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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: William Saunderson-Meyer looks to the future

William Saunderson-Meyer keeps an eye on the local and international thriller scene for the Sunday Times. A couple of Sundays back he took a look at some upcoming reading:

Whatever 2013 might bring in trouble and strife, there is always a good thriller to spirit you away from it all. And the publishers have some grand treats planned for you to pencil into that crisp new calendar.

Some are predictable. If you are a James Patterson fan it will no doubt delight you to know that his publishers, Little, Brown & Co, have one of his titles scheduled for release every month, starting with Private Berlin in January, right through to Mistress, in August. Then he presumably lolls about on a private beach before cooking up the next batch with his team of researchers and co-authors.

Despite the cookie-cutter plots, Patterson’s characters are actually rather well drawn. Alec Cross, his fictional Washington DC detective, is probably now the best known African American cop since Sidney Poitier played Virgil Tibbs’ in the 1967 movie, In the Heat of the Night, from John Balls’ book of the same name.

And the sales figures tell the story: a Guinness world record of 76 consecutive hardcover bestselling titles; total lifetime sales of 260m copies; and the mind boggling fact that one of every 17 books sold in the United States is a Patterson title. Eat your hearts out Dan Brown, John Grisham and Steven King, who not even collectively match Patterson’s popularity.

Also something of a writing dervish is David Baldacci – unlike Patterson he doesn’t have collaborators and is scathing of the ‘book-manufacturing process’ – whose publishers, Pan Macmillan, released The Innocent, as well as The Forgotten in time for Christmas.

 The Innocent introduces a stone-cold CIA assassin, Will Robie, while The Hit, to be published in February, takes the story further. The Forgotten is the second Baldacci that features John Puller, the military investigator based, Baldacci cheerfully admits, on British writer Lee Child’s wonderfully odd former military cop, Jack Reacher.

Reacher is proof, should any be needed, that with the help of a brilliant character, a good wordsmith can create a series — the 17th Reacher novel, A Wanted Man came out late in 2012 — that needn’t flag in energy. Jack Reacher, the movie starring Tom Cruise, opened at Christmas and January sees the publication of Reacher’s Rules: Life Lessons (Bantam Press). A sample: ‘People live and they die and as long as they do both things properly, there’s nothing much to regret.’

The inimitable Lawrence Block returns after a two-year drought with Hit Me (Barnes & Noble). Nicholas Edwards renovates houses and works on his stamp collection. Then the economy crashes and Edwards has to fall back on an identity and a job he had retired from – Keller, the hit man.

In the first quarter of 2013 there arrives from Scandinavian shores Until Thy Wrath Be Past (Quercus) by Asa Larsson, who is no relation to the more-famous Stieg, of Dragon Tattoo fame but arguably the pick of the new crop of Swedish crime writers. From Penguin there’s Danish author Sara Blaedel’s Blue Blood, her third title translated into English, featuring Copenhagen cop Louise Rick. Blaedel has thrice been voted Denmark’s most popular writer and deserves to be more widely known.

In March there’s another quality foreign import, this time from Japan. Keigo Higashono, that counry’s top crime writer, delights in constructing ingeniously intricate plots. Salvation of a Saint (Penguin) is about a Tokyo detective trying to unpick a web of deceit to determine whether a beautiful wife possibly could have poisoned her husband, given that she was hundreds of kilometres away at the time of his death.

Margie Orford, doyenne of the South African crime writing community, has a new title in May, Water Music (Jonathan Ball). It’s the fifth one featuring Cape Town profiler Claire Hart, who has not only become a firm favourite locally, but internationally, through translation into nine languages.

Mike Nicol’s long-awaited new thriller arrives from Umuzi, in both English and Afrikaans, in October. Ten months is unconscionably long to have to wait but Of Cops & Robbers sounds like vintage Nicol: a surfer dude and a gambling-addicted lawyer caught in the fallout from revenge killings by old hit squad operatives and government orchestrated rhino horn deals. In short, a dose of South African surrealism with a garrotte around its neck.

Finally, look out for South African-born Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker (Random House) in February. It’s the tale of Michael, a young man obsessed with death, who while dissecting a cadaver in anatomy class becomes convinced that he has stumbled upon a murder. Bauer, who won a Golden Dagger for her debut novel, Badlands, is always convincingly scary.


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