A creepy debut meets an unsettling end
IN Camilla Way’s The Dead of Summer ( Harper, 233pp, $ 22.99) Anita was a bit of a loner; her mum had just died and her father was what the Brits call a Paki, so she ‘‘ bunked off a lot, wore the wrong clothes, had a boy’s haircut and didn’t give a f--- about Duran Duran’’. All of which may explain why she developed a fix on the boy Kyle Kite. Kyle had behavioural problems. The previous year his five- year- old sister vanished. Did he kill her? There was an overweight, coloured boy who hung around Kyle, too. All that was back in 1986. Now Anita’s working in a factory and recounting her school days to a shrink. This is a neatly constructed story, an exceptional first novel: racy, creepy, stylish, with a knockout ending.
Lisa Scottoline’s shift thriller mode may be a mistake. In ( Macmillan, 336pp, $ 32.95) the heroine, Natalie Greco, an unusually meek law professor, is clumsily portrayed with her brand- crazy ‘‘ American
legal dream’’ family of McMansion- building, footballloving males. Like most novels this story is only going to carry if the writing is up to the task. Improbable tales filled with awful characters become masterpieces when the right fingers are tapping the keys. Here Natalie is persuaded by a colleague, whom she finds attractive, to teach at the local prison. This crossing of a social divide is ill- timed. There’s a prison riot. Nasty. It gets nastier when a stabbed guard, dying in Natalie’s arms, delivers last words to be relayed to his woman. This leads to all sorts of stuff that may not be worth reading to find out about. Altogether different is R. N. Morris’s brilliant
( Faber, 293pp, $ 32.95), set in St Petersburg in 1866 and tied directly to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment . Here’s a crime read for the literati featuring investigator Porfiry Petrovich plus shades of axe- wielding Rodion Raskolnikov. In Petrovsky Park a woman scavenging for wood discovers two bodies: a man hanging from a tree and a dwarf in a suitcase. Dostoevsky’s Petrovich, the investigating magistrate, does not believe this to be an open- and- shut case of murder- suicide. Then a seemingly unrelated disappearance encourages our investigator to follow his instincts. The plot thickens into a rich stew of the Russian psyche, snow, a prostitute and her child, a publisher and a student. There are crumbling apartment blocks and associated squalor, souls are pawned and spiritualist philo- sophical speculation prevails. Readers should go for this one with both ears pinned back.
Donna Leon is a crime author adored for her up- market setting, Venice. This, her latest,
( Heinemann, 264pp, $ 55.95) starts with a real bang, a snatched baby and an injured doctor, then settles into the customary canal- city calm. Pulses may quicken again at a fairly frenetic conclusion. Commissario Brunetti gets through most days anticipating the consolation of his wife’s cooking. But small pleasures don’t dull his sense of rampant corruption, petty jealousies, local racism. Brunetti is worldly, he understands that a society of 60,000 humans and in excess of 100,000 pigeons may be less than perfect, and so his attention becomes focused on criminal capitalism’s intrusion into the international baby adoption trade, linking it to medical practitioners, lawyers and a decline in the sperm count of First World males.