If you are amongst the 60% of UK residents who, according to a recent study, have suffered due to nuisance neighbours, then Louise Candlish’s new novel, Those People (Simon & Schuster, £12.99), is guaranteed to have you vibrating with impotent fury on behalf of the denizens of Lowland Way in south London, whose smugly peaceful suburban lives are rudely shattered by the new arrivals from hell. With their endless messy renovations, ear-splitting thrash metal, appropriation of parking spaces and obduracy in the face of entreaties and threats, Darren and Jodie set the community by the ears, and soon the veneer of civilisation is wearing very thin indeed… Some lovely dark humour and the delicate, merciless filleting of human interactions more than make up for a few longueurs in this carefully crafted piece of psychological thriller.
Another middle-class suburb, this time on the outskirts of Sydney, is the setting for Australian journalist Felicity McLean’s first novel, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone (Point Blank, £12.99). Suffused with the same tantalising intensity as compatriot Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, it’s the time-slip narrative of three sisters who went missing in the summer of 1992, and the quest of their now-adult school-friend, Tikka, whose life has been clouded by the tragedy, to understand what happened to them. Hannah, the unsettlingly beautiful Cordelia, and Ruth are the daughters of Christian zealots – the barely suppressed sexual hysteria here comes from Mr Van Apfel, rather than the adolescent girls – and the two older sisters are desperate to leave their oppressive home. Although the adults in the community are uneasily aware of the danger signs, they fail to intervene, and it’s not until the grown-up Tikka attempts to piece things together that they begin to talk about what they’ve seen. A coming-of-age drama as much as a crime story, this isn’t a book for those who like things wrapped up neatly, but readers who enjoy something haunting, atmospheric and genuinely mysterious have a treat in store.
The Whisper Man (Michael Joseph, £12.99) by Alex North is a police procedural with supernatural overtones, and here – unusually – it is boys, rather than girls, who have gone missing. The search is on for six-year-old Neil Spencer, whose disappearance from the village of Featherbank has eerie echoes of a series of child abductions and murders that took place 20 years earlier. The killer, Frank Carter, aka The Whisper Man, is now in prison, but DI Pete Willis, who worked on the case, has started to wonder about the existence of an accomplice. Meanwhile, recently widowed Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to Featherbank in search of a fresh start, but their new house seems to be attracting attention from some strange quarters and Jake’s imaginary friends, hitherto a source of comfort, have become downright sinister… A gripping exploration of father-son relationships with a propulsive plot, The Whisper Man is a true skin-crawler.
For her debut novel, Your Truth or Mine? (Pan, £12.99) Trisha Sakhlecha takes a microscope to the outwardly successful marriage of Mia and Roy Kapoor. The disappearance of Roy’s colleague, journalism student Emily, cracks open the fault lines to reveal a complex web of lies, self-deception and duplicity. The spouses take it in turns to narrate as their union gradually unravels in a welter of unmet expectations, recriminations and bad judgements as events from the past begin to impact on the present. Well written, with plenty of twists and an excellent sense of place – Rajasthan and London – this is a fascinating British Asian spin on domestic noir.
Mick Herron is fast becoming the go-to author for British espionage, and the sixth novel in his Slough House series, Joe Country (John Murray, £14.99), is well up to his usual high standard. Slough House, fiefdom of the fabulously repulsive Jackson Lamb, is the naughty step for failed MI5 operatives, its ‘slow horse’ inhabitants doomed to spend the remainder of their careers grinding through repetitive tasks. However, when Louisa Guy goes off piste because of a request by the ex-wife of her lover, now-deceased slow horse Min Harper, to find their son, the team wind up floundering around a snow-bound Wales, embroiled in a plot involving misbehaviour in very high places, blackmail, and treachery. Aficionados can expect Herron’s trademark snappy dialogue, memorably flawed characters and sharp political observation; newcomers are advised to start at the beginning of the series.
Andrew Martin’s latest novel, The Winker (Corsair, £16.99), takes place at the beginning of the 1976 summer heatwave. The titular character, pint-sized psychopath and failed pop star Lee Jones, picks people up in smoke-filled pubs before despatching them in the hope that murder will be his path to fame (although, given the assonance, ‘winker’ doesn’t seem a very desirable moniker). Charles Underhill, mysteriously exiled in Paris for something he did in his youth, is troubled by a series of anonymous postcards that hint at knowledge of his past, and recruits struggling novelist Howard Miller to find out who is sending them. The result is an immersive and highly enjoyable game of cat-and-mouse with perfect period texture and some nicely wry humour.
© Laura Wilson, 2019