And She Was by Alison Gaylin published by Sphere UK, Harper US
That Nightby Chevy Stevens, published by Sphere UK, St Martin’s Press US
Back in the dark ages, when I worked in publishing, December books were a sad ragbag of the unwanted and unloved. Things are clearly different in 2014, and this month sees some cracking thrillers to raise the spirits of everyone dreading a surfeit of food, family and festivity in the coming weeks.
The premise of J. G. Jurado’s The Tipping Point is not exactly realistic, but that’s not the point. A brilliant, bereaved neurosurgeon in Washington DC is about to operate in great secrecy on the President of the United States when his seven-year-old daughter is kidnapped. The psychopath who has organized her abduction then tells her father that the only way he can save her life is by killing the president on the operating table. What follows is a well-structured, fast-paced story, full of moral choices as well as drama, which should keep even the most jaded cynic reading. The translation from the Spanish original is by Martin Michael Roberts, who has done a really good job. The first-person sections of the novel are convincingly idiomatic and I was never conscious that I was reading a translation, which is rare.
And She Was introduces Brenna Spector, an investigator and finder of missing persons. She has an unusual neurological condition, which makes it impossible for her to forget. So vivid are her memories, and so accurate, that some of her current life passes by almost unnoticed. And she has some tough stuff to remember. Her sister was kidnapped in childhood, and Brenna has always blamed herself, making her choice of career easy to understand. Most of her work consists of finding husbands who have intentionally disappeared themselves from unsatisfying marriages, but now Brenna becomes involved in murder and the kidnap of another young girl. Brenna is an intriguing heroine and her dealings with one particular cop add some good wisecracking warmth to the thrills here.
Another interesting heroine can be found in Chevy Stevens’s That Night. Toni Murphy is the tomboyish, toughly dressed, difficult elder daughter of a builder and his wife on Vancouver Island. Her younger sister, Nicole, is a typical second daughter: gentle, amenable, considerate. She has never had to fight their mother’s controlling tendencies in the way Toni feels she must, and no one is ever horrible to her. When she’s murdered one night on the beach, Toni and her boyfriend, who claim they were smoking dope and snogging not far away, become the obvious suspects and are convicted and sent to Rockland Penitentiary for life.
As Toni tells the reader in the first chapter, ‘I’d spent almost half of my life behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit. The anger never really leaves you.’
What follows is a timeslip novel, exploring in one part Toni’s struggles to deal with her release on parole and in the other the events and emotions that led to Nicole’s murder. Stevens’s account of adolescent rage and distress is absolutely convincing, as is the nightmare of trying to rebuild a life in a freedom that is always conditional on keeping to difficult rules and not arousing too much interest from anyone who might feel threatened by a convicted killer. This is a terrific novel.