Mar 19, 2021
The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg; My Brother by Karin Smirnoff; Dangerous Women by Hope Adams; A Fine Madness by Alan Judd; Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge; and A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes
The titular dwelling in Melissa Ginsburg’s second novel, The House Uptown (Faber, £12.99), is the New Orleans home of boho artist Lane. Her slow drift into dementia on skeins of marijuana smoke is interrupted by the arrival of her granddaughter Ava, whose mother, Lane’s daughter Louise, has just died. The resourceful 14-year-old soon begins to wonder not only about the cause of the long estrangement between her mother and grandmother, but also about the behaviour of Lane’s assistant, the apparently loyal Oliver. Told as a time-slip – the roots of the alienation date back to 1997, when teenage Louise witnesses the 2.30am arrival of Lane’s local politician lover, blood-covered teenage son in tow – this is a superbly written, intriguing character study of how the past impacts on the present. Continue reading...
Feb 19, 2021
Slough House by Mick Herron; Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson; The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper; Black Widows by Cate Quinn; Lightseekers by Femi Kayode
Mick Herron’s acclaimed spy-cum-political-satire series now stands at seven novels; the latest, Slough House (John Murray, £14.99), is named after the dilapidated building to which failed spies are consigned. Condemned to boring and thankless tasks under the sardonic auspices of the repulsive and increasingly cartoonish Jackson Lamb, in this instalment the “slow horses” are alarmed to discover that not only have their details been wiped from the spooks database, several of their number have met their deaths in ways that may not be as accidental as they appear. Meanwhile, at the Regent’s Park HQ, chief Diana Taverner has been frustrated by the government’s gutless response to the novichok poisoning of a British subject. So she has made a bargain with the manipulative and – with his fluffy hair and archaic expostulations – strangely familiar Peter Judd, a former home secretary turned PR man. As the slow horses wonder whether they are being targeted, Taverner realises quite how long a spoon is needed by those who would sup with the devil … Set against a background of “You Know What” (Brexit, like Lord Voldemort, is not to be named) and yellow vest protests, Herron’s formula of misdirection and multiple viewpoints still works like a charm. Continue reading...
Jan 22, 2021
Exit by Belinda Bauer; The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean; Girl A by Abigail Dean; The Survivors by Jane Harper; People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd; One Night, New York by Lara Thompson
Belinda Bauer’s Snap was longlisted for the Booker prize; in her follow-up, Exit (Bantam, £14.99), Felix Pink is a courteous elderly widower who facilitates the suicides of the terminally ill. When an assignment goes awry, Felix, now a murder suspect, tries to find out whether he is at fault or whether something more sinister has been going on. Meanwhile PC Calvin Bridge, relieved to have given up being a detective for the easier work of small-town policing, is dragooned by his boss into finding some answers. The process proves gainful – a new lease of life for Felix, confidence for Calvin, and the possibility of romance for both – and this intriguing, tender, funny and sometimes (in the best possible way) farcical novel about life and death is a sheer delight. Continue reading...
Dec 11, 2020
The System by Ryan Gattis; The Spiral by Iain Ryan; The Last Resort by Susi Holliday; The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji; and Crocodile Tears by Mercedes Rosende
South Central Los Angeles, 1993: drug dealer Scrappy is shot and left for dead on her mother’s lawn. Addict Augie witnesses the shooting and, after applying some lifesaving first aid, takes the opportunity to steal both her stash and the gun, which has been left at the scene. When his parole officer discovers the items, Augie names two local gang members as the culprits in exchange for his continuing freedom. Wizard is guilty and Dreamer is innocent – of this crime, at least – but this becomes hard to prove when the gun turns up in his room … The title of award-winning novelist Ryan Gattis’s latest book, The System (Picador, £16.99), refers to the apparatus of American criminal justice from street to courtroom, seen here through the eyes of everyone involved, be they perpetrator, victim, family member or law-enforcement professional, in first person monologues. Everyone has their own agenda – and the scales are weighted. As one cop tells Dreamer: “The system is the system. It always gobbles up the ones with the lowest distance to fall.” Pacy, immersive and vivid, with strong characterisation and no punches pulled, this is an utterly riveting read. Continue reading...
Nov 20, 2020
The Searcher by Tana French; These Women by Ivy Pochoda; The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve; The Package by Sebastian Fitzek; One By One by Ruth Ware
Author of the Dublin Murder Squad series Tana French has described her second standalone, The Searcher (Viking, £14.99), as her take on a western, and the lone stranger who rides into town to right wrongs and generally disrupt the place is a classic Frontier-era theme. American Cal Hooper, formerly of the Chicago PD, has bought himself a fixer-upper in a remote village in the west of Ireland with the intention of settling down to a quiet life. His days are largely taken up with renovations, trying to understand the local customs and responding cautiously to inquiries about his marital status, when a scruffy local kid who has taken to hanging around his property asks for help in finding a vanished older sibling. Divorced, and missing his now grown-up daughter, Cal finds himself drawn to Trey and gets involved even though, without the necessary authority and tools of the trade, he is out on a limb. The local police don’t regard 19-year-old Brendan’s disappearance as suspicious, and the villagers are tight-lipped on the subject … The pace of Cal’s investigation takes a while to pick up, and most of the action is in the final third of the book, but as well as containing strong characters, beautiful descriptions and some genuinely eerie moments, The Searcher poses uncomfortable questions about morality, retribution and masculinity. Continue reading...
Oct 23, 2020
Snow by John Banville; Box 88 by Charles Cumming; Three-Fifths by John Vercher; When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole; The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett
Booker-winning novelist John Banville has ditched nom de crime Benjamin Black for his latest whodunnit, Snow (Faber, £14.99), and replaced his series character, the pathologist Quirke, with detective St John Strafford. The temporal and geographic location remains the same – Ireland in the 1950s – with a touch of Agatha Christie as a body is discovered in the library of a Protestant Wexford landowner. Father Tom Lawless has been stabbed and castrated. By the time the detective arrives, the scene has been tidied up by the housekeeper, Mrs Duffy, who has “the look of a character actor”; also deliberately drawn from central casting are her employer Colonel Osborne, his considerably younger and heavily medicated second wife, his wayward teenage daughter and hostile medical student son, the stable boy, the doctor, the neighbour and the staff at the local inn. Nobody is telling the truth and the snow that prevented the priest from returning home after dinner blankets the landscape, hiding secrets and muffling sound, much like the chilly, authoritarian hand of the all-powerful Catholic church, which – in the person of the Archbishop of Dublin – insists that the death is reported as an accident. It isn’t, of course, and the stable lad’s description of the deceased as “friendly” soon shows us where this story is going … Short on surprises, then, but with plenty of atmosphere and an appealing new investigator. Continue reading...
Aug 22, 2020
Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby; The Boy’s Club by Erica Katz; True Story by Kate Reed Petty; The Silence by Susan Allott; Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald
A superb character study wrapped up in a high-octane heist novel, SA Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland (Headline, £16.99) is the story of Beauregard “Bug” Montage, a black Virginian with a criminal past as a getaway driver. Now he’s trying to stay on the right side of the law for the sake of his family, despite a failing business and ever-increasing debts. Bug is reluctant to sell the car left to him by father Anthony, another wheelman, who disappeared leaving his son to do time for a crime committed on his behalf. Instead, he consents to help a former associate rob a jeweller’s shop, even though the plan is dodgy in every sense. Things go predictably wrong, Bug’s family end up in danger, and it looks as if history will repeat itself … A complex and moving take on racial tension and self-destructive masculinity, with blistering action sequences and car chases that fairly roar off the page, this is undoubtedly one of the summer’s stand-out reads. Continue reading...
Jul 17, 2020
Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg; The Divine Boys by Laura Restrepo; The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare; Brixton Hill by Lottie Moggach; One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie
Not a linear plot but a series of vignettes, Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg (Raven, £12.99) is a superbly unsettling account of the aftermath of a murder told in 12 different voices, the last being the victim herself. In 1997, 21-year-old college student Sara Morgan was killed by her schizophrenic boyfriend Blake Campbell, her body left in woods in New York state. Acquitted after pleading temporary insanity, Blake went on to marry and raise a family. Sara was reduced to “just a name on a plaque in a community garden”, but her murder affected the lives of all those it touched, from the troubled housewife who discovered her body to the half-sister who was only two when she died. Reactions vary from grief and bafflement to voyeurism and obsession, with a subplot about a serial killer giving wider context to how society deals with violence against women. If you’re after a whodunnit, there’s nothing to see, but for a perceptive and moving account of people trying to process a senseless act, look no further. Continue reading...
Jun 19, 2020
The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman; Seven Years of Darkness by You-jeong Jeong; The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish; The Devil You Know by Emma Kavanagh; Die for Me by Luke Jennings
Anyone who feels that their summer will not be complete without a beach holiday might do well to read The House on Fripp Island (Serpent’s Tail, £12.99) by Rebecca Kauffman. An all-expenses-paid break in a beachfront house in South Carolina turns into an emotional maelstrom for all concerned when the wealthy Dalys, who have won the holiday in a raffle, invite their less affluent friends Poppy and John Ford to share their good fortune. Deep currents of unease involving old friends grown apart, buried secrets and the two families’ lack of social and financial parity begin to surface as Kauffman slowly but expertly ratchets up the distrust, confusion and tension. Rae Daly, a 14-year-old who is all hormones and fantasies, fixes on 17-year-old Ryan Ford, who is hiding a secret of his own. Lisa Daly suspects that her husband, Scott, is having an affair, and she and Poppy discover there is a registered sex offender living nearby. This is subtly suspenseful, unsettling stuff, the characters drawn with such vivid precision that they fairly jump off the page. Continue reading...
Apr 24, 2020
The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor; Bent by Joe Thomas; Wild Dog by Serge Joncour; The Dead Line by Holly Watt; and Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan
The Last Protector (HarperCollins, £14.99) is the fourth novel in Andrew Taylor’s outstanding 17th-century series featuring government agent James Marwood and his friend and sparring partner Cat Lovett. The year is 1668: Charles II is on the throne and Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, is supposedly in exile. However, in the eight years since the Restoration the king’s popularity has begun to wane and, amid growing unease about both his extravagance and the licentiousness of his court, nostalgia for the protectorate is taking hold. Lovett is more irritated than diverted when Richard’s daughter Elizabeth wants to renew their friendship. However, the meeting is far from coincidental, and soon both Lovett and Marwood are drawn into the cut and thrust of political intrigue and find themselves in great danger. With expert storytelling, memorable characters, emotional depth and some nice touches of humour, this is well up to Taylor’s usual high standard. Continue reading...