Perhaps crime fiction is so popular because as a genre it can be anything it wants to be. A Benjamin Black and a Richard Osman belong side by side yet couldn’t be more different. The four books here are so diverse they share virtually nothing – except murder.
In Death Visits January by Fiona Sherlock (Poolbeg, €9.99), January Quail is an antiques columnist and sole survivor of an old Anglo-Irish dynasty. She’s stone broke, a drinker, and habitually infuriates her editor. She’s also first to scoop the story of an ancient bog body, just discovered outside Ardee.
This exclusive could revive her flagging career, especially when the National Museum trundles in. Then the state pathologist discovers the body was buried in the 1990s. And then another body turns up.
This novel is the strange lovechild of Agatha Christie and Roddy Doyle (very Irish, with frequently ‘choice’ language), to be read while sipping a crème de menthe, January’s tipple.
Sherlock’s small-town Ireland, teeming with dirty secrets, gombeen men and a police force run on breakfast rolls and expletives, is hilariously pitch perfect.
Sabine Durrant’s Sun Damage (Hodder & Stoughton, €23.99) is set in the south of France, in a rambling old holiday home amid a flourishing mosquito population. Ali is a small-time English criminal who, with her accomplice Sean, tricks tourists out of their money on the Côte d’Azur.
When a scam goes horribly wrong and their latest victim dies, Ali flees the coast and finds herself impersonating the dead girl, working as a cook for a large family of English holidaymakers further north. But Sean is looking for her and she suspects one family member smells a rat.
Durrant is relentless with the suspense, presenting Ali’s unreliable narrator status beautifully. And while Ali at first thinks this privileged bunch of tourists has it all, virtually every one of them is hiding something.
It’s superbly controlled, a novel that’s obsidian dark under the blazing French sun.
If you mixed together the films Deliverance and Southern Comfort and located them on a remote Australian island, you’d get Adrian McKinty’s The Island (Orion, €15.99). Newlyweds Tom and Heather, with Tom’s two children, are on a working holiday in Australia when Tom accidentally runs over a girl on a tiny island off the Melbourne coast and kills her. And then attempts to hide the body.
The dead girl’s tribe are a lowlife lot, with a proclivity for guns, gargle and gory revenge. There’s no phone coverage, no method of calling for help and when the tribe captures Tom, Heather must escape with the kids. Except the mainland is two miles away, the mad island family owns the only ferry and there’s nowhere to hide.
This is a typical McKinty heartstopper, full of old secrets and new crises. Vintage stuff.
If it weren’t for James Joyce’s Ulysses, would anyone remember Dublin’s old red light district? The Legion of Mary cleaned it in up in 1925, and Tony O’Reilly’s Murder in the Monto (Poolbeg, €14.99) might just be the first novel since Ulysses to choose it for a location.
It’s 1916, the week after the Rising and Christopher Flinter is home in Dublin after deserting his post in Flanders. An English secret serviceman captures Flinter and offers him a choice; find the Monto serial killer or be shot for desertion.
This is a thriller laden with menace. O’Reilly’s depiction of the people’s initial indifference to the Rising (until its leaders were later shot) is textbook accurate, while his portrayal of the poverty in the tenements is superb. An excellent debut.