Spring is in the air (well not today) and I’ve been reading some excellent books which will be published in the coming months. I know I often say this, but I’m always struck by the diversity of what constitutes crime fiction and in this lot, I went from compelling historical noir to a thriller immersed in contemporary politics.
Star of the North is the debut thriller from D B John who coauthored Hyeonseo Lee’s bestselling memoir about her escape from North Korea. In 1998, an American woman disappears from a beach on a South Korean island. She is mourned by her twin sister, Jenna, who works in Washington as an East Asian expert. She’s approached by the CIA and discover that her sister may be the victim of kidnapping by North Korea. As Jenna enters the CIA training programme, tensions escalate between North Korea and the US in the twilight years of Kim Jong Ill’s regime.
The Star of the North is perfect for fans of Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim. It’s a substantial read with the recruitment of Jenna entwined with the story of Cho, a North Korean functionary and Mrs Moon trying to earn a living in the regime. John cleverly plays with the concept to twinship without ever resorting to cliché and Jenna is a rounded and believable character. Star of the North is out on the 10th May.
Julia Heaberlin’s Black Eyed Susans was one of my favourite books of 2016. Her follow up Paper Ghosts, published on the 19th April, tells the story of a woman who befriends the man she believes kidnapped and murdered her sister and takes him on a road trip to visit spots where she believes he killed other victims. Carl was a photographer and has snapped images of these places but, because of his alleged dementia, claims he has no memory of them. Less dark than Haeberlin’s previous book, I thought Paper Ghosts to be an interesting exploration of memory and loss. Haeberlin is excellent at characterisation, even of people the reader briefly encounters, and it was a lovely read.
I read MJ Tjia’s debut, She Be Damned, last year and was impressed by both the quality of the writing and the heroine, Heloise Chancey. Part courtesan, part detective, she’s a fascinating character who returns in the sequel, A Necessary Murder, which is out in June. A killer is stalking London, a small child is murdered in a privy and another victim is killed outside Heloise’s house. It’s another sumptuous historical thriller from Tjia and I loved returning to her world.
Finally, my favourite book of the year so far, American by Day which is out next week. Derek B Miller has written a cracker of a novel featuring Sigrid Odegard who readers might remember from Miller’s award winning book, Norwegian by Nights. Sigrid travels to the US to look for her brother, Marcus, who has gone missing. His disappearance may be connected to the death of a prominent African-American academic who died after falling from a building. American by Day is written with the author’s distinctive mix of intelligence and humour. Miller shows an excellent understanding of the clash between the Norwegian and American mindset and plays on these differences with a light touch. The story of the crime is never lost but the highlight, for me, was the unfashionable US setting and the excellent characterisation.