This year we welcomed some exciting new voices, with notable debuts including the The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (Raven Books), a country house mystery complete with time travel, body swaps and a mind-bogglingly complex plot, and Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (Raven Books), a Ripleyesque exploration of female insecurity set amongst the socialites of Manhattan. Also worth looking out for is The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor (Michael Joseph) – shades of Stephen King in this very creepy timeslip, as well as an evocative portrait of small-town life in 1980s Britain.
Another assured first outing is Amer Anwar’s Brothers in Blood (Dialogue Books), a tense and pacey thriller set in West London’s Southall. In fact, it’s been a bumper year for British Asian Noir in general, with excellent new books from, amongst others, A.A. Dhand, Abir Mukherjee, Vaseem Khan and Khurrum Rahman. The good news is that there seems to be no ‘standard issue’ British Asian Noir novel: between them, these authors range across the spectrum of crime fiction – everything is there, including historical mysteries and action thrillers, from cosy to hardboiled. What’s less good is that they seem – with only two exceptions that I can think of – to be overwhelmingly male. Can we hear from some more women, please?
The cascade of domestic noir novels continues unabated. Standout offerings from the last twelve months include Lullaby, by Franco-Moroccan author Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor, Faber & Faber). Awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, this beautifully-written whydunit is the story of how an apparently perfect nanny turns into a murderous monster – a gripping plot coupled with a delicate, merciless exploration of race, class, gender and the politics of motherhood. Female experience – competition, friendship and working in male-dominated spaces – is also at the heart of Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Picador), a mesmerising psychological thriller about two ambitious young scientists who share an unbreakable bond until one of them divulges a deadly secret.
Liv Horder and her parents, who are the subjects of Resin by Ane Riel (translated from Danish by Charlotte Barslund, Doubleday) are my top contenders for fictive dysfunctional family of the year. They read like the invention of modern-day Brothers Grimm, and the plot, a thoroughly unsettling tale of obsession and possessive love, is equally macabre. Our House by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster) offers a different take on domestic suspense: with an intriguing premise, this masterfully-plotted thriller taps into the modern preoccupation with property for a riveting narrative of betrayal, guilt, and unintended consequences.
As much an exploration of masculinity as a whydunit psychological thriller, Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit (translated by from German Imogen Taylor, Orion) is the story of middle-class liberal Randolph, whose family is being tormented by a less-well-off neighbour. With plenty of moral ambiguity and some darkly comic moments, this book has its roots in real events – the author and his family suffered similar harassment, though with a different outcome.
This year has produced a rich crop of thrillers, including the fifth novel in Mick Herron’s espionage series. London Rules (John Murray) is well up to the high standard of its predecessors, with the usual mixture of jokes and jeopardy at Slough House, the place where MI5 careers go to die under the dubious auspices of the wonderfully repulsive Jackson Lamb. Set in New York, Thirteen, by Steve Cavanagh (Orion), is the fourth legal thriller to feature his regular protagonist, conman-turned-defence-attorney Eddie Flynn. This time, he’s representing a Hollywood star who is accused of killing his wife. The real killer, however, is not in the dock, but on the jury, having offed one of the 12 in order to assume his identity… An irresistible, read-in-a-sitting page turner.
Despite making some powerful enemies during the reign of Henry VIII, CJ Sansom’s lawyer-sleuth Matthew Shardlake has managed to not to lose his head, and the long-awaited seventh instalment in the series, Tombland (Mantle), opens with Henry’s son, young Edward VI, on the throne. Sent to Norfolk to investigate a murder, the crook-backed hero becomes embroiled in a revolt against land enclosures: totally immersive and vividly written, with an evocation of the Tudor era so strong that one can almost smell it. Late Victorian London, a city where ‘scullery maids and match girls [are] disappearing left and right’, is the setting for The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). This tightly-constructed literary mystery with a supernatural flavour is compelling, blackly humorous, and very good fun. Historic crimes in 1944 and 1972 cast a shadow on present-day Northern Ireland in Eoin McNamee’s latest novel, The Vogue (Faber & Faber), a bleak but captivating tale about secrets, repression and the falsity of history.
Lastly, the inclusion of Belinda Bauer’s intelligent and original novel Snap (Bantam Press) on this year’s Booker longlist may have brought the genre snobs out in full force, but, as the author herself pointed out, classifications are only as limiting as writers and readers allow them to be. ‘I can tell any story I want in the crime genre… [book classification] is just about marketing, and I wish people would understand that and pick up some good stuff and read it.’ As is evidenced by the list above, there is a huge diversity in crime novels, and the good stuff is not only plentiful, but ever more varied.
© Laura Wilson, 2018