After the award-winning fictionalised account of 1950s serial killer Peter Manuel, The Long Drop, Denise Mina returns to the present day with Conviction (Harvill Secker, £12.99), a thoroughly modern tale of sexual and financial predation and social media. Anna McDonald is on the run from an unspecified traumatic incident in her past. Having fled London, she’s re-invented herself in Glasgow as partner to lawyer Hamish and mother to Jess and Lizzie. A fan of true crime podcasts, she’s just got started on Death and the Dana – the mystery of a sunken yacht with a murdered family on board, and a possible miscarriage of justice – when Hamish announces that he is leaving her. Distraught, Anna runs away once more and finds herself trying to determine what really happened to Leon Parker, the man found dead on the yacht, with whom she has a connection. The initial impetus for the investigation may seem something of a stretch, but the narrative is both plausible and compelling, as the mysteries of Parker’s fate and Anna’s past unfold in parallel and collide, dangerously, in the present.
The first book in bestseller Jeffrey Deaver’s new series, The Never Game (HarperCollins, £20.00), also begins with a sinking boat, as protagonist Colter Shaw struggles to rescue a heavily pregnant woman from death in the Pacific Ocean. Her fate still in the balance, we rewind two days to when Shaw – an altruistic loner who learnt tracking skills from his survivalist father and now travels around America in an RV, finding missing persons – strikes out on the on the trail of Silicon Valley teenager Sophie Mulliner, whose disappearance the authorities refuse to take seriously. When a second person is abducted, Shaw starts to discover alarming parallels with a video game called The Whispering Man, in which players must find a way to escape from a perilous situation, with only five objects to help them… So far, so nailbiting, although tech-heavy descriptions soon start to clog up the narrative flow, and clumsy use of withholding devices towards the end may leave Lincoln Rhyme fans feeling short-changed.
There are more survivalist skills on display in The River by Peter Heller (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99). Student buddies Wynn and Jack are on a canoeing trip in the Canadian wilderness. The fog has settled and, realising that a wildfire is heading in their direction, the pair decide to turn back and warn a couple that they overheard arguing on the bank. They find only the husband, Pierre, who claims that his wife has disappeared. Fearing that he may have harmed her – his behaviour is suspicious, and he has an unexplained injury – they investigate and find her alive, but badly injured. With no way of summoning help, they are soon engaged in a race for their lives against not only the fire, the weather and the wildlife, but also the potentially homicidal Pierre. Divisions between easy-going optimist Wynn and cynical pessimist Jack grow as their predicament worsens, and there’s plenty of tension here, but where Heller really scores is the extraordinarily high quality of his writing about the natural world – lyrical and action-packed by turns.
The danger is much closer to home in Crushed by Kate Hamer (Faber & Faber, £12.99), an exploration of the dark heart of female adolescence which makes good use of its Bath setting. Overwrought Phoebe arranges knives so that they point towards her cold, controlling mother, her belief that she is a witch fuelled by her study of Macbeth; sweet-natured, compliant Orla is hopelessly in love with her, and tough-minded Grace juggles school with caring for her bed-ridden mother. It’s family traumas and self-generated teenage hysteria that fuel this rather baggy plot, rather than a mystery, although when Phoebe begins a clandestine relationship with her English teacher, it’s clearly not going to end well.
Folkloric gobbets about witches and changelings are very much to the fore in Melanie Golding’s first novel Little Darlings (HQ, £12.99). Exhausted new mother Lauren Tranter is convinced that somebody is trying to steal her twin babies but nobody, including her obviously bad-egg husband, believes her. DS Jo Harper’s intuition tells her that there’s more to the situation than meets the eye – and then the babies are taken during an outing to a park… Evocative, atmospheric and very creepy indeed.
Parker Bilal, author of the Cairo-based Makana mysteries, has begun a new series set
in London and featuring DS Calil Drake and forensic psychiatrist Rayhana Crane. The Divinities (The Indigo Press, £8.99), which begins with two bodies, trussed and buried alive under a mound of rock on a Battersea building site, has many of the tropes of the traditional police procedural, including internal politics and a detective with emotional baggage who is trying to get his stalled career back on track. However, a plot involving unfettered capitalism, fundamentalist zealotry, and racism, refracted through the eyes of the two mixed-race protagonists who are forced to mine their own pasts – both served in Iraq – for answers results in a propulsive narrative and a fresh and vivid portrait of a city that is less melting pot than explosive pressure cooker.

© Laura Wilson 2019