Donoghue, Emma (2016) The Wonder. Little Brown. Lib Wright, a legendary Nightingale nurse, is sent on a mission to an impoverished Irish village to ‘watch’ a child that has supposedly not eaten for four months. Lib expects to expose a hoax but she gets caught up in the fervour that surrounds the “living wonder”. Is Anna a miracle, a fraud or a medical marvel? Donoghue draws on the phenomena of prepubescent”fasting girls” to build a suspenseful mystery that is not so much about what is happening beneath Lib’s nose, but why? Anna and Lib’s relationship is set in a wider context of English and Irish antagonism, the birth of nursing, and the clash between science and faith. A clever, although claustrophobic, psychodrama of starvation. Rating: 9.5/10.
Koch, Herman (2016) Dear Mr M. Hogarth. Mr M is a fading writer whose greatest success was a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance of a history teacher who had become obsessed with a beautiful student. The story unfolds over forty years told from alternating points of view by a number of unreliable narrators, including Mr M himself. This novel within a novel is full of real people, is intricate and unsparing in its judgements, and is full of twists and turns that suspend the reader deliberately as we struggle with the changing nature of ‘truth’. Addictive reading. Superb. Rating: 9.5/10.
Durrant, Sabine (2014) Remember me this way. Mulholland Books. A year after Zach’s fatal accident Lizzie begins to question how well she knew her husband, and whether he might still be alive? Lizzie loved Zach but as she starts digging into her obsessive husband’s past she finds discrepancies, including doubts as to his true identity. Alternating between Lizzie’s narrative and Zach’s diary, this novel is full of tension, self-delusion and plenty of paranoia, and raises the thorny issue of collusion in abusive relationships. Suitably creepy and chilling. Rating: 8.5/10.
Swanson, Peter (2014) The girl with a clock for a heart. Faber. When George first mets Audrey she is an 18 year old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. They are inseparable in their first semester, so George is devastated when he learns she has killed herself over the holidays, or has she? In his debut novel Swanson weaves two timelines: George at college, in love, then grieving, and twenty years later, George at 40, bored with life, still hankering after his first love. Then suddenly she is back in his life, and and telling George that he is the only one who can help her. George, an inept and unlikely hero, is drawn into her chilling femme fatale world. Rather preposterous but a fair yarn all the same. Rating: 8/10.
Keyse-Walker, John (2016) Sun, Sand, Murder. Minotaur Books. What better than a murder mystery set on a tiny, sun-drenched island in the British Virgin Islands, aka Death in Paradise? The tale of Special Constable Teddy Creque, involving a murder and a hidden “treasure”, never quite reaches its potential even though it won a Mintouar mystery writer award for a debut novel and looks to be the first in a series. Twisty tropical adventure. Rating: 7/10.
Whitehouse, Lucie (2016) Keep you close. Bloomsbury Circus. When Rowan Winter’s best friend, renowned artist Marianne Glass, is found dead in her garden Rowan suspects foul play. She sets out to prove intent where the police see only suicide. Although she and Marianne fell out some 10 years ago she becomes once again ensnared by the nostalgic pull of Glass family. The deeper Rowan delves the more sinister everything becomes. Whitehouse’s carefully constructed plot is full of secrets and sleight of hand and the misdirections have the reader leaping to the wrong conclusion from the outset. Dark psychological thriller. Rating: 8/10.
Hoffman, Alice (2016) Faithful. Simon & Schuster. Shelby’s best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away. Shelby is broken, loses her way and must fight her way back to her own future. In the process she meets and rescues lost souls. Faithful is an emotional story of a survivor – of grief, guilt, recovery and finally redemption. The magic of Hoffman’s tale is the enlargement, chapter by chapter, of Shelby’s world, often sharp and sometimes cloying. Wonderful – loved it. Rating: 9/10.