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Crime Roundup May 2007 by Carla McKay

'The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction' by Barry Forshaw ; 'Season of the Witch' by Natasha Mostert ; 'The 50/50 Killer' by Steve Mosby ; 'The Lying Tongue' by Andrew Wilson; 'The Unquiet' by John Connolly

In the excellent just published The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction (Rough Guides 7.99), which showcases a selection of the best in crime writing over the last century, author Barry Forshaw celebrates the genre as a major literary form, but also observes that it becomes ever tougher for crime writers to come up with something fresh and new - something that doesn't feel 'warmed over' as so many do. A pleasure, then, to heartily recommend a dazzlingly clever and original new thriller within the gothic tradition:

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert (Bantam Press 12.99) is firmly set in 21st century London which only gives more credence to the exotic Monk sisters, modern-day witches around whom the plot revolves. Gabriel Blackstone, a young, hip and amoral computer hacker who sells information for a living, becomes fatally entangled in the dark and passionate world of Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk when an old girlfriend begs him to investigate her missing stepson, last seen at Monk House in Chelsea.

As a seasoned house-breaker and remote viewer (someone who can access the thought processes of others), Gabriel is well-placed, though reluctant to do this, but once he becomes involved with the sexually-charged sisters and their obsession with alchemy and ancient mind manipulation practices, he too falls under their spell - even though he soon comes to realise that one of them is deadly. As the race is on to discover which one of them it is who will stop at nothing, and the reader is taken on a terrifying journey of discovery, one can only marvel at the witch-like powers of this talented author to enchant her audience.

Steve Mosby is another innovative author of dark, well-written genuinely scary thrillers which escalate into impossible corkscrew twists - a twist too far some might say. This is true of The 50/50 Killer (Orion 9.99) in which young couples are stalked, targeted and then tortured into testing their love for each other by choosing which one of them should die. It's a tough call for Mark Nelson, a young police officer anxious to make his mark, and perhaps a tougher one for the anxious reader who begins to lose the plot - gripping though it is - by twist number seven.

An altogether less tumultuous crime novel, but just as unsettling, is The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson (Canongate 10.99). Set in Venice, the narrator is an ambitious graduate art historian who decides to write the biography of a reclusive dying novelist with whom he becomes involved whose previous tenant died mysteriously years previously. Adam Woods is aware, and becomes more so, that Gordon Crace had a dark past as a master of an English public school and is possibly a murderer, but it gradually dawns on us that Adam too has pathological tendencies - and at best is an unreliable narrator. Andrew Wilson's crime debut follows his successful biography of Patricia Highsmith, and it is Highsmith to whom he is indebted for his style of writing and characterisation.

John Connolly's latest thriller featuring private detective Charlie Parker, The Unquiet (Hodder & Stoughton 14.99), is about revenge - revenge for years of child abuse that first started in a dark place called Gilead. Parker wants a quiet life in which to lick his own wounds but when Rebecca Clay wants to hire him to chase off a stalker who seems to be looking for her father, a child psychiatrist whose career had been ruined by a difficult child abuse case, Parker becomes entangled in a nasty mire of distressing truths and half-truths. Connolly is always good on tortured souls and tortured locations where evil resides and this is one of his most powerful atmospheric plots.

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 27/05/2007 12:51