The Circus

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James Craig

James Craig's first Inspector Carlyle novel, London Calling, had a killer bumping off the former members of a particularly nasty posh boys' Oxford University Bullingdon-style dining club, the Merrion Club. The killer clearly has the intention of working his way up to the leader of the Opposition, Edgar Carlton, soon to become prime minister, and his good friend, Christian Holroyd, the Mayor of London.

All this, of course, rings some very enjoyable bells. Why anyone would want to interfere in this working out of natural justice is anybody's guess, but the diffident Clash-loving Inspector Carlyle is on the case. Unfortunately, Carlton survives to win the general election.

The second Carlyle novel, Never Apologise, Never Explain, was concerned with blowback from that other 11 September, the 1973 military coup in Chile and some of the Mayor of London's more iffy friends, while the third excursion, Buckingham Palace Blues, sees Carlyle investigating a child prostitution ring, in which a minor royal is actively involved.

All three novels are extremely enjoyable and a welcome change from the norm of British crime fiction. Even though he is totally apolitical and pretty boring as a person, Carlyle goes after corruption and criminality in high places. One can't honestly say he goes after it relentlessly, because he is pretty laid back, perhaps even lazy, but he does go after it eventually, at least, after that last cup of coffee, that last Danish pastry.

But if the other three novels were good, the fourth, The Circus, is absolutely unputdownable. A journalist involved in the unfolding phone hacking scandal is murdered and inevitably Carlyle's inquiries lead him into the upper reaches of the establishment, right into the prime minister's inner circle. How Edgar Carlton regrets ever borrowing that police horse! The whole plot is beautifully put together, pulling in every aspect of the scandal, including those that Leveson forgot. This is contemporary relevant crime fiction of the highest order. Whereas British crime fiction has in the main avoided the crimes of the powerful, this has not been the case on the Continent. And Inspector Carlyle is very much in this European vein. If you haven't tried Inspector Carlyle you are really missing out. And it is no use waiting for the TV series. That is never going to happen. Read the books and you'll soon see why.

The Circus is published by C R Crime, £7.99