RaveThe Observer (UK)... once you read Osman’s funny, warm-hearted novels, it is hard not to be charmed by the eccentricities and the resourcefulness of his creations ... humour is gently threaded through every element of The Bullet That Missed. Writing genuinely funny prose is not at all easy; it is rare that I find a book that has me actually laughing out loud, but I snickered so much reading this one that it was remarked upon by my family ... It is not all laughs – Osman doesn’t milk it for pathos, but Elizabeth’s battle with Stephen’s developing dementia is heart-wrenching ... if you pick up The Bullet That Missed expecting a dark crime novel, gruesome deaths and buckets of jeopardy, you will be disappointed. But you would also be a bit silly, because that’s not what these books set out to be. Their impetus doesn’t come from solving the crime or escaping from danger – it comes from enjoying the Thursday Murder Club (and especially Joyce, who is obviously the best of them) deal with everything that’s thrown in their path with panache and aplomb, be it cryptocurrencies or hitmen.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... vintage, timeless King, a transporting, terrifying treat born from multiple lockdowns which, in true King style, puts its finger right on that tender point which is the threshold between childhood and growing up.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)There’s the shouting and the fighting and the unpleasantness between her parents, but it’s the little things King quietly slips in that leave your skin crawling ... This is disturbing, poignant and memorable all at once – an exploration of a very dark relationship between a daughter and her mother.
Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton
RaveThe Observer (UK)I didn’t expect, when picking up Hillary Rodham Clinton’s debut, State of Terror, for it to be the sort of thriller that I’d simultaneously want to read slowly, soaking in the delicious details of how high-level politicians really act around one another (there’s an awful lot more swearing), and horribly fast, panicked at the dreadful events piling up ahead. But I should have: Clinton’s co-writer is the hugely classy Canadian crime writer Louise Penny and this appears to be a match made in heaven ... This is meticulously plotted, intelligent and terrifying, a portrait of a world facing terrible threats ... Don’t miss it.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)... readers hoping for the sexy shenanigans usually found in the publisher’s output will be disappointed. While Margaret indulges in a handful of kisses, and at one point has a man \'adjusting his kilt, swearing under his breath\', the pleasures she experiences are all very much above the waistline ... Bridgerton this is not. Instead, running to 500-plus pages, Her Heart for a Compass sees Margaret realising that she doesn’t need to \'conform to the rules set down by society\' ... The novel veers around somewhat in tone, from archaic...to the entirely contemporary ... Compass is nonetheless well-researched, and a glimpse into the strictures of life as a pampered, rich, upper-class woman. It wears its research lightly, with intriguing forays into topics such as Victorian bathing dresses, and the Queen’s predilection to \'pour her tea from one cup to another until it was adequately cooled\'.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Tyce takes the elements that made her debut, Blood Orange, so compelling and reworks them to tell another gripping tale ... An insightful look at the realities of motherhood and work, and competitive parenting, this is gratifyingly sinister.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)The Silent Wifeis the 10th book in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, but such is her skill that it’s perfectly possible to join the story here, though be warned, if you do, you’ll want to go back to the beginning and discover just how Will and Sara (from her Grant County series) ended up together. As sharp and absorbing as ever.
S J Parris
PositiveThe Observer (UK)Murder on a ship and a dangerously blasphemous book: Giordano Bruno, SJ Parris\'s heretic and spy, is back, and ready to apply his prodigious mind to another deadly puzzle ... An evil bookseller and a terrifying brothel lie ahead; what\'s not to like? ... Gripping and fun.
Arthur Koestler, Trans. by Philip Boehm
PositiveThe GuardianWhen it was first published in 1940, Arthur Koestler’s dystopian indictment of Stalinism, Darkness at Noon, was hailed as a seminal work. The bestselling story of a once-powerful Soviet revolutionary, who is arrested and tried for treason by the regime he helped establish, was deemed \'a piece of brilliant literature\' by George Orwell. Today it is regarded as one of the works that alerted the west to the realities of Stalin’s regime and is one of the most celebrated political novels of the 20th century. Now, almost 80 years later, the Hungarian-British author’s original text is being published in English for the first time after a German student discovered a carbon copy that had been lost since 1940 ... Scammell writes that Boehm’s translation turns Koestler’s novel into \'a crisper read\' than before. \'The prose is tighter, the dialogue clearer, the tone more ironic, and the intricacies of Marxist-Leninist dialectics more digestible … The effect for the reader is of chancing upon a familiar painting that has had layers of varnish and dust removed to reveal images and colours in a much brighter light.\'
RaveThe GuardianDarkness, tragedy and danger creep and crawl through this novel, not on a grand scale but on a chillingly believable, everyday one ... It\'s not the crime, or even the solving of it, that makes this one of the best thrillers so far this year – there\'s no serial killer stalking Dublin\'s streets, no big \'reveal\'. It\'s French\'s skills as a storyteller that make Faithful Place stand out, along with her best creation yet, the enjoyably flawed Frank. Here\'s hoping he – and his chaotic family – show up in future French novels.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)Reading this book alone in the house, late at night, I will admit to a thud of fear at a bump downstairs, and a rush to switch all the lights on. But there are only so many carnivorous children and menacing deer a reader can take before becoming inured to their terrors, and after a while Imaginary Friend drifts into repetition. Christopher and his friends – and the adults in the story – are well drawn, but Chbosky is stage-managing a lot of characters, and as he moves through the gradual disintegration of each of their realities, over 720 pages, his story slows … and slows. That’s not to diss the blockbuster horror novel – my shelves are lined with Stephen King, and there are elements of King here (small town, group of young boys, evil lurking beneath). But if you’re going to pay homage to the master, you’re going to have to do it better ... Chbosky also stumbles when it comes to his register. Writing mostly from the perspective of a seven-year-old, he’s clearly tried to simplify, to imply the worldview of a child. Over the course of the novel, this starts to grate ... All the elements are here to create something truly scary: it just needs to be boiled down, fine-tuned – cut, basically.
Un-Su Kim, Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
PositiveThe Observer\"Pleasingly deadpan, The Plotters manages to be both humorous... and violent, and sometimes even wise ... a translation from Sora Kim-Russell that is both seamless and intriguingly provoking...\
RaveThe GuardianIn Broken Ground, Val McDermid returns to one of my favourite characters of hers, detective chief inspector Karen Pirie, of the Historic Cases Unit ... The DCI – \'a dumpy wee woman with bad hair and terrible dress sense\' who can pull out \'the kind of smile that makes small children whimper and cling to their mother’s legs\' – is as intuitive, courageous and grumpy as ever, and McDermid’s plotting is top-notch. There is nothing more gratifying than watching a master craftswoman at work, and she is on fine form here.
PositiveThe GuardianAs the mystery elements of Lethal White wind themselves into ever more tangled knots, so the romantic side of the plot also unspools ... part of the joy of reading this book is watching the will-they-won’t-they dance ... Lethal White is too long, and too complicated, but there is sharp social comedy to be found here ... this is the sort of gulp it down, obsessive reading experience that is reminiscent of her previous series.
PositiveThe Guardian...a disparate group of guests make their way to a remote hotel in the Catskill mountains. Lapena swiftly takes away all trappings of modernity by enveloping the hotel in an ice storm – no reception, no phone lines, no electricity, no internet – so that, when a body, is discovered their first morning, the group find themselves in the middle of a classic mystery ... Just in case it’s not obvious enough that we’re in the middle of a homage to classic crime fiction, one of the guests finds an old Agatha Christie on the bedside table.
PositiveThe GuardianPaul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World opens as seven-year-old Wen is collecting grasshoppers outside her family’s remote New Hampshire cabin. She knows she shouldn’t speak to the friendly stranger who arrives – an unusually large man called Leonard – but she chats to him for a while, until, even to her young mind, things start to feel a little wrong. When his \'friends\' arrive, bearing makeshift weapons, she runs to find her parents, Daddy Eric and Daddy Andrew, and her little family are catapulted into a nightmare … Tremblay skilfully keeps his readers guessing about the reality of Leonard’s ominous warning as he lets his horrifying scenario play out.
PositiveThe GuardianPaul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World (Titan) opens as seven-year-old Wen is collecting grasshoppers outside her family’s remote New Hampshire cabin. She knows she shouldn’t speak to the friendly stranger who arrives – an unusually large man called Leonard – but she chats to him for a while, until, even to her young mind, things start to feel a little wrong. When his “friends” arrive, bearing makeshift weapons, she runs to find her parents, Daddy Eric and Daddy Andrew, and her little family are catapulted into a nightmare … Tremblay skilfully keeps his readers guessing about the reality of Leonard’s ominous warning as he lets his horrifying scenario play out.
Tara Isabella Burton
RaveThe Guardian...spectacularly impressive ... \'Sometimes Louise considers going out with somebody new, but this seems like just another thing to potentially fuck up,\' writes Burton, in her drily audacious prose ... A ridiculously assured first novel, told in an utterly original voice that doesn’t waver—even when it tackles body disposal.
D. B. John
PositiveThe GuardianJohn moves between Jenna’s perspective, that of a North Korean official sent to negotiate with the west, and that of a North Korean woman disillusioned with the regime in a fascinating, disturbing insight into this secretive country, from its labour camps to its executions. And Williams is a gratifyingly competent protagonist to follow.
RaveThe Guardian\"In Alma Katsu’s The Hunger,... a hint of the supernatural is added to the proceedings to create an absorbing, menacing thriller that had me digging into the history behind this tale as soon as I’d read the last page ... Her descriptions of the land are movingly beautiful, but there is danger even here, as we learn that a child has vanished.\
PositiveThe GuardianHall writes in an afterword to this fiendishly clever psychological thriller that she \'wanted to change the perspective away from all the brilliant damaged women I’d read in the last few years, and reveal a damaged man\' ... By putting the story into Mike’s mouth and taking away Verity’s voice, as her story plays out to a violent climax, Hall forces her readers to consider their attitudes to the sexes in a world where, as she puts it in her afterword, \'women must be perfect, men are allowed to get away with murder\'.
RaveThe Guardian\"This Is What Happened is a different beast: a standalone, it shies away from the stinging humour that makes Herron’s Slough House books so appealing, to paint instead a spine-crawlingly creepy portrait of cruelty and of loneliness ... Herron moves back and forth in time to show how this very ordinary post office worker was recruited ... springing twist after brilliant twist as he practically dares his reader to try to put the book down. I finished it at a gallop, sitting in the car while I willed my baby to stay asleep. Very impressive.\
A. J. Finn
PositiveThe GuardianAJ Finn’s debut novel, The Woman in the Window, is the latest addition to the Before I Go to Sleep/The Girl on the Train subgenre of psychological thrillers: woman whose brain is addled for whatever reason (booze; amnesia; medication) witnesses a crime ... It’s a nifty premise from Finn, the pseudonym of US books editor Daniel Mallory, pulled off classily; with book deals struck in 38 territories, and film rights sold to Fox 2000, it is already No 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
RaveThe Guardian\"Skilfully, horribly, Simmons details the months of darkness – the temperatures of -50F and lower; the shrieking groans of the ice; the wind; the hunger – from the multiple perspectives of the men on board the ship, and with such detail that I defy readers not to grab another jumper. He adds in another, more deliberate evil: a stalking, polar bear-like monster which tracks over the icy wastelands around the ships, picking the men off one by one … It\'s a truly chilling horror novel, made even more terrifying when you remember that much of the horror Simmons describes is based on reality.\
RaveThe GuardianJoyland comes with all the horror trappings for which Stephen King is known: a sinister carnival, a grisly unsolved murder, a haunted ride ...there is murder, and blood, and the possibility of a ghost, and a dramatic and deadly denouement, but it's hard not to end up more captivated by the glimpse King gives into carny life...is a far gentler, deeper, more thoughtful book than the one it masquerades as. More a coming-of-age mystery than a horror-filled thriller, it's closer to the tone of King's short story 'The Body' – on which the film Stand By Me is based – than it is to the author's real forays into horror, and all the more intriguing for it.
RaveThe GuardianBehind Her Eyes is a canny move from Pinborough, the hitherto fantasy/horror/YA novelist jumping aboard the bandwagon for twisty psychological thrillers set in the domestic space. When the first of her twists is revealed, it is fantastically creepy, if not entirely unexpected. The second twist turns the creepy factor up to 11 and is a total wrong-footer. #WTFthatending indeed – the sort that makes you go back to the beginning to check if it all pans out. And it does.
MixedThe GuardianMeyer, clearly a major fan of the genre, has dreamed up a fast-paced thriller, and a tough, mysterious heroine with a penchant for decking herself out in dangerous jewellery, concealing syringes of poison in her belt and switchblades in her shoes. There are some fabulous pitched battles leading up to a conclusion that it’s easy to imagine in the cinema – the only major duff point is the love-at-first-sight romance to which Alex is subjected, which fails to ring true for a number of reasons, not least its opening act of torture.
PositiveThe Guardian...detective Antoinette Conway, manages to fizz with contempt for the world around her, bristle with toughness and sink regularly into poetic gloom all at the same time ... French also pulls it out of the bag here with some of the best back and forth interrogation scenes out there ... While The Trespasser isn’t quite up to the intense brilliance of The Secret Place, it is still a gnarly, absorbing read, and a finely tuned slice of wintry gloom from one of the best thriller writers we have.
Erik Axl Sund
PositiveThe Guardian[The Crow Girl is] very likely to be the most disturbing book you’ll read all year ... There’s a fantastic twist in store, very well executed, and a successful conclusion for the complex web of evil Sund weaves over the course of the novel. His Sweden, too, is pitch perfect and the sheer over-the-top awfulness of it all is clearly recognised by the author ... But the level of abuse in The Crow Girl and the pace of its revelations are relentless. Sund’s story coils its way into ever darker places, with everything from cannibalism to the Holocaust making an appearance in a novel that stretches to almost 800 pages.
RaveThe GuardianBy End of Watch, the trilogy’s conclusion, the hints of weirdness that King has sprinkled through Finders Keepers have blossomed, Brady’s supernatural abilities are in full flow and King has turned a series that started out as a straight hard-boiled detective story into the horror he is better known for ... the hunt is on, ramping up at a frightening pace to a gory confrontation that pays bloody homage to the creator of one of fiction’s most enduring serial killers, Thomas Harris (to whom the book is dedicated). End of Watch may be a return to more classic King fare, but it’s still Bill and Holly’s decidedly down-to-earth detecting that makes the novel shine. I’d back these two anywhere, and can only hope that, as King recently hinted, he might return to these characters.
PositiveThe GuardianThe Fireman’s plot could be a little tighter: it has a tendency to sprawl. But it’s also a fantastically compelling read, Hill making the end of the world into a real and visceral thing with the deftest of touches ... But Hill doesn’t leave us hopeless. One of his characters, Renee, brings up another post-apocalyptic story, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. 'People hunting dogs and each other and frying up babies and it was awful,' she says. 'But we need kindness like we need to eat. It satisfies something in us we can’t do without.' Too right.