Travel broadens the crime

The cover of Jo Nesbø’s magisterial new novel, The Leopard (Harvill Secker), is stickered: “The next Stieg Larsson”.

This does Mr Nesbø a double disservice: he was published long before the late Mr Larsson and is a much better writer.

Harry Hole, his tall, dishy, bolshy cop is rescued from a Hong Kong opium den – where he is trying to forget his last adversary, “the snowman” – and is brought back to his native Norway for the ostensible reason that his father is dying.

The real motive for his sudden reinstatement is that someone is killing people using a “Leopold’s apple”, a metal ball that, stuffed in the victim’s mouth, shoots out 24 needles in all directions.

Ouch. The ensuing plot, although it encompasses euthanasia, tribal loyalties, the Congo, Australia and the Arctic Circle, takes a little less swallowing.

It may be over-complicated but when Nesbø restricts himself to Oslo and Hole’s haunted mind there is no one better at showing how we are all at the mercy of our genes.

However, the sooner Nesbø’s British publishers issue Hole’s earlier cases –­ in the original order – the quicker his fans will understand the frequent confusing references to such past foes as the clown killer.

Elmore Leonard is now 85 years old yet still shows more energy in his writing than many authors half his age.

Djibouti (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) is described as “a middle east western on water” but merely represents a change of location for his trademark –­ yet very difficult to imitate –­ games of conversational chess.

An Academy Award-winning director called Dara Barr, and her faithful septuagenarian sidekick Xavier, decide to film a documentary about the pirates operating out of Somalia.

This brings them into contact with a rogues’ gallery of colourful characters including the champagne-quaffing playboy Billy Wynn, who may or may not work for the CIA, his model partner who prefers to sail braless, and various al-Qaeda suspects.

Could a tanker full of liquid gas be destined to explode in an American port? As usual Leonard gives you plenty of bangs for your bucks.

Dennis Lehane, now best known for Hollywood adaptations of his novels Mystic River and Shutter Island, was once content to write superior mysteries featuring a husband and wife team comprising Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

Moonlight Mile (Little, Brown) reunites them –­ physically and professionally –­ to investigate the disappearance of a girl whose original departure caused them to split up.

Confused? You won’t be as Lehane brilliantly uses an ethical dilemma ­– which comes first: the law or personal morality? –­ to explore the wintry wastes of Boston in the United States of Recession.

The climactic bloodbath in which a bunch of grotesque Russians turn on each other is eclipsed by Kenzie’s personal epiphany which has him throw away his Colt .45 for ever.

Still, one hopes it won’t be difficult for him to buy another one .

Lee Child, as fans of his hero Jack Reacher will be only too happy to testify, is a writer of heart-pounding macho masterpieces.

Why then does he insist on lending his name as editor to such catchpenny compilations as First Thrills (Corvus)? This one features 25 tales from “12 literary legends” and “13 rising stars” but feels like a bag of pick ‘n’ mix when all the chocolate éclairs have already been snaffled.

The conclusion of Jeffery Deaver’s The Plot can be seen a mile off and Mr Child’s own contribution, The Bodyguard (erase all memories of Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston), while written with his usual economy, is still a squib ­– but not a damp one.

Karin Slaughter is the only other name most British crime fans will recognise.

Charles Cumming has been mining the exhausted seam of spies-and-lies since 2001.

His fifth novel, The Trinity Six (HarperCollins, ), presupposes that there was a sixth member of the Cambridge cabal that for some reason still excites pensioners of a certain age.

Cue a tale that features all the Bs: betrayal, back-stabbing and bathos.

Mr Cumming is an elegant writer but perhaps it’s now time he stopped producing John le Carré for kids.

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