Book reviews: Crime fiction round-up

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By Greg Fleming

Spook Street

Mick Herron (Hachette $34.99 )

Meet Jackson Lamb, head spook at Slough House - he's a former Cold War operative gone to seed and oversees a slovenly but talented team of second-grade operatives. According to his creator ... "his experiences have left him with a jaundiced view of the way the intelligence services operate, and he prefers the lazy life: tormenting his underlings, drinking too much, and eating Chinese takeaways."

Quite a bit of which happens in this, the fourth Jackson Lamb novel - in what has been called "the finest new crime series this millennium" - and for once that blurb's right on the money.

Herron's wry humour, sense of character, place (rainy, miserable London) and dialogue sets him right up there with le Carre.

I finished this and went and ordered everything he's written. Superb.

Maestra

L.S. Hilton (Bonnier $16.99 )

Orgies, murder and dodgy art dealers; sounds like a best-seller to me. After several modest-selling historical books L.S. Hilton hits the jackpot with this tale of a pretty, ambitious London gallery assistant of modest means who wants a fast-track to the good things in life. After all an arts degree doesn't get you to Portofino in a Balenciaga cocktail dress. Yes our twenty-something heroine Judith Rasleigh's journey to wealth and power involves lots of sex (a bonus, she's a regular at sex parties) and shopping for designer dresses.

Judith's a whip-smart femme fatale in a post-Kardashian world, whose humble origins sharpen her criminal resolve - no more tights drying over the heater for her!

Less thriller than subversive post-feminist social satire it has the blunt candour of Hilton herself - a long-legged forty-something solo mother whose experience as an intern at Christies clearly informs Maestra. She began a recent interview with - "My thought on Virginia Woolf is that she should have topped herself earlier."

Judith's catch-a-billionaire-will-travel goals have upset some of the Literary Sisterhood - but Maestra's bonk buster reputation disguises a razor-sharp novel on class and power.

Rather Be The Devil

Ian Rankin (Orion $32.99)

No, of course John Rebus doesn't let retirement stop him solving cases even with dodgy lungs - ("Hank Marvin" he calls the shadow doctors have found there).

Again Rebus gets more than a little help from DI's Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox but Rebus is still the best thing in this his 21st appearance - the title inspired by a track by the late John Martyn. And the past plays a big part here - an unsolved murder of a beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand. How that crime connects with the beating of an Edinburgh gangster keeps the mystery and tension high, which is needed as there's not a hell of a lot of action on show.

A couple of quibbles - how Rebus worms his way into a police investigation stretches credibility and more could have been made out of his health scare. Rebus has swapped the hard liquor for low alcohol beer and is forgoing cigarettes - thankfully his gruff humour remains intact.

Ragdoll

Daniel Cole (Hachette $34.99)

Another English writer making waves. Cole's an ex-paramedic and this debut earned him a six-figure advance from Orion 48 hours after receiving (unsolicited) three chapters. The tv rights followed. A body's discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together - a piece of macabre theatre and it's pointing to the apartment where Cole's hero - Detective William "Wolf" Fawkes lives. If the plot gets a little ridiculous it's a much better written novel than many on the best-seller shelves - which is where this will undoubtedly end up.

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