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Crime Roundup August 2006 by Carla McKay

'The Hard Way' by Lee Child ; 'The Messengers of Death' by Pierre Magnan ; 'Prey Silence' by Sally Spedding ; 'Shame' by Karin Alvtegen

'The Hard Way' by Lee Child (Bantam Press £14.99) is another cracking teeth-chatterer. This is Child's tenth thriller starring Jack Reacher, the former military cop who is tougher than the hardest villains and who you definitely need to be your best friend. Here Jack inadvertently witnesses the kidnap of a rich man's wife and stepdaughter and then is hired to recover them. But has Jack finally met his match? Nothing and nobody is as they seem and when the trail eventually leads him to the sleepy English countryside, he seems to have finally lost the plot - as many of his readers may have done. But don't hold your breath - I don't think we’ve seen the last of Jack yet. I hope not.

From real to surreal and Pierre Magnan's dark Provencal tale 'The Messengers of Death' (Harvill £10.99) written twenty years ago but newly translated for English readers. A train of odd murders is set in motion by Emile Pencenat who finds a letter to a young woman in Digne in a cemetery where he is designing his own splendid tomb and, being a former postman, duly posts it. She soon dies horribly as do several others. This quirky story of avarice and vengeance in rural France unfolds with all the charm of a slightly puzzling art house French movie.

And whilst in France (as so many of us are nowadays), Sally Spedding has written an excellent creepy chiller of what can happen to ex-pats who fall foul of their new neighbours. 'Prey Silence' (Allison & Busby £18.99) is the perfect gift for all those tiresome people who boast about the French idyll they're about to live.

'Shame' (Canongate Books Ltd £9.99) - this dark Swedish tale takes its title from an emotion that is apparently universal in every corner of the world but is perhaps less discussed than other fundamental feelings like love and fear. The prize winning author of 'Missing' takes as her protagonists two utterly dissimilar women - Monika, a doctor, and Maj-Britt, an obese recluse, who are united only in shameful memories. Monika, whose mother never forgave her for surviving whilst her brother did not, won't let herself be loved and is driven by work; Maj-Britt eats herself to death and shouts at her carers in her squalid apartment. Their stories are separately told until a tragic accident forces them to confront not only each other, but their long-repressed guilt. Alvtegen is becoming well known over here for her taut psychological thrillers and this intriguing analysis of shame - what it can drive one to do, and how to go about purging it - is her best yet.

Carla McKay has been a fiction reviewer for over 15 years for the Daily Mail and has persuaded them to let her do a crime column of reviews of recent crime fiction once every two months or so.

last updated 9/09/2006 20:41