Fitting location for crime

White Heat by MJ McGrath (Mantle), Bad Blood by Amanda Coetzee (Pan Macmillan) and All He Saw Was the Girl by Peter Leonard (Faber and Faber)

Location, location, location is the cry of estate agents when trying to convince home buyers to pay the astronomical asking price for a house in a supposedly upmarket suburb.

It’s not as strict a rule in the world of the crime novel but an unusual or exotic location certainly helps make a story more appealing. The difference is that the location doesn’t have to be upmarket — and often it is a case of the seedier the better.

The Arctic Circle is not really upmarket or seedy but it is one of the most unusual settings for the crime novel White Heat by MJ McGrath. And in this stark, white, snow-covered land Edie Kiglatuk, who makes her living as a guide, is a colourful protagonist as she goes about solving the mystery of several killings. Life is hard enough here — fermented walrus gut and seal blood soup are considered delicacies — without bad guys ­littering the landscape with dead bodies.

But the feisty Edie, who likes to watch Buster Keaton movies in her spare time, is more than a match for the ruthless American — and Russian — capitalists who want to exploit the natural resources in one of the few unspoilt places on Earth.

Not only is this a competent crime novel with plenty of interesting characters and unexpected plot twists, it also gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the Inuit people, who manage to survive in a place where most of us would be dead within a few days — even without the assistance of gun-toting bad guys.

Nothing simple or boring
Bad Blood by Amanda Coetzee gives us a glimpse into the lives of another group of mysterious people. This time it is the Irish Travellers and the setting is the much more prosaic small town of Bedford in England.

But there is nothing simple or boring about the story of the child who is abandoned by his mother at a fairground and brought up as a member of the closely knit Travellers’ clan. Angry and rebellious Harry leaves the clan to join the London police force where he becomes a formidablwe undercover cop.

The case of a missing Traveller child draws Harry back into the life of the clan and on to the trail of a child killer. It is a spine-chilling tale with a shattering climax that makes it hard to believe that when not writing crime novels the author is a deputy headmistress
in Rustenburg.

A botched kidnapping

Detroit has its fair share of members of the mob so there are plenty of novels set in this gritty American city. But in All He Saw Was the Girl Peter Leonard pairs a story set in Detroit with a parallel tale that takes place in the much more alluring city of Rome. Full of history and beautiful buildings, Rome of course also has its fair share of mobsters and two American exchange students are drawn into a botched kidnapping that involves a beautiful Italian girl — but not in the expected role.

Meanwhile in Detroit the neglected wife of a secret service agent unwittingly embarks on an affair with a mobster known as Swinging Joey, because of his skill in dealing out punishment with a baseball bat.

The two strands of this amusing story, packed with authentic dialogue, link up in the streets of Rome. And in a plot full of twists and turns one thing is certain: the Italian mobsters are definitely more cultured than their cousins in the United States.


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