Latest thrillers

2011-09-28 00:00

THE Witness Books’ Editor, Margaret von Klemperer, takes a look at some of the latest crop of crime thrillers to hit the shelves.

With A Sailor’s Honour, Chris Marnewick revisits two characters from his previous novels, The Soldier Who Said No and Shepherds and Butchers. They are Pierre de Villiers, a hard man with a past reaching out long fingers from South Africa’s old dirty-tricks brigade, and his brother-in-law Johann Weber, who, like his creator, is a senior advocate at the Bar in Durban.

De Villiers has made a new life as a policeman in New Zealand, and is almost managing to assimilate into a country that abides by the rules — until his young daughter is kidnapped. And on the same day in Durban, Weber’s wife also goes missing. The link is a shadowy South African third force, relics of the apartheid days. The mysterious “major” and “general” who are pulling the strings were never exactly within the state fold, and now are well beyond it.

Marnewick builds up the back story of both his protagonists to create his thriller and supply the motivation for the plot. The novel ranges in time from the dying days of the Second World War to the heyday of apartheid and into the present, and in place from Germany to the then South West Africa to South Africa and New Zealand.

The blurb on the cover suggests that this is the final book in a loose trilogy, but I would exclude Shepherds and Butchers from that: while this one and its predecessor are lively thrillers, the first book was something more.

A satisfyingly gruesome novel, set in London in the twenties. Louise Levene’s heroine, Dora, is living in a world where middle-class women are supposed to want marriage, not a career, but in the aftermath of the Great War, men are hard to come by. Dora can’t study medicine — her gloomy doctor father is set against it — but in a bid for independence manages to get a job as secretary to top forensic pathologist, Dr Alfred Kemble. He is the darling of juries and the media, and Dora finds he is ideal for the fantasy life she is concocting in her spare time. Kemble loves cutting up corpses, and, it transpires, has a few other unsavoury habits as well. And Dora is an innocent at large in the world, though, it must be said, she’s a quick learner.

In the end, less happened than I expected, and there were moments when the relentlessly jokey writing style began to grate. But overall, Ghastly Business is fun to read, both as a look at a vanished past and as a creepily nasty chiller.

I have a feeling that if anyone was to actually research the age of Chief Inspector Wexford, he would be very close to his telegram from the Queen: he first appeared in 1964 and has been ageing very slowly since. However, in Ruth Rendell’s latest novel, he has finally retired, and he and the faithful Dora are spending at least some of their time as visitors of their wealthy daughter in Hampstead.

Wexford bumps into a London policeman he knew many years before, and becomes involved in a case in which four bodies were found under a house.

Without official standing, he can’t investigate as he once would have, and without the resources he is used to he has to find his own way around the unfamiliar city and its out-of-the-way corners. It is a complex case, and, as always with Wexford, his own family and its problems intrude on his detective work.

It’s not Rendell at her absolute best — and the proof reading is shocking — but Wexford offers the comfort of familiarity and the twists and turns make for a satisfying read.

A Sailor’s Honour

Chris Marnewick

Umuzi

The Vault

Ruth Rendell

Hutchinson

Ghastly Business

Louise Levene

Bloomsbury

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