The best recent thrillers – review roundup

·5 min read

The First Day of Spring

Nancy Tucker
Hutchinson, £12.99, pp400

Nancy Tucker’s debut novel opens as eight-year-old Chrissie kills another child. “Sweat made it slippy between our skins but I didn’t let go, pressed and pressed until my nails were white.” It’s the first day of spring and Chrissie, a neglected child who is always living on the edge of starvation, realises “that was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy.” Tucker, who has previously written about her childhood struggle with anorexia, follows Chrissie’s story as she gloats over her secret while a clock ticks inside her, waiting for her to kill again. Fifteen years later, she is living under a new name, Julia, with her five-year-old daughter and is terrified that social services will take the child away.

Loosely based on the story of Mary Bell, this is an extraordinary and heart-rending novel, exploring how a child becomes a killer and how it would feel to live with such crimes in adulthood, “with a millstone so heavy I sometimes felt my spine would buckle beneath it”.

The Other Black Girl

Zakiya Dalila Harris
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp368

Nella is the only black person working at top New York publishing house Wagner Books, dealing daily with the micro-aggressions and lack of interest in the diversity meetings she organises, biting her tongue over the one-dimensional black characters in the manuscripts she reads. So when a second black woman, Hazel, joins the company, Nella is initially delighted. “She craved the ability to walk across the hallway, vomit out all of her feelings about a racially insensitive fictional character, and return to her desk, good as new.” But Hazel’s start coincides with notes that begin appearing on Nella’s desk – “Leave Wagner. Now” – and Nella starts to wonder if Hazel really is who she seems and just how she’s rising up the ranks so swiftly. Zakiya Dalila Harris worked at prestigious US publisher Knopf for three years before she left to write this, her debut. It is both an excellent mystery, in which Nella’s story plays out alongside those of three other black women, past and present, and an astute, clear-eyed look through the eyes of the shrewd and sometimes very funny Nella, at what is being asked of black women at work.

Falling

TJ Newman
Simon & Schuster, £14.99, pp304

Never trust a novel that fools you with a dream sequence opening would be my general rule, but Falling is so much fun, so warm-hearted and such a rollercoaster ride that I can forgive it wholeheartedly. It has a hell of a premise: pilot Bill’s family is kidnapped and he is given an ultimatum by the kidnappers: “You will crash your plane or I will kill your family.” Acquired for a seven-figure sum, Falling is former flight attendant Newman’s first novel and gives real insight into the affection, camaraderie and bravery of a cabin crew, from Jo and her fellow flight attendants Kellie (the newbie) and Michael (who has done this for years), to co-pilot Ben. Should they tell the 144 passengers on board what’s going on? Do they have the right to know? Can they get the cabin ready for an attack without the kidnappers realising what’s happening? Being a flight attendant, Newman shows, isn’t about serving food and drinks. As Jo says: “Five weeks of training and in only one of those days did they go over food, drinks and hospitality.” Newman’s terrorists are also fully fleshed-out creations, as is Bill’s wife, Carrie. This is a race-to-the-finish-line sort of read, relentless, and all set “in a pressurised metal tube, thirty-eight thousand feet in the air going six hundred miles an hour”.

Knock Knock

Anders Roslund
Harvill Secker, £12.99, pp448

Detective superintendent Ewert Grens is less than six months away from enforced retirement and is dreading it – a “giant black hole that scared him even more than his bed at home, an abyss a man falls into headlong and then never stops falling”. More than 40 years with the police and he has no life or friends outside his job. Then a case comes across his desk – there has been a break-in at the flat where, 17 years ago, he found a five-year-old girl still alive, surrounded by the murdered corpses of her family. The killer was never found, but the girl was put into witness protection. Grens, digging into his latest case, discovers that her file has been stolen and her secret identity leaked, putting her life in danger. Does this have anything to do with the fact that the identity of Piet Hoffman, trying to live a quiet life far from his former dangerous occupation as an infiltrator into deadly criminal gangs, has also been compromised? Grens is galvanised into action. “A murder investigation grabbed hold of him, lifted him up and pushed him on, gave him something to look forward to tomorrow.” Knock Knock is the eighth in the Ewert Grens series and the first written under just Roslund’s name, without his co-author, the late Börge Hellström. Set over three action-packed days, it’s another complex, white-knuckle read.

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