HarperCollins, £14.99, pp400
Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia and architect of the Democratic victories in Georgia’s US Senate runoff elections in 2020, has found time in her busy political career to write legal thriller While Justice Sleeps. Set in a US ruled by a “shrill xenophobe of a president”, it follows Avery Keene, a young and brilliant law clerk for the Washington judge Justice Wynn, who has been looking into a controversial biotech merger. When Wynn falls into a coma, Keene is stunned to discover that she, rather than his wife or son, has been given power of attorney over his life. She digs into why, discovering bodies and clues along the way: “Justice Wynn had typed gibberish on to a piece of paper that he demanded burned upon reading, as though he’d escaped from a John le Carré novel.” As she uncovers a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of government, she makes full use of her photographic memory and tries to stop her drug-addict mother affecting her career as she does so: “Reputation was all you had when you’d been born without the relationships.” Abrams, who started writing novels during her third year at Yale Law School, has previously published romantic thrillers under the pen name Selena Montgomery. While Justice Sleeps is complex and occasionally convoluted, ending in a terrific set-piece legal showdown between Keene and those ranged against her.
Sphere, £18.99, pp352
Rose is living in Italy, teaching English, when she gets a call from her sister Kate’s husband, Evan. Kate, 41, has died, unexpectedly, of cancer. Nobody knew she was ill and Evan needs Rose to come home and look after his children – Jamie, the toddler son he had with Kate, and Serena, his daughter from a previous marriage. When Rose arrives at the huge, gloomy, isolated house on the east coast, she is lost. With no mobile signal and caring for children for the first time, she becomes disoriented. “It seemed as though there was no division between land and sea; it was one great grey watery waste, broken here and there by the black skeleton of a tree or the marsh grass ruffling the water’s surface.” But as she watches the grieving widower and his spiky, sly daughter, she discovers a message left for her by Kate and starts to ask questions about why nobody took her sister to the doctor. The Widower seethes with atmosphere – I read the first half of it slowly, almost unable to bear the thrumming tension, and the second half at a pelt, desperate for Rose to escape the “thick red swarming gloating dark” of the house in which she finds herself, “the house folding them into itself among the mist and the reeds, its corners and corridors, its secret places she hadn’t even seen yet”. Haunting and heart-wrenching, this book is reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier.
HarperCollins, £14.99, pp352
The House Guest, the debut novel by the Guardian’s head of books, opens with a glimpse of the kidnapping of a two-year-old before going back in time to London in 2015. Kate, who is trying to make a new life after the disappearance of her sister, is drawn into the world of the magnetic Della. A life coach, she is almost worshipped by the young women she supports – Kate dubs the identikit women “the Janes” – but takes a special interest in Kate, getting her to babysit her children, even inviting her to work for her in France for the summer. Flattered by the attention and enticed by the promise of a new life, Kate ignores warnings from “the Janes” and accepts. But in the “sultry, airless, lush landscape” of southern France, she finds herself increasingly entwined in the life of Della and her husband and begins to see a new side to her mentor. “Now I can see she had got me exactly where she wanted. It was a turning point all right, but not of the kind I was expecting.” Full of twists, The House Guest spirals towards its dark conclusion, wrongfooting the increasingly uneasy reader at every turn.
Quercus, £18.99, pp352
Bruno Courrèges, chief of police in the town of St Denis in the Dordogne, gets involved in a 30-year-old murder in Martin Walker’s The Coldest Case, the 14th book in this mystery series set in south-west France. His boss, J-J, has long been obsessed with an unidentified body, killed with a blow to the head and found in the woods, the one case he has never solved. When Courrèges visits a nearby museum, he sees how curators have worked with ancient skulls to reconstruct their faces and suggests J-J try the same thing. They soon discover links to the man’s family and find themselves on the trail of a murderer who has got away with their crime for decades. Packed with descriptions of the food Courrèges and his friends cook, of the gorgeous French countryside and of the local community, The Coldest Case is pure escapism. Courrèges deals with day-to-day concerns as much as the investigation of a murder. Which of his friends will he give his dog Balzac’s two puppies to? Can he manage to cook a vegan meal? Can he really bear to sample the mint sauce his English friend has made? “Mon dieu, thought Bruno, the things I do for international understanding.” It is a delight to dip into his sun-baked world.