The Partisan by Patrick Worrall (Bantam, £16.99)
Chess has long been popular as a metaphor for politics, particularly during the cold war when, like the spy novel, it came into its own. Worrall’s ambitious debut thriller moves back and forth in time between 2004, when former resistance fighter Greta returns to her native Lithuania to recount her activities in the second world war; and 1961, the year in which building commenced on that more corporeal metaphor for east–west relations, the Berlin Wall. This is when Yulia and Michael, chess prodigies with parents in high places on either side of the iron curtain, meet and fall in love. The large cast and wide geographical sweep of this complex, intricate book, which travels to London, Moscow, eastern Europe and Valencia, means that it takes a while for the various threads to knit together. However, attention is rewarded with a compelling and – given the current situation in Ukraine – tragically resonant story.
More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez (Michael Joseph, £14.99)
Love crosses borders in another ambitious debut, with Mexican-American Gutierrez shining a light on both the complicated nature of desire and the self-serving character of the relationship between true crime writer and subject. In 2017, journalist Cassie Bowman comes across the story of Lore Rivera, who married Andres Russo in Mexico City in the mid-1980s, despite already having a husband and twin boys back in Texas. Eventually, the deception came to light, and Lore’s legal husband, Fabian, is now in prison for murdering his rival. Cassie is eager to write a book about Lore, and when she reluctantly agrees to be interviewed, a friendship begins to develop – although the duplicity at its heart is brought into sharp focus when it becomes clear that Fabian may not be the killer after all. Gutierrez moves between the women’s points of view and does a great job of capturing both Lore’s slow-motion slide to bigamy and disaster and Cassie’s own dark past, in an intelligent and nuanced novel that raises a host of difficult but fascinating questions about human behaviour.
The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda (Corvus, £14.99)
Set in a mountain resort on the Appalachian trail, the latest novel from American bestseller Miranda is an atmospheric tale of how the past catches up with the present. In the years between 1997 and 2022, seven hikers have inexplicably disappeared from Cutter’s Pass, with no traces ever found – the last, Landon West, being a journalist who came to write about the previous six. The town, a fundamentally insular place despite its dependency on tourism, keeps its suspicions and secrets to itself; even the narrator, hotel manager Abby Lovett, who has lived there for a decade, is still treated as an outsider. When West’s brother Trey arrives, determined to get answers, they close ranks – and then Abby finds some incriminating evidence. Miranda’s evocative descriptions of the natural world – which, in a place like Cutter’s Pass, is a draw and a menace – imbue the plot with a wonderfully eerie sense of foreboding.
All I Said Was True by Imran Mahmood (Raven, £14.99)
The third novel from barrister Mahmood, author of You Don’t Know Me (now on Netflix), begins with a police caution: Layla Mahoney has been found on the rooftop of a London office block, holding the dead body of Amy Blahn, who has been stabbed. Layla certainly looks guilty, and she only has a limited time to convince the police otherwise before they decide to charge her. However, she is coming out with some pretty bizarre statements and it’s not just the cops who are losing patience, but her own lawyer, especially as the mysterious “Michael”, a man she claims is the real murderer, seems to have vanished into thin air – if he ever existed at all. Told in a time split narrative – Then & Now – from Layla’s point of view, this is a masterclass in using a steady drip-feed of information to rachet up the tension and paranoia: it’s worth clearing the decks for this cleverly plotted page-turner.
The Cliff House by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown, £18.99)
“Island Noir”, in the shape of reworkings of Christie’s And Then There Were None, seems to be having a moment. Chris Brookmyre’s iteration is set on Clachan Gael, a remote Scottish dot on the edge of the Atlantic, where a hen-party weekend catastrophically fails to live up to its fun-and-luxury billing. There’s tension from the start – Jen, the bride-to-be, has invited six guests from various parts of her life, some of whom have scores to settle – but barely has the first cocktail been downed when a murder takes place, followed by an abduction, and then a mysterious character called The Reaper threatens to kill a missing member of the party unless one of the remaining women confesses to a “sin that has gone unpunished”. Everyone’s got a secret – but with no transport, no wifi, and the phone wires cut, they are trapped. Tightly plotted and a lot of fun, this is perfect poolside reading.