The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

Laura Wilson
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

Belinda Bauer’s Snap was longlisted for the Booker prize; in her follow-up, Exit (Bantam, £14.99), Felix Pink is a courteous elderly widower who facilitates the suicides of the terminally ill. When an assignment goes awry, Felix, now a murder suspect, tries to find out whether he is at fault or whether something more sinister has been going on. Meanwhile PC Calvin Bridge, relieved to have given up being a detective for the easier work of small-town policing, is dragooned by his boss into finding some answers. The process proves gainful – a new lease of life for Felix, confidence for Calvin, and the possibility of romance for both – and this intriguing, tender, funny and sometimes (in the best possible way) farcical novel about life and death is a sheer delight.

There’s nothing to laugh about in Will Dean’s standalone departure from the Sweden-set Tuva Moodyson series, The Last Thing to Burn (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99). In an isolated farm amid the fens of East Anglia, Leonard imprisons the Vietnamese immigrant wife he purchased. In constant pain from the injury he inflicted on her ankle, Thanh Dao is kept under surveillance in a cottage surrounded by a vast expanse of flat, muddy fields, with only her memories of her family and her few remaining possessions to keep her sane. The misery becomes ever more tense and claustrophobic when a well-meaning neighbour gets involved, and the tone remains unremittingly grim throughout, but this is a true nail-biter; you’ll be rooting for the astonishingly resilient heroine all the way.

Abigail Dean’s superb first novel, Girl A (HarperCollins, £14.99), also deals with captivity. Lex is the eldest daughter of religious fanatics who create their own version of reality, cutting themselves off from the world and eventually chaining their children to their beds in what inevitably becomes known as the “house of horrors”. Years later, when she returns to the UK from New York to oversee her childhood home’s conversion into a community centre, Lex is forced, in a series of encounters with her siblings, to confront their shared past. All the more powerful for being unsensational, and at its best when detailing the impossibility of explaining such experiences to an outsider and the coping mechanisms required to live in a state of “brokenness”, this debut is authentic, humane and full of hope.

Australian bestseller Jane Harper’s latest novel, The Survivors (Little, Brown, £14.99), is set in the Tasmanian beach community of Evelyn Bay, a place that only comes alive during holiday season. The title refers both to a statue that memorialises a shipwreck and to the stoic citizens whose lives were disrupted by a fatal storm 12 years earlier. Kieran, who feels responsible for two of the deaths – including that of his own brother – has returned to Evelyn Bay to help his mother move house, but when the body of a young woman is discovered on the beach, people start wondering whether there might not be a connection to the earlier tragedy. The ending doesn’t entirely convince, but it’s both a solid mystery and a compelling study of the corrosive effects of grief and guilt.

People Like Her (Mantle, £14.99), the first novel from husband-and-wife writing team Ellery Lloyd, is a cautionary tale for the social media age. Instamum Emmy Jackson, whose “Mamabare” account offers a purportedly unfiltered view of life with three-year-old Coco and newborn Bear, is adept at keeping the brand relatable while plugging her sponsors’ products. Not everyone is happy: the performative motherhood is starting to grate on husband Dan (“Papabare”), but his last novel was published eight years ago and Emmy pays the bills so he’s forced to play along – and now somebody seems determined to undermine their carefully curated public lives by posting stolen photos. Sharp observation, well drawn characters and cleverly ramped-up paranoia more than make up for the rather hammy ending.

Set in 1932, One Night, New York (Virago, £14.99) by Lara Thompson is the story of farm girl Frances, who escapes the Kansas dustbowl in order to join brother Stanley in the big city. The novel begins on 21 December, with Frances and her lover Agnes at the top of the newly erected Empire State Building, preparing a terrible revenge on a man who has wronged them both. The action then rewinds to September, when it gradually becomes clear to newcomer Frances that Stanley, into whose dilapidated tenement flat she has moved, has changed. Thin now, and furtive, he refuses to explain what he does for a living or allow her to go out by herself. Her attempts to discover what is going on lead her into a maelstrom of corruption and violence. From the destitute war veterans who inhabit the shanty towns to the ritzy nightclubs selling illegal booze, this is an atmospheric portrait of a city in the grip of the Great Depression as well as a compelling crime story.