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Crime and thrillers of the month – review
Culture

Crime and thrillers of the month – review

In Chris Whitaker’s All the Colours of the Dark(Orion), Joseph “Patch” Macauley is a bullied, lonely young teenager growing up hardscrabble poor in the fictional town of Monta Clare, Missouri. Walking to school one morning, he stumbles across a man attacking his school’s most popular girl, Misty Meyer. Patch fires a rock from his slingshot to save her; she runs and he wakes up in absolute darkness, the victim of a man who has been abducting and killing kids all over the state. “His mother would fall apart entirely. His best friend Saint would stalk the streets when hope had long since burned, getting herself into another world of trouble. None would yet know of the evolving tragedy that would be their lives.”

There’s someone in the darkness with Patch, though – a girl called Grace, who helps him survive this nightmare. But when he does finally escape, there is no sign of her and police believe he hallucinated his companion in his desperation. As the years pass, Patch won’t give up looking for her, and Saint won’t give up on her own quest to make things better for Patch. Tackling love and friendship and trauma, this is a luminous and heartbreaking book – a crime novel, yes, but vaster and more moving than anything I expected.

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Remember Stephen King’s A Good Marriage in which Darcy starts to suspect her husband, Bob, is a serial killer, a tale itself inspired by the real-life story of Dennis Rader, AKA the serial killer BTK (bind, torture, kill)? In Peter Swanson’s A Talent for Murder (Faber), quiet librarian Martha falls for and marries travelling salesman Alan in a whirlwind romance. But as she settles into their life together, she starts to wonder how well she really knows him. As he returns home from a trip one evening, she sees him standing by the car, “his jaw slack, his eyes empty and uncaring”. A patch of blood on his shirt and a series of suspicious deaths that follow him on his travels then lead her to believe he is indulging in a killing rampage while he’s away. Rather than confront him, though, she turns for help to old friend Lily Kintner (Swanson’s tough and likable investigator with a dark past, who has appeared in his previous novels). Lily and her sidekick Henry are a pleasure to watch in action, and Swanson’s villain is enjoyably awful; this is a skilled, well-written and page-turning thriller from the always excellent author.

Continuing in the vein of women marrying murderers: they say a book should grab you from its opening line, and Tasha Coryell has taken that advice in spades in her debut, Love Letters to a Serial Killer (Orion). “I didn’t plan to fall in love with an accused serial killer. Nevertheless, my wrists and ankles are bound to a chair, and I can only blame myself.” This sets the tone for a sharp, funny thriller in which Hannah – single, in a dead-end job in her 30s (“brunch was the main and only joy in my life”) – becomes obsessed with William, who has just been arrested for the murder of four women. As Hannah posts endlessly on a true crime forum about the killings, she also starts writing letters to William. And when he writes back, she begins to fall for him. After all: “Boyfriends who were serial killers were still boyfriends,” and Hannah has found slim pickings when it comes to love. But then William is found innocent and winds up at her door. Fresh, insightful and wonderfully dry in tone, this is an impressively original debut.

‘Always excellent’: Peter Swanson, author of A Talent for MurderView image in fullscreen

I am a huge fan of The Traitors, so a thriller that takes as its premise a gameshow in which contenders must solve puzzles to win prizes – but where it turns out a killer is stalking them – was always going to appeal to me. LD Smithson’s The Escape Room (Penguin) sees eight contestants arrive in a remote sea fort off the south coast of England to participate in a televised show. They bond and squabble and solve the creepy puzzles that have been left for them, as they watch the social media feeds of people commenting on the programme and obey the instructions of “The Director”. We readers know, though, that this man might not be as benign as Claudia Winkleman; we occasionally hear from him and he doesn’t have good things in store for his players. “Without a doubt he was going to deliver on the danger front,” he thinks to himself. And when one of the contenders – in a nightmare scene that took me back to childhood terrors of never escaping a lock-in on The Crystal Maze – is found dying in a room it is impossible to extricate him from, the others start to realise there may be no way out. What fun!

Source: theguardian.com