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Mike Ripley's Crime File - January 2008

'Death in Hellfire' by Deryn Lake; 'The Templar' by Paul Doherty; 'Death at Dawn' by Caro Peacock; 'The Garden of Evil' by David Hewson

In terms of historical crime fiction, Deryn Lake has claimed the period of eighteenth-century Georgian England and made it her own and is now without rival for her novels featuring the apothecary detective John Rawlings.

Her latest, Death in Hellfire (Allison and Busby, 19.99), has Rawlings going undercover - and literally under the covers - in the notorious Hellfire Club run by the infamous libertine Sir Francis Dashwood, initially to investigate suspicions of seditious politics but pretty soon it's murder as usual, though by a very unusual method.

To be fair, the goings-on in the Hellfire Club seem curiously restrained here, certainly when compared to the private lives of some of the characters, but the murders are fascinating and Rawlings is helped in his investigations by a visiting American doctor who could quite easily have stepped out of the pages of a Sherlock Holmes story a century and more later.

All-in-all, a thoroughly satisfying historical mystery and one in a series which is surely long-overdue for recognition when the crime-writing awards are dished out.

Further back in time, in the eleventh century, Paul Doherty starts a new rip-roaring historical series with The Templar (Headline, 19.99) set during the First Crusade and the siege of Jerusalem in 1099.

Treachery and murder follow the cosmopolitan "Army of God" as it travels across western Europe and modern-day Turkey to invade and rescue, as they saw it, the Holy Land from the growing influence of Islam. Doherty does not shirk from describing the battles, hardships and atrocities which beset the men, and significantly the women, who embarked on the crusade and his passion for describing the bravery and dignity of both sides shines through.

This is history red in tooth and claw and provides an exciting insight into a period of history not normally covered outside the covers of a dusty textbook.

Death At Dawn by Caro Peacock (Harper, 7.99) takes us, fast-forward, into the early Victorian period and the world of Liberty Lane, an unconventional heroine for the period, though one you would want on your side today if the going got tough. If you can think of an unholy marriage between Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler, then you're almost there.

This is a splendid romp from an author (real name Gillian Linscott) who makes historical research look easy.

Bang up to date, though harking back to the sixteenth century and the life of the painter Caravaggio, David Hewson's new novel The Garden of Evil (Macmillan, 12.99) is a genuine thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride through the corruption of modern Rome.

Hewson's engaging Italian detective Nic Costa is plunged into a storm of violence and a mystery involving a sinister and powerful cult and a missing Caravaggio masterpiece. There is not much doubt who the villain is, but bringing him to justice through a wall of privilege and influence, is another matter.

Those fans who love their crime fiction in an Italian setting were dealt a double blow last year with the deaths of Michael Dibdin and Magdalene Nabb, but they should not despair, for David Hewson has emerged as a major player in crime writing's Serie A. The Nic Costa series is seriously good and well worth buying in to.

Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writes a regular column for the Birmingham Post.

last updated 28/01/2008 16:44