Given the current preoccupation with housing, the property-porn thriller looks set to become a staple of crime fiction in the foreseeable future, and Our House, by Louise Candlish (Simon & Shuster, £12.99) is an excellent example of this burgeoning sub-genre. Fiona Lawson arrives home to find a family busy moving into the desirable South London residence she shares with estranged husband Bram and their two children – but they hadn’t made plans to sell and, as far as she’s aware, the place wasn’t on the market. The new owners insist that they brought the house fair and square, and Bram has disappeared. As Fi tries to work out what has happened, it becomes clear that her hard drinking, sexually incontinent husband’s folly has had appalling consequences, which have been unintentionally compounded by her own plans for conscious uncoupling. Husband and wife pass the narrative baton between them in this masterfully plotted, compulsive page-turner.
Property, or the smoke-blackened ruins thereof, is also at the heart of Andrew Taylor’s latest novel. Sequel to The Ashes of London, his magnificent evocation of the Great Fire of 1666, The Fire Court (HarperCollins, £14.99) takes place the following year and continues the narratives of James Marwood and Cat Lovell. The city is gradually being rebuilt, with the eponymous body settling individual disputes over who should pay for what. Marwood’s elderly father Nathaniel claims to have seen the body of a woman at Clifford’s Inn, where the court sits. Initially, this is chalked up to senility, but, after Nathaniel is run over and killed by a waggon, James discovers a blood-stained list of names among his personal effects and begins to wonder if the old man was telling the truth after all. His investigation brings him back into contact with tough-minded Cat – now living under an assumed name – and he turns to her for help. With a fast-moving, complex plot underpinned by solid but unobtrusive research and plenty of drama and intrigue, Taylor brings the seventeenth century to life so vividly that one can almost smell it.
The amoral, manipulative presence of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley hovers over
Tangerine (Little Brown, £14.99), Christine Mangan’s tale of expats behaving badly in Morocco. It’s 1956, and Alice and her husband John have moved to Tangier, where he has secured a job. Sweltering in her unsuitable European clothes, Alice soon becomes too scared of the teeming, dusty streets to venture from their flat, and John, who has married her for her inheritance, leaves her to stew while he embraces everything the city has to offer. Emotionally fragile, Alice is badly in need of support, and the unannounced arrival of her former best friend makes matters even worse. The two women haven’t been in contact since a terrible accident at the exclusive American college they both attended, where devious scholarship girl Lucy, whose backstory contains some disturbing inconsistencies, formed a dangerous obsession with her rich roommate. Lucy takes to Tangier like a duck to water and, introducing herself as Alice, befriends a local conman – and then John disappears… Narrated in alternating chapters by Alice and Lucy, this is an assured and atmospheric debut.
Set in Bogota, House of Beauty by Columbian author Melba Escobar (translated by Elizabeth Bryer, 4th Estate, £12.99) is both a mystery and a critique of a corrupt and macho culture. Impecunious Karen moves to the capital to work in a beauty salon in the exclusive Zona Rosa district. The cubicle where she tweezes, epilates and massages is a confessional, where her clients reveal their secrets. One of these is teenager Sabrina Guzman, who visits Karen for a full Brazilian before losing her virginity (‘the same boyfriend who had wanted to sleep with her on two previous occasions but hadn’t done the honours because, in Sabrina’s words, she wasn’t as smooth as an apple’), and who is later found dead – but in a country where the underfunded legal system is swamped with cases and rich people can get away with murder, there’s little chance of justice. The pace may prove too slow for those in search of a warp-speed thriller with a corkscrew plot, but for everyone else, this delicate, merciless filleting of race and gender politics is highly recommended.
Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir, protagonist of Ragnar Jonasson’s latest book, The Darkness (translated by Victoria Cribb, Michael Joseph, £12.99) also has to contend with gender politics. Dogged but prickly, and never having been ‘one of the boys’ in any sense, she finds herself forced into early retirement. Her (male) superior throws her a bone – the opportunity to investigate a cold case of her choice, to keep her occupied in the fortnight before she hands in her badge. The death of Russian asylum seeker Elena, ruled as accidental after a cursory investigation, seems the obvious choice, and Hulda – who is not only facing a lonely future but also struggling to come to terms with personal tragedy – soon digs up new information that points to murder. Expertly plotted, with an ending that’s a true shocker, The Darkness is the first book in a trilogy featuring this engaging investigator, which is good news indeed.
© Laura Wilson, 2018