Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall Century, £12.99, 354 pages Sexual role-playing games – in Hall’s impressive novel — have dangerous undercurrents. Privileged London couple Mike and Verity have a clandestine erotic strategy called ‘the crave’, in which Verity allows herself to be semi-seduced in a bar in order that Mike can appear at a crucial moment and rescue her, a charade that both find highly aphrodisiac. But when Verity opts to marry another man, Mike decides that this is the game taken to another level, and what follows has disastrous consequences for both. Hall’s considerable achievement here is to keep the narrative persuasively within Mike’s consciousness — and we learn he is deeply damaged by an abusive childhood. The accumulating tension of the novel leads to a high-profile trial in which both protagonists are in the dock. While the orchestration of suspense is masterly, Hall’s real agenda becomes apparent in a feminist subtext: the way in which active female sexuality is judged more harshly in modern society than male desire.
Murder at the Grand Raj Palace by Vaseem Khan Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, 360 pages For those weary of the eviscerations of much modern crime fiction, Khan’s witty and colourful books in the ‘Baby Ganesh’ sequence offer a pleasing (but not overly cosy) alternative. This fourth novel featuring Mumbai detective Ashwin Chopra finds him charged with investigating the death of a wealthy American stabbed in his room at the upscale Grand Raj Palace hotel. The authorities — and the luxurious hotel itself — would be happiest with a verdict of suicide, though Chopra isn’t persuaded. But his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, is here less help than hindrance. While each entry in this cycle has sported a familial resemblance, Khan has demonstrated a capacity to ring the changes, not least in his richly textured picture of modern Mumbai. Those who feel that the element of whimsy in Khan’s tales renders them too comfortable are doing themselves a disservice; there is an element of the caustic along with the charm which makes this a most beguiling series.