Troubled Waters

Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

Donna Leon is one of the most familiar names in modern crime fiction, but she still has the capacity to surprise. Her latest novel, Earthly Remains (Heinemann £18.99), is set not in the streets and canals of Venice but in the lagoon, where the smooth waters are threatened by environmental disaster.

Commissario Brunetti, Leon’s detective, doesn’t know that when he decides to spend an idyllic couple of weeks in a villa on the island of Sant’Erasmo, reading Pliny and learning to row again with the elderly caretaker, Davide Casati. He is recuperating from stress and the slow pace of life is a delight. The only thing to disturb him is Casati’s anxiety about his dying bees, and his enigmatic remarks about his past.

When he disappears during a storm, Brunetti’s holiday comes to an abrupt end, and the search for the missing man uncovers the source of the guilt that weighed so heavily on him. This beautifully written novel confronts Brunetti with a type of crime that is completely outside his experience, threatening the health of everyone who lives on the Venetian lagoon.

Linwood Barclay has already set a quirky trilogy of crime novels in the small town of Promise Falls in New York State. The last book in the series left the town reeling from a deliberate poisoning of its water system, in revenge for the failure of passers-by to save a girl who was murdered in a local park.

In Parting Shot (Orion £18.99) some residents have overreacted by forming vigilante groups, homing in on an 18-year-old boy who accidentally killed a friend in a drink-driving incident. As attacks on the boy’s home escalate, his wealthy family hires a local PI to protect him, unintentionally unveiling some of their own secrets. Barclay’s plots are a delight, and his small town never fails to deliver a series of shocks.

Arresting the fiancée of a school friend on a drugs offence sparks a catastrophic sequence of events for Kjell Ola Dahl’s world-weary detective in Faithless, translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Orenda £8.99). Inspector Frolich hasn’t seen his friend Karl Anders for years before the night of the latter’s 40th birthday party, where he suddenly recognises the woman Anders is about to marry. He keeps quiet, but shortly afterwards a body turns up in a skip, and Frolich finds himself torn by a conflict of loyalties. This is a chilling novel about betrayal, written in a hard-boiled style that highlights the careless misogyny of Dahl’s characters.

Michel Bussi is one of France’s most ingenious crime writers. Don’t Let Go, translated by Sam Taylor (Weidenfeld £12.99), is set on the lush Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where the husband of a French tourist is the chief suspect in her disappearance. When the man goes on the run with their young daughter, suspicion hardens into certainty for the local cops, but Bussi has plenty of twists in store in this fast-moving novel about a long-planned act of revenge.


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