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This month’s best new crime fiction, including John Connolly’s 20th Charlie Parker novel

Declan Hughes on While She Sleeps, The Furies, Runtime, and Punishment

While She Sleeps (Hachette Books Ireland, £13.99), Arlene Hunt’s sharply observed, engaging new novel, is a dark Dublin fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty among the daytime TV set. Young interior designer Jody Kavanagh lies in a coma after a vicious attack at her home. Her estranged husband Simon Albright is naturally the prime suspect as far as Sgt Nola Kane is concerned, but Det Insp Elliot Ryan is not so sure, and insists on delving deeper into Jody’s life, interviewing a ripe cast of brittle, on-the-make characters, many of whom are alumni of the same private girls’ school.

Hunt has a lot of fun with this tacky, toxic subculture – the reconditioned teeth that can be seen from space, the mindful chair, the reality show All Buildings Great and Small. The names alone are a scream: Diandra Cliff, Monica Fell, Tamara Ford, Amber Heenan, and best of all, life coach, content generator and personal trainer Bane Russell, who baulks at being called an influencer: “Please don’t use that term. It’s so démodé.” Meanwhile, Ryan is dealing with the devastating fallout from a cold case involving his dodgy ex-partner. Hunt skilfully builds the relationship between abrasive Kane and fussy Ryan, each of whom is on career parole, and strikes a nice balance between action in the field and blue-on-blue station drama.

She writes especially well about dogs – there’s an electrifying set piece in a dog breeder’s kennels with a star part for Athos, an amber-eyed Belgian Malinois – and I relished Kane’s spiky phrasemaking: a sergeant she disdains is a “gurning chimp”; a long-awaited confrontation features a punch that “felt like it came from the previous decade”. Hunt, whose 12th novel this is, moves the teeming cast around the stage with ease and drives the multi-voiced narrative at breakneck pace to an immensely satisfying climax. To be continued, we very much hope.

The Furies (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99) is the 20th Charlie Parker book and, as an anniversary treat, John Connolly has given us two violent, funny, utterly absorbing novels: The Sisters Strange, which began as a novella written daily in serial form and has now been expanded to twice that length; and The Furies itself. Each set in Portland, and revolving largely around secular crimes, this is Connolly in chamber mode. Parker is winding down his caseload as the pandemic hits the city, but a detective still has bills to pay.


The Great Lost Bear serves as office and window on the world, the Fauci Brothers bring barely tempered chaos and disorder and, when a little more finesse is needed, Angel and Louis are only a phone call away. The Braycott Arms, a rundown former railroad hotel that “frequently held more people with criminal records than the Cumberland County Jail”, plays a crucial role in both stories, and Connolly renders it in all its grungy, dilapidated glory, from the scuffed floorboards and cracked ceilings to the desk clerk addicted to old black-and-white Westerns.

The Sisters Strange centres around the apparent theft of valuable coins, the emergence from prison of sinister, unstable Raum Buker and his potentially malign dealings with the titular sisters, Dolors and Ambar. In The Furies, Lyle Pantuff and Gilman Veale, two of the creepiest villains Connolly has created, have stolen the mementoes of a dead five-year-old girl and mean to extort money from her mother. PI business as usual, you might say. But this being Connolly, it’s never simply a question of down these mean streets and the facts, ma’am, just the facts: on the hunt for the missing coins is Kepler, with his flaking skin and milky-grey eyes and smell of bad meat cooked over sulphur, Kepler who is dying, “but thankfully, it’s not terminal”. Throughout The Furies, Gilman Veale is haunted by a small child, and the extraordinarily adroit, sinuous way Connolly feeds this into the narrative makes for a deliriously chilling read.

Catherine Ryan Howard, whose last novel, 56 Days, won crime novel of the year at the Irish Book Awards, returns with Runtime (Corvus, £12.99), a ferociously ingenious suspense thriller about artistic ambition, failure, shame and success. Former soap star Adele Rafferty has been laying low in LA after her career blew up on the set of the film that was to have been her breakout opportunity. A call out of the blue on behalf of edgy young wunderkind Steve Dade brings her back to Ireland to shoot no-budget psychological horror flick Final Draft at an isolated house in west Cork.

Parallel to Adele’s narrative we read Final Draft: the screenplay, a love-triangle saga of creative writing students and fledgling authors whose action briskly moves from Trinity College Dublin to, yes indeed, a remote cottage in west Cork. Howard tacks deftly between the two, ratcheting up the suspense as she goes; the structure is brilliantly conceived and meticulously executed and, because of Adele’s turbulent personal history and consequent unreliability as a guide, the risk of things becoming too self-consciously clever by half is kept at bay.

Snarky, know-it-all, ruthless young people making their way in the arts are borderline unbearable, and Howard treads a judicious line between representation and satire. And amid the spellbinding flurry of false and true endings she even finds time cheekily to acknowledge the one glaring flaw in the plot. This is a masterful performance, which I read in two sittings; if I’d started earlier in the day, I wouldn’t have put it down.

Munich-born Ferdinand von Schirach worked as a criminal defence lawyer for 20 years; Punishment (Baskerville, £12.99) is a short fiction collection drawn from his career experience. Pitched artfully between traditional twist in the tale and personal essay, the stories are cool, meticulously crafted, pithy and mordantly amusing. The alcoholic lawyer who, when very lucid or very drunk, realises all he wants from gambling is to lose; the father who calls his very tall daughter Snow White and laughs when someone tells him he has a very young wife: this is an unsettling, affecting, extremely powerful book. Highly recommended.

Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a playwright, novelist and critic