Although it’s widely acknowledged that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, it can often be fairly difficult to get through psychological crime novels of the ‘How well do you know your husband/wife/best friend?’ variety without becoming so irritated by the protagonist’s wilful obtuseness that you end up wanting to give him, or, more usually, her, a jolly good shake. There are moments when Sabine Durrant’s second crime novel, Remember Me This Way (Mulholland Books, £12.99) comes perilously close to failing the shake test, but, on the whole, the author does a good job with conscientious teacher/carer Lizzie, who, visiting the site of husband Zach’s fatal car crash a year after his death, begins to wonder not only how well she knew him, but whether he might actually be still alive. Alternating between Lizzie’s narrative and Zach’s diary, it’s splendidly creepy, with plenty of paranoia and, despite the unnecessary give-away at the beginning, sufficient tension, and very good indeed on the contentious area of collusion in abusive relationships, where the ‘attention’ of maltreatment is deemed preferable to the catastrophe of indifference.
After a gap of nine years, Painting Death (Harvill Secker, £16.99) is the third of Tim Parks’s novels to feature Ripleyesque conman and killer Morris Arthur Duckworth. Having schemed and murdered his way through two books, the English expat is now a wealthy and respectable family man and pillar of Veronese society, and he’s intending to mount an exhibition entitled Painting Death: The Art of Assassination from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst, featuring masterpieces from all over the world as well as works from his own extensive collection. Duckworth’s particular delusion is not to do with his nearest and dearest, but with his appallingly plausible desire, despite his greed and ruthlessness, to view himself as a pious and morally upright individual. The church is helpful in this, as are the obligingly sycophantic ghosts of those he’s bumped off along the way, with whom he has regular chats. However, things start to spin out of control when the director of the museum where the exhibition is to be held objects to the sensational nature of the proposed subject matter… Sharp, funny and satirical, with a wonderfully overblown ending, this is definitely one to take on holiday.
Despite the nominative determinism of his initials, Morris Arthur Duckworth might well have benefitted from some therapy, although perhaps not of the kind dispensed by unscrupulous Deborah Gold, the psychologist who is found crucified at the start of Tom Wright’s second novel, Blackbird (Canongate, £12.99). Jim ‘Biscuit’ Beaudry Bonham, first seen as a teenager in Wright’s excellent debut What Dies in Summer and now a detective in the Texas police force with trouble at home and a mystery in his past, is called upon to solve the case. After a slow start – the flip-flopping between past and present is initially somewhat confusing – things start hotting up nicely for an intriguing read that manages to be both atmospheric and pacey.
Set in the Missouri Ozarks, Laura McHugh’s accomplished debut, The Weight of Blood (Hutchinson, £9.99), is the story of seventeen-year-old Lucy and her mother Lila, who vanished soon after the birth of her daughter. Mainly narrated by Lucy, whose sweet but slow friend Cheri goes missing, only to be discovered, dismembered, inside a dead tree, and Lila, whose remains were never found, this well-handled time-slip interweaves two parallel stories set almost two decades apart. There’s a haunting, even hypnotic, quality to this book that gives a splendid tautness as the secrets of a suspicious and inward-looking community isolated in a magnificent but dangerous – even deadly – landscape are uncovered.
Belfast, where the emollient narrative of the peace process often fails to soften the rough edges of the past, proves to be equally dangerous in The Final Silence (Harvill Secker, £12.99), the third of Stuart Neville’s novels to feature PSNI detective inspector Jack Lennon. He’s in a bad way: wounded in a shootout, he’s addicted to prescription drugs, fighting for a medical discharge with a pension and at war with his late partner’s family over his daughter’s future. Thirty-something Rea Carlisle, an old flame, is clearing out the house of the recently deceased uncle she last met when she was six, when she finds a ledger containing firsthand accounts of murders committed in the 1990s. When her father, an ambitious politician fearful of scandal, counsels against calling the police, Rea contacts Lennon. Initially reluctant to become involved – the ledger she has promised to show him has disappeared and he’s not sure that she’s telling the truth – he is forced to enter the fray when Rea is murdered and he becomes a suspect. Told in spare yet subtle prose, The Final Silence is deftly plotted, fast paced, and the denouement packs a real punch.
© Laura Wilson, 2014