Banks thinks the remit for policing the City is the huge financial crimes that happen every day, not the kind of oddities that the PCU normally handles. This time around, it's the suicide's buried corpse that a couple of stargazing teens see climb out of his coffin, lurch around and utter what sounds like "Ursa Minor." Then there's the hit-and-run killing of one of the teen witnesses and, just because these things always come in threes, the disappearance of the ravens from the Tower of London; the ravens whose presence is said to protect the crown from falling.
If you like the macabre, there's plenty more after you finish the PCU's necromancy.
Jonas Karlsson's The Room (translated from the Swedish by Darcy Hurford; Random House, February 17) is a short novel, but reviewers are saying it's long on entertainment value. Our narrator is Bjorn, an office drone among many others, in a company called The Authority. Bjorn has a wildly inflated view of his own superiority and has plenty of things to say on these pages about the shortcomings of his co-workers.
Who is right? We already know Bjorn is an unreliable narrator, so is he imagining this office, or are his colleagues such ground-down drones that they can't see what is right in front of them? Some readers are calling this a masterpiece, both funny and creepy.
The creep factor is extremely high in Phil Hogan's A Pleasure and a Calling (Picador, January 6). I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of the book last week and I had to revise my list of top reads of 2014 pronto. And I don't normally much like the creepy stuff.
Heming likes his village and he likes things to be just so. To do that, access is sometimes important. For example, if a neighbor refuses to clean up after his dog, that neighbor may need to learn a lesson by having the dog's mess transferred to the nice white carpet in his living room. To anticipate what might need to be done, monitoring is a good idea, too, isn't it? Heming pays close attention and learns what people's schedules are and when their houses are unoccupied. He likes to get in there and just see what the residents are all about––and maybe collect a souvenir or two. Nothing expensive, really; just a token memento for his collection.
When Heming finds himself powerfully attracted to a young librarian, Abigail, who he learns is having a love affair with a married man whom Heming knows is a cad, well, it's his duty to do something about it. And things become very complicated, very fast.
This book has tension and atmosphere by the bucketload, and some guilty laughs as well. The next time I look in a lighted window as I'm going down the street, or I wish I could exact some lone justice on an inconsiderate driver, I'll think of Mr. Heming. But what, exactly, will I be thinking?
Rachel doesn't want to admit she's been fired to her flatmate, so she continues to commute on the train. She begins to fantasize about a young couple she sees having breakfast on their roof deck every day. They seem so happy; they have the life she was meant to have and they live so close to where her ex-husband now lives. But one day, Rachel sees the female half of the couple in what appears to be a passionate embrace with another man.
The female half of the couple later disappears and Rachel decides to play amateur sleuth. It's not like she has much else to do. But when the police become involved and Rachel is entangled, her blackouts and her imagination will make her a person of interest. Rachel is another unreliable narrator whose story (and a grain of salt) I want to take on soon.
How about some thrills along with the chills? I'm a big fan of Mick Herron's Slough House series (Slow Horses and Dead Lions), but Nobody Walks (Soho Crime, February 17) is a standalone. Herron paints strong characters with a few strokes, adds layers of sarcasm with a knife and finishes off his canvas with sprays of violent action.
Herron's latest protagonist is Tom Bettany, former Special Ops agent with MI-5. Tom retreated to a life of mind-numbing toil in France after his wife died, but now he's brought back to London because of the death of his son, Liam. The story is that Liam was out on his narrow balcony smoking a joint of powerful "Muskrat" when he fell to his death. Tom wants to know who sold Liam the Muskrat and how it is he was smoking it when there's no sign of a match or a lighter in Liam's flat.
Reappearing in London and asking questions soon makes Tom a target from several quarters, including a gangland captain, some crooks he put away in the past and the new chief of Tom's old MI-5 unit. Will one of his pursuers get to Tom before he finds out who's responsible for Liam's death and wreaks his revenge?
If you liked Ted Lewis's Get Carter (originally titled Jack's Return Home) or the movie starring Michael Caine, I'm thinking Nobody Walks will be right up your dark and menacing street.
One of the all-time great espionage thrillers is James Grady's Six Days of the Condor (which was made into the terrific Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway). Forty years have passed since that book, so I was very pleasantly surprised to hear that Grady has written a sequel, titled The Last Days of the Condor (Forge, February 17).
Blowing the whistle on the CIA and then going on the run, as the Condor did back then, takes its toll on a guy over all those years. Condor, also called Vin in this book, has had a heart attack and is on some heavy-duty drugs for PTSD. When a federal agent who is supposed to be his minder is found killed at Condor's place, Condor goes on the run again, pursued by a killer called Monkey Man and a whole menagerie of others who want him dead.
Who to trust and who to kill, as Condor takes to the streets of DC? Kirkus Reviews says the "prolonged action scenes are terrific, and the bounding energy of [Grady's] writing carries you along the rest of the time." There is also a rumor that the book has already been optioned for a movie. I wonder if Robert Redford will return as the Condor?
We can't let the men have all the thriller action, so how about a couple of female protagonists getting in on the fun?
Sarie Holland is a college honors student who gets into a big jam in Duane Swierczynski's Canary (Mulholland, February 24). Sarie makes the mistake of doing a favor for her boyfriend and gets busted by the narco squad. She refuses to roll on her boyfriend, but to avoid prosecution, she agrees to become a CI, a confidential informant, passing on information about the drug dealers she knows to her police contact, Ben Wildey.
Sarie's a smart cookie and such a good CI that the ambitious Wildey presses her to get further inside and provide information about the more dangerous higher-ups in the business. That backfires in a big way, leaving Sarie targeted by the gang and the bent cops who work with them. But they didn't bargain for someone as clever as Sarie, someone who is sick and tired of being used and wants to get her own back.
Rebecca Scherm's Unbecoming (Viking Adult, January 22) seems like a perfect title for a book about a young woman, Grace, who is constantly shedding her old self to regenerate into someone different. But the new persona always seems to be what somebody else wants her to be, not who she really is––because that person, she feels, has never been good enough.
Flashbacks take the reader to that previous life in Garland, when Grace felt the lack of her parents' love, then the welcoming warmth of Riley's family. She wanted to be what Riley and his family thought she was, but she could only be that girl on the surface. She always wanted something more, something different.
Early readers are saying that Grace is a thoroughly unlikeable but intriguing character. The marketing types are comparing the book to works by everybody from Patricia Highsmith to Donna Tartt and Gillian Flynn. I get that the protagonist is amoral, like Highsmith's Tom Ripley, and a manipulative conniver, like Flynn's Amy Dunne, but I hope there's more to the Donna Tartt comparison than a rolled-up stolen canvas. What I really hope is that there's only the most superficial truth to all of these comparisons, and that Rebecca Scherm has written a story all her own.