Crime reviews: New writer holds his own with Horowitz, Penny, Perry and Grafton

Ronan Lyons’s art world crime caper earns its place on the shelves beside the big names

Karen Gillece and poet Paul Perry, aka Karen Perry

A sparkling cocktail of pastiche, literary satire and self-referentiality with a bloody good murder mystery at its heart, Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders was one of 2016's most purely enjoyable novels. In his new book, The Word is Murder (Century, £20), we begin with an account of a murder and then are treated to a chapter in which a first-person narrator mentions finishing a Sherlock Holmes sequel called The House of Silk, talks about how his TV series Foyle's War has come to a halt and how he really needs to move on from his successful Alex Rider series of children's books. Yes, this is Anthony Horowitz – or at least, "Anthony Horowitz" – and when he agrees to team up with a "real" detective to write a new crime novel whose royalties they will share, it feels like Po-Mo Day in Po-Mo Town.

Taciturn, barely civil Det Daniel Hawthorne doesn’t see why his private life or personality should be of any interest to the reader; “Horowitz”, an amusing portrait of the self-regarding author in mid-life, by turns touchy, pompous and needy, counters that the clue is in the title: “detective stories”. He later observes that Hawthorne “was someone who was only fully alive when working on a case”, and frets about Hawthorne’s possible homophobia and whether Horowitz’s seeming endorsement of it will ruin his career. Mostly these self-conscious writerly insights find their level and are not allowed to impede the investigation; only in the last, crucial laps does it become tiresome, as too many real-life figures from the acknowledgments page find their way into the text. But this remains seriously superior entertainment, a page-turning pleasure.

Big House drama

The Big House has long had a secure berth in Irish literary fiction, so it was perhaps inevitable that Irish crime fiction should be eager to display hospitality to that distinctive blend of glamour and decay, of nostalgia and dread, with books such as Tana French's The Likeness, Liz Nugent's Lying in Wait and now, Can You Keep a Secret? (Penguin, £12.99) by Karen Perry, the crime-writing team comprising novelist Karen Gillece and poet Paul Perry. With an echo of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in the opening line and a name check for Jane Eyre a chapter later, this is an extremely confident performance.

We move between 2017, when Lindsay Morgan, a crime scene photographer, visits Thornbury Hall and re-animates the ghost of a romance with its owner, Patrick Bagenal, and the early 1990s, when Lindsay was at school with – and in thrall to Patrick's impossibly charismatic sister, Rachel. After Patrick's father's suicide at his 18th birthday party, the friendships were sundered; now, with Patrick having agreed to sell the dilapidated house, he decides to have the old crowd down for an ill-fated weekend farewell. Elegantly written and beautifully paced, Can You Keep A Secret? (despite the awful title) is a fluent, subtle and chilling novel. The moral stakes eventually feel a little old-fashioned, but the real meat is in the acutely observed malice, betrayal and revenge between Lindsay, Rachel and Rachel's mother, Heather: more deadly than the male, indeed.


Lead White (Liberties, €14.99) is the immensely enjoyable debut novel by Ronan Lyons, founding director of Dublin's Molesworth Gallery. It's set in London's contemporary art world, where Hugh Rhatigan, Irish-born rugby-playing gallery owner finds himself in seemingly terminal debt to Douglas Virgo, "patron of the arts, pillar of low society, the Lord Sainsbury of the criminal class". The cunning debt-repayment plan Virgo comes up with involves Rhatigan inventing artists (and enlisting a skilled faker to supply the "art") so that the work can be "bought" with cash that needs to be laundered. But the fake art is too good and complications ensue. Lead White has a lot of fun at the expense of a scene Lyons clearly knows inside out, from the monstrous vanity of the Charles Saatchi-like buyer to the language of the international art world and its pretentious nonsense. The writing is glitteringly smart, the characters well-drawn and the milieu completely convincing. The plot might have got on its feet a little earlier and upped its tempo accordingly, but this is an excellent first novel, with the raffish air of Performance and more than a flavour of Mick Herron's Jackson Lamb series.

Y is for Yesterday (Mantle, £18.99) could only have been be written by one person, and I suspect like many readers I am caught between excitement that there’s a new Kinsey Millhone to read, and anxiety that Sue Grafton is only going to write one more novel. The new book tacks between 1979, when a bunch of teens drive up into the woods after a party, murder a teenage girl and bury her body, and 1989, when the newly-released murderer’s parents receive a tape featuring their son and two other boys sexually assaulting a 14 year-old girl and a demand for $25,000. It’s powerful and disturbing stuff, and, coupled with Millhone’s usual off-stage shenanigans involving Henry and Ruthie and, in this instance, the complicated after-effects of an affair with a married man, it would have been more than enough. Pity then that the novel swells to an alarming 483 pages with a by-the-numbers serial killer in pursuit. Still, there is no one like Millhone to cheer you up, however dark the case, and no one at all like Grafton, who even in second gear is simply irresistible.

In Louise Penney’s Glass Houses (Sphere, £19.99), a hooded figure all in black appears on the village green in Three Pines, standing in silence, in seeming reproach, like the grim reaper, like death. When it disappears, a body is found and Gamache and his team step in. The murder will dovetail with the Sûreté’s much larger and more complex investigation into the major drug cartels north and south of the border, ultimately drawing the violence right into the heart of the village. A tense, fraught, nervy production, written while Penney’s husband was dying and after his death, it is a blessing that we have it at all; it’s positively miraculous that it should be this good.

Declan Hughes is a novelist and playwright.