Sunday Times, & October 2018
Sara Paretsky’s crime novels could easily be a social history of America, showing how tumultuous political events affect the lives of ordinary people. In Shell Game (Hodder £18.99), she writes about payday-loan companies, undocumented immigrants living in fear of arrest and a group of archaeologists trying to save the heritage of war-torn Syria. Her detective, VI Warshawski, is plunged into this scary, unstable world when she’s asked to help a friend’s nephew, wrongly accused of murder, who appears to have become involved in stolen antiquities.
In a nod to #MeToo, she is also trying to find her ex-husband’s niece, who has disappeared in Chicago after returning traumatised from a luxury island getaway with executives from the world of high finance. The two cases appear to be unconnected, but Warshawski suspects that greed (for money, precious objects and young women) is the element that brings them together. Paretsky is brilliant at juggling strands, but the 19th Warshawski novel is also a panoramic vision of Chicago at a time when the city is so polarised that decent people don’t know who to trust.
Susan Hill’s The Comforts of Home (Chatto £18.99) opens with a shock for fans of her introspective detective Simon Serrailler. The near-fatal beating he suffered in his last case looms over the new book, delaying his recovery and forcing him to adjust in ways he never expected. A stay on a Scottish island appeals to Serrailler’s yearning for solitude, but he finds himself having to kick-start a murder investigation that has tragic consequences for the islanders. Back on the mainland, Serrailler’s formal return to work in Lafferton begins with an equally disturbing cold case. Hill’s cool observation of her characters doesn’t imply any lack of sympathy, and Serrailler’s struggle to come to terms with the recent past is thoughtfully done.
Ian Rankin retired DI John Rebus from the police, but not his fiction, several years ago. Rebus came back as a civilian employee for a time, and even now, suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after a lifetime of smoking, he’s having to deal with awkward questions about old cases. The latest Rebus, In a House of Lies (Orion £20), begins with the discovery of a body in a car dumped in woods outside Edinburgh. The dead man is a private detective who vanished in 2006, when Rebus was on the force, and his angry family wants to know why he wasn’t found until now. It is an ingenious reason to bring Rebus back, but the book feels like a coda to the earlier novels, as though the author cannot quite bring himself to let Rebus go.
Ann Cleeves has taken a bold decision about her detective Jimmy Perez, announcing that Wild Fire (Macmillan £16.99) is the final novel in her Shetland series. Cleeves has put Perez though traumatic events in recent years, including the murder of his girlfriend, which left him to bring up her daughter. His latest case involves an English family who have recently moved to the island. At first glance, Helena Fleming is a successful knitwear designer, but she’s struggling to cope with a depressed husband and an autistic son. When their nanny is found hanging in a barn, Perez’s attempts to unravel the complex dynamics of the household force him to think hard about family loyalty — and his own future. This is an accomplished end to a fine series.