Low Heights by Pascal Garnier (trans. Melanie Florence) Gallic, £8.99, 186 pages When so many crime novels are saddled with characters whose only function is to advance the mechanical plot, it’s a pleasant shock to be reminded of writers such as Garnier, whose characterisations rival such writers as Graham Greene. Édouard Lavenant is a curmudgeonly retiree living in the mountains, resenting his loss of memory and other faculties (though a nocturnal occurrence shows all is not lost). He is rude to his beleaguered nurse Thérèse, wryly aware of her years although she is only 52. Their fractious liaison is veering towards the sexual when a young man appears, claiming to be Édouard’s long-lost offspring. What follows is to change irrevocably the lives of all three. Garnier is routinely compared to Simenon, but his world is darker and more complex than that of the Belgian master. This is a character study of richly drawn protagonists, with as much to say about such issues as ageing and emotional intelligence as more overtly ‘literary’ novels.
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz Century, £20, 390 pages In Anthony Horowitz’s new novel, a wealthy woman calmly walks into an undertaker to arrange her own funeral. Six hours later, she is strangled to death. But whether or not you relish this unusual crime fiction concept may depend on your attitude to the sleuths engaged in cracking the mystery. One is the abrasive, disgraced copper Daniel Hawthorne (fictional), while the other is no less than Horowitz, who has folded himself into the narrative as the Watson figure in an acrimonious relationship with Hawthorne. The beguiling whodunit plot is dispatched with the author’s characteristic élan, with much meta-fictional playfulness as Horowitz blurs the line between fiction and reality. Some may feel there is a touch of self-aggrandisement in Horowitz’s deceptively self-deprecating characterisation of himself (his highly successful career is ever present, and such colleagues as Steven Spielberg make an appearance), but there is no denying the sheer ingenuity of the central notion.