DI Meg Dalton is an agreeable, emotional officer in the Derbyshire police force. She has separated parents, low self-esteem and a dogged determination to get to the bottom of the crimes she is investigating. In this, her third outing, she has to find out what happened to Violet Armstrong, famous on social media for posting videos of herself barbecuing dressed only in her bikini. All the evidence suggests that she has been fed to the pigs on a local farm, but whether her attacker was an animal rights activist, a male supremacist or some more personal enemy is not clear. The evidence Meg eventually unearths suggests something wilder by far, and it is not entirely convincing. But the tone is warm and engaging, the police officers are good characters and Meg’s devotion to her work and (most of) her colleagues makes her an attractive companion.
They say that London is the money-laundering capital of the world. Rod Reynolds shows how that is possible in this complex thriller. His London is fast, busy and full of threats. Lydia, a young journalist whose career no longer looks promising, has been put on night duty at her paper, covering tedious gossip and showbiz instead of the big stories on which she used to work. She’s having an affair with her boss, unbeknown to her colleagues, which may be why she has avoided redundancy. Someone sends her a video showing the murder of a man on a train; her pursuit of his identity and that of his killers opens her eyes – and ours – to the links between the Establishment, organised crime and international billionaires. Reynolds is a great scene setter and he is as good at action as he is at the development of Lydia’s character. She is brave, clever, sometimes silly and absolutely credible.
The battle between Generation X and millennials is played out in Helen Monks Takhar’s first novel. The story is set in and around the office of a magazine in Southwark. Generation X is represented by the editor of Leadership, Katherine Ross, the hard-drinking, intern-exploiting partner of failed filmmaker Iain. They have an open relationship, each giving the other permission to sleep with their latest fancies, and Katherine pays the bills. Her life is turned upside down by Lily, the millennial niece of Leadership’s new owner, who first stalks her, then charms her, then takes everything from her. On the evidence of these two examples, the warring factions deserve each other. I have rarely read a crime novel in which pretty much every character (apart from one who appears only at the very end) is so unpleasant, with so little to recommend them.
More dispatches from the war between Generation X and millennials are to be found in Louise Candlish’s latest novel and, once again, the warriors seem to deserve each other. On the side of Generation X is first-person narrator Jamie Buckby, who has left a relatively good job after a bout of mental illness and is now working as a barista. He is lucky enough to be living with Clare, his partner of ten years, who has the use of a big, beautiful house in London’s Docklands owned by her Edinburgh-based parents. Claustrophobia has forced Jamie off the Tube and Docklands Light Railway and he now takes the boat to work, which has introduced him to millennial Kit and his ravishing girlfriend, Melia. When Kit disappears after a public drunken row on the boat home one December evening, Jamie falls under suspicion and is interviewed by the police. At this point it becomes clear that his narrative has not been as straightforward as it seems, and he takes us back to the beginning of the relationship. The revelations of casual and planned dishonesty come thick and fast. At one moment Candlish seems to suggest that London property prices are so exorbitant that someone could be forgiven for doing anything to put a roof over his or her head, but then she dishes out the final punishments among the group. No one comes out of this grim story with credit.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir hooks her readers very quickly in the fourth of her novels featuring child psychologist Freyja and detective Huldar. A man is hanged from Gallows Rock after his assailant has nail-gunned a notice to his chest, and a small boy is discovered alone and frightened in a luxury flat that is completely strange to him. He doesn’t know his real address or his parents’ full names and cannot help the police. The mystery of his identity is probed by Freyja, while her friend Huldar is part of the police team investigating the hanging. As in many other crime novels at the moment, the exorbitant cost of property features strongly, but the most persistent theme is a peculiarly unpleasant form of masculinity. Eventually, justice is done and the loose ends are satisfactorily tied up.
Kate Henderson is a senior MI6 officer. She has kept her job, even though her husband was recently exposed as a Russian agent and the reason why one of her operations went disastrously wrong. Now he is living in Moscow and she is trying to look after their two children, while carrying on her high-flying career and seeing off various ambitious and manipulative colleagues. She is offered the defection of a highly important Russian, who alleges that the British prime minister is in the pay of his masters. Kate not only has to decide whether the offer is real or part of some deep game but also has to persuade her boss, the foreign secretary and the possibly compromised prime minister to sanction his exfiltration. She is brave, appealing, stressed almost beyond bearing, hardly sleeping and in serious need of therapy. The few scenes of her with her shrink are well done and her private predicament is believable. If some of the carry-on within MI6 is hard to take, many peripheral details are as credible as Kate’s psychological state. ‘Kate wondered again at the supreme – and annoying – self-confidence young special advisers attached to Downing Street were wont to exude, as if they had just inherited the earth.’ The descriptions of Kate’s journeys to and within Russia are also well achieved and the narrative is full of thrills.
Fair Warning is the name of a real consumer protection website and Michael Connelly tells us in an afterword to this excellent and angry novel that he sits on its board. In the story itself, Jack McEvoy is a journalist who once made a fortune from campaigning books but is now living in reduced circumstances, having served time in prison for refusing to name a source. The same episode wrecked his relationship with Rachel, the love of his life, and ruined her career. Now he is interviewed by the police in connection with the death of a woman with whom he had a one-night stand. Knowing he’s innocent and outraged by the attitude of one of the officers, he starts to investigate and is confronted with two serious issues. One is the lack of regulation governing commercial DNA-testing operations, the unsuspecting public giving the companies that provide these services not only dollars but also the freedom to do anything they want with their DNA. The other is the growth of the male incel (‘involuntary celibates’) movement, made up of men who believe they are owed sex with women and, when they don’t get it, feel that women deserve whatever cruelty they may want to inflict on them.
McEvoy is a great character, even if he keeps disappointing the alluring Rachel, and the need to protect everyone from malevolent commercial organisations and individuals gives this novel great heft. Connelly writes easy prose and has the best journalists’ skill of providing the right amount of information at the right time.