Sunday Times, 5 November 2018
Over more than a dozen novels set in rural Quebec, the Canadian crime writer Louise Penny has turned the fictional village of Three Pines into a welcoming small community. But it’s also home to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, until recently head of the Sûreté du Québec, whose job brings regular eruptions of violent crime into his peaceful neighbourhood. In Kingdom of the Blind (Sphere £19.99), Gamache is summoned to a mysterious meeting in an abandoned farmhouse by a letter from a lawyer who turns out to have been dead for six months.
The letter is about the will of a penniless elderly woman who claims to have inherited an Austrian title, embroiling Gamache in a family feud over an apparently mythical fortune that someone is prepared to kill for. The novel’s atmospheric opening in a snow-packed clearing is an apt metaphor, reflecting the bleakness Gamache feels during an internal inquiry over a drugs investigation that could end his career.
The Sentence Is Death (Century £20) is the second novel in Anthony Horowitz’s series starring himself as the sidekick to a prickly private eye, Daniel Hawthorne. The ex-Scotland Yard detective has designated Horowitz as his amanuensis, dragging him away from editing scripts for the TV series Foyle’s War to write the second volume in a three-book deal about Hawthorne’s cases. Horowitz is the author of two successful Sherlock Holmes pastiches and the temptation to cast himself as Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes has clearly proved irresistible
The new novel begins with the murder of a well-known divorce lawyer at his modernist home in Hampstead; the chief suspect is a Japanese poet, the ex-wife of one of the lawyer’s clients, until it emerges that his oldest friend died under a train 24 hours earlier. Like the earlier book, The Sentence Is Death is full of jokes at Horowitz’s own expense as he endlessly jumps to the wrong conclusions about the case. But it’s also a smoother read, allowing the relationship between real-life author and his fictional character to develop into something more believable.
Mari Hannah’s award-winning crime novels are set in Northumberland, where a sweeping coastline provides a dramatic backdrop to her fast-paced murder investigations. The Insider (Orion £7.99) pits her detectives, DI David Stone and his passionately engaged sergeant Frankie Oliver, against a serial killer who is targeting successful women. Stone has taken over the investigation halfway through the case, as the body of a local lawyer is found at an isolated railway station, and he depends heavily on Oliver’s local knowledge. Hannah’s plots are original and modern, rooted in the fast-changing relationships between men and women, but Oliver’s frequent emotional outbursts are rather wearing.
Quintin Jardine’s Cold Case (Headline £19.99) features his urbane Scottish detective Bob Skinner, who couldn’t be more different from Ian Rankin’s Rebus. Jardine’s Edinburgh is a cosmopolitan place where Skinner, now retired, has a part-time career as a director of an Anglo-Spanish media company. Like just about every retired cop in crime fiction, he still does a bit of detective work to help out friends and now his old boss, Sir James Proud, needs a favour. A blogger has been in touch, demanding answers about a murder case from 30 years ago, and Proud seems to think the questions could wreck his reputation. If Skinner sometimes seems smug about his own achievements, the 30th novel in this popular series is full of shocks, forcing him to recognise that some of his most cherished beliefs can’t be trusted after all.