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Each month Maxim Jakubowski brings together a regular monthly selection of his favourite reads of the moment. Always wide-ranging and often with a crime at its heart, there will be something to suit every reader - but don’t just take our word for it as there are free opening extracts for each one.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. The Dundee-based A.J. McNee series reaches its fourth volume. McNee is a former cop and disgraced private investigator whose life has been marked by a distinct streak of bad luck but has never discarded his integrity along the way. Pressured by a local crime boss and an offer to work undercover for the drugs squad, McNee is also investigating a boy's murder on behalf of his mother who is unsure whether the man imprisoned for it is guilty or innocent. McLean orchestrates the diverse strands of his plot ingeniously, balancing all the ingredients with care, realism and empathy and proves a clever storyteller with a definite dark touch, which somehow feels a natural fit for its Dundee environment.
Maxim Jakubowski Highly Recommended. A sequel to the outstanding Mayhem, in which Victorian police surgeon Thomas Bond came to grips with Jack the Ripper, this new historical thriller by the prolific Pinborough, who flits with similar ease between dark fairy tales, horror and the fantastic shores of crime, grips like a vice. The bodies of young children are being pulled from the Thames and a deep undertone of unease cloaks the city when Bond, still struggling with his own ghosts, is confronted by yet another nemesis with more than hints of magic and the supernatural. Pinborough writes atmosphere like a bad dream and the story will keep you gripped through gruesome twists and unbearable dread. Nasty and hypnotic, and that’s a compliment.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Jameson's London Underground series began explosively with her CWA Dagger shortlisted Something You Are which fizzled with energy and dark undertones. Her new novel is similarly turbo-charged, the tale of a young woman's bittersweet revenge for the death of her parents and sister as she manipulates the criminal underworld to her advantage with ice sharp determination and ruthless energy. Jameson has a knack for evoking the ambiguous attractions of the underbelly of society and a pace that kills and is quickly establishing herself at a young age as the princess bride of British hardboiled crime.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. A suspenseful thriller debut introducing Carter Blake, a bullet-proof American hero in the mould of Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne, created by a new British author. Blake is a professional with a shadowy background who, for a price, will locate anyone you want, even more so if they don't wish to be found. Half on signature, half on delivery and always works alone. When an ex-Marine sniper and serial killer breaks out from Death Row, the race is on and the FBI need Carter's help, not knowing that he has crossed the killer's path once already in his past. A breathless race against time ensues with all the gilt-edge thrills and more. Relentless and no holds barred, a guilty pleasure of a read.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. In his splendid previous spy thriller A Foreign Country, Cumming introduced once-disgraced and now covertly back in the fold operative Thomas Kell and MI6’s first female head Amelia Levene. In his new book, they both appear again. Following the mysterious death of Turkey’s Head of Station the remaining evidence points Tom to a traitor inside Western Intelligence. Kell’s task of unravelling the conspiracy is not made any easier by disturbing news emerging from Levene’s own past. Tom Kell is more Smiley than James Bond and his adventures ring terribly true and easily sow many seeds of doubt about the undercurrent of world affairs in a disturbing perspective in this much up to date thriller. Cumming knows his stuff. May 2014 eBook of the Month. Sarah Broadhurst's view... A cracking story with all the ingredients of a Le Carré Smiley novel and then some! It is the second work to feature Thomas Kell, a disgraced spy introduced to us in A Foreign Country. It is up-to-date in dealing with the Irish question and although not quite so with Ukraine, it does give a good background to the present situation in a great adventure of cover-up, duplicity, betrayal and double agents. All very tense, complex and satisfying, it is a very fine spy novel indeed. Click here to view the new editions of The Hidden Man and Typhoon by the same author.
In this fourth instalment of the Commissario Ricciardi series, the Commissario is investigating the death of Matteo, one of the many street urchins who live hand-to-mouth in the dark alleys of 1930s Naples. Commissario Ricciardi solves every crime with an uncanny swiftness that leaves his colleagues dumbfounded. Indeed, there are those who think his abilities are an ungodly gift to be exorcised. And maybe they’re right: Ricciardi sees and hears the final moments in the lives of those who have suffered violent deaths. Talent or curse, it is nonetheless a kind of black magic. Sometimes, however, even black magic isn’t enough. While the Neapolitans celebrate the week of the dead, Ricciardi’s instincts tell him that the dead boy is the victim of a murder, but the authorities want to avoid any sign that things are not as they ought to be in Naples. What’s worse, his sixth sense is no help to him this time; the scene of the crime is silent, still, not a word or even a scream from the dead.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Humour writer Fforde was one of the first to cross the borderlines between crime and fantasy with his wonderful Thursday Next novels which plunged its delighful sleuthette into the world of books as parallel reality and the Nursery Crimes books. This volume is the final one in his young adult Dragonslayer series, full of wizards, enterprise and toil, and evokes a more grown up J.K. Rowling. Vastly entertaining and a perfect introduction for younger readers to his decidedly quirky mind, as well as a lesson into creating a new fictional universe. Fforde will be at Crimefest to discuss his more criminal efforts.
April 2014 Book of the Month. Writing as Nicci French, husband and wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have quickly established themselves as leading lights in the murky waters of psychological crime writing and have now embarked on their first series, featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein, after a raft of stand alone thrillers. In her 4th outing, Frieda returns to the sleepy coastal town of her youth with its damaging memories to help out a close friend's daughter but it only serves to revive her own past monsters and an agonising case unfolds in which a tide of suffering soon threatens to engulf her. Gritty psychological suspense of the highest order, this is unputdownable stuff to read with the lights very much on. A memorable series. In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review Blue Monday, the first title in the series . You can read their reviews below.
Maxim Jakubowski Highly Recommended. In her recent and rightly praised Life After Life, Kate Atkinson revisited the eternal theme of 'what would you do if you could live again?'. Not a new idea and one much exploited by fantasy and SF writers, but this new variation on the genre by the pseudonymous Claire North notches up matters to the nth degree. Harry August is part of an elite group of people, The Cronus Club, who can live again and again beyond death itself, although they are not allowed to change the past. When he encounters evidence that someone is doing so and is endangering the world's future, he encounters his nemesis and their battle continues over fifteen lives. Imaginative and dazzling, this spans the world and the centuries and never flags, while constantly defying the reader's expectations. Science fiction for people who don't like the customary trappings of SF: if this doesn't convert you, nothing will. Just read it! Sarah Broadhurst's view... This is an extremely complex plot expressing an even more complicated idea, and it is wonderful. Not time travel; not quite reincarnation; not a ‘Ground Hog Day’ repeating loop. A little bit of all of these. Harry August lives many lives and remembers each one but they are all the same one over and over. If you think that is complicated take a look at the rest of it. It is one of those stories where I hesitate to tell anything in case of spoiling it. It is a thriller across many life times. I could not put it down. It really is a rare gem, a totally enthralling read and a startling original idea. I loved it.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. The short story is still one of the most pleasurable platforms for storytelling, a tasty bite of fiction that can be read in a single session and packs a mean punch when practiced well. Here, the creator of TRUE BLOOD and a crime writing co-editor have curated a splendid selection of fantasy stories with a twist in the tale, all somehow involving sports, a curious but most effective combination, including a new Sookie Stackhouse adventure by Harris and suspenseful material by Brandon Sanderson, Laura Lippman, Seanan McGuire, William Kent Krueger, Jan Burke, Scott Sigler, Mercedes Lackey and a host of others. Having both supernatural and crime writers together under the same cover works surprisingly well and the entertainment level is turned to the max. A 'Piece of Passion from the Publisher' I love a great anthology! I will never forget as a child, hiding under the bedclothes with a torch and copy of The Pan Book of Horror Stories, or one of Lin Carter’s selections of fantasy fiction, or a collection of Roald Dahl’s entirely unexpected tales. There’s something so satisfying about a good short story. I know it’s never an easy job – with a novel, you’ve got many thousands of words to develop your characters and make your plot work, but with short fiction you’ve got to wrap it all up in just a few pages. And of course, it’s much easier to get a really effective knock-out punch with a tight tale – Roald Dahl was one of many to prove that again and again. On top of that, anthologies are a great way to find new authors. But best of all, for me a good anthology is like the perfect box of chocolates: no two are the same, but they’re all delicious. And if you do happen to end up with an orange cream when you’d expected a praline crunch – well, it’s soon finished and there are plenty more to choose! So that’s the ‘why I like anthologies’; here’s the ‘why I love this particular anthology’. This is the sixth one the editors, Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner, have put together, each better than the last. Theme anthologies are not necessarily my first choice of reading matter, but Harris & Kelner always make the theme as wide as possible: in this case, ‘sport’ ranges from hide and seek to lacrosse, from drag-racing to softball – with a whole lot more stops in between – which is just as well, as I’ve never really been much of a sports person (despite playing left back in the QES hockey team for several years; it was never voluntary!) But this: this is different, not least because of the fantastic collection of authors old and new they’ve persuaded to play along. For me, Joe R. Lansdale and Ellen Kushner were worth the price of admission alone, but then you add another baker’s dozen, including the likes of William Kent Krueger, Brandon Sanderson and Laura Lippman, not to mention the editors themselves, and ‘Just one more story and then I’ll turn out the light’ turns into ‘There must be torch batteries here somewhere!’ Putting a great anthology together is all about teamwork, and as far as I’m concerned, the writers in Games Creatures Play are a cheerleader’s dream: they’re winners all the way – and as a reader, I’m a winner too – and it’s nothing to do with prizes for all (although who doesn’t love a comfit?) I got a super selection of stories to while away the hours – and a list of new authors whose novels I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy, based on their games here. So what’s not to love?' - Jo Fletcher, Publisher, Jo Fletcher Books
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Albert Campion is one of the great characters of Golden Age British crime fiction. Following Margery Allingham's death, her husband Youngman Carter completed her last book Cargo of Eagles and then wrote two further Campion tales before passing away himself with a a third posthumous novel still incomplete, which Ripley, acclaimed author of the Angel novels, has now completed. Shenanigans are afoot in a dusty Suffolk town and the elderly Campion investigates. Familiar characters from the series return, while new ones are introduced and gentle, old-fashioned sleuthing is afoot again, with Ripley making matters appear seamless. Traditional but warming fare, for the many fans of straightforward storytelling and cosy crime. A welcome return.
Maxim Jakubowski's Book of the Month. Finally available in the UK, the first (and so far only) novel by the screenwriter of the quirky TV hit True Detective, this is truly a stunner. Roy Cady is a bad man dying of cancer and when a job goes badly wrong which he barely survives, he spares the life of a young prostitute who was a witness to the carnage and goes on the run with her, and later her child masqurading as her sister, down bleak highways and roads through the wild territories of the American south. This is just a prelude to a tale of lost souls fighting not just their personal demons but the pursuit of deadly thugs on a trail of vengeance. Noir writing with a strange sense of poetry and writing of the highest literary order where every page offers unforgettable lines and characters that will seep into your soul, imperfect creatures you end up loving (and mourning). A novel of noir beauty and a revelation.
Welcome to Maxim Jakubowski's world of books...
It is commonly thought in the book trade that summer is a time for light reading, books that entertain but don't overly disturb our holidaying grey cells. However, there are so many great novels this month that achieve so much more than that and I will not apologize for presenting a selection of tales that will prove challenging, scary, thoughtful and even at times dangerous. Ranging from the Bosnia war crimes to Havana on the eve of revolution and venturing as far as the Galactic edge and somewhat busy beds in North London and way beyond, our novels this time around will tantalise, please, intrigue and keep your senses and imagination on edge. Is there any better excuse for reading?
Maxim Jakubowski is the chair of the judging panel for the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for the best first time author.
A veteran publisher and once owner of the Murder One bookstore, Maxim Jakubowski has won awards for his writing in not only crime & mystery, but also in science fiction & fantasy and erotic writing. He was for two decades the crime columnist for Time Out and then the Guardian and, under a pen name, makes regular appearances in the Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller list.
One of the leading world experts in all forms of popular fiction, he has published over 100 anthologies and, for many years, has been editing annual anthology series presenting the best stories of the year in British Crime and Erotica. You can find out more about Maxim on his website or facebook page.
You can also find more about Maxim Jakubowski here.
Author photo © Marco Del Comune