11 crime novels to read in March
Our acting crime columnist Kate McIntosh recommends Dervla McTiernan’s latest and third novel, and ten more crime fiction reads out this month.
The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan
The Rúin, the novel which introduced us to Cormac Reilly, an Irish detective transferred to Galway and handed a cold case which leads him to unexpected places, was my standout crime novel of 2018. The Scholar, released last year, continued his story, allowing us to find out more about our man Cormac. This time, in The Good Turn, the action begins immediately, a young girl is abducted and Cormac’s protégé, Peter Fisher, kills her alleged kidnapper. Unable to prove he had no choice but to shoot and facing prosecution himself, Peter is banished to the small, picturesque village of his childhood. His grandmother still lives there and his father is the local copper, upholding the law any way he sees fit. With nothing better to do, Peter begins to look more closely at the double murder of a farmer and his nephew. Meanwhile, Cormac has been suspended from duty due to his handling of the kidnapping case and it soon becomes clear that his doggedness and determination to do the right thing hasn’t won him any friends. All Cormac and his team want to do is solve crimes and put away the bad guys, but thanks to corruption and politics within the force there are obstacles every step of the way.
It’s early in the year, I know, but The Good Turn is already my favourite detective story of 2020. This is crime as it should be. McTiernan brings her characters to life with a perfect blend of suspense, intrigue and wit. She is also the queen of the atmospheric novel, as the snow starts to pile up around the inhabitants of County Galway you feel the icy fingers of mystery on the back of your neck, and when the weather clears and all is right again in the world of Cormac Reilly and his fellow Garda, you will be warmed down to your very toes.
After Dark by Dominic Nolan
Detective Sergeant Abigail Boone was left with no memory of her former self after she was abducted while searching for a missing woman in Dominic Nolan’s thrilling debut novel, Past Life. Now she returns, in prison after her need for revenge took her outside the law. A pariah, languishing behind bars, still unable to remember the person she used to be and having had to create a new persona for herself, Boone awaits her fate. Meanwhile, her former colleagues have a new, horrifying case to solve and are finding it impossible to do so. It seems Boone is the only one with the insider knowledge required to track this monster down. She is soon released from prison but can she unravel this mystery in time? With clever plotting and a flawed but driven lead character with genuine depth, this action packed, sometimes violent, story will have you turning pages as fast as you can go. A thriller you are highly unlikely to forget anytime soon.
Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore
Having fled New Zealand after a family tragedy, journalist Chrissie O’Brian struggles to settle into her new life in Melbourne and her new job at a newspaper where nearly everyone seems to resent her presence. Just making it through the day takes most of her energy, not having a panic attack and dealing with her angry boss uses up the rest. Work is the only thing keeping her going, even if it is just the puff pieces she hates. When she stumbles across a mystery on the wharves she knows this is one story she must get published. Strange accidents and now deaths have occurred, always out of sight of CCTV and witnesses. Suddenly, she only has two weeks to gather all the pieces of the puzzle and help save lives, including her own. This dark, edgy, somewhat scary, thriller set in the familiar streets of our very own city will make you wonder which bits are fact and which belong to the realm of fiction as the plot thickens and the bats fly silently overhead.
The Missing American by Kwei Quartey
Gordon Tilson is the American about to go missing in Ghana. A victim of an internet scam that cost him money, hurt his pride and his heart, he returns to the West African Republic where he first met his beloved, now deceased, wife. He is there to investigate the crooks behind these online crimes. When he disappears, his son hires a private detective, Emma Djan, a young woman recently sacked from the police force. A quiet, unassuming and moral person, Emma is determined to prove herself to her new boss and the world at large. If anyone can discover ‘whodunnit’ she can. The first in a compelling new series set in a richly drawn world of corruption, conmen and deceit.
Death in the Ladies' Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale
Australia in 1932 was a country still recovering from war, the depression and the loss of many of its menfolk. It was an exciting time too. Phar Lap won a race in Mexico (then died shortly after), Jack Lang officially opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge (and then was dismissed as Premier not long after) and, of course, the statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox was unveiled. Julian Leatherdale’s new novel is set right in the middle of all this excitement, in Kings Cross, where young Joan Linderman lives and writes, both for a newspaper and as an aspiring crime writer. It’s a bohemian lifestyle she leads but Joan wants more, and when her neighbour is murdered she throws herself into the investigation without concern for her own welfare. This is a thoroughly enjoyable depiction of Australia’s past and a dark underbelly where all is not as it seems.
How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Marjorie Celona
Vera is a busy, successful professor who vanishes one New Year’s Day when walking her dog by the lake in the small town in which she lives. She wasn’t the only one out by the lake that morning and as the police begin their investigation the waters become murkier with each passing day. As the landscape changes, so too do the lives of those left behind. Whilst this novel does come under the heading of ‘crime’, it is also a beautifully written exploration of grief, vulnerability, guilt and violence. Becoming a lake (just in case you were wondering) means to rest, to be still, to be separate, not just from others but from yourself. What it means in the context of this deeply satisfying book … well you’ll just have to read it to find out!
Firewatching by Russ Thomas
D.S. Adam Tyler is the only member of a Sheffield cold case unit, assigned there partly because of his inability to play nicely with others. When the body of a man found inside the walls of the Old Vicarage turns out to be a corrupt businessman who disappeared six years earlier, Adam is added to the team investigating the murder. At the same time an arsonist is setting fires and writing about it on social media and a pair of elderly neighbours are receiving letters claiming to know about a crime they committed in the past but which at least one of them cannot remember having committed. The village secrets are beginning to pile up. This is a red-hot scorcher of a debut novel with fabulous characters you won’t be able to get enough of and an intelligent, complex plot.
Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge
Zoe’s friends have been watching her change from a happy, caring young woman to a thin, angry one since she began having an affair with Aiden Poole. Aiden Poole is watching via Skype when someone enters Zoe’s apartment and appears to murder her. He eventually calls the police but is slow in coming forward, not wanting the sordid details of his relationship to be dragged into the light. As D.C.I. Jonah Sheens and his fellow officers begin to investigate Zoe’s death, they discover secrets aplenty: each of her friends could have a possible motive for murder but did any of them actually do it? With red herrings galore, and a fantastic first few pages that really grab you, this suspenseful novel ticks all the right boxes.
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
When novelist Cassandra Tip disappears at age seventy-four, her niece and nephew stand to inherit her fortune – if they can decipher the manuscript she left behind, that is. In it, their aunt has written what appears to be a fairytale, and yet it is supposed to be based on her own life. She claims to have had otherworldly companions since the age of five. Her therapist believes Cassie was abused as a child and created the ‘otherworld’ as an escape, but in this particular story, nothing is so straightforward. This strange, richly drawn, bewitching novel of murder, dark fantasy and suspense won’t be for everyone. Read it if you dare!
The Other People by C. J. Tudor
A father who refuses to give up the search for his daughter spends his days and nights on the motorway, forever on the lookout for the car in which he believes he last saw her. A single mother waitresses at an all night servo, keeping an eye out for the man searching for his daughter, intrigued by his story. A woman and her daughter are on the run, always on the move, often on the same motorway. The Others are a group who will lead you to the dark web where you can exact revenge on those who have hurt you, but there is a price to pay. There is always a price. As all of these threads start to tie together, Tudor drags you into her creepy, heart-pounding thriller, one that delivers in so many spooky and compelling ways.
Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavanagh
Two 911 calls are made from the same house at the same time. Both callers are young women claiming that someone has killed their father. Each says that her sister did it. Each insists that the other, the murderer, is still in the house. When the police arrive they arrest both women. Eddie Flynn, ex-conman, now lawyer, is to defend one sister. Kate Brooks, on the run from her evil ex-law firm, is to defend the other, in a joint trial. Told from the perspectives of both lawyers as well as one of the sisters (the guilty one!) there are twists galore in this fast-paced legal thriller with a suitably dramatic ending.
Also out this month…
The new Commissario Brunetti from Donna Leon, Trace Elements; Henning Mankell’s first ever novel, never before translated into English, The Rock Blaster (translated by George Goulding); Jussi Adler Olsen’s Victim 2117 – and doesn’t that just raise the question, what happened to the other 2116?; the hair-raising Harlan Coben returns with The Boy from the Woods; Lynda La Plante’s Buried; Eva Dolan’s Between Two Evils; Stephanie Wrobel’s The Recovery of Rose Gold and more!