After You Die, by Eva Dolan, Harvill Secker, RRP £12.99, 377 pages
An unfair accusation often levelled at British crime fiction is the suggestion that the American and Scandinavian varieties are more often ‘about something’, with provocative issues energising the narrative. But there are UK writers who make serious points amidst the skulduggery – such as Eva Dolan, whose novels Long Way Home and Tell No Tales featured keen social engagement. That element is present again in this new entry, which tackles the emotive topic of disability-related hate crime. The subject is a case clearly based on real life (in which a woman complained to the police about the harassment she and her severely disabled daughter had suffered). Dawn Prentice is dead, viciously stabbed while her daughter starved upstairs. DS Mel Ferreira, her career derailed after being injured on duty, is troubled; she had met the dead woman – was she negligent in not taking her accusations more seriously? The authority and command of Eva Dolan’s writing grow from book to book.
The Woman Who Ran, by Sam Baker, HarperCollins, RRP £7.99, 402 pages
Sam Baker has edited some of the UK’s bestselling women’s magazines, but while that may have granted her prose a journalistic concision, there is nothing superficial about this suspenseful offering. The Woman Who Ran balances atmospheric scene-setting with adroit character-building. There are echoes here of classic Gothic fiction, with Helen Graham arriving at an out-of-the-way Yorkshire village and renting the Brontë-esque-sounding Wildfell House. The place is a ruin, but then so is Helen’s life: both her marriage and her career as a war photographer. Her relationship with retired journalist Gil is no source of comfort, and there are things in her past that Helen knows she will have to face up to. Questions of trust – and of simple survival – become very pressing for her. Don’t be put off by the book’s uninspired title; Baker’s evocation of her minatory locale is handled with real panache, but the real strength of the novel lies in its orchestration of steadily accelerating tension.