Sunday Times, 5 September 2021
Imagine being shut up with a dozen strangers in one of the most hostile environments on Earth. That is what awaits an A&E doctor, Kate North, when she arrives at a UN research station in Antarctica in Emma Haughton’s outstanding crime fiction debut, The Dark (Hodder £12.99). Kate has arrived to replace the station’s previous doctor, who died in an accident on the ice, and she walks into an atmosphere of rivalry and suspicion.
Trust is vital to everyone’s survival, but as the season of 24-hour darkness approaches, petty disagreements take on a more sinister aspect. One of Kate’s new colleagues drops hints that her predecessor’s death was not an accident, and there is no way out when a member of the station staff is murdered. Haughton writes vividly about a claustrophobic community where highly trained professionals have to live with the ever-present threat that a piece of vital technology might break down; her novel is really a superlative locked-room mystery, given a contemporary feel by concerns about climate change.
A Line to Kill (Century £20) is the latest instalment in Anthony Horowitz’s series of novels featuring a perpetually anxious crime writer and a taciturn private investigator. Their collaboration on books about the detective’s most spectacular cases has never been easy, and it becomes more fraught when Horowitz sends the pair to Alderney to take part in a hastily arranged literary festival.
There are some delicious comic moments as they encounter their fellow participants, including a loud-mouthed TV chef and a volatile French performance poet. A party thrown by one of the festival’s sponsors ends in murder, but the best thing about this diverting novel is Horowitz’s stream of self-deprecating observations about being a writer.
SR White is a rising star of Australian crime fiction. Prisoner (Headline £18.99) has a startling opening scene in which a young man is found crucified in a swamp. The victim turns out to be a convicted rapist, released from prison only 24 hours earlier, who had been exchanging letters with two sisters who live in the only house for miles. If it sounds sensational, there is much more to this unusual novel than first appears, and White’s account of the murder investigation is gripping.
Ann Cleeves is best known for novels set in Shetland and the north of England, but her Two Rivers series is based in Devon. The first novel in the set, The Long Call, was a bestseller and The Heron’s Cry (Macmillan £20) has the same slightly melancholic atmosphere. The plot revolves around the murder of a retired doctor, who is killed with a shard of glass from a vase created by his daughter, a talented glassblower — one of several melodramatic touches in an uneven novel. The chilliness of the central character, DI Matthew Venn, spreads through the pages, and his relationship with his husband feels very much observed from the outside.
The new novel by Paula Hawkins, A Slow Fire Burning (Doubleday £20), is pure melodrama. The author of the bestselling The Girl on the Train has come up with a set of highly emotional characters who live in a diverse neighbourhood around Regent’s Canal in north London, each of them bursting with disappointment, grief
and resentment. The starting point is a murder on a canal boat, but the plot spreads out to encompass long-ago events, including the apparently accidental death of a toddler and the abduction of two schoolgirls. The novel is fast-paced, highly charged and carried off with so much confidence it is hard to resist.