Psalms for the End of the World by Cole Haddon (Headline, £20)
There’s a hint of Philip K Dick in the opening as Robert Jones sits in a suburban California living room in 1962, listening to the news and thinking that none of this is real. Soon, he’s on the run from men claiming to be FBI agents, after him for crimes he knows he did not commit. The nature of reality simmers beneath the surface as the narrative detours into other lives in 18th-century France, medieval Japan, late Maya civilisation and the near future, exploring connections between a teenage terrorist in Australia, a Maya princess in 1532, a David Bowie-inspired rock star, a 21st-century screenwriter and a Japanese astronaut orbiting the Earth. Powerful emotional hooks and vividly detailed scene-setting prove compelling, while questions about the meaning of life, human connection and quantum entanglement make for a fascinating and assured debut novel.
The Violence by Delilah S Dawson (Titan, £9.99)
It’s 2025: the first recorded case of “the Violence” occurs in a Florida supermarket when a normally placid grandmother attacks another shopper, beating her to death with a bottle of salad dressing. Afterwards, she has no memory of what she did. It turns out that increasing episodes of mindless murder are caused by a virus. No one is safe; anyone can become a killer or victim. Until a vaccine or cure is discovered, those suspected of being infected are reported and confined, while everyone else can only self-isolate and try to stay safe. What lifts this novel above the usual run of semi-apocalyptic thrillers is the way it is told through the experiences of three women: Chelsea Martin, trapped in an increasingly abusive marriage; her 17-year-old daughter; and Chelsea’s cold, manipulative mother. The first section, revealing how their normal lives are ruled by the obligation to please men, and the constant fear of retribution if they don’t, is more emotionally gruelling than most dystopian feminist visions because it already exists for so many women. These women’s struggles to create new and better lives for themselves amid the horror of the Violence result in a powerful, redemptive and painfully relevant story.
The Hollows by Daniel Church (Angry Robot, £9.99)
Working in the Peak District, PC Ellie Cheetham expects to find at least one dead body every winter, but the latest one strikes her as amiss. This is no foolish hiker unprepared for the weather but a local man, clutching a knife. It looks as if he was trying to hide, and there’s a strange symbol carved in the rock beside him. What appears to be a crime scene is gradually revealed as the first signs of a looming supernatural threat. As if the local human villains weren’t bad enough, with their illegal weapons and simmering grievances, monstrous things have started to emerge after nightfall, attacking the more isolated farms and houses at first, but growing bolder following power cuts, when roads to the village are blocked by the heaviest snowfall in years. And then it turns out that those creatures, whatever they are, are not even the worst of what is about to come in this chilling, action-packed serving of folk horror.
Cold Water by Dave Hutchinson (Solaris, £9.99)
The fifth in the Fractured Europe series is set, like the others, in an alternate 21st-century Europe made up of a myriad small principalities, city states and countries, but introduces a new cast of characters. Carey Tews, an expatriate Texan living in Catalonia, is reluctantly drawn back to work in a central European province for the shady group Les Coureurs des Bois to investigate the death of one of their agents, her former lover. Separate strands set in Tallinn concern Krista, a police officer, and her dodgy journalist enemy Lenna; they demand the reader’s concentration to keep the characters and different timelines straight, but it is worth the effort. This is a clever, complicated tale of dirty tricks, spies and politics set in a world both familiar and strange. It isn’t necessary to have read the earlier books first, but some subtleties will be lost on those who haven’t, and a startling revelation is in store.
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim, illustrated by Marie-Alice Harel (Folio Society, £80)
“This was the very same book that he was reading! … How could this book exist inside itself?” First published in German in 1979, and in English translation in 1983, this metafictional fantasy for children, about a boy who finds himself the hero of the book he is reading, appears in a lavishly illustrated edition designed to closely resemble the fictional volume: “bound in copper-coloured silk” with the title on the cover inside “an oval formed by two snakes biting each other’s tails”.