American author Megan Abbott’s explorations of the dark heart of female adolescence in novels such as Dare Me and The End of Everything were second to none, and in her latest book, Give Me Your Hand (Picador, £14.99), she gives us the equally blood-curdling tale of adult frenemies Kit and Diane. When they met in high school, golden girl Diane gave Kit the impetus she needed to succeed, and their joint motivation to scale the academic heights gave them an inseparable bond – until Diane divulged her terrible secret. Twelve years on, Kit, still haunted, is working in the lab of glamorous Dr Severin, as much under the microscope as any of her samples as she competes with her jovially misogynistic male colleagues for one of only two places on a team to study Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (‘like PMS only much, much worse’). When Diane reappears, poached by Dr Severin from Harvard as a shoo-in for the new venture, the secret is revealed, with catastrophic consequences. Beautifully written and unbearably tense, this is a standout study of ambition, rivalry and fear.
Set in Milford, Connecticut, A Noise Downstairs (Orion, £18.99) is a creepy and compelling standalone novel from veteran American thriller writer Linwood Barclay. College professor Paul Davis was viciously attacked by colleague and mentor Kenneth Hoffman when he unwittingly interrupted him trying to dispose of the bodies of two murdered women. Eight months later, still plagued by nightmares and memory loss, Paul decides to write about his experience, believing that it might help him make sense of Kenneth’s actions. Wife Charlotte’s gift of an old typewriter is meant as an inspiration, but it resembles the one on which Kenneth’s victims wrote their final notes, and when Paul starts to hear the clatter of keys in the night, he fears the thing may be haunted – and Charlotte and therapist Anna think he may be losing his mind… Paul, Charlotte and Anna pass the narrative baton between them as Barclay expertly weaves together the various plot strands to reach a wholly unexpected conclusion.
Take Me In by Sabine Durrant (Mulholland Books £12.99) begins with every parent’s seaside holiday nightmare: a moment of inattention by father Marcus, left to watch over toddler Josh on a Greek beach while mother Tessa gets changed, results in the child’s near-drowning. Fortunately, disaster is averted by eagle-eyed Dave Jepsom. Grateful and ashamed, the pair treat Josh’s saviour to an awkward ‘thank you’ lunch during which PR man Marcus, trying to be chummy, confides more than he should about his clients. Tessa hopes this will be the end of the acquaintance, but the peculiarly intense Dave has other ideas. Once they are back in London, Tessa is convinced that he is watching them, which is particularly worrying as she has her own secret to hide. Then Dave turns up on their doorstep in the middle of a dinner party, and Marcus finds himself trying to spin an unprecedented number of damaging news stories. Husband and wife take it in turns to address the reader as their lives spiral out of control, and psychodrama is laced with some sharp social satire in a tale which, if not quite as strong as its superb predecessor, Lie With Me, is still a riveting read.
A.A. Dhand’s Bradford-set series featuring Sikh DCI Harry Virdee goes from strength to strength, and the third title, City of Sinners (Bantam Press, £16.99), is the best yet. It’s bad enough when a young Asian woman is found strung up in a bookshop, naked but for a veil over her face and a note around her neck reading ‘Sinner’, but things rapidly get worse for the conscientious detective when a further missive – This is only the beginning, Harry – is discovered during the postmortem. Meanwhile, Harry’s marriage to Muslim nurse Saima continues to cause problems with both sets of parents, especially his obdurate father, who has been rushed to A&E after a heart attack. A toxic brew of deep-seated religious convictions and male entitlement fuels this pacey, punchy procedural, but its engine is the clear-sighted, humane Virdee, unafraid to bend the rules as he battles, both professionally and personally, against the forces of unreason.
Jo Jakeman’s assured debut, Sticks and Stones (Harvill Secker, £16.99) is a revenge thriller which begins the funeral of police officer Phillip Rochester, with his first wife Ruby, his estranged second wife Imogen and his girlfriend Naomi all in attendance. We quickly learn that all three have had a hand in his untimely demise, and, as the narrative flashes back to the weeks before his death, it becomes clear that upstanding public servant Phillip was, in fact, a manipulative bully. When he tells Imogen she has a fortnight to leave the family home or he’ll fight her for custody of their son, she seizes the chance, when he is fetching some belongings, to lock him in the house’s soundproof cellar. Thereafter, things get very complicated indeed… Suspension of disbelief is required in places, but that’s more than offset by a cracking pace, plenty of twists, and some well-judged dark humour.
© Laura Wilson, 2018