The body in the lift shaft

Sunday Times, 7 January 2018


Eva Dolan made her name with a series of crime novels set in a police hate-crimes unit in Peterborough. Now she has come up with a terrific stand-alone novel, This Is How It Ends (Raven £12.99), in which she turns her attention to the secretive world of environmental activists and the cops who spy on them.


The story is set in and around a block of flats on the bank of the Thames in central London that has been the focus of a fight between the tenants and developers. Most of the tenants have now left, but a handful are holding out. One of them, Molly, a veteran activist, is suspected by the police of being involved in violent protests in the 1980s.


She has recently made friends with a young blogger called Ella, a rising star in the green movement. In a fast-moving series of events, Ella is attacked in one of the empty flats late at night and a body turns up in a lift shaft. Dolan doesn’t sugarcoat anything in this haunting novel about friendship, suspicion and betrayal.


Cara Hunter’s Close to Home (Penguin £7.99) is set on a new housing estate in Oxford, on the “wrong” side of the canal, a far cry from the mellow stone and green quads of the university. An eight-year-old girl, Daisy Mason, is missing after a barbecue and suspicion falls on her parents, an unsympathetic couple who turn on each other as the forensic evidence seems to point to murder. Like Dolan, Hunter has a keen sense of contemporary mores, providing a running commentary on the case from posts on social media. The most compelling thing about the novel is its portrait of a self-absorbed mother whose inability to love her children leads to a breathtaking denouement.


The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor (M Joseph £12.99) is also about troubling events in childhood, this time recalled from the standpoint of 30 years later. The novel’s slightly creepy narrator, now a teacher at a local school, is sent a package containing a crude drawing of a stick figure. It brings back memories of a game he used to play as a 12-year-old, when he used similar figures to send messages to other members of his little gang. But this childish game was played out against the murder of a local girl, and the anonymous sender seems to be suggesting that the killer is still at large. Tudor writes well about adolescent boys and this is a striking debut, even if she overdoes the gruesome details at times.


In a departure from her well-received detective series, the Irish writer Jo Spain has written a clever novel about the murder of a disgraced banker. The Confession (Quercus £12.99) opens with a man walking into the banker’s isolated home and attacking him savagely in front of his wife. The assailant claims he has no idea what prompted the crime, an assertion that Spain undermines in a series of flashbacks, gradually exposing a chilling history of dysfunctional families.


Oliver Bottini’s Zen and the Art of Murder, translated by Jamie Bulloch (MacLehose £16.99), is the first of his award-winning Black Forest novels to appear in English. It has an arresting opening image: a Buddhist monk with a head injury strides across the snowy landscape of the border country between Germany and France.

Bottini’s Inspector Louise Boni is a familiar figure in contemporary crime fiction, a middle-aged cop with a drink problem. But her attempt to befriend the monk plunges her into a surprising and genuinely shocking case involving child trafficking.


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