The thing about crime/spy/thrillers is that they are so quickly read that I can’t keep pace with the reviews.   This calls for a catch-up post or, if you prefer, 3 reviews for the price of 1.

Dismissed DeadRod Brammer
Berlin was celebrating in November. 20 years since the fall of the Wall and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the age of the Cold War thriller was past. No so. Ex-naval intelligence officer Rod Brammer’s Dismissed Dead is set in the 60’s starting out in Berlin where his fictional spy, Finlay, is sent to retrieve a Russian bullet capable of penetrating British armour. Unfortunately there is a mole and Operation Kingstone is blown from the very start. Finlay and his fellow spy decide not to call off the operation …. A thrilling and, it must be said enlightening, story begins, in which Finlay proves to be no 007.  This is a fictional realism.  In the course of duty, Finlay is taken captive and must bear all the brutal consequences that it entails.  The action moves from Berlin to Turkmenistan, the scene of a daring rescue operation.  But the cynicism remains intact – helpers are not necessarily safe from their paylords because there are bigger agendas to protect …

Brammer’s past obviously plays a part  and the question is how much Finlay is autobiographical.   There’s a stamp of authenticity in  the flight from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan that is completely missing from the similar section of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows. 

This is a page-turning and sometimes vicious  thriller in which all sense of time is lost –  as would expect enduring the things that Finlay does.  In an interview on The Deighton Dossier Brammer states ” In my books I am keen that the reader knows the true cost sometimes visited on intelligence agents, in order that the population at large can sleep safe in their beds”.  Well, I for one want to know more – so I’m looking forward to the forthcoming titles.

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The Silver Swan – Benjamin Black

Booker-prize-winning John Banville turned his pen to crime to (or so he admitted at one event I attended)  to generate income through increased sales.  When writing literary novels, he said, he could sweat for a whole day over one sentence.  Yet crime novels are so easy to write.  Christine Falls, his first foray into the world of crime, is an excellent atmospheric mystery set in 1950’s Dublin .  His pseudo-detective, the pathologist, Quirke, uncovering crime and corruption intrinsic to the setting at the same time as his own nefarious secrets come to light. The Silver Swan, the follow-up novel, has clipped wings. It’s flat, straightforward, completely obsessed with sex and the resolution is way too obvious.  Still readable but a little more planning and complexity wouldn’t have gone amiss.

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A Cure for All Diseases – Reginald Hill

Last but not least,  a novel set in contemporary Britain.  Reginald Hill is currently my favourite British crime writer.  Actually I don’t  read his Dalziel and Pascoe books – I listen to them.  Unabridged audio books are wonderful and more wonderful still when they are filled with characters such as the sexist-pig fat man Dalziel, ambiguous villain Franny Roote, and the recently graduated psychologist, Charley Heywood.   Pascoe, modern, enlightened, clever, I could leave.  He simply isn’t colourful enough but if his role is to play a clever Watson to Dalziel’s Holmes, then in A Cure for All Diseases Hill inverts all expectations. 

Dalziel is convalescing from injuries sustained in the line of duty which leaves Pascoe to lead the investigation into the murder of Lady Denham. Only Dalziel is on the road to recovery and trying very hard not to interfere with the investigation.  Encouraged by his doctors, he confides his thoughts to Mildred, a recording device, as dumb and doting a Watson character as you’ll ever meet.  Now Dalziel’s monologues are loud, comic and definitely un-PC but they are hugely entertaining. So too are the thoughts of Charley Haywood, the outsider looking in, shocked and outraged at the invasions into her privacy, and the abuse of her trust.  An additional 3rd person narrative provides a more traditional perspective.

In addition to playing with form, Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels frequently pay homage to other literary works.  This one is heavily influenced by Jane Austen.  The epigram is taken from her unfinished novel, Sanditon, and life and relationships in the village, Sandyton, are very Austenesque, even as Hill injects a contemporary stream regarding alternative medicine.  There is so much in a Dalziel and Pascoe novel that once I’ve completed the series, I will have no hesitation rereading (relistening) to them. 

Just one flaw in this one.  It takes far too long to get going.  5 CDs worth before the first murder.  I almost gave up but then Lady Denham’s corpse was found roasting on the barbeque …..

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