Laura Wilson selects the best crime and thrillers
Twenty-twelve has been a particularly good year for psychological thrillers. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £12.99) is the brilliant, darkly comic tale of Amy Dunne, wife of Nick, who disappears just as the couple are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. The narration alternates between Nick and Amy, and it becomes increasingly clear that neither has been entirely honest with the other.
The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh (John Murray, £16.99) is the story of Jane, heavily pregnant and newly arrived in Berlin, where, isolated in her often-absent partner’s aggressively trendy and increasingly claustrophobic flat, she becomes obsessed by a neighbour’s treatment of his teenage daughter. A portrait of a city haunted by its past, with nods to Don’t Look Now and Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, it’s a profoundly creepy read.
Attica Locke’s second novel, The Cutting Season (Serpent’s Tail, £14.99), is quite as unsettling and compelling as her superb debut Black Water Rising, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize. It’s set in Belle Vie, a restored Louisiana plantation house complete with slave quarters, which is available for weddings, parties, conferences and school trips during which children can watch local African Americans acting out a sanitised version of their forebears’ lives. Proceedings are disrupted when manager Caren, herself a descendent of Belle Vie slaves, finds a woman’s body on the premises. The Cutting Season is an unflinching examination of politics, race, the family and the stranglehold of the past.
Location also plays an important part in Tana French’s latest novel, Broken Harbour (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99). In this case, it’s the Ballardian dystopia of an Irish ghost estate built during the boom years, now half-finished and almost uninhabited but for a dead and dying family. At first they appear to be casualties of the recession – the father had lost his job months earlier – but the reality, as a chilling tale of obsession and insanity unfolds, is a lot more frightening.
The eponymous woman at the heart of Cathi Unsworth’s latest book Weirdo (Serpent’s Tail, £11.99), was convicted, aged 15, of killing a classmate. Twenty years later, the case is being re-investigated, and parallel past and present narratives deal with families broken beyond any hope of repair; classroom rivalries which spiral from petty spitefulness to murder and the clannish insularity and vested interests of the local bigwigs of coastal Norfolk. A wonderfully atmospheric read from an author who gets better with every book.
It’s been something of a vintage year for murderous schoolgirls. Tanya Byrne’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise (Headline, £12.99) purports to be the diary of Emily Koll, former inmate of a now-defunct prison psychiatric unit, who committed a terrible crime. Raw, gripping and very exciting, it’s the perfect gift for a young adult.
It’s been a good year, too, for fans of DI John Rebus, who has been greatly missed since his creator, Ian Rankin, retired him five years ago. Now a civilian consultant on cold case inquiries, the new Rebus book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave (Orion, £18.99) sees him investigating a series of disappearances stretching back to the millennium.
Fans of John le Carre who’ve been feeling bereft recently will undoubtedly appreciate Charles Cummings’s latest spy thriller, A Foreign Country (HarperCollins, £12.99). Named Scottish Crime Book of the Year, it also won the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller.
Stolen Souls by Stuart Neville is another one to look out for: this time, Inspector Jack Lennon investigates the stabbing of a Lithuanian people trafficker – dark, disturbing Belfast noir from an exceptionally talented author.
Finally, for those enjoy foreign locations but are tiring of Scandinavia, Italian author Valerio Vaseri’s The Dark Valley (translated by Laurie Thompson, MacLehose Press, £18.99) set in the Appenine Mountains and featuring the excellent Commissario Soneri, is a rewarding read.