Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson; The Wreckage by Michael Robotham; Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder; The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler; 66° North by Michael Ridpath; City of the Dead: A Claire DeWitt Mystery by Sara Gran - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

June 2011 Crime Round-up

  • S J Watson, 
  • Michael Robotham, 
  • Mo Hayder, 
  • Lars Kepler, 
  • Michael Ridpath, 
  • Sara Gran

Before I Go To Sleep

By S J Watson

Doubleday 368pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Every night’s sleep wipes Chrissie’s memory. Every morning Ben, her husband, tells her who she is, where she lives, and what to do. Every day after Ben has gone to work, Dr Nash rings to tell Chrissie to look at the journal she has forgotten writing and hiding. The story is told through the pages of the journal, which inform Chrissie about her forgotten past both recent – that yesterday she saw Dr Nash or went to the park – and more distant. She learns that she had published a novel, though Ben has never mentioned it. Then she remembers that she had a child. Ben tells her he died young. Is he sparing her repeated unhappiness or manipulating her for some sinister purpose? The build-up of tension, suspicion and mystery is very cleverly done, in an unusually skilful first novel.

The Wreckage

By Michael Robotham

Sphere 448pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Previous encounters with Robotham’s unofficial team have concerned relatively domestic and commonplace crimes. In this book, cop (now ex-cop) Vincent Ruiz takes the lead, and the hero of previous books, psychologist, professor and Parkinsons’s sufferer Joe O’Loughlin, plays only a supporting role. The two men get involved with international criminals and high financiers, and the action moves between the Middle East and the more expensive districts of London. The book is about the global financial crisis, who caused it, who profits from it, and who will suffer from it and what they will do about it. As always with this author, people recover from physical punishment more quickly than seems entirely plausible, but the characters are convincing and the storytelling is exciting, so it all adds up to a rattling good yarn.

Hanging Hill

By Mo Hayder

Bantam Press 432pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The highly successful and much admired Hayder is one of the authors I used to leave unread. But Hanging Hill has a much lower gore-and-guts quotient than earlier books. Estranged sisters meet again after years. One is the divorced mother of a difficult teenager, who to survive has to do things she never dreamt of and go places she never knew existed. The other is a detective who was once a stripper. When one of the teenager’s school friends is found murdered, the second sister is one of the detectives on the case. Hayder has always written very well, and leaving some details to the reader’s imagination makes a good novel all the better. But this author’s earlier books are all originals. This time both setting and subject are conventional, the book slotting neatly into the police-procedural slot with, presumably, more to follow in the same series. 

The Hypnotist

By Lars Kepler

Blue Door 512pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The demand is insatiable, the supply reliable: readers devour Scandinavian crime novels, and who can wonder that new authors are competing to produce the longest, bloodiest, gloomiest of all? The Hypnotist is clever but pretty nasty and, at over 500 pages, exhausting. It opens on a family massacre – a mother, father and five-year-old daughter have been murdered. The teenage son is still alive, though catatonic with hundreds of knife wounds. The female detective persuades a disgraced doctor to use his skills as a hypnotist to obtain information from the teenager, whereupon it is revealed that his older sister orchestrated the crime. But that’s only the beginning of a complicated and very gory tale that – as a Swedish newspaper put it – opens the door to ‘a human abyss’. The authors are a husband and wife team who have planned an eight-book series, and this, their first, has already outsold the very strong competition in Sweden itself. 

66° North

By Michael Ridpath

Corvus 384pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The first book in this series took Magnus Jonson, a Boston cop, to Iceland, his country of origin, which he left for America at the age of twelve. His first case was a murder with roots in the distant past. This time it is current events that drive the story, based on the few greedy men who managed to bankrupt a whole country. Rapacious bankers have ruined the lives of almost every single Icelander. So far, so factual. But in fiction, retribution ensues. One banker is killed in London, another kills himself in Reykavik. Have some ordinary Icelanders taken revenge? At the same time as investigating these unnatural deaths, Magnus is finding out more about his own family and why his parents took him away to America as a child. The parallel plots are woven into an absorbing and original tale, which I greatly enjoyed. 

City of the Dead: A Claire DeWitt Mystery

By Sara Gran

Faber & Faber 288pp 12.99 order from our bookshop

This is the first in a planned series featuring Claire DeWitt, a private eye and self-proclaimed best detective in the world. She is summoned to New Orleans to find a man missing since Hurricane Katrina. Claire’s investigation is guided by her dreams and a manual of detection from which she quotes numerous aphorisms and injunctions, such as ‘Follow the clues. Believe nothing. Question everything.’ Claire finds herself embroiled in the gangs of boys, abandoned by their families and the authorities, who roam the lawless and dangerous streets of the haunted city. There is a plot, there are clues and questions and solutions, but as Claire’s mentor told her, ‘Mysteries never end. We only pretend we understand when we can’t bear it any more. We close the file and close the case, but that doesn’t mean we’ve found the truth.’ This is a highly original, seductive and haunting novel, much enhanced by its sinister setting in the ruined neighbourhoods of New Orleans.

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