The First 48 Hours by Simon Kernick; The Wolf by Samuel Bjørk (Translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund); A Quiet Contagion by Jane Jesmond; The Square by Celia Walden; Deep Dark Blue by Seraina Kobler; The Watchmaker’s Hand by Jeffery Deaver; The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok; Gaslight by Femi Kayode; The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith - review by Natasha Cooper

Natasha Cooper

November 2023 Crime Round-up

  • Simon Kernick, 
  • Samuel Bjørk (Translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund), 
  • Jane Jesmond, 
  • Celia Walden, 
  • Seraina Kobler, 
  • Jeffery Deaver, 
  • Jean Kwok, 
  • Femi Kayode, 
  • Robert Galbraith
 

The First 48 Hours

By Simon Kernick

Headline 400pp £20

Simon Kernick is a master of the neat, fast-moving thriller that won’t trouble anyone’s emotions, in spite of the dramatic and sometimes brutal activities of his characters. Here a group of kidnappers known as the Vanishers nab the adolescent children of well-off people, who are instructed to pay half a million quid in cryptocurrency and say nothing to the police. Their offspring are returned unharmed (apart from the trauma of being kept in a padded cell until the ransom is paid), until one couple unwisely talk to the cops. It turns out that the people behind the Vanishers are involved in far more complicated crimes than extortion. Entertaining and readable, this novel would be an excellent holiday read.

The Wolf

By Samuel Bjørk (Translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund)

Bantam 432pp £18.99

Samuel Bjørk, the pseudonym of Frode Sander Oien, has written a serial-killer novel that has, unusually, no scenes of brutality centred on the victims. Instead, the emphasis is on the intriguing police investigation, carried out under the leadership of big, bearded Holger Munch. He has enlisted the help of a young trainee police officer, Mia, who has a special talent for studying photographs and spotting clues that have eluded everyone else. A bit of a misfit, though endowed with great charm, Mia is an excellent profiler but also has a sad private life: her sister, Sigrid, has disappeared into an underworld ruled by heroin and must be found and rescued. One of the killer’s potential victims is a young boy battling all the difficulties of life as the son of a single mother, hiding his embarrassment and distress at the way she behaves whenever a possible suitor shows interest in her. This is a neatly constructed, interesting and moving novel that tackles real issues.

A Quiet Contagion

By Jane Jesmond

Verve 320pp £9.99

An elderly man who has suffered from polio since childhood throws himself under a train in this serious and well-researched novel. His daughter, Phenie, and the man’s second wife bury their differences and join forces to find out why, with the help of a local journalist who saw him jump. The novel is set partly in the 1950s and partly in 2017, moving back and forth between the old man’s family and the people who worked with him at a pharmaceutical firm when he was in his teens. As Phenie and her stepmother travel between Coventry and the Lake District in search of clues, loyalties are stretched and motives prove to be a mixture of the benign and the brutal.

The Square

By Celia Walden

Sphere 320pp £20

In Celia Walden’s second thriller, Colette is a freelance IT consultant summoned by the well-off inhabitants of Addison Square whenever their computers crash or they need her to set up a new phone or television. Colette knows who is unhappily married and who hides the bruises of spousal abuse. She also knows who is the most hated resident: a French dancer and would-be influencer, who is renting a flat in the square and infuriating her nearest neighbours with thunderously loud music. We know from the start that she dies, and nearly all the characters are feasible candidates for her murderer. As relationships wax and wane and Colette examines everyone’s browsing histories, revelations come thick and fast. Few of the characters are remotely appealing but the need to see justice done overtakes their dislikeability.

Deep Dark Blue

By Seraina Kobler

Pushkin Vertigo 256pp £14.99

Set in the beautiful city of Zurich and full of glorious descriptions of well-cooked and thoughtfully presented food, Deep Dark Blue deals with the subject of genetic manipulation. Maritime police officer Rosa Zambrano is having her eggs frozen because she doesn’t want to miss the chance of having a child at some point in the future. Soon after the procedure, the body of her doctor is fished up from the lake and she is sent to join the team investigating his death. He was in the process of a nasty divorce, his mistress is hard to find and he is known to have frequented a brothel, which leaves plenty of suspects. Rosa’s work mingles with her private preoccupations and she learns more about her own family as she uncovers what was really going on in Dr Jansen’s world. Quietly shocking and full of intriguing information, this novel shows how much more there is to Zurich than secretive bankers.

The Watchmaker’s Hand

By Jeffery Deaver

HarperCollins 464pp £22

Lincoln Rhyme, the paralysed detective familiar from many of Jeffery Deaver’s novels, becomes involved in a battle of wits and wills with a man determined to kill him. Full of fascinating information on subjects as different as horology, chemistry, philology and ornithology, as well as the management of building sites, the story is efficiently constructed, enabling readers to join Rhyme in his efforts to understand what is going on. His wife, Amelia Sachs, an expert crime-scene analyst, not only does the legwork that he’s incapable of but also provides some emotional warmth in her interactions with other characters. And an absolutely heroic crane driver lifts the spirits.

The Leftover Woman

By Jean Kwok

Viper 288pp £14.99

This is a story of two women. Jasmine is twice a victim of China’s now-abandoned one-child policy. Taken in by her grandmother as a baby and resented by her ‘parents’, who had to pretend she was the twin of their beloved son, she had a hellish upbringing. Married off at fourteen to a man working in government, she gave birth to a daughter she was told did not survive. Now, having fled her brutal husband, she is working in New York as an illegal immigrant and hiding both her beauty and her extraordinary artistic talent. The other woman is Rebecca, a rich New York publisher, wife of multilingual Brandon and adoptive mother of Fiona, a Chinese child. The tough realities of life as an immigrant are well described. As the fates of the two women intertwine, secrets are blown open and violence disfigures their lives, all the characters discover the need for authenticity.

Gaslight

By Femi Kayode

Raven 400pp £16.99

Dr Philip Taiwo, the psychologist introduced in Femi Kayode’s first novel, Lightseekers, moved his family from San Francisco to Lagos after experiencing shocking racism. But Nigeria (described by one of the characters as the most corrupt country on earth) turns out not to be the ‘home’ they hoped it would be. Philip’s wife is a professor of law; their two teenage sons are finding ways to fit in, but their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lara, discovers that discrimination and bullying are not confined to the West. Philip, who worked with the San Francisco police, is introduced by his sister to the elders of her Pentecostal church. Its bishop has been arrested for the murder of his wife and the elders hope Philip can clear his name. Philip is accustomed to more evidence-based investigative work than he faces here, but he buckles down, in spite of his dislike of religion and of the super-rich, super-powerful, beautifully dressed, private-plane-using bishop. The investigation that follows is horrifying, frightening and ultimately successful, revealing not only outrageous corruption and revolting violence but also brutal misogyny.

The Running Grave

By Robert Galbraith

Sphere 960pp £25

J K Rowling, who writes her Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott crime novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, has always excelled at producing stories of mistreated and unhappy people triumphing over their tormentors. This time she sets the story within a cult, whose leading members prey on the unhappy, the impressionable and the weak. They want their victims to have unfettered access to money and they like to have large numbers of attractive young (often very young) women on hand for their sexual pleasure. Their activities are cloaked in the kind of pseudo-religious mishmash that is typically found in such organisations. Strike and Robin become involved when the parents of an autistic young man employ them to free him from the cult. The heroic Robin volunteers to go undercover as a neophyte and the account of her travails is brilliantly effective. Galbraith’s narrative skills are stretched across the enormous length of this novel and her decision to render much of the dialogue phonetically not only interrupts the flow but also adds an unattractive air of contempt to her portrayal of both upper- and lower-middle-class characters. But her loathing of the manipulation of the vulnerable and of the self-indulgent, self-deluding nature of cult leaders is entirely understandable.

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