Poet Claire Askew’s splendid debut novel, All the Hidden Truths (Hodder & Stoughton,
£12.99), focusses on the aftermath of an Edinburgh college massacre: 20-year-old Ryan Summers lethally modified three starting pistols belonging to his dead athletics coach father and used them to gun down 13 fellow students before committing suicide. The culprit, being dead, cannot be brought to justice, but the victims’ parents and the public want answers to the unanswerable – exactly what went wrong, and when. As so often with this type of crime, it’s assumed that the fault must lie with the shooter’s mother, Moira – surely, she must have known that there was something grievously wrong with her son? The frenzy of blame is fomented by an unscrupulous tabloid journalist, who also starts uncovering uncomfortable truths about Ryan’s first victim, Abigail Hodgekiss. Moira Summers, Abigail’s mother Ishbel, and the woman in charge of the case, newly-minted Detective Inspector Helen Birch, pass the narrative baton between them in this thoughtful and well-written investigation of individual and collective responsibility.
Someone a lot more obviously disturbed than Ryan Summers is Jens Horder, and this we know from the beginning of Ane Riel’s award-winning novel Resin (Doubleday, £2.99, translated from Danish by Charlotte Barslund), when his seven-year-old daughter Liv recalls witnessing him killing her grandmother. Liv also tells us, quite matter-of-factly, that she can’t remember if that happened before or after Jens filled their house with so much stuff that they couldn’t get into the living room, or her mother became too obese to leave the bedroom, or her parents told the authorities that she was dead so she wouldn’t have to go to school. Occupying similar territory to Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling and Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter, Resin has the gruesomely compelling quality of a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale. Jens wants everything preserved exactly as it is – using resin where necessary – and guards his remote and increasingly cluttered farm jealously, sending the exceptionally resourceful Liv out on night-time forays to steal food and household items from their not-so-near neighbours. Eventually, pub-landlord Roald, perplexed by the thefts from his kitchen, decides to investigate… An extraordinarily atmospheric and often harrowing study of obsession and possessive love.
There’s another dysfunctional family at the heart of Flynn Berry’s interesting, if not wholly successful, re-imagining of the real-life Lord Lucan story. Lucan disappeared in 1974 having – as far as we know – killed his children’s nanny in mistake for his wife. A Double Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99) uses the same basic plot, but moves the action forward a couple of decades. Twenty-six years on from Lord Spenser’s 1992 disappearance, all the sightings have turned out to be false, and his daughter – now a 34-year-old London GP living under an assumed name– remains desperate to find out what happened on the fateful night. Her father’s posh friends, who have circled the waggons to the extent of traducing her middle-class mother, must be approached under false pretences. The sleuthing isn’t entirely plausible, and deeper investigation into Claire’s psyche would have paid dividends, but Flynn brings the story to a satisfyingly shocking conclusion.
The title may be pinched from Performance, but Tim Willocks’s latest book, Memo From Turner (Jonathan Cape, £14.99) is set in South Africa, not London, and the eponymous Turner is a police officer, not a reclusive rock star. When Dirk, a rich young Afrikaner who has been slumming it in a Cape Town shebeen, fatally injures a teenage street girl with his car, he’s too drunk to know that he’s hit her – but his friends, who are well aware of what’s happened, drive him away, leaving her to die. Turner, tasked with investigating, finds himself in a remote mining town which is, in effect, the personal fiefdom of Dirk’s mother, manganese magnate Margot Le Roux. She is determined to protect her son, and only Turner, who is very much in the mould of the altruistic loner hero, is prepared to stand up to her, even if it costs him his life. A violent thriller that pits integrity against corruption and expedience in an arid, pitiless landscape as the corpses and moral contradictions multiply, Memo From Turner ticks all the boxes for righteous machismo – albeit with some rather over-egged ‘telling it like it is’ which may not be to everybody’s taste.
There’s more machismo in James Henry’s second DI Nick Lowry novel, Yellowhammer (riverrun, £16.99), but it’s old-school, British style – sweaty, emotionally-constipated coppers in smoke-filled rooms in the summer of 1983. When Lowry and his colleagues from the Colchester CID are called out to Fox Farm, it appears that telegenic
historian Christopher Cliff has taken his own life with an antique shotgun, but the investigative waters are muddied by the fact that a second, unidentified body has been found on the boundary of the property. There’s no obvious connection between the two deaths, and several of the witnesses are less than honest about what they were up to on the morning in question. With well-rounded characters, a terrific sense of time and place, and masterful plotting, this solid police procedural makes for a 24-carat holiday read.
© Laura Wilson, 2018