Singe-minded pursuit of the truth

Sunday Times, 16 April 2017

Child sexual abuse is rarely out of the headlines these days. It is a tempting subject for crime writers, but calls for sensitive handling, and Isabelle Grey never loses sight of the impact on victims in The Special Girls (Quercus £19.99). This is the third novel in her impressive series featuring a detective based in Essex, and it begins with the murder of a young psychiatrist at a summer camp for girls with eating disorders. When DI Grace Fisher discovers that the doctor in charge of the camp was accused of child abuse 20 years earlier, she finds herself at odds with the detectives who cleared him.

The difficulties posed by historical accusations are well-known and Fisher encounters all of them as she tries to gain the confidence of traumatised young women. But she pursues the truth with single-mindedness in this brave and harrowing novel.

Iceland’s award-winning crime writer, Arnaldur Indridason, has always been more interested in the recesses of the psyche than forensic science. The Shadow District, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker £12.99), is the first in a new series, and begins with a murder in the present day. But a link with a crime committed 70 years earlier allows Indridason to explore his signature theme, the inescapability of the past.

Like his gloomy detective Erlendur Sveinsson, who featured in the novels that made Indridason’s name, his latest characters are haunted by things that happened decades ago. Back in the 1940s, when Iceland was occupied by American troops, a local woman was found strangled in Reykjavik. The crime appeared to have been solved but the killing of one of the lead investigators, now aged 90, casts doubt on the inquiry. Scenes set in wartime Reykjavik brilliantly capture the tensions of a small city coping with an influx of foreign troops.

With his fast-moving plots and unsparing accounts of violence, Jo Nesbo is about as far removed from Indridason as it is possible to imagine. But the past is about to catch up with his troubled detective, Harry Hole, in The Thirst, translated by Neil Smith (Harvill Secker £20). Hole has left front-line policing, but the savage murder of a woman in her own flat by someone who drank her blood brings him out of retirement. He suspects the culprit is a serial killer he failed to catch, but intense media interest forces the police to enlist an expert on vampire killers. Whether such people really exist is one of Nesbo’s trademark teases, and the novel ends with a stunning cross-country chase.

The tidal mudflats of Essex provide an atmospheric setting for The Restless Dead (Bantam Press £12.99), the latest novel from the bestselling Simon Beckett. His forensic consultant, David Hunter, is called out to help police identify a decomposed body that has been in water for weeks. Detectives think it is the missing son of a wealthy local businessman, but Hunter finds anomalies that don’t fit the theory. This is a tense, gripping read, even if the plot is overcomplicated towards the end.

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