The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup
Not a linear plot but a series of vignettes, Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg (Raven, £12.99) is a superbly unsettling account of the aftermath of a murder told in 12 different voices, the last being the victim herself. In 1997, 21-year-old college student Sara Morgan was killed by her schizophrenic boyfriend Blake Campbell, her body left in woods in New York state. Acquitted after pleading temporary insanity, Blake went on to marry and raise a family. Sara was reduced to “just a name on a plaque in a community garden”, but her murder affected the lives of all those it touched, from the troubled housewife who discovered her body to the half-sister who was only two when she died. Reactions vary from grief and bafflement to voyeurism and obsession, with a subplot about a serial killer giving wider context to how society deals with violence against women. If you’re after a whodunnit, there’s nothing to see, but for a perceptive and moving account of people trying to process a senseless act, look no further.
Gender-based violence is also the subject of The Divine Boys by Colombian novelist Laura Restrepo, translated by Carolina De Robertis (Amazon Crossing, £8.99), an unflinching account of posh boys on the rampage in Bogota. Now pushing 40, but still wedded to their adolescent rituals, the members of the self-styled Tutti Frutti gang are, in their different ways, narcissists to a man. Hobbit, the least successful and most peripheral of the five, narrates the story of how Muñeco, the most dangerous of their number, kidnaps an unnamed little girl from the city’s slums. Initially, the others rally round to help him evade capture, but as the full extent of his crime is revealed, their loyalties begin to waver. This is a compelling story of toxic masculinity, entitlement born of privilege, and lost innocence.
The masonic intimacy of the old boy network operates in a rather different way in The Sandpit (Harvill Secker, £16.99), Nicholas Shakespeare’s first work of fiction in a decade. In this wonderfully written thriller, former foreign correspondent and single father John Dyer (first seen in Shakespeare’s 1995 novel, The Dancer Upstairs) has returned home from Brazil so that his young son can attend his alma mater in Oxford while he sits in the Taylorian library researching a book. Things have changed since Dyer’s time – the “school gates” set are now mainly foreigners whose wealth seems to be of dubious provenance and who are using the school to “launder” their children – and the only other parent he really connects with is Iranian scientist Rustum Marvar. When Marvar and his son disappear, after revealing that he has made a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in nuclear fission and handing over his research, Dyer becomes the focus of much interest and begins to consider the other parents in a new and dangerous light. The Sandpit is as much about love, loss and fatherhood as it is about intrigue. It is old school in the best possible way, with an insidious escalation of menace, and paranoia that fairly shimmers off the pages.
There’s more paranoia in Lottie Moggach’s literary thriller Brixton Hill (Corsair, £14.99). Rob is nearing the end of a seven-year sentence for manslaughter at the south London prison and, as part of his reintroduction to the world, is allowed out on day release to volunteer in a charity shop. As long as he keeps his head down on the inside and stays away from temptation on the outside, the parole board will look on him favourably, but a chance encounter with an attractive woman, Steph, threatens to jeopardise his release. As the narrative baton is passed between the two of them, we learn that Steph inhabits a different kind of jail – a soulless flat in an almost empty luxury development – with a different kind of jailer. All the requisite psychological suspense tropes are well orchestrated, but where this novel really stands out is in its realistic depiction of daily life in the nick: a toxic brew of boredom, myriad indignities, petty one-upmanship and fear.
Organised crime may not be an obvious splice with romantic suspense, but Caroline Mackenzie merges them to good effect in her debut novel, One Year of Ugly (Borough, £12.99). Having fled the dysfunctional socialist regime of their native Venezuela for Trinidad, the extended Palacios family find themselves forced to work for a crime lord in order to pay off a debt incurred by now-deceased Aunt Celia. The eponymous Ugly is a people trafficker, and the clan must play host to his newly arrived charges; narrator Yola falls for enforcer Roman and a clandestine affair begins. All the sneaking around is difficult enough, but when Yola’s devout spinster aunt becomes suspicious of her new “guests” and winds up shooting one of them, things go from bad to worse. A sharp, funny narrator and a cast of colourful characters make this a perfect staycation read.