Auntie Marjorie has form on Christmas Day. As soon as lunch is over and the Queen’s speech comes on the telly she likes to disappear into her boudoir with a good crime novel. She doesn’t emerge until Boxing night. You know she’s depending on you to satisfy her eclectic tastes, so what will you place under the tree for her this year?
Here, five authors and one audiobook narrator put their parcels under the tree…
[Click on the pics/links to go through to non-affiliated Amazon pages.]
Auntie Marjorie can’t go far wrong with Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith: even with a story that’s not quite as strong as in Renko’s previous outings, the compelling characters and wonderful writing more than make up for it. Smith is an overlooked gem of a writer, as is the great Graham Hurley, whose Portsmouth-set novels featuring DI Faraday and ex-DC Winter are hands down the best UK police procedurals. They can be read individually, but to get the best out of them I’d recommend starting with the first, Turnstone.
Aunt Marjorie gets a taste of 1964 Brighton in Danny Miller’s ‘Kiss me Quick.’ It’s colourful place, smart on the outside, seedy on the inside, mods and rockers on the seafront, gangsters behind closed doors. It’s not a place to make enemies lightly. So that’s exactly what detective Vince Treadwell does, returning from London to his home territory, finding even deeper trouble by getting to know gangster Jack Regent’s girl Bobby LaVita a little too intimately for safety. Twist follows atmospheric turn as Vince digs for the truth, and finds it in ways he didn’t expect.
It all depends on whether Auntie Maj has been behaving herself. If she’s not gone too hard on the sherry, I’d say she’ll curl up with The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, a cracking, gentle, clever puzzle from Japan – a sort of Tokyo version of Agatha Christie. But if Maj has found that bottle of cooking sherry and there’s a weird absence of liqueur chocolates, she’ll prefer Killer Move by Michael Marshall: a crazed, funny, moving, weird novel that feels a bit like a crime novel has ram-raided a sci-fi convention, then wandered away in a daze. Magnificently different.
My recommendation is neither for a crime novel nor a recently published book, but for a vintage spy novel: The Russia House by John le Carré. It was reissued by Penguin earlier this year with a new afterword by le Carré looking at how Russia has changed since the book was first published in 1989. I read it in the early ’90s, and saw the film with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, but a few months ago read it again, as my next book is a non-fiction investigation of the real espionage operation that largely inspired the novel, the running of Oleg Penkovsky. I remembered finding it a little heavy-going the first time, but once I had become used to the flow of le Carre’s rather Dickensian prose again, the pages whipped by. There’s precious little cloak and dagger action: in some ways, it’s almost a corporate drama, with MI6 and the CIA two large conglomerates (one larger than the other) forced to join forces to discover the secrets of a rival firm via an unwilling messenger, who in the novel takes the form of Barley Blair, a gone-to-seed British publisher and sometime-jazz musician. But it’s a classic spy novel in atmosphere, and transports you back to a world of chilly spooks and divided loyalties in the dying days of the Soviet Union. It was written just over 20 years ago, but in many ways this is already a period novel, and a mighty fine one, too.
I’ve a hunch Aunt Marge is the sort of dame who likes her thrillers noir as a black cat in a coal shed so I’ll be giving her Truth Dare Kill by Gordon Ferris. It’s the forties, it’s bomb-ravaged London just after the war, there’s a classy woman telling private investigator Danny McRae she’s killed her husband, there’s a psychopathic serial sex-killer on the loose, and Danny’s wartime head wound means he has blackouts and can’t remember where he was when the murders got themselves done. If Auntie even breaks for a mince pie, I’ll be surprised…
As Aunt Marjorie sounds like a bit of a traditionalist, I’d give her ‘Behind You’ by Linda Regan – a police procedural that proves it’s murder doing panto at Christmas! Former Hi-De-Hi actress Regan provides lots of backstage detail. Or I might stretch Aunt Marjorie’s horizons with a near-future dystopian thriller like the excellent ‘A Kind of Puritan’ by Penny Deacon – quirky, with a great central character. And of course I’d have to slip an audiobook I’d narrated into her stocking – something chilling, like ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright or ‘We need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver.