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Mick Herron Recommends Thrilling Reads for 2017

Posted on 15th August 2017 by Martha Greengrass

The author of our Thriller of the Month for August, Slow Horses – a book hailed by the Telegraph as being amongst “the twenty greatest spy novels of all time” – Mick Herron knows a thing or two about what makes a truly compelling read. We asked him to take a break from working on his latest Jackson Lamb novel to give us his recommendations of the best thrillers to look out for this summer.

I’m not much of a beach reader – I prefer to do my summer reading within easy reach of Test Match Special and a fridge – but there’s something about this time of year that cries out for a page-turner regardless of preferred location. And I suspect that publishers are aware of this, as they often cunningly arrange for their more unputdownable output to appear as office doors are being closed and suitcases packed. Among the many offerings out there, here are some I’d be reading if I hadn’t already done so, and others that I plan to read as soon as I get my hands on them.

Laura Lippman was superb when she was chronicling the exploits of private detective Tess Monaghan; now she’s broadened her canvas to explore large social themes, while remaining within the thriller genre, she’s simply outstanding. Wilde Lake plays on themes from To Kill a Mockingbird, as most readers will notice from the first sentence, and like that masterpiece broods on truth and justice, and the lies we unwittingly construct about our own past. If that makes it sound worthy, well, it is, if by that you mean a serious work of fiction by a subtle, illuminating novelist. But it’s also a riveting thriller.

As is Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley. This has already attracted bucketloads of plaudits, but I’m happy to add mine: as with his previous novel, the equally mesmerising The Good Father, Hawley here takes on big themes but makes them compulsive reading. A down-at-heel artist is offered a lift on a private jet owned by a TV mogul; when the jet crashes at sea, he saves the mogul’s infant son, while everyone else perishes. Celebrity, art, the power of the media and much else come under Hawley’s penetrating gaze as he maps the aftermath of the tragedy. Read it on the beach by all means, but it’ll linger in your memory long after you’re back at your desk.

Skipping back to this side of the Atlantic, Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders is a dazzling delight: two murder mysteries for the price of one. The twist is an overrated virtue in the thriller these days. In the right hands, a good one can be devastating; otherwise it’s just a cheap trick, straining credulity. In Horowitz’s book, the twists are integral to the plot: he has great fun recreating a Golden Age mystery which in itself will please Agatha fans, and takes equally obvious pleasure in deconstructing that story within the confines of another, contemporary, tale. The in-jokes will entertain genre devotees; the brilliantly constructed whole will keep all readers glued to the page.

Looking ahead, Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird won’t appear until September, but it’s well worth the wait. This is the much-garlanded Ms Locke’s fourth novel, and the first in a series featuring Texas Ranger Darren Mathews. The author’s previous novels were all set in the not-too-distant past; this is set yesterday, more or less, and its action takes place along the fracture-lines of Obama’s America. In a tiny town in East Texas, a middle class black man and a poor white woman are murdered within days of each other: Mathews, arriving to investigate, finds shadows cast by history wherever he looks. Attica Locke examines racial issues without ever reducing them to black and white, and her prose sings on the page. Reading it gave me the same thrill I got on first encountering James Lee Burke, and I’m already impatient for the next in the series.

All of the above are thrillers in the very best sense: it’s the thrill of being in the hands of a storyteller who knows precisely what he or she is doing. There’s little an avid reader enjoys more. 

Luckily, I haven’t read quite everything yet, and among the novels I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into is Don Winslow’s latest, The Force. I’ve been an avid Winslow reader since the Neil Carey mysteries, and increasingly delighted by a series of novels which have been comic and tragic in turn: spy novels set in 50s Manhattan; noir thrillers set in sun-drenched California; and surfer-dude escapades which, come to think of it, pretty much define “beach reads”. Now he’s writing books, largely about the drugs trade, for which the word “epic” wouldn’t be inappropriate: The Power of the Dog and The Cartel are huge in their scope and sweep, covering years in the lives of their mostly miscreant protagonists. The Force continues the same themes, its focus switching to those in authority. I can’t wait.

And as for the yet-to-appear, and which I haven’t managed to snaffle advance copies of, the big one-two punch of late summer comes from a father/son combo. John le Carré, as has been widely heralded, will soon be back with A Legacy of Spies, the first novel to feature George Smiley since the long-ago The Secret Pilgrim. To say that I’m looking forward to this would be an understatement: I’m actually palpitating a little as I type. And, in one of those twists which would have me hurling the book aside were I to encounter it in fiction, my other looming treat is written by his son, who writes as Nick Harkaway. Harkaway, author of the magnificent The Gone-Away World, is an uncategorisable delight. I have no idea yet what Gnomon is about, and don’t care: I’d read a Harkaway novel if it featured teenage zombies. Which, as it’s Harkaway, is not something I’m ruling out.

Happy reading...

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