Sunday Times, 27 July 2014
A terrific debut set in an isolated town in the Ozarks opens our crime round-up
The Ozarks are an area where some of America’s most isolated communities live,
and Laura McHugh’s first novel, The Weight of Blood (Hutchinson £9.99/ebook £9.49), is set in a small town there similar to the one where she spent part of her childhood. McHugh felt like an outsider in a place where everyone was related, and she was horrified when she heard the true story of a girl who was sexually exploited for years behind closed doors.
McHugh’s protagonist, Lucy, is a teenager from Henbane, Missouri. She has never felt she belongs, mainly because of the conspiracy of silence surrounding her mother. Lila was an orphan who arrived in Henbane to take a job on a farm owned by a local man. Soon after, she married his brother, had Lucy and disappeared. When one of Lucy’s friends is murdered, she begins to wonder about this small town where bad things happen to women. The Weight of Blood is an outstanding debut.
Hakan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren novels have always been humane and intricately plotted. These days, Van Veeteren has given up being a detective to run a bookshop. But one case still haunts him and it returns with a vengeance in The G File, translated by Laurie Thompson (Mantle £16.99/ebook £10.99). Fifteen years earlier, a woman hired a detective to follow her husband, known as G to the police. Days later, she was dead. G was tried and cleared of her murder, but now, all these years later, the private detective disappears, leaving a note hinting he knows how G got away with murder. This is the final book in the series, but Nesser resists a showy finale, allowing his detective nearly to be outsmarted by an immensely clever criminal.
Stuart Neville’s Belfast detective, DI Jack Lennon, inhabits a world where corrupt cops are on the take from former paramilitaries and sex traffickers. In The Final Silence (Harvill Secker £12.99/ebook £7.99), Lennon is on sick leave, when an ex-girlfriend contacts him about a gruesome discovery at her dead uncle’s house. In a locked room, the man kept a scrapbook of trophies from people he seems to have murdered. When his ex takes Lennon to the house, the book has gone. But she gives him another souvenir, a photo of her father posing with paramilitaries. Shortly afterwards, she is battered to death and Lennon becomes the prime suspect. This plot twist is hardly novel, but Neville is a good enough writer to carry it off.
Deon Meyer made his name writing fast-paced murder mysteries set in post-apartheid South Africa. His latest, Cobra, translated by KL Seegers (Hodder £18.99/ebook £9.99), begins with the murder of two security guards at an isolated guest house. The man who hired them is missing and Meyer’s detective is called to investigate. Not long after, five more guards are shot dead and the plot threatens to turn into a blood bath. This is a departure for Meyer, taking him into the realms of international conspiracy, and it is lacklustre compared with his earlier novels.
Gary Disher is one of Australia’s most admired novelists. The main character in Bitter Wash Road (Text £10.99) is a smart, likeable detective banished to a rural outpost after blowing the whistle on corrupt cops in Adelaide. Hirsch has barely arrived when the body of a teenager is found, apparently hit by a truck. His investigation is hindered at every turn by colleagues who hate him, and Disher turns out to be a superb chronicler of macho cop culture.