Sunday Times, 24 September 2017
Many journalists live in fear of a big story that falls apart, prompting cries of ‘fake news’. That’s what happens to investigative reporter Marcus Murray in So The Doves (Bluemoose books, £15), an unforgettable crime novel by the poet and author Heidi James. Murray has just published a sensational story revealing connections between a British bank and the arms trade, but then his source disappears and the emails he relied on turn out to be forged.
Banished to his home town in Kent by his editor, who wants him out of the way, Murray finds himself covering the discovery of a decades-old dead body on the route of a high-speed rail link. He isn’t much interested until he realises that the remains are connected to a sequence of violent events he witnessed as a teenager. James writes lyrical prose, combining a compelling plot with a portrait of a man forced to question the entire basis of his life.
Henning Mankell is often credited with creating the worldwide appetite for Nordic crime. He died two years ago, at the age of only 67, and his final novel confronts themes of ageing and loss. After The Fire (Harvill Secker £17.99), translated by Marlaine Delargy, brings back the main character from an earlier Mankell novel, Italian Shoes. Fredrik Welin is a retired doctor who lives alone in the isolated house he inherited form his parents in the Swedish archipelago.
One morning he wakes up to find his house on fire, and narrowly manages to escape with his life. The blaze was started deliberately, one of a series of arson attacks, and Welin is left with the suspicion that someone he knows has tried to kill him. The novel’s atmosphere is bleak and elegiac, suggesting that Mankell wrote it with his own impending death in mind.
A couple of years ago, the Swedish writer David Lagercrantz published the first volume in his continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Lagercrantz is an accomplished author in his own right and he’s just published his second Millennium novel, The Girl Who Takes An Eye for an Eye (MacLehose £20), translated by George Goulding. It begins with the super-hacker Lisbeth Sander banged up in a brutal women’s prison, where she enlists her old ally Mikael Blomkvist to help her investigate a sinister research project involving twins.
This is a promising plot, recalling the failures of real-life psychoanalysts in the case of the bogus Swedish serial killer Thomas Quick. But Lagercrantz is almost too respectful of Larsson – instead of allowing the original characters to develop, he falls back on what he already knows, playing up Salander’s tendency to extreme violence and Blomkvist’s tedious love life. The best sections are about the dire impact of the twins project, and they would work just as well in a stand-alone novel.
Ann Cleeves is one of the most consistently interesting British crime writers. She lives in the North-east and her latest novel, The Seagull (Macmillan £16.99), brilliantly evokes the run-down seaside resort of Whitley Bay. A former police officer, serving a prison sentence for corruption, offers to tell DI Vera Stanhope about a long-ago murder if she promises to keep an eye on his grown-up daughter and her children. Stanhope is wary but the conversation leads to the discovery of two bodies, and a mystery as satisfying as anything Cleeves has ever written.