The best new crime fiction for February

Sunday Times, 9 February

A murder at a wedding kicks off our roundup of new crime novels

It’s an outstanding month for crime fiction, offering an intriguing combination of well-known names and promising newcomers. Lucy Foley is up first with The Guest List (HarperCollins £12.99), a hard-to-put-down novel set at a glitzy wedding. The bride and groom are minor celebrities, and they don’t think twice about putting their guests through a stormy sea crossing to a castle off the coast of Ireland. Foley’s follow-up to The Hunting Party has a positively gothic setting, in a wedding marquee pitched close to a crumbling graveyard, and the reception is in full swing when a waitress claims to have stumbled over a bloodstained corpse; panic breaks out as friends and family are plunged into a nightmare world where a storm rages and the lights keep going out.

The story is told through different voices, some more reliable than others, while the characters — a self-harming bridesmaid, a guilt-ridden best man, the increasingly worried bride — are vividly rendered. Desperate to get off the island, few of the guests suspect what’s really going on, but the outcome of this thrilling novel is worth waiting for.

Lina Bengtsdotter’s first novel, For the Missing, was an international bestseller. Her second, For the Dead (Orion £8.99), translated by Agnes Broome, sends her troubled female detective Charlie Lager back to a small town in Sweden. This time, her visit is unofficial, prompted by curiosity about the unsolved disappearance of a teenage girl 30 years earlier. Francesca was a pupil at a posh boarding school and she vanished shortly after the apparent suicide of her best friend, whom she insisted had been murdered. Charlie soon finds reasons to think both cases should be reopened, unaware that there is a link to her own family history. The novel flows more smoothly than Bengtsdotter’s debut, avoids the drunken-female-cop cliché she previously indulged in, and ends on a cliffhanger.

A new read from Eva Dolan is always a pleasure and her latest, Between Two Evils (Raven Books £12.99), is as dark and gritty as ever. After her superb stand-alone novel This Is How It Ends, which was a Sunday Times crime book of the month, it marks a return for her detectives based in a hate-crimes unit in Peterborough — but now the unit has been disbanded.

In what might easily be a commentary on budget problems in modern policing, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are back on general sleuthing duties. Sent to investigate the murder of a doctor who worked at a controversial all-female detention centre, they come up against a new director who’s protective of his staff after previous allegations of abuse. At the same time, Zigic and Ferreira are being taunted by a killer — put away while the hate-crimes unit was still active — who’s just been released from prison owing to a scandal at a forensic laboratory. Dolan puts troubling contemporary themes at the heart of her fiction, creating a compelling mystery about the treatment of vulnerable immigrants in a secretive establishment.

Will Shindler is a new name in crime writing and his first novel, The Burning Men (Hodder £16.99), has an arresting opening. A close-knit team of firefighters has been called to a huge blaze at a development in south London; they risk their livesby rushing inside after spotting a man waving frantically from a third-floor window. They’re hailed as heroes even though they emerge without him, but over the next few months, each of them resigns from the fire service. They go their separate ways, but five years later, someone starts killing members of the team in what appear to be revenge attcks. Shindler is good on male camaraderie, and the way it begins to fall apart under pressure, creating an unusual novel with a rising sense of menace.

Gytha Lodge’s second novel, Watching from the Dark (Michael Joseph £12.99), has a similarly creepy feel to her bestselling debut, She Lies in Wait. Her cops, DCI Jonah Sheens and his team, take on a case involving a young woman who has been savagely murdered in her flat in Southampton. When they discover that her boyfriend was Skyping her at the time, they’re astonished to learn that he made a 999 call but rang off without giving any details of the attack.

It turns out that he isn’t the only character with something to hide: Lodge writes perceptively about rivalries between young women, showing how even the best-intended relationships can become toxic. Like some of the other authors in this month’s roundup, she also catches the jittery atmosphere of an era in which cameras are everywhere, helping the police but posing questions about the narrow line between passion and stalking.

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