All of Us are Broken by Fiona Cummins; The Burning Time by Peter Hanington; Everyone Here is Lying by Shari Lapena; Black Fell by Mari Hannah; None of This is True by Lisa Jewell; Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary; The Conspirators by G W Shaw; Eye for an Eye by M J Arlidge; Zero Days by Ruth Ware - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

July 2023 Crime Round-up

  • Fiona Cummins, 
  • Peter Hanington, 
  • Shari Lapena, 
  • Mari Hannah, 
  • Lisa Jewell, 
  • Sarah Hilary, 
  • G W Shaw, 
  • M J Arlidge, 
  • Ruth Ware
 

All of Us are Broken

By Fiona Cummins

Macmillan 320pp £16.99

Fiona Cummins offers innumerable examples of human cruelty in this agonising account of a woman’s journey to Scotland with her two children. They have the wretched luck to arrive at a hotel during an armed hold-up by a couple inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. Christine’s story is interwoven with that of the two robbers, Missy and Fox. Cummins’s compassion for her characters is admirable, but the damage done by those who are working out their own pain is appalling. To balance the horror, she includes a few people whose generosity and grace are almost superhuman. This is an intelligent, different and moving novel about the causes and effects of brutality, with ravishingly described glimpses of the natural world.

The Burning Time

By Peter Hanington

Baskerville 432pp £18.99

Old-school radio journalist William Carver is the main character in this interesting investigation into the politics and profits of climate change industries. As he looks for new stories to develop, he learns of an Australian maverick scientist, Clive Winner, who is experimenting with ways of combating the overheating of the world. He scored a notable success in restoring a small part of the Great Barrier Reef and has many other projects in progress. But it’s clear that nefarious things are being done all over the world by someone involved with his business. Carver, whose private life is bleak, vigorously pursues the story with the help of a young researcher. Their professional relationship is well realised and touching as Carver fights to instil in her his own old-fashioned high standards. Well written and paced, this thriller is both a tribute to and a demonstration of the importance of traditional investigative journalism, particularly now that, as one character says to Carver, ‘public service isn’t really a thing any more’.

Everyone Here is Lying

By Shari Lapena

Bantam 336pp £18.99

A comfortable neighbourhood in small-town America is torn apart by the disappearance of Avery, a nine-year-old girl sent home from school for misbehaving. As the title suggests, many of the family, their friends, enemies and acquaintances cannot tell the investigating detectives the truth about where they were or what they saw at the time Avery went missing because of their own guilty secrets. This is a great example of domestic noir and Shari Lapena is an expert in both pace and the placing of clues and misdirections. Few people in this story are uniformly bad and the punishment suffered by everyone involved is intense. The ending offers one kind of satisfaction, while another is provided by the brief and charming account Lapena gives us of an impressive parent–child relationship.

Black Fell

By Mari Hannah

Orion 448pp £8.99

Two bodies are found at Kielder Water in Northumberland in this well-researched police procedural. The first is discovered by one of a party of Icelandic students who are wild camping in the area. Although he reports it to the police, he whisks his group back home much sooner than they’d planned and is soon followed by the investigating officers. Rivalries among the detectives and the inevitable false starts and dead ends of the case keep everyone on edge. The police work is rendered with the kind of detail and emotional realism that convinces. When the officers eventually close in on the villain, the descriptions of the raw pain of those involved lifts the whole novel.

None of This is True

By Lisa Jewell

Century 400pp £20

When unhappy Josie makes her much older husband, Walter, take her to a gastro pub on her birthday, she sees another woman, Alix, celebrating hers. Alix is so cool, confident and beautiful that Josie engineers a meeting. Discovering that Alix has a podcast interviewing women who have transcended trauma to achieve success, Josie persuades her to embark on a different series, telling her own story, which is that of an unhappy woman who has yet to break out of her difficult circumstances. The interviews in which Josie tells her sad story are interspersed with details of Alix’s own marital difficulties. Interviews are also recorded with members of Josie’s family and neighbours, and it becomes clear that something terrible has happened. Lisa Jewell creates genuine tension as she shifts the reader’s sympathies this way and that.

Black Thorn

By Sarah Hilary

Macmillan 384pp £16.99

Sarah Hilary takes family dysfunction to a new level in this ingenious and moving novel. The Gale family are living in a caravan, having been evacuated from their dream house in a beautiful but poorly built new estate on the Cornish cliffs. People have died and Adrian Gale, who was involved in the development, is awaiting the investigators’ report and terrified of a charge of corporate manslaughter. His wife is trying to keep the family together and find paid work. Their 27-year-old daughter, who is autistic and has fled back to the family after losing her job and going through a breakup, is looking after her thirteen-year-old brother. He is fixated on the estate and keeps dragging her back there to steal desirable things left by the other evacuated families. A journalist comes sniffing around and there is a suggestion that not all the deaths on the estate resulted from problems with the construction. Neurodiversity and mental illness are hard to handle in fiction, but Sarah Hilary renders both with sensitivity and knowledge, while at the same time providing an involving and entertaining thriller.

The Conspirators

By G W Shaw

riverrun 400pp £18.99

Continuing his exploration of the world of ultra-wealthy global criminals, G W Shaw opens this follow-up to last year’s Dead Rich with a delightful if unworldly translator facing his girlfriend’s ultimatum that she will leave him unless he can come up with £20,000 to buy a flat with her. Given how little Jacob earns, this seems impossible until the glamorous Eloise turns up on his doorstep to offer him a lucrative commission translating Russian, Hindi and English. While it is hard to believe that anyone as intelligent as Jacob would accept such a job without asking questions, it’s also impossible to resist the ensuing adventure. He is not only bright but also resourceful and astonishingly brave, just as the people who are paying him are astonishingly ruthless in their pursuit of profit. Clever and persuasively written, this international thriller is great fun.

Eye for an Eye

By M J Arlidge

Orion 544pp £14.99

M J Arlidge tackles one of the criminal justice system’s toughest problems in this intelligent thriller: what do you do with children who have killed once they are given parole? Violent children have always aroused particular fury among the public, and many of their victims’ families want to know that they are suffering. But, as Arlidge makes clear as he tells this story from multiple points of view, children who kill are not devils. Many are likely to have been brought up in chaotic, violent, cruel and desperate families. His fictional murderers are grown up and living – or trying to live – normal lives under false names, until someone with access to the parole database publicises their new names and addresses, making them targets for vigilantes. The paroled killers range from a woman who was released twenty years ago and is successfully managing her life and family to a young man struggling with the loneliness and hopelessness of his first few weeks away from the young offender institution where he found the only safety and kindness he has known in his life. Arlidge can write convincingly from multiple standpoints: those of killers, the police and probation officers, among others. Impressive and compassionate, Eye for an Eye should win prizes.

Zero Days

By Ruth Ware

Simon & Schuster 352pp £16.99

Ruth Ware is one of the most versatile of crime writers. In her latest novel, the penetration tester Jack Cross tries to get past the defences of her client’s building and computer security systems to identify weaknesses. Guided through the process by her husband, Gabe, a white-hat hacker talking through her earpiece, Jack almost makes it out to safety but ends up having to explain herself to the police. On her return home, she finds Gabe with his throat cut. In shock, she doesn’t report his murder for so long that she becomes the prime suspect. Her professional skills, absolute devotion to Gabe and superhuman grit send her on a nightmare journey to identify the real killer. Jack is an invigorating character and her quest is both impressively plotted and moving.

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