Anthony Good’s debut novel, Kill [redacted] (Atlantic, £12.99) is a delicate but merciless portrait of a man in the grip of a mental breakdown. When retired headteacher Michael’s wife is killed in a terrorist attack on the London underground, he decides to kill the politician whose policies he considers to be ultimately responsible for her death. Although the name is redacted throughout, as are some background details, and no dates are given, the fuzzy outlines of Tony Blair and 7/7 are visible in the story, which is told through Michael’s self-justifying diary, the ‘self reflections’ he writes for his therapist, and a few letters. His voice is a triumph: intelligent but pedantic and emotionally constipated, seething with barely suppressed rage, and unable to admit the truth about either his marriage or his motives. Whether this is an elaborate revenge fantasy or a factual account is up to the reader – either way, this outstanding novel is a fascinating and complex read.
There’s more moral culpability in Mel McGrath’s latest novel, The Guilty Party (HQ, £12.99). Here, it’s a sin of omission – four thirty-something friends from university are returning home from a music festival when they witness the rape of a woman but fail to intervene, and the victim’s body is later recovered from the Thames. Cassie, Anna, Bo and Dex each have a reason for not stepping up to the plate, and we learn more about their backstories as the suppressed tensions come to a head during the course of a long weekend in a holiday cottage on the Isle of Portland. McGrath excels in creating believably flawed characters, and her masterful control of suspense and pacing make for a psychological thriller that is both perceptive and disturbing.
The Mobster’s Lament by Ray Celestin (Mantle, £16.99) is the third novel in the City Blues quartet, which charts, via the careers of investigators Ida Davis and Michael Talbot, the twin histories of jazz and the mob in twentieth-century America. This one is set in New York in 1947, where the former Pinkerton operatives are trying to prove the innocence of Talbot’s son Tom, who stands accused of the brutal murders of four people in a Harlem flophouse. Meanwhile, fixer Gabriel Leveson is planning to flee the city when he is tasked with tracking down stolen money by his boss, gangster Frank Costello. Things aren’t going well for Louis Armstrong, either: the era of the big band is over, and he desperately needs to reignite his flagging career. Celestin deftly weaves these strands together to create not only a satisfying and multi-layered mystery, but also a well-researched and dynamic portrait of a teeming city, rife with corruption at every level.
Olivier Barde-Cabucon also mixes fact and fiction, in a tale of pre-Revoluntionary France. Casanova and the Faceless Woman (translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Pushkin Vertigo, £9.99) is the first book in a series featuring Volnay, who has been appointed by King Louis XV as the Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths. Paris in 1759 is a city in turmoil, where the rich and powerful are cheek-by-jowl – and, in the case of the jaded and salacious monarch, sometimes even closer – with the poor. When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered, Volnay’s investigation brings him into contact not only with the famous lothario but also with the warring factions at court and a secret society which aims to overthrow the crown. A splendid mystery with an appealingly enigmatic protagonist, plenty of melodrama and intrigue, and a vividly pungent evocation of a turbulent time.
Cruel Acts by Jane Casey (HarperCollins, £12.99) is the eighth novel to feature DS Maeve Kerrigan. Here, she and DI Josh Derwent are tasked with looking into the case of Leo Stone, convicted of the murders of two women but released when it emerges that the jurors disobeyed the judge’s instructions. The police want Stone back behind bars, but, as Kerrigan re-traces his steps, she begins to wonder whether they might have arrested the wrong man. Then another woman disappears, in circumstances that appear to match Stone’s modus operandi… Tense and compelling, Cruel Acts is an accomplished police procedural, but what makes it stand out is Kerrigan herself: ambitious and smart but insecure and, after a relationship break-up, emotionally raw, she’s one of the most thoroughly human and convincing police officers in the fictional ranks.
William Boyle’s latest novel, A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself (No Exit Press,
£11.99), is an Elmore Leonard-style caper that hits the ground running when Brooklyn grandma and gangster’s widow Rena decks her octogenarian neighbour after he makes a pass at her, and, fearing that she has killed him, makes off with his car. When her estranged daughter Adrienne refuses to help, she takes refuge in the home of former porn star and con artist Lacey Wolfstein. After a series of mishaps, including a shoot-out, she ends up on the run with Lacey, her granddaughter Lucia, and a briefcase full of stolen money. With vintage car chases, warp speed energy and female bonding, this is funny, touching and exhilarating in all the right places.

© Laura Wilson, 2019