May Crime Round-Up

N. J. Cooper

Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham

Published by Little, Brown UK, Atlantic Monthly US

Click here to buy this book

Elle by Phillipe Dijan

Published by Point Blank UK, Other Press US

Obsession by Amanda Robson

Published by Avon

Click here to buy this book

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

Published by Mulholland Books

Click here to buy this book


May’s crime novels all deal with love, family, obsession and cruelty, but in very different ways.

In Love Like Blood Mark Billingham takes on so-called honour killings.  One of Tom Thorne’s colleagues, on compassionate leave after the murder of her partner, involves him in an off-the-books investigation into a series of murders she believes have been carried out by killers paid by the parents of young people who are seen to have broken their cultural or religious taboos.  At the same time Thorne’s partner, Helen, is trying to uncover some particularly horrible child-sex abuse.  Carefully researched and judiciously plotted, this is an important novel, as well as a thriller with all Billingham’s characteristic wit and perception.  It’s good, too, to see poor old Thorne heading for his own particular, downbeat, version of domestic bliss.

Another unlikely form of domestic bliss is revealed in Philippe Dijan’s Elle, the basis for Paul Verhoeven’s film starring Isabelle Huppert.  We meet the first-person narrator, Michèle, just after she has been raped.  A strong, confident, middle-aged woman, she tells no one what has been done to her and gets on with her complicated domestic arrangements.  Her hopeless son, Vincent, has taken up with an unsuitable woman pregnant with another man’s child and keeps demanding money from her; her husband has left her for a younger woman; her ever-demanding mother nags her to visit her psychopathic father in prison.  Only her business and her best friend work well for her and even they are under threat because she has been sleeping in a bored fashion with her best friend’s husband.  The rapist keeps texting her and eventually they meet again, leading inevitably to violent disaster.  This is an elegantly written and absorbing thriller, which is also thoroughly disturbing in its portrayal of the pleasure Michèle eventually finds amid the disorder of her life.

Amanda Robson takes a quite different set of family circumstances in Obsession to reveal a whole range of marital cruelties.  Her couples are far more suburban than Dijan’s Michèle and the writing is not nearly as polished, but the reader’s sympathies are efficiently manipulated first in one direction and then in another as Carly and Rob mix and match with Craig and Jenni, exciting themselves and each other and taking revenge whenever they can.

But their obsessions, fatal though they become, are as nothing to those of the twin narrators of Sarah Lotz’s The White Road.  Half the novel belongs to Simon Newman, once a troubled and misbehaving youth, who is now a climber and spelunker.  His mischief-making days are not entirely behind him because he is working with his friend Thierry on a gross website showing film he takes of dead bodies and other horrors.  The other half consists of Juliet Michael’s diary and drafts of her forthcoming memoir.  She is a world-famous climber, vilified for what journalists consider her selfishness in risking her life on the mountains now that she’s a mother (criticism no male climbers have to face).  We meet her making an attempt on Everest, with neither Sherpas nor oxygen.  As she acclimatizes and prepares for the summit, she writes of her body’s failings and of the difficulties her mind is creating for her.

Lotz uses the well known phenomenon of the third climber to show the disintegration of Juliet’s mind in the thin air just below the summit.  Many mountaineers have referred to a ghostly figure who appears just ahead of them on the mountain when they most need support.  These figures are usually felt to be benign but Juliet’s is not.  When Simon, who has read her diary, follows her up Everest years later he experiences much the same sense of a malevolent being in his peripheral vision, just out of reach.  Like Juliet, he must take action to face his terror.  With none of the conventional thriller twists or revelations of evil-doers, The White Road is an exciting, engrossing and original examination of the human mind and body under intolerable stress.

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