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Is it wise for presidents and prime ministers to try their hand at writing crime novels, however commercially tempting it may be? The Clintons, Bill and Hillary, both took on the challenge, but left the heavy lifting to experienced novelists as co-authors. So perhaps Katrín Jakobsdóttir, prime minister of Iceland, took note of their example when she asked one of the leading Icelandic practitioners of the genre, Ragnar Jónasson, to join her in writing Reykjavík (Michael Joseph, £18.99, translated by Victoria Cribb).
Jakobsdóttir is no writing dilettante — she wrote her master’s thesis on the Icelandic crime novel and is a disciple of her country’s éminence grise in the field, Arnaldur Indriðason. So how does Reykjavík stack up? Jakobsdóttir would appear to have learned from the best — both her co-author and her inspiration. This is Nordic noir at its most authoritative.
The disappearance of a teenager from the island of Víðey has remained an unsolved mystery until tenacious tyro reporter Valur investigates. The cold case is to furnish devastating revelations, tied in to the year in which the book is set, 1986, when Reykjavík celebrated its 200th birthday. Leaving aside any finessing that Jónasson may have provided for his political co-writer, it would seem that another career might well be on the cards for Jakobsdóttir when she leaves the corridors of power.
Still with Scandinavian crime: was the extreme sexual violence of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy part of the reason for both its success and its notoriety? It’s an element that has been played down somewhat with subsequent writers who have continued the adventures of Larsson’s conflicted goth heroine, Lisbeth Salander — first David Lagercrantz, and now Karin Smirnoff in The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons (MacLehose, £22, translated by Sarah Death).
Salander journeys from Stockholm to the sprawling reaches of northern Sweden, an area at risk from both economic problems and climate change. The bisexual anti-heroine is investigating the disappearance of her niece’s mother, but she soon finds herself once again rescuing the journalist Mikael Blomkvist from personal issues that have turned lethal. This is adroitly written fare, and Death’s translation is as idiomatic as ever. Those who feel, however, that the explicit language of Larsson’s original trilogy was part of its DNA, should be aware that Smirnoff (like Lagercrantz) is more circumspect. Nevertheless, it’s a highly readable — and still ferocious — addition to the Millennium sequence.
The British writer MJ Arlidge is certainly in tune with the ethos of the Larsson novels, as Eye for an Eye (Orion, £14.99) proves, not holding back with its fact-based narrative of serial killers and torture. Several convicted criminals in the UK are given permanent life-long anonymity, but the tabloid press leaks the details of these notorious offenders directly to the bereaved families. Arlidge combines a responsible approach to his incendiary subject with the requisite tightening of tension as revenge scenarios unfold.
The rise of the Anglo-Asian novelist Vaseem Khan has been prodigious; his latest book, Death of a Lesser God (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), is another exuberant thriller in his award-winning Malabar House series. In 1950s India, Inspector Persis Wadia and Scotland Yard’s Archie Blackfinch are involved in an investigation sanctioned by arch-colonialist Charles Whitby to save his son from the gallows. As usual with Khan, an entire era and community are conjured with quiet panache, while Persis Wadia remains a winning protagonist.
It’s a brave novelist who takes on the mantle of Raymond Chandler with new exploits for that most iconic of private eyes, Philip Marlowe. Recently, John Banville — under his crime-writing pen name Benjamin Black — took up the Chandlerian cudgels, but it would initially seem to be more of a stretch for the acclaimed Scottish writer Denise Mina, whose own socially conscious work is a million miles from 1940s Los Angeles. However, The Second Murderer (Harvill Secker, £18.99) turns out to be a worthy outing for Marlowe, on the trail of the daughter of moneyed (and dying) Chadwick Montgomery, with other hungry eyes on the whereabouts of the heiress. The hardest thing in any Chandler pastiche is to match that coruscating wit, and, to a great extent, Mina pulls off this daunting task.
Finally, a follow-up to the bestselling Truly, Darkly, Deeply, All the Little Liars by the talented Victoria Selman (Quercus, £16.99) is a spellbindingly tense outing, in which the circumstances of the murder of a young girl prove to be a multi-faceted puzzle.
Two timelines are juggled by Selman with impressive authority — as they are in After You Were Gone by Vikki Wakefield (No Exit Press, £8.99), an equally troubling psychological thriller in which a woman on the brink of a new marriage finds her life torn apart by revelations about her missing daughter.
Barry Forshaw is the author of ‘Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films’