Jane Casey has moved on from her Maeve Kerrigan series to produce a stand-alone novel with a junior barrister as the first-person narrator. Three years before the novel opens, Ingrid Lewis was defending a man on a charge of stalking and having to use her skills to destroy the woman who claimed she was his victim. Since then he has turned his attentions to Ingrid herself, and the restraining order she won against him has run out. The novel moves back and forth between 2015 and 2019, covering more of her cases in convincing detail and raising issues of vulnerability, trust, risk and responsibility. When the plot moves away from the courtroom drama, it balloons into a less plausible melodrama in which bodies pile up, but the questions it asks are relevant and interesting. The hardest is: just how badly, stupidly and cruelly can you behave while still believing yourself to be a victim?
This is one of the gloomiest, most depressing and yet most gripping crime novels I have read in a long time. It opens with the discovery of sixteen horses’ heads half-buried at the end of a muddy field near a fading seaside town. The investigation is shared between Sergeant Alec Nichols of the local police force and forensic vet Dr Cooper Allen. Almost every relationship described in the novel is sad or bad. No one has any hope and a sense of dreadful doom looms over everything. Characters are referred to by profession or status (‘the specialist’, ‘the teenager’), which provides a sense of distance between the action and the reader, and much of the strange imagery involves misery: ‘The sand on the beach was coarse, littered with vast strings of seaweed weeping like fingers from the dark sea.’ And yet it is hard to stop reading as the drama and tragedy unfold.
Broadcaster Tom Bradby continues the adventures of mother, spy and betrayed wife Kate Henderson in Triple Cross. Her estranged husband, Stuart, is still living in Russia but is allowed to meet her and their children in Europe. After the disasters she suffered in Double Agent, Kate has resigned from MI6, but she is still a person of interest. Sucked back into the secret world, she finds herself travelling through Europe and Russia in search of the latest mole. She is a typical risk-loving spy: not only does she regularly drink herself into a state of wobbliness and hellish hangover, even when abroad on a dangerous mission, but she also shags a junior officer. At the same time, she is astonishingly trusting, which seems less than convincing for someone in her position. Entertaining enough, this novel does not offer many challenges. Indeed, Bradby tells his readers at one moment, ‘An intelligence officer’s great fear was to be detected and exposed while working undercover.’ Who knew?
A group of high-achieving sixth-formers are waiting for their A-level results when they embark on a drunken prank, which has catastrophic consequences. Twenty years later all but one are succeeding in their chosen professions and doing their best to forget the damage they did in their last year at school. Sharon Bolton has taken the ordinary rites of passage of drunkenness and post-exam irresponsibility and made something sinister and gripping from them. The characters are well created and they change credibly as the narrative develops, with the final twist following the most traditional of all the rules of crime-writing.
The familiar story of missing teenage girls and a psychopathic predator is given much greater depth than usual in Paula McLain’s latest novel, which is set in northern California. Because it is narrated by Anna Hart, one of the investigating officers, rather than from the point of view of victim or villain, it never moves into the adjoining genre of horror or indulges in the kind of prurience some writers use to titillate. Anna returns to the village where she spent the happiest parts of a tough childhood and finds that a fifteen-year-old has disappeared. She joins forces with a childhood friend in the local police force to track down the perpetrator in the hope of saving the teenager’s life. The suffering of such victims, their families and friends and the investigators involved is never diminished in this impressive novel.
The opening of the novel, which sees a woman waking in a strange and empty room to find herself chained to a radiator, could be the start of any serial-killer thriller. It is, however, more interesting than that, dealing with the lives of two married women. Leigh is the second wife of landscape gardener Matt and stepmother to his two sons. Kai’s husband is a rich Dutch banker. We are not initially told which woman is tied to the radiator. On the way to the revelation, Parks offers many perceptive observations on relationships, the compromises they involve and the ways in which the past of each party affects their emotions and behaviour. She sets up various characters as possible suspects, but it’s fairly clear from early in the narrative that only one is likely to be guilty.
The latest instalment of the adventures of Nathan, the British honorary consul in Venice, and Federica, an art historian, sees them marrying at last. On their wedding day, a lawyer who worked with Federica’s late father presents her with his legacy – a house on the island of Pellestrina, where she spent her childhood holidays. Gwynne Jones’s talent for evoking place and atmosphere is as clear as ever in the scenes where Federica introduces Nathan to Pellestrina. The Venetian Legacy deals with serious organised crime in the Veneto region and its treatment of the subject is interesting and alarming, but it has little of the scale or grit that you’d expect in a novel covering such crime.
A young student of journalism at Peterborough University is shot dead at the side of the road one night. The case is investigated by the familiar team of DI Zigic and DS Ferreira. Jordan Radley, the victim, was an earnest, diligent man with high ideals, working for nothing as an intern on the local paper and trying to sell articles elsewhere as well. To make ends meet, he also worked as a waiter and lived at home with his mother. The police work is credibly dogged and the more the detectives discover, the more appealing the dead man seems. At one moment, Ferreira is discussing his ideals with one of her colleagues and says, ‘If you don’t put the truth in front of people, how will they ever know what’s going on in the world? If all people read is stupid magazines … you soon get to a point where companies do whatever the hell they want and governments lie to the electorate.’ This is a serious, unflashy, involving police procedural that has important things to say and does not pretend that all victims are either virtuous or likeable.
Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, tackles what must now be most governments’ worst nightmare: the deliberate generation of a pandemic by bio-terrorists. MI6 sends Luke Carlton to the Arctic to investigate some alarming portents, then to Lithuania, and eventually to Russia, before he comes home to the UK to go undercover inside one possible terrorist group. Packed with authentic detail, Outbreak is both horrifying and entertaining. Luke is a good character and his difficulties with his girlfriend add an enjoyably prosaic note to the high drama of the chase.
At one level this first novel is a charming account of a sacked Kolkata detective working in a family restaurant on London’s Brick Lane. Kamil Rahman is revealed as a likeable man – and good detective – as the narrative switches between past and present. In his role as one of his uncle’s waiters, he attends a lavish sixtieth birthday party at a glitzy north London mansion. When the host is murdered, Rahman cannot resist involving himself in the investigation, much to the irritation of the Met detectives. On another level The Waiter is a study of the two sides of corruption. One side is kindly, concerned with the protection and promotion of intimates; the other is cruel and greedy, involved in the destruction of the innocent, the ruination of the powerless and the overriding of every honest impulse. This novel is an excellent advertisement for the ideal of a completely impartial judicial system.