Sunday Times, 21 July 2019
The #MeToo movement has been credited with exposing the problem of sexual harassment in the movie industry and boardrooms. But the victims in Cristina Alger’s tense new novel, Girls Like Us (Mulholland £14.99), have no one to speak for them. They are young Latina women, poor and undocumented, which makes them easy prey for wealthy older men who invite them to parties in a beach-front mansion on Long Island. When two of the girls are found murdered, no one takes much interest until the detective in charge dies in a mysterious motorbike accident.
The dead man’s estranged daughter, Nell Flynn, is an FBI agent. She has Latina heritage through her mother and feels an instinctive sympathy with the dead girls. Now, clearing out her father’s house after his funeral, she begins to suspect he killed the dead teenagers – and that he may have murdered Nell’s mother, whose body was found when she was still a child. Alger’s novel is highly political, dealing with events that have immediate contemporary relevance, but it’s also deeply-felt and fast-paced.
Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian cop, Harry Hole, has featured in almost a dozen novels, surviving extreme violence which would have seen off most fictional detectives. Unsurprisingly, Hole is a recovering alcoholic and Nesbo’s new novel, Knife (Harvill Secker £20), translated by Neil Smith, has him once again falling off the wagon. Everyone is fed up with him, including his long-suffering girlfriend Rakel, and even loyal readers may be dismayed by his behaviour in the early chapters.
If Nesbo initially seems indulgent towards his character, that impression is soon dispelled by the ordeal he has in store, plunging the hung-over detective into the most intensely personal case of his career. As always, the novel is intricately-plotted with sudden twists and startling developments. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Nesbo is putting Hole through the mill to revive a flagging series, while the trite ending jars with the mood of profound despair that’s gone before.
Oliver Bottini’s Black Forest investigations, set in a German town close to the French border, rank among the most accomplished crime novels of the day. His detectives may be provincial but they exist at a cross-roads, a staging post for criminals involved in trans-national crimes such as sex trafficking and terrorism. The Dance of Death (MacLehose £18.99), translated by Jamie Bulloch, begins with a bedraggled stranger forcing his way into the home of a family in Freiburg and warning of terrible consequences if they don’t move out within seven days.
The threat poses a challenge for Inspector Louise Boni, who is in a race against time to identify the intruder. She traces the origin of the threat back to former Yugoslavia, uncovering the tragic fate of German families who emigrated to the Balkans, but the deadline is fast approaching. Bottini’s novels are infused with his knowledge of the darker corners of European history, showing its impact decades after the horrific events that drive his plots.
Kristen Lepionka’s award-winning crime novels are set in Columbus, Ohio. Her third novel, The Stories You Tell (Faber £8.99), once again features her aptly-named private eye, Roxane Weary. Her relationship with her girlfriend is disintegrating and there’s something off about her latest client, who wants her to find out who is selling copies of her company’s upmarket sportswear. A frantic call from Roxane’s brother sparks a search for a missing woman, who has disappeared after knocking on his door asking for help in the middle of the night. Lepionka’s plot revolves around dating sites and identity theft, demonstrating the extraordinary opportunities created for predators by the internet.