Christmas is coming and the body count is rising

Sunday Times, 29 October 2017

It is a sad fact that most murder victims are quickly forgotten. Donato Carrisi’s showy detective, Special Agent Vogel, is determined not to let that happen in The Girl in the Fog (translated by Howard Curtis, Abacus £12.99). Vogel is convinced that a teenage girl, who has disappeared from an isolated village in the Italian Alps just before Christmas, is already dead. To keep the case in the public eye, he shamelessly stages stunts and manipulates the media.

Carrisi’s gruesome debut, The Whisperer, was an international sensation. The new novel is more low key, offering daily insights into an investigation that goes badly wrong. Vogel’s insistence that he knows the identity of the killer feels like an obsession, and threatens to end his career. But Carrisi has a series of shocks up his sleeve, forcing readers to question everything in this coldly brilliant exposé of the depths of human nature.

There is a dismal Christmas in store for another family in The Darkest Day by Hakan Nesser (translated by Sarah Death, Mantle £16.99). Nesser is best known for his novels starring the gruff Inspector Van Veeteren, but now he has come up with a younger, more dynamic detective. Inspector Barbarotti is half-Italian, lives in a fictional Swedish town, and is more in touch with the modern world. His first case starts with a birthday party for a newly retired teacher and his eldest daughter.

The celebrations are clouded from the start: the teacher’s wife fantasises about killing him, unable to face the prospect of retiring to Spain with her pedantic spouse; and their son is recovering from a very public humiliation on a reality TV show. When two members of this highly dysfunctional family disappear, Barbarotti has to disentangle years of bad blood and resentment to get to the heart of a thrillingly complex case.

The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths (Quercus £16.99) is the fourth in her atmospheric crime series set in the final days of variety acts in the 1950s. The celebrated stage magician Max Mephisto is appearing in Brighton, sharing the bill with a group of nearly naked young women who enact historical scenes. This seedy attempt to get round censorship laws evidently gives someone an idea, leading to the discovery of a body posed to recall the execution of Lady Jane Grey. This fine novel offers the pleasure of familiar characters while taking a sympathetic look at the vulnerability of women in a dying industry.

Ragnar Jonasson is the author of the acclaimed Dark Iceland series. Whiteout (translated by Quentin Bates, Orenda £8.99) brings his inexperienced detective Ari Thor Arason to a deserted village where a young woman has apparently jumped to her death. Ari Thor learns that the woman’s mother and sister died on the same spot 25 years earlier, revealing a tortured history that recalls his painful upbringing. Jonasson has come up with a bleak plot and characters, but his evocation of Iceland’s chilly landscape is hard to put down.


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