Crime and thrillers of the month – review

<span>The antagonist in Nightwatching will ‘leave you trembling in your bedroom at night’.</span><span>Photograph: fatihhoca/Getty Images</span>
The antagonist in Nightwatching will ‘leave you trembling in your bedroom at night’.Photograph: fatihhoca/Getty Images

A woman wakes up in the middle of the night. “There was someone in the house.” She’s imagining it, she tells herself. But then she sees him – a man, tall, with “the distantly familiar rancidness of something wrong and rotten she’d tasted before and couldn’t quite place”. As he moves through her dark home, she realises she has seconds to decide what to do: pretend to be asleep, run, or wake her children and hide them away. “‘We have to be quiet,’ she whispered. ‘We have to be quiet! If we’re not quiet the monster will get us!’”

Nightwatching (Viking) by Tracy Sierra plays on old fears and nightmares to create one of the most terrifying – and brilliant – thrillers I have ever read. It had me waking at night after swirling bad dreams, and I keep going back to it in my mind, picking over the scenarios in which Sierra places her brave, capable protagonist. Gripping from start to finish, with an antagonist to leave you trembling in your bedroom at night, it’s hard to believe this is a first novel, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

Anna Ogilvy has been asleep since she was found with a knife in her hand next to the bodies of her two best friends

From Sierra’s isolated, snowbound home to the bustle and heat of Lagos, the setting for Vanessa Walters’s The Lagos Wife (Hutchinson Heinemann), another impressive debut thriller. It follows the disappearance of Nicole Oruwari, a Londoner who moves to Lagos with her Nigerian husband, Tonye, to enjoy a rich and glittering life in his family home with their two boys. When Nicole doesn’t return after a boat trip, and the investigation seems to have stalled, her estranged aunt Claudine flies out from London to find out what’s going on. Walters moves between Claudine’s investigation in the present and Nicole’s perspective as a “Nigerwife” in the run-up to her disappearance, showing how this life of luxury, in which everything is done for her and her children, starts to pall. How things have changed between Nicole and Tonye, too, whose “sense of entitlement had grown to be a thing of wonder, a towering pyramid, its peak hidden amid the clouds” since he returned to Lagos. And we see how Nicole tried to find herself again, and what happened to her when she did. Richly layered and deeply thoughtful, this is another excellent read that holds you in suspense until its shocking conclusion.

In Matthew Blake’s debut, Anna O (HarperCollins), Anna Ogilvy has been asleep since she was found with a knife in her hand next to the bodies of her two best friends. Four years on, nothing can wake her – but now the Ministry of Justice needs her to wake up so she can be put on trial for murder. It calls in sleep psychologist Dr Benedict Prince, who becomes obsessed with Anna’s case. Blake slowly fills in the backstory through extracts from Anna’s notebook – how she has suffered from sleep-related disorders all her life, frightened to lose consciousness for fear of what she might do. “My body craves sleep. My mind fears it. Sleep is the witching hour. The benighted shadows. The realm of the id, the animal, the unconscious. My own mind scares me.” There are a lot of strands to pull together here, and the storyline can feel a little convoluted and far-fetched, but it is still a propulsive and inventive read.

Husband and wife writing duo Nicci French are always a must read, and their latest, Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? (Simon & Schuster), is one of their very best. Compelling, moving and beautifully written, it’s about how real people are affected by (and driven to) murder. It starts with the disappearance of wife and mother Charlotte Salter in December 1990. Warm and vivacious, the sort of person everyone liked, she failed to turn up to her husband Alec’s 50th birthday party and was never seen again, leaving her young adult children “waiting for their mother to come home until waiting wore a groove into them and became part of who they were”.

Thirty-odd years later, the Salter children are back in their Norfolk village to move Alec, who has dementia, into a home. But their childhood friends, Morgan and Greg, are also there, making a podcast about Charlotte’s disappearance because, as Morgan says, “we feel the past is not done with… we’re stirring it all up and seeing what floats to the top”. Throw in a brilliantly cool London detective, Maud, and you have an absolute winner.

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