The best new crime fiction: JK Rowling and a parallel universe
Bosch journeys into darkness in Connelly’s latest while ‘Lethal White’ blends murder and blackmail
Titus Welliver as the eponymous protagonist in the screen adaptation ‘Bosch’
Harry Bosch’s axiom of “everybody counts or nobody counts” served him well as a police detective with the LAPD, and he sees no reason to change his mind now he’s working part-time as a reserve officer with the San Fernando Police Department. Michael Connelly’s 32nd novel, Dark Sacred Night (Orion, €19.99), opens with Renée Ballard of the Hollywood PD called to investigate a homicide in the Hollywood Hills, but it’s not long before Ballard, whom Connelly introduced in last year’s The Late Show, teams up with Bosch to work a cold case investigation into the murder of 15-year-old runaway Daisy Clayton some nine years previously. Connelly’s blend of propulsive reportage and deceptively laconic dialogue delivers a compelling account of juggling multiple cases on a shoestring budget, a story that begins with the realistic banalities of sifting through mounds of evidence and concludes with Bosch colluding with an elite LAPD unit that routinely crosses the line in order to deliver a form of justice that is “to serve and protect in its rawest form” and Ballard tapping into “the killing place she knew she carried inside”. Taut in style and sombre in tone, Dark Sacred Night finds the formerly morally incorruptible Bosch journeying into darkness even as he rages against the dying of the light.
Alan Glynn’s Under the Night (Faber, €16.99) opens in Manhattan in 1953, with ad man Ned Sweeney experiencing supernatural clarity and intelligence after being slipped a good old-fashioned Mickey Finn. In a parallel narrative set 60 years later, Ned’s grandson and political researcher Ray Sweeney begins to hear rumours about the fabled MDT-48, a drug employed by the CIA in its MK-Ultra experiments in mind control. Both a prequel to and sequel of Glynn’s debut The Dark Fields (2001), Under the Night is a wild ride through history’s back channels, as Ned encounters Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and Dylan Thomas, and winds up in the remote heart of the Pacific watching the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb. Meanwhile, Ray discovers himself the unlikely confidante of ex-CIA man Clay Proctor, a former adviser to Richard Nixon and a man who knows where a good many bodies are buried. Shot through with Glynn’s leitmotif of justifiable paranoia, it’s a tantalising tale of what-ifs and could-have-beens as Ned and Ray separately piece together an appalling account of a “deep state” manipulation of the American public on a staggering scale.
The ninth instalment in Ann Cleeves’s Shetland Island series, Wild Fire (Macmillan, €14.99) finds Detective Jimmy Perez investigating the apparent suicide by hanging of a man who previously owned the home now in the hands of island newcomers, Helena and Daniel Fleming. When a young woman, local nanny Emma Shearer, is discovered hanging in the same location shortly afterwards, Jimmy launches a murder investigation. It’s a complicated case, and matters aren’t helped when Willow Reeves, Jimmy’s boss, arrives to take command and inform Jimmy that she’s pregnant with his child. Ann Cleeves won the Gold Dagger for the first in the Shetland series, Raven Black (2006), and Wild Fire delivers all the elements her fans have come to expect: a tangled web lurking beneath a picture postcard surface, Jimmy Perez juggling domestic and professional concerns, and a breathtaking backdrop of the bleakly beautiful Shetlands, all infused – we know in advance that Wild Fire is the final Shetlands novel – with an elegiac, valedictory tone.
Set in 2046, SJ Morden’s One Way (Gollancz, €9.99) opens with Frank Kittridge, serving a life sentence for murder, grabbing the opportunity to travel to Mars to work on “a high-tech chain gang” detailed to prepare a habitable environment for a Nasa mission to the Red Planet. Soon after Frank and his “chain gang” arrive on Mars, however, people start dying – is one of the group deliberately bumping off his fellow prisoners? And if so, why? In part a variation on a locked-room mystery and partly a sci-fi take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, One Way cleverly establishes multiple suspects from the off – each character, as a hardened criminal, is as likely a suspect as the next. The world-building is superbly handled as Frank and his peers set up a working base against a backdrop of the vast, lifeless planet, although therein lies a caveat – the thriller devotee who prefers their cliff-hangers to err on the side of thick and fast might find One Way a little too technically detailed and meandering. That said, and even if One Way is clearly a sci-fi novel repurposed as a thriller, it’s sufficiently inventive and unorthodox to be worth any crime fiction fan’s time.
Lethal White (Sphere, €22.99), the fourth novel from Robert Galbraith, the crime-writing nom-de-plume of JK Rowling, offers “the curious case of a government minister, slashed horses and a body buried in a pink blanket, down in a dell”. It opens with London-based private detective Cormoran Strike being told a horrific tale of strangled children by a psychotic and homeless young man, Billy Knight. No one else believes Billy, but Cormoran and his partner Robin Ellacott proceed to investigate, and gradually come to realise that Billy’s allegation is integral to their parallel investigation into the apparent suicide of the minister for culture, Jasper Chiswell. Set against the backdrop of the London Olympics, Lethal White offers a labyrinthine plot that cheerfully blends murder, blackmail, politics, high society and class warfare, with a goodly chunk of the rather hefty 647-page novel given over to the chemistry crackling between Cormoran and Robin, both of whom are separately experiencing significant emotional traumas in their personal lives, although the fact that both detectives are as equally hapless in the domestic sphere as they are determined and dynamic in their professional lives rather strains credulity.
Declan Burke is an author and journalist. He is currently a Unesco writer-in-residence with Dublin City Council