Historical novelist Lucy Foley’s crime fiction debut, The Hunting Party (HarperCollins, £12.99) is a modern take on the ‘closed world’ country house mystery. Nine well-heeled friends travel to an exclusive hunting lodge in the remote Scottish Highlands to celebrate the new year, but it’s clear from the get-go that things haven’t gone as planned – the book opens on January 2nd, in the middle of a blizzard, with the discovery of a body… Foley tells her tale in flashbacks from the perspectives of several different characters, each of whom has something to hide, excelling in the delicate, merciless fileting of interpersonal rivalries and jealousies, and ratcheting up the tension as the initial ‘tolerant holiday-with-friends mode’ of the group slips into something altogether more sinister, and – for one of them – ultimately fatal.
Another new year celebration goes awry in The Flower Girls (Raven Books, £12.99) by Alice Clark-Platts, this time in a smart hotel in Devon, overlooking the Channel. The race is on to find a five-year-old girl who has disappeared into the stormy night, and everyone in the place is being questioned by the police. One guest has particular cause for concern; she was one of the infamous ‘flower girls’ – the two Bowman sisters who, nineteen years earlier when they were children, abducted and killed a toddler. Too young to stand trial at the time, she has been living under an assumed name, but her older sister is still in prison. Clark-Platts uses the time-slip narrative to good effect when dissecting the issues around children who kill and the long-term effects on the families of both victim and perpetrators, but more insight into the Bowman family’s destructive dynamic of co-dependence and its consequences would have paid dividends, especially for the rather abrupt ending, which raises more questions than it answers.
There’s more treacherous weather in Will Dean’s second novel, Red Snow (Point Blank, £14.99). Like its excellent predecessor Dark Pines, it’s set in the isolated Swedish town of Gavrik, now blanketed in snow. It’s minus 20 degrees Celsius when reporter Tuva Moodyson, a fortnight away from the new job that will take her down south, witnesses the CEO of the ailing and antiquated Grimberg liquorice factory plunge to his death from one of the chimneys. Frustrated that nobody will speak to her – the plant has provided work for generations of local people, and a code of silence prevails – Tuva offers to help author David Holmqvist research his book about the factory’s history, but the owner’s eccentric family remain cagey… And then, on a tour of the place, she finds a murdered man in a disused furnace, a liquorice coin placed over each eye. A complex plot, suffused with the hallucinogenic, nightmarish quality of Twin Peaks, and a tough-minded, resourceful protagonist add up to a stand-out read.
As the title suggests, weather plays a part in Fog Island by Mariette Lindstein (translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles, HQ, £7.99), but the blizzard here is one of cognitive dissonance. For her debut novel – the first in a projected trilogy – Lindstein has drawn on her own experience as a member of the Church of Scientology for 25 years to write about a young woman who gets drawn into a New Age cult. Sofia, freshly graduated and reeling from a traumatic relationship, is attracted by the handsome, charismatic leader of ViaTerra, Franz Oswald, who advocates a back-to-the-earth philosophy of clean living, and she accepts a job at the organisation’s headquarters on Fog Island, off Sweden’s west coast. At first, all is well, but Oswald becomes increasingly authoritarian and paranoiac; sleep deprivation, poor diet and arbitrary punishments begin to take their toll, and Sofia realises that she must escape her paradise-turned-prison. A conventional crime-fiction framework is provided by anonymous sections spliced into Sofia’s narrative, foreshadowing tragedies ahead, but it’s the chillingly authentic descriptions of the mental stress induced by indoctrination and ‘group think’ that provide the fuel for both tension and pathos.
Former Israeli Intelligence Corps officer Dov Alfon is another author who has made good use of his experience. His debut novel, A Long Night in Paris (translated from Hebrew by Daniella Zamir, MacLehose Press, £16.99), begins when a young Israeli man appears to vanish into thin air after entering a lift at Charles de Gaulle Airport with a woman in a red uniform. Commissaire Leger of the French police is baffled, and none too pleased when a mysterious Israeli investigator insists on lending a hand. He is Colonel Abadi of Unit 8200, who is aided, back home, by Lieutenant Oriana Talmor. The stakes are raised when a second passenger from the same flight disappears from his hotel room, apparently kidnapped at gunpoint by the same woman. The characterisation may be on the shallow side, especially in the case of heart-stoppingly gorgeous agent Talmor, who owes rather more to Ian Fleming than John Le Carre, but there are some terrific action sequences in this fiendishly complicated but pacey thriller, and readers who relish technical details will appreciate the wealth of information about the Israeli intelligence services, cheek-by-jowl with political shenanigans, Chinese gangsters and mysterious blondes.
© Laura Wilson, 2019