Sunday Times, 20 August 2017
The Navarra region of northern Spain is best known for its largest city, Pamplona, which hosts a controversial bull run each summer. It is also the setting for a remarkable trilogy of crime novels by Dolores Redondo, which has sold a million copies in Spain. Redondo’s detective, Amaia Salazar – named after a sceptical Inquisitor who investigated allegations of witchcraft in the 17th-century – is based in a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The final volume in the series, Offering to the Storm (Harper Collins £12.99), translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, is a brilliant novel in its own right.
It begins with the death of a baby, smothered by her father who claims that the body was an ‘offering’ to an evil spirit. When Salazar looks for similar cases, she uncovers a pattern of child murders, many of them committed in the wild Baztan valley where her own family has a cruel and tragic history. Like the French novelist Fred Vargas, Redondo boldly combines pre-Christian myths with modern investigative techniques. But Offering to the Storm does something even more audacious, upending everything that seemed to have been settled in the earlier instalments of the magnificent Baztan trilogy.
Val McDermid’s readers have come to know her detectives, DCI Carol Jordan and the profiler Dr Tony Hill, over a series of novels which share the best elements of soap opera. In Insidious Intent (Little Brown £18.99), a drink-driving case is hanging over Jordan’s career when she is called to investigate the murder of a woman in a burned-out car in north Yorkshire. The killer’s modus operandi – he selects his victims at weddings – marks him out as a chilly misogynist. McDermid’s insistence that the crimes are an extreme form of domestic violence is brave, but she has opted for a shocking ending that feels rushed and out of character.
Anthony Horowitz’s most recent crime novel, Magpie Murders, was a Sunday Times book of the month. His latest, The Word is Murder (Century £20), features an enigmatic ex-Scotland Yard detective, Michael Hawthorne. Horowitz is the author of two Sherlock Holmes novels and the mystery that confronts Hawthorne is Holmesian in character, featuring a woman who is murdered on the very day she arranges her funeral. He is aided by a first-person narrator who appears to be Horowitz himself, assuming the role of a bumbling Dr Watson. Their investigation is interspersed with vignettes from ‘Anthony’s’ life as a screenwriter, including a squirm-making scene with Steven Spielberg. It’s hard to think of a more annoying double act.
The Scandal (Michael Joseph £12.99), translated by Neil Smith, is a new novel from the best-selling Swedish author Fredrik Backman. Set in a small town surrounded by impenetrable forests, it recreates the stifling atmosphere of a dying community, kept going only by the unexpected success of its high-school ice hockey time. A rape at a post-match party shows testosterone-fuelled young men behaving at their worst, and the police investigation turns into an ordeal for the victim. This is a mature, compassionate novel about gender, sport and sexual violence.