Today I’d like to highlight a range of newly published books, one by a good friend, and a couple by relative newcomers whom I’ve never met. What they all have in common is readability.
Smoke Alarm, by the consistent (and consistently under-estimated) Priscilla Masters, is the fourth entry in her series featuring Shrewsbury-based coroner Martha Gunn. Once again, it benefits from a setting in Shropshire, a county Cilla knows just as well as Ellis Peters did. The mystery revolves around a fire, the work of an arsonist, that results in three deaths. As the author explains in an afterword, a real-life tragedy provided the seed for the narrative, but the story itself is very much a work of fiction.
Devoured, by D.E. Meredith, is interesting on two levels. First, the story – set in Victorian London and the era when forensic science began to develop – has a number of appealing features and is clearly the product of extensive research. Professor Hatton is asked for help by Inspector Adams of Scotland Yard when the body of Lady Bessingham, a noted collector at a time when specimen-hunting is all the rage, is found in her home in Nightingale Walk – surrounded by fossils and tribal masks. A creepily memorable crime scene.
Second, I’d like to highlight Allison and Busby's presentation of this hardback edition. The binding, with a map of Victorian London, is attractive, and I suspect this book is a good example of the way forward for hardback fiction in the era of the ebook. Ebooks pose, as we all know, a threat to conventional books, but I don’t believe for one moment that the book will disappear. Mass market paperbacks may not sell as easily, but there may well be a resurgence of interest in hardback editions that are attractively bound, as lovely things to own. I’ve heard a number of publishers express this view, and I think there’s something in it.
Finally, Baptism by Max Kinnings (Quercus) is a chunky, action-based thriller, and a paperback original. The author is a lecturer in creative writing from Brunel University, and I gather that he wrote a couple of novels a decade or so ago, but this book represents a fresh start. The opening pages supply plentiful ingredients for dramatic action. A monk is murdered in North Wales; a family is held hostage in Wimbledon; a Tube train stands in a tunnel, its passengers trapped and helpless. Thus is the scene set for blind DCI Ed Mallory, the Met’s top hostage negotiator, to take a bow. Kinnings’ storyline, and writing style, are very different from Meredith’s, but they are both very promising writers, and I would like to think they will enjoy careers as long and satisfying as Cilla Masters’.