Is there a price to be paid for lifelong social activism? That’s the question posed by Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends (Raven Books, £12.99). Molly is a 60-ish old-school activist whose life has been dedicated to everything from the battles of Greenham Common to (in the present) opposing the gentrification of a semi-derelict tower block. She has become a kind of surrogate mother to the youthful Ella, similarly known to the police for demonstrations that sometimes turn violent. And an act of violence is what drives the women even closer together, when Molly helps her friend conceal the accidental death of a man who has assaulted her. After the disposal of his corpse in a lift shaft, retribution begins to close like a steel trap around the women. Dolan is expert at the orchestration of tension (right up to the vertiginous climax), but this first stand-alone — earlier work featured hate crime coppers Zigic and Ferreira — adds a new stratum to the author’s trenchant societal engagement. While the authorities are presented in unsympathetic fashion, Molly’s unending crusade over a variety of issues has not filled the void in her life that initially propelled her along this path. Dolan seems to suggest that organic human interaction is preferable to a lifetime of battling for right-on, anti-establishment causes.
Ask aficionados who is Britain’s finest thriller writer, and many would answer the veteran Gerald Seymour, whose 40-year career has seen him tackle a wide variety of subjects. If recent work has lacked the rigour we expect from him, A Damned Serious Business (Hodder, £17.99) is Seymour once again firing on all cylinders. With customary topicality, the new book presents Russian hackers as the frontline warriors in a new Cold War. With Russian electoral interference on both sides of the Atlantic, MI6 case officer Edwin Coker initiates the disruption of a Soviet secret operation, not with a computer virus but a bomb, delivered across the border by a young criminal hacker suborned by MI6. He is to be shepherded by the seasoned soldier Merc. Needless to say, the hazardous mission itself — precisely the kind of thing that Seymour has excelled at creating in his books for decades — is palm-sweatily convincing.
The German writer Dirk Kurbjuweit has frequently interviewed politicians such as Angela Merkel, but it’s the personal rather than the political that powers Fear (trans. Imogen Taylor, Orion, £12.99). Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, transmutes into fiction the real-life experiences of his own family, victims of a stalker who could not be touched by the law as he had not actually broken it. We first encounter Berlin architect Randolph Tiefenthaler sitting with his father in prison. The latter has killed the tenant of the basement below his son’s upscale apartment, the unstable Tiberius (one wonders why Kurbjuweit felt the need to grant him the rather on-the-nail moniker of a murderous Roman emperor), who has sexually harassed Randolph’s wife and accused the couple of abusing their children. Tiberius, a beneficiary of Germany’s welfare system, could not be evicted, and as he grew more threatening, bloodshed became inevitable. But is the cold-blooded execution carried out by Randolph’s father all that it appears to be? While the tenser sections of the novel are handled efficiently enough, the real interest here lies in the astringent picture of middle-class German society (with its schism between haves and have-nots), something we’ve not seen before in contemporary crime fiction.
Hitchcock’s Rear Window is a gift that keeps on giving for writers of crime fiction, from Paula Hawkins’ variation on the theme, The Girl on the Train, to the latest riff, The Woman in the Window (HarperCollins, £12.99) by A J Finn. As with Hawkins, we have a booze-addicted woman with a dysfunctional life, Dr Anna Fox. When not watching Hitchcock films (Finn is refreshingly open about the source of his inspiration), Anna uses the zoom lens of her camera to spy on the comfortable life of her neighbours, the Russells. But — as is de rigueur for this subgenre — Anna observes something horrific that she was not supposed to see. She is confronted with the inevitable question — will anyone believe her? The achievement here is that Finn does not to attempt to conceal the shopworn elements but confronts them head-on and rings some bracing changes. ‘A J Finn’ is really Dan Mallory, a US publisher who knows just what makes popular thrillers work.
How would it feel to be trapped within one’s own body? Able to smell, hear and be aware of everything around you but unable to communicate? If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch (Harvill Secker, £12.99) is audaciously told from the point of view of Alex, a victim of locked-in syndrome after an accident. Initially yearning for death, Alex tries to discover what has happened to him; he is perhaps solving his own murder. It’s a thoroughly original premise, and though Koch may take her time before thoroughly exerting a grip, this is a debut to be reckoned with.