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The best recent crime and thriller writing – review roundup

The best recent crime and thriller writing – review roundup

A new Janice Hallett mystery, a pair of post-apocalyptic locked-room spine chillers and a shadowy death in a sun-kissed Greek resort are among this month’s highlights

What a treat to be back in a world created by the machiavellian Janice Hallett. After the brilliance of her debut, The Appeal – the story of a murder in a small village with 15 suspects, which the reader solved along with the investigators and that was far too good to be a first novel – Hallett gave us something different entirely in The Twyford Code, a transcription of audio files, packed with codes to crack, revealing the secrets of a vanished teacher. The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels(Viper, £16.99) is, again, entirely fresh and different. This time, Hallett delves into darker territory, as true-crime writer Amanda Bailey has the task of digging into the old case of a cult that persuaded a girl that her baby was the antichrist. The self-styled Angels all killed themselves at the time and the baby went into the care system. But 18 years on, Bailey’s publisher wants her to track the child down because there’s money to be made from their story. “There are no tragic blondes. Just a wacky cult, four dead, mutilated men and a mystery no one’s had the chance to uncover properly yet. You’ll be the first. Imagine that,” her agent persuades her. Told as if we were opening the safe deposit box that holds Bailey’s documents – a mix of emails, transcriptions, texts and articles – this thriller slowly pieces together a story that is very different from the one told in the press at the time. Another cracking mystery from an author with gallons of talent and bags of originality.

Veteran crime writer Peter May was all set to retire after he published The Night Gate in 2021. Then Cop26’s failures ignited his rage. They also set him on a research project into the climate crisis that persuaded him he needed to write about the catastrophe looming in our future. A Winter Grave (Riverrun, £22) is set in the Scottish Highlands almost 30 years from now, after the “Big Change” has hit the world. “Scotland had escaped relatively lightly. Large parts of eastern England had simply vanished under the North Sea.” Much of London is underwater. But this is the background to May’s crime story, which opens as young meteorologist Addie finds the body of a man entombed in ice up a mountain. When Glasgow detective Cameron Brodie travels to the isolated location to investigate the murder, he discovers a deadly and far-reaching conspiracy. May has created a chilling, believable near-future where people just like us are dealing with the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. He’s also written an atmospheric locked-room mystery packed with mountainous adventures and dangerous escapes. His anger with the situation occasionally comes across as a bit of a blunt object – “Kolkata, where I was born, is somewhere under the Bay of Bengal these days… Just don’t get me started on how the world failed to meet its net zero targets,” Brodie is told by his pathologist colleague Sita Roy at one point – but then again, perhaps it needs to. This is chilling as much for May’s vision of where we’re heading as for the body count.

CJ Tudor, author of enjoyably scary thrillers including The Chalk Man and The Burning Girls, had the idea for something a little different in autumn 2019, describing her new novel to her agent as a “triple-locked-room mystery/post-apocalyptic horror thriller”. The Drift(Michael Joseph, £14.99), which she didn’t start writing until spring 2021, is set in a world devastated by a virus, where society has crumbled and where activists call themselves Rems, after the band who wrote It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine). Little by little, Tudor reveals more about what has happened, as we get to know Hannah, who is on a coach that has crashed in a snowstorm, killing many of the travellers. They can’t get out and rescue doesn’t appear to be coming. And Meg, who wakes up in a snowsuit, stuck in an unmoving cable car while the storm rages around her, a dead body beside her. And Carter, a man whose face has been ravaged by frostbite and who is helping to run the isolated Retreat, high in the mountains and surrounded by dangerous predators. All three are linked, and Tudor has a lot of scary, horror-tinged fun showing us exactly how.

We move from cold climes to hot in Heidi Perks’s The Other Guest(Century, £16.99), but we keep the locked-room element. Laila and her husband, James, are on holiday at a luxury Greek resort. It’s an attempt to save their relationship, which has faced the strain of their attempts to have children. Laila, desperately unhappy with her own life, spends her time around the pool people-watching – especially one family with two teenage boys. “People like Em and Rob were harder to dig into because on the surface they were the perfect family of two plus two, but there can always be something lurking, even in the most model of households.” Her interest means that when a body is found floating in the pool later in the week, she thinks she might know what really happened. But she can’t decide whether to tell Em about what she saw. Moving between the two women’s perspectives, this is a fun, compelling thriller – perfect to read beside the pool, or at home, dreaming of warmer times to come.

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