Simon & Schuster, £14.99, pp464
Tess isn’t sure what to do when she finds a scribbled drawing of a figure falling from a tower in a pile of photos of her daughter Poppy. “He killed her,” the three-year-old tells her, before sobbing and wetting the bed. Poppy can’t explain to Tess what she’s afraid of, but Tess knows something is wrong and as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding what Poppy has or hasn’t seen, she becomes increasingly concerned about almost everyone in her life. “I felt crazy, infected with fears,” she thinks. “Everyone thinks this is in my head, but what if it isn’t? What if I am right to feel such fear and dread?”
Tess is the protagonist of the latest outing for husband-and-wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who write as Nicci French. the unheard of is excellent – a breathless lecture brimming with deception and fear, as Tess tests the limits of what she can get away with in the name of protecting her little girl, “her ears like a hawk’s, her eyes, on stalks, the absorbing the world and all its confused, contradictory meanings.”
James Hans Mattson
Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp416
Just in time for Halloween, James Han Mattson produced Delay, a chilling mix of horror and thriller that explores racism and the desperate desire to belong with skin-crawling accuracy. The eerie heart of the novel is Quigley House, an “extreme haunt” location where visitors must attempt to make their way through a series of increasingly gruesome rooms to win a cash prize. When Bryan, Jaidee, Victor and Jane show up, they do well initially, but one of them will end up dead before they’re done.
Mattson goes back and forth in time, revealing how the team all ended up in this house of horrors – from Jaidee, the Thai student who tried to assimilate in America and failed to assimilate in America, to Bryan, Quigley’s cousin. collaborator and horror enthusiast Kendra. Kendra is only a teenager, but has a job in Quigley’s parking lot after moving to Nebraska after her father’s death.
Mattson leans against the horror motifs he uses—”the house loomed, pressing against the dark aggressively, a huge slab of storybook terror”—while also giving them a cynical shock. Smart, insightful and nerve-racking.
Michael Joseph, £20, pp496
Apples never fall, the latest novel by Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers author Liane Moriarty, begins as Joy Delaney’s four grown children discuss whether to report their mother missing in a cafe. She left nothing but a garbled text message, and as the days go by, the police begin to question the scratch on her husband Stan’s face and the strange young woman who moved into their house the year before.
Moriarty is excellent – funny and astute – about the little humiliations and annoyances that are part of a marriage, a family and a life. As we learn about the Delaneys past and present – the years Joy and Stan ran a tennis coaching business; the kids’ attempts to make it in the tennis world – the police are beginning to realize that no one is telling the truth. And Joy is still not back. although Apples never fall is a bit baggy, it possesses the insight and warmth that Moriarty brings to all of her books.
MacLehose Press, £16.99, pp320
the stoning is the first in a new series by debut author Peter Papathanasiou. It begins with the murder by stoning of a teacher in the Australian outback town of Cobb and introduces us to DS Giorgios Manolis, the son of Greek immigrants. “Jesus,” Manolis thinks, looking at crime scene photos, “this was Old Testament shit.”
Manolis, a typically gray, handsome detective with a broken personal life, grew up in Cobb and then moved. When he returns, he finds a town buzzing with tension between white people and Indigenous Australians and between locals and refugees in a nearby detention center. “Multiculturalism is the biggest failed experiment,” one resident tells him. “Look around, look at the city, there are no more Aussie faces,” laments another.
In a city that no one visits and everyone wants to leave, where people eat strips of crocodile meat and the heat is relentless, Papathanasiou conveys how the temperature permeates every interaction. Wonderfully dark outback noir.