Editors who have told their authors to avoid axe-grinding and explanatory dialogue may weep when they read this novel by an internationally bestselling Austrian author. It follows the familiar plot of an innocent bystander inadvertently becoming embroiled in a conspiracy. During an international financial conference in Berlin, trainee nurse Jan Wutte stumbles on a crashed car. One passenger survives long enough to give Jan information that sends him in search of the true cause of the accident. So begins his education – and ours – in economic theory and social justice. There are explanations and diagrams galore and plenty of numbers. There are also chases, violent attacks, strong men and beautiful women. I enjoyed it, even though I was not convinced that ergodicity is the answer to every social and financial ill in the world – or that anyone could be as scared by it as Elsberg’s villain.
S J Watson’s first novel, Before I Go to Sleep, featured a woman who couldn’t remember anything from one day to the next. This, his third, features another woman whose past has been blanked out in her memory. She was discovered on Deal beach, distressed and unable to identify herself. Years later and now an award-winning documentary filmmaker, she goes to another seaside town to assemble a documentary from short films shot by locals. Something about the place seems familiar, and her memory flickers back to life. Unreliable narrators can be irritating, but those who are unreliable only because of dissociative disorders may be forgiven.
This well-constructed and classy novel should come with a health warning for anyone who enjoys reading about virtuous male characters. Cait is driving Rebecca from Austin to Albuquerque on behalf of an organisation called Sisters of Service. The women are strangers to each other and do not get on. Flashbacks to their past lives show why both are terrified. When they find themselves being pursued through the desert of New Mexico, each blames herself and feels a need to protect the other. The chase provides great tension and the women’s experiences of male brutality and exploitation generate enormous sympathy.
Eight Detectives is an ingenious exploration of the crime genre. Julia Hart, a young editor, has been sent by her employer to a Mediterranean island to interview the author of a selection of stories that were privately printed twenty-five years ago. Each is read aloud by Julia to the author, Grant McAllister, before the two of them discuss it, with Julia pointing out inconsistencies in the plot. Grant wrote them to demonstrate theories he once set out in a research paper, ‘The Permutations of Detective Fiction’. Lovers of golden-age crime fiction will recognise many of the themes and readers will form their own theories about what is going on. The denouement is fair and neatly signalled.
Set in and around Brixton prison and a glitzy but depressing flat in one of the new developments at Nine Elms, this novel captures the tedium, paranoia and fear that prison life breeds. Rob, serving a sentence for accidentally killing someone with a single punch outside a club, is being reintroduced to life outside in advance of his parole hearing. He is let out every weekday to work in a local charity shop. A chance encounter with a woman exposes him to dangerous temptations. Told from the points of view of both Rob and the woman, this story is full of compassion and is written with a realism that makes it both convincing and involving.
A group of adolescents use a derelict manor house in Marlborough for drinking, smoking weed and playing all kinds of dangerous games. Years later, one of them is dead and the others are making their ways in different professions. Andrea, who had the toughest start, with an alcoholic mother and abusive stepfather, tells the story of what happens after Peter’s mother phones to tell her that he has disappeared. Woven into Andrea’s account of her search for Peter are explanations of the sources of her guilt and her need to know the truth about the death of her friend. Victoria Gosling writes with a lushness that seems appropriate to the fervid adolescent emotions she explores, and in Andrea she has created a memorable sleuth.
A globally celebrated novelist is living in the Scottish Borders with her devoted friend and factotum when her unsatisfactory son dies of a drug overdose. Her daughter works for the author’s foundation and has a cottage nearby but refuses to be paraded at the post-funeral reception. They are all ready to welcome participants to an annual creative-writing residency but are soon thrown off course by violence and threats. As the Beast from the East blankets the area with snow and internecine battles are fought between the local police and officers sent from Edinburgh, everyone begins to feel at risk. This is an effective, traditional police procedural.