Sunday Times, 13 November 2016
Elly Griffiths is best known for her crime fiction featuring a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk. But she is also the author of a quirky series of novels set in the 1950s that bring together a stage magician, Max Mephisto, and a young police inspector, Edgar Stephens, who worked together in an army intelligence unit during the Second World War. The Blood Card (Quercus £16.99) is set in 1953, just days before the Coronation, which is going to be televised for the first time.
When Mephisto and Stephens receive a summons to Whitehall from a mysterious general, they discover that their former commanding officer has been murdered. Clues from the victim’s flat suggest he was worried about an anarchist plot to disrupt the Coronation, but it sounds far-fetched and all the suspects seem to be former music-hall stars. No one takes it very seriously until Griffiths pulls a truly startling rabbit out of the hat, demonstrating that this is more than the cosy mystery it initially appears.
Over half a dozen novels, Belinda Bauer has staked a claim to the gruesome, spectacular and bizarre. In The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press £12.99) she serves up a serial killer so convinced of the rightness of his actions that he wants wall-to-wall publicity. When he spots a television reporter at the scene of his latest murder, he decides to make her an ally; the reporter, Eve Singer, is under pressure from her boss and a scoop matters to her more than anything. Bauer is scathing about the morals of television journalism, but it is a familiar critique. The more affecting passages are about Eve’s home life in suburbia, where her father has dementia. This isn’t Bauer’s best book but it has flashes of her trademark ingenuity.
John Rebus retired ages ago, but Ian Rankin keeps on finding reasons to bring his popular detective back. In recent novels Rebus has worked as a civilian support officer, and in Rather Be the Devil (Orion £19.99) he can’t resist getting involved when gang warfare erupts in Edinburgh. The gang boss who took over from Rebus’s old sparring partner, Big Ger Cafferty, is in hospital after a vicious attack and Rebus wants to know if Cafferty is behind it. The adversarial relationship between the two men is well-worn territory by now, and the inclusion of an unsolved murder from 40 years ago underlines the sense that Rebus’s moment has passed.
Carl-Johan Vallgren is a Swedish musician who writes extraordinarily dark crime fiction. The Tunnel, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Quercus £14.99), opens with a gang of nervous robbers planning to hold up a security van, but behind the heist lies a murder mystery of labyrinthine complexity. A private detective, Danny Katz, is trying to find out who killed a small-time drug dealer when he discovers that the victim’s missing girlfriend worked in the porn industry. His investigation reveals a conspiracy involving sex trafficking, with an unexpected connection to one of the robbers. Chilly and compelling, this is crime fiction without redemptive illusions.