DETECTIVE Sergeant Lucy Black of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is visiting her senile father at a secure hospital in Brian McGilloway’s Preserve the Dead (Corsair, £19.99) when a body is spotted in the river below.
It’s not uncommon for suicidal people to choose the Foyle for their last act but, when she’s helped recover the man, Lucy is astonished to discover that he’s already been embalmed.
How does a “waked and boxed” corpse end up in a river? The answer lies in a poisonous stew of recession and corruption.
DS Black’s an unusually believable protagonist and her patch in the borderlands of County Derry is a tasty addition to the usual British and Irish crime fiction settings.
In After the Crash by Michel Bussi (Weidenfeld, £7.99), an airliner crashes into a mountain on the Swiss-French border at Christmas 1980.
To their amazement, rescue workers find one survivor — a baby girl.
Tragically, in the days before DNA tests, it proves impossible to identify the child. There were two babies on board but which one is the “Miracle of Mont Terrible?”
The two girls’ families, one a wealthy clan of industrialists, the other poor communists, go to war in the courts and through the media.
It’s not until 18 years later that a private eye hired by the rich family suddenly sees the solution to the puzzle staring him in the face.
But how many will die before the truth is revealed?
This is one of the most compulsively readable mystery novels of the year, a great premise thrillingly explored.
Lakeland physiotherapist Roz is in an awful lot of debt in The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly (Bantam, £16.99), some of which really isn’t her fault. Even so, she knows a slippery slope when she sees one, so her answer to the well-heeled patient who offers her a pile of money for one night in a hotel room is a firm No.
That is, until the eviction notice arrives.
There’s nothing particularly original about Daly’s plot but I didn’t care — the book is just so extraordinarily enjoyable.
The wryly individual voice of the narrator, the geographical and anthropological delights of the setting, the fascinating insights into the author’s previous profession of physiotherapy and the informed portrayal of modern poverty combine to deliver a superior page-turner.
In Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It (Orion, £13.99) a confused woman, her face covered with bizarre scars, turn up out of the blue on an English high street.
She’s able to remember her name and address but that’s not much use to the police. They are the details of a woman who died in a car accident two years previously.
The eventual, non-supernatural explanation of this enticing conundrum is so way out that it verges on grand guignol.
If you don’t mind a touch of wild gothic in your police procedurals, you’ll find this one highly entertaining.