie’s novels set in Vichy France are always a joy. Cold Winter in Bordeaux (Quartet £12) takes place in 1942-43, as the war is turning against the Germans. Massie’s Superintendent Lannes is called to an apartment where he finds a teacher strangled with one of her own silk stockings. It looks like a murder committed at the height of ­passion, but Lannes isn’t convinced. He knows he is using the investigation as a diversion from fears about his sons, who are on opposite sides in the conflict, and the novel becomes a compelling portrait of a family experiencing the privations of war.

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