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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Laura Wilson

The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

Denise Mina
Reimagining Philip Marlowe … Denise Mina. Photograph: The Observer
Cover of The Second Murderer by Denise Mina

The Second Murderer by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker, £18.99)
Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is reimagined by Mina in a novel that also includes Anne Riordan, who aficionados will remember from Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, the working title of which was the same as this book. Here, Marlowe is tasked with tracking down Chrissie, only child of stratospherically rich sadist Chadwick Montgomery. The monstrous patriarch isn’t too bothered about being reunited with his daughter – she’s given him a legitimate grandson, so succession is assured – and Marlowe, who finds the young woman quickly, isn’t keen to return her. Matters are complicated by the fact that Riordan, now a professional rival, is also on the case, and because the next time Marlowe sees Chrissie she is standing over a corpse in a Skid Row hotel room. Mina, who is a considerably more efficient plotter than Chandler, remains true to his tone and to Marlowe’s character, while cleaning up his attitude to render him more palatable to modern readers: highly recommended.

Cover of Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott

Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott (Virago, £18.99)
Abbott’s novel centres on a pregnant junior-school teacher, Jacy, who travels from New York with her husband, Jed, to visit her father-in-law in remote upper Michigan. Dr Ash and his loyal housekeeper are friendly enough, at least initially – and Jacy puts any misgivings down to hormones. However, it gradually becomes clear that unspoken family history simmers beneath the pleasant surface, not least the fact that Jed’s mother died giving birth to him. After Jacy has a miscarriage scare, Dr Ash is increasingly controlling, and Jed sides with him in infantilising his wife and putting her under the care of a judgmental local doctor. Jacy, already struggling with a body that feels no longer her own, grows distrustful as the men override her wishes, effectively imprisoning her. Abbott expertly rachets up the menace towards an unexpected and shocking ending in a claustrophobic and timely chiller about how men deny women agency.

Cover of Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter (HarperCollins, £8.99)
The first standalone from the author of the bestselling DI Fawley series is an innovative take on a cold-case whodunnit. In 2003, Luke Ryder was found murdered in the garden of his expensive west London home but, despite a lengthy investigation, nobody was charged. Nearly 20 years later, his film-maker stepson Guy, who, at 10, was the only other person in the house when Ryder was killed, is making a documentary series about the case, using a team of experts who are re-examining the evidence. Guy’s mother has dementia, but neither of his two sisters – teenagers at the time – is keen on the idea, possibly because they have something to hide. Events take unexpected turns, and revelations and cliffhangers come thick and fast. Hunter’s device of using transcripts, emails, text messages and newspaper cuttings to tell the story takes a bit of getting used to, but the result is ingenious, complex and immersive.

Cover of Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary

Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary (Macmillan, £16.99)
In Hilary’s novel a family is on the edge: literally – the cramped caravan to which they have been relegated is perched on the Cornish cliffs – and metaphorically. After dream homes built by Adrian Gale and his partner turn out to be a jerry-built nightmare, with several inhabitants, including three children, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, Adrian sinks into depression. He awaits the investigator’s report and a possible charge of corporate manslaughter, while his wife, Ruth, desperately looks for work. Meanwhile, his autistic daughter, Agnes, 29 and recently back from London after a breakup, is doing her best to keep her 13-year-old brother out of mischief. Agnes is determined to find out what happened and who is to blame when a journalist turns up, asking questions. A creepy and atmospheric tale, beautifully and sensitively written.

Cover of The Housekeepers by Alex Hay

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay (Headline, £16.99)
Upstairs, Downstairs meets Ocean’s 8 in Hay’s debut, an Edwardian caper set in a grand mansion on London’s Park Lane. Its owner, parvenu Wilhelm de Vries, has died and his daughter, who wishes to gain social clout by marrying into the aristocracy, flouts the conventions of mourning by hosting a ball. Housekeeper Mrs King, who has just been dismissed, plans to use the festivities as cover for an audacious robbery that will strip the house of valuables. She teams up with crime boss Mrs Bone and a gang of thieves, including former domestic servants, an actor and a pair of circus performers. The various participants have their own schemes and competing interests, and Mrs King’s motive is not just revenge, but something more personal. Hay sets a cracking pace in a novel that wears its historical research lightly; with plenty of twists and a great deal of fun, this is the perfect holiday read.

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