The line between revenge and justice seems gossamer thin to people whose children have been murdered. One such is Amanda White, whose husband killed himself because he couldn’t bear the guilt of having turned his back in the park for a moment on the day a predator took their daughter. Bereaved and furious that the obvious suspect has not even been tried, Amanda intends to kill him in an ingenious plan involving a rush-hour journey on the New York Subway. Thwarted, arrested for stalking and worse, she is forced to attend group counselling sessions, where she meets another bereaved mother, whose favourite novel is Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. The two women agree to follow the book’s plot and kill each other’s tormentor, but Steve Cavanagh is too clever to leave things there. His story becomes ever more intricate and opens questions into relative degrees of guilt and responsibility. This is a fast-moving novel filled with engaging characters.
Set in the Somerset coastal town of Portishead, Gillian McAllister’s latest novel explores the lengths to which parents will go to protect and defend their children. Lewis’s daughter disappeared a year ago and the obvious suspect, her boyfriend, was released without charge. Lewis is still pursuing DCI Julia Day, who failed to find irrefutable evidence of what happened, and he will stop at nothing to force her to do what he thinks must be done. Day has crossed all kinds of lines in her determination to protect her own daughter, which makes her vulnerable to pressure from those who want to interfere in her investigations. And when another young woman goes missing, the chief suspect’s mother must decide whether or not to tell the police what she has found out about him. Narrated from several different points of view, this involving novel tackles serious problems. The legal scenes could do with a bit more research, which is a pity because McAllister’s characters are interesting and she tells a cracking story, filled with tension.
Persis Wadia, the only female police officer in 1950s Bombay, is ordered to reinvestigate a case of murder for which a young white man, James Whitby, has been convicted. He is to be hanged in two weeks’ time. Narrated partly from his point of view but mostly from that of Persis, this tale of one possible injustice deals with many others too, stretching back over the centuries of British rule in India. Vaseem Khan has his characters perform the trickiest of balancing acts as they wrestle with rage at past horrors and the realisation that not all the British in India were bad, and that if Whitby is innocent then none of his ancestors’ misdeeds could possibly justify his judicial murder. Threaded through the seriousness are much humour, some romance and plenty of thrills. There are also vivid descriptions of both magnificence and shabbiness, as well as of the nightmarish heat of Bombay, which torments Persis.
Sad, guilty Nancy, who now works as a carer for the elderly, inherits her great-aunt Helen’s holiday home in the Cornish seaside town that was the setting of her worst teenage holiday. The trip culminated in the disappearance of her younger sister, Lola, and Nancy has been searching for her ever since. Now she has to deal with all her dreadful memories as she sets about clearing out Helen’s house. Someone in the village is playing tricks on her and menacing her. At the same time, the local police are investigating a skeleton that has been found in a barely accessible cave on the shore. The investigators, Sergeant Stephanie King and DCI Gus Brodie, are great characters, dealing with their own relationship as they carry out their duties. Abbott releases information about Nancy’s family secrets and the police investigations with careful timing, building up the tension and the reader’s support for her characters and creating a good balance between the domestic and the wider criminal plots.
Set partly in the USA and partly in London, this novel deals with exploitation, guilt, shame and the way murder destroys the lives of not only the victim and the killer but also their families. The narrative moves between two different periods. In the first of these, the narrator, Finn Jackman, the younger of two sisters, is living with her father and his housekeeper after the death of their mother. Her elder sister, Izzy, three years her senior, is difficult and can’t make friends, unlike ten-year-old Finn, who can fit in anywhere. Eventually Izzy does find a pair of friends, both of whom seem dangerous to Finn. One is a horribly bully and the other a sycophant. Unknown to the adults, they are all involved with a charismatic paedophile teacher from their school. When one goes missing and then a murder is discovered, Finn’s life is destroyed. In the present day, we find Finn living under a different name in London, working in a dead-end job in a library and drinking far too much. She is emotionally cut off from her father, whom she dutifully visits in the care home that has looked after him since he suffered a stroke. The setup is credible, the family dynamics convincing and the drama more than uncomfortable. This is a clever and compassionate novel.
Anyone wanting a neat investigation with all the loose ends tied up at the end and the guilty punished should look elsewhere, because this languid novel about guilt, fear and determination to escape the consequences of one’s actions provides very different satisfactions. Henri, a gendarme in French Algeria in the 1960s, is now working for his criminal cousins, who send him to pick up some money at the Alhambra in Granada in southern Spain. Before he can reach it, a mysterious young woman gets hold of the money and leaves the city. Henri follows her, not sure who she is or what she’s up to, until they reach Paris. From there they travel east, towards Istanbul, stopping off in Belgrade on the way. They are not exactly together, but neither are they apart, and someone else is following them. As they travel we learn more about them and what they have done. With a narrative that moves backwards and forwards in time and involves much eating and drinking of delicious things, this is a curiously compelling novel.
Written by and about an admirer of Daphne du Maurier’s novels, this mixture of Gothic romance and crime would make good holiday reading. Lily Stern has run away from a horrible relationship with a controlling brute and answers an advertisement for a nanny in a large house in Cornwall. American painter Laurie Rowe and her grand British husband, Charles, live in Kewney Manor, the great and beautiful house where Charles was brought up. They have two children and employ Lily to look after them. Neighbours dropping alarming hints, an alluring gardener with attitude, locked doors and peculiar goings-on eventually persuade Lily to investigate her employers and their past. Adventure and danger lead to a dramatic climax.
When Jack Givins was nine, his father had to go into a witness protection programme, leaving him and his mother behind. Years later, Jack is living in Boston. He has written two well-reviewed novels about lost boys and fathers and still clings to the battered wallet his own father gave him before he left forever. However, he barely makes enough to live on from his fiction, his agent has not been able to sell his third book and finding other paid work is tough. His only comfort is the love of his journalist girlfriend, Lana. One day he is offered an interesting and highly paid writing project. The work takes him into dangerous territory, opens old wounds and offers a faint possibility of revelation and redemption. Engrossing and moving, full of clever plot twists, this is great crime writing.