Mark Lawson picks this month’s best crime novels

In literature, as in other areas of life, good intentions do not always guarantee beneficial effects. Accordingly, an anthology of stories in support of a charity is an uneasy product. Writers, providing their services for free, may, deliberately or subliminally, apply slightly less pressure to the keyboard. Readers might feel churlish about applying the usual critical standards when the cash they hand over is being virtuously diverted.

So it’s a relief and a pleasure to encounter a pro bono volume that will not only do good (all royalties go to the RNIB Talking Books Library) but is also, even when measured against things that the contributors do for money, an exceptionally good read.

Ten Year Stretch (No Exit Press, 351pp, £9.99) celebrates a decade of the annual CrimeFest gathering of the homicidal fiction community in Bristol. Editors Martin Edwards and Adrian Muller have invited 20 practitioners to contribute, with the bonus that Peter James, who hasn’t donated a tale, provides a thoughtful foreword reflecting on the equation between length and invention. Although the selection is perhaps slightly too weighted towards the veteran usual suspects among the crime-writing corps, every contribution is effective, and some spectacularly so.

Ian Rankin’s “Inside the Box”, another report from DI Rebus’s blessedly incomplete retirement, is an ingenious puzzle, poignantly involving the old blue police boxes that still stand throughout Edinburgh, most of them converted into coffee or snack stalls. The shortest of the set, Sophie Hannah’s “Ask Tom St Clare”, pleasingly misleads the reader over four-and-a-half pages.

A measure of the collection’s inventiveness is that there are two new twists on one of the genre’s oldest conceits, in which a killing occurs in an apparently inviolate environment. Simon Brett’s “The Last Locked Room” daringly couples his attempt with another riskily over-explored story – the fall-out from World War II – as an old man belatedly solves the apparent murder, in 1939 Brighton, of his grandfather, a renowned writer of pseudonymous mystery yarns.

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