S A Cosby’s troubled hero, Titus Crown, the sheriff of Charon County, Virginia, has to fight on many different fronts. Local racism makes his job difficult at the best of times, but now he is also faced with a school shooting and atrocious crimes against black children. His personal life has its own challenges and he is loaded down with guilt. Cosby’s talent makes all this misery work in a novel of great warmth, and he has a lovely turn of phrase. Titus’s loathing of hypocrisy, injustice and cruelty makes him enormously attractive.
Mark Edwards’s great skill is to involve readers in his characters’ lives, showing step by mistaken step how they get themselves into trouble. In this case, the characters are Matthew and Helena, who had a relationship at university and meet again at a twenty-year reunion, soon after her husband has died. Rekindling their friendship, they travel to Iceland together, where an ill-judged selfie almost leads to her death. In the aftermath of this drama, she reveals a terrible secret to Matthew and their plunge into emotional and practical trauma begins. The writing is straightforward and without flourishes, but it gives the increasingly dramatic story an air of surprising normality. Edwards carries readers with him all the way and then leaves them with a wicked cliffhanger.
Gilly Macmillan’s latest psychological thriller is a study in greed and vengeance, and it suggests that there is almost no human being who cannot be persuaded to commit a crime when motivated by one or the other. Nicole and Tom have won £10 million in the lottery and built a spectacular glass barn on the beautiful Lancaut Peninsula on the River Wye. Their nearest neighbours are an at first apparently benevolent but then increasingly sinister couple, Olly and Sasha, who seemingly live without means in a ravishing medieval manor house, cared for by their housekeeper, Kitty. Of course nothing is quite as it appears and when a body is found floating in a swimming pool, the police arrive and everyone’s story begins to unravel. Twisty and colourful, this is a novel to entertain all who have experienced schadenfreude.
John Sutherland, a retired chief superintendent, has written a fast-moving, touching novel about a suicidal young Home Office civil servant, London knife crime and corruption involving a right-wing government. His lead character, Superintendent Alex Lewis, is a police negotiator, summoned one freezing evening to Westminster Bridge, where Becca is perched on a parapet, threatening to throw herself off. He is experienced at handling such situations and his compassion works: Becca is soon safely in the warmth of his official vehicle. But his involvement in her life and near-death doesn’t end there. He is agreeable in the extreme and his understanding of his own and others’ mental health is cheering, but he displays surprising naivety about how rife self-interest and corruption are among the politically powerful. It does not occur to him that his description of one sleazy politician might equally be applied to some of his own colleagues, who are ‘practically everything that Alex despised: manipulative, abusive, misogynistic, truth-twisting, arrogant, self-serving, corrupt’. The novel would have had more heft with a subplot that made this clear.
This clever novel about the incremental steps that lead someone into major crime follows Myles, a GP with memories of an unhappy childhood, a rich wife and huge secret debts. They live in an expensive enclave in London and have no children. After a new couple move in next door, the four of them begin socialising together. When the couple discover Myles’s debts, they propose an ingenious insurance fraud to pay them off, ready to take a generous share of the loot for themselves. The fraud is well enough designed to fool Myles’s insurance company and the consequences and subsequent investigations are well described. But Kiernan’s greatest achievement is to make Myles such a sympathetic character that his increasingly violent actions seem almost sensible.
This debut thriller concerns the murder of a prostitute and the hanging of a young girl in a rural village near Delhi, but its scope is much wider, offering a depressing portrait of a society dominated by institutional corruption, religious division and atrocious levels of inequality and deprivation. The pace of the novel is gentle and it ranges backwards and forwards to show how the characters became what they are and why the senior local officer conducts the investigation with a mixture of covert defiance and overt deference towards the rich. The way people have to live is summed up by one of the characters: ‘You can rise high in life, do well for yourself and your family, or you can be the kind of fool who tries to do the right thing in this evil world. But in my experience, it is not possible to do both.’
James Comey was director of the FBI for four years until he was sacked by Donald Trump and he uses his experience to good effect in this clever legal thriller about the Mob and the killing of a despicable politician and sex pest. The murder is neatly executed and is set up to look like a suicide, but the scene includes evidence that leads investigators to the politician’s wife. Her case looks hopeless, but her lawyer fights as best he can. There are plenty of surprises to come and some sympathetic characters among the prosecutors. Their collection and use of evidence of all kinds convince and there is a neat twist.
Serial-killer novels were once exercises in the graphic portrayal of physical and emotional pain. L M Chilton’s modern version could not be more different. In spite of bodies piling up, the tone is light-hearted. Gwen is single after the breakdown of her relationship with Noah, and her best friend and flatmate is about to get married. Not wanting to be alone, Gwen arranges dates via her favourite app, usually dumping the men after a single encounter. When their bodies are discovered around Eastbourne, she becomes a person of interest to the investigating cops. Chilton offers the reader suspect after suspect as the narrative gallops on, before providing not only the solution but also an education in 21st-century dating etiquette.
Ben Koenig is presented in this novel as a kind of Jack Reacher, the ex-military loner created by Lee Child, moving from town to town in the United States and righting wrongs as he goes along. But there’s more to Ben’s peregrinations than simply a dislike of living in one place: he’s on the run from some very nasty characters. He is cleverly dragged out of hiding by an old colleague from the US Marshal’s Special Operations Group who needs his skills. A woman has been kidnapped and probably killed, and Ben is the only man who can find out what happened to her. Full of vividly described violence, clever plotting and an agreeable main character, Fearless is terrific piece of gutsy entertainment.
Karin Slaughter is an expert recorder of human depravity. The extent of it displayed in her latest novel featuring Dr Sara Linton is so horrible that it is amazing she has been able to create such an appealing narrative. Sara herself was raped years ago and when a young victim of a similar assault is brought into the emergency room where she works, begging her to make sure the attacker is caught, Sara is determined to see him identified and punished. With the help of her friends, fiancé and the local police, she pursues her quarry. As in so many cases of sexual assault, incontrovertible proof is hard to come by and justice difficult to find. Horrifying, enraging, moving and compelling, this is crime writing of the best sort.