Thrillers: Feb 19

Matthew Lewin on Alice in Jeopardy | Los Angeles | Honeymoon | Soft Target

Alice in Jeopardy, by Ed McBain (Orion, £12.99)

At an age when most successful writers have put their feet up, 80-year-old Ed McBain, scribe of the wonderful 87th precinct novels, not only continues to pour out brilliant stuff, but has also embarked on a new series of thrillers about women in jeopardy. The first features Alice Glendenning, a young woman in Florida struggling to recreate her life after the mysterious death of her husband. Her two children are kidnapped by a mystery blonde who demands $250,000 for their return.

McBain's genius lies in his uncanny dialogue, his intelligent characters, clever plots and the way he can portray the human side of law agency procedures - in this case demonstrating how competing departments serve only to make things worse. Alice, who doesn't have any money, has to take matters into her own hands. As always, McBain writes with a broad grin on his face, and it is clear that he would like readers to be grinning too. I did, right through the book.

Los Angeles, by Peter Moore Smith (Hutchinson, £10.99)

Peter Moore Smith knows how to thrill and chill, without resorting to murder or skulduggery of any kind. His tools are the perceptions of the mind and the way the brain plays with memories and desires and often fails to distinguish between the two. Angel Veronchek is an albino, a night person who shuns strong light while he tries to write his screenplay about life in Los Angeles.

A new neighbour called Angela, with cobalt blue eyes, arrives and, carrying a casserole of lamb stew, seduces her way into Angel's life. But then early one morning his phone rings and he hears Angela's voice say just one word, "Angel", before the line is cut. Convinced by the sound of her voice that she was calling from a dark place, Angel becomes desperate to find her. He begins a journey of discovery that ranges from lap-dancing clubs in LA to the back streets of Rio de Janeiro. His fears suggest terrifying answers to all the conundrums, but the truth, when he finally meets it, is beyond his imagination.

Honeymoon, by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Headline, £17.99)

In Honeymoon we meet the extraordinary Nora Sinclair, who is desperately in love with her husband in Boston, the writer Jeffrey Walker. She is also inordinately fond of her lover in New York, the fabulously wealthy investment banker Connor Brown. Her only problem is: which one is she going to kill? First. She also loved her first husband, Dr Tom, but she has already killed him. Enter life insurance man Craig Reynolds, aka FBI agent John O'Hara, who has many puzzles in his life, the chief ones currently being: just what is this list of names involving $1.4bn, and how on earth did he end up in bed with Nora, the chief suspect?

After James Patterson's vile and asinine book, London Bridges, published last year, he has returned with a good deal of elegance and guile. Honeymoon is all pacy, sexy, high-octane stuff, refreshingly free of the cruelty that often dominates his plots. But I wish he would stop putting so many words and sentences in italics.

Soft Target, by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)

This book doesn't have much of a plot, just a series of random scenarios that interact with each other. We have a businessman who hires what he thinks is a hit-man to murder his partner, a wife who wants the same hit-man to deal with her psychopathic gangster husband, some corrupt cops, strife between Turkish and Yardie drug dealers and even a bunch of Muslim fanatics busy strapping on the Semtex and heading for London tube stations.

At the middle of this sticky web is Dan "Spider" Shepherd, one of the hardest of all the current British thriller hard-men, an undercover cop and a former SAS soldier so tough that he goes running in heavy boots and with a haversack full of bricks on his back. Stephen Leather, who also wrote TV shows such as London's Burning and The Knock, has had a long and successful partnership with Spider Shepherd, most of which have sold well. But for me this is writing without heart, without finesse and without any trace of the subtleties of pace and tension.


Matthew Lewin

The GuardianTramp

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