Riccardino by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Mantle, £16.99)
This 28th and, sadly, final Inspector Montalbano novel was written in 2005 and kept in a safe until the author’s death in 2019. It’s set, as usual, in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata, where the humane and witty detective, grown ever more weary and cynical, is joined, for the first time, by the author himself. Equally tired and tetchy, the fictional Camilleri repeatedly chides Montalbano for his lack of progress investigating the death of the titular Riccardino, a man with a colourful private life who has been gunned down in the street by an unknown killer on a motorbike. As so often in Camilleri’s thrillers, the malevolent forces of the mafia and the Catholic church are pulling strings in the background – the wily prelate who tries to entrap Montalbano with questions of moral philosophy is particularly enjoyable – and the author joins in as well, with increasingly improbable suggestions about how the inspector should proceed. To give more detail would be to risk spoilers: suffice to say that Camilleri has contrived a fitting goodbye to a dear old friend who operates, to the very last, on his own terms. Both he and his creator will be greatly missed.
April in Spain by John Banville (Faber, £14.99)
The lure of series character Quirke has clearly proved irresistible to Banville who, having given centre stage to Detective Inspector St John Strafford in his previous novel, Snow – the first to be written under his own name – now shunts him towards the wings in favour of the grumpy-chops pathologist. Here, he’s on holiday in the Basque region of Franco’s Spain which, as his second wife, Evelyn, points out, is a lot like Ireland: “It rains all the time, everywhere is green, and everyone is Catholic. You will love it.” He doesn’t, of course, and remains morose despite Evelyn’s repeated attempts to jolly him along, but things take a livelier turn when he thinks he recognises somebody who is supposed to be dead. Quirke’s daughter Phoebe and – somewhat less plausibly – St John Strafford get in on the act, and it’s soon clear that all of them are set on a collision course with young thug Terry Tice, who, we are told in the book’s first sentence, “liked killing people”. Despite the overly melodramatic ending, this is an elegant, enjoyable and often surprisingly funny read, with a plot full of secrets, lies, cover-ups and treachery in high places.
We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride & Jo Piazza (HQ, £14.99)
Set in Philadelphia, Pride & Piazza’s debut novel as a duo is the story of best friends Riley, who is black, and Jen, who is white. Riley, a news reporter for a local TV station, has paid for IVF treatment for Jen, who is in the third trimester of her pregnancy when her husband, a police officer, shoots an unarmed black teenager by mistake. Riley is assigned to cover the story and her relationship with Jen becomes increasingly fraught as the community becomes ever more polarised. Two appealing and sympathetic protagonists who pass the narrative baton between them prevent this powerful and timely novel from becoming preachy as it explores every aspect of systemic racism, from microaggressions to intergenerational trauma.
Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun, translated by Janet Hong (Head of Zeus, £12.99)
The award-winning Korean author’s first novel to be translated into English jumps between viewpoints, across the stepping stones of the years. In 2002, beautiful high-school student Kim Hae-on was found bludgeoned to death and, although there were two suspects, neither was charged. Seventeen years later, the murdered girl’s younger sister, unable to move on with her life, attempts to discover the truth. Two of Hae-on’s classmates have similar difficulties in making sense of things, as do the two suspects, whose lives, in particular that of slow-witted delivery boy Han Manu, have been marred by suppositions about their guilt. Discovering whodunnit isn’t really the point here; Lemon is a subtle, often intense meditation on the after-effects of violence.
The Whistling by Rebecca Netley (Michael Joseph, £14.99)
Set in 1860 on a remote Scottish island, Netley’s assured debut is a ghost-story-cum-mystery with gothic overtones. Elspeth takes the position of nanny at a crumbling mansion where both the heavily scarred mistress and the servants are tight-lipped about the tragedy that led to the sudden death of young William and the disappearance of former incumbent Hettie. Elspeth’s nine-year-old charge, Mary, hasn’t spoken a word since the death of her twin; lullabies and faint whistling can be heard in empty corridors; rumours abound, and there is a cleverly ramped-up sense that something wicked this way comes … There are shades of both The Turn of the Screw and Susan Hill in this wonderfully atmospheric read, which offers both a satisfying puzzle and some genuinely eerie moments.