The King’s Evil (HarperCollins, £14.99) is the third novel in Andrew Taylor’s superbly realised series set in seventeenth century London and featuring government investigator James Marwood and his friend Cat Lovett. The sequel to The Ashes of London and The Fire Court takes place in 1667 and finds the heirless Charles II busy ‘healing’ the scrofulous populace – hence the title – while his court is a-buzz with aristocratic families jockeying for position. Suspicion falls on Cat when the body of her cousin, Edward Alderley, is discovered in a well at the palatial home of a former royal favourite. Marwood, tasked with bringing her to justice, knows that she has motive, means and opportunity, but believes her innocent. Determined to clear her name, he treads a wary path through the various noble coteries and finds himself embroiled in a scandal. With plenty of intrigue and action, and a splendid portrait of Restoration society from the pomp of its royal court to the squalid camps of those left homeless after the great fire, this is historical crime fiction at its dazzling best.
Set in Krakow in 1893, Mrs Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa (Point Blank, £12.99, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) is an altogether lighter affair, a throwback to the type of Golden Age fiction in which the police are unable to solve cases without the help of an obliging toff. Here, the meddlesome amateur sleuth is social climber Zofia Turbotynska, who, in the course of organising a charity raffle at a local retirement home, stumbles upon the mysterious disappearance of the eponymous widow. Her curiosity is further piqued when a second resident is found murdered, and, aided by her faithful cook, Franciszka, she begins to investigate. The waspish social one-upmanship – E.F. Benson for Mittel Europa – may not be to everyone’s taste, but strong-minded Zofia is an appealing character and the sprightly narrative and vivid evocation of turn-of-the-century Poland make for an enjoyable read.
There are shades of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in Sleep (Avon, £12.99), the latest novel from C.L. Taylor. Although Anna is not technically responsible when the car she’s driving is involved in a collision that kills two of her colleagues and leaves a third with life-changing injuries, her feelings of guilt – exacerbated by anonymous cryptic messages – lead to insomnia. Desirous of starting over, she accepts a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when the first seven guests arrive – on the very day the hotel is entirely cut off by a storm – it soon becomes clear that one of them is out for revenge… Tricksy and twisty, with some masterful misdirection and a brisk pace, Sleep is a page-turner that will keep you up way past your bedtime.
The past is also threatening to catch up with Marianne Thackeray, protagonist of Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99). As a teenager in Nusstead, Suffolk, she allowed her then-boyfriend, Jesse, to bully her into blackmail. While both the victim and Marianne prosper over the next three decades, Jesse, who has never forgiven her for leaving their hometown, has fared less well. When she returns, courtesy of husband Sam’s surprise purchase of a fancy pied a terre in the now-renovated former asylum (the ‘stone mother’ of the title) that is the scene of past horrors, Jesse threatens to inform both Sam and their mentally fragile daughter of what she has done. With some uncomfortable truths about class divisions and how we care for those with mental health issues, Stone Mothers is both atmospheric and poignant.
Chris Brookmyre, author of crime novels ranging through a wide spectrum of sub-genres from comic to historical and science-fiction, has now turned his considerable talents on the psychological thriller. Fallen Angel (Little, Brown, £18.99) centres on the disappearance of a toddler – now presumed dead – from the Portuguese holiday home of the high-achieving but profoundly dysfunctional Temples, with the action split between 2002, when the child went missing, and 2018, when the family regroup there after the death of grandfather Max, a telegenic debunker of unscientific theories. Yes, there’s a nod to Madeleine McCann here, but what this nuanced and intelligent novel is really about is the seductive nature of conspiracist thinking and the unholy brew of egotism, control, delusion and resentment that characterises toxic family relationships.
Missing teenager Kate narrates her own story in Call Me Evie (Sphere, £13.99), the debut novel from New Zealander J.P. Pomare. Hidden away in a rural community, she’s trying to escape from a controlling older man who claims that he is helping her evade the police after a violent incident, the details of which she cannot recall. Jim – not his real name – grows ever more paranoid as Kate slowly pieces together what really happened, but it isn’t entirely clear who we should believe. Although there’s some clumsiness in the use of amnesia as a withholding device, excellent characterisation and the ability to conjure the cliquey, insecure adolescent world Kate has left behind in Melbourne and the dislocation and claustrophobia of her sequestered existence add up to an immersive and exciting read.
© Laura Wilson, 2019