Serpent’s Tail, £14.99, pp304
The story opens with a nine-year-old boy, Levi, getting lost on a boat on Caddo Lake in Texas, a “gnarled inland sea, wholly untamed…both majestic and macabre”. But Levi is no ordinary nine-year-old – his family are part of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews, who has been working to indict key members of the white supremacist group, is sent to find him.
Darren is conflicted. Of the tens of thousands of missing children, why is he looking for a boy who is already showing racist tendencies, but as he digs deeper into the murky past and present of the rural Texas community, he discovers tendrils of malevolence and prejudice stretching back decades. “There was something shrouded about the place, like the grayish moss hanging on the cypress trees in Caddo Lake,” he realises.
Set after the election of Trump, suffused with the Texas blues music that Darren loves, this fine thriller depicts an America teetering on the edge of chaos where racial violence is breaking out everywhere, “like a ghostly relative in a daguerreotype who had always been there but was now impossible to ignore.”
Raven, £12.99, pp448
Hester Why is fleeing a mysterious, dark past in 19th-century London to work under an assumed name as a lady’s maid at remote Morvoren Mansion on the Cornish coast. Her charge, Miss Pinecroft, is partially paralysed and barely speaks, spending her days and nights staring in a creepy fashion at the array of china that fills her room. The staff talk of fairies, but Hester is enjoyably resolute in her dismissal of their superstitions: “I have lived to the age of two-and-thirty without meeting the requirements of a human bride… I have no reason to fear a supernatural suitor” – until she learns more about her employer’s past. How 40 years earlier, Miss Pinecroft’s father, a doctor alone and heartbroken by what consumption has done to his family, decides to experiment on a group of consumptive prisoners, keeping them in the cliffs under the Cornish house. Deliciously spooky.
Harper Collins, £20, pp400
What would happen if someone could control the elevators in New York City to nefarious means? That’s the question Linwood Barclay explores in Elevator Pitch, sending innocents plummeting to their doom as an array of characters – detective Jerry Bourque, traumatised by a previous case, hardbitten journalist Barbara Matheson, and mayor Richard Headley (he doesn’t like to be known as Dick) – try to save the day. Could it be the work of the Flyovers, an “alt-right group that says the real Americans are the ones the elites fly over when they go from coast to coast”? In snappy chapters and pacy prose, Barclay has a lot of fun letting his scenario play out. “What would you have me do?… Tell New Yorkers to stop using the elevators until further notice? You have any idea what kind of chaos that would create in a vertical city like this?” demands the mayor. Reader: you will be glad to know that he does indeed give this order.
Mantle, £16.99, pp304
The late Andrea Camilleri shows nobody does it better than his Sicilian detective, Montalbano, here in his 24th outing. Outraged to be sent by his partner, Livia, to acquire a tailored suit for a wedding, he finds himself unexpectedly charmed by the beautiful tailor Elena and horrified when, soon after, she is murdered. He throws himself into the investigation, but he and his team are exhausted: they’re also coping with the arrival of nightly boatloads of hundreds of refugees on Sicily and Camilleri shows the wretched misery of this situation with his usual clarity and humanity. Stephen Sartarelli’s translation is as flawless as ever: we must savour what is left to come from Camilleri.
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