Sunday Times, 3 October 2021
When a young woman is unexpectedly given a cottage in the Cotswolds by her grandmother, she can hardly believe her luck. Yet Saffron and her boyfriend have barely moved in when their builders uncover skeletal remains, in Claire Douglas’s spine-chilling novel The Couple at No 9 (Penguin £7.99). As detectives realise there are two sets of bones buried in the garden, it becomes clear that Saffron’s dream home is a crime scene.
Her grandmother Rose lived in the cottage four decades ago, when she was on the run from a violent man, and is the only person who might know how the bodies got there. However, Rose has Alzheimer’s and becomes distressed — or evasive — when Saffron asks about the double murder. Douglas writes sensitively about dementia in this heartbreaking novel about how far a desperate woman will go to survive.
Peter Papathanasiou is a new name in Australian crime writing. His debut novel, The Stoning (MacLehose £16.99), is a brutal, unflinching look at the country’s treatment of refugees. The outback town of Cobb is home to a divided community that resents the presence of a vast detention centre on its outskirts, even though many locals depend on it for a living. Feelings are running high when a local teacher is found tied to a tree, apparently stoned to death, in a crude attempt to throw blame on Muslim men in the centre. Detective Sergeant George Manolis, who grew up in Cobb, is sent to lead the investigation and finds himself painfully reminded of his Greek-Australian roots. Not an easy read, but political crime fiction of a high order.
Liane Moriarty writes about a very different section of Australian society in Apples Never Fall (Michael Joseph £20). Joy and Stan Delaney live in an affluent suburb of Sydney, where they have recently retired from running a tennis school. Retirement has intensified strains in the couple’s marriage, and Joy’s sudden disappearance forces the couple’s four grown-up children to confront the possibility that their father might have harmed their mother. Moriarty’s portrait of a tennis-mad family is convincing if over-long, and she keeps a stunning revelation up her sleeve until the final pages.
John Banville’s April in Spain (Faber £14.99) is set in a period that feels like the distant past, even though it’s only the 1950s. In this eighth Quirke novel, the Irish pathologist with a drink problem is on holiday in northern Spain with his wife when he spots a young woman from Dublin whom he believed to be dead. He becomes convinced she is the niece of a prominent politician, living under an assumed identity after a family scandal that resulted in her supposed murder, but his bungling attempts to establish the truth have disastrous consequences. Banville’s sly observations about his characters are a joy to read.
Susan Hill’s crime novels are set in the fictional town of Lafferton, where her detective, Simon Serrailler, struggles to hold back the encroaching tide of big-city crime. A Change of Circumstance (Chatto £20) centres on his investigation into county lines, a headline-grabbing type of crime in which children and teenagers are used to deliver drugs. There are some harrowing moments in this unsparing novel, which shows how easily vulnerable youngsters can be exploited.