Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson’s excellent debut novel, Snowblind, was widely praised for its distinctive blend of Nordic Noir and Golden Age detective fiction. Nightblind (translated by Quentin Bates, Orenda Books, £8.99), also featuring police officer Ari Thor Arason and set in Siglufjordur*, an the isolated fishing village hard by the Arctic Circle, certainly lives up to the promise of its predecessor. Siglufjordur* is enveloped in the darkness of winter when Inspector Herjolfur is shot while checking on an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of the night, and Ari Thor’s investigation soon becomes a stumble through an equally murky labyrinth of local politics and long-hidden family secrets. Told from several points of view – everyone’s got their own agenda, whether it’s empire-building, escape from abusive former partners or simply keeping schtum in order to avoid trouble – this is an atmospheric portrayal of a claustrophobic place where everyone is connected. Although the device of interspersing the text with pages from a diary written on a psychiatric ward some thirty years earlier is rather a crude one, economical and evocative prose and some masterful prestidigitation more than compensate.
I’m Travelling Alone, the debut crime novel from Samuel Bjork (translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund, Bantam Press, £12.99) is an overstuffed, not to say unwieldy, book, with an alarming proliferation of narrators passing the baton to tell the story of the investigation into a serial killer who is targeting little girls. The children are discovered hanging from trees, dressed in doll’s clothing, with airline tags bearing the eponymous message hung around their necks. That said, there are two very appealing leading characters in the form of police officer Holger Munch, a ‘fat, amiable nerd’ who dotes on his six-year-old granddaughter, and brilliant but disturbed profiler Mia Kruger. Although the plot suffers from an over-reliance on the latter’s intuitive leaps to get things moving, and there’s an inevitability (given Munch’s granddaughter) to the fact that it all becomes rather personally focussed, this is, nevertheless, a compelling novel, with plenty of intrigue and some splendid action sequences.
A pleasingly suspenseful mixture of legal thriller and ‘whodunnit’, Alafair Burke’s latest novel, The Ex (Faber, £12.99), introduces us to lippy, take-no-prisoners New York City DA Olivia Randall, who receives a panicky phone call from the teenage daughter of her former fiancé Jack Harris, begging for help. Harris, whose wife was killed in a mass shooting three years earlier, has been charged with triple homicide, which the police are treating as a revenge attack because one of the victims is the father of the boy who shot his wife. For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for the hurt she caused him in the past, but his alibi is flimsy and there’s corroborating evidence, and she begins to wonder if he may, after all, be guilty… Burke’s writing has always been intelligent, and often funny, and her female protagonists sharp and engaging – on both counts, The Ex is her best yet.
A Masterpiece of Corruption (Constable, £19.99) is the second of L.C.Tyler’s novels set during the Interregnum and featuring law student John Grey. It’s 1657, and a case of mistaken identity results in Grey, who has Republican sympathies, finding himself in the middle of a plot by the Sealed Knot, a secret Royalist association, to assassinate Oliver Cromwell in order that Charles Stuart may return from exile to take his place on the throne. Forced into the role of double agent, caught up in a dizzying whirl of plot and counter-plot and anxious to save his own skin, Grey, the son of a Royalist, begins to question exactly where his own loyalties lie. Grey is a likeable, dryly humorous protagonist and Tyler, who uses a mixture of real and invented characters, has created a credible, and credibly bamboozling, atmosphere of paranoia as the two factions are increasingly riven by internal strife and lofty ideals give way to expediency.
Bearing in mind that anything described as having ‘cult status’ should be viewed with deep suspicion, Jack O’Connell’s award-winning debut, Box Nine (No Exit Press, £12.99), which was originally published in 1992, isn’t half bad. The first of five novels set in the fictional New England city of Quinsigamond, it combines sub-genres – police procedural and hardboiled – with elements of horror and what might be described as mild SF. Provided you can swallow the camel-choker coincidence of twins in different professions – narcotics cop Lenore and postal worker Ike – becoming independently involved in the same case, this tale of how a powerful new drug (the effects being those of ‘speed, Spanish fly and a Berlitz course in one quick pop’ followed by an uncontrollable urge to massacre everyone in sight) affects the inhabitants of this decaying industrial landscape is a high-octane page-turner.
*two dots above the ‘o’
(c) Laura Wilson, 2016