Category Archives: Barry’s Posts

My Guardian Thriller Roundup

Karen Slaughter’s response when her books are accused of being too dark and violent? Dial up those very qualities a notch or two. And her formidable new novel, The Good Daughter (HarperCollins, £20), bracingly demonstrates that she still spurns crime fiction that offers an unthreatening comfort read. Slaughter has long demonstrated a fascination with the troubling dynamics of domestic life – very much the case here. Samantha and Charlotte Quinn have their quotidian lives in a small US town torn apart by an act of violence in their family home: their mother dies, followed by the emotional collapse of the sisters’ attorney father. Three decades later, Charlotte, now practising law, appears to have exorcised the past. But another disturbing incident opens up a particularly nasty can of worms that will bring the past devastatingly into the present. Characterisation here is drawn in broad brush strokes, but with a core of psychological truth that underpins the tense narrative.

It might be thought that after creating two of the most distinctive heroes in thriller fiction — abrasive LA cop Harry Bosch and low-rent lawyer Mickey Haller — Michael Connelly would be justified in resting on his laurels. But the author is clearly aiming to establish a trinity of crime fiction protagonists. In The Late Show (Orion, £19.99), we are introduced to under-a-cloud detective Renée Ballard, who shows every sign of the durability of her male confrères. After filing sexual harassment charges against her ex-boss, Ballard has been ignominiously consigned to the midnight shift of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division (the eponymous ‘late show’); part of her soft punishment is that she is obliged to hand over to the day shift any challenging cases that come her way. But after the savage beating of a woman and a nightclub massacre that leaves five dead, Ballard breaks the rules by refusing to pass over these cases; her ex-boss is soon an implacable opponent. Although the usual Connelly fingerprints are in evidence here — a gritty picture of US detective work and the trenchant office politics of the LAPD — the real achievement is the creation of his tenacious heroine, Ballard, which Connelly manages economically. What we learn about her is solely via watching how she does her job; any character insights that accrue along the way are completely on the hoof.

The end of the last Cold War (presupposing that we are in another one now) had a deleterious effect on the espionage novel, with even such titans as le Carré cast adrift for a while. But proof that the genre is flourishing anew in the 21st century comes with My Name Is Nobody by Matthew Richardson (Michael Joseph, £12.99), good enough to allow us to forgive the much-used title and the fact that Richardson is a Westminster political speechwriter. The author is closer to the Charles Cumming school of spycraft – i.e., plausible accounts of the duplicitous world of spooks — rather than the eccentric humour of Mick Heron. In bad odour with his spymaster bosses, Solomon Vine is struggling to deal with the abduction of the Istanbul Head of Station following a terrorist interrogation, and (as is customary for the genre) nobody he encounters can be trusted. Richardson is less concerned with the subtler characterisation that distinguishes the more ambitious entries in the spy genre, but his plotting has an old-school, Swiss-clock precision that keeps the reader pleasurably engaged.

Journalist Kate Waters spots a story when the bones of a child are discovered during a construction project. Publisher Emma Simmonds has also spotted the discovery, but is anxious to hide its personal significance for her from her husband. And Angela Irving is a nurse who persuades herself that the skeleton is that of her daughter, stolen from a maternity ward in 1970 — a crime for which she has been in the frame. A multistranded approach is adopted in Fiona Barton’s successor to The Widow, The Child (Bantam Press, £12.99), which shares the large cast and andante tempo of Paula Hawkins’ recent Into the Water, but Barton marshals these elements with more rigour; perhaps, though, she might try something different next time from the missing child scenario of her first two novels.

French crime maestro Pierre Lemaitre continues his upward trajectory in Three Days and a Life (Maclehose Press, £14.99, trans. Frank Wynne), with a 12-year-old boy set on a grim life course following the disappearance of another child. Typically astringent and accomplished fare from the reliable Lemaitre — as is Christopher Bollen’s lengthy and atmospheric The Destroyers (Scribner, £14.99). The hapless Ian Bledsoe’s trip to a Greek island to inveigle money from childhood friend Charlie takes him into very dangerous waters when Charlie disappears. As with Lemaitre, this is literary crime writing of some distinction: a heady melange of Aldous Huxley and Robert Goddard.