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Crime and thrillers of the month – review

Crime and thrillers of the month – review

A thriller plot line is barely needed in Will Dean’s The Chamber (Hodder & Stoughton); the real-life terrors of the world he describes are enough to have any even vaguely claustrophobic heart racing. Dean, the author of the excellent Tuva Moodyson thrillers as well as a handful of standalone novels, sets his latest in the world of saturation diving in the early 00s. Here, deep sea divers work at more than 100 metres below sea level, living for up to a month in a pressurised, immensely cramped environment and breathing a mix of helium and oxygen so they can continue diving at depth without needing to decompress and thus risk nitrogen narcosis (the bends). Dean’s protagonist is Ellen Brooke, one of the few female saturation divers; she and five others will live for a month in a chamber “about the size of the back section of a bus” while they take shifts diving beneath the North Sea, fixing oil pipes. But then one of them dies. And then another. Are the people providing them with food and gases to breathe harming them? “In some ways, this is similar to an academic experiment that got out of hand: the lack of control we have, and the enormous list of ways in which they could inflict harm upon us if they so desired.” Or is the danger inside the chamber? As those in charge start the days-long decompression process, Ellen and her colleagues try to survive. “One might be an accident,” she writes on a piece of paper. “Two is a crime.” Horribly, claustrophobically compulsive.

Stephen King: ‘deliciously creepy’View image in fullscreen

“You like it darker? Fine. So do I,” writes Stephen King in the afterword to a new collection of short stories, You Like It Darker (Hodder & Stoughton), which range from the deliciously creepy (Willie the Weirdo, reminiscent of one of King’s best short stories, Gramma), to novels-in-miniature. Danny Coughlin’s Bad Dream is one of the latter. The premise is a paranormal twist: a man has one prescient dream, and discovers where a body was buried. As his efforts to let the truth be known backfire on him, and spin out of control, this becomes a gripping story of an obsessively dangerous cop. My favourite, though, is Rattlesnakes, which made me jump for joy with its links to two previous King novels (no spoilers here, because it was too much fun to discover), while also chilling me to the bone. “Dusk, you know. Real things seem thinner then, at least to me.” Some of these stories are supernatural; some are not; many feature older protagonists; all are worth a read, as King continues his self-described project to “show the real world as it is, and to tell the truth about the America I know and love”.

Isobel Shirlaw’s A Proper Mother (Point Blank) opens in August 1974, as Frankie and Callum are on their honeymoon in Greece. Things already aren’t quite right between them, though; a palm reading upsets Frankie, and Callum is often dismissive or unkind to her. Shirlaw goes on to move her story back and forth in time, showing the misery of Frankie’s early motherhood, slowly uncovering the terrible things that have happened to her during her marriage; then later, struggling to form a relationship with her second son, Michael; then as a young mother, unable to bond with him, looking away from “those pebbly grey eyes that never seemed to reflect the light truthfully”. This is pitched as a cross between Don’t Look Now and We Need to Talk About Kevin, and it is certainly possible to see the comparison to the latter, to ask, along with Frankie, if there is really a darkness at the heart of Michael. But it is a more tender book, too, inching the curtain back on what lies behind Frankie’s misery. Shirlaw is scarily good at showing the little cruelties that have played out in her life. “Callum was right; whatever shade she tried, lipstick always aged her,” Frankie thinks. Later, Callum comes to visit and cuts down all the flowers in her garden. There is a feeling of dread as you read on – will Frankie escape the net that has been woven for her, or is it pulled too tight?

Lucy Foley is queen of the locked room mystery in an exclusive setting, from The Hunting Party to The Guest List. In her latest, The Midnight Feast (HarperCollins), a new retreat has just opened on the Dorset coast. It is run by Francesca Meadows, the sort of person aiming for a “curated, experiential” feel for her guests, who thinks things like “of course what shines from within is most important, but dermal fillers have their role too”. She’s a lot of eyeroll-inducing fun. But after a luxurious midnight feast over the summer solstice, the next morning a body is found. We see from the perspectives of Francesca and her new husband Owen, guest Bella and local boy Eddie, as the crimes of the past come to light, and the local pagan legend of the Birds, and the hold it has over the land Francesca has built her luxury retreat on, becomes clear. A fun and pacey summer thriller.

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Source: theguardian.com