Red Christmas by Patrick RuellRemember when books were generally quite thin?

I mean general fiction paperbacks in particular, before everyone started producing bloody great thick novels running to many hundreds of pages. Well I have quite few of those, including some beautiful old green Penguins by the likes of Georges Simenon and the kitschly illustrated versions of Agatha Christie whodunnit’s. Well I needed a small paperback to carry on a journey, so I picked up Red Christmas by Patrick Ruell, a pseudonym of Reginald Hill (most famous for detective due Dalziel & Pascoe). This edition published by Arrow in 1977 is only 176 pages with the story finishing on the partway down that very last page bound into the book. It predates barcodes, and doesn’t even carry a price, but I bet it was less than a pound new.

Have read other titles of Hill’s under this alias, my favourite being The Only Game, a superb thriller/crime story. This one is fast paced, easy to read fun and somewhat anachronistic in the present day and age. It also neatly revisits the ensemble cast trapped in a country house and cut-off from the rest of ‘civilisation’ by snow. A cliche but nonetheless entertainingly done here.

Ash & Bone by John HarveySo having consumed this in no time at all I decided to go for another big-name crime author, although a less prolific one. I am now reading Ash & Bone by John Harvey (creator of Resnick – one of the great fictional detectives despite the small number of stories featuring him)

This is the second book to feature retired police detective Jack Elder, caught up in an ongoing case and once again actively ‘detecting’. This is a great page turner and I have shot all the way through to roughly mid-point in about two sittings.

It is ages since I have read one of Harvey’s books, the last almost certainly being the predeccesor to this tale, Flesh & Blood. I had forgotten just how effortlessly he animates his characters, and how real his scenarios feel as you get drawn in.  I haven’t finished this yet, but if it remains this compelling to the end the hardest thing will be to find the right book to follow it with. Nothing worse than an anticlimax after a great read, it’s tempting fate to try and find another crime story that will feel this good without something of a different style in between.

Must dig out the next Sharpe!


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