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Archive by tag: Laura WilsonReturn
Jun 24, 2022

Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles; Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto; Wake by Shelley Burr; Sun Damage by Sabine Durrant; Aurora by David Koepp

Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99)
The first in a projected series from the pop star turned vicar and memoirist, Murder Before Evensong is set in the late 1980s in the English village of Champton. This enjoyable cosy crime novel contains all the requisites: a social hierarchy ranging from aristocrats to semi-feral woodland dwellers; lashings of afternoon tea and parish intrigue; charming pets; and a body in the church. There’s plenty of fascinating liturgical business, although clergyman sleuth Canon Daniel Clement, a mildly exasperated but accommodating type with little hinterland, does not, as yet, make much of an impression. We initially encounter him using a biblical text to persuade his congregation of the necessity of installing a toilet at the back of the church. This becomes the focus of a debate about the perils of upending the status quo and leads to a series of fatal events. The appropriately named DS Vanloo duly investigates, but the revelatory manner of the ending is religiously apt rather than convincing.

Tokyo Express by Seichō Matsumoto, translated by Jesse Kirkwood (Penguin Classics, £12.99)
The railway mystery is another staple of golden age crime fiction, and this tale of timetables was the debut novel of bestselling writer Seichō Matsumoto (1909-1992). First published in Japan in 1958 and never out of print, it’s being reissued in the UK in a new translation. When ministry official Kenichi Sayama and waitress Toki Kuwayama are found dead in a cove on the island of Kyushu, next to a bottle that appears to have held cyanide-laced juice, it is chalked up as a lovers’ suicide pact. However, neither local detective Jūtarō Torigai nor his Tokyo-based colleague Kiichi Mihara buy this explanation: the pair were witnessed boarding the train from the capital the day before their bodies are discovered and anomalies keep piling up, and the ministry where Sayama worked is mired in a corruption scandal. No revelations here, but intuition coupled with dogged detective work and a palpable sense of frustration, as the two men go back and forth along the line – maps and diagrams provide clarification – trying to solve the mystery in this ingeniously plotted story.

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May 20, 2022

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin; Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister; Oxblood by Tom Benn; The Island by Adrian McKinty; and Dear Little Corpses by Nicola Upson

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin (Hutchinson Heinemann, £16.99)
This compelling cautionary tale is set in an alternative present when it’s possible to have painful memories removed. Patients at the Nepenthe Clinic may choose to be either “self-informed”, remaining aware that they have had a portion of their past erased, or “self-confidential”, having the knowledge of erasure excised along with the memory. However, not only does this willed diminution of the self fail to bring with it the bliss of ignorance but, after the procedure has been shown to be faulty, Nepenthe is compelled to offer restoration to all clients, including those with no memory of having received treatment in the first place. Interconnecting narratives by multiple characters, including former and prospective Nepenthe patients and Noor, a psychologist from the clinic who comes to suspect that her boss is up to no good, weave into an intelligent ensemble piece that raises fascinating questions about how we use memory both to create and dismantle ourselves, and the ultimate mystery of who, or possibly what, “myself” actually is.

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (Michael Joseph, £14.99)
Another ingeniously plotted genre-bender – one in which time travels backwards. Set in Crosby, Merseyside, the action begins with conscientious divorce lawyer Jen Brotherhood witnessing her 18-year-old son, Todd, fatally stab a stranger in front of the family home for no apparent reason. The boy tells her and his father that “there was no choice”, and, when taken to the police station, refuses a solicitor. The following morning, Jen’s first thought on waking is to help her son, who is being held in custody – then she realises that it is not the day after but the day before, and the murder has not yet taken place. Each day she regresses, initially by only 24 hours but then to points in her life that have significance for what is to come, and she must search the past for the means to prevent the future crime from happening. It’s easy for characters to become ciphers in books that require this much fancy footwork for the internal logic to remain intact, but McAllister succeeds in making us care, and the result is a tour de force.

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Apr 15, 2022

City on Fire by Don Winslow; A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon; Say Her Name by Dreda Say Mitchell and Ryan Carter; Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare; and Three Assassins by Kotaro Isaka

City on Fire by Don Winslow (HarperCollins, £20)
This first book in a projected trilogy about warring mobster families is set in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1986. The Italians and the Irish have carved up the city, existing in relative harmony while controlling the trucking industry and the docks. The author makes overt comparisons with the Iliad, and modern-day Helen of Troy Pam provides a convenient excuse for a bunch of men trapped in a cycle of violence to embark on a disastrous feud, although this time it’s due to a drunken grope rather than divine intervention. In the middle of it all is docker Danny Ryan, his dreams of escape stymied by his family connection to the Murphy clan, for whom he occasionally works; Danny now finds himself embroiled in the conflict. Winslow’s previous “Cartel” trilogy is an astonishing achievement that will be hard to beat, but on the strength of this immersive and humane tale of fate, free will, loyalty and betrayal, his new series will rank alongside it.

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Mar 18, 2022

Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson; Reputation by Sarah Vaughan; Lady Joker by Kaoru Takamura; Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson; Hot Water by Christopher Fowler

Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson (Century, £20)
After working his way through a small army of co-authors, including Bill Clinton, James Patterson’s latest collaborator is none other than Dolly Parton, who draws on a lifetime’s experience of the country music scene for this distinctive rags-to-riches thriller. When tiny but determined wannabe singer-songwriter AnnieLee Keyes hitchhikes into Nashville (dirt roads, ol’ blue jeans and trucks abound), she’s not only seeking stardom but hoping to outrun her (fairly easily guessable) past. Befriended by Ethan Blake, a handsome army veteran turned musician, and Ruthanna Ryder, retired country legend and, one suspects, Parton’s mouthpiece, AnnieLee learns how to deal with predatory agents and managers and begins to climb the ladder to stardom. Although the mystery runs a distant second to the fascinating details of the country scene, in particular how it treats female artists, the likable trio will have you rooting for them all the way – and Parton has released an album of songs to accompany the book.

Reputation by Sarah Vaughan (Simon & Schuster, £14.99)
Vaughan’s timely and chilling new novel highlights how female politicians are not only judged more harshly than their male counterparts, but also receive vastly disproportionate amounts of online abuse. High-profile MP Emma Webster, who has launched a campaign to protect women from revenge porn, is the recipient of rage-fuelled messages from anonymous internet trolls as well as threats from an angry constituent who thinks she’s not doing enough to address his – equally legitimate – grievance. It isn’t only her own life that becomes more perilous as her star rises; her 14-year-old daughter, Flora, is being bullied and ostracised by her schoolmates. Flora is driven to retaliate with some cyberbullying of her own, the narrative threatens to get out of hand – and Emma finds herself on trial for murder. Vaughan never shies away from the moral complexities in this unsparing exploration of the pressures women face both in private and public life, while masterfully retaining the suspense right up to the last page.

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Feb 18, 2022

The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide; Even the Darkest Night by Javier Cercas; Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka; The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville; Whatever Gets You Through the Night by Charlie Higson

The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99)
Joe Ide’s first series featured the Sherlock Holmes-like Isaiah Quintabe. Now comes a contemporary reimagining of Raymond Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe. Ide’s creation shares a name, a job description and a location with his literary progenitor, but has a deal more backstory – including a failed police career and a complicated relationship with his LAPD veteran father – and a deal less alcohol (although Dad makes up for that). When obnoxious film star Kendra Jones hires him, he assumes it’s to solve the murder of her director husband, shot dead some weeks earlier on the beach in Malibu, but she wants him to find and return her 17-year-old stepdaughter. Cody, who believes that Kendra had her father killed, refuses to come home; the truth, of course, is far less straightforward and a lot more dangerous. To complicate matters further, Marlowe falls for a desperate mother whose young son has been kidnapped by his father … The shift away from Chandler’s tight first-person focus risks diluting the whole, but The Goodbye Coast is a terrific read – pacy, with tension, pathos, wonderful descriptions of LA and some lovely one-liners.

Even the Darkest Night by Javier Cercas, translated by Anne McLean (MacLehose, £16.99)
Award-winning Spanish author Cercas turns his hand to crime fiction in a mystery with its roots in the civil war. Even the Darkest Night is the first in what promises to be an excellent series, featuring Melchor Marín, a criminal who, inspired by a desire to discover who killed his mother, joins the police force by dint of hard graft and doctored paperwork. To escape the glare of publicity after foiling a terrorist attack in Barcelona, he is relocated to the Catalan backwater of Terra Alta where, four years later, the police department finds itself in the media spotlight after a local businessman and his wife are tortured to death. Sections alternate between past and present – the backstory here does a lot of heavy lifting – as Marín, thwarted in his attempts to solve the case, redoubles his efforts with tragic consequences. History casts a long shadow over this tale of political and personal loyalties and the various means by which justice – of a kind – may be achieved.

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Jan 14, 2022

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett; The Second Cut by Louise Welsh; The Maid by Nita Prose; Wahala by Nikki May and Real Easy by Marie Rutkoski

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett (Viper, £14.99)
Hallett’s bestselling debut The Appeal, an intelligent mystery set within the deceptively genteel confines of a local am-dram group, was a modern epistolary novel, told in emails. Her second is even better, and presented as audio files, complete with intriguing mistakes made by the transcription software. Recorded on an iPhone by ex-con Steven Smith for his probation officer, they are records of his attempts to find his old English teacher, who disappeared on a school trip to Bournemouth, erstwhile home of Blytonesque children’s writer Edith Twyford. Twyford’s books are catnip to conspiracy theorists; they’re thought to contain a code that may have something to do with their author’s activities during the second world war. Steven, with help from his former classmates and a librarian, sets out to crack it – and, in the process, solve the puzzle of his own life. This fiendishly clever book, which manages to be both tricksy and surprisingly moving, is the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas carb stupor.

The Second Cut by Louise Welsh (Canongate, £14.99)
Twenty years after Welsh’s award-winning debut The Cutting Room comes the return of gay auctioneer Rilke, now middle aged but still tiptoeing around the edges of Glasgow’s criminal underworld. When old friend Jojo is found dead after giving Rilke a tip-off about a lucrative house clearance in Galloway, the police are inclined to write it off as the result of a decadent lifestyle – Jojo had a fondness for Grindr hook-ups and chemsex parties – but Rilke decides to investigate. The house clearance isn’t quite what it seems, either. There’s the abandoned car in which two people died, the terrified Asian man who may be on the run from people traffickers, the terrier found locked in a chest – and what’s happened to the elderly lady who owned the place? Complex and very atmospheric, with plenty of sardonic humour and sharp observations about injustice, like its predecessor this is a hardboiled gem.

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Jul 23, 2021

Widespread Panic by James Ellroy; People Like Them by Samira Sedira; Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby; The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell; and Whitethroat by James Henry

King of macho noir James Ellroy has taken time out midway through his second LA Quartet for a standalone novel, Widespread Panic (William Heinemann, £20). Star of the show is Fred Otash, a real-life police officer turned PI and collector of celebrity scuttlebutt for Confidential magazine, who died of a coronory in 1992. Using pile-driving alliteration – Old English epic meets 50s scandal rag – Otash recounts from purgatory his life in postwar Hollywood when, fuelled by a potent cocktail of Dexedrine and Old Crow bourbon, he dug and (for a suitable fee) sometimes reburied dirt on the real-life stars of the day. He also embroiled himself in their lives, arguably breaking his own rules (“I’ll do anything short of murder. I’ll work for anyone but the Reds”) in the process. The various plot strands include arranging Rock Hudson’s marriage blanc, protecting Jack Kennedy’s political career and turning police informer, but these are only a few landmarks in a sleazy landscape of dirty laundry, some already well aired, some less known and some invented. Cynical, relentless, and – to Ellroy fans, at least – familiar territory, but well worth the read.

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May 21, 2021

Sixteen Horses by Greg Buchanan; One Half Truth by Eva Dolan; The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury; Love and Theft by Stan Parish; and Silenced by Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Greg Buchanan’s first novel, Sixteen Horses (Mantle, £16.99), is utterly gripping, exquisitely written and existentially depressing as only a drizzly afternoon in a dying English seaside town can be. It begins with the discovery of severed horses’ heads, each one buried on farmland with a single open eye left uncovered. Ilmarsh is a place starved of funds since the demise of the local industries of oil and fish; loss and disappointment hang heavy as the remaining inhabitants, with no future and no hope, become desperate. When Sgt Alec Nichols and forensic vet Dr Cooper Allen join forces to investigate what has happened to the unfortunate beasts, further crimes – disappearances, arson, mutilations – bring long-buried secrets and guilt to light, along with the discovery of a deadly pathogen in the soil, resulting in quarantine. Haunting and very dark, this is certainly worth the read – with the caveat that there are distressing scenes involving animal abuse.

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Apr 16, 2021

The Khan by Saima Mir; Tall Bones by Anna Bailey; Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner; The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn; and Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka

Set in an unnamed city in northern England, journalist Saima Mir’s debut novel, The Khan (Point Blank, £14.99), is a south Asian reworking of The Godfather. Successful lawyer Jia returns to the childhood home she fled as a young woman and takes over the family’s organised crime business when her father, Akbar Khan, is murdered. Jia’s life is one of permanent cognitive dissonance: a second-generation British Pakistani, she knows that she must be not only “twice as good as men” but “four times as good as white men” in order to combat misogyny and racism. She must also negotiate clashing cultural expectations of how a woman should behave, the contradictions inherent in faith and criminal activity, and generational conflict as the old order gives way to the new. As if all this were not enough, the delicate balance of power in the city is threatened when a more recent set of immigrants, this time from eastern Europe, tries to muscle in. Mir offers us a fascinating glimpse into a world rarely portrayed in fiction, as Jia’s opponents, both inside and outside the family, start to learn that they underestimate her at their peril.

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Mar 19, 2021

The House Uptown by Melissa Ginsburg; My Brother by Karin Smirnoff; Dangerous Women by Hope Adams; A Fine Madness by Alan Judd; Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge; and A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

The titular dwelling in Melissa Ginsburg’s second novel, The House Uptown (Faber, £12.99), is the New Orleans home of boho artist Lane. Her slow drift into dementia on skeins of marijuana smoke is interrupted by the arrival of her granddaughter Ava, whose mother, Lane’s daughter Louise, has just died. The resourceful 14-year-old soon begins to wonder not only about the cause of the long estrangement between her mother and grandmother, but also about the behaviour of Lane’s assistant, the apparently loyal Oliver. Told as a time-slip – the roots of the alienation date back to 1997, when teenage Louise witnesses the 2.30am arrival of Lane’s local politician lover, blood-covered teenage son in tow – this is a superbly written, intriguing character study of how the past impacts on the present.

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Feb 19, 2021

Slough House by Mick Herron; Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson; The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper; Black Widows by Cate Quinn; Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

Mick Herron’s acclaimed spy-cum-political-satire series now stands at seven novels; the latest, Slough House (John Murray, £14.99), is named after the dilapidated building to which failed spies are consigned. Condemned to boring and thankless tasks under the sardonic auspices of the repulsive and increasingly cartoonish Jackson Lamb, in this instalment the “slow horses” are alarmed to discover that not only have their details been wiped from the spooks database, several of their number have met their deaths in ways that may not be as accidental as they appear. Meanwhile, at the Regent’s Park HQ, chief Diana Taverner has been frustrated by the government’s gutless response to the novichok poisoning of a British subject. So she has made a bargain with the manipulative and – with his fluffy hair and archaic expostulations – strangely familiar Peter Judd, a former home secretary turned PR man. As the slow horses wonder whether they are being targeted, Taverner realises quite how long a spoon is needed by those who would sup with the devil … Set against a background of “You Know What” (Brexit, like Lord Voldemort, is not to be named) and yellow vest protests, Herron’s formula of misdirection and multiple viewpoints still works like a charm.

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Jan 22, 2021

Exit by Belinda Bauer; The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean; Girl A by Abigail Dean; The Survivors by Jane Harper; People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd; One Night, New York by Lara Thompson

Belinda Bauer’s Snap was longlisted for the Booker prize; in her follow-up, Exit (Bantam, £14.99), Felix Pink is a courteous elderly widower who facilitates the suicides of the terminally ill. When an assignment goes awry, Felix, now a murder suspect, tries to find out whether he is at fault or whether something more sinister has been going on. Meanwhile PC Calvin Bridge, relieved to have given up being a detective for the easier work of small-town policing, is dragooned by his boss into finding some answers. The process proves gainful – a new lease of life for Felix, confidence for Calvin, and the possibility of romance for both – and this intriguing, tender, funny and sometimes (in the best possible way) farcical novel about life and death is a sheer delight.

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Dec 11, 2020

The System by Ryan Gattis; The Spiral by Iain Ryan; The Last Resort by Susi Holliday; The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji; and Crocodile Tears by Mercedes Rosende

South Central Los Angeles, 1993: drug dealer Scrappy is shot and left for dead on her mother’s lawn. Addict Augie witnesses the shooting and, after applying some lifesaving first aid, takes the opportunity to steal both her stash and the gun, which has been left at the scene. When his parole officer discovers the items, Augie names two local gang members as the culprits in exchange for his continuing freedom. Wizard is guilty and Dreamer is innocent – of this crime, at least – but this becomes hard to prove when the gun turns up in his room … The title of award-winning novelist Ryan Gattis’s latest book, The System (Picador, £16.99), refers to the apparatus of American criminal justice from street to courtroom, seen here through the eyes of everyone involved, be they perpetrator, victim, family member or law-enforcement professional, in first person monologues. Everyone has their own agenda – and the scales are weighted. As one cop tells Dreamer: “The system is the system. It always gobbles up the ones with the lowest distance to fall.” Pacy, immersive and vivid, with strong characterisation and no punches pulled, this is an utterly riveting read.

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Nov 20, 2020

The Searcher by Tana French; These Women by Ivy Pochoda; The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve; The Package by Sebastian Fitzek; One By One by Ruth Ware

Author of the Dublin Murder Squad series Tana French has described her second standalone, The Searcher (Viking, £14.99), as her take on a western, and the lone stranger who rides into town to right wrongs and generally disrupt the place is a classic Frontier-era theme. American Cal Hooper, formerly of the Chicago PD, has bought himself a fixer-upper in a remote village in the west of Ireland with the intention of settling down to a quiet life. His days are largely taken up with renovations, trying to understand the local customs and responding cautiously to inquiries about his marital status, when a scruffy local kid who has taken to hanging around his property asks for help in finding a vanished older sibling. Divorced, and missing his now grown-up daughter, Cal finds himself drawn to Trey and gets involved even though, without the necessary authority and tools of the trade, he is out on a limb. The local police don’t regard 19-year-old Brendan’s disappearance as suspicious, and the villagers are tight-lipped on the subject … The pace of Cal’s investigation takes a while to pick up, and most of the action is in the final third of the book, but as well as containing strong characters, beautiful descriptions and some genuinely eerie moments, The Searcher poses uncomfortable questions about morality, retribution and masculinity.

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Oct 23, 2020

Snow by John Banville; Box 88 by Charles Cumming; Three-Fifths by John Vercher; When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole; The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett

Booker-winning novelist John Banville has ditched nom de crime Benjamin Black for his latest whodunnit, Snow (Faber, £14.99), and replaced his series character, the pathologist Quirke, with detective St John Strafford. The temporal and geographic location remains the same – Ireland in the 1950s – with a touch of Agatha Christie as a body is discovered in the library of a Protestant Wexford landowner. Father Tom Lawless has been stabbed and castrated. By the time the detective arrives, the scene has been tidied up by the housekeeper, Mrs Duffy, who has “the look of a character actor”; also deliberately drawn from central casting are her employer Colonel Osborne, his considerably younger and heavily medicated second wife, his wayward teenage daughter and hostile medical student son, the stable boy, the doctor, the neighbour and the staff at the local inn. Nobody is telling the truth and the snow that prevented the priest from returning home after dinner blankets the landscape, hiding secrets and muffling sound, much like the chilly, authoritarian hand of the all-powerful Catholic church, which – in the person of the Archbishop of Dublin – insists that the death is reported as an accident. It isn’t, of course, and the stable lad’s description of the deceased as “friendly” soon shows us where this story is going … Short on surprises, then, but with plenty of atmosphere and an appealing new investigator.

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Aug 22, 2020

Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby; The Boy’s Club by Erica Katz; True Story by Kate Reed Petty; The Silence by Susan Allott; Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald

A superb character study wrapped up in a high-octane heist novel, SA Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland (Headline, £16.99) is the story of Beauregard “Bug” Montage, a black Virginian with a criminal past as a getaway driver. Now he’s trying to stay on the right side of the law for the sake of his family, despite a failing business and ever-increasing debts. Bug is reluctant to sell the car left to him by father Anthony, another wheelman, who disappeared leaving his son to do time for a crime committed on his behalf. Instead, he consents to help a former associate rob a jeweller’s shop, even though the plan is dodgy in every sense. Things go predictably wrong, Bug’s family end up in danger, and it looks as if history will repeat itself … A complex and moving take on racial tension and self-destructive masculinity, with blistering action sequences and car chases that fairly roar off the page, this is undoubtedly one of the summer’s stand-out reads.

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Jul 17, 2020

Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg; The Divine Boys by Laura Restrepo; The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare; Brixton Hill by Lottie Moggach; One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

Not a linear plot but a series of vignettes, Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg (Raven, £12.99) is a superbly unsettling account of the aftermath of a murder told in 12 different voices, the last being the victim herself. In 1997, 21-year-old college student Sara Morgan was killed by her schizophrenic boyfriend Blake Campbell, her body left in woods in New York state. Acquitted after pleading temporary insanity, Blake went on to marry and raise a family. Sara was reduced to “just a name on a plaque in a community garden”, but her murder affected the lives of all those it touched, from the troubled housewife who discovered her body to the half-sister who was only two when she died. Reactions vary from grief and bafflement to voyeurism and obsession, with a subplot about a serial killer giving wider context to how society deals with violence against women. If you’re after a whodunnit, there’s nothing to see, but for a perceptive and moving account of people trying to process a senseless act, look no further.

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Jun 19, 2020

The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman; Seven Years of Darkness by You-jeong Jeong; The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish; The Devil You Know by Emma Kavanagh; Die for Me by Luke Jennings

Anyone who feels that their summer will not be complete without a beach holiday might do well to read The House on Fripp Island (Serpent’s Tail, £12.99) by Rebecca Kauffman. An all-expenses-paid break in a beachfront house in South Carolina turns into an emotional maelstrom for all concerned when the wealthy Dalys, who have won the holiday in a raffle, invite their less affluent friends Poppy and John Ford to share their good fortune. Deep currents of unease involving old friends grown apart, buried secrets and the two families’ lack of social and financial parity begin to surface as Kauffman slowly but expertly ratchets up the distrust, confusion and tension. Rae Daly, a 14-year-old who is all hormones and fantasies, fixes on 17-year-old Ryan Ford, who is hiding a secret of his own. Lisa Daly suspects that her husband, Scott, is having an affair, and she and Poppy discover there is a registered sex offender living nearby. This is subtly suspenseful, unsettling stuff, the characters drawn with such vivid precision that they fairly jump off the page.

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Apr 24, 2020

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor; Bent by Joe Thomas; Wild Dog by Serge Joncour; The Dead Line by Holly Watt; and Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

The Last Protector (HarperCollins, £14.99) is the fourth novel in Andrew Taylor’s outstanding 17th-century series featuring government agent James Marwood and his friend and sparring partner Cat Lovett. The year is 1668: Charles II is on the throne and Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, is supposedly in exile. However, in the eight years since the Restoration the king’s popularity has begun to wane and, amid growing unease about both his extravagance and the licentiousness of his court, nostalgia for the protectorate is taking hold. Lovett is more irritated than diverted when Richard’s daughter Elizabeth wants to renew their friendship. However, the meeting is far from coincidental, and soon both Lovett and Marwood are drawn into the cut and thrust of political intrigue and find themselves in great danger. With expert storytelling, memorable characters, emotional depth and some nice touches of humour, this is well up to Taylor’s usual high standard.

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