Other Women by Emma Flint (Picador, £16.99)
It’s been six years since Flint’s debut novel, the compelling Little Deaths, but Other Women is certainly worth the wait. Like its predecessor, this beautifully written, pitch-perfect historical mystery is based on a real case – here, a murder that took place in 1924. Bea Cade, like many other “surplus women” after the first world war, rents a room in a London ladies’ club and counts herself lucky that, at a time when so many former soldiers are still unable to find work, her employer prefers female typists. The small measure of independence allowed her by society is destroyed when she falls in love: charming salesman Tom Ryan is married, and the first time we meet his wife, Kate – whose point of view alternates with Bea’s – we learn that something has gone horribly wrong and a trial is imminent. The characters rise from the page in a moving study of loneliness, desperation, shame and public prurience.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (Fleet, £16.99)
Makkai places her fictional murder firmly in the context of violence against women, cancel culture and our obsession with true crime. In 2018, successful podcaster Bodie Kane returns to her old school, an elite boarding establishment in New Hampshire, to teach a course in her craft. One topic she suggests to the students is the murder of her former classmate Thalia Keith, whose body was found in the campus swimming pool in 1995. Although the evidence against Omar Evans, the school’s Black athletics trainer, was flimsy, he is currently serving a long prison sentence. One student, convinced of Evans’s innocence, begins collecting material for a Serial-type podcast. Bodie has her own views about the real culprit, but she becomes increasingly unsure – as does the reader – about her own judgment. Makkai doesn’t shy away from moral complication in this impressive and complex novel.
Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead (Head of Zeus, £20)
Set in 1936, Mead’s debut is an intricate homage to golden age puzzle mysteries. Austrian psychiatrist Anselm Rees has been found dead in the study of his London home. His throat has been slit but all the doors and windows of the room are locked, and there is no evidence of a murder weapon, or any footprints in the muddy flowerbeds outside. The suspects include Rees’s patients, his daughter and her playboy companion, the housekeeper, and a mysterious caller whom no one can identify. Baffled, Inspector Flint asks his friend, retired magician Joseph Spector, for assistance – and then a second “locked room” murder takes place, this time in a lift. Secrets, red herrings and sleights of hand abound in an ingenious piece of intriguing escapism.
The Only Suspect by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster, £14.99)
There’s more deft legerdemain in bestseller Candlish’s latest page-turner. In the fictitious south London suburb of Silver Vale, Alex is losing sleep over a local campaign, enthusiastically endorsed by his wife, to turn a disused track into a nature trail. This present-day timeline alternates with 1995, when, in central London, young auditor Rick starts an affair with mysterious Marina, who works in the same office building. As Alex’s fear that something incriminating will be unearthed escalates, Rick begins to discover more about Marina’s life, including the fact that she lives in Silver Vale. Although readers may guess some of the early links between the two narrative strands, there are bigger twists to come. Candlish controls the drip feed of information and ramps up the tension to great effect.