The Narrow Bed, by Sophie Hannah, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £14.99, 399 pages

An ever-growing legion of crime writers is currently fighting for the attention of readers. We can’t read them all, so it’s comforting to settle down in the company of someone utterly reliable: the talented Sophie Hannah, who rarely puts a foot wrong in her complex and persuasive psychological thrillers. This latest book bristles with the acutely observed characterisation that is the hallmark of her work. Three regional police forces are on the track of a vicious serial killer they have christened ‘Billy Dead Mates’. His gruesome speciality is murdering pairs of best friends, one by one – and before their death, each victim receives a small white book with a line of poetry. Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck receives one of these threatening books, given to her by a stranger at one of her gigs. But why should Kim — a woman with a dyspeptic view of the human race (and conspicuously without a best friend) – be marked out for sudden death?

Palace of Treason, by Jason Matthews, Michael Joseph, RRP £10, 470 pages

Jason Matthews has a CIA background, which guarantees a strong whiff of authenticity in his espionage novels (his debut, Red Sparrow, was much acclaimed). In this follow-up, we are again in the seductive company of Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service, who loathes what she sees as her own gangster state. The new book is not as trenchantly written as its predecessor, but it’s still a solid piece of work. Egorova is working as a CIA mole in the Kremlin when she comes to the attention of no less than Vladimir Putin himself. But her passionate sexual affair with her handler Nathanial Nash breaks every rule in the CIA book, even as she tries to get a compromised agent out of Russia. Matthews admits little nuance in his view of the CIA and its foreign opponents (the former = good; the latter = bad), but he knows exactly what he’s doing in maintaining a comprehensive grip on the reader.

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