Ian Rankin continues his always reliable depiction of criminal Edinburgh, full of dodgy business people, corrupt police officers and the better sort, who may well cross a few lines here or there but are driven by a need to see justice done. John Rebus is now retired and his old protégée Siobhan Clarke is a detective inspector, discovering what he has long known: that the job takes everything from you and gives little back. Rebus is reconciled with his daughter and delights in his granddaughter, but that isn’t enough. He still has unfinished business with the villains of the city and is troubled by rumours that he is in the pay of Cafferty, the worst of them all. The novel opens with Rebus in court facing an unspecified charge (which must be serious because he has been kept in prison on remand), before looping back to the long weeks before, which explain how he got there. Rankin offers plain prose with neither lyrical descriptions nor the kind of official jargon and acronyms that bog down many police procedural novels. Rebus’s troubles keeps you reading and Rankin leaves you with an outrageous cliffhanger.
Like Rankin’s Rebus, Harry Bosch – protagonist of Michael Connelly’s successful long-running police procedural series, set in LA – is retired but still helping out his one-time protégée, who is now his boss, and using guile and old identity documents to get access to crime scenes and witnesses. He, too, has unfinished business with a particular villain who has never been brought to justice. As he helps Renée Ballard, now head of a cold-case unit, he also pursues his own quarry. One helpful informant even says ‘Call me Ishmael’ to him and Bosch agrees that the man he’s after is his Moby-Dick. Credible and moving, this novel is full of interesting investigative techniques and a few lucky guesses.
Will Carver demonstrates an extraordinary talent for creating a figure of absolute selfishness and self-absorption and yet making it impossible to stop reading about his resentments, inadequacies and self-loathing. Mike, who has made attempts to kill himself before, has cut his femoral arteries and bled out on his newly sanded and varnished floor. But someone has been replying encouragingly to his plaintive text messages about wanting to end it all, trying to push him over the edge. The obvious candidate is his best friend Eli, the narrator of most of the novel, who hates his job, despises nearly everyone he knows, longs to break up with his beautiful girlfriend and is trying to write novels based on his life. The narrative, which moves backwards and forwards between ‘Three Days Before Suicide Thursday’ and Mike’s funeral and its aftermath, is broken by excerpts from Eli’s various attempts at fiction and by Mike’s text correspondence. This is a masterful account of misery in many different forms.
Colter Shaw, a freelance finder and protector of threatened people, is charged with looking for nuclear scientist Allison Parker and her teenage daughter, Hannah. Allison’s violent and alcoholic husband has been released from prison well before the end of his sentence and she drops everything to get away before he can kill her for putting him there. Their flight is well described and tense, taking them to hunting country and scary forests, where the only humans seem to be the men who are chasing them and a few violent drug dealers. When Shaw catches up with them he proceeds to educate Hannah in the basics of self-protection and survival, quoting many words of wisdom from his own father. Their relationship has charm and the mother-and-daughter struggles convince. The twists in the plot and relationships are unexpected.
Monochrome, the first young-adult novel written by novelist and critic Laura Wilson under the name Jamie Costello, features sixteen-year-old Grace, who suddenly loses the ability to see in colour. Soon the rest of the world catches up with her and everything is perceived in shades of grey. When Grace starts to suffer appalling migraines that give her flashes of red, her mother takes her to the doctor. A specialist refers her to a remote country house, where a research group comprising teenagers with similar symptoms has been formed. Nothing is quite as it seems. Grace and a new friend from the group, Ryan, suspect foul play. The thrills that follow are accompanied by fascinating information on the ability of pollution to cross the blood–brain barrier, and on the machinations of international companies and the ultra-rich. But the highlights of this novel are Grace, Ryan and their families.
Like so many other couples in the last few years, Pete and Jess have sold up in London and moved to a large, run-down house in the country. She is terrified of the isolation, the work they’ll have to do on the house and the effect of it all on the two children. She’s had to give up her job because they can’t afford two sets of train fares as well as the childcare costs, so she is looking after their son and daughter and finding herself cut off from everything that made life worth living in London. Husband and wife suffer a whole range of connubial blisters, but Jess is also tormented by the grim atmosphere of the house, a feeling of being overlooked all the time and local gossip about a child who once died there. The only thing that makes her feel better is her new friend Eve, who runs a small art gallery in nearby Ipswich. The genre being what it is, few readers will doubt that Eve is not all she seems, but the revelations about her past and her intentions are interesting.
A young boy shot in the head by the villains who murdered his parents lies in a coma for nine years before recovering consciousness. He has extraordinary memories not only of his own past but also of things he has heard in hospital during those lost years. The three killers have never been caught and need to get rid of him before he gives the police enough information to identify them. Two other killers are also at work in the same New Zealand town, stretching the abilities of the police to the limit. The detective who first investigated the case, now retired and working in television, joins in at great risk to himself. The complicated, pacey plot is full of ideas and intelligence, as well as characters that work.
The house party from hell has become something of a cliché in contemporary crime fiction, but Sofia Slater brings a welcome freshness to the theme in this charmingly written first novel. Millie, a knowledgeable birdwatcher, is invited to a mysterious New Year’s Eve party on a remote Scottish island by Nick, a colleague for whom she has carried a torch for some time. Arriving in horrible weather after a grim journey with three fellow travellers, she discovers none of the warmth, colour and fun she had been expecting when she reaches the guest house, a dilapidated mansion, where she will be staying. Instead, the hostess complains that neither the expected staff nor some of the guests have arrived. Millie is disappointed not to see Nick and disconcerted to be faced with Penny, a quite different colleague, with whom she was once friends but has since fallen out. While Millie’s relationship with one of the other, equally puzzled, guests develops, corpses gradually accumulate. The denouement is neat and sad enough to excuse the improbability of the whole setup.