Crime in Brief

cutting seasonThe Cutting Season – Attica Locke

Belle Vie is a gorgeous antebellum mansion, restored to its former glory and now the site of weddings and conferences, displaying its authentically renovated slave cabins to hoardes of tourists. But when a migrant worker is found buried in a shallow grave with her throat slit, a woman from the other side of the fence where a large and soullest corporation farms corn, the old stories of rich and poor, powerful and oppressed rise again in modern configurations. Caren Gray is the black single mother charged with the somewhat ironic task of managing the estate and grounds, a job that has even more layers of history for her as she grew up in the servants’ quarters when her mother was the cook, and can trace her roots back to one of the original slave labourers, a man named Jason whose attempts to leave the plantation were shrouded in mystery. With so many layers of time and guilt surrounding the events that take place, Attica Locke does a tremendous job of unravelling her complex plot with pace and lucidity. In fact the whole thing is so neat and tidy it seems to run on rails, and as events sort themselves out, the parallels between past and present become uncannily clear. This is such a good book, rich with its themes and characters, beautifully written, and consistently gripping. Is it a little bit too tidy? Well, maybe, but not if you like all your loose ends tied at the conclusion to a story.

revenge of the tideRevenge of the Tide – Elizabeth Haynes (Dark Tide in the US)

Genevieve Shipley is living out her dream of life on a houseboat in a quiet and companionable marina in Kent, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that she has paid a great deal for her peace and freedom. The first boatwarming party she throws ends with the gruesome discovery, in the small hours of the morning, of a body floating off the pontoon, and worst of all, Genevieve knows who she is and doesn’t want to say. Caddy is a friend from her old life in London, one that was split between a day job she hated in executive sales, and a nightlife that gave her more kicks than she bargained for as a pole dancer in an exclusive club. Genevieve took the job because she had discovered a talent for dancing, and it’s somewhere she can make a lot of money, fast. But when her two lives collide and her opportunist boss turns up at the club, she realises she will have to take on a job that’s just the wrong side of legal, if she’s to make good her escape. The story unfolds in the present as the investigation into Caddy’s death finds her fending off law enforcers from both the police and from the criminal underworld, and gradually what happened in the past, and the circumstances that brought her to the boat and into danger are revealed. I read this more or less in the course of one day when I was tired and wanted a rest, and I really enjoyed it. It’s well written and surprisingly compelling, and the different atmospheres of the marina and the London club are vividly evoked. It’s not Tolstoy, it’s a little obsessed with Genevieve’s romantic life, and nowhere near as clever and literary as The Cutting Season. But I hunkered down with it most satisfactorily.

through a glassThrough A Glass, Darkly – Helen McCloy

A vintage crime thriller, based in an exclusive girl’s school and involving supernatural doppelgangers – really, what’s not to like? Faustina Crayle, thin, anemic and a bit pathetic is distressed to be summoned to the headmistress and abruptly dismissed, only a few weeks into the autumn term. When she presses her for a reason, formidable battleaxe, Mrs Lightfoot (‘Heavyhoof’ to the girls) refuses to say more than that she creates a disturbing atmosphere and for the sake of the school she must go. Faustina runs to her only friend, another new teacher, the delightfully named Gisela von Hohenems, who just happens to have an attachment to psychologist-come-detective, Dr Basil Willing. The story gradually comes out that Faustina has been causing hysteria amongst the servants and the young impressionable girls by appearing to be in two places at once. Even stolid and unshakeable Mrs Lightfoot gets the wind up when Faustina’s shadow brushes by her on the stairs as the original calls to her from the very top of them. Faustina’s exit from the school is thought to be the end of the matter, but before long a suspicious death takes place, and an eye-witness swears the culprit is Faustina, who was most definitely two hours away in New York at the time. Oh this was a period piece of fun, with gloriously old-fashioned speculation about the possibility of repressed emotion being projected into a malevolent double, Basil throwing his weight around manfully and aristocratically, and references to Goethe, who apparently had a double himself. But it’s beautifully plotted, consistently intriguing, and ends with just the right amount of ambiguity (though not for readers who like everything cut and dried – read The Cutting Season instead). From Arcturus Crime who has recently published a series of classic crime from the forties and fifties.

13 thoughts on “Crime in Brief

  1. I’m just reading Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth haynes and like it very much. I’m glad to hear there are more good ones where that came from.
    The Cutting Season sounds like another one I would like.

    • I haven’t got Into the Darkest Corner yet, but it’s only a matter of time! Really glad to know you’re enjoying it. And yes, The Cutting Season is really good.

  2. Well, I don’t like all my plot threads tied up neatly, necessarily, but I do love a book that deals thoughtfully with the nation’s racial history without that being the only point of the book; and I am very impressed by tight plotting. So I’m still in! Attica Locke seems like a really interesting writer to me.

    • I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever read you reviewing a crime fiction novel…. I can’t remember. But the racial history is really well done, and I’d love to know what you think of this, Jenny, if you do read it.

  3. Thanks for reminding me about ‘The Cutting Season’. There was quite a todo about it when it was first published and I meant to put it on my library list but completely forgot about it. The others look as if I should be trying to get round to them as well. However, I’ve just discovered that the first Monday and the second Wednesday are in the same week this month and as I have deadlines for both with only two days rather than the nine I was expecting, between them, it certainly won’t be anytime in the immediate future 😱.

    • Oh don’t; I’ve booked myself up completely for the next 6 weeks. What an idiot! Enthusiasm made me do it… But maybe when next autumn rolls around (and we won’t think about that yet), you’ll spy it in the library. I’m pretty sure you’d like it – and would love to know if you do.

  4. Goodness, I thought things were speeding along here as it was and then you offer a triple-decker just to add to my tbr woes! What are you on? No, don’t tell! Just parcel it up, plain covers preferred, dispatch express, asap!

    • Heh, I confess that I save my crime reviews up until I have three or so and then do them in a batch. So The Cutting Season I read way back in January! The reading mania is not quite as bad as it looks! 🙂

    • Oh, no this is just me catching up on some old reviews – I’m so sorry, I’m misleading you! Spy week isn’t here just yet. Though if you’ve read any interesting crime fiction lately, please do say. I love it and am always interested in recommendations.

  5. Pingback: Tales from the Reading Room

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