Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne (trans. Sam Taylor)

MacLehose Press, £18.99, 525 pages

Varenne is not lacking in audacity. Bed of Nails undertook a radical shaking-up of the detective story, while in Loser’s Corner, he utilised the experiences of his own father for an excavation of France’s murky colonial past.

In Retribution Road, however, Varenne strikes out in a new direction. He has created a sprawling but rigorous epic evoking such great adventure novelists of the past as Conrad and Buchan. In 19th century Burma, Bowman, a soldier, is dispatched on a clandestine mission that ends with the capture and torture of his men. Bowman survives and ends up in London, drink- and drug-addled. But a mutilated corpse is found which has undergone the same tortures that Bowman did in Burma. His tracking down of a vicious killer takes the reader on a picaresque — and always dangerous — odyssey. What is most bold here is the genre-splicing, with elements from the Western, detection and even war novel kept in exhilarating balance.

The Pictures by Guy Bolton

Point Blank, £14.99, 389 pages

The youthful Guy Bolton demonstrates a certain chutzpah in his debut novel. He has tackled a period of which he has no personal knowledge — and one which is largely overlooked by his writing peers: Hollywood’s Golden Age. It’s an undertaking with pitfalls galore, but Bolton’s laser-sharp noir thriller suggests a range of writing experience beyond his years. Jonathan Crane is a Machiavellian but sympathetic studio fixer who discovers that the suicide of a film producer has a connection with the murder of an upscale prostitute. It’s 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz, and it’s this film which provides the unlikely backdrop for this saga of moral compromise in the dark corners of the glittering Hollywood scene. While there are familiar elements here, Bolton largely keeps them fresh; he vividly evokes a vanished era while delivering a tale as mesmerising as any of the great movies of his chosen period.

BF

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