Colette McBeth is a retired TV news correspondent, and this book is narrated from the point of view of a young TV journalist. Rachel has a glamorous job, a beautiful flat and a handsome boyfriend. Her life is perfect – until she goes home to Brighton in order to meet Clara, the most intimate friend of her school days. But Clara never turns up; in fact she has gone missing. Rachel finds herself reporting on the hunt for Clara and the increasing fears that she might be dead. Rachel’s story flips between the newsroom, police press conferences and memories of her childhood with a drunken mother who didn’t love her. Jumping between present-day and the recent past, Precious Thing elaborates on the theme of truth and lies between friends who might be enemies. An interesting and original page-turner, and a good start to Colette McBeth’s career as a writer.
Best known for his brilliant series of period thrillers featuring Bernie Gunther, the German policeman who is a good man in a Nazi world, Philip Kerr has now produced a stand-alone book that I can only describe as an oddity. The story is told in the first person by Special Agent Gil Martins, who investigates domestic terrorism for the FBI in Houston. He and his wife Ruth attend a Catholic church, but Gil has lost his faith. When he confesses this to Ruth she chucks him out, and he goes to live in Galveston, which, since Hurricane Ike in 2008, has become a ghost town, its streets and houses deserted. Gil’s house is haunted. Terrifying supernatural experiences show that he is himself in danger, and not only from members of his former congregation. The fright bounces him back to belief in God, though his is a wicked god in a cruel world. In one sense this can be called a crime novel, since there is a murder and the murderer’s identity is revealed on the last page. But it is really a novel about faith and the consequences of losing it. The ostentatious religiosity described is so alien to most people in Britain (and certainly to me) that reading Kerr’s pessimistic melodrama produced in me not so much interest as a kind of disgust.
Val McDermid is one of the most popular crime writers in the English language. Her series of books about two crime-fighting partners, the psychologist Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, has an enormous following, so this latest instalment has been eagerly awaited. Fans have a shock coming: DCI Jordan has left the police force. Tony Hill, far from carrying on as an official adviser to the police, finds himself behind bars, suspected of being the killer they are hunting, a criminal who seeks out Carol Jordan lookalikes and stalks, abducts and murders them. McDermid goes into less ghastly detail these days, which makes her portrait of an intelligent, cunning serial murderer all the more terrifying. The book can simply be read as a story about a hunter/killer. But it is also a fascinating study of his opponents, the infinitely complex Hill and the clever sleuth Jordan, traumatised by guilt about the death of her brother and urgently needing to re-engage with her friends and colleagues.
A couple of teenage girls, who in this country would be too young to drive, set off to make a thousand-mile journey across the spine of the Rocky Mountains. They are on their way to visit the elder girl’s boyfriend, and their parents must never find out. The inevitable (in thriller-land at least) happens when they encounter a truck driver who preys on teenagers. First the girls go missing, then the boyfriend’s father, a suspended, disgraced policeman, disappears while on their trail. It’s a tough case for an inexperienced female cop to handle and it’s rather a tough story to read. C J Box doesn’t pull his punches in blow-by-blow descriptions of criminal behaviour, and he doesn’t believe in soft or soggy endings, but he writes so well that the reader cringes with the victims and feels bereaved with their families. The Highway is an exciting novel, made special – as was Box’s earlier work – by his magisterial use of the landscape of the Rockies and his expert knowledge of its flora and fauna. It is rather darker than the earlier series featuring a game warden detective, and it ends on an indefinite note, implying that a sequel is to come.
Here is an outstandingly good debut novel. It is based on recorded facts about the events leading up to the last execution in Iceland. In 1829 Agnes Magnúsdóttir was convicted for her part in murdering two men, one of them her lover. She and her male accomplice were beheaded. After her conviction and before the sentence was carried out, Agnes was held in custody at a farm; she chose an assistant reverend to act as her priest during those last days. Hannah Kent describes the landscape, the daily lives and the environment of these rustic Icelanders, and the memories of the condemned woman, in crisp and sparkling language. I found myself spellbound by the stories of all these people, by the looming, inescapable tragedy and by the prose portrait of this most unforgiving of terrains and uncomfortable of lives. Kent has done a great deal of research and transformed its results into a work of art.
Another adventure for the persistent Annika Bengtzon, whose mission to report the news is far stronger than any feelings of fear or exhaustion. Now divorced, she is free to follow stories because her children spend half their time with her ex and his new wife. She flies to the Costa del Sol to cover the murder of an entire Swedish family, and discovers that there was another daughter who has disappeared and that the multiple murder is connected with a drug-smuggling enterprise. A complicated but persuasive plot is combined with a good many well-informed details about the European drugs trade, expat life on the Costas and the research methods of an investigative journalist in the internet age.
Five-year-old Zoe and Sarah, her adoptive mother, live in hiding from the sinister drug-dealing cultists who are Zoe’s paternal relations. When an accident exposes them, Sarah grabs the little girl and runs. She finds helpers, the enemy locates her, the FBI and Homeland Security get involved, there are dramatic scenes in the desert, in a jumbo-jet graveyard, at a fair and in a hospital. Having finished the book I began to find little flaws, but it was a wholly gripping and exciting read. I really couldn’t put it down.