Summertime crime (Australia, UK, Iceland)

I hope you’re all in a summery mood and finding time for some relaxing crime fiction – novels that whisk you away from humdrum everyday life and morale-sapping political shenanigans.

Here are three that have done the trick for me lately.

Chris Hammer, Scrublands (Wildfire, 2019)

This debut novel, set an isolated Australian town suffering from drought, has attracted some rave reviews. It opens with a puzzle: why would charismatic priest Byron Swift open fire on his own congregation from the church steps one Sunday morning, killing five men? A year on, burned-out journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the impact of the tragedy on the community, and is struck by how what locals say doesn’t always fit into the accepted version of events.

I really enjoyed Scrublands, although things went a teensy bit bananas in the end. Big pluses for me included the intriguing puzzle of Swift’s actions, the depictions of troubled journalist Scarsden and the embattled Riversend community, and an utterly gripping section on the battle to contain a bushfire. The rather irritating characterization of the (stunningly beautiful) love interest and an increasingly overloaded plot were less beguiling. In the end, there were enough twists and turns to fill three crime novels, and the chunks of exposition needed to explain these felt a bit intrusive. But overall this was a worthwhile and entertaining read, and very well written in parts.

Lesley Thomson, The Dog Walker (Head of Zeus, 2017)

Lesley Thomson’s ‘The Detective’s Daughter’ series has become one of my favourites in recent years. I always enjoy the company of her quirky sleuthing duo, Stella Darnell (detective’s daughter and cleaner extraordinaire) and her sidekick Jack Harmon. In The Dog Walker, Stella and Jack investigate the 1987 disappearance of Helen Honeysett, a young wife who went for a run along the Thames towpath one evening and never came home. Suspicion immediately fell on one of her neighbours, but perhaps he was innocent after all? Thomson provides readers with an intriguing array of suspects living in a row of five riverside cottages (there’s a great little map at the front of the novel showing who lives where). The chapters set in the 1980s stand out for their narration of events from a child’s perspective – that of young Megan – and are extremely well observed.

If you’re new to this series, I’d recommend reading the series opener, The Detective’s Daughter, before you start this one.

Quentin Bates, Cold Breath, Constable 2018 

Another of my favourite investigators is Officer Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladdóttir, a no-nonsense middle-aged Icelandic policewoman. In this, the seventh novel in Quentin Bates’ absorbing series, Gunna is placed in the unusual position of acting as a police bodyguard to Osman, a high-profile foreign guest. What should be a straightforward assignment turns into something much more serious when there’s an attempt on Osman’s life. The novel tracks events from the perspectives of the would-be assassins, those unfortunate enough to inadvertently get in their way, and Gunna and Osman respectively. The larger mystery of Osman’s identity hangs over proceedings as well. A thrilling plot, strong characterization and plenty of wry humour all make for a great read – and the novel’s Icelandic settings are evocatively drawn.

What stand-out crime novels have you been reading this summer?

Post your recommendations below! 

25 thoughts on “Summertime crime (Australia, UK, Iceland)

  1. Excellent choices, Mrs. P! Glad you’ve had some good reads thus far. As for me, I’m deep into the Ngaio Marsh Awards longlist. Some good stuff coming from Kiwi writers, I can say!

  2. The most recent thriller I’ve read was _Nothing Lasts Forever_, a work from the ’70s by Roderick Thorp, that became the basis for the film _Die Hard_. (www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B006NZWXO2) It was pretty good, though I found the relationships between the characters (particularly the hero and the flight attendant) a bit odd; maybe it’s just the way things were in the 1970s.

    Before that, I read _The Katharina Code_, and have to confess that, though the ending was not bad, I found it difficult to get through. Maybe it was the translation, but the characters just seemed a bit — I don’t know — distant and not engaging. Not sure. Also, I thought the lack of a complete listing of the numbers in the central clue was a bit maddening. Even if I have no hope of figuring out the solution on my own, I still want all the clues!

    Anyway, _The Dog Walker_ looks promising. I like The Detective’s Daughter novels, so another one can be no bad thing.

    • Hello NomadUk – I hadn’t realised that Die Hard was based on a novel. How intriguing – might have to take a look!

      It’s a shame that The Katharina Code didn’t quite hit the spot for you. I like that Scandi coolness in the characterization – I find it a blessed antidote to the melodramatics that seem to infuse much of our soap opera culture and news. I have to confess I didn’t realise that the numbers weren’t all there…

      Glad to hear you’re a fan of the Detective’s Daughter novels too. I haven’t read a couple of the middle ones, and am looking forward to backtracking (if you see what I mean).

  3. I am very fond of Quentin Bates’ Officer Gunnhildur series, I have only read two of them but have the 3rd to read on my TBR pile. My latest crime fiction read is Perfect Gallows, published 1988, by Peter Dickinson. Before that Transcription by Kate Atkinson (sort of crime fiction, definitely spy fiction). Both set during World War II mainly.

    • Hello Tracy – glad to find you’re a fan of Gunna too. I think it’s a rather underrated series that deserves more attention that it’s received so far.

      I read Atkinson’s Transcription too and was a little underwhelmed, but can’t quite put my finger on why. What did you think of it?

      I like the look of Perfect Gallows (have just had a quick peek online). Thanks for the tip!

      • I did enjoy Transcription quite a bit. I love espionage so I especially liked that aspect of it. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on some of the time but that did not bother me, and I was very surprised by the ending.

  4. I’ve just finished a terrific new novel by Australian author Sarah Hopkins called The Subjects. A novel of big ideas–about the privatisation of incarceration, the ethics of research, the medicalisation of young people–it is also an absolutely compelling read and one that treats the reader as intelligent. Highly recommended.

    • Hello, Angela – I’ve just had a peek at The Subjects, and it looks really intriguing. I see that Hopkins is a criminal lawyer, which gives her a very interesting area of expertise to draw on. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Hi there, hope you are well and had a fantastic weekend.  I was wondering what you thought of steel and shadows? I understand if you haven’t had chance to flick though because your reading list must be enormous.

    Best wishes.

    Stuart Field.

    • Hello Stuart – thanks for your message. I haven’t as yet – you’re right about the length of that reading list – but Steel and Shadows is safely in place on my bookshelf! Best, Kat

  6. I’ve just rattled through “The October Man”, the latest from Ben Aaronovitch, and loved it because of its setting somewhere just outside Trier in the Mosel valley. It’s a change from the usual and thus, even if I’m never sure whether to call them crime novels or not, in an area I know well in much the same way the Rivers of London series fit in with the London I know well. I just wish it had been novel length instead of a novella. I’m now reading Kate Atkinson’s “Big Sky” because I’ve been waiting for this one for ages!

    • Thanks for this recommendation, Stella! I remember reading and liking the first two of the Rivers of London series (verrrry original), and will definitely check out The October Man. I’m interested in why Aaronovitch chose that setting, too…

      • He seems to have been talked into it, possibly by his translator, though I’m not entirely sure.

  7. Morning Mrs P. I’ve just started to read (a new series for me), Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes and set on the Scilly Islands, and The Needle House by Robin Roughley. I’ve just added the latest Gunnhildur to my list of books TBR in due course, and L J Ross’ Longstone as well.
    Being a complete Aus-ophile I’ll pick up pretty much anything written by Australian authors. Scrublands, goodness how I enjoyed that. It was a bit slow at first, but then it picked up and I really didn’t want to put it down. Life in a small town in the Riverina during a drought, not a nice place to be.
    Will definitely take a look at Lesley Thomson’s series as well. If I stock up now, I’ll have enough to keep me going until Xmas lol!

    • Thanks for these recommendations, Kathy P. I’ve not read anything set on the Scilly Isles, so am definitely intrigued by Hell Bay. Glad to hear that you enjoyed Scrublands – it was a cracker of a debut novel, and it’s sense of place is particularly powerful.

      As you look at your teetering piles of new books, just remember that you can never have too many great crime novels in your life!!!

  8. I enjoyed Scrublands. However, I could not complete a quiz on the complex ending, on exactly what happened as so much was going on. A lot of crimes, a lot of perpetrators for a small town. But well done nevertheless. I liked the main character. And he found love, too. (sigh)
    I read The Ice Swimmer and Big Sister, liked them both. Disliked The Darkness, so depressing.
    I just read Denise Mina’s Conviction. Quirky, original, unputdownable, fun, funny. Yet deals with an important issue
    involving women’s oppression. I spent my July 4 reading it, worth it.
    Now I am reading The Rosie Result, by Graeme Simsion, and just picked up Kate Atkinson’s Blue Sky. And I have The Katharina Code on the top of my TBR pile.
    The more summer book lists I read, the more I want to just sit in a/c and read.

    • Hello Kathy – I’d flunk that test on the end of Scrublands as well. Rolling with it seemed to be a good strategy 🙂

      Thanks for recommending Denise Mina’s Conviction. I’ve been meaning to get hold of this one, as I love all of her work. She’s such a wonderful and original writer.

      I have a bit of holiday coming up and can’t wait to get my hands on loads of good books. I’m honing my reading list in anticipation!

  9. Look forward to your reviews. I always pick up book ideas from this blog. And you have that beautiful Wales
    countryside to look up at while reading.

  10. On “Transcription,” I have a comment about one particular section. The protagonist is at a wealthy woman Nazi spy’s house. My reading of her meaning in performing her host duties is that she was basically asking, “Would you like some tea and some cake, and by the way, the Jews are ruining the world.” As someone with Jewish heritage, this just knocked me over at how casual is the anti-Semitism that it’s strewn together with tea and cakes. That is British understatement.
    I wonder is this sentiment is still expressed like this. It made me laugh.

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