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Mike Ripley's Crime File - March 2007

'The Death of Dalziel' by Reginald Hill; 'Cross' by Ken Bruen; 'An Accidental American' by Alex Carr

Reginald Hill's twenty-first novel featuring his Mid-Yorkshire policemen Dalziel and Pascoe (as seen on TV) is ominously entitled The Death of Dalziel (HarperCollins, 17.99) and indeed it begins very ominously for 'Fat Andy' Dalziel, with an explosion at a house suspected of being a base for terrorists.

His injuries confine Dalziel to hospital where he remains in a coma whilst the younger, fitter, far more politically-correct Pascoe unravels the mystery behind the explosion, a fanatical terrorist organisation (though not one you might have suspected) and an ex-SAS man turned bestselling author.

All this allows Hill to ruminate masterfully on the state of the nation as well as getting in some crafty sideswipes at publishers and their publicity people. What he does best of all is get the reader rooting for Pascoe, seemingly out of his depth at times, to get to the bottom of things to the extent that we almost forget that Dalziel's life hangs by a thread, albeit a pretty strong one.

Is it the end of Dalziel? Fans of this series, which began in 1970, will be on tenterhooks.

Ken Bruen is an Irishman who is a cult figure in America, his work having been disgracefully overlooked on this side of the Atlantic for nearly a decade. His latest novel, Cross (Bantam, 10.99) features his drink-soaked Irish detective Jack Taylor and could be the book which finally gets Bruen the recognition he deserves in Britain.

His pared-down hardboiled style will not be to everyone's taste. His hero, ex-Garda cop Taylor, narrates the book with all the sorrow and the pity a broken Irish heart can muster, throwing in along the way multiple references to books read, bits of remembered philosophy and songs heard as he plods the mean streets of Galway.

This is not great literature and there are plenty of more exciting and more clever thrillers around at the moment, but my goodness, Bruen's books do have soul.

A few years ago, a young American woman, Jenny Siler, made quite a splash on the crime scene with a series of fast paced chase thrillers usually involving very confident heroines and long drives across America in fast cars which appealed to all fans of Top Gear.

She has now reinvented herself, adopting a more reflective style, under the name Alex Carr and her first book in this guise is An Accidental American. Her heroine this time is a professional forger with a chequered past, who has served six years in a Marseille prison.

Although released and living in rural isolation in the French Pyrenees, her past comes back to haunt her and she is reluctantly recruited by the forces of law and order (or so it seems) to track down a former lover now suspected of being an international terrorist. The trail leads to Portugal and the seedy side of Lisbon, and from there to the Lebanon and the dangerous side of Beirut.

For a young American, born and raised in Montana, the European locations are extremely well done and even though you know that the heroine Nicole is far from being one of life's innocent victims, you can't help feeling for her.

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

last updated 1/04/2007 15:32