Inspired by the case of milliner Sarah Metyard and her daughter Sally, who were executed for mistreating one of their young apprentices so badly that she died, Laura Purcell’s second novel, The Corset (Raven Books, £12.99) is a compelling slice of early Victorian gothic. Ruth Butterham, a 16-year-old seamstress, stands accused of murdering her abusive mistress and is visited in prison by earnest Dorothea Truelove, a wealthy young heiress who combines good works with the study of phrenology. Ruth, who believes that supernatural powers flow through her needle and thread, tells her story to Dorothea, who, in defiance of the father who wishes her to move in fashionable society and marry well, has secretly become engaged to a policeman. Vivid and well researched, this book is an evocative portrait of a society that punishes women who dare to contravene social norms – Ruth’s mother has suffered appallingly as a consequence of marrying against her family’s wishes – as well as a splendid mystery with suitably melodramatic flourishes.
Defiant daughters are also feature in Brothers in Blood (dialogue books, £7.99), the first novel from Amer Anwar, winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger. It’s set in Southall, West London, where Zaq Khan, Muslim and recently out of prison, counts himself lucky to have landed a job at a builder’s yard owned by prominent Sikh businessman Mr Brar. Zaq wants to put the past behind him, but his hopes of leading a quiet life are dashed when Brar coerces him into finding his missing daughter. Rita Brar has run away from home with a Muslim man and must, for the sake of honour, be brought back – and, as if that isn’t bad enough, it soon becomes clear that her two brothers, who don’t hesitate to use violence, are up to something very dodgy indeed. Tense and pacey, with fast and furious fight scenes, plenty of local colour and wonderful camaraderie between the likeable and resourceful Zaq and his best friend and sidekick Jags, this is a very welcome addition to the growing ranks of British Asian Noir.
There are more family secrets in All This I Will Give To You by bestselling Spanish author Dolores Redondo (amazon crossing, £8.99, translated by Michael Meigs). Novelist Manuel Ortigosa is devastated to learn that his husband of 15 years, Alvaro Muniz de Davila*, has been killed in a car crash. That, however, is not the only shock. Alvaro, who was supposed to have been at a business meeting in Barcelona, died in Galicia, on the other side of the country. It turns out that Alvaro has been keeping secrets – he was the head of a rich and powerful aristocratic family and has made Manuel sole heir to the entire estate. The Muniz de Davila* clan are tight-lipped, but retired cop Nogueria believes that Alvaro’s death wasn’t as accidental as the deferential local police claim. When Manuel and his new acquaintance begin to ask questions, family skeletons soon start to tumble out of closets. All This I Will Give To You is an entertaining read, with plenty of plot twists, but, although the writing itself is not prolix, this hefty 647-pager contains a fair bit of repetition, and one can’t help feeling that the story could have been told more efficiently.
Half Moon Bay (Titan Books, £7.99 is the latest novel from New York Times bestseller Alice LaPlante. When Jane O’Malley’s teenage daughter dies in a car accident and her husband leaves her, she tries to start a new life in the friendly California town of Half Moon Bay, but, still haunted by her loss, she walks the deserted beach at night and contemplates suicide. When young girls in the neighbourhood begin to disappear, turning up dead a week later, Jane’s proximity and history of erratic behaviour put her under suspicion. Cold-shouldered by most of her newly-acquired support network and with the police homing in, she accepts the friendship of seductive newcomers Edward and Alma, who are sympathetic to her plight… Although this may not be a book for hardcore genre fans – written in a literary style, it’s more psychological study than rollercoaster plot – Half Moon Bay is complex, intricate, and rewarding.
The eighth book in Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series, Wild Fire (Macmillan, £16.99), is also, sadly, the last. DI Jimmy Perez’s final case is the death of Emma Shearer, local nanny to a family of English incomers who have renovated an old house. The Flemings have already drawn some hostility because the man from whom they bought the place, after he got into financial difficulties, hanged himself in the barn – and young Emma, on first inspection, appears to have done likewise. However, it soon becomes clear that she didn’t die by her own hand, and when Jimmy and his team – including boss Willow Reeves, who brings some very unexpected news – start to dig into her home life and that of the Flemings, things start to get very complicated indeed. Deft plotting, strong characters and the masterful evocation of a rugged landscape make this a splendid ending to an excellent series.
© Laura Wilson, 2018