A classic murder mystery with a cunning twist

Sunday Times, 9 October 2016
The classic murder mystery has plenty of suspects, all with plausible motives, and a detective who spots clues nobody else has seen. Anthony Horowitz supplies these elements twice over in Magpie Murders (Orion £18.99), an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about the death of a bestselling crime writer. Alan Conway falls from a tower shortly after completing his latest book, in which Atticus Pünd, his eccentric German-Greek detective, is summoned to investigate a sudden death in an English village in the 1950s. Conway’s editor, Susan Ryeland, has just spent the weekend reading the typescript when she discovers that the final chapters are missing.
When she receives the shocking news that Conway has killed himself, she is far from convinced, and can’t help seeing sinister parallels between the novel and the death of her least-favourite author. Part crime novel, part pastiche, this magnificent piece of crime fiction plays with the genre (Horowitz includes “reviews” of Conway’s books) while also taking it seriously.
The Danish author Thomas Rydahl won two of the most prestigious prizes in Nordic crime fiction for his first novel, The Hermit, translated by KE Semmel (Oneworld £16.99). The book is set on Fuerteventura, the second-largest of the Canary Islands, where a Dane called Erhard has been existing quietly for two decades. He lives in a remote spot with a couple of wild goats for company and earns his living as a taxi driver. No one knows why he left Denmark or how he lost one of his fingers.
When a car is found on a beach, with a dead baby in a cardboard box on the back seat, Erhard is asked for help because the box also contains cuttings from Danish newspapers. The police soon lose interest, but something about the child’s death troubles Erhard. He is neither a natural investigator nor an attractive human
being, which means the novel is not an easy read. But it is original and compelling, and it is not difficult to see why the book has become a bestseller in Denmark.
Anita Nair is one of India’s most successful poets and novelists. Chain of Custody (Bitter Lemon £8.99) is the second in a vivid series of crime novels set in her home city, Bangalore, where prostitution exists side-by-side with extraordinary wealth. Her irascible detective, Inspector Gowda, is investigating the murder of a lawyer inside a gated community when his cleaner’s 12-year-old daughter Nandita goes missing.
Nandita is a clever girl, with no reason to disappear, and it soon becomes apparent that other children have vanished in similar circumstances. Nair is an accomplished writer,
and she uses this searing novel to expose the hideous and all-too-real world of
child-trafficking.
When PD James died in November 2014, she left behind a number of short stories that hadn’t been published in a single volume. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (Faber £10) brings together four of them, written over more than three decades and linked by the theme of Christmas. It offers a lovely coda to James’s career, and the first story, which is set in a country house in the bitter winter of 1940, shows her writing at her sly and brilliant best.

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