Based on a true story, Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo) by C. Joseph Greaves (Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99) details the convergence of the four eponymous lives in a New York courtroom in 1936, when Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano was tried on charges of ‘compulsory prostitution’ (similar to living off immoral earnings). ‘Tom’ is ambitious prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, ‘George’ is Luciano’s lawyer George Morton Levy, and ‘Cokey Flo’ is Florence Brown, heroin addict, prostitute-turned-madam and star witness for the prosecution, whose testimony turns the tide in favour of a guilty verdict. Meticulously researched – the author had access to previously unseen historical material – and written in a subdued, factual style, this is an interesting but rather stilted novel, partly because much of the material is familiar from books and films, and partly because the trial itself was not particularly dramatic. The characters seem curiously flat, and it is only Cokey Flo, who is, presumably, the most ‘imagined’ of the four leading players, who really jumps off the page.
With over five hundred pages of labyrinthine plot, a bewilderingly large cast, and a timeline that spans almost twenty years and can, unless one is familiar with Japanese current affairs between the mid-seventies and the mid-nineties, be hard to follow, Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder (Little, Brown, £13.99) is not an easy read, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Pawnbroker Yosuke Kirihara is found murdered in an abandoned building in Osaka in 1973 and Detective Sasagaki is still puzzling over the unsolved case years later, particularly the connection between the unsettlingly self-possessed son of the victim and the beautiful but thoroughly mysterious daughter of the main suspect, who were both children when the crime took place. Hints, rumours and suspicions abound in this fascinating – and sometimes, it must be said, infuriating – novel, which manages to be both intricate and nebulous at the same time.
Hidden Bodies, the second novel from American writer Caroline Kepnes (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) takes us further into the world of Joe Goldberg, the anti-hero of her darkly funny and splendidly creepy debut, You. Here, the book-loving psychopath travels to Los Angeles in pursuit of Amy, the girl who dumped him in New York. He leaves behind several corpses and some potentially incriminating DNA – and soon the corpses mount up on the west coast, too, because Joe’s preferred method of problem-solving is to kill people. He doesn’t find Amy immediately, but instead meets and falls in love with Love (tennis-mad parents – her insufferable brother is called Forty), although their future together is endangered when Joe’s murderous past threatens to catch up with him. Kepnes succeeds in convincing us to root for her insanely narcissistic yet strangely charming protagonist, and she’s magnificent at satirising the collection of vacuous Hollywood wannabes that he encounters. While Hidden Bodies isn’t – quite – up to the standard of its predecessor, it is still very good indeed.
Another excellent second novel is Forget Me Not by Luana Lewis (Corgi Books, £7.99). This tightly-focussed tale of domestic suspense centres on the relationships of three generations of women: grandmother Rose, a working single parent who still feels guilty about her failure to be fulfilled by motherhood; Vivien, the brittle, controlling daughter from whom she is estranged, and Vivien’s own daughter, 8-year-old Lexi. When Vivien is found dead, apparently having committed suicide, Rose starts to realise that her daughter’s superficially perfect life – rich, doting husband, beautiful house – does not stand up to scrutiny. In she blunders, trying to be helpful and to forge a connection with her granddaughter, but she is challenged by Vivien’s old friend Chloe, an ex-girlfriend of the widower who seems keen to step into the dead woman’s shoes… Forget Me Not is the type of book that stands or falls on the author’s ability to shift the focus of the reader’s mistrust and dislike from one character to another, and Lewis succeeds brilliantly in this.
So far, octogenarians Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit have featured in eleven of Christopher Fowler’s novels, but London’s Glory (Doubleday, £16.99) is the first collection of short stories featuring the unorthodox duo. Fowler sets out his stall adroitly in an introductory essay: no fallacious attempts at realism here, but something altogether more joyfully ludic – a modern spin on the puzzle-box staples of the Golden Age of British crime fiction. Here, Bryant and May tackle a variety of bizarre cases in settings ranging from Santa’s Grotto in Selfridge’s and a Routemaster sightseeing bus to a swimming pool and a circus ‘freak show’. A bravura collection, with the author’s zeal for the grotesque, quirky and cheerfully lunatic well to the fore, this one’s a real Christmas treat for both newcomers to the series and aficionados.
Laura Wilson (c) 2015