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Mike Ripley's Crime File - October 2007

'King of Swords' by Nick Stone; 'The Herring Seller's Apprentice' by L C Tyler; 'The Noble Outlaw' by Bernard Knight; 'The Pere-Lachaise Mystery' by Claude Izner

Nick Stone's new blockbuster thriller, King of Swords (Penguin, 12.99), is actually a prequel to his debut novel Mr Clarinet which won the coveted Thriller of the Year Award, sponsored by the estate of Ian Fleming, in 2006.

Set in Miami in the early 1980s and featuring police detective Max Mingus, this huge book (over 550 pages) starts with a body in the monkey house of a private zoo and gets more bizarre from there onwards.

The writing is dense and detailed, but always as smooth as satin, as the plot is revealed through a network of characters, many of whom are immigrants from Haiti who have brought with them their Voodoo religion and have begun to use it to impose themselves on the Miami underworld. Behind it all is an infamous Mr Big, Solomon Boukman who, like the shark in "Jaws" is scarier when off-screen.

King of Swords delivers thrills and frights with the rocking rhythm of a runaway train and the shock of getting a voodoo doll and a packet of pins through the post.

Far more relaxed is The Herring Seller's Apprentice (Macmillan, 14.99) by L C Tyler which is an impressive but gentle spoof on the whole business of writing crime fiction.

The elegantly named Ethelred Tressider writes, for obvious reasons, under at least three far more sensible pen-names and hacks a meagre living out of the forest of detective, historical and romantic fiction. As if this wasn't punishment enough, he has a wonderfully pushy (and believable) agent, Elsie Thirkettle, who bullies him into investigating the suspected murder of his ex-wife.

This is all jolly fun as the bumbling hero stumbles through a plot littered, appropriately enough, with red herrings though it does tend to pull its punches. This is a first novel for L C Tyler, though. When he has written a few more he will be far more cynical.

Professor Bernard Knight had an awesomely impressive career as a Home Office pathologist (performing over 25,000 autopsies) before turning from crime fact to crime fiction. His best-known novels are set in Exeter and on Dartmoor around the year 1195 AD and feature Sir John de Wolfe, one of England's earliest coroners, or "Crowners".

His new Crowner John mystery, The Noble Outlaw (Pocket Books, 6.99) provides detection, medieval forensics and a fascinating insight into the beginnings of universities in this country, all fleshed out by Knight's regular cast of well-rounded and very human characters, both high and low born.

The Crowner John series, of which there are now almost a dozen, have described life in the West Country in the Middle Ages in loving detail and with far more energy than a thousand dry history books. They should have a Preservation Order slapped on them by the Devon Tourist Board.

For an equally fascinating take on a later period of history and an engaging Parisian twist on the world of Sherlock Holmes, The Pere-Lachaise Mystery by Claude Izner (Gallic Books, 7.99) comes highly recommended.

When a woman disappears whilst on a visit to her husband's grave in the famous Pere-Lachaise cemetery, who should be called in to investigate but amateur sleuth Victor Legris, who, as the day job, runs a bookshop on the left bank of the Seine.

The Victor Legris mysteries, which are immensely popular in France, are set to find many fans over here. Unusually, they are written by a pair of sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefervre, who are experts on nineteenth century Paris and also booksellers themselves on the Left Bank in Paris.

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

last updated 28/10/2007 13:33