HOLIDAY READING: MIKE RIPLEY, AVA GLASS, MAX TOMLINSON and DEANNA RAYBOURN
During my recent holiday I took advantage of the long flights and some quiet time to catch up on a number of books I have been meaning to read for some time and to re-read some old classics.
Probably the pick of the overdue reads were Henry Porter’s A Spy’s Life, which was a terrific spy thriller that I should have read years ago, and Robert Goddard’s Fault Line, which was his typically well done tale of old secrets and old crimes resonating down the years. I also enjoyed re-reading Eric Ambler’s classic tale of a man on the run, Background To Danger, which was far more cynical than I remembered, and John Gardner’s odd mix of spies, Nazis and ghosts, The Werewolf Trace.
I also took the opportunity to catch up on some more recent books by Mike Ripley, Ava Glass, Max Tomlinson and Deanna Raybourn.
Mike Ripley’s seamless and enjoyable continuance of the Albert Campion novels by Margery Allingham have become a regular feature of the British crime scene and Mr Campion’s Mosaic (Severn House, 4 October 2022), the tenth in the series, once more features Ripley’s marvellous sense of humour and his love for history.
One of the highlights of the Ripley additions has been his creation of Evadne Childe, a mystery writer from the ‘Golden Age’ of British detective fiction, who featured in the highly enjoyable Mr Campion’s Séance. The latest book is set in 1972, seven years after Evadne’s death, and involves some nefarious antics around the BBC remake of a twenty-year-old film adaptation of one of her classic novels, The Moving Mosaic. Campion is asked by the Evadne Childe society to investigate why someone would want to sabotage the production of the television show and finds himself in the picturesque village of Kingswalter Manor in Dorset where filming is due to start.
It is the usual busy plot by Ripley and Mr Campion’s Mosaic finds the ageing detective caught up in dark secrets from World War II, an impressive Roman mosaic, ghosthunters and murder. The story proceeds at a leisurely pace and is full of interesting historical snippets and cultural references, as well as several amusing inside jokes and references by Ripley. Underlying it all is a good murder mystery that is neatly resolved.
As usual, it is a light and enjoyable treat that goes down as well as the local Dorset beer. Recommended.
Also featuring dark deeds from Word War II, and set in the same decade as Mr Campion’s Mosaic, is the latest Colleen Hayes PI novel by Max Tomlinson, Line Of Darkness (Oceanview, 16 August 2022).
San Francisco, 1979. When a German businesswoman hires ex-con and struggling PI Colleen Hayes to find a missing relative she is supposedly in town to visit, Colleen thinks it’s a simple job. However, things soon turn nasty and Collen discovers that the woman’s “nephew” is linked to an international vigilante group hunting down ex-Nazis. Targeted by some right-wing thugs Colleen finds herself drawn into a bloody battle that has its origins in the War.
This is a very well written PI thriller with a good cast of characters and an interesting backdrop. The story moves along at a good pace and the flashbacks to World War II, and the horrors of the concentration camps, are well handled and are seamlessly woven into the story. The characterisations are credible and interesting, and have a good unvarnished feel to them. I particularly like Tomlinson’s portrayal of Colleen, who has a gritty edge to her, but always behaves in a credible manner. Her relationship with her daughter is unsentimental and believable and is well grounded in the 1970s milieu.
I thought that the story’s credibility was slightly weakened when the action moved to Europe, but not enough to stop Line Of Darkness from being an exciting, first class crime thriller. One of the best PI novels I read for some time.
Far more up to date, is Alias Emma by Ava Glass, (Century, 16 August 2022).
Set primarily over a twenty four period, Alias Emma is a fast paced and exciting spy thriller about a young British secret service operative, known as Emma, who has to get the adult son of a pair of Russian defectors across London and to safety. Pursuing Emma and her charge are team of Russian assassins, who have hacked into the surveillance cameras in London and are tracking her every move. With no back-up from her bosses, Emma desperately makes her through the backstreets of London.
This is a very entertaining novel that shows good ingenuity in describing how Emma avoids electronic scrutiny. The quick pace makes it easy to suspend disbelief on occasion, and the book moves capably through some good twists. Emma is an engaging and likeable protagonist who has some interesting quirks to her history and the other characters are also serviceable. The narration is smooth and uncluttered and overall this is a good, enjoyable read.
Note: Ava Glass is a pen name for Christi Daugherty who has written YA thrillers and mystery novels under her own
Finally, Deanna Raybourn’s Killers Of A Certain Age, (Penguin, 6 September 2022), is also a fun read with a touch of The Thursday Murder Club about it.
The story revolves around four women, Billie, Helen, Mary Alice and Natalie, who have finally retired after working for forty years as assassins for an organization known as the Museum. The foursome were recruited as young 20 year-olds and are now in their 60s and looking forward to taking a break from killing. As the book opens, the four are enjoying a Caribbean cruise as a going-away present from the Museum, but a chance encounter alerts them to a threat to their lives from their employer. Suddenly they find themselves on the run, but rather than give-up they decide to use their skills to eliminate the threat against them. Even though their physical prowess is in decline, they still have their wits about them and they are also helped by the fact that as women ‘of a certain age’ they are largely invisible to most of the public.
This brisky paced story quickly draws you in and keeps you highly entertained as the four draw on their skills to avoid detection and outwit their much younger hunters. There are some great scenes, well described locations and the sort of insider detail you expect from a spy thriller.
Mixed in with the humour and the action, are some wry observations on ageing and life’s trajectory, and plenty of witty conversation. There is some poignancy, but it is not a book to be taken too seriously.
I read this on the flight back from Europe and enjoyed every page of it. Recommended.