Abandoning the supernatural elements of the novels that made his name, Simon Toyne has written an immediately engaging police procedural novel set mainly in north London. The cleaner of an architecturally spectacular house on the edge of Highgate Cemetery discovers the stabbed body of her employer, Kate, laid out in what is clearly a significant fashion, with important clues placed around it. DCI Tannahill Khan, who is busy working on the crime figures ahead of a politically charged press conference, is sent to investigate. He notices that a book beside the body was written by the criminologist Laughton Rees, who is the estranged daughter of the Met’s commissioner. Clashing interests, an old case and intriguing and moving characters combine in this immensely readable novel that is, above all, about parenting. My only gripe is that an important subplot about school bullying and knife crime is left hanging.
Adele Parks’s exploration of pain and vengeance takes us into the mind of sex worker Dora. Her clients are rich enough to pay her ‘agent’ the high price she commands; some are reasonable human beings, others are revolting and some are brutal. These characters are nicely balanced by Evan, a younger man born to great wealth who is Dora’s best friend. When she is badly injured he takes care of her and begs her to abandon her lucrative but dangerous work. One last job takes her to a French chateau and the house party from hell. As Dora experiences misery and every kind of violation, she tells us more of her past life and almost everything she has kept secret. When her last revelations emerge, they are matched by others that have been kept from her. One Last Secret shows that almost anyone can become a victim – and that victims are dangerous.
Luscious descriptions of food, sex and death carry this first novel to unexpected heights. We encounter the narrator, Dorothy, during her last sexual encounter with Casimir, which ends in horrible violence. She then takes us into her prison cell, before leading us back in time to show how she became a rich and successful food critic and murderer. Horrifying though some scenes are, others are very funny and Dorothy is more than likeable. Intelligent and very well read, she gives voice to the many types of rage that affect women, even if they do not care to admit it. This is an engrossing, shocking and unmissable novel.
A quintessentially unreliable narrator, Layla has been arrested for the murder of Amy Blahn. The two of them were found on a London rooftop, Layla cradling Amy in her arms and covered with blood from the stab wound in Amy’s chest. The knife has yet to be tested for fingerprints. Layla, who is a lawyer, knows how to deal with the police, but an old – and close – friend arrives to represent her. As she tries to persuade the police and the reader that she is not guilty and that the killer is a man called Michael, who is nowhere to be found, she takes us back into the past and her difficult marriage. The plot is clever but tricky for anyone who wants to like a novel’s main character, and the ending may not be quite convincing enough for cynical readers.
A young mudlark discovers a black bag full of small bones on the banks of the Thames. Once DCI Samuel Owusu has identified them, he is introduced to the characters who first appeared in Lisa Jewell’s successful mix of psychology and horror, The Family Upstairs. Like its predecessor, The Family Remains has a fractured time frame and takes readers to and fro between London, Chicago and the south of France, switching from the past to the present as well as into the minds of several of the people who once lived in a terrible house in Cheyne Walk. Fans of The Family Upstairs will enjoy being reunited with the characters and there are many pleasures in store for anyone prepared to put in the work to assemble a coherent narrative from the bits Jewell is prepared to share.
Kenna and Mikki were best friends at school and passionate surfers off the Cornish coast. As young women they grew apart and Mikki now lives in Australia. Kenna follows her there to rescue her from a dangerous-sounding relationship and soon finds herself joining Mikki’s group of surfing friends at a perfect – and well-hidden – beach. The Tribe, as the friends call themselves, are led by Sky, who devises dangerous initiation rituals and physical and psychological exercises to develop their courage and resilience. It is clear that most members of the Tribe are wounded in one way or another, and at least one of them is positively threatening. Allie Reynolds is herself a surfer and she draws on her experiences to craft convincing action scenes. The tension within the sinister group is well managed and Kenna is a good character, whose strength and decency pull the reader in.
Continuing the series featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and forensic pathologist Maura Isles, Listen to Me is set in upmarket American suburbia. Jane’s mother is the neighbourhood watcher, a role she volunteered for partly out of curiosity and partly from feelings of responsibility. Strange people move into a vacant house and start installing bars on the windows, making her jump to all kinds of dramatic conclusions; they also start badgering the local cops. At the same time, a beautiful young student is being stalked and then a hard-working middle-aged nurse is murdered. All three cases land on Jane’s desk and she must balance family duties and work. This is an efficient, well-written, traditional mystery, with a background of medicine and high culture. The student is studying art history, in particular the work of Artemisia Gentileschi, and Dr Isles is a talented pianist, playing in a Mozart concert. The message of the main plot and an agreeable minor character’s contribution is that few people are what they appear to be to a casual observer.
First-person narrator Olivia is on trial for commissioning the murder of her husband. She insists that she has been framed, but she is convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. Released on licence after five years, she is not allowed anywhere near her husband and can have only supervised visits with her young daughter, Grace, who is convinced of her guilt. The one thing that kept her going during her prison stretch was her determination to prove her innocence, but it’s harder than she expected. The narrative switches between her story and those of other figures involved in the case, with plenty of red herrings along the way. Olivia is attractive and, as a victim of atrocious injustice, keeps the reader’s sympathy even though she doesn’t much care what laws she breaks in her fight for vengeance. This is a pacey and involving novel in which the realistic scenes of life in prison and out on licence work well.
Citizen journalist and podcaster Anna was introduced in Denise Mina’s Conviction. Confidence sees her and her colleague Fin on holiday with their linked and fractured families in a storm-beaten lighthouse. Fin’s new girlfriend is causing all kinds of trouble and he grabs the opportunity to abandon her and the rest of them and accompany Anna to investigate the disappearance of a much less successful podcaster, who may or may not have stolen a priceless Roman casket from an abandoned chateau in France. The significance of this casket is that it is said to contain some kind of proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also said to be cursed, and there have been many deaths connected with its repeated disappearances and rediscoveries over the centuries. Anna is an alluring character, still in recovery after suffering a brutal gang rape and public vilification years ago, and very conscious of her own character defects. One memorable first-person sentence captures her character: ‘The pilot light of my shame flickered and flared in my belly, the boiler came on and dread flooded my body.’ The novel, which is narrated partly in conventional style and partly through the text of the future podcasts, is intriguing, touching, often very funny and full of ideas.
This is a novel for those who are interested in serial killers and what makes them tick, the dangers of the world of the internet and all-absorbing computer games. Mila Vasquez, who was head of the missing persons unit in the Federal Police Department in Italy, has retired to a remote house in the country with the daughter she never wanted. Mila suffers from alexithymia, which means she cannot empathise with anyone, but she is known to be a great investigator. The chief of police comes to her lakeside retreat to persuade her to come back to work and help find the killer of a family living in a house as isolated as hers. Giving in, Mila is soon plunged into a weird world of partial information centred on a dangerous old-fashioned computer game created by idealists whose plan for an evil-free utopia has been dangerously distorted. Although not exactly convincing, the novel deals with many interesting ideas. The translation is occasionally a little heavy-handed.