The first novel written in English by Romanian author E.O. Chirovici is a sophisticated take, complete with framing devices and plenty of mind games, on a simple whodunit. The Book of Mirrors (Century, £12.99) begins when New York literary agent Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript dealing with the events leading up to the unsolved murder, almost thirty years earlier, of Princeton psychology professor Joseph Wieder. When Katz learns that the author has died and the remainder of the text is nowhere to be found, he hires journalist John Keller to try and discover the truth. Keller, tiring of teasing out hard information from a tangle of contradictory accounts and clashing agendas, passes the baton back to Roy Freeman, the original detective on the case. Freeman, now-retired and in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s, nevertheless manages, with the aid of some surprising new information, to bring the story full circle. A study of manipulation and the protean character of memory, The Book of Mirrors is slow burning but entirely compelling.
Paula Daly’s fourth novel, The Trophy Child (Bantam Press, £12.99), deals with a psychological experiment of a different kind. Tiger-mum Karen Bloom is determined that her daughter, ten-year-old Bronte, will excel in life. Hot-housing the poor kid to the point of exhaustion, she ignores her stoner son, troubled teenage step-daughter and husband Noel, who has abdicated his parental responsibilities in favour of picking up women in bars. One of these is DS Joanne Aspinall, who is called in to investigate when Bronte goes missing. The child returns unhurt, but not before Karen has provoked public outrage with her ill-advised comments (‘this is not some council estate case’) to the press. When she is found murdered, not only does Aspinall find herself with a long list of suspects, but she also has to face the possibility that her attraction to Noel may be clouding her professional judgement. Not a particularly complex read, but a terrific page-turner.
Rennie Airth’s fifth John Madden mystery, The Death of Kings (Mantle, £18.99) begins in 1938 with the killing of actress Portia Blake during a smart house party in Kent. Eleven years later, retired Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair receives an anonymous letter and a jade pendant apparently worn by Blake on the day of her death, and begins to wonder if the wrong man was hanged for the crime. Scotland Yard are reluctant to re-open the case, and, laid up with gout, Sinclair persuades Madden, who has left the police force, to conduct an unofficial investigation. What he uncovers takes him from the upper echelons of society to the criminal underworld of the Chinese triads and back again. The pace may be slow, but Airth captures the post-war ethos well, and solid story-telling, a cast of well-drawn characters and clever sleuthing from Madden make for a satisfyingly meaty read.
Stav Sherez is one of the most distinctive and intelligent British crime writers, and his latest novel, The Intrusions (Faber & Faber, £12.99) is well up to his usual high standard. The third in the Carrigan and Miller series sees the two detectives investigating the abduction and subsequent killing of Anna Becker, a young woman who came to London hoping for a place at RADA, but ended up living in a hostel at the seedier end of Bayswater and taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet. Carrigan and Miller discover that not only has someone been trolling Anna, but Remote Access Technology has been used to control her laptop, driving her to a nervous breakdown – and it appears that she isn’t the only one who’s been targeted. A little more detail about the detectives’ personal lives (Carrigan is still dealing with the fallout from an earlier case) would perhaps be helpful for newcomers to the series, but I can honestly say that the main plot strand – online gaslighting, misogyny and obsession – is utterly riveting and truly terrifying. Highly recommended – with the proviso that you may never look at your computer in quite the same way afterwards.
Inspired by a real unsolved crime, Nicolas Obregon’s debut novel, Blue Light Yokohama (Michael Joseph, £12.99) is set in Tokyo, where Inspector Kosuke Iwata has just joined the homicide squad. His new colleagues are overtly hostile, and the case he is given – a Korean family of four murdered in their own home, a black sun daubed on the ceiling and the smell of incense the only real clues – seems to be a poisoned chalice, the original investigator having thrown himself off a bridge four days earlier. Iwata’s troubled past has left him plagued by nightmares and his superiors are more hindrance than help as more ‘black sun’ murders follow… With a labyrinthine plot and a likeable protagonist, Blue Light Yokohama is a strong beginning to what promises to be an excellent series.
(c) Laura Wilson, 2017