Val McDermid’s thirtieth novel, Out of Bounds (Little, Brown, £18.99) is the fourth to feature DCI Karen Pirie, head of Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit. When a teenage joyrider ends up in a coma, a routine DNA test reveals a close familial match to the perpetrator of an unsolved murder that took place in 1996. Discovering the killer’s identity should be a fairly easy task, but, the boy being adopted, Pirie and her sidekick, the doltish but earnest DC Jason Murray, find themselves in a maze of red tape. Pirie, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her partner, also becomes involved – unofficially – in the case of Gabriel Abbott, a lonely obsessive who has been found shot. DI Alan Noble, in charge of the case, believes that it’s suicide, but Pirie thinks there might be a link with the death of Abbott’s mother, 22 years earlier, in a presumed terrorist attack. With expertly-juggled plotlines and masterful handling of pace and tension, Out of Bounds ticks all the best boxes, but what makes this book a real cracker is Pirie herself – grieving, insubordinate and dogged in her pursuit of the various culprits.
Inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird, Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake (Faber & Faber, £12.99) is set in Maryland, where Luisa ‘Lu’ Brant, newly elected as the first female State’s Attorney of Howard County, decides to prove herself by prosecuting a drifter who is accused of beating a woman to death. Fiercely intelligent and highly competitive, Lu comes from a family of achievers who enjoy status and privilege: her father was a legendary State’s Attorney for the same county and her older brother AJ a high-school hero who saved the life of his friend Davey, the only black kid in their circle, when he was attacked by two brothers who believed he’d raped their sister. Two narratives, both from Lu’s point of view, interweave past and present until she finds herself confronted with some unpalatable truths about her relatives. Subtle, moving and intriguing, this excellent book is a complex study of how, as Lu puts it, ‘we always want our heroes to be better than their times, to hold the enlightened views we have achieved one hundred, fifty, ten years later.’
Blood Wedding (MacLehose Press, £12.99) by French author Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne, is the story of nanny Sophie Duguet, who, plagued by nightmares and memory loss, becomes the subject of a nationwide manhunt after she has apparently strangled her charge, six-year-old Leo, with a shoelace. There’s also the matter of Sophie’s mother-in-law, who she may have shoved – fatally – down a staircase, and the mysterious death of her husband Vincent… On the run and desperate for a new identity, Sophie decides to marry a soldier in the hope that he will be posted abroad, taking her with him – at which point a second narrator, Frantz, takes up the baton, and it becomes clear that Sophie is not, after all, her own worst enemy. Utterly unpredictable and told with relish, Blood Wedding is a dementedly Hitchcockian tale of gas-lighting: suspend disbelief and enjoy.
Although Rod Reynolds set the bar extraordinarily high for himself with his debut novel, The Dark Inside, it’s fair to say that his second book more than lives up to the promise of its predecessor. Black Night Falling (Faber & Faber, £12.99) picks up with reporter Charlie Yates in October 1946, six months after his adventure in Texarkana. Yates, newly married and kicking his heels on a small newspaper in California, is asked by an acquaintance to help look into the mysterious deaths of three women in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On arrival, he discovers that his contact has perished in a hotel fire and that nobody in the place – a sleazy hotbed of gambling, prostitution and corruption – seems to know anything about the murders. Determined to do the right thing, Yates begins to investigate and soon comes up against some formidable adversaries. Smart plotting, immaculate research, a tersely precise style and a protagonist with a touch of the knight-errant about him add up to another slice of pitch-perfect American Noir.
Blackwater (Quercus, £12.99) is the first in an Essex-based police-procedural series by James Henry, author of the prequels to R.D. Wingfield’s D.I. Jack Frost books. It being 1983, before the reforms of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act, things at Colchester CID are less ‘procedural’ and more laissez faire than they would be nowadays as DI Nick Lowry and his colleagues grapple with cases including an armed robbery at a post office, a massive shipment of drugs, a headless corpse and a fatal encounter between the local hard boys and the squaddies from the nearby garrison. An impressively convoluted plot, wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the bleak estuary landscape, an engaging protagonist and some tasty villains get this series off to a flying start.