Set in a large but dilapidated country house in the early 1960s, this is a novel about vanity, selfishness and exploitation and the damage they do. Izzy has been withdrawn from school at the age of thirteen to look after her ailing mother and her two younger siblings. She cleans, washes and cooks, and is always the target of her resentful mother’s urge to humiliate and hurt. Her father is a handyman and an ineffectual inventor who has moved from job to job and place to place. Izzy gets a little comfort from the house’s gardener and from her gradual discovery of the flora and fauna of the area. Like many unhappy children, she has an imaginary friend. Unlike most such figures, he is drawn from English folklore and takes the form of a green man. When she asks him for advice on how to improve her life – how to persuade her few hens to lay eggs and so save them from her mother’s determination to eat them; how to cure her mother’s weak heart – the green man makes deals with her. In return for his advice, he makes difficult or dangerous demands. When violence comes it makes perfect sense and is horrifying. This book, the first in a proposed series set in an invented version of Northumberland, is beautifully written and heart-breaking.
Detective Sergeant Georgios Manolis (who starred in Peter Papathanasiou’s impressive first crime novel, The Stoning) has gone on leave after one of his cases in Australia went awry, leaving an innocent man dead. Manolis has come to a remote corner of northern Greece, close to the borders with Albania and North Macedonia, whence his family emigrated to Australia. He still has friends in Greece and wants to find his aunt, who was sent back there in disgrace years ago. She is not the only person who has disappeared. Manolis’s old friend Lefty hasn’t been seen for weeks. He is the ‘invisible’ of the title, someone who lives without papers or bank account, moving across borders and between the legal and illegal worlds, leaving barely a trace. As Manolis searches for him, he learns about his family’s history. Some of what he discovers is moving but much of it is disturbing. He gradually constructs a portrait of a community rooted in patriarchy, where money is short and state support non-existent, so that family and reputation are all that stand between individuals and destitution. Occasionally, Papathanasiou adds an unnecessary gloss to a thought or a piece of dialogue, but this story of a difficult investigation is an unusual and interesting contribution to the genre.
The Thirty-One Doors is a novel for those who miss the Golden Age crossword-puzzle-type crime fiction that never troubles the reader’s emotions. Set in a peculiar house party in an isolated country pile staffed by only three servants, the story begins with a panicked call from a terrified woman begging the police for help. The only officer available is Detective Sergeant Frank Glover, who sets off on a nightmarish journey through snow, ice and slippery rocks and up the house’s private funicular railway. All he finds at the top are the three servants, a dining room empty of guests and a huge pool of blood. He gradually comes across a string of bodies and a plethora of unpleasant people, who all have reasons to do away with some or all of the others. The plot is neat but there are too few engaging characters to set the pulse racing.
Fifteen years ago, Susie had a daughter, Sky, whom she gave up for adoption. Now, married to Gabe, whose only child died before he and his first wife divorced, Susie longs to conceive again, but she keeps miscarrying. Into their successful lives comes Susie’s daughter, who hates her adoptive parents, one of whom she refers to as ‘the monster’. Susie and Gabe hope to make life perfect for her. But nothing is as simple as they hope and they are soon facing the consequences of things they have both done in the past. J P Delaney has written a well-researched and sensitive account of the most painful kind of parenthood.
Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of Denmark’s bestselling crime writers. Here he pits the officers of Department Q, the cold-case squad, against a group of killers who believe themselves to be God’s angels of vengeance, cleansing Denmark of those who pollute society. Rip-off merchants, a corrupt and concupiscent politician, a producer of revolting and downmarket reality television and many others come to their attention. The plot turns into a race between them and the appealing officers of Department Q, who are searching cold cases for links to what is happening now in order to identify the killers and find the place where they keep their intended victims until the appointed hour of death. At the same time, the lead investigator, Carl Mørck, comes under suspicion of committing a quite different crime and must either evade his pursuers or defeat them if he is to track down the killers and save two lives. The righteous anger of the angels of vengeance as they inveigh against crimes that would make anyone furious at first makes them relatively likeable, but as their full characters are revealed all sympathy shifts to the investigators.
Henri Koskinen is an actuary and now the owner of his late brother’s amusement park in Finland, which he is trying to make into a profitable proposition. Complicating his ordered and rule-bound life are his feelings for Laura, an artist working at the park. As he struggles with these, forces are lining up to make his life more or less impossible. Between the machinations of organised criminals and an astute police officer who may be about to uncover his secrets, Henri walks a dangerous tightrope, seeking to save his life, the park and his relationship. A flavour of his delightful character is provided by his proposal to his beloved, which is couched in terms of a long-term financial investment. Charming, funny and clever, this is a novel to cheer up anyone who is finding life a little tough.
Penguin are republishing three of Josephine Tey’s crime novels. The most elegant and interesting of the Golden Age crime writers, Tey does not always include a murder in her novels and often looks to the past for inspiration. Probably her most famous novel is The Daughter of Time (224pp £9.99), in which a bedbound Inspector Alan Grant examines the surviving evidence relating to the murders of the Princes in the Towers to determine whether or not their uncle, Richard III, ordered the killings. In The Franchise Affair (352pp £9.99), she is inspired by the 18th-century case of Elizabeth Canning, who claimed she was kidnapped and held prisoner for a month. Tey’s version of the story features a postwar schoolgirl, once an evacuee, who tells police she was kidnapped by a mother and daughter, who forced her to work for them in their isolated house, beaten and starved. To Love and Be Wise (272pp £9.99) is a revenge novel of great ingenuity. All three feature Alan Grant, whose particular interest is reading character in people’s faces and whose greatest dislike is vanity.
A welcome dose of reality comes with Rebecca Myers’s disturbing non-fiction account of her time as a psychology graduate working in a maximum-security prison she refers to as ‘Graymoor’, treating sex offenders under the now-abandoned Sex Offender Treatment Programme, which was launched in 1992. The men in her group have done atrocious things and the aim of the programme is to help them understand the effects of their crimes on their victims and their families. The danger of this approach becomes clear when one offender is tied up, to his obvious terror, during a role-play exercise. Myers explains that the programme does nothing to explore the reasons why the offenders committed their crimes and it is only by chance that she uncovers the terrible experiences this man endured during his childhood. This book is essential reading for crime writers interested in any kind of realism. As Myers writes, ‘Real-life serial killers are far less exciting and much more stubborn and smelly than those portrayed in the films.’