LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman, Faber & Faber, £12.99 (ebook £6.99) ★★★★★
IT is 1966, Maddie is Jewish, in her late 30s, divorced (more or less), and determined to be a reporter, whatever anyone says.
She lands a job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun, and two deaths help Maddie on her way: A Jewish girl killed in a pet shop and a young negro woman found in a fountain.
Maddie becomes obsessed with Cleo Sherwood, the ‘lady’ in this Raymond Chandleresque title and dredges the murky story, despite warnings to stay away – including, oddly, from the dead woman.
Luminescent writing, immaculate plotting and multifaceted storytelling make for an ingenious and satisfying read.
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead, Fleet, £16.99 (ebook £8.99). ★★★★ ★
THE Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Underground Railroad delivers another searing indictment of injustice and suffering.
It’s 1960s Florida and black student Elwood Curtis, guilty of nothing more than naivety and idealism and inspired by a worn-out recording of a Martin Luther King speech, finds the door slammed shut on his dream of a better life when he is thrown into the Nickel Academy. Ostensibly a juvenile reform school, it is in reality a chamber of horrors.
As he is taken under the wing of the more cynical Turner, Elwood attempts to hold on to Dr. King’s words but soon discovers there is no promised land, and in the end, he is forced to take a stand to try and right terrible wrongs.
Whitehead’s powerful prose is a cool study of an era which still shakes the foundations of the US today. Inspired by shocking events at a real reform school, sometimes the truth suffocates the story and there are some over-familiar tropes.
Not quite the must-read which led to the runaway success of The Underground Railroad, but close enough for fans old and new.