Crime and thrillers of the month – review | Crime fiction

Crime and thrillers of the month – review | Crime fiction

Christie Watson is the first in a handful of big name authors with new thrillers out this month. Winner of the Costa first novel award for her debut, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, she is a former NHS nurse who has also won acclaim for her memoir, The Language of Kindness. Moral Injuries (W&N), her first thriller, is a thoughtful, darkly gripping look at the lives of three doctors – Olivia, Anjali and Laura – who met in medical school and have stayed friends through all the twists and turns their jobs have thrown at them. In their 40s now, Olivia and Laura with teenage children, they are forced to remember a night from their youth, when the three of them did something that has cast a long shadow over their lives ever since.

Watson is, unsurprisingly, brilliant on the reality of working in the NHS, and the strain and reality of the trio’s jobs (Olivia is a surgeon, Laura an air ambulance doctor, Anjali a GP) is brought to riveting life. She is also excellent on betrayal, female friendships and family, and what we might do to protect it. I was so caught up in it all I had to flick ahead to the end to calm myself down. I don’t recommend doing that – but I do recommend Moral Injuries.

‘Darkly gripping’: Christie Watson. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Next up is Abigail Dean, author of the bestseller Girl A, about a girl who escapes from her family home after years of abuse. Her second novel, Day One (HarperCollins), tackles an even more shocking crime: a school shooting in the Lake District, where a teacher dies trying (and failing) to protect her primary school pupils. Dean shows us Marty, the teacher’s teenage daughter, carefully peeling back the layers to show what really happened that day, revealing how the tragedy played out for her. “For months after my mother died, I would come to fever-wet and smelling of the worst of myself, sweat and mouth. It was my mother who had changed the sheets.”

Dean also gives us Trent, an outsider who gets caught up in the conspiracy theories swirling around the shooting, showing how a lonely young man might get drawn into this world. Dean writes beautifully and Day One is an absorbing, heartbreaking read. I just found it a little too heartbreaking – we return again and again, from different perspectives, to the scene of the shooting, and my heart repeatedly shattered for these children. I had to keep putting the book aside, returning when I felt strong enough.

Stuart Turton has already published two very different books: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which he describes as a “Groundhog Day murder mystery”, and The Devil and the Dark Water, a historical thriller set on a ship. His new book, The Last Murder at the End of the World (Raven Books), is something else again. It is set on an island surrounded by a fog that has destroyed the rest of the planet – a place inhabited by 122 villagers and three scientists known as the Elders. The hugely inventive mystery begins when one of the scientists is found murdered – the first murder the villagers have ever seen. Her death triggers the lowering of the island’s security system that keeps out the fog, and there are only 92 hours to find a solution or the fog will sweep in and kill everyone. The only problem is, everyone’s memories have also been wiped. Turton is excellent at slowly revealing the details about this post-apocalyptic world and its inhabitants. I won’t give anything else away as the discoveries are part of the joy, but I was engrossed in this high-concept thriller and can’t wait to see what Turton does next.

We’re back in today’s society with Imran Mahmood’s Finding Sophie (Raven Books), in which Harry and Zara’s 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, has been missing for weeks and the police investigation has gone cold. Her desperate parentsinvestigate themselves and become obsessed with a reclusive, highly suspicious neighbour. Mahmood moves between their perspectives as he shows how they take matters into their own hands; he also outlines a trial at the Old Bailey, the details of which are gradually made clear.

Finding Sophie is a great thriller as well as a moving look at parental grief. “My child is 17,” says Zara at one point. “She’s not dead. But she has been missing for eight weeks. Those last weeks have been like drowning. Every day. Not drowning. Like being held under water.” I frequently wept while reading it but couldn’t put it down.

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