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FICTION Crime fiction

New books from Oscar de Muriel, Louise Penny and Amer Anwar

THE DANCE OF THE SERPENTS by Oscar de Muriel (Orion, £18.99) chronicles the further adventures of the two Victorian detectives who comprise the Commission for the Elucidation of Unsolved Cases Presumably Related to the Odd and Ghostly, a clandestine unit within the Edinburgh constabulary.

A sceptic and a believer, they are English toff Inspector Frey and his hard-as-girders Scots colleague, Inspector Nine-Nails McGray.

In this episode, they are commissioned, very much against their will and with threats hanging over their heads, to serve the hated prime minister Lord Salisbury. He needs their help in tracking down a long-lived criminal conspiracy of self-styled witches who have a mysterious hold over the increasingly erratic and bloated Queen Victoria.

This modern example of Gothic fiction is lavishly entertaining and built on some intriguing research.

The latest Chief Inspector Gamache novel from Louise Penny, All the Devils Are Here (Sphere, £19.99), comes with a difference, since the main action takes place far from the remote Canadian village of Three Pines.

Armand Gamache and his wife are visiting Paris, where both their grown-up children now live. It’s a city they both know and love, even though they’re constantly aware that their Quebecois French makes them sound like bumpkins to the superior locals.

When tragedy strikes after a family reunion, Quebec’s head of homicide and his deputy must play at being private detectives to uncover and expose a big-business conspiracy which threatens not only their own lives but also those of their loved ones.

Existing Penny fans will know exactly what to expect: a prodigiously complex plot, emotional as well as criminal, expertly untwined.

Amer Anwar’s Stone Cold Trouble (Dialogue Books, £8.99), the follow-up to Brothers in Blood, is, if anything, even better than that notable 2018 debut. It finds Southall delivery driver Zaq, a year out of prison, still sincerely striving to avoid trouble and still failing dramatically.

His lifelong best friend Jags, apart from being ever ready to cook up some “desi-style” eggs on toast, is his loyal partner in those crimes which Zaq can’t avoid committing in a good cause. Now Jags needs help recovering a pre-partition family heirloom which his uncle has managed to lose to a gangster while playing cards.

But a brutal crime close to home soon distracts the non-blood brothers from that mission and once again they are going to have to risk their lives to get justice. Unless justice isn’t available, in which case they’ll have to settle for revenge.

Anwar is a skilled enough storyteller and creator of characters that in time he could end up with the same kind of authorial ownership of Asian west London that Ian Rankin has of Edinburgh.

The one thing I’d beg of him is a glossary, in aid of those of us who live far from the Broadway. I daren’t ask friends to translate the non-English exclamations in this brutal, funny, touching and often foul-mouthed novel, for fear of what I might be parroting.

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