With the glut of new books released recently as a result of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, choosing what to read is even trickier than usual. Crime fiction fans have plenty to pick from at the best of times, so here are five new books that you should consider plucking from the plethora on offer…
Watch Him Die by Craig Robertson
Just as he did with the excellent Murderabilia a few years ago, Craig Robertson once again melds true crime and fiction in this latest outing for Glasgow cop DI Rachel Narey. Robertson does something bold with this one, adding a storyline set in America, and he pulls it off magnificently. The discovery of a body in a surburban Los Angeles home reveals a horrific online game being played by the dead man and an anonymous collaborator. It involves them watching a live stream of an unidentified prisoner in an unknown location slowly dying.
The links to real murders from history, most notably The Black Dahlia case, are soon brought to the fore and the investigation’s relevance to Narey’s own search for a missing woman in Glasgow is made apparent via some skillful plotting. As well as being adept at crafting tense, uncomfortable scenes, Robertson also knows when to chuck in a good joke or two. Exhibit A: He gives minor character Campbell Baxter the nickname ‘Two Soups’.
The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel
Earlier this year I recommended Liz Moore Long Bright River, a stark and compulsive novel about a cop on the hunt for her missing sister on the drug riddled streets of Philadelphia. The Familiar Dark has a similar DNA, with a courageous and occasionally foolhardy female protagonist leading us through the central mystery. Rather than a missing person case, Evie is on the hunt for the killer of her 12-year-old-daughter Junie and Junie’s best friend.
Engel evokes the book’s setting – a bleak, poverty stricken Missouri Ozarks town – and its inhabitants superbly. It feels like a modern western, with Evie hunting down the killer with clear-eyed determination and an increasing sense that rough justice is hers to administer. Engel’s prose is sharp and often brutal, and result is a seriously impressive thriller.
Cry Baby by Mark Billingham
Mark Billingham takes his bestselling Tom Thorne series back to the early days of the detective’s career, with a prequel in which his beer-soaked hero is trying to solve a child abduction case. In the acknowledgments, Billingham talks about how writing a book set in 1996 meant he was essentially creating a historical novel, and he has great fun unfurling his mystery at a time when mobile phones, the internet and CCTV were on the verge of becoming ubiquitous.
The period details are ripe and entertaining – one character watches a VHS recording of This Life, Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman soundtracks a car journey and the story plays out with England’s fortunes in Euro 96 unfolding simultaneously (Anticipating Paul Gascoigne’s spectacular goal against the Scots and the pain it is going to cause one of the Thorne’s key adversaries is particularly good fun for the reader).
Although Cry Baby works as a standalone thriller and a good entry point for the series, it will probably work best for committed Thorne fans, who will especially enjoy discovering how his enduring friendship with heavily pierced pathologist Phil Hendricks got started. Love at first sight it most certainly wasn’t.
Silver by Chris Hammer
After his excellent debut with Scrublands in 2018, Chris Hammer brings journalist Martin Scarsden back for another multi-layered Australian crime story. At the start of the book, we join Scarsden on his way to the town he grew up in. However, his plan to settle down there with the woman he met and fell and love with in Scrublands immediately goes awry when he discovers one of his childhood friends dead on the floor of his new kitchen.
The fact that his girlfriend Mandalay is sat close to the body, covered in blood, doesn’t exactly help matters. The police are convinced Mandalay is the killer, but Scarsden sets out to prove her innocence, facing up to traumatic events from his past as he goes. Like Scrublands, this is a chunky, detailed thriller to get lost in for a week or two. It can be daunting to approach a multi-book crime series as a newbie, so it’s always a pleasure to catch a potential long runner from the very start. With only two books down, now’s the perfect time to become a Chris Hammer fan.
The Cutting Place by Jane Casey
Casey’s ninth book in her Maeve Kerrigan series begins with body parts being washed up on the banks of the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge. A dark and twisty story about missing persons and grisly murders unfolds from here, with DS Kerrigan focusing her investigation on a secretive, male-only private members club.
The Cutting Place works as a standalone book, although elements of the main plot stretch credibility (particularly when it comes to a revelation about the parentage of one of the main suspects). It is at its best when the sub-plot concerning Kerrigan’s personal life explodes into the foreground in the book’s final third – it’s a shocking shift in focus that Casey handles brilliantly.