Val McDermid (Little, Brown)
A new thriller from the acclaimed Val McDermid, 1979 is an evocative step back in time to the year of the title. I feel obliged to confess to having not read any previous McDermid novels, even though the prolific crime writer has been on my radar for quite some time; this being the first in a new series featuring protagonist Allie Burns seemed like the perfect opportunity to put that right.
Burns, a reporter for Glasgow’s Clarion, is trying to make her mark in the man’s world of 1970s newspaper journalism. When she becomes involved in a terrorism case, along with colleague Danny Sullivan, a dangerous turn of events leads to further investigations and highlights the dangers of navigating such an unpredictable working life. The complex plot is well researched, and although this is a fast-paced thriller, the attention to detail and the many era-specific references created the right atmosphere, and will surely bring back memories for many.
Accomplished and insightful, it will be interesting to see how the Allie Burns series progresses. It’s definitely made me want to get started on the author’s back catalogue, too.
Price: £20. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
CHASING THE BOOGEYMAN
Richard Chizmar (Hodder & Stoughton)
Straight from the Stephen King school of smalltown nightmares comes an imaginative addition to the genre in the form of Richard Chizmar’s Chasing The Boogeyman. It begins in Edgewood in 1988, when the bodies of four girls are found, gruesomely murdered. An apparently meticulous killing, with no witnesses and a lack of any tangible evidence, Chizmar – writing as himself – teams up with local journalist Carly Albright. They’re met with one obstacle after another, Edgewood itself becoming embroiled in the saga.
Thirty years later, and someone is suddenly charged with the murders. The accused requests an interview with Chizmar, whereupon the full horror of the situation slowly becomes apparent: the four victims were the tip of the iceberg. The author spends time building the scenery, with the town itself as much a character as anybody else in the book: a textbook example of metafiction, albeit a trait perfected by King. Chizmar is also able to blur the line between truth and fiction very well, adding to the overall uneasiness of the reading experience.
You’ll find yourself having to remember that Chasing The Boogeyman is not a true crime novel. You’ll also find yourself feeling very nervous in the dark, as the this deeply immersive book reels you in and keeps you captivated until the very last word.
Price: £16.99/£19.99 audiobook. Info: here
words CHRIS ANDREWS
Sara Flannery Murphy (Raven)
Girl One could hardly tick more boxes than it does, with its title (enticing the reader into finding out how many girls came after, or what Girl One did first), strapline and cover, whose background is best described as Handmaid’s Tale red. And then, inside the cover, there’s 90s nostalgia, 70s flashbacks and sci-fi, with a nod to Marvel here and a drop of Umbrella Academy there. It’s a mystery that reads like a road movie.
More than a zeitgeist-riding exercise, though, Girl One adds far more to the popular canon than it takes. Parthenogenesis – an egg becoming an embryo without the need for sperm – is an inspired idea for a sci-fi that deals with the future role of women in society, and Murphy shores up the concept further by setting the action in the past (coverage of Kurt Cobain’s death landing us in 1994). It feels like a novelisation of a 1970s science experiment, and its inevitable fallout two decades later.
The diary-like account is strengthened by the first-person narrative, though I think Girl One would have benefitted from seeing herself and hearing her story from a range of viewpoints. But, by staying with the protagonist’s internal voice, Murphy sets up strings of ingenious plot twists that change the meaning of everything up to that point. If the first third is a little repetitive in plodding the plot around America’s Midwest, and the clues a little too easy to come by, Murphy makes up for it with excellent, physical detail that conjures sexual tension, embarrassment, fear and betrayal.
Price: £13.49. Info: here
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
HELL OF A BOOK
Jason Mott (Trapeze)
The rollercoaster you’ve chosen to ride when picking up Hell Of A Book by Jason Mott doesn’t have time to ease you into things with a steady climb followed by an almighty drop. There are too many profound, funny, important things to be said about the world to be wasting time on such a build-up. Instead, we are thrown into action: invisible alongside a young boy being tormented for his skin colour, then hurtling naked down a hotel corridor with a cuckolded husband charging after us.
We follow the story of three: an author, a young Black boy (“The Kid”), and Soot. Initially, all these are individual characters living out their stories, navigating what it means to be a Black person in America across different geographies and time periods. But then we learn that only the author can see The Kid, whose skin is described as so dark it is almost shadow-like, and who may (or may not) be a newsworthy victim of police brutality and racism. Soot, on the other hand, gradually merges with the author, and the traumas of Soot’s childhood start to unravel the author’s reality.
Poignant social commentary, a mirror held to racial injustice, and a contemporary satire and all-round romp. As the author asks his Harvard-educated chauffeur: “A voice? What voice? The voice of my people? Always? Every second of every day of my life? That’s what Black people are always supposed to be? Am I allowed to be something other than simply the colour of my skin? Isn’t that what the whole “I Have A Dream” speech was about?”
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS
THE SEARCH PARTY
Simon Lelic (Viking)
Set in a bleak decaying town suddenly propelled into the limelight, Simon Lelic’s hard-hitting thriller follows the disappearance of 16-year-old Sadie Saunders – an event which shakes up big city detective Robin Fleet’s life. After a frantic 999 call, he is forced to return to his hometown to interrogate a group of misfit teens, regarding their search party in the woods gone wrong.
The split structure reflects the plot’s unpredictable nature, with individual chapters covering all the characters’ differing perspectives, whilst following the format of a police interview. Secrets about the characters’ motives, actions, and relationships with one another gradually unravel. This mixture of short and long chapters effectively builds tension, and though these one-sided conversations feel oddly paced at first, these transitions between chapters become seamless once the storyline sets in, amplifying the true mystery of the book.
Despite feeling engulfed by the pressure of the case from the media, the residents of the town who insist police negligence, and an overbearing superintendent, as well as his own personal demons, Fleet always remains likeable and grounded. Lelic too explores rivalry, family conflict, grief and bullying through his teenage characters in a way that seems authentic and representative of smalltown culture.
Price: £7.99. Info: here
words COBY BARKER
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