Sunday Times, 12 November 2021
The unsolved disappearance of a six-year-old girl reverberates across the decades in Heather Young’s haunting novel The Lost Girls (Verve £9.99). Emily is the youngest of three sisters, spending the summer of 1935 on the shore of a remote lake in Minnesota, when she vanishes without trace. Emily’s middle sister, Lucy, spends the rest of her life in the house on the lake, unable to tear herself away from its painful memories. After her death, the house passes to her great-niece, Justine.
The unexpected inheritance enables Justine to leave a controlling boyfriend and flee to Minnesota, where she finds Lucy’s journal and begins to understand the family secrets that led to a tragic event. Lucy’s father, a Bible-thumping descendant of Welsh coal miners, is one of the most vivid characters in this terrific mystery, which shows the corrosive impact misplaced loyalty has on generations of women.
RV Raman’s hugely engaging novel A Will to Kill (Pushkin Vertigo £8.99) is set in modern-day India, but its origins lie in the golden age of crime fiction. The story takes place in a misty valley in the Nilgiri mountain range, where a wealthy art collector, Bhaskar Fernandez, is holding a family party. Among the guests is a private detective, Harith Athreya, invited as an observer after several attempts on Fernandez’s life. Athreya has only just arrived when the valley is cut off by a landslide, an event quickly followed by a murder in the family mansion. Raman makes the most of his version of a locked-room mystery, endowing Athreya with an omniscience rarely seen in today’s jaded detectives.
Simon Beckett’s The Lost (Trapeze £14.99) opens with a scene of stomach-churning carnage. A firearms officer, Jonah Colley, gets a frantic phone call from another cop, someone he hasn’t seen for years. The man sounds desperate, asking Jonah to meet him at a sinister-sounding location, Slaughter Quay, on the River Thames. Jonah arrives to find four bodies, but is attacked and injured before he can call for back-up. When he wakes up in hospital, he discovers that the chief suspect in the murders is a man who was investigated and cleared after the disappearance of Jonah’s young son ten years earlier. It’s an intriguing set-up, but the violence is unrelenting, and it is hard to believe that Jonah can take so many beatings while pursuing his one-man quest for justice.
Camilla Grebe is one of those authors who demonstrate the continuing inventiveness of Scandinavian crime fiction. The Hideout (Zaffre £8.99), translated by Sarah Clyne Sundberg, has a teenage boy on the run from a drug dealer. Arriving in a quiet seaside town, he takes a job as companion to a boy who is paralysed after a road accident. Meanwhile the police in Stockholm are puzzled by the discovery of the bodies of several young men washed up from the sea, an investigation that seems entirely separate until Grebe brings them together in a plot of dazzling originality.