In these times of uncertainty, it is no surprise that a lot of us have been drawn to books that provide answers. Novels that leave clues for us to follow, ask us to guess what's happening, before delivering a satisfying conclusion. I'd argue that now, especially with the cold nights drawing in, it is the perfect time for crime fiction and thrillers.
This time last year, I discovered the Frieda Klein series by Nicci French. I was very late to the party, but happily so because it meant I could devour the entire series in one go. The audiobooks narrated by Beth Chalmers are particularly good. It's an eight-book series, the first of which is called Blue Monday, about a psychotherapist who enjoys walking along London's canals and finds herself hopelessly entangled in a series of murders. We're introduced to many of Frieda's friends and are carried along with them over the course of several years. Each book is its own mystery with an overarching plot that ties everything together. Hands down, it is the best crime series I have ever read.
However, if an eight-book series sounds like too much of an investment might I recommend their latest standalone novel House of Correction. I'd be very surprised if it's not adapted into a Sunday night TV series soon; if you enjoyed Broadchurch, this one's for you. It's about a woman called Tabitha who has been arrested for the murder of Stuart Rees a man discovered dead in her garden shed. Everyone in the village is convinced that Tabitha murdered him; there were witnesses who said she'd threatened him in the street the day before, and she'd recently returned to the area after fleeing several years previously. However, there's a problem: Tabitha can't remember if she killed him or not. She wants the truth just as much as anyone, so she begins her own investigation from inside her prison cell. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this one; it is absolutely gripping.
Speaking of gripping, I listened to and loved West Cork, a true crime podcast about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, created by Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde. It's twenty-four years since that crime was committed and, infuriatingly, no one has been convicted of her murder. Author Louise O'Neill was equally intrigued by this and used that narrative as a jumping-off point for her latest novel, After the Silence. Her fictional story is set on a small island off the coast of Ireland, ten years after the death of one of its inhabitants, Nessa Crowley, and a documentary team from Australia have arrived to see if they can unearth anything new. It has one of my favourite plot set-ups: on the night of the murder, there was a storm, and all ferries to and from the island were cancelled, so the list of suspects is limited. The locals are convinced the protagonist's husband, Henry Kinsella, is guilty, and O'Neill weaves themes of wealth, power and control throughout this text. This tale asks us: what exactly can you get away with, if you play society's games?
My final recommendation is Summerwater by Sarah Moss. Not your typical crime/thriller, yet it is packed full of tension and suspense. If you're like me and you don't like reading novels out of season (I have a few books with summer' in the title that I've put back on my shelf for next year), don't worry: this novel may have summer in the title, and it may be set in June, but it's a cold day in Scotland, and the rain never stops. It's perfect for this time of year. Like After the Silence, this book is set on an island, but a slightly different kind: this is a small island with holiday homes in the middle of a loch. Each chapter jumps from one family to the next, many of them bored and peering out of their windows, silently (or not-so-silently) judging the people staying nearby. Moss is astoundingly good at shapeshifting and giving voices to so many different people, each equally real. Last year I reviewed her novel Ghost Wall for TOAST Book Club, a haunting book that pokes at the divide between play and menace. Summerwater expands on these topics, almost as though it's ripping a page through that particular novel and pulling you through to the other side. At the centre of Summerwater, there's something horrible just waiting to happen. I read it all in one sitting; it's a brilliant, hilarious and terrifying book that grabs you, tightens its grip, and refuses to let go.
Images by Robert Rieger.