Sunburn by Laura Lippman Faber, £14.99, 292 pages Laura Lippman’s diamond-hard prose and quirky characterisation epitomise the best in American crime writing. Sunburn represents something new for her: a touch of Anne Tyler (whose astringent portraits of American families are echoed), but also the hard-boiled writer James M. Cain — this is a modern take on his blue-collar narratives. Polly walks out on her husband and daughter to lead a new hidden life as a waitress. She is pursued by her husband and a shadowy figure who hires a laconic detective to track her down. Soon, Polly and the detective, Adam, are all over each other. It’s a third of the way in to Sunburn before Lippman begins to tell us what’s really going on, but by then we are mesmerised by her combustible cocktail of the erotic and the malign.
The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson, trans. Victoria Cribb Michael Joseph, £12.99, 311 pages Ragnar Jónasson is an Icelandic writer who was familiar to Brits before a single book of his had appeared in translation. He is a noted Anglophile, and translator into Icelandic of the novels of Agatha Christie. The wait was worthwhile, and The Darkness, first in a new trilogy, is a very efficient piece of work. Jónasson’s protagonist is Reykjavik policewoman Hulda Herrmansdóttir, who is being forced to retire by her unsympathetic boss. Investigating a cold case — the death of a female asylum seeker — Hulda unearths secrets that her own force wants her to sit on. All par for the course in the world of the police procedural, but Jónasson has the full measure of the Nordic noir genre, and pushes all the requisite buttons.