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24Jun

The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles; Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto; Wake by Shelley Burr; Sun Damage by Sabine Durrant; Aurora by David Koepp

Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99)
The first in a projected series from the pop star turned vicar and memoirist, Murder Before Evensong is set in the late 1980s in the English village of Champton. This enjoyable cosy crime novel contains all the requisites: a social hierarchy ranging from aristocrats to semi-feral woodland dwellers; lashings of afternoon tea and parish intrigue; charming pets; and a body in the church. There’s plenty of fascinating liturgical business, although clergyman sleuth Canon Daniel Clement, a mildly exasperated but accommodating type with little hinterland, does not, as yet, make much of an impression. We initially encounter him using a biblical text to persuade his congregation of the necessity of installing a toilet at the back of the church. This becomes the focus of a debate about the perils of upending the status quo and leads to a series of fatal events. The appropriately named DS Vanloo duly investigates, but the revelatory manner of the ending is religiously apt rather than convincing.

Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto, translated by Jesse Kirkwood (Penguin Classics, £12.99)
The railway mystery is another staple of golden age crime fiction, and this tale of timetables was the debut novel of bestselling writer Seichō Matsumoto (1909-1992). First published in Japan in 1958 and never out of print, it’s being reissued in the UK in a new translation. When ministry official Kenichi Sayama and waitress Toki Kuwayama are found dead in a cove on the island of Kyushu, next to a bottle that appears to have held cyanide-laced juice, it is chalked up as a lovers’ suicide pact. However, neither local detective Jūtarō Torigai nor his Tokyo-based colleague Kiichi Mihara buy this explanation: the pair were witnessed boarding the train from the capital the day before their bodies are discovered and anomalies keep piling up, and the ministry where Sayama worked is mired in a corruption scandal. No revelations here, but intuition coupled with dogged detective work and a palpable sense of frustration, as the two men go back and forth along the line – maps and diagrams provide clarification – trying to solve the mystery in this ingeniously plotted story.

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