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Thrilling tale of twists

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty Faber & Faber (2014, Paperback) €14.99 *****

OMG. Sorry, not very elegant, but this is one of those novels that makes me want to grab people by the lapels and shake them until they agree to come with me to the nearest bookshop and just buy it, immediately.

Geneticist Yvonne Carmichael is in the dock. We don't know why she's there or what's she's done; at this stage we don't know who she is, but we know she's deeply connected to her co-accused.

By the time we're done with the prologue, we know that the barrister cross-examining Yvonne is about to drop a tiny little bomb, and we are gasping to know what it means.

And then we go back to the beginning, back to Yvonne's affair with X, a seemingly common adulterous affair, albeit one in which the risk is exacerbated by X's insistence on public sex. Yvonne is 52, married, and well established in her field – what harm could a tiny little affair do?

Oh, the harm. What's most shocking/thrilling about this narrative is not so much the outcomes, but how the outcomes were achieved. We are as blindsided as Yvonne when one apparently inconsequential thing leads to another –or are we?

Events change in a heartbeat, in the middle of a sentence, with no warning, and why this works is down to Yvonne's voice.

Her precision as a scientist leaves no detail unremarked: she breaks down every thought and action into its constituent parts so that we are in many ways breathing along with her, experiencing everything at the moment it happens. Or are we?

Because Yvonne is talking to us in the first person, her thoughts and feelings become ours, right from the off. So that when – not spoiling – after the trial and its outcomes she drops her own tiny little bomb, well, it's as satisfying a conclusion as you'll want to read.

So much more to say: about the justice system, about lies, about truth, about self-perception, about ageing, about family history, about expectations. A rich and engrossing read.

Cross and Burn by Val McDermid Little, Brown (2014, Paperback) €8.99 ****

THIS is McDermid's 27th novel, and that fact does make a difference: at this stage, she's in complete control of her craft, able to weave mystery and humanity into that strange brew that creates a thriller that makes what people are and what they do result in such terrible or such moving and reaffirming ways.

This is also a Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel. Readers coming late to the game can catch up online – or even better, put this down, read all the other books and then go on to this one. I reviewed The Retribution in my very first column in 2012, and pretty much read it with one eye closed, it was that gruesome.

We're not spared much here, either, but what we do get is an extraordinary moving demonstration of damaged people hard at work trying to move on with their lives.

Which is something that much fiction deals with, in fairness, but as a counter-balance to the violent crime McDermid does sublime work in separating the human from the inhuman.

Tony and Carol's relationship has always been about the effects of violent crime; can they come back from their own devastating personal experience with it? It's what we've all been gagging to know since the end of the last one.

Anyway, the serial killer who's targeting women adds a frisson to a trope that is a bit shop-worn; otherwise, still up to the same chilling, shocking standard, and then some.

After all that tension, I did a little palate cleansing. Not that these books are less for not being spine-tingling. In fact, they made a very welcome change. It was a mad week.

That's More of it Now: The Second Book of Irish Mammies by Colm O'Regan Transworld Ireland Digital (2014; eBook) €8.99 ****

SO adorable you want to pinch it on the cheek – or so familiar that it makes you want to grind your teeth into dust? I guess that depends on how you feel about your Irish mammy.

O'Regan follows up the crazy mad hit, Isn't It Well For Ye?: The Book of Irish Mammies, keeping the tone and the charm.

Also: the Tweet Towels (irishmammies.ie) are just the best thing ever.

Flames of Light by Mary O'Gorman Doghouse (2013) €12 ****

I FOUND it soothing to dip in and out of O'Gorman's collection, and was also delighted that the book comes from an indigenous publisher. Her work calls to mind that of Paul Durcan – the highlighting of the usual and the familiar in life, the foregrounding of a sliver of a memory into its own importance.

Three Poems to My Sister (Still Life, Poem for my Sister, Waiting for Judy) go straight to the heart in less than 40 lines; Thwarted by Beyoncé is hilarious. A lovely find.

Downturn Abbey by Ross O'Carroll-Kelly Penguin (2013) €12.99 ***

THE amazing Paul Howard, whose finger must be aching from holding it on the pulse of Irish society, has done it again: popular culture meets, well, more popular culture in this perfectly-titled latest instalment of the RO'CK saga.

It's one one-liner after another, which makes my brain a bit tired, but the idea of Ross becoming a grandad at the age of 31 was sufficiently gob-smacking, and fired up a nice warm feeling of schadenfreude.


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