An eye-openingly graphic sex scene launches Camilla Lackberg’s The Gilded Cage (HarperCollins, £12.99, translated by Neil Smith), in which a woman reluctantly indulges her husband’s porn-fuelled fantasies.
It’s joltingly different from the restrained, Christie-esque Nordic noir set in her native Fjallbacka (a fishing village) that has made the Swedish writer one of the most successful Scandinavian novelists.
But, as in many current crime novels inspired by the #MeToo movement and the wider spotlight on misogyny (female revenge is a theme here), Lackberg channels another hot-button issue: a successful woman with a desirable husband whose pampered lifestyle is abruptly torn to shreds. Faye Adelheim (whose past was blighted by a violent father) is catapulted from her splendid Stockholm apartment into a nightmare world when her beloved daughter is murdered. Lackberg’s new embrace of a terrifying revenge scenario furnishes visceral psychological crime.
Encountering uncompromising fare such as Lackberg has now provided is not such a surprise in Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Gallows Rock (Hodder, £16.99, translated by Victoria Cribb): the Icelandic writer’s work frequently echoes the gruesomeness of Stephen King.
Sigurdardottir always casts a cold eye on her country, with its volatile economy in which tourism is a vital component. “Gallows Rock”, once a place of execution just outside Reykjavik, is now a visitor attraction. When the body of a banker is discovered hanging from the rock with a nail embedded in his chest, connections are soon found to a four-year-old boy who has made some cryptic drawings. Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja, searching for the boy’s parents and a key to the killing, find a hornets’ nest of human malfeasance. Iceland’s long dark nights are at their most minatory in Sigurdardottir’s atmospheric thrillers.
There is a sense of hard-won, real-world authenticity to the novels of Californian Don Winslow, but then the writer is no desk-bound wordsmith. During apartheid, he smuggled money to build schools in Soweto, he has climbed the mountains of western China, and simulated hostage exchanges while working as a “mock” terrorist for the Institute for International Studies. Recently, lengthy blockbusters such as The Border have secured his place in the upper echelons of American crime writing, but Broken (HarperCollins, £20) is something different: a collection of six novellas that feature characters we have encountered before. The good news? Winslow proves to be as adroit with these forms as with his arm-straining epics. In the pulse-racing title story, a tough group of New Orleans narcotics cops undertake a bloody revenge mission, while in “The Last Ride” a border patrol agent tries to reunite a kidnapped Mexican child with her mother. In pared-down Hemingway-esque prose, every one of these pieces is top-drawer Winslow — and they will do nicely until the next hefty tome.
The industrious Andrew Taylor has set his prizewinning novels in 18th-century England and America, the Regency period, 1930s London and the 1950s Welsh Borders. The Last Protector (HarperCollins, £14.99), the fourth outing for his resourceful government agent James Marwood, is located in a pungently realised Restoration England, now the author’s default historical period. Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard has made his way back to England in disguise, and Marwood, along with his friend Cat Lovett (less in evidence here than usual), is soon involved in dangerous machinations. A teeming London (in the process of reconstruction after the Great Fire), political chicanery, duels, brothels, court manoeuvrings — all are grist to Taylor’s imaginative mill.
Who would have thought that badger culls might figure in the plot of a crime novel? But then William Shaw has never been content simply to reheat familiar elements. In Grave’s End (Riverrun, £16.99), DS Alexandra Cupidi is called in when a body is discovered in a fridge, launching an investigation that takes in such issues as the protection of badgers by law, the housing crisis and the controversies that environmental activism inspires. Despite the issues involved, Shaw never lectures; his crucial imperative remains ironclad storytelling and razor-sharp characterisation, both in evidence here.
Ask admirers of American crime fiction who rules the roost these days, and you will get plenty of votes for the masterly Michael Connelly. Fair Warning (Orion, £20) has relentless journo Jack McEvoy on the trail of a serial killer who has murdered a woman with whom Jack had a one-night stand. Despite being warned off by both the police and his editor, Jack becomes deeply involved and finds himself accused of murder. As ever, Connelly is an astute commentator on American society, notably the prevalence of fake news filtering from the highest political echelons down to every stratum of society. More literary caviar from Connelly.
Recently, various writers (Paula Hawkins is one example) have attempted ambitious multiple-viewpoint approaches to the crime novel, but Jane Corry proves to be the most adroit practitioner with I Made a Mistake (Penguin, £7.99). Ex-actress Poppy Page runs an extras agency; renewing a relationship with the seductive Matthew Gordon is to lead her (and her mother-in-law Betty, a co-narrator) into some very treacherous waters. Corry dispenses narrative twists aplenty.
Barry Forshaw’s latest book is ‘Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide’
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