Just when I thought it might be safe to venture into the Scandinavian forests again, Hans Rosenfeldt comes along to prove me wrong – and show that the Scandi-noir genre is still thriving. In cry wolf (HarperCollins, £14.99) Rosenfeldt, the creator of The bridge tv series and hit from netflix marcella, offers a dark, captivating and fast-paced read.
cry wolf takes place in Haparanda, a small town in northern Sweden. A drug deal goes awry just across the Finnish border, leaving a trail of corpses through the forest, and a wolf is found with human remains in its stomach. Hannah Wester, the likeable protagonist, is a middle-aged detective more used to dealing with domestic violence and two-bit drug dealers – or the hot flashes of menopause she is experiencing – than to international criminal gangs. Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, a murderous Russian criminal wants his money and his pills back – and sends Katja, a highly skilled assassin, to retrieve both.
It’s clear that Rosenfeldt’s writing has been shaped by television: short chapters, fast-paced dialogue, and a lack of direction make reading jerky at times. But the author is deft enough to pull all the threads together with a clever twist, while also signaling that we’ll soon be hearing more from Hannah Wester – and maybe even killer Katja.
Dirty Russian money is also the story engine that fuels Marina Palmer’s captivating plot. The Russian doll (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99). When Ruth Miller, a young woman raised in an institution, returns a scarf to Elena Shilkov, the wife of a Russian oligarch, after a terrorist attack in London’s West End, her life is transformed. Ruth joins House Shilkov as Elena’s PA. Money, she soon realizes, allows for a frictionless life. “Someone was always opening the next door, the car was stopping, the food was being prepared, the table was waiting.” Ruth’s new life is, of course, too good to be true, and danger is swirling fast. The Russian doll is a much-watched take on the Faustian pact – and contemporary London.
Stephen Leather is best known for his fine series starring Dan “Spider” Shepherd, a former SAS soldier working for the darker parts of the British state in international crisis areas. Standing alone (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is the second in a spin-off series featuring fellow SAS soldier Matt Standing. After thwarting a terrorist attack outside Manchester, Standing is sent to America to take down a rogue Navy Seal who has just murdered a congressman. The main story takes place in the wilder regions of Humboldt County in northern California, where much of the US cannabis crop is produced.
Standing soon finds himself confronted by Mexican cartels, the Russian mafia and gangsters from Eastern Europe. The action scenes are skillfully choreographed and Standing is an engaging protagonist, though a bit more of his story – and therefore his motivation – would be welcome.
Treason (Head of Zeus, £16.99) is the second outing from former French Foreign Legion soldier Dan Raglan, written by David Gilman, himself a former paratrooper. Treason takes Raglan on a perilous journey, from Marseilles across the United States to the Honduran rainforest as he becomes embroiled in a murderous international conspiracy. The story is slower than its predecessor English, which allows more time to develop Raglan’s personality and relationships with others, especially the engaging TJ Jones, a black Vietnam veteran who takes Raglan under his wing in Washington D.C.
The death of Jason Matthews – a former CIA field operative and author of the Red Sparrow trilogy – last year robbed the thriller world of one of its most knowledgeable and talented writers. Fortunately, the superb first novel by David McCloskey Damascus Railway Station (Norton, $27.95) helps fill the void. Like Matthews, McCloskey is a veteran former CIA officer and the book seems completely authentic – so much so that I’m mildly surprised the agency has allowed much of its procedures and techniques to be placed in the public domain.
But above all Damascus Railway Station is simply wonderful storytelling. Sam Joseph, a CIA officer, is sent to Paris to recruit Mariam Haddad, a senior Syrian government official. Paris works its magic but on their return to Damascus, the star-crossed lovers must face the murderous Mukhabarat, the Syrian secret police. The Syrian capital is vividly depicted, from its souks to its ornate government palaces. The inner workings of Assad’s murderous regime are imagined in extraordinary detail, as are its torture chambers. Damascus Railway Station is a standout thriller and essential reading for fans of the genre.
Adam LeBor is the author of ‘Dohany Street’, a Budapest noir thriller
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