The best recent thrillers – review roundup

Alison Flood
·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Olaf Protze/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Olaf Protze/Alamy Stock Photo


Femi Kayode
Raven Books, £14.99, pp432

Femi Kayode’s debut opens with a truly horrific mob killing. Three students are accused of robbery and then murdered in a Nigerian university town, their deaths captured on camera and replayed endlessly on social media. “By the time tyres are thrown over their heads like oversized necklaces, and the smell of petrol wafts so strong that some in the crowd cover their noses, madness has staked its claim on what is left of the day.” More than a year later, the father of one of the boys, looking for answers, contacts investigative psychologist Dr Philip Taiwo, who specialises in “studying the motives behind crimes and how they are committed”.

Taiwo has been back in Nigeria for only eight months, having spent most of his adult life in the US. He takes on the case, but soon finds himself out of his depth when he arrives in the town of Okriki and begins delving into the secrets of a community that is desperate for him to leave. Even his wife, Folake, a lawyer, has no faith in him. “It would’ve been nice if my wife had said instead: ‘Go, Sweets. If anyone can find out what led to the mobbing and burning to death of three undergraduates, you’re the one. You’ve got this.’”

Tense and disturbing, Lightseekers draws on the real-life lynching and burning of four undergraduates at the University of Port Harcourt in 2012, and is Kayode’s attempt to “honour them and the victims of vigilantes across the world”. An impressive debut.

The Sanatorium

Sarah Pearse
Bantam Press, £12.99, pp400

We are all currently trapped within our own four walls, but Sarah Pearse’s first novel shows us how much worse things could be. Elin Warner is a detective, but has taken time off after a traumatic experience. She has been invited to her brother Isaac’s engagement party in a remote hotel in the Swiss Alps. Arriving as the snow billows, she immediately feels unease – not helped by the fact that the building used to be a sanatorium (“This place… people don’t like it… superstition, I suppose,” she is told), or the acres of glass that let the mountains loom in. “Ever since she’s stepped out of the transfer bus she’s felt it – that creeping sense of something dark, threatening.”

Then Isaac’s fiancee Laure vanishes, a body is found buried in the snow up the mountain, and an avalanche traps guests in the hotel as a killer stalks the luxury corridors. The police can’t get through the snow, and as the storm worsens, Elin is forced to bring her old training into play while simultaneously confronting her tragic past with her brother. “She’s often thought about this, the risks of a crime in a remote location. How vulnerable people would be, how much damage could be inflicted in a short period of time.” Spooky, chilling and claustrophobic.

Black Widows

Cate Quinn
Orion, £12.99, pp480

The police believe that Blake Nelson has been murdered by his wife, out near his property miles from anywhere in the wilds of Utah. “Nothing out here for 100 miles but the desert and some big old turkey vultures.” The question is, which one? There’s Rachel, the first wife, fiercely jealous of her husband’s affections. Tina, who doesn’t come from a Mormon background (“I was dragged up halfway between foster carers and my mom if she was in town”), and Emily, the youngest, who knows more than she’s letting on.

Black Widows marks Cate Quinn’s move from historical novels to thrillers. It shifts between the very different voices of each of Blake’s wives, as more about the dead man is revealed. “You’re implying my husband deliberately chose women without families?” Rachel asks the police in Salt Lake City. “It’s a very common practice in cults, sects, places where people are brainwashed,” they reply. The women also learn more about their own pasts. “Ever since Blake died, I feel as though someone is peeling up corners of my mind, like the label on a jar. They’ve picked at the edges, but now they’ve got a good hold, and the label is starting to roll back. Sometime real soon, the underside will be exposed.” This is a compelling read with a very dark heart indeed.

The Killing Choice

Will Shindler
Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, pp336

Karl and his daughter Leah are ambushed in Crystal Palace park, and given an ultimatum by their attacker: either Karl stays and they both die, or Karl leaves and the attacker rapes Leah, but lets them both live. Karl does the unthinkable and deserts his daughter to save them both, only to hear her scream, and return to find her murdered. As the press rages about the father who abandoned his daughter to a murderer, elsewhere in London, Jo, a nurse, is asked by the killer to decide who she wants to die, her mother or her boyfriend.

DI Alex Finn, still mourning the death of his wife, Karin, from a brain tumour, investigates with DC Mattie Paulsen, who is also grappling with family issues. The Killing Choice is the second in a series that opened with The Burning Men, and is another adept police procedural, building the sense of dread to breaking point as Finn and Paulsen rush to uncover any links between the victims. This is a thoroughly immersive read which leaves the reader wondering how they would react if faced with such an unimaginable choice. As Paulsen says: “If you thought that was the only way we’d both walk away, wouldn’t you?”

To order Lightseekers, The Sanatorium, Black Widows or The Killing Choice go to Delivery charges may apply