A new year means new books, though it’s perfectly acceptable to still work through your 2015 to-read pile in your spare time, too. Even if your official New Year’s resolution wasn’t to read more books in 2016, January is the perfect month to decompress from holiday stress with a stack of new books. For no other reason than that, there are some not-to-be-missed gems from the other side of the pond, this month’s selections skew heavily British, including new installments from Tartan Noir master Ian Rankin and the pseudonymous Benjamin Black, who writes contemporary fiction under his real name, John Banville. If you’re a fan of spies, Mick Herron’s latest Slough House novel will be a treat, though it shouldn’t be read as a how-to for any aspiring secret agents out there. Belinda Bauer serves up another helping of psychological suspense in her latest standalone that will make parents keep an especially close eye on their children. And not to be forgotten is the lone American representative, Alafair Burke, with her eleventh novel, a standalone featuring a tough-talking defense attorney faced with representing a seemingly impossible client—her ex-fiancé—charged with a horrible crime.
Missing children have become almost as much of a cliché in crime fiction as serial killers but Bauer (Rubbernecker, 2013, etc.) manages to ratchet up the suspense to almost an uncomfortable level in this story of a woman who turns to a psychic after the disappearance of her young son. The only traces of four-year-old Daniel Buck are the footprints he left in fresh cement outside his house. Desperate for leads, his mother, who keeps her son’s footprints clean with an OCD level of care, turns to a psychic, or “shut eye,” for answers. The detective assigned to the case doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to finding missing kids. DCI John Marvel is still hung up on the disappearance of young Edie Evans who vanished on her way to school the previous year, but his interest is piqued when he learns that Daniel’s mother is consulting the same psychic who once consulted the police on the Evans case. At turns surprising and moving, this is a book that will stay with you for a long time.
Black, the pen name of Booker Prize winner John Banville, returns to 1950s Dublin in his seventh series installment featuring the taciturn pathologist Quirke. Nothing makes the morose Quirke more somber than being laid up and forced to convalesce in the home of his adopted brother, Mal, and Mal’s equally somber American wife. He perks up at the chance to investigate a suspicious death, which at first appears to be a suicide—a man drove his car into a tree—but turns out to be foul play. Intertwined in the death of Leon Corless, the man in the car, is the plight of a young woman who approaches Quirke’s daughter, Phoebe, and begs for her help. It’s no shock that that the two are connected but it’s Black’s ability to juggle the multiple plotlines while also continuing to build upon his already complex and nuanced main character that makes this a stellar installment in a must-read series.
No one at Slough House, the setting for Mick Herron’s latest espionage thriller (after 2013’s Dead Lions), could give James Bond a run for his money. All the MI5 agents assigned to Slough House are not so affectionately referred to as “Slow Horses”: they’ve messed up so catastrophically on the job that the Secret Service wants them as far away from any actual intelligence work as possible. So it’s pencil pushing and paper filing for the bitter ensemble that makes up Herron’s spy world. This time around, though, one of their own, Catherine Standish, is kidnapped and her colleagues, under the judgmental eye of boss Jackson Lamb, must figure out a way to get her back, which involves, among other things, breaking into MI5 headquarters in Regent’s Park.
Seeing both of Rankin’s characters on the page is no longer a shock but it’s definitely something new when Glasgow gangsters invade Rebus and Fox’s Edinburgh turf in this latest installment (after Saints of the Shadow Bible). The action starts out with the bludgeoning death of David Menzies Minton, former Lord Advocate of Scotland, who was found with an obviously prophetic note in his possession: “I’m going to kill you for what you did.” Rebus’s former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, heads the investigation and calls in Fox, who’s now a detective and no longer with the Complaints Division. When a local gangster, Big Ger Cafferty, with whom Rebus had a oddly cordial working relationship, is almost shot and a similar note is delivered, Clarke “un-retires” Rebus and drafts him as a consultant on the case, as Fox works on rousting a group of Glaswegian criminals who’ve shown up in Edinburgh. It’s a treat to see all the familiar, if often dour, Scottish faces working, albeit sometimes grudgingly, together for the good of their beloved city.
Taking a break from her NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher series (All Day and a Night, 2014, etc.), Burke moves to the other side of the courtroom aisle and tells the tale of a tough but damaged defense attorney whose past comes roaring back at her in the form of her latest client: her former fiancé. Olivia Randall and Jack Harris were happy once, twenty years ago, but Olivia broke it off in a messy separation that left everyone licking their wounds. Now she’s a well-respected—and single—defense attorney in Manhattan, her time with Jack just a painful memory. That is, until Jack’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Buckley, shows up in Olivia’s office and demands that Olivia help Jack, who’s just been accused of a triple murder. The man Olivia thought she knew could never kill anyone but when she looks into the case, she discovers that one of the victims is related to Todd Neeley, a disturbed teenage boy who shot up Penn Station and killed thirteen people, including Jack’s wife, Molly. Maybe, Olivia thinks, just maybe Jack would be capable of murder if it somehow avenged Molly’s death. But the deeper she digs into the case, the more tangled it becomes and the more convinced she is of Jack’s innocence and the possibility of an elaborate set-up. Burke, a former prosecutor who now teaches criminal law, weaves legal detail in seamlessly to a deeply wrought, emotional story that transcends the crime at its core. This is perhaps her best work to date.