Saturday, July 15, 2006

Another Strong British Voice Heard From

I’ve raved at length about Scottish writer Denise Mina, whose books have led some to anoint her as the latest heir to the Ruth Rendell/Minette Walters/P.D. James crown. Now we have another contender, Morag Joss, whose mysteries about cellist Sara Selkirk, set in the lovely Regency city of Bath, have been extremely readable without breaking any genre boundaries.

Joss’s latest in paperback, which won one of those silver daggers which the British Crime Writers Assocation hands out so stylishly, moves her up a couple of rungs on the ladder. Like Rendell’s books about dysfunctional people who feed off of each other, Half Broken Things slowly creates an atmosphere of absolute terror. As three very odd people – a 64-year-old professional housesitter working on her last job; an unsuccessful thief; an abused and pregnant young woman – come together in a country house whose owners are away for nine months, Joss lets us watch as the three become a family.

But what starts as the happy home life which the characters have been sorely missing becomes an exercise in psychological suspense worthy of any of the writers I’ve mentioned. In the end, the question of how far they will go to keep their house and family turns into a matter of life and unnatural death.