A killer close to home

Detectives’ real-life dilemmas engage Joan Smith

Sunday Times, 16 July 2017


Gloomy cops who drink too much and complain about their bosses are ten-a-penny in crime fiction. Inspector Manon Bradshaw, a detective based in Cambridgeshire, has a more unusual set of problems in Susie Steiner’s gripping novel, Persons Unknown (Borough Press £12.99). Manon is heavily pregnant and her adopted son, who was born in a deprived area of London, is being bullied at school.


Manon is supposed to be looking after cold cases but she can’t help taking an interest in the murder of a well-dressed man who’s found dying on a path in Huntingdon, not far from the house she shares with her sister. The victim had only just got off a train from London and his job at a private Mayfair bank creates a media sensation. When he turns out to have a connection to Manon’s sister, her police colleagues close ranks, a situation that gets worse when Manon’s son becomes the prime suspect.


Steiner was a reporter and she understands both police procedure and the media. This, her third novel, is strikingly modern, putting contemporary themes such as racism — Manon’s adopted son is black — and single motherhood at the heart of her fiction. It’s refreshing to see a detective grappling with real-life dilemmas but they never get in the way of the plot, which is clever and original. It is a series to watch from a confident writer who draws even minor characters with care and sympathy.


AA Dhand is another author to keep an eye on. His second novel, Girl Zero (Bantam Press £12.99), is set in his home town, Bradford, and features the same detective as his widely admired debut, Streets of Darkness. Inspector Hardeep (Harry) Virdee is estranged from his Sikh family after marrying a Muslim, but he’s thrown back into contact with his angry father after the murder of his niece, an aspiring journalist.


Tara is the daughter of Harry’s brother, a gang boss whose drug-trade connections continually threaten Harry’s integrity. His unofficial investigation suggests that, when she was killed, Tara was on the trail of a sensational story involving the disappearance of a number of young girls. Dhand is a fearless writer, undaunted by subjects such as sex-trafficking, but also a frustrating one; his plots slide into melodrama and Girl Zero includes torture scenes presented with too much relish.


Hans Rosenfeldt is best known in this country as the creator of the popular Scandinavian TV drama The Bridge. He is also the author, with fellow-screenwriter Michael Hjorth, of a fine series of crime novels starring Sebastian Bergman, a dysfunctional psychologist who works with the Stockholm police. The Silent Girl (Century £12.99), translated by Marlaine Delargy, begins with the discovery that an entire family — mother, father, two children — have been killed in an isolated country house.


Forensic evidence suggests that a fifth person, a 10-year-old girl, was inside and appears to have fled. The missing girl reminds Bergman of his own daughter, who died in the Asian tsunami in 2004, and he is determined to find her. As his police colleagues struggle to establish a motive, Bergman’s involvement with the girl’s family threatens to derail the case. This is a fast-paced novel which doesn’t shy away from the heavy emotional cost of guilt and loss.


Arne Dahl is the pen name of the Swedish author and critic Jan Arnald, whose Intercrime novels were made into a TV series and shown in this country by the BBC. Watching You (Harvill Secker £12.99), translated by Neil Smith, is the first in a quirky new series featuring a smart but wayward detective, Sam Berger. He’s sure an abducted teenage girl is still alive, but his boss isn’t convinced. Quite a few pages are taken up with a huge red herring, but Dahl’s writing is so compelling that it hardly matters.

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