In the thriller genre, psychological crime reigns supreme at present, but with an avalanche of new novels, something special is needed to rise above the throng. And that extra ingredient is unquestionably provided by JP Delaney’s Believe Me, the follow-up to his highly successful The Girl Before. The new book is actually a reworking of something previously written by the pseudonymous author, but it has no sense of being anything other than fresh material. Claire Wright is an attractive young British woman with aspirations to becoming a successful actress in the US. She is obliged to succeed in the States rather than return to the UK (for reasons that become apparent during the course of the book), but Claire has no Green Card. However, an opportunity presents itself to help her subsidise her acting career – some work for a divorce attorney. But the job is a queasy one: she is to act as a honey trap for errant husbands. Claire sees it as an extension of her acting career; she is a woman of seductive charms, and men fall like nine pins before her. But then she encounters Patrick Fogler, whose wife, Stella, she has already met. He is an academic with an almost obsessive predilection for the erotic poems of Charles Baudelaire. Patrick resists Claire’s attempt at seduction, but later the same evening, his wife is discovered savagely murdered in a hotel room (Delaney has based elements of the plot on a real-life entrapment case involving a brutal murderer). Needless to say — this is a crime novel, after all — things now go disastrously wrong for Claire when she is offered the chance by NYPD cop Frank Durban to prove Fogler guilty of murdering his wife and several prostitutes.
At the centre of much current crime writing is the unreliable central character, and the hapless Claire is definitely in that category. But Delaney keeps cliché at bay, and Claire is a rounded and intriguing figure, as are the people she encounters. But while characterisation is important, Delaney’s real interest here is in plotting of the kind that keeps satisfyingly wrong-footing the reader. As Claire is persuaded by psychologist Dr Kathryn Letham and detective Frank Durban to ensnare the apparently guilty party, the reader is invited to speculate whether everything is as it appears — what is their real agenda? Is Patrick the sole target for this attention? The whole scenario of Believe Me is intensely cinematic, and will no doubt have the film industry beating a path to Delaney’s door — but it’s none the worse for that. And forensic psychology – with its peeling of layers to reveal the truth — is another key element here.
BELIEVE ME by JP Delaney (Quercus, £12.99)