Crime fiction roundup

Kidnap, torture, murder and a few laughs in four new thrillers

Tell No One
Harlan Coben
Orion £12.99, pp339

My Best Friend
Laura Wilson
Orion £9.99, pp245

The Treatment
Mo Hayder
Bantam £9.99, pp397

The House of Dust
Paul Johnston
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99, pp406

US writer Harlan Coben is the multi-award-winning author of a hugely entertaining crime series featuring Myron Bolitar, sports agent to the rich and infamous. Tell No One, however, is in another league, a pulsing, pacy, devour-at-one-sitting thriller that recently engendered a four-day bidding war in Hollywood (Universal Pictures won).

Eight years ago, David Beck was left for dead at Lake Charmaine while his wife, Elizabeth, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by a serial killer who branded his victims. Now Beck receives an email - from his dead wife.

To discover if there's any way she can still be alive, he must reinvestigate her death. But doing so brings him up against powerful forces and it's not long before he's on the run from the police, the FBI and a truly frightening Vietnamese killer whose hands can do unimaginable damage to the human body. Coben grabs you with the opening paragraph and never lets you go. A class act.

In the past few years, a raft of excellent psychological thriller writers has emerged in Britain. Laura Wilson is one of them and her third novel, My Best Friend, is, deservedly, getting a big promotional push from Orion. As with her earlier novels, A Little Death and Dying Voices, it's a story set partly in the present, partly in the past.

In 1944, Gerald, the lonely son of a children's author, discovers the body of his sister, bludgeoned to death and buried in a shallow grave. The discovery haunts his life. Fifty years later, Gerald, still lonely but now nearing retirement, starts to follow a 12-year-old girl who bears a resemblance to his dead sister. Then the girl disappears. What's most impressive about this dark, disturbing book is the considerable skill with which Wilson tells the story through several voices. Her portrayals of flawed and dysfunctional people are skin-crawlingly real.

Mo Hayder's debut novel, Birdman, was a controversial international bestseller - controversial because of the graphic realism which some critics found too much. (But clearly not readers since it sold so well.) Birdman's protagonist, DI Jack Caffrey, returns in The Treatment, a bleak, powerful story of child abuse.

It begins with a husband and wife found imprisoned in their own home, bound and gagged but alive. Their seven-year-old son is, however, missing. His disappearance brings back terrible memories for Caffrey, whose brother Ewan disappeared, presumed murdered, years earlier - and the man he believes to have done it still lives across the street. The Treatment is cleverly plotted and Caffrey is a believable creation, though when the killer's identity was revealed I wasn't sure Hayder had been playing fair with the reader.

Since winning the CWA's John Creasey award five years ago for Body Politic, Paul Johnston has carved a niche for himself writing crime fiction set in the near future. The House of Dust, his fifth novel featuring investigator Quintilian Dalrymple, is set in 2028 when Scotland as we know it no longer exists. Edinburgh is an independent city state in the grip of a youth crime wave. The city guardians look to the Utopian university-state of New Oxford for advice but when one of an Oxford delegation is murdered Dalrymple heads south to discover that beneath every Utopia a dystopia lurks.

Johnston's plotting is consummate and his characterisation deft. He is also a very funny political satirist so that although The House of Dust is set in the future he is, of course, commenting on Scotland and England today. Very enjoyable.


Peter Guttridge

The GuardianTramp

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