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Crime Fiction with Matt Coward Begins and ends badly, twists to Tokyo conundrums and another Penny's worth

WE KNOW from the start of Rachel Abbott's And So it Begins (Wildfire, £12.99) that Evie is up to something when she sets about befriending reclusive celebrity photographer Mark North.

The way she gains access to his luxurious seaside hideaway in the West Country has clearly been planned like a military action. But to what end? Cleo, Mark's sister, protector, encourager and agent, is sure Evie's after his money and that she must be stopped.

But Mark's first wife was the opposite of a gold-digger. A wealthy woman, she used the power this gave her over their relationship to belittle his art and discourage his career and Cleo hated her — right up until she died in what the police thought, but couldn't prove, was a rather odd accident.

But the jury members know none of this when Evie stands trial for murder. All they are asked to decide is whether she's a helpless victim or a premeditated killer.

This is a first hardback edition for an author who became a bestseller by self-publishing her thrillers. It's easy to see from this gripping story's frequent twists and bluffs, in a narrative that's rooted in psychology, how word-of-mouth recommendation from one reader to another allowed Abbott to stand out in a crowded market.

Newly posted to an area of Tokyo that specialises in independent old-fashioned shops, Detective Kaga's first job, in Newcomer by Keigo Higashino (Little Brown, £13.99), is as local liaison to a murder investigation. A woman has been strangled in her flat and the police believe she knew her killer.

As Kaga goes from one small business to another, interviewing potential witnesses in his unorthodox, informal style, he is of course collecting clues which will ultimately unravel this classically constructed whodunit.

But at each stop he also comes across smaller, more personal conundrums which may or may not have anything to do with his case. As a man who believes that a detective's job is to solve people's problems, it's impossible for him not to be distracted.

Higashino is the ideal choice for anyone who fancies an elegantly written traditional murder mystery in a fresh and fascinating setting.

Quebec's leading homicide detective Armand Gamache is surprised to discover that he's been named as an executor in the estate of a person he's never heard of, in Louise Penny's Kingdom of the Blind (Sphere, £19.99).

The fact that a cleaning woman with no money has left instructions to divide a great fortune between her children confirms his initial suspicion that she might not have been in her right mind. But if so, why is the reading of the will immediately followed by a murder?

For crime fiction reviewers as much as for readers, the arrival of the annual Penny is a highlight of the year. If you haven't yet discovered this extraordinary series, I urge you to start at the beginning. If you're already a fan, you won't need my urging to read this one.




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