Mur­der­ous women hav­ing a mo­ment

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - De­clan Hughes

Robin Wasser­man’s Girls on Fire was not just one of 2016’s sig­na­ture nov­els; its vivid de­pic­tion of trans­gres­sive teens in full flow seems to have served as a prospec­tus. Bad girls and way­ward women are very much alive and un­well in this month’s se­lec­tion of crime fic­tion.

(Quer­cus, £12.99) is the third in Sinéad Crow­ley’s com­pul­sively read­able Claire Boyle se­ries. It opens with the kid­nap­ping of Leah, an un­happy teenage girl, closely fol­lowed by an armed siege in the doc­tor’s surgery DS Boyle hap­pens to be at­tend­ing with her baby daugh­ter. The doc­tor, Heather Gil­more, and the hos-

One Bad Turn

tage taker, Eileen De­laney, were child­hood friends, and it emerges that Eileen, who has had a hand in Leah’s seiz­ing, blames Heather for the death of her son. Flash­ing back and forth in time, the mys­tery un­folds at a blis­ter­ing pace, lead­ing ul­ti­mately to an un­ex­pected and dev­as­tat­ingly dark con­clu­sion.

Crow­ley steers her di­verse cast around the coastal vil­lage of Fern­wood ( a thinly dis­guised, amus­ingly ren­dered Dalkey/ Killiney) with aplomb; she has a nice line in wry so­cial com­ment, a keen eye for psy­cho­log­i­cal nu­ance, and a fa­cil­ity for mis­di­rec­tion that sets you reel­ing. The cat­a­strophic con­se­quences of the eco­nomic col­lapse are deftly drama­tised, while Boyle’s less- than- tran­quil re­la­tion­ship with her stay- at- home hus­band is finely drawn. A volatile mix of police pro­ce­dural and psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, One Bad Turn is sen­sa­tion­ally good.

MJ Ar­lidge’s (Michael Joseph, £ 12.99) opens with the seem­ingly ran­dom shot­gun mur­der of a fe­male pro­ba­tion officer by a Bon­nie and Clyde cou­ple. The last thing she hears be­fore she dies is the sound of the fe­male killer’s laugh­ter. As the killers’ spree con­tin­ues, DI He­len Grace scram­bles a team to give chase,

Love Me Not

while dis­graced re­porter Emilia Garanita hopes to re­vive her ca­reer for­tunes by beat­ing Grace to a story in which the fe­male will prove to be con­sid­er­ably more deadly than the male.

Metic­u­lously re­searched, solidly con­structed and colour­lessly writ­ten in a suc­ces­sion of short chap­ters, Love Me Not, the seventh en­try in a best­selling se­ries, is a for­mu­laic read: each scene un­folds ex­actly as you woul d ex­pect, every line of on- the- nose di­a­logue is rid­dled with cliche, while DI He­len Grace is a re­lent­lessly self- pity­ing, an­gry and hu­mour­less hero­ine. ( Her back­story is so pre­pos­ter­ously melo­dra­matic it would, as Wilde said of the death of Lit­tle Nell, take a heart of stone not to laugh out loud.) Ar­lidge’s back­ground is in TV, and the book reads like a blue­print for a not es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing se­ries; I fre­quently wished that’s what it al­ready was, so I could change chan­nel.

“It’s an ex­quis­ite priv­i­lege to watch some­one die, know­ing you caused it. Al­most worth get­ting dolled up for.” Rhi­an­non Lewis has just dis­patched a ran­dom sex­ual at­tacker into the canal, mi­nus his erect pe­nis, which she has sev­ered with a steak knife and packed in one of her dog’s poo bags so it can later play a sig­nif­i­cant part in the plot. We’re on page 19 of CJ Skuse’s (HQ, £12.99), and that won’t be the last, or by any means the most bru­tal killing in the book. We’re not in St Mary Mead any more.

When Rhi­an­non was six, she was the sole sur­vivor of a mas­sacre in which her child­min­der and the five other chil­dren in her charge died; Rhi­an­non went on to be­come some­thing of a child celebrity, gar­ner­ing TV ap­pear­ances and the na­tion’s sym­pa­thy. And while she has just made the short­list for TV’s Women of the Cen­tury, mostly she lives a nor­mal life th­ese days: work­ing as an edi­to­rial as­sis­tant, get­ting en­gaged to her un­faith­ful boyfriend, help­ing to plan her friend’s wed­ding, get­ting preg­nant, and get­ting away with mur­der.

With a nod to He­len Za­havi’s Dirty Week­end, Sweet­pea is deliri­ously amoral, by turns gross, un­set­tling and hi­lar­i­ous; it reads as if an un­hinged Sarah Mil­li­can were chan­nelling Amer­i­can Psy­cho. It’s ram­shackle and over­stuffed and would have worked bet­ter at half the length, but I en­joyed it im­mensely.

In (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £ 8.99), by the mel­liflu­ously named Suellen Dainty, Anne Mor­gan has bro­ken up with her Marco Pierre White-style chef boyfriend and gone to keep house for Emma Helm­s­ley and her fam­ily. Emma – by Nigella out of Gwyneth – is the queen of life­style and self- help, while her hus­band Rob psy­cho­anal­y­ses celebri­ties on the ra­dio. They live in some style out in the woods past Rich­mond, and Anne soon makes her­self in­dis­pens­able, for Emma is

Sweet­pea The House­keeper

far too busy preach­ing do­mes­tic bliss to have time to prac­tice any.

The house was once home to a com­mune, presided over by an RD Laing-style al­ter­na­tive psy­chol­o­gist whose bi­og­ra­phy Rob is writ­ing. With Rob’s help, Anne grad­u­ally be­gins to re­cover dis­turb­ing mem­o­ries from the first six miss­ing years of her life, when her mother was still alive and may her­self have lived in the house.

Beau­ti­fully writ­ten, at­ten­tive to the in­sid­i­ous glam­our of the rich and fa­mous, throb­bing with un­ease and se­duc­tive menace, The House­keeper is a po­tent, at­mo­spheric chiller.

Lizzie Bor­den might be the ar­che­typal trans­gres­sive fe­male, and Sarah Sch­midt has taken the 81 whacks and the par­ents that were dealt them and spun a mes­meris­ing reimag­in­ing of it all in

( Tin­der Press, £ 12.99). The nar­ra­tive al­ter­nates be­tween Lizzie, whose shim­mer­ing, mer­cu­rial streams of con­scious­ness read like prose po­etry, her artist sis­ter Emma, Ir­ish maid Brid­get, and Ben­jamin, who has been hired by the Bor­den girls’ Un­cle John to com­mit mur­der.

Sch­midt writes with pre­ci­sion and flair about the op­pres­sive bore­dom of do­mes­tic­ity, the twisted in­ten­sity of sis­terly love and the for­lorn dreams of leav­ing and of per­sonal rein­ven­tion Emma and Lizzie share. A glit­ter­ing, gory fever dream of a book, See What I Have Done is a re­mark­able de­but.

Have Done See What I

De­clan Hughes is a nov­el­ist and play­wright. He is cur­rently Arts Coun­cil writer in res­i­dence at UCD

Sinéad Crow­ley: One Bad Turn de­serves an­other in lat­est DS Claire Boyle novel

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