The Borough Press, £16.99, pp400
“We should never have left Wales… now we find ourselves slap bang in the middle of a Stephen King film,” Linda’s dreadful mother, Eunice, tells her. Linda is in her 40s, living with her dull husband, Terry, on an estate in the town of Hexford and working part-time in a charity shop, when the bodies of young women start turning up. The police are making investigations and launching appeals, but Linda and her neighbours in Cavendish Avenue know the killer must be someone close to home. And while they say there’s safety in numbers, Linda is wary, “because you can never quite be sure of who’s wandering around in those numbers with you”.
A Tidy Ending is Joanna Cannon’s third novel, after the bestselling The Trouble With Goats and Sheep and Three Things About Elsie, and her memoir about her time as a junior doctor, Breaking and Mending. It is a rare beast indeed: a genuinely funny, and moving, novel about a serial killer.
Linda, Cannon’s narrator, is quick to win hearts. Palpably lonely, she’s the sort of person who never quite gets social interactions right – who laughs too loud, doesn’t look quite right, says the wrong thing. But she’s perennially, heartbreakingly positive, always putting a happy spin on the constant stream of rejections that come her way. Cannon is excellent on the little details that make up a quiet, empty life, as Terry heads off after dinner to watch some more telly, leaving Linda “alone with the smell of a thousand other empty plates to come… the washing machine spinning out the soundtrack of our lives”, as she ponders how “it’s the small rituals, the empty habits you build over the years, brick by brick, that end up being your life”. That second bleach of the sink. That second vacuuming of the hallway.
Linda might be lonely and overlooked, but she’s also got her own, strangely clear-sighted way of looking at the world, and she watches her neighbours as the Hexford Strangler continues on their rampage and as the bodies start to pile up. We learn more about why she and her horrific mother – “the kind of person who had far more coasters than people she knew”, who “says sharing intimate details of your health problems is a way to bring people closer together” – left Wales. We look at the reactions when local busybody Malcolm organises a community meeting about the killings and neighbours start to eye each other suspiciously.
Cannon’s version of suburbia is wonderfully creepy and claustrophobic – a curtain-twitching, darkly funny tale with a gloriously sinister twist. Linda is still tugging at my heartstrings a little, days after finishing.
Point Blank, £16.99, pp384
Jacqueline Sutherland’s debut has a very different lonely woman at its heart. Kat’s husband has recently died in a car crash. She is miserably isolated in the countryside until her one friend, Ginny, urges her to join a club for the recently widowed, where she meets a man bringing up his daughter alone. Kat has always wanted children and jumps at the chance of an instant family, but is Nico really who he seems? And is Kat? This is a twisty, chilling look at the lengths one woman will go to get what she wants.
Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, pp384
In Will Dean’s First Born, we meet Molly, an identical twin whose sister, Katie, has just been murdered in New York. Molly has always been the less adventurous of the two, cautious and frightened of life, but she forces herself to leave London to try to find out what really happened to her twin. As the New York police investigation seems to stall, Molly turns detective, leaving her comfort zone to interrogate Katie’s teachers, friends and boyfriends in her quest for the truth. An identical twin mystery is always entertaining and Dean, author of the excellent Tuva Moodyson series of Sweden-set thrillers and the standalone The Last Thing to Burn, handles his plot with skill. Molly, properly alone for the first time in her life, is a complex, intriguing protagonist – and Dean has plenty of surprises up his sleeve for the unwary reader.