The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer (Gallery, £16.99)
Bob Mortimer is the latest celebrity to follow a bestselling memoir with fiction, in this case a crime novel set in drab south-east London. Your enjoyment will largely depend on your view of the main character, Gary, whose quirkily comedic observations will amuse or irritate, according to taste. A failed solicitor, he is drifting through life – the office, the pub, a barely furnished flat, lacklustre relationships. Then an acquaintance, Brendan, is killed and a young woman disappears after a meet-cute in said pub, without telling Gary her name but leaving a novel called The Satsuma Complex on the table. Gary and his crabby neighbour Grace – who suspects that the detectives who’ve informed him of Brendan’s death may not be police officers at all – team up as an investigative odd couple, and the plot thickens. The pace picks up nicely after a slow start, and although there’s not a whole lot in the way of emotional depth on offer, this is a breezy and diverting read.
Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, £14.99)
Fashionable west London is the setting for Griffiths’s third novel to feature DI Harbinder Kaur, now relocated from Sussex. Kaur’s first case is that of Tory MP and vocal climate-change denier Garfield Rice, found dead at his school reunion. At Manor Park – the sort of trendy comprehensive chosen by parents who are “too mean or too right on” to go private – Rice’s coterie included students who went on to be a famous actor, a guitarist in a well-known band, a Labour MP and the headteacher of the school. However, the name of another student, David Moore, who either fell or was pushed in front of a train in 1998, keeps cropping up – and when Rice’s apparent drug overdose turns out to be murder, DI Kaur suspects there may be a link between the two deaths. Kaur and two of the former pupils, police officer Cassie and would-be writer Anna, pass the narrative baton among them for a cleverly plotted page-turner that’s well up to Griffiths’s vertiginously high standard.
Queen High by CJ Carey (Quercus, £16.99)
The sequel to Carey’s postwar dystopian thriller Widowland takes place in the summer of 1955. Britain, like Europe, is still under German rule, with Queen Wallis – widow of King Edward VIII – on the throne. Rose Ransom, who has the highest status permitted to women under the caste system designed by (real) Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, is busy rewriting works of literature to ensure they are in accordance with the ideals of the regime. History is being rewritten, too, and the Orwellian Ministry of Culture subjects people to mind-control techniques such as unlearning. With President Eisenhower due to pay his first state visit, Rose, who had a hand in the assassination of “the Leader” a couple of years earlier and is surprised to be still at liberty, is tasked with meeting Queen Wallis for a background briefing. Wallis, who is miserable, paranoid and desperate for the liberty that only America can provide, claims to have a secret document which will bring down the Protectorate, and asks Rose to recover it from its hiding place … Brilliantly imagined and thoroughly chilling, this is a counterfactual tour de force.
Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass (Viper, £12.99)
In Nattrass’s second historical political thriller, it’s 1794 and Foreign Office clerk Laurence Jago, previously seen in the excellent Black Drop, finds himself aboard a mail ship heading for Philadelphia. He must keep an eye on an official who is carrying a vital document – the Jay treaty, which will prevent the Americans joining the French in their war against Britain – but his work becomes a great deal more difficult when the man is killed, apparently by accident. The treaty has disappeared, and several of Jago’s fellow passengers, who include French aristocrats fleeing la Terreur, an American plantation owner and a mysterious Irish actor with a dancing bear in tow, appear to have motives for stealing it. Intrigue, tension, memorable characters and shipboard life depicted in all its reeking authenticity add up to a truly gripping read.
Silverweed Road by Simon Crook (Harper Voyager, £16.99)
Lastly, a spot of domestic horror for Halloween. Set in a Kentish suburb where malevolent forces lurk, Silverweed Road is a collection of short stories linked by a postcode. Werefoxes prowl, swimming pools assume a life of their own, the very mock Tudor fabric becomes predatory and baleful jackdaws bear witness as the residents are variously transformed, subsumed, immolated and choked, leaving a plethora of unresolved cases for baffled former DCI Jim Heath to write about in his blog (“the views expressed do not reflect those of Kent police”). It’s more Hammer horror than Roald Dahl, and Crook’s overwrought prose occasionally trips over its own feet, but there’s plenty of sinister fun to be had, as well as some genuinely creepy moments.