Erin Kelly shot to the top of the bestseller charts 11 years ago, when her debut psychological thriller, The Poison Tree, was highlighted by Richard and Judy’s book club. She has since written seven more thrillers, of which the seventh, The Skeleton Key (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) stands head and shoulders above the rest, for its originality, its ingenuity and its sumptuous realisation of an intensely problematic family. Inspired by one of Kelly’s favourite books from her childhood, Kit Williams’s Masquerade, The Skeleton Key centres on a similar treasure hunt picture book, The Golden Bones, although this is a much darker tale than Williams’s. Telling of a murdered woman, Elinore, whose skeleton was scattered over England, it gives clues to locations around England where tiny golden bones have been hidden.
Since artist Frank Churcher published The Golden Bones 50 years ago, it has given rise to a group of treasure seekers calling themselves the Bonehunters – “there is a certain kind of mind to which a riddle like this is catnip” – and every bone but Elinore’s pelvis has been found. Now, to mark the 50th anniversary, a documentary is being made and a new treasure hunt launched and Frank’s daughter, Nell, a target for obsessive fans, has come back to the family home by Hampstead Heath. Nell is – rightly – terrified of the Bonehunters and their obsessions are about to be woken again by a man who has always, always wanted all eyes on him. A gorgeously intricate puzzle of a book.
Robert Galbraith – AKA JK Rowling – is back with another doorstopper thriller about private detectives Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, The Ink Black Heart (Sphere, £25); this one (shades of the later Harry Potters here) running to more than 1,000 pages. Robin is visited by Edie Ledwell, co-creator of a beloved online cartoon, The Ink Black Heart. Edie begs her for help: two fans have created an online game based on the cartoon and one of them – the anonymous Anomie – is persecuting her online. “He’s made it his mission to – to – … to make my life as unbearable as he can.” But the agency is too busy; Robin turns her away. And then Edie is murdered in Highgate Cemetery – the setting of the cartoon. Robin and Strike begin investigating, digging into the world behind the online game and trying to uncover the identity of Anomie, who seems to be ahead of them at every turn. This takes an awful lot of time on the computer – we spend hours and hours circling inside the game, as Robin sets out to infiltrate it; we see the detectives digging back through Twitter accounts to uncover endless examples of egregious behaviour, which is just as depressing as it sounds. When the investigation moves offline and into the real world, The Ink Black Heart is far more enjoyable, as is the continued endless will-they-won’t-they of Strike and Robin’s relationship.
Poor Tuva Moodyson. Will Dean’s protagonist works as a journalist for the Gavrik Posten, a small newspaper covering happenings in the deeply rural area of Sweden where she lives. Dean has already put Tuva through an awful lot in her previous outings, but it turns out there are even more oddballs living in this remote location and Tuva is up against it again in Dean’s latest, Wolf Pack (Point Blank, £16.99). When a young woman, Elsa, goes missing, Tuva investigates the barricaded farm compound where she worked. These days, a group of survivalists lives there; previously, Rose Farm was the site of a horrific murder.
Tuva finds herself infiltrating this close-knit group, trying to get to the complex truth. Dean piles on the beauty and loneliness of the wilds – “When you’re approaching the edge of the map, it’s not unusual to find yourself completely and utterly alone” – as he builds up to a scene so claustrophobically horrifying I had to keep looking away. Another great instalment in Tuva’s story.
In lots of time for Halloween, Carly Reagon’s debut The Toll House (Sphere, £14.99) tells of Kelda, who moves into an old toll house just outside town with her young son, Dylan, hoping for a new start. But Dylan can’t sleep – he’s terrified of his bedroom and what he says he can see there. And then Kelda discovers a death mask inside one of the walls. Reagon intersperses the story of Kelda with the story of the toll house’s tragic, horrific past, as tension builds and Kelda continues trying to ignore the fact her home is clearly haunted. It’s tons of spooky fun, even if it’s perfectly clear where things are going. “The feeling deepened. A stirring in the pit of her stomach. Not someone but something. The house. It seemed to want her, need her, like it had claimed her already. Perhaps this is what it meant to call a place home?” No, Kelda – back away slowly, nothing good can happen here. My copy tells me The Toll House is for “fans of The Haunting of Hill House” – absolutely an unfair thing to ask any debut writer to live up to, given that Shirley Jackson wrote the scariest and best ghost story of all time (that hand! In the bedroom!). But The Toll House will definitely provide you with some shivery chills and a pleasurable sense of mounting doom.
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