The Stranger at the Wedding by A E Gauntlett; The Kitchen by Simone Buchholz (Translated from German by Rachel Ward); Profile K by Helen Fields; A Lesson in Cruelty by Harriet Tyce; Day One by Abigail Dean; City in Ruins by Don Winslow; Death in a Lonely Place by Stig Abell; The Many Lies of Veronica Hawkins by Kristina Perez - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

April 2024 Crime Round-up

  • A E Gauntlett, 
  • Simone Buchholz (Translated from German by Rachel Ward), 
  • Helen Fields, 
  • Harriet Tyce, 
  • Abigail Dean, 
  • Don Winslow, 
  • Stig Abell, 
  • Kristina Perez
 

The Stranger at the Wedding

By A E Gauntlett

Raven Books 288pp £16.99

In this first novel, A E Gauntlett takes the normal anxieties found in relationships – from the first date, through the wedding day, with its dangers of embarrassment, to honeymoon blues and the discovery that one’s beloved has hidden aspects to their character – and twists them into something horrible. Annie is Mark’s second wife. No one knows what happened to his first after she disappeared, leaving a letter saying she couldn’t carry on. Many people have their own ideas and suspicions and some take action to investigate. The narrative flits between the second wedding and the bride and groom’s first meeting, with forays back into Annie’s childhood. As the story darkens, the tension rises in a satisfactory fashion.

The Kitchen

By Simone Buchholz (Translated from German by Rachel Ward)

Orenda Books 276pp £9.99

Beautifully written in cool, witty prose, Simone Buchholz’s latest Chastity Riley novel deals with the discovery of bits and pieces of dead men found neatly packaged in Hamburg. Chastity has an interesting private life: she is determined to be independent and yet is drawn to the men who court her. She is completely loyal to her old boss, a former state prosecutor, who is spending his retirement fishing alone as he seeks to recover from the traumas he has experienced. Her best friend has recently been raped by two disgusting thugs and needs a lot of support. More parcels containing body parts are found and it becomes clear that they belong to men with histories of sexual abuse. Chastity finds herself less than usually determined to identify the killer, but she is too professional not to investigate. She does, of course, work out who the murderer is and what the motives are. The solution seems pretty clear from just over halfway through the novel, but that doesn’t diminish the pleasure of following Chastity’s life and work.

Profile K

By Helen Fields

Avon 384pp £16.99

This topical and engrossing thriller sees data analyst Midnight Jones stumble on information that might help her identify an extremely cruel serial killer who is murdering women in Clapham. She works for a controlling and secretive company called Necto, which manages recruitment for various organisations. When checking the results of one interviewee’s online test, she thinks he fits into a category the company denies exists – Profile K. Determined to find out more, in spite of the barriers separating different departments within Necto and management’s punitive treatment of employees who discuss company business with outsiders, Midnight begins to ask questions. She comes up against denial, difficulty and dangers that become all the more serious because she is responsible for the care of her twin sister, Dawn, who has severe learning difficulties. The two of them are vulnerable to every kind of pressure, while their feckless, self-indulgent parents swan around the world on cruises. Extremes of selfishness and worse are balanced with lovely examples of human warmth and decency. You will need a strong stomach for some of the graphic violence.

A Lesson in Cruelty

By Harriet Tyce

Wildfire 368pp £16.99

This is the latest in the interesting sub-genre of crime fiction in which a convicted criminal is released from prison and struggles to fit back into normal life while (sometimes) seeking out those who put them there. Anna was justly convicted and imprisoned for three years. On her last night in jail, her cellmate is found dead. Some of the prison officers want Anna charged with murder. Two other stories play out alongside Anna’s. One involves two women living in strange conditions in the Highlands; the other centres on a young criminology student in Oxford mesmerised by her charismatic and good-looking professor. The linking of all three strands is skilfully done and the themes Tyce explores are important: the dreadful state of prisons, the serious lack of rehabilitation opportunities and the damage done by vain, sexually incontinent academics who exploit their students. 

Day One

By Abigail Dean

Hemlock Press 384pp £16.99

Abigail Dean is an expert in desperate children, cruel adults and the stories that make life manageable, if not bearable. The story here centres on a primary school shooting in the Lake District, in which several pupils and teachers are killed. It is narrated in three voices. Martha, once a pupil at the school and now a teaching assistant, cannot reveal all of what she saw or knows. Larkin, the local bobby, tries to cope with the fact that his anxious and motherless son, Kit, has been killed. Online journalist Trent, who left the village at the age of thirteen, is convinced that the whole shooting story has been faked, that no one was killed and that Martha is lying. Trent becomes involved with a bunch of egocentric conspiracy nuts who more or less ruin his life. Dean takes us backwards and forwards in the lives of all three, pushing us towards several heartbreaking truths. Touchingly written and clever, Day One will probably turn out to be the saddest crime novel of the year.

City in Ruins

By Don Winslow

Hemlock Press 400pp £22

Don Winslow’s speciality in the many different novels he has written is the portrayal of a good man forced – by circumstance or the need to protect someone vulnerable – to do bad things. City in Ruins is the final part of his Danny Ryan trilogy. Danny is now a successful businessman and hotel owner in Las Vegas, fighting to stay clear of his organised-crime connections and be a good father to his motherless son. The past proves inescapable, however, and some old adversaries must be faced, whatever the cost. Winslow writes beautifully, with an immediacy and air of ease that make reading his work a pleasure, even when he is describing revolting cruelty. His good characters – anguished, loyal and accepting of the consequences of their failures – are irresistible.

Death in a Lonely Place

By Stig Abell

Hemlock Press 352pp £16.99

Stig Abell’s ex-police officer Jake Jackson is still living in the isolated house his uncle left him, enjoying cold-water swimming in the lake, reading detective fiction, drinking delicious wine, listening to an interesting selection of classical music and building a relationship with Livia, a beautiful vet, and her young daughter. As in Abell’s previous novel, Death Under a Little Sky, the emergence of new evidence causes a cold case to be reopened, forcing Jake to leave his private paradise. A girl has disappeared and her parents are distraught. The local police officer, Watson, comes to ask Jake’s advice and shows him a piece of paper with the words ‘No Taboo’ handwritten on it. This arouses a memory of an old, unsolved case involving a missing child. Jake is sucked back into his previous life, putting Livia and her daughter, as well as himself, at risk. Jake’s eccentricity is enormously attractive, the many allusions to a whole variety of crime novels will appeal to anyone who knows the genre as well as Abell does, and the criminals are satisfactorily vile, if not always credible.

The Many Lies of Veronica Hawkins

By Kristina Perez

Constable 400pp £20

Two ruthless young women become friends in Hong Kong. Veronica is the rich scion of one of the original mercantile families who built their fortunes there. Martina is a New York journalist, married to Waspy Spencer, whose ‘dependent spouse’ she becomes when he is posted to Hong Kong. She and Veronica meet when she is sent to interview her for a magazine article. They become close friends, with Veronica showering Martina with presents and offers of help and contacts. Both have difficult histories. Veronica’s closest family members drowned and she has never got over her fear of the sea. Martina was pushed to excel by her socially ambitious mother, but her own need to be liked blinds her to the dangers all around her. As Perez puts it, ‘approval was her drug of choice’, along with copious quantities of cocktails and champagne. The novel is divided into two parts. The first, narrated in Martina’s voice, makes it clear that Veronica will die; the second, told in the third person, describes Martina’s life after Veronica’s death, when she publishes a memoir of their sexless love affair and tries to find out why Veronica was killed. With lush descriptions, a lot of shopping, concerns about visible sweating and weight gain, as well as passionate friendships and wicked betrayals, this is a very female novel. There is an interesting undercurrent of ideas about identity, self and truth.

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