The best new crime reads in June



The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

Eleven-year-old Tippy Chan lives in the poky New Zealand town of Riverstone with her mother, her best friends, a suitably acerbic teen neighbour, and too many memories of her father. This is all very normal and fine, but this little town is about to get quite a shake-up. Tippy’s spectacularly colourful hairdresser uncle, Pike, and his new fashion designer boyfriend, Devon, are in town to look after her while her mother is away, and while the three of them promise to be very almost sometimes good, things are about to get chaotic.

After Tippy’s best friend falls off a bridge and lands in a coma and her teacher becomes the victim of a grisly murder, the three Nancy Drew fans decide to band together and form their own detective agency, ‘The Nancys’, and figure out what the hell is going on, all without getting murdered themselves, or – worse – busted by Tippy’s mother.

This is an absolute riot. Queer crime is frustratingly thin on the ground and this is a sensational example of it that glitters with originality. Tippy is observant, honest and frequently mystified by what everyone’s talking about. She still struggles with the painful aftermath of her father’s death and uses distraction to stop thinking too hard about what happened. Tippy’s delightfully camp uncle lights up the page as he navigates his semi-conservative childhood hometown and the people he once knew. The characters are a scream, with the townsfolk harbouring much more interesting personalities than anybody expected. The Nancys is a cheerfully scattered tale of bad interior design, beauty pageants gone haywire, and haphazard but smart investigation all tied together in a saucy Phryne Fisher-esque package in which love and the families you make are everything.



This Storm by James Ellroy

James Ellroy has a style. James Ellroy likes to write in short, sharp sentences. They crackle with wit and with all the humour of the time. Its 1941, the very tail end. Pearl Harbor is only in the too-fresh past. Rain batters L.A. and those caught outside on the last night of the year: the corrupt cop, the Japanese lab tech currently avoiding internment, the drunk ex-Navy lieutenant, and the intelligence officer who isn’t quite down the line either. There’s a dead body in a park and it’s going to kick off something big for the four of them. Bigger. Biggest. It’s going to kick off history. This Storm is the second in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and for those who love his concentrated mayhem and the way events pulse on the page when he writes, this is for you: a roiling, sprawling novel of L.A. and Mexico in wartime, here to blow your mind.


The Autumn Murders by Robert Gott

I’m aware that I overuse the word ‘delight’ in this column every month, but it’s honestly not my fault that so many of the books that pass my desk are delightful. This month, I’m delegating my one ‘delight’ to the new Robert Gott, The Autumn Murders. Gott’s acerbic, witty and no-holds-barred prose never fails to delight, and he enthrals from the start with his excellently portrayed Melbourne of the 1940s and characters that almost leap from the pages with verve. He’s equally convincing whether writing from the point of view of his detestable villains, such as the disturbed and murderous Hitler-enjoyer George Starling or the lesser bastards that populate the book, or his heroes – including Detective Joe Sable, Homicide’s first female police officer Helen Lord (who’s already been suspended from duty, thank you very much) and their colleagues and relatives. Gott brings the story of Starling’s quest for blood, and of Lord and Sable’s attempts to save themselves – and everyone else – completely and utterly alive.


Conviction by Mina Denise

It’s an ordinary day for Anna McDonald when she wakes early to listen to a new true-crime podcast. It’s about the death, a few years ago, of a father and his two children on a yacht, and she’s already interested before the host mentions the name of the father: Leon Parker. It’s a name from another time – another life – and she’d love to talk to her best friend, Estelle, all about it. Except that Estelle has arrived on her doorstop that morning with a suitcase, because she’s about to head to Portugal on a holiday with Anna’s husband and children. Without Anna, who’s now been abandoned by everyone she loves, and she has no recourse to do anything about it, since going to court for her children means revealing that she’s not actually Anna McDonald at all. At least this new time alone will give her an opportunity to look into Leon’s case, but it soon seems apparent that Anna’s past is about to catch up with her – no matter what.


Night by Night by Jack Jordan

Rose Shaw is leading a half-life: as well as being plagued by insomnia, she’s hated by her husband, her surviving daughter and herself after a tragedy took her other child. On a dark walk late one night, she collides with a stranger on the run. The only evidence that this happened is the journal he left behind, which starts with the line ‘If you’re reading this, I’m dead’. So her sleepless nights and wakeful days fill with the task of finding out what happened to Finn Matthews, since the police are uninterested and it brings up parallels to the life of Rose’s long-dead brother. When she realises other men have also gone missing, she investigates – but will the search achieve anything apart from completely detaching Rose from the family she loves? A pacy and emotional thriller.


The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone

This Parisian day starts grey and, for many of the city’s inhabitants, completely normally. Kate Moore begins her morning at school drop-off, with all those other parents kiss-kissing each other’s cheeks. Her day-trader husband, Dexter, plays tennis and contemplates an incoming change to his financial situation. It is not, however, a normal day: a tech CEO watches his police escort abandon their post; sirens start wailing all over the city; and a man called Mahmoud steps into the Louvre with a bomb underneath his jacket. Nobody here is what they seem, least of all Kate, who is in control of a French substation of operatives – at least, for now. Across one explosive day, this espionage thriller starts calmly and then spins a story so tight with tension you won’t be able to unravel yourself from it.


The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O'Connor

Radio host Jessamine Gooch has been building up a decent following for her show, ‘Potentially Dangerous People’, so she’s not that surprised when somebody approaches her outside the broadcaster’s office one day. Her show is about the past lives of criminals, and how they could have been spotted earlier on. The woman who approaches her has a missing friend and suspicions about her friend’s husband. While Jessamine was once that kind of investigative journalist, those days are behind her – but Cassie’s case draws her in regardless. Jessamine’s research into Cassie’s disappearance intensifies, but will it blind her to the looming danger in her own four walls? This is a winter-bound thriller heavy with snow and thick with tension.


We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman

In Kansas in 1959, the Clutter family were murdered in their home, and Dick Hickok and Perry Smith were convicted of the crime. You may have heard of this from Truman Capote’s excellent In Cold Blood, of course, but what if Hickok and Smith didn’t work alone? And what if the third person involved, Jerry Beaufort, after spending nearly six decades in prison for a different crime, wanted to make sure no one knew of their involvement? One piece of evidence belongs to the fresh, new former-priest husband of retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn – someone who doesn’t take retirement as a cue to avoid trouble. The inevitable clash between Beaufort and Quinn ratchets up the tension in a chilling book of unsolved cold cases and the white-hot present.


Crushed by Kate Hamer

Phoebe is a teenager standing, dishevelled and terrified, by a bridge. She has a book in her hand that she should not have. It’s Macbeth, but it is not the Macbeth of everyone’s school assignments – it is something that has thrown her ordered world off-kilter. She had the book, then she had thoughts – bad ones – and then something happened. Something gruesome that the whole city will soon be talking about. But she’s not the only one with bad thoughts: her friends – and sometimes not-friends – Orla and Grace, are like her, living claustrophobic lives at home. How they deal with what is in their heads, and how they act with each other, in a world that pulses with friction, makes for a book filled with dread. The witches of Macbeth seem unnervingly realistic in these slow-burn pages, where inside thoughts can become outside actions and three young women make a macabre journey to the book’s end.


The Accusation by Wendy James

Ned Kelly Award winner Wendy James has crafted a puzzling and smoothly executed story with Accusation. Ellie Canning, at eighteen years old, has been located on a country road with undersized pyjamas and a tale to tell. She had been held captive in the basement belonging to a woman and the woman’s mother. There she was fed from an old sippy-cup, and chained to a bed. And Suzannah Wells – with her basement and mother and the old sippy-cup belonging to the daughter that died – seems the most likely suspect, not least when DNA shows Ellie has been there. Suzannah’s shock at being accused, and the past about to be plumbed by those around her, begs the question: what did happen to Ellie Canning, now held up as a powerful social media darling? Was it Suzannah, or does the truth lie somewhere else entirely?


9780008208271 Celebrating some tenth birthdays with Chris Carter’s tenth Robert Hunter book, Hunting Evil (S&S, PB, $29.99), and Tim Weaver’s tenth David Raker book, No One Home (Michael Joseph, PB, $32.99); closer to teenagerhood is Stuart MacBride’s twelfth Logan McRae book with All That’s Dead (HarperCollins, PB, $32.99); barely into primary school but with quite the reputation all the same is Mick Herron’s sixth Jackson Lamb thriller, Joe Country (John Murray, PB, $32.99, out on 25 June); a non-series book (gasp) with Jo Baker’s countryside-professor thriller The Body Lies (Doubleday, PB, $32.99) … and more!

Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist, and also blogs about children’s books at Fiona The Hardy.



Kate Hamer

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