The publishing world is no stranger to bitter arguments, but few were as divisive as that prompted by Joël Dicker’s multi-award-winning The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair two years ago. Admirers claimed it as a masterpiece, with eye-catching metafictional conceits, while it was dismissed as banal and overrated by its very vocal detractors. The book, however, still bagged multiple literary baubles and sold two million copies in a year. Its successor, The Baltimore Boys (MacLehose Press, £20, trans. Alison Anderson), is likely to create less of a stir, but may still cause puzzlement. For a start, is the book even a thriller, as its predecessor was? The writer Marcus Goldman from the first book reappears on a new search for inspiration, which this time takes him to Florida — where an encounter with an old girlfriend leads him to look back at golden days with his cousins, the eponymous Baltimore Boys. But the glittering prizes they anticipated in their youth have turned to dust, and Marcus’s investigation of a legacy of betrayal and deceit is to have a profound impact on his life. The new book’s continental sales have already been prodigious, but the most curious thing about it is how the novel replicates the dichotomy of Harry Quebert: the reader is never sure whether they are reading an ambitious literary novel or an overblown airport blockbuster in Jeffrey Archer style. Once again, Dicker’s astute observations (notably about class divides and politics in America) coexist with curiously maladroit writing and guidance that seems to belong in a self-help manual.
Readers tuned into the corporate thrillers of Michael Ridpath were nonplussed by a recent change of idiom he took with impressive Icelandic-set mysteries. But Amnesia (Corvus, £12.99) demonstrates that Ridpath clearly has itchy feet again. His latest direction is that of the peripatetic stand-alone psychological thriller — and suggests that he may finally have found his real métier. Curmudgeonly retired doctor Alistair Cunningham has had a fall that has damaged his memory and is recuperating in a cottage by a Scottish loch; he is reluctantly attended to by Clémence, the great-niece of a friend. She discovers a manuscript in which her patient appears to confess to killing a woman he once loved. But attempting to uncover the truth soon puts both Alistair and Clémence in peril. With an expertly wrought book-within-a-book narrative and a variety of time shifts, Ridpath is in full command of his material, even addressing issues of ageing and memory.
Fasten your seatbelts. Any time spent in the company of Steve Cavanagh’s two-fisted lawyer Eddie Flynn will guarantee a bumpy ride. And The Liar (Orion, £17.99) is no exception. Eddie investigates the kidnapping of a rich business figure’s daughter. But there is a strange complication – Eddie’s client runs an organisation that handles kidnap negotiations with dangerous groups such as Al Qaeda. Is more going on than meets the eye? Ian Fleming led a vicarious fantasy life through 007 — is the unlikely superlawyer (as adept with physical violence as he is in the courtroom) something similarly aspirational for Cavanagh, whose day job is practising civil rights law? If so, there is nothing wrong with that, and the impetus of the earlier The Defence is maintained here.
With its bullet-ridden jacket and speeding car illustration, Road Kill by Hanna Jameson (Head of Zeus, £7.99) announces forcefully that this is no cosy Home Counties mystery; the author serves up caustic and energetic fare, with echoes of James Ellroy (a writer much admired by Jameson) in what is essentially a road movie-style outing, smelling of hot American tarmac and cheap motels. Two violent British gangsters search for Trent, an ex-colleague who did the dirty on them. Right to its counterintuitively low-key ending, this is a book delivered with pedal to the floor (and a high body count).
The critical stock of Joseph Kanon is high, and Defectors (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) will add further lustre to his reputation. Ex-CIA operative and defector Frank Weeks is about to publish his memoirs; his betrayal had a seismic effect in Washington, destroying the career of his brother Simon. The latter’s journey to Moscow will unearth some stygian secrets. Pleasing echoes here of the ‘entertainments’ of Graham Greene.
Of late, Sherlock Holmes pastiches have had an air of desperation, with every character connected with 221b Baker Street dragooned for detective service, even (believe it or not) the Great Detective’s landlady Mrs Hudson. But H. B. Lyle’s The Irregular (Hodder, £13.99) proves that this is still fecund territory, given an unorthodox approach. Wiggins (Holmesians will remember) was the sharpest member of the Baker Street irregulars, the ragamuffin helpmeets enlisted by Holmes. But by 1909, Wiggins is a resourceful ex-soldier, and intelligence man Captain Vernon Kell, convinced of a range of dangers facing London, recruits a reluctant Wiggins. A richly flavoursome smorgasbord that yokes in not only Holmes but also Winston Churchill. Irresistible stuff.