On Java Road by Lawrence Osborne (Vintage, £16.99)
Osborne’s latest is set in a vividly rendered Hong Kong during the Chinese government’s brutal suppression of the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations. The ghosts of Graham Greene’s world-weary expat protagonists hover over jaded but shrewd Brit Adrian Gyle, who is reconciled to the fact that both his ambition and his career have stalled. Jimmy Tang, his feckless friend from Cambridge, whose wealthy family pays expedient lip service to Beijing, offers him glimpses of the high life – literally, because his mansion on the steep hillsides of the affluent Mid-Levels looks down on the street fighting and tear gas clouds below. When Rebecca To, a young activist with whom Jimmy is having an affair, vanishes, Adrian attempts to solve the mystery. Osborne wisely resists any pat answers in a whodunnit wrapped in a superbly atmospheric portrait both of a particular place and time, and of the creation and destruction of a friendship. Highly recommended.
Meantime by Frankie Boyle (John Murray, £14.99)
The colonial past also affects the present in Frankie Boyle’s first novel, which is set in Glasgow during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Yes, it’s another crime novel by a white male celebrity – but there’s nothing cosy about Meantime, even though it’s nowhere near as misanthropic as its author’s comedic reputation might suggest. Junkie Felix McAveety is trying to solve the murder of his best friend Marina with the assistance of neighbour and fellow partaker Donnie and cop-turned-crime-novelist Jane. The trio soon find themselves mired in a world of nationalist politics, spies, drug dealers, stalkers and artificial intelligence. The plot, which admittedly gets pretty daft, takes second place to scathing social commentary, with pot shots at everything from capitalism and liberalism to Scotland itself. Despite his reliance on mind-altering substances and tendency to gob off (if you’re familiar with Boyle, you’ll hear him in your head), Felix is a man of integrity, and his story is not only funny, but moving as well.
Alias Emma by Ava Glass (Cornerstone, £14.99)
This debut novel for adults from YA author CJ Daugherty, writing under a pseudonym, is the first in a projected series featuring British intelligence agent Emma Makepeace. Following a spate of murders of dissident scientists by the Russian military intelligence service GRU, she is tasked by Ripley, her boss at “the Agency”, to escort Michael, the son of two of MI6’s biggest assets, nuclear physicists Dimitri and Elena Primalov, across London to safety. This is Emma’s first big assignment, and it’s a lot less easy than it appears because the GRU have hacked into the capital’s extensive CCTV network. The pair are forced to travel on foot, and the Russians have eyes – and hit squads – everywhere. Emma is an appealing character, smart and resourceful, and Glass deftly works her backstory into this high-octane, warp-speed thriller without missing a beat. Suspend disbelief and enjoy.
The Change by Kirsten Miller (HarperCollins, £14.99)
Another adult debut from a renowned YA author, The Change is a welcome addition to “hot flush” noir, which – given the crime fiction reading demographic – ought, by rights, to be a burgeoning sub-genre. Set on the New York State coastline, this is the tale of three women who discover that the menopause has given them special powers. Harriett, divorcee and former ad exec, connects with nature, in particular her ability to cultivate poisonous plants; businesswoman Jo learns to channel her fury into an impressive weapon; and widow Nessa, alone now her daughters are at college, begins to see the ghosts of murdered women. When the trio investigate the suspicious deaths of three teenage girls, it becomes clear that the perpetrator is someone that society values far more highly than the victims. With a propulsive plot and characters that roar off the page, this is a novel that’s unafraid to take on societal misogyny while being satirical and even funny at the same time.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib (WW Norton & Co, £19.99)
Masculinity is in crisis in this unsettling debut novel from podcast host Habib. New England teacher Todd’s wife departed after a few years of lacklustre marriage, leaving him to parent toddler Anthony alone. When the boy is six, the pair have an apparently chance meeting with Jack, who bullied Todd remorselessly at school 15 years earlier but now seems overjoyed to see him. Despite Todd’s reluctance, Jack gradually insinuates himself into their lives, and winds up sleeping on their sofa. Repressed and conflicted, Todd is as much afraid of his own feelings as he is of his erstwhile tormentor, and the resurfacing of things he’s buried deep inside has appalling consequences. Habib ramps up the paranoia to Highsmithian levels, while flashbacks to the boys’ schooldays show how the seeds of destruction were sown.