Sunday Times, 19 May 2019
Teenage boys often make headlines for all the wrong reasons. The main characters in William Shaw’s superb new novel, Deadland (riverrun £16.99), are typical young miscreants, using a borrowed scooter to steal phones from unwary passers-by. But their glee at bagging an iPhone X is short-lived when it appears that the owner will stop at nothing, including murder, to get his property back. And a very different picture of the boys begins to emerge, suggesting they are actually vulnerable teenagers with no reliable adult in their lives.
Deadland is set in the same coastal stretch of England as Shaw’s earlier novel, Salt
Lane, so this isn’t the first outing for his detectives from the Kent Serious Crime Directorate. DS Alexandra Cupidi is officially in charge of a separate, bizarre case, involving the discovery of an arm inside an urn at an art gallery. But her daughter is the same age as the two missing boys, and she’s haunted by the thought that they’re scared and alone somewhere on the marshes. Shaw handles these diverse plotlines brilliantly, demonstrating his ability to write about contemporary events with the same
keen intelligence he used in his fine crime novels set in the 1960s.
Dating scams are the subject of Peter James’s Dead at First Sight (Macmillan £20), in which a series of lonely people looking for a partner online are targeted by fraudsters. A retired major is conned out of £400,000 and another victim apparently kills herself at home in Brighton after losing a small fortune to a member of the same gang. James’s detective, Roy Grace, isn’t convinced by the woman’s suicide and his doubts are confirmed when it emerges she had approached a private detective shortly before her death. James writes with verve about a very modern species of crime, even if his endless parade of vigilantes, flashy fraudsters and a bumbling hitman feel like pantomime villains.
School bullies are the subject of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Absolution, translated by Victoria Cribb (Hodder £16.99). It begins with a scene straight out of Hitchcock: a teenager, cleaning the lavatories in an empty cinema in Reykjavik, realises that she isn’t alone. Soon a horrifying video emerges, showing the terrified girl begging for
forgiveness, before her body is found, marked with the number 2. It becomes clear that a serial killer is targeting teenagers, but Huldar, the detective who has appeared in two earlier novels, still doesn’t know the identity and location of the first victim. Sigurdardottir doesn’t shy away from the hideous effects of bullying, combining a tough novel about a grim social phenomenon with a fast-paced plot.
Over the past few years, Parker Bilal has made Cairo during the final years of the Mubarak regime his own. Bilal is the crime-writing pseudonym of an award-winning literary novelist, Jamal Mahjoub. His latest novel, The Divinities (Indigo £8.99), shows that he knows London just as intimately. It is the first in a projected series featuring a wayward cop, DS Calil Drake, who is almost as much of an outsider as Bilal’s Cairo private eye, Makana.
Drake is an ex-soldier, permanently at odds with his superior officers, and his first big case is unusually gruesome: two bodies on a building site, crushed by a pile of rocks. The victims turn out to be the developer’s wife and a Japanese mountaineer, connected by a horrific incident during the Iraq War. The discovery revives Drake’s own nightmares, as well as confirming Bilal’s ability to create terrific crime fiction rooted in geopolitics.