The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent, Sphere, RRP £16.99. 406 pages
Christobel Kent’s Italian sleuth Sandro Cellini is a fixture on the current crime scene, but her new book takes us from sun-kissed Florence to the slate-grey skies of the Fens. The Loving Husband is firmly in the currently fashionable ‘domestic noir’ genre, but this is no catchpenny trend-chasing; Kent effortlessly rises above other entries in the field. Her protagonist, Fran Hall, is awakened one night by the crying of her baby and discovers that she is alone in the bed; her husband David has gone. As she begins searching for him, Fran uncovers dark secrets that suggest everything she believed to be true about her marriage may be a sham. Familiar stuff, admittedly, but Kent makes us forget that this is much-traversed territory. However, comparisons are invidious here; the familiar is confronted and inverted, and Kent’s ace in the hole is her keen penetration of the characters’ psychology, particularly that of beleaguered heroine Fran, her life in a downward spiral.
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor, HarperCollins, RRP £16.99, 482 pages
Readers might have thought that Taylor’s massive The American Boy was his magnum opus; his new book (set in a vividly evoked Restoration England) suggests otherwise. The Ashes of London has the same sprawling reach, but also presents as breathtakingly ambitious picture of an era as any we have seen in the genre. As the Great Fire devastates London in 1666, James Marwood, a young Whitehall clerk, is tasked with finding a brutal killer. Catherine Lovett, resisting an arranged marriage, is dreaming of becoming an architect, but her future is clouded by the fact that her father is on the run from Charles II, who in turn is tracking down those who ordered execution of the old king. The multiple narrative strands – all equally forceful — are drawn together in a brilliantly orchestrated finale. Taylor has won the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger on several occasions; it might be an idea for him to start clearing another space on his mantelpiece