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16Sep

The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith; The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly; The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman; Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson; Marple: Twelve New Stories by Val McDermid and others

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (Sphere, £25)
At 1,024 pages, the sixth outing for private investigators Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott is the longest yet, but although there are longueurs, this tale of internet pile-ons repays the commitment. Edie Ledwell, co-creator of popular YouTube cartoon The Ink Black Heart, approaches the agency hoping to discover the identity of her online persecutor, Anomie, but is turned away because of an already heavy workload. Shortly afterwards, Edie is found murdered in Highgate Cemetery in north London, with her collaborator and former boyfriend lying seriously wounded nearby. He is unable to name the assailant, but Anomie, who has invented a game based on the cartoon, claims to be responsible. Strike and Ellacott attempt to unmask Anomie, entering the game and interacting with The Ink Black Heart’s obsessive fans. This novel could certainly be seen as Galbraith AKA JK Rowling’s riposte to the treatment meted out to her online, but I suspect it’s not a coincidence that it’s set in 2015, the time of the #Gamergate campaign of misogynistic harassment which, as here, included doxing, rape and death threats, as well as conspiracy theories. This is a cautionary tale of the virtual world’s impact on real people’s lives.

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
A different type of fandom is examined in Erin Kelly’s latest: armchair treasure hunters, such as those obsessed over Kit Williams’s 1979 puzzle story book Masquerade. Here, the inspiration is the similarly successful The Golden Bones, created by artist Frank Churcher: the tale of murdered Elinore, whose bones, made from gold and precious stones, are buried in sites across England. Now only one remains undiscovered. Churcher has grown in wealth and stature, while his family, who enjoy a bourgeois boho existence in Hampstead in London, have become increasingly dysfunctional – and some of the treasure hunters haven’t fared too well, either. The clan meet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and a film crew is on hand to make a documentary – but when the “big reveal” of the final bone goes disastrously wrong, metaphorical skeletons begin cascading out of cupboards. With rich characterisation and intricate yet propulsive plotting, Kelly is at her considerable best as she mercilessly fillets monstrous egos and toxic relationships while ramping up the tension.

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