With the prospect of another long lockdown ahead, it seemed entirely justifiable to spend January revelling in detective fiction that I had been given for Christmas. I started with two excellent books by William Shaw – Deadland and Grave’s End (see my blog on Salt Lane – the first in the series). Deadland starts with two hapless teenagers nicking a mobile phone from the wrong criminal in north Kent, and the book charts their fall further and further into danger, as the lives of them and their loved ones are threatened and they have to go on the run. Meanwhile, part of a human limb has turned up in an artwork in the Turner museum in Margate and officer Alex Cupidi is sent to investigate. This leads her into a murky world of art dealers and camera-shy rich inhabitants of some of Kent’s finest properties, and up to flats in the Barbican in London, trying to find out who the arm belongs or belonged to. Are the two cases linked in some way? Cupidi is determined to find out.
Grave’s End has the wonderful device of a number of short chapters written from the viewpoint of a badger, as it burrows away on a piece of land destined for development. A body has turned up in a freezer of a luxury house on the market and no-one seems to want to tell Cupidi how it got there. But it does seemed linked to the development company, or the protestors trying to protect the wildlife, of which Alex’s own daughter is one (the poor thing does get dragged into danger through her mother’s cases a lot). There’s a dodgy Cabinet Minister involved, decades old abuse in a private school may have something to do with it, and a hoarder whose house should be condemned due to the network of structurally unsound tunnels he has dug underground. Will Cupidi solve the case, or will she lose her own life in the process?
Next up was the latest Ian Rankin – one of my favourite authors (see my blogs on Westwind, Ian Rankin, Christmas Reading, and Christmas Reading 2018). A Song for the Dark Times starts off with Rebus haring up to the far north of Scotland when his estranged daughter Samantha issues a cry for help after her partner goes missing. It’s a classic Rebus. His former colleague Siobhan Clarke ropes Rebus into a case she is having to work alongside Malcolm Fox, another key player in the Rebus books of late, and retirement and health problems are not getting in Rebus’ way of attempting to solve a good murder. At the same time he is focused on finding Samantha’s partner and getting to the bottom of what’s happened. Siobhan gets lumbered with looking after Rebus’s dog, the brilliantly-named Brillo, whilst Rebus is four and a half hour’s drive north. Fox is doing something dodgy with Big Ger Gafferty, Rebus’ nemesis, and Siobhan is not getting much quality time in with her partner DCI Sutherland. But suddenly it seems the two cases may be linked and that a breakthrough is in sight.
I then went on to The Anonymous Venetian by Donna Leon, the third in the Brunetti series (see my blog on Death a la Fenice and Death in a Strange Country). It’s a stifling hot summer in Venice and Brunetti’s annual holiday up to the cooler mountains with his family is put at risk when the body of a dead transvestite is discovered in undergrowth next to an abattoir. No-one seems to take it very seriously except Brunetti, who refuses to make lazy assumptions that the man is a prostitute, and who seems almost alone in wanting as much justice for a prostitute anyway, if that is what he is. The detective makes his way around the city interviewing those who knew the dead man and interviewing the male prostitutes of the city, sweating his way through many shirts in the process. At last a breakthrough occurs and it seems that Brunetti’s instincts were correct and that the murder may be more about money and power than sex.