Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson Faber, £12.99, 307 pages  There is a notable strand of Englishness (as opposed to Britishness) in the work of Nicola Upson – particularly so in the latest entry in her distinctive historical series, in which the crime writer Josephine Tey is once again dragooned into service as a detective. Apart from the felicitous evocation of a Cambridge setting, Upson references our greatest writer of ghost stories, M.R. James. Two decades after that writer chilled his colleagues at Kings College with his tales, Tey is spending Christmas in the town which is gripped by fear because of a serial rapist. DCI Archie Penrose teams up as before with Tey to solve a series of vicious murders, with the supernatural stories of James proving crucial to the mystery. As well as furnishing a superior piece of crime writing, Upson is perceptive on the place of women in unenlightened 1930s England.

The Darkest Day by Håkan Nesser, translated by Sarah Death Mantle, £16.99, 534 pages  British readers are already familiar with the sophisticated detective stories of Swedish master Håkan Nesser featuring the saturnine ageing copper-turned-bookseller Van Veeteren, but his earlier series featuring the more youthful Detective Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti has not been translated – until now. And our belated acquaintance with the philosophical half-Italian sleuth (who works in a fictitious Swedish town) proves to be well worth the wait. After a fraught birthday party for a retired teacher, two members of a deeply unhappy family, the Hermanssons, disappear. They have been nursing murderous resentments towards each other, and Barbarotti, assigned to the case, is to find that family dysfunction can have dire consequences. In an exemplary translation by Sarah Death, this tangled tale of guilt and betrayal whets the appetite for the other Barbarotti novels, hopefully soon to follow in English.

BF

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