The Shadows of Men by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker, £12.99)
The fifth book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series about officers of the Imperial Police Force begins in Calcutta in 1923, with the murder of a prominent Hindu scholar. Sergeant Banerjee’s proximity to the dead man puts him in the frame for murder, so it’s imperative that he and Captain Wyndham find the Muslim politician that they suspect to be the true culprit as quickly as possible. Sectarian tensions are already running high, thanks to gang violence and political discord, and there is every chance that the riots may turn into a bloodbath. The idea that somebody may be deliberately fomenting existing unrest adds to the growing discomfort both Wyndham and Banerjee feel about the colonial rule they have sworn to uphold. Action-packed, with some terrific set pieces, this is not only an atmospheric and well considered portrayal of a time and place but a masterclass in how to keep the reader turning the pages.
Dolphin Junction by Mick Herron (John Murray, £16.99)
Definitely one for the Christmas list, Dolphin Junction is both a perfect introduction to the creator of monstrous spymaster Jackson Lamb and a treat for Slough House aficionados. The 11 stories in this collection were originally written between 2006 and 2019, and – unusually for an anthology of this type – there’s no makeweight: each delivers a surprise, a shock, or a shiver, with plenty of Herron’s trademark smoke-and-mirror misdirection and sardonic humour. Highlights include the Roald Dahlesque Lost Luggage and the genuinely terrifying All the Livelong Day, as well as What We Do, one of four stories featuring the smart, unflappable private eye Zoë Boehm from the author’s Oxford series. An episode in Jackson Lamb’s past is explored in The Last Dead Letter, and there’s festive cheer in The Usual Santas, when eight Father Christmases attempt to unmask the imposter who has infiltrated their grottoes.
Dog Park by Sofi Oksanen, translated by Owen F Witesman (Atlantic, £14.99)
Prize-winning Finnish-Estonian writer Oksanen’s latest book is an intricate, textured slow-burner that paints a vivid picture of a post-Soviet state where gangsters rule and the exploitation of the female body is big business. Dog Park begins in 2016, with Olenka sitting on a bench in Helsinki, watching anonymously as her biological child – now with new parents – enjoys a walk with the family’s schnauzer. When an old acquaintance, Daria, sits down next to her, Olenka immediately assumes that the woman is there for the purpose of blackmail. In 2006, desperate to escape a life of poverty in her native Ukraine, Olenka agreed to sell her eggs to an infertile couple via an agency, who subsequently employed her to encourage others, including Daria, to do the same. It takes quite a while to find out what, exactly, has gone so wrong that Olenka fears for her life, but the pathos is fuel for real suspense.
The Russian Doll by Marina Palmer (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
Historical novelist Imogen Robertson, writing under her new nom de thriller, offers more post-Soviet gangsters. Here, they are Russian oligarchs based in London who lavish expensive gifts on members of the British establishment. When lowly administrative assistant Ruth Miller is offered the job of personal secretary by glossy beauty Elena Shilkov, she is transported to a world of bodyguards, designer clothes and superyachts, but soon learns that such luxury comes with a hefty price tag. Nothing is what it seems in this novel, which, like the matryoshka of the title, contains secrets within secrets – and Ruth, it turns out, has an agenda of her own. Fast-paced and clever, with a pleasing blend of political intrigue and romantic suspense as well as a whodunnit, this is perfect entertainment for a winter’s evening.
The Quiet People by Paul Cleave (Orenda, £8.99)
The latest novel from New Zealander Cleave is set in Christchurch, where married crime-writing duo Cameron and Lisa Murdoch live with their son Zach. When the seven-year-old disappears, boastful statements made by the pair about being able to commit the perfect crime come back to haunt them. There is also the fact that Zach – euphemistically described as “challenging” – had a public meltdown the day before he went missing, as did his dad, who, with his anger management issues and poor impulse control, is as much of a pain in the neck as his son. Public sympathy evaporates and soon the family are in the eye of a social media storm with protesters outside their house and a slew of one-star reviews on Amazon, as suspicion grows that Cameron and Lisa have cooked up a real-life plot to revive their flagging careers. A true page-turner, with an intriguing premise, a rollercoaster plot and a cast of believably flawed characters.