The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Using notes left by the founding father of “tartan noir” William McIlvanney (1936-2015), bestselling Scottish novelist Ian Rankin has completed a prequel to the author’s magnificent trilogy featuring police officer Jack Laidlaw. Set in Glasgow in 1972, The Dark Remains (Canongate, £20) is not so much an origin story – the bookish, thoughtful and often acerbic loner, blueprint for Inspector Rebus and many others, seems fully formed and entirely recognisable – as a homage. When lawyer Bobby Carter, right-hand man to gang boss Cam Colvin, is stabbed to death, the police are concerned that this may be the opening salvo in a turf war between the city’s criminal factions. Although a lowly DC, Laidlaw ignores the orders of his blundering superior and strikes out with his own investigation. Ever-changing loyalties and betrayals abound – not least Laidlaw’s selfish neglect of his wife and children – and although the denouement may be predictable, and Rankin’s prose might not quite match McIlvanney’s inimitable style, The Dark Remains is an immersive and satisfyingly pitch-black read.

Set in Sydney, the latest book from the bestselling Australian author Liane Moriarty, Apples Never Fall (Michael Joseph, £20), is an engrossing mashup of family drama and psychological suspense that offers a mystery – the disappearance of 69-year-old Joy Delaney on Valentine’s Day 2020 – then trawls back through the past half century to unravel it. The Delaneys are a tennis family: Stan and Joy met as champions and toured the circuit together before setting up an academy. Although their four children are good players and spent their formative years practising relentlessly, none had the precise combination of physical and psychological qualities that make a champion – unlike Stan’s star pupil, who seemed set to give the pair vicarious glory until he inexplicably jumped ship to another coach. Now retired, Stan and Joy find themselves rudderless, and when a young woman turns up on their doorstep, distressed, they allow her to move in – much to the dismay of their children, who soon begin to suspect that she is not, as she claims, a victim of domestic violence. This is a complex and satisfying tale of the sacrifices we make, the way we betray one another and the slippery nature of memory: perfect holiday reading.

The Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota is the setting for a fascinating debut novel, Winter Counts (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) – the first in a projected series featuring vigilante-for-hire Virgil Wounded Horse – written by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. Struggling with issues of identity, Virgil acts on behalf of those failed by the unsatisfactory combination of toothless tribal police and a US criminal justice system that all too often declines to prosecute wrongdoers. But the professional becomes personal when his 14-year-old nephew Nathan almost dies from a heroin overdose. With the help of ex-girlfriend Marie Short Bear, Virgil is determined to prevent the influx of the drug into the community, but the cartels are powerful and such authority as he has is extremely limited. Winter Counts is both a solid take on a trope familiar to readers of crime and western genres – the lone man’s quest for justice – and an authentic and humane view of a largely unreported world, ravaged by years of systemic oppression.

For those old enough to remember, the fuzzy outlines of quite a few real people will be visible behind the fictional characters in Robert Peston’s first novel, The Whistleblower (Zaffre, £14.99), set during the run-up to the 1997 general election, when John Major’s Tory government was ousted by a Labour landslide. Central to the action here is Gil Peck who, like his creator, is a political and financial journalist who has OCD – although presumably that’s where the resemblance stops, as Peck is also unscrupulous, obsessive, addicted and careless of the feelings of others. When his estranged sister, a Treasury official, dies in an apparent road accident, he smells a rat, and the resulting investigation uncovers financial shenanigans and undue influence in high places. While it’s not hard to guess who dun what, this enjoyable, intelligent thriller will be catnip for news junkies.

The Wrong Goodbye (MacLehose, £18.99) is the first novel by Japanese bestseller Toshihiko Yahagi to be translated into English, by Alfred Birnbaum. It’s a self-styled homage to Raymond Chandler, set in and around the US naval base at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, featuring hard-drinking police officer Eiji Futamura. His chance meeting with American pilot Billy Lou Bonney kicks off a sequence of events – dead and missing women, black marketeers, former Vietcong moles, triads – that have their roots in the Vietnam war. A clear indication of exactly when the book is set – around 2000, according to my arithmetic – would have removed an unnecessary layer of confusion from this complex, atmospheric thriller.

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