Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 27 May 2012

A missing wife and one of Hakan Nesser’s finest novels stand out in Joan Smith’s crime round-up

At the start of Gone Girl (Weidenfeld £12.99), the latest novel by the American author Gillian Flynn (the winner of two Crime Writers’ Association Daggers), Nick Dunne has returned to his small home town in Missouri after losing his job in New York. He has brought with him his adoring wife Amy, a Manhattan socialite, who agreed to the move with surprisingly little fuss after Nick told her his mother was dying. Things, though, go badly wrong when Amy disappears and Nick finds himself prime ­suspect in her probable murder.

The novel alternates between his story, told with increasing desperation as ­evidence mounts against him, and damning extracts from Amy’s diary. Flynn’s portrait of a woman trying to please an impossible husband is subtly drawn, but there are hints that all is not as it seems. One ­version of events hides another in a novel that ­cleverly manipulates the reader, although the effect is less shocking than it ­initially promises.

Lord Lucan disappeared in 1974, after the murder of his children’s nanny in London, and the mystery of what happened to him has never been solved. The missing peer is a character in The Gilded Edge (Robinson £12.99), Danny ­Miller’s atmospheric novel set a decade earlier in a London where languid aristocrats gamble away fortunes as the British class ­system starts to fracture. Miller’s second novel opens with the murders of a playboy in Belgravia and a black nurse in Notting Hill. Lucan is a clownish character, the least intelligent of a gambling set whose recreations include sinister practical jokes. Miller’s detective, Vince ­Treadwell, is a graduate from a working-class family who seizes the opportunities created by the investigation, and his sardonic wit guides the reader through a fiendishly complex plot.

William Brodrick is another CWA Dagger winner and his new novel, The Day of the Lie (Little, Brown £12.99) is an ambitious attempt to combine political murder, betrayal and questions of moral responsibility. John Fielding is a journalist, blinded in a car crash after he was expelled from Warsaw in 1982. He visits an old friend, the Gilbertine monk Father Anselm, at his monastery near Cambridge with a big request: Fielding wants Anselm to go to Warsaw and examine secret papers that have just been released from cold-war archives. Fielding believes that the identity of a traitor who informed on dissidents 30 years ago is about to be exposed.

An elderly Polish woman, Roza, knows the name but doesn’t want to reveal it, apparently hoping that the mole can be persuaded to take responsibility before being exposed. Anselm’s investigations lead even further back, to 1951, when Roza was imprisoned and witnessed the murder of her husband in a communist prison. Brodrick’s prose is breathless, speeding from one revelation to the next, but the novel is weighed down by moral ­purpose and contains more ­melodrama than suspense.

The Swedish novelist Hakan Nesser is in another league, exhibiting a skill and consistency rare in crime ­fiction. Hour of the Wolf, translated by Laurie Thompson (Mantle £16.99), starts with a road accident and unravels its terrible consequences. The victim is a 16-year-old boy, struck by a car while walking home late at night, and the accident sets in motion a series of murders. One of the victims is related to Nesser’s detective, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, who has retired to become an antiquarian bookseller. The ex-policeman’s old team rallies to obtain justice for their much-loved former boss in a novel that combines a clever plot with authentic emotion.

David Belbin’s crime novels feature an ambitious Labour MP and her ex-boyfriend, who has just been released from prison after serving a long sentence for drug offences. It is an awkward situation for Sarah Bone, newly appointed prisons minister in Labour’s 1997 government in the opening chapters of What You Don’t Know (Tindal Street £12.99). Belbin’s novel is fast-paced, combining Westminster intrigue with local politics in Bone’s Nottingham constituency, where her old flame Nick Cane is trying to get his life back on course. Bone’s own problems multiply when her current lover is found dead in his flat in London, and the two plots entwine in a smart novel that re-creates the heady atmosphere of Labour’s first months in power.