The past casts its tendrils over the present for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, a man who had “chosen to spend his adult life tracking killers, looking into the minds of madmen”, when a young man he saved from a life of abuse and poverty reappears after many years. Sam and his sister, Fiona, were only children when their mother was murdered; today, they are troubled, damaged adults and Gamache is not sure of their intentions when they arrive in his village home of Three Pines. Then the inspector and his local friends discover a bricked-up attic room filled with macabre secrets and puzzles and suddenly the clock is ticking as Gamache ponders the unthinkable possibility that one of his oldest enemies has escaped from prison. “This chain of events had begun years earlier and was inexorable. If not fated, then preordained by some rough beast.”
A World of Curiosities(Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is the 18th novel in Canadian writer Louise Penny’s Gamache series. It is perfectly possible to pick up the story from here if you haven’t read these novels before, but I would thoroughly recommend giving yourself a treat and starting from the beginning with Still Life. Penny delves into the nature of evil, sensitively exploring the impact of the dreadful events she describes while bringing a warmth and humanity to her disparate cast of characters that, unusually for a crime novel, leaves you feeling better about the world once you’ve finished.
Husband-and-wife writing team Nicci French’s latest, The Favour (Simon & Schuster, £16.99), follows the fallout when Jude, a doctor, is contacted by her first boyfriend, Liam. She hasn’t seen him for years, but then he turns up asking her to do him a favour. Can she go and spend Saturday night in a cottage in Norfolk for him? He won’t tell her why, but he “wouldn’t ask her to do anything wrong”. Jude agrees, but Liam never turns up. The police do, though, to let her know his body has been found by the side of a path on Walthamstow Marshes. Jude can’t explain, to the police or even to herself, really, why she agreed to Liam’s request and her life slowly begins to implode as secrets come out and as she digs into who Liam had become. She meets his girlfriend, gets to know his young son, goes to the house he shared with friends. It was “a place where anything could happen. There were no rules and no boundaries. There was no kindness here, she thought. It was a savage place.” There is something rotten here, but Jude, spiralling into exhaustion and disaster, can’t pinpoint where it is: “Time was no longer a river carrying her forward but a thick sludge.” French always excels at depicting an ordinary life swept away by horror and The Favour is no exception.
The second novel by the Guardian’s joint head of books, Charlotte Northedge, The People Before (HarperCollins, £14.99) will make us all think twice before planning that move to the country. Jess and Pete and their two young children leave London for a new life in a huge, rambling old Suffolk house, but Jess feels uncomfortable and isolated almost from the start. She is no longer working, but the hopes she had of idyllic times with her children don’t materialise and the locals hint about a dark history to her new home. “What if our problems have followed us here? What if this is just the beginning?” wonders Jess as she finds her old self slipping away, “the contours of my personality, the person I was, seeming to dissolve into the dust around me”. She is desperate to keep her children safe, but Pete isn’t listening to her fears and even Jess starts to wonder if it is all in her head. “In a matter of months since we moved here, I’ve unravelled, become someone I don’t even recognise. Someone obsessive, so caught up in horrific daydreams, visions, that she injures herself, in fear, in anger.” Tense and threatening, this is a great follow-up to Northedge’s debut, The House Guest.
Amelie wakes up in a pitch-black room, not knowing why she has been kidnapped or who her captors are. This is the excellent premise that opens BA Paris’s The Prisoner (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99). Paris, whose first novel, Behind Closed Doors, was a bestseller, goes on to reveal why, who and how – how Amelie, an orphan, married magnate Ned Hawthorne. Who this controlling, cruel man really is and why Amelie is convinced that being with him is more dangerous than being kidnapped. It’s a rollercoaster ride, with plenty of twists, but it gets a little convoluted, which dilutes the urgency and, for me, The Prisoner didn’t quite live up to the promise of its premise.
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