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July’s best new crime fiction, including John Connolly’s bracing The Nameless Ones

New thrills from Sarah Langan, Megan Abbott, Olivia Kiernan and Helene Flood

John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels have long traded in the concept of evil, with Parker frequently pitted against malign forces of a supernatural and ancient origin.

The latest novel in the Parker series, The Nameless Ones (Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99), finds Parker on the margins, as his associates Louis and Angel set out to avenge the brutal murder of a former colleague in Amsterdam. The killers, Radovan and Spiridon Vuksan, bring the theme of evil into sharp focus: Serbian nationals responsible – directly or indirectly – for all manner of atrocities during the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the Vuksans are a stain on humanity for whom flags and uniforms are merely an excuse: "When it came to mass murder, any prey would do, and those who would kill one would kill all."

Now diversified into non-political criminal activities, the Vuksans have long since put their past behind them. It’s their very bad luck that they happen to crucify a friend of Angel and Louis, men who “were required to make their own justice, forging it in their image”. That justice is very much of the Old Testament variety, and The Nameless Ones is a revenge thriller writ large as Angel and Louis criss-cross the continent – London to Paris, Amsterdam to Vienna and onwards to Budapest – determined to obliterate the Vuksans and thus rebalance the scales.

Connolly doesn’t flinch from portraying the violence meted out by both sides, instead obliging the reader to confront the realities of torture and mass murder, and acknowledge that “there are no devils, only men who act like them”. Those who prefer their crime fiction to be possessed of a clearly defined morality may find The Nameless Ones a rather bracing read; then again, while Angel and Louis may not be “strictly good, they were whatever was required to face down evil”.


Sarah Langan's Good Neighbors (Titan Books, £8.99) centres on "the ghetto Wildes", a family recently relocated from Brooklyn to Maple Street, an upmarket enclave on Long Island. Their new neighbourhood feels "foreign and unsettled", the 13-year-old Julia Wilde tells us, "like this whole town was on Mars".

The strangeness is accentuated when a sinkhole opens up in the park facing Maple Street, and things turn sinister when Julia’s friend, Shelley Schroeder, falls into the sinkhole while running away from Julia’s father Arlo, a burnt-out rock star and reformed drug addict. All, of course, is not what it seems, although that’s by-the-by: Good Neighbours isn’t concerned with the conventional mystery-solving of a whodunnit or the whys and wherefores of the psychological thriller. Langan employs Maple Street as a kind of synecdoche for American society, eviscerating its supposedly refined middle-class denizens as they close ranks against the upwardly mobile Wildes, who have moved in “all tattooed and cheap, bringing their misery through the barricades of suburbia, infecting everyone”.

Framed by a true crime investigation published in 2043, which investigates the tragedy that occurred on Maple Street in 2027, Good Neighbours is a restlessly inventive crime novel that subtly investigates the kind of crimes that are nowhere to be found on the statute books.

Since the superb The End of Everything (2012), Megan Abbott's novels have tended to feature for their protagonists teens and young women, and been rooted in the dark desires of adolescence. The Turnout (Virago, £11.99) revolves around the adult sisters Marie and Dara Durant, who run a ballet school, although the reasons why they are perceived as "exotic" and "primitive" can be traced back to their teenage years, when their eccentric, smothering mother unofficially adopted the young dancer Charlie, who has recently become Dara's husband. When the emotionally vulnerable Marie starts to act erratically, and begins what they consider to be an improper affair with the building contractor Derek, Dara and Charlie are concerned; soon, however, Derek becomes a more destructive presence than they had initially feared, and potentially a force that might destroy their delicate pas de trois.

Set against the backdrop of “the mad fantasy” of The Nutcracker, The Turnout is equally a tale of “the brave girl venturing into the adult world of dark magic, of broken things, of innocence lost”. Charged with foreboding, the story fairly throbs with gothic tension – there are allusions to madness and incest woven through the “freakshow” of the ballet – even if its final act delivers a conclusion that is rather more prosaic than the set-up might have led us to expect.

Olivia Kiernan's novels featuring the Dublin-based Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan have established her as an author of knottily plotted police procedurals with a superb eye for character. Her fourth novel, The Murder Box (riverrun, £11.99), offers something a little different, as Kiernan tests the elasticity of the police procedural's parameters by involving Sheehan in a deadly game.

Presented with a Cluedo-like scenario, which includes the identity of a murdered young woman, Frankie is reluctantly drawn into the macabre puzzle when the corpse of the young woman named in the game is subsequently discovered. With her trusty sidekick Detective Baz Harwood unusually distracted, Frankie sets out to investigate the “Murder Box”, acutely aware that the clock is ticking and that another victim’s head is on the block should she fail to solve the mystery in the time allotted.

Inventive and ambitious, The Murder Box confirms Kiernan’s status as one of Irish crime fiction’s finest author of police procedurals. As always, Sheehan is a delight, a bluff, no-nonsense woman who eschews instinct and hunch for direct, incisive fact-based investigation, and there is much here – gaming theory, the concept of geo-profiling – that will broaden the crime connoisseur’s appreciation for the genre. The Murder Box doesn’t quite come to grips with the problem of the genre’s perennial bogeyman – the impossibly well-resourced serial killer with the capacity to minutely plan ahead months in advance – but perhaps the reader might concede, in the context of this novel at least, that that’s all in the game.

Set in Oslo, Helene Flood's The Therapist (MacLehose, £14.99) opens in an understated and initially frustrating style as Sara, the psychologist of the title, describes the "trivial details" of her day, beginning with how she is obliged to navigate the half-finished building site that is the home she shares with her husband, Sigurd. The reason for the obsessively meticulous opening becomes clear, however, when Sigurd leaves that morning for a skiing weekend with his friends Jan Erik and Thomas but fails to arrive at their rented cabin, and remains uncontactable over the weekend.

When Sigurd is discovered shot to death at a cabin many miles from his intended destination, the police begin quizzing Sara about their life together, which is when Sara’s attention to detail come to the fore – at least, it does until such time as the distraught, exhausted widow begins to question what exactly she remembers, and what she can really know for certain about Sigurd.

Framed as an unusual take on domestic noir, The Therapist also functions as an anatomy of a marriage conducted by a woman with a rare eye for the telling detail – unsurprising, perhaps, when we learn that Flood is herself a psychologist who specialises in violence and trauma-related guilt. Elegantly translated by Alison McCullough, The Therapist is a marvellously assured debut thriller.

Declan Burke is an author and journalist. His current novel is The Lammisters (No Alibis Press)