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Bondian undertones from US legend and second in series

Crime fiction with MAT COWARD

A PREVIOUSLY unknown novel by legendary US crime writer Donald E Westlake, posthumously published for the first time, is a treat few crime fans will be able to resist.

Forever and a Death (Hard Case Crime, £16.99) began as a treatment for a James Bond film, with Westlake novelising his own outline when the producers changed their plans. Its baddy is a ruthless, corner-cutting Western tycoon, kicked out of Hong Kong when the colony returned to Chinese rule, who plans an extravagantly appalling act of vengeance which will, at the same time, net him enough loot to rebuild his tottering business empire.
Against his wealth and power stands an ill-matched alliance, including his own chief engineer, a young ecowarrior and an Aussie cop.
The absence of agent 007 from the final version of this story does leave it feeling at times as if it lacks a unifying structure.
But the unfolding adventure is never less than exciting and, as Westlake fans will expect, the writing — funny, cool and smart — is a delight.

Exile by James Swallow (Zaffre, £12.99) also has a distinctly Bondian feel to its action scenes and its villains.
The hero, however, is not a suave superman like 007 but a discredited MI6 back-room boy forced into a frontline struggle for which he’s dangerously untrained.
In this second instalment in the series, Marc Dane is up against a Somalian pirate leader who’s got his hands on a portable nuclear bomb and plans to use it to take revenge on the Western nations that impoverished his country.
A straightforward adventure thriller, of the one-thing-after-another variety, fast-moving and frequently bloody, it deliberately and refreshingly lacks the sexism, xenophobia and the other macho hang-ups which so often spoil the intelligent reader’s enjoyment.

Natalie’s best friend is missing in The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent (Sphere, £12.99), but no-one’s taking her seriously.
She and Beth both work as barmaids in an estuary village in eastern England and everyone knows what barmaids are like — flighty, unreliable and man-mad.
Sadly, Nat is right. Something terrible has happened to Beth and now the man responsible has his eye on her friend.
Kent builds the tension slowly and steadily, teasing us with numerous suspects, before delivering an exciting and uplifting ending, with Nat liberated above all from the trap the killer had tried to lure her into — that of seeing all men as monsters and all women as victims and collaborators

Thirty years after a nightmarish London children’s home burned down, a killer is tracking all those connected with the place and murdering them and their families in Mark Hill’s debut novel Two o’clock Boy (Sphere, £799).
Detective Inspector Drake must somehow stop the carnage, without revealing that he himself is on the maniac’s list — a revelation that could cost him his career and perhaps his freedom.
While that sounds a rather familiar outline for a police thriller, readers won’t mind because the final twist is so superbly played.


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