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Best new crime: Novels from Oliver Harris, Scarlett Thomas, Lucy Foley, Andrea Mara and Hugo Rifkind

Fictional summer feasts set against cyber warfare and leaks, Greek island tragedy, a Dorset country retreat, Foxrock domestic noir, and the world of guns and Scotland’s shabby rich

Andrea Mara: Someone in the Attic is her most accomplished novel to date. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The spy and the private eye are two sides of the same literary coin, so it makes sense that Elliott Kane, an ex-MI6 veteran, might set himself up as a “private spy”. The Shame Archive (Abacus, £16.99), Oliver Harris’s third Elliott Kane novel, opens with Rebecca Sinclair receiving an anonymous message that threatens to expose the truth of the licentious life she lived before she married Robert Sinclair, a high-profile Conservative MP and – all going well – a future prime minister.

At roughly the same time, the deeply cynical Kane discovers that the MI6 archives have been breached and all of their juicy details are for sale on the dark web. But what first appears to be a rather amateurish attempt at extortion and historical score-settling very quickly escalates to threaten the very foundations of British democracy.

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If Mick Herron is this generation’s John le Carré, then Oliver Harris has a decent claim to be our Len Deighton: Elliott Kane is a no-nonsense anti-hero living “a stupid, morally blank life” as he operates in the crevices where professional spooks interact with international finance of dubious provenance. But even Kane can’t turn his back on his former joes, whose identities are revealed when “the shame archive” is ransacked for its secrets, and whose lives are now at risk of termination by Unit 22195, aka “Putin’s personal assassination squad”. Harris’s deceptively understated style powers a relentless thriller that deep-dives into the digital battlefields where future wars will be fought.

A honeymoon on a Greek island promises an idyllic experience in Scarlett Thomas’s The Sleepwalkers (Scribner, £14.99), but Evelyn and Richard aren’t exactly love’s young dream when they arrive at the Villa Rose after their “cursed” wedding, and matters are further complicated by their idiosyncratic host, Isabella, who seems hell-bent on antagonising Evelyn.


Scarlett Thomas’s taut, bone-dry style, and her vivid evocations of a Greek tourist destination running to seed, ensure her narrative experiments are gorgeously readable

Worse, Evelyn and Richard have walked into the aftermath of a tragedy in which a married couple drowned while sleepwalking – or so the locals claim. What really happened to the sleepwalkers, and what might well happen to Evelyn and Richard, forms the narrative spine of a novel that simultaneously functions as a deconstruction of a novel: delivered for the most part in the epistolary form, it also features an American film producer who – tellingly – “believes movies nowadays are much more about synecdoche and metonymy, you know, like the adjacent stories”.

Sounds tricksy, but Scarlett Thomas’s taut, bone-dry style, and her vivid evocations of a Greek tourist destination running to seed, ensure that her narrative experiments are gorgeously readable.

Set on the Dorset coast as the “country Eden” destination The Manor opens its doors for the first time, Lucy Foley’s The Midnight Feast (HarperCollins, £18.99) revolves around Bella, a woman who “looks like London and money” but, as she tells herself, is “constructing a new persona around my rented wardrobe”.

Why Bella has come to The Manor in disguise, and the truth of her relationship with its owner, the “Goopy yoga princess” Francesca, leads us into a complex web of lies, betrayals and murder rooted in a summer holiday some 15 years ago. It’s a promising set-up, but one that is frequently undermined by the main characters’ bizarre habit of reminding themselves of their backstories (”When I first learned The Manor was looking for an architect,” Francesca’s husband Owen tells himself during an interior monologue, “I knew there was no way I could do it. I’d barely worked in the UK full stop. Recent builds included an Icelandic actor’s holiday home in the western fjords, a hotel in Costa Rica …”)

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An odd habit, on the face of it, but maybe Owen & Co feel the need to root themselves firmly in a multilayered tale of duplicity, ostentatious luxury, class warfare and warped folklore told by a bevy of characters with dark secrets they’re desperate to conceal.

Recently arrived back in Dublin from San Diego as Andrea Mara’s Someone in the Attic (Bantam, £14.99) begins, Julia, her ex-husband Gabe and their kids Isla and Luca have moved into a new-build gated community in Foxrock. It sounds like an ideal homecoming, but there’s a wrinkle or two. First, teenager Isla finds videos on social media of a masked man emerging from their attic to explore their home, and then Anya, Julia’s teenage friend, is discovered drowned in her bath.

By now the reader knows that Anya’s death wasn’t accidental, and that she was drowned by a masked man who climbed down out of her attic; will Julia and her family be the next victims of a killer who appears to be taking his cues from the wildly popular TV show The Loft? Andrea Mara establishes a simmering tension from the off and then proceeds, like a sadistically refined maestro of Chinese water torture, to very gradually increase the temperature via a whole shoal of red herrings and a series of vertiginous cliffhangers.

An inventive, unsettling take on domestic noir, one in which the past is constantly trembling on the verge of erupting into Julia’s increasingly frantic attempts to keep her children safe within the suddenly claustrophobic confines of her “nice, safe, luxury gated complex”, Someone in the Attic is Andrea Mara’s most accomplished novel to date.

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“When the shotgun went off under Johnnie Burchill’s brother’s chin, word had it, the top of his head came off like a turnip lantern.” So begins Hugo Rifkind’s Rabbits (Polygon, £14.99), a novel that opens in 1996 in a milieu described by our teenage narrator, Tommo Dwarkin, as “niche posh Edinburgh madness”. Tommo, alas, is merely a middle-class interloper in a world of Scotland’s rundown castles, flamboyant kilts and the shabby rich; it’s a world, he learns at his first pheasant shoot, where “guns are people and people are guns”.

Probably the world’s least ambitious social-climber, Tommo pursues the glamorous Flora McPhail without ever really understanding how out of his depth he truly is

Tommo’s entry into this world comes courtesy of Johnnie Burchill, who is “only tenuously bound by the usual rules”; and when Johnnie comes to suspect that his older brother’s death by shotgun wasn’t necessarily an accident, as the police reported, but a murder rooted in the complicated inheritance laws that underpin what passes for the modern Scottish aristocracy, all bets are off.

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Tommo makes for delightful company as he navigates this alluring, alien world. Probably the world’s least ambitious social-climber, Tommo pursues the glamorous Flora McPhail without ever really understanding how out of his depth he truly is in “the whole Scottish shooting, fishing thing”. What he does appreciate, however, is that the boarding school ethos, with its celebration of its glorious dead and sacrifices made on foreign fields, creates a mentality in which young men accept that violent death is par for the course: “Not so much that they’d died for us; more that they were us, exactly us, gone before.”

Told in a breezy, irreverent style that plumbs black comedy to reveal its tragedy, Rabbits feels like a blend of Brideshead Revisited and Less Than Zero reworked by Chris Brookmyre.

Declan Burke is an author and journalist. His current novel is The Lammisters (No Alibis Press)

Declan Burke

Declan Burke

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