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Book review: Irresistible crime wave by masters old and new

A round-up of the best crime fiction with MAT COWARD

It’s always a pleasure to encounter a really unusual setting for crime fiction, but novelty alone is no good — it needs a decent story to go with it. Luckily, Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc (Trapdoor, £12.99) scores both ways.

It’s set in a Norwegian Lapland winter, at the end of the Polar Night, when there are only a few minutes of sunlight each day and where a sudden rise in temperature to -17°C strikes the locals as “almost springlike.”

Here the Reindeer Police patrol vast distances on their snowmobiles, settling disputes between the Sami reindeer breeders who make their hard living out on the tundra as they have done for millennia.

Reindeer Police rarely involve themselves in criminal cases. But when a traditional Sami drum is stolen from a local museum and a reindeer man is found murdered, Klemet and Nina saddle up their scooters and set off to investigate.

They find themselves in the middle of a conflict between Sami nationalists, Scandinavian ultra-rightists and those from further afield who reckon the frozen land needs some capitalist exploitation to drag it into the 21st century.

This dense but tense thriller is full of local colour although admittedly the colour is mostly white.

Los Angeles psychologist Alex Delaware is hired by a local court to advise in a bizarre child custody case in Killer by Jonathan Kellerman (Headline, £18.99).

A wealthy and quite mad business woman is suing her poor, hippyish sister for custody of her niece. It’s an unpleasant affair all round and Delaware is relieved when it’s over — until its aftermath leads to unexpected violence.

It’s the glimpses Kellerman gives us into the mind and methods of a working psychologist that make his thrillers so notable.

Mason Cross’s first novel The Killing Season (Orion, £12.99) is a serial-killer thriller with a conspiracy twist.

An ex-US Army sniper, who turned his Iraq war job into a peacetime hobby, is being transported to a federal prison to await execution.

When Mafiosi murder his escorts to get at his travelling companion, the sniper manages to escape. He’s no sooner resumed his killing spree when the FBI are on his tail. But one thing puzzles them.

Why is a maniac famous for always working alone suddenly receiving help from within the ranks of law enforcement?

This is an impressively exciting debut, written with panache and a good ear for grim humour.

A newspaper controversialist has been murdered in a strange, staged manner. The list of suspects includes his wife, ex-wives, lovers and declared enemies but extends indefinitely, since at one time or another he managed to offend just about everyone in Britain.

Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error (Hodder, £12.99) is all about lying — not only the lies people tell others to justify their behaviour but, more importantly, the ones they tell themselves to justify their own dishonesty.

As ever, Hannah seamlessly weaves such intriguing psychological speculations into an almost classically baffling mystery.

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