The best new crime reads of January and February


Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Jamie Brandt has just about had enough of her two girls – in the same way any parent who loves their kids can also tire of them after a long week – when she leaves them in the car outside Kmart to pick something up. But by the time she gets back to her car, they are both gone. And so Jamie’s aunt hires Alice Vega – private detective, finder of people, robust of character – who has a one hundred percent success rate at finding missing people, though not a one hundred percent success rate at finding them alive. In turn, Vega hires ex-cop Max Caplan for help in getting through to the overworked police that aren’t getting anywhere in the case. In this turbulent, razor-sharp book, Vega and Cap won’t stop until they get somewhere, and you’d take this book anywhere with you to follow them.

A good plot can of course barrel a book along at pace, but it’s great characters that can truly flesh it out. Luna has given us two of them here: the highly strung Vega, always happy to use her knuckles but unwilling to sleep or eat; and the maligned Cap, surprisingly not bitter about the unfair break in his career trajectory, mostly just happy to be a father to his teenage daughter Nell while making money busting men for cheating on their wives. As the two of them follow every lead to find Kylie and Bailey Brandt – and there are many the town’s understaffed police force aren’t tracking – there are threads that tighten and loop around and tie the book together like a parcel delivered straight to the part of your brain that produces adrenaline. Not every path trodden will be pleasant – fair warning to readers – but this is a beautifully taut firecracker of a read.



An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Makeup artist Jessica Farris is working on a college student’s flawless face when she overhears her talking about a psychological study she’s thinking of blowing off the next day. When she realises that it’s paid – five hundred dollars, no less – she turns up the following morning in the student’s place. What follows is a series of questions on morality and ethics that turn Jess from a last-minute replacement into a test subject called on for more questions, more tasks – and who finds herself more and more under the study’s control. With money a necessity and her psychological welfare taking a back seat, trust becomes something slippery –and dangerous.


Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

There is a mountainous theme in this month’s books, and here, too, in the Italian Alps, life isn’t quite as beautiful as the surroundings. When a man is found dead with his eyes gone and a scarecrow wearing his clothes watching over him, Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is called in to assess the murder. It’s gruesome, brutal, and it won’t be the last – and when a baby goes missing too, time squeezes even tighter. In a place haunted by secrets and a decades-old orphanage with a sinister past (do they ever have cheerful pasts?), Battaglia must battle to save its residents while also saving herself from her ailing health. An ice-cold police procedural.


The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts

In another unsettling snowbound psychological thriller for this month, a hotel on the coast of Devon is struck by a storm just as a child goes missing. Nineteen years earlier, Laurel and Rosie were two young girls who met a little girl down at the park, a day that ended with one of them convicted of murder and the other under a new identity. Now, the Flower Girls are back in the public eye – and the past is about to come crashing right back into the present.


Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

In 1913, the wealthy Davenport family – mother, father, three young boys – are at their holiday home by the lake when Sonny, the youngest, vanishes into the forest. It is all they can do to survive what follows, as the townspeople help to search for Sonny, as the reporters turn up at their door, as Mary, Sonny’s mother, falls apart. A long and broken year follows until a boy is found alongside a tramp, and the papers – the world – declares Sonny returned. Despite assurances, is it the real Sonny, after all this time? And when another mother claims the boy is hers, who will the world believe – and what is the truth? Based loosely on a true story, this is the kind of gripping, devastating tale that makes you wish for a future when you can install GPS trackers in your children.


Village of the Lost Girls by Agustin Martinez

Years ago, in the Spanish mountains, two girls went missing. Suspicion fell and lifted, lives were ruined and slowly repaired, and the town remembered, but moved on. Until the day that a car drives off the side of a mountain and inside is a dead man and one of the girls, very much alive – and alone. So where is the other girl? And where have they been all these years? In the treacherous landscape and the falling snow that dominates January and February-release books (for which we are grateful; they’re like cheap air-conditioners), it’s all the investigators can do to rail against the case’s poorly handled past and find the missing girl before the town is torn apart once more. A beautifully evocative and mountainous read.


The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

British crime books love suspicion: novels where nobody on any page can be trusted. (American characters have loyal friends and colleagues, while Scandi thrillers are often filled with disgruntled police taking down an unknown, external killer.) Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party ramps up that suspicion tenfold: a group of friends go to an isolated hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands for their New Year’s celebrations. They’re hoping for fun, booze, reconnection, and to shoot a deer or two. What they get is a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm that blocks any way home. When one of the guests is found dead, the question that blows in with the weather is this: is the killer an outsider, or someone so close you can’t really see them at all? A chiller on many levels.


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

One sweltering summer day in London, fashion photographer Gabriel Berenson goes on an all-day shoot while his artist wife, Alicia, stays home to paint. Half an hour after he arrives home that night, gunshots are heard. Gabriel is found, bound to a chair, shot to death. The only fingerprints on the gun are Alicia’s. That was six years ago, and since then, Alicia hasn’t said a single word. In those intervening years, psychotherapist Theo Faber has thought many times that he has the skills to fix her, and when a job opening appears in the psychiatric hospital Alicia is housed in, he takes the job. Why did Alicia Berenson kill the man she loved? Why did she paint a self-portrait alluding to sacrifice afterwards? Can Theo make her speak? (Can I stop asking questions in reviews?) An intriguing idea brought fully to life.


Flight Risk by Michael McGuire

Ted Roberts is a pilot with a fairly patchy history – both at work and at home, where he hasn’t spoken to his estranged daughter in years. Now he works for a secretive government organisation that uses his knowledge of flying when the need arises: for example, if a flight to Jakarta simply vanishes above the sea. A shocking enough occurrence – as we all know – until more planes go missing, and Ted finds himself confronted with the chance to get on a plane that may just be the next one to disappear. So do you disappear too, or hope you can change the course? This is a high-velocity thrill-ride for those absolutely not catching any planes anywhere for the start of the year.


All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Sulari Gentill’s pre-war and eternally entertaining Rowland Sinclair mysteries are always satisfying, and Rowly’s ninth outing – this time in 1930s Shanghai – is no exception. Sent there by his long-suffering brother to represent the family wool business, and stay out of the way of a country that currently isn’t his greatest fan, Rowly is on his very best behaviour, at least until somebody is murdered rather too close to his place of repose and Rowly finds himself under suspicion. Armed as always with his trusty band of comrades (in every sense of the word), Rowly must wade through the glamour and political minefields of early twentieth-century China and the boundaries the world has set – to which he has never, to be honest, been very good at paying much attention.


callmeeviefb Also out this month: J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie; my favourite author name and title combo with Niklas Natt och Dag’s The Wolf and the Watchman; the animal theme kept with Jens Lapidus’s Top Dog; Ned Kelly Award winner Candice Fox’s Gone by Midnight; Alan Parks’ second month-based procedural, February’s Son; Barry Maitland’s new literary themed Brock and Kolla mystery The Promised Land; Gytha Lodge’s She Lies in Wait; Renee Knight’s The Secretary; Fiona Barton’s The Suspect; Jeff Noon’s Slow Motion Ghosts; Hanna Jameson’s The Last; Laura Sims’ Looker; Tony Kent’s Marked for Death; James Lee Burke’s The New Iberia Blues; Andrea Camilleri’s The Overnight Kidnapper; Lynda La Plante’s Widows’ Revenge; E.G. Scott’s The Woman Inside; Jonathan Kellerman’s The Wedding Guest … and more!

Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist, and also blogs about crime fiction at

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Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down

Louisa Luna

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