The House of Wolfe, by James Carlos Blake, No Exit Press, RRP £8.99, 248 pages
There are so many disparate elements crammed into Blake’s remarkable novel that it is at times in danger of bursting at the seams. But just when the reader might think that the author has over-egged the pudding in this catalogue of kidnappings, torture, gunplay and death, he unerringly steers the helter-skelter narrative back on course. And there is a highly distinctive voice at work; admittedly, Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy seem to be in the DNA here, but Blake is his own man. The rain is pouring down in Mexico City when the members of a wedding party are kidnapped at the mansion of the groom’s family. Low-rent gangster El Galán has ambitions to join a major cartel, and sees the kidnapping as a PR stunt as much as a money-maker. But one of the captives belongs to a family of outlaws, so things are about to become chaotic and bloody. The House of Wolfe is pungent and exhilarating.
A Game for all the Family, by Sophie Hannah, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £14.99, 419 pages
Has Sophie Hannah’s recent move into Agatha Christie-style ventriloquism affected her narrative voice? After her attempts to breathe life into Poirot, this measured new standalone might initially seem less rigorous than such signature books as Hurting Distance, but there is a strategy at work here: the adagio pace lulls the reader into a false sense of security, and dark deeds are to be done — Hannah’s customary rigour as a psychological novelist is fully intact. Justine Merrison has abandoned a bruising London career for a cloistered life in Devon. But after leaving the capital, her daughter Ellen seems distressed when a new friend, George, is expelled from school. Justine takes it upon herself to contact the head teacher and have Ellen’s friend reinstated – only to find that not only has nobody been expelled, there never was a pupil called George. And then the anonymous phone calls begin…. This is Sophie Hannah making every word of the 400-odd pages count.