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WHILE heavily pregnant with her fifth child, Andrea Stern stumbles across a murder scene at a New Jersey petrol station in Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza (Titan, £8.99). Even the fact that her toddler manages to contaminate the evidence by peeing all over it doesn’t stop Andrea from noticing what a botched job the police are making of the forensics.
She’s always resented having had to give up her career as an FBI profiler almost before it began to be a mother and wife and she’s not going to miss out on this chance to get her brain back into action.
Andrea allies with a disgraced local journalist searching for the story that might take him back to the top or, at least, away from the bottom. Together they uncover a conspiracy rooted in the US’s apartheid past in what’s a very funny yet very serious debut crime novel by the co-creator of the comic Deadpool.
In a rural area of California, highly Christian and conservative, a young woman is on trial in The Anatomy Of Desire by LR Dorn (Trapeze, £14.99) for murdering her female fiancee. Cleo is a rising social media star in Los Angeles, trendy and pansexual, and she’s in the worst possible location for such a defendant.
Presented as if it were the transcript of a true-crime documentary, this is a riveting courtroom drama. It uses skilfully fashioned plot twists to gradually reveal the background and aftermath of a tragedy born of naive but simultaneously ruthless ambition, childhood damage and the ripple effects of prejudice.
Adult tragedies which begin in childhood also drive the story of The Turnout by Megan Abbott (Virago, £14.99), set in a ballet school in an unspecified North American town.
Two sisters grew up in the school, and now run it with the help of a broken ex-dancer who is husband to one of them as well as foster-brother to both. When they hire a shady, manipulative builder to renovate the school, their unconsciously unhappy trio is doomed to be broken by lust, betrayal and finally death.
This is a sensuous novel about how the gravity-defying beauty of ballet is created from blood, pain and fear — and how art, like life itself, takes place in a material world even when seeming to transcend it.
Rider on the Rain by Sebastien Japrisot (Gallic Books, £8.99) unfolds in an off-season Riviera resort, where the arrival of a stranger is a notable event.
Mellie, a young housewife whose husband is away for work more than he’s home, sees a man step off a bus that almost never stops in her small town and knows right away that he’s bad news. She’s right and soon her life is engulfed in violence, lies and chaos.
Like so much French crime fiction, this short and strange novel has a strong flavour of mid 20th-century American noir cinema but shot through with the uniquely Gallic kind of romantic cynicism which makes it quite hypnotic.
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