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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Laura Wilson

The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

Manhattan theatre life in Here in the Dark
Manhattan noir … Here in the Dark. Photograph: Panoramic Images/Getty Images
Book cover: Here in the Dark by Alexis Soloski

Here in the Dark by Alexis Soloski (Raven, £16.99)
New York Times culture reporter Soloski makes great use of the day job in her first novel, which centres on the misanthropic theatre critic Vivian Parry. A family tragedy put paid to her acting career and now she is reckless, self-medicating, known for her scathing reviews: “an imitation of myself” who only feels alive in the darkness of an auditorium. “Firmly” in her 30s but still a junior critic, she is desperate for promotion and agrees to be interviewed by graduate student David in exchange for a spot on a panel at a prestigious conference. When the questions reveal an unsettling knowledge of her past, she walks out – and is later contacted by David’s distraught fiancee, who says that he has disappeared, and that Vivian was the last person to see him. When it becomes clear that David is not who he claimed to be, Vivian immerses herself in the role of amateur detective. A sharp, funny and pacy slice of Manhattan noir that manages to be over-the-top and weirdly plausible, with a terrific payoff.

House Woman by Adorah Nworah

House Woman by Adorah Nworah (Borough, £16.99)
The award-winning Nigerian short-story writer Nworah’s debut novel is the tale of an arranged marriage, in which a young woman’s American dream becomes a nightmare of coercion. Ikemefuna has been sent from Lagos to Texas to be the wife of Nna, the entitled manchild of Igbo parents. Nna, who has grown up in the US, finds himself caught not only between two cultures, but also between loyalty to his betrothed and to his super-controlling parents, who insist that Ikemefuna prove her fecundity before the marriage takes place, and refuse to let her leave the house. As Ikemefuna, who has strange and unexplained blackouts, becomes increasingly desperate to escape, the tensions in the Nwosu household escalate into violence. On the rare occasions she manages to attract the attention of the outside world, no help is forthcoming. And why does Nna look so much like her own mother? As the extent of the Nwosus’ machinations becomes clear, there’s more than a hint of horror in this claustrophobic and very disturbing domestic thriller.

Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody

Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody (Raven, £16.99)
Another debut from a short-story writer, this time American, Rabbit Hole is a poignant tale about society’s voyeuristic obsession with true crime. When Teddy Angstrom, a high school teacher in Maine, clears out her father’s belongings after his dramatic suicide, she discovers his obsession with Reddit conspiracy theories about the disappearance of her 18-year-old sister Angie, 10 years earlier, when Teddy was 16. Fascinated and repelled in equal measure, Teddy soon follows her dad down the same rabbit hole, joining forces IRL with the 19-year-old armchair sleuth Mickey in an attempt to uncover the truth. As what she sees online begins to colour her own memories of her last interactions with Angie, her accelerating paranoia leads to some terrible decisions and irrational actions – and it becomes increasingly clear that Mickey is not quite what she seems. Although the loose ends may not appeal to those who prefer a tidy conclusion, this is a compelling study of grief, betrayal, the slippery nature of memory and our complicated relationship with other people’s tragedies.

Helle & Death by Oskar Jensen

Helle & Death by Oskar Jensen (Viper, £16.99)
Jensen’s first novel for adults is an enjoyable mashup of two popular crime fiction subgenres: the golden age-style “closed world” mystery and what, for want of anything more concise, I’m going to call the something-happened-when-we-were-all-at-university thriller. Here, the expat Danish art historian Torben Helle and his old friends are marooned in a Northumbrian country house owned by one of their number, who has become a rich recluse, and the university in question was Oxford. Old feelings, be they passion, enmity or envy, die hard; when their host is discovered dead the morning after their arrival, the group’s suspicions of each other mount as quickly as the snow falling outside. Nicely done, with some entertaining asides about the nature of detective fiction: recommended reading for a long winter night.

The Woman on the Ledge by Ruth Mancini

The Woman on the Ledge by Ruth Mancini (Century, £14.99)
Mancini’s latest is a fiendishly clever revenge thriller in which absolutely nothing is what it first appears. Out-of-work actor Tate Kinsella has taken a clerical job in the City to make ends meet. When she confesses to having been alone on a 25th-floor roof terrace with a woman who subsequently plunges to her death, the police believe her to be responsible – but Tate’s defence is inconsistent, and even her own lawyer doesn’t know what to think. With a narrative that moves backwards and forwards in time and contains several masterpieces of misdirection, and a propulsive plot with twists and turns galore, this is utterly gripping from first to last. Suspend disbelief and put your feet up: I guarantee you’ll be absolutely hooked.

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