Mike Ripley's Crime File - November 2007
'Losing Ground' by Catherine Aird; 'Swansea Terminal' by Robert Lewis; 'Cop Killer' and 'The Terrorists' by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Catherine Aird's Losing Ground (Allison & Busby, £19.99) is a glorious return to the fictional county of Calleshire which she created many years ago as the setting for the investigations of Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan, known to one and all as "Seedy".
Fans of the Sloan books long since realised that Calleshire bears a suspicious resemblance to Kent, but that is all part of the fun. In Losing Ground, and with a great deal of impish humour, Catherine Aird serves up a delightful social satire on developers, conservationists, county councillors, museum curators and nouveau rich rock stars, all squabbling over an 18th century listed manor house. There is even a crucial cameo role for an infamous and totally disreputable archaeologist.
In a darker and far less cosy style, Swansea Terminal (Serpentís Tail, £7.99) by Robert Lewis, charts not the rise but the fall of Robin Llewellyn, Swansea's least impressive and probably only private detective.
All fictional detectives have their built-in character flaws or faults; it is these quirks which raise them above the norm and allow the reader to identify with them and cheer them on as they put right society's wrongs.
It is, however, difficult to identify or sympathise with Llewellyn, for this vagrant detective is dedicated to drinking, smoking and gambling himself to death and the shopping lists of his daily intake of booze read like an extended suicide note. There is no doubt that the book is a well-written study of a man who has reached the bottom and is still digging and there are spikes of dark humour, but it is also relentlessly depressing.
Cop Killer and The Terrorists (both £7.99 from Harper) are the ninth and tenth novels in the internationally-acclaimed Martin Beck series written by the Swedish married couple Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo over thirty years ago.
These reissues complete the republication of all ten novels in what was ambitiously conceived as a ten-book cycle and which laid the template for more politically-aware fiction as well the current vibrant school of Scandinavian crime writing. Each Martin Beck investigation is self-contained and all are highly recommended. Taken as a whole, the ten book series is nothing short of a breathtaking achievement.
Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writes a regular column for the Birmingham Post.