A supernatural element has long been present in John Connolly’s excellent Charlie Parker series. The sixteenth title, The Woman in the Woods (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), is no exception: evil takes many forms, from the depressingly familiar – men who abuse and kill women – to a demonic figure brought into being for the sole purpose of finding the ‘Fractured Atlas’, a book that will change the world by replacing the ‘Old God’ with the ‘Not Gods’. When a woman’s body is found in a Maine forest, private eye Parker is tasked with finding the child she gave birth to shortly before her death. Meanwhile, in Cadillac, Indiana, malevolent Quayle and his aptly-named and memorably revolting sidekick Pallida Mors (mortuary-white body, doll eyes and semen breath) are on the trail of Karis Lamb, young and pregnant, who came to the town to find sanctuary ‘from the devil himself’. And in an isolated cabin, a small boy is receiving calls from a dead woman on his toy telephone… Beautifully written, with a complex plot and a large cast of richly-drawn characters, this is Connolly at his sinister best.
As if the fate of the real Donner Party – a spectacularly grisly footnote in the American story of westward expansion – were not bad enough, Alma Katsu adds a rich vein of horror to her imaginative re-telling of the 1846 wagon journey across the continent to California. The Hunger (Bantam Press, £12.99), is astonishingly atmospheric, with – despite the vast prairies and high mountains – a strong sense of claustrophobia. The power struggles that break out amongst the travellers as they jettison unnecessary baggage and fight over dwindling food supplies harden into suspicion and loathing after a lost child is found dead and mutilated. It gradually becomes clear that, whatever cannibalistic shape-shifter may be lurking outside the circle of waggons, the real danger lies within the group itself. Despite carrying some unnecessary baggage of its own, in the form of backstories which reveal what is already obvious, this is an enthralling and chilling read.
The spectral presences in Julia Haeberlin’s Paper Ghosts (Penguin, £12.99) aren’t phantoms, but missing girls. When Rachel was 19, she disappeared from her Texan hometown ‘like a lasso dropped from the clouds and snatched her up’ and her younger sister, the unnamed 24-year-old narrator, has spent half her life trying to find her. The culprit, she thinks, is 61-year-old photographer Carl Louis Feldman, who was tried, but not convicted, of another girl’s murder and whose work links him to several crime scenes. Carl claims to have no memory of the past, but the young woman springs him from a halfway house for dementia patients and takes him on a road trip across the county, convinced that revisiting the locations of his eerie photos will unlock his secrets. The conclusion may prove something of a damp squib, but strong characterisation, haunting images, a wonderful sense of place and some dark comedy make this travelogue-cum-psychological-thriller well worth the read.
Derek B. Miller’s first novel, Norwegian By Night, is the story of a native New Yorker transplanted to Oslo. American By Day (Doubleday, £16.99) is a reverse culture-clash, with Norwegian detective Sigrid Odegard travelling to upstate New York to find her missing brother, Marcus, who is suspected of killing his African-American lover, prominent academic Lydia Jones (those wishing to avoid spoilers relating to the debut novel, in which Sigrid plays a part, may want to read it first). The local police seem convinced that Marcus is guilty, and Sigrid is perturbed by the prevailing gun culture, especially the killing of Lydia’s twelve-year-old nephew by a white police officer. Working with – and sometimes against – the down-home, folksy sheriff, Irving Wylie, and using a variety of unorthodox methods, she sets out to track Marcus. Engaging characters, a cracking plot and some interesting insights into the differences between the individual and societal values of the two cultures more than compensate for Miller’s occasional outbreaks of didacticism.
Four years ago, in Darkness, Darkness, John Harvey gave us the swan song of veteran copper Charlie Resnick, and now, in Body & Soul (William Heinemann, £14.99), it’s the turn of his other series detective, Frank Elder. Frank is disconcerted when his estranged daughter turns up at his Cornish hideaway, traumatised but truculent, with bandaged wrists. He still feels guilty for his failure to prevent her abduction and rape as a teenager by a man named Adam Keach, and in the intervening years the two have lost touch, with Katherine in London, drifting through temporary jobs. When Frank tries to question her, she catches the train home. He follows, and discovers that she’s been modelling for, and having a relationship with, controversial artist Anthony Winter. Shortly thereafter, Winter is found bludgeoned to death in his studio, and Katherine is the prime suspect. Frank’s instinct is to protect her, but there’s little he can do – and then he discovers that Keach has escaped from prison… Written in a beautifully economical style, this is an expertly plotted and moving final act for an old-school investigator of the best sort, from a true master of the genre.
© Laura Wilson 2018