Books

CRIME

CRIME

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS by Louise Penny (Hodder £16.99, 448 pp)

THE MADNESS OF CROWDS

by Louise Penny (Hodder £16.99, 448 pp)

This enthralling novel from a fine crime writer raises a fascinating question — how should we deal with a post-pandemic world to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again?

The eloquent and outspoken Professor Abigail Robinson is in no doubt: society should cull the elderly, the weak and babies with birth defects, to protect the healthy.

Her ideas are gaining ground but are also fiercely controversial, so much so that Penny’s legendary homicide detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, is sent to protect her when she gives a lecture.

An attempt is made on her life, and then another body turns up, making Gamache’s job even trickier. With beautifully drawn characters, this is crime writing of the highest order — a mystery wrapped up in a political polemic — which asks its readers complicated questions without talking down to them.

THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE

by Richard Osman (Viking £18.99, 432 pp)

This second outing from talented TV presenter Osman is the successor to his best-selling debut, The Thursday Murder Club. It once again features the four septuagenarians who live in the Coopers Chase retirement community and begins barely a week after their first adventure.

Bossy Elizabeth, inventive Joyce, capable Ron and thoughtful Ibrahim find themselves caught up with Elizabeth’s ex-husband, Douglas, who works for MI5 and is hiding from a shady businessman after an undercover operation went wrong.

Osman’s dry, sardonic wit remains as clear as ever — the trouble is it overwhelms the plot. Even when there are two brutal murders they seem lost in the almost suffocating cosiness of it all, which worked in the first book but now feels forced. Where is the tension of the great crime novel? Not here.

THE MAN ON HACKPEN HILL by J. S. Monroe (Head of Zeus £18.99, 464 pp)

THE MAN ON HACKPEN HILL

by J. S. Monroe (Head of Zeus £18.99, 464 pp)

Crop circles are not unknown in Wiltshire, where this intriguing story is set, but when a body is found at the centre of one on Hackpen Hill, DI Silas Hart is sent to investigate.

Then another body turns up in another crop circle and the plot quickly thickens as aspiring journalist Bella meets Jim, a scientist at the secretive government laboratory at nearby Porton Down.

Impeccably researched — for example in explaining the mathematical elements to crop circles — Monroe manages to make them fascinating and even exciting. Inevitably, Bella and Jim find themselves pitted against those dark forces that led to the novichok poisonings in Salisbury in March 2018. Meanwhile, the ever-dependable DI Hart struggles to keep up with the complexities of the case, in spite of the mathematical insights offered by his fearsomely intelligent female assistant.

It all adds up to an unusual mystery told with exceptional skill.

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