Bring up the bodies

Sunday Times, 11 May 2014

Some of the most popular characters in detective fiction have been around for a very long time. John Harvey’s Inspector Resnick has tried retirement and didn’t like it, so he’s relieved to be asked to join the team investigating a 30-year-old murder. Darkness, Darkness (Heinemann £18.99) takes Rebus back to beginning of his career, when he ran a police intelligence unit during the miners’ strike.

At the time, no one paid much attention when a young woman went missing. Jenny Hardwick supported the strike while her husband carried on working, and local people speculated that she’d run off with one of the striking miners who’d come down from Yorkshire to join the picket line. Now her skeleton has been found in the foundations of a house and the officer in charge of the case, Catherine Njoroge, needs Resnick’s local knowledge. It’s a clever choice of subject for the detective’s final case, allowing him to reflect on old conflicts, while the underlying theme of violence against women anchors it in the present. Above all, it’s a thoughtful and elegiac farewell to Resnick.

Laura Lippmann’s After I’m Gone (Faber 12.99; ebook £7.99) also reflects on the long shadow thrown by past events. In 1976, a nightclub owner called Felix Brewer disappeared from Baltimore just before he was due to face gambling charges. He left behind a wife, three daughters and a girlfriend, and a mystery about the whereabouts of his substantial fortune. Ten years later the girlfriend disappeared and everyone assumed she’d gone to join Brewer, until her body was discovered in a local park.

That’s where the matter stands until a retired police detective, Sandy Sanchez, takes it on as a ‘cold’ case and starts talking to all the people involved in Baltimore’s tightly-knit Jewish community. Sanchez is an outsider, a Cuban exile adopted by a local woman when he was a boy, and it makes him a compassionate observer of the five women at the heart of the novel. Although this is a compelling mystery, it is also a portrait of the devastation caused by the disappearance of a powerful man at a time when women had little autonomy.

Zoltan Boszormenyi fled his home country, Hungary, when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. He spent seven months in a refugee camp in Austria and draws on this dramatic personal history in The Club at Eddy’s Bar (Phaeton £19.99). A young journalist, Tamas, has run away from a town in the Carpathian mountains after discovering that the mayor and other prominent citizens are members of a secret club. Tamas ends up in Canada, carrying with him a manuscript telling the truth about the savage murder of one of its members, but discovers that public life in his new home is just as corrupt. Boszormenyi’s description of life as a refugee is vivid and touching, even if the parallels between life in the East and West are a little heavy-handed.

John Lescroart has written a series of New York Times bestsellers and his latest novel, The Keeper (Headline £13.99), is a classic detective story. A San Francisco prison guard arrives home from the airport to find his wife missing, and quickly becomes the chief suspect in what’s widely assumed to be a case of domestic homicide. Another retired detective, Abe Glitsky, is asked to investigate by the guard’s lawyer shortly before the missing woman’s body is discovered.

Glitsky is an attractive character with an unusual background for contemporary crime fiction; he is African-American and Jewish, reflecting the complexity of modern American culture. The initial results of his investigation are ambiguous, neither clearing nor implicating his client, until he begins to connect the case to a series of suspicious deaths at the prison. This is a confident and enjoyable novel, even if the exposure of the killer at the end is a little far-fetched.

Anita Nair is a highly-regarded Indian novelist and author of children’s books. A Cut-Like Wound (Bitter Lemon Press £8.99) is her first foray into crime fiction, and it’s an eye-opener from the first page to the last. Her detective, Inspector Gowda, is in the midst of a mid-life crisis when he’s confronted with the murder of a young man who worked as a prostitute. Set in Bangalore, the novel takes the reader into an unfamiliar world of troubled sexual identity.

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