Constance Kopp and Sean Duffy back in best of crime fiction

New books from Ali Land, Amy Stewart, EO Chirovici, Julia Crouch and Adrian McKinty

 Adrian McKinty: delivers a first-person tale of cheerfully grim fatalism in “Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly “. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Adrian McKinty: delivers a first-person tale of cheerfully grim fatalism in “Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly “. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me (Penguin Michael Joseph, €14.99) opens with teenager Milly entering a foster home, having survived the horrors perpetrated by her mother, Ruth. Scheduled to testify against Ruth, good Milly understands that her mother is a monster who must pay for her crimes. However, as the bullying at her new school reaches a crisis point, bad Milly finds herself wondering about the extent to which her mother’s perverted nurturing has poisoned her nature.

Land’s debut is a genuinely unsettling tale that brings to mind Megan Abbott’s novels and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, as Land – previously a child and adolescent mental health nurse – delivers a bracing take on a disturbed teenager’s perception of good and evil.

References to Peter Pan and The Lord of the Flies recur throughout, emphasising the extent to which Milly is a lost innocent in a world where young adolescents engineer their own reality, a bleak and pitiless society where might is right and a flair for cruelty confers authority. A novel of complex motivations that will test readers’ capacity for empathy, Good Me Bad Me is already a strong contender for debut of the year.

Constance Kopp, whom Amy Stewart first introduced in Girl Waits with Gun (2015), is one of the most aptly named protagonists in crime fiction, not least because the real Kopp was New Jersey’s first woman deputy sheriff.

Set in 1915, Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Scribe, €14.99) opens with Kopp allowing a conman, the self-styled Baron von Matthesius, to escape from prison, a lapse which provides critics of the newly established role of woman deputy with plenty of ammunition, but could also result in Kopp’s boss, Sheriff Heath, going to prison.

Suspended from normal duties, but determined to put things right, Kopp sets out to track down the baron. Constance Kopp should be a fascinating character as she embarks on her twin battles with male prejudice and the criminals of New Jersey, particularly as Stewart’s meticulous research provides the reader with a wealth of period detail.

Despite being rooted in real events, however, the plot is a plodding affair. Matters aren’t helped by Stewart’s staid prose (“The two of them sat in the sheriff’s office looking about as unhappy to be with one another as two men ever have.”) and too many minor characters devoting far too much time to remarking upon the novelty of a woman deputy sheriff.

Intriguing whydunit

EO Chirovici’s The Book of Mirrors (Century, €14.99) begins with literary editor Peter Katz receiving a partial manuscript from Richard Flynn, which documents the murder of Princeton psychologist Professor Joseph Wieder but only hints at the identity of his killer.

When Katz tries to contact Flynn, however, he discovers that the author has died without revealing the whereabouts of the full manuscript, leading Katz to commission freelance journalist John Keller to uncover the truth.

A prolific author in his native Romanian, The Book of Mirrors is Chirovici’s first novel written in English, an intriguing Russian doll of a narrative which passes the mystery of Professor Wieder’s murder on to a number of investigators.

The prose is stolidly functional, but Chirovici’s story nevertheless offers an intriguing whydunit underpinned by a treatise on memory, as a number of witnesses create a cat’s cradle of conflicting testimony designed to keep the reader guessing to the very end.

That said, even the most generous reader will likely baulk at one character’s suggestion that the story is reminiscent of Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Chirovici’s invoking of “the great French writer” and his remembrance of things past is, at best, ill-advised.

Domestic noir

Julia Crouch’s fifth novel, Her Husband’s Lover (Headline, €17.99), is a delightfully lurid slice of domestic noir, which opens with Louisa Williams fleeing from her “grade A, one-hundred-per-cent, undiluted bastard” husband Sam in a dramatic car chase that ends with a fatal collision in which Sam kills himself and their two children.

The tragic scenario is compounded when Louisa emerges from her rehabilitation to discover that Sam’s vengeful mistress, Sophie, is pregnant and determined to destroy what is left of Louisa’s life.

Crouch coined the term “domestic noir” to describe crime fiction’s latest sub-genre, and this offering is unlikely to disappoint fans, being a full-throttle romp through the paranoid delusions of a cast of grotesques, each more repellent than the last.

The tone errs on the shrill side as the story strives to establish each of its narrators as unreliable, with the characters deliberately pitched as too perfect/too obsessed/too evil to ring entirely true. However, it’s a hugely addictive read as Crouch, having set up an apparently open-and-shut case of domestic abuse, gleefully rips to shreds both the characters’ pretensions and the reader’s expectations.

Impressive series

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail, €15.99) is the sixth in Adrian McKinty’s increasingly impressive series to feature Sean Duffy, a Catholic detective working for the RUC during the Troubles.

The mystery begins with a bizarre murder, when drug dealer Francis Deauville is shot to death with a crossbow. When Duffy starts to wonder why an “independent” drug dealer who has been paying protection to the paramilitaries has been assassinated in such an exotic fashion, he finds himself assailed on all sides. Persecuted by internal affairs and fending off IRA attacks, Duffy digs deep into Northern Ireland’s recent past to uncover a tale of collusion and unsolved murder.

The plot is as tortuously twisting as McKinty’s readers have come to expect but it’s the tone that proves the novel’s most enjoyable aspect. McKinty delivers a first-person tale of cheerfully grim fatalism and Prod-Taig banter, the story chock-a-block with cultural references, from NWA and Kylie Minogue to Miami Vice and The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

Declan Burke is an author and journalist. He is the editor of Trouble is Our Business: New Stories by Irish Crime Writers (New Island)

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