At the center of Ian Rankin’s new John Rebus mystery, A heart full of tombstones (Orion, £22), stands Tynecastle Police Station on Gorgie Road, near Hearts football ground, and the deft strokes with which this dark place is sketched – in a dark square with an unloved grassy area; surrounded by a mix of buildings, workshops and garages; mesh covered windows gazing from the upper level; battleship gray facade retouched to conceal indecipherable graffiti; black Sharpie daubs on the front door – foreshadow the tumultuous legacy of corruption that lies there. DI Siobhan Clarke and DC Christine Esson, investigating Francis Haggard, a Tynecastle officer charged with domestic violence, find their investigations stalled; as they leave, a passing uniform shouts to her male colleagues, “I see we’re too late for the strippers.”
“What century are we? DC Esson mumbles.
“They’ll be dangerous if they ever learn to make fire,” Clarke replies.
Along with Rebus, who has taken an informal commission to locate a missing man of wheelchair-bound gang leader Ger Cafferty, apparently implicated in historic police misconduct on Gorgie Road, his nemesis, DI Malcolm Fox inevitably joins the case; when Haggard is dead, the game is on.
Rankin has a playwright’s knack for keeping the action continually on its feet and bringing together a deftly cast lineup of characters with verve and agency. With a masterfully shot labyrinthine plot, an atmospherically rendered Edinburgh, a satisfying biting side to the tone of the mouth, a very good dog named Brillo, and skillfully staged and staged narration, A Heart Full of Headstones is an outstanding performance. .
The Book of the Most Valuable Substance (Faber, £14.99) is Sara Gran’s new novel, so while we assume there will be some sort of investigation, however unconventional and random, we can also expect it to be fast-paced with the weird, numinous, the feeling that the boundary between this world and the next is too easily violated. The added dimension here is sex – the former tome is “the most precise and effective grimoire of sex magick ever written”, guiding the reader through five stages, each corresponding to a different bodily fluid.
Lily Albrecht was once on the threshold of a brilliant literary career with an internationally acclaimed and bestselling debut novel. She married the man of her (erotic) dreams, Abel, a genius in several fields – literary theory, biography, painting – “a man you would see in black and white and think. They don’t make them like that anymore “We were sure we could do anything: write, paint, make art, spin gold out of straw. Even fall in love and stay in love. But Abel falls ill with dementia praecox and now spends his days in a chair, silent and inaccessible. Lily has stopped writing and, as a rare book dealer, barely makes a living to keep a nurse for Abel. When another dealer warns her of a high offer At six figures for an occult book called The Precious Substance, Lily jumps at the chance to get some life-changing money and sets off on the search.
As Lily and her bookseller accomplice track down existing copies of the book, they perform the rituals, and Lily steadily regains and develops her sexual appetite. What Gran is effectively dramatizing here is recovery: Lily, depressed and grief-stricken, begins to blossom and becomes hungry for experience. Should she have been more careful in what she wished for? Maybe. But Gran’s lavish, extravagant and wacky way of laying out the course makes it all worth it. It’s a funny, charming, disturbing, genuinely erotic novel, where sex is not just a metaphor; it’s the essence of the effort (the clue is in the title). It is a book of signs and wonders, a marvelous and magical novel.
At Rosalie Knecht’s Vera Kelly Lost and Found (Verve, £9.99), Max, the foxy bartender of the Greenwich Village lesbian bar moved in with Vera: “…with his percolator and sewing machine balanced in the rear view mirror, we crossed the Manhattan Bridge just after sunset…” life Domestic and bohemian life in Brooklyn in 1971, Vera juggles IP business for the gay community with the occasional movie editing gig. Max, a former Vassar music student whose oil-rich family kicked her out after catching her with a girlfriend, is writing an opera about evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Max’s sister asks him to visit the family compound in Bel Air because their father moved in with his mistress and filed for divorce. Vera rides a shotgun to Los Angeles and marvels at the Hearst-like castle surrounded by “arcades of white columns, shrubbery, fountains with spouting gods” that is the family seat.
Max’s father, Aloysius, who is fiercely hostile to his daughter, has that quintessential California adornment, a middle-aged poetic guru wearing a necklace with a rubbery English accent called St James. Vera senses that Aloysius is “organized by anger, that his prodigious energy derives from it. It was his parents who had won the money. What does that leave a person to do? Max disappears and Vera has to find her. It’s a quieter, more linear affair than its two predecessors; Sometimes I wanted Vera to pick up one of the IP cases she had left hanging. But Knecht writes so stylishly and evocatively and with such emotional insight — about a road trip to California, a private mental institution, and Vera’s pinched and frightened mother — and ends with a lyrical bloom. of July 4 to fill the heart. Highly recommended.
Court of the Bleeding Heart (Quercus, £14.99) is Elly Griffiths’ third novel in her DI Harbinder Kaur series, and sees Kuar transferred from Brighton to the Met CID’s Homicide and Major Crime Unit. One of her new co-workers, DS Cassie Fitzgerald, has almost entirely suppressed the memory of how she and her classmates killed a classmate. Thirty years later, during a meeting, another friend is found murdered; investigating the case is Cassie’s new boss, DI Kaur. The inner circle of friends with a deadly secret history, the consequences of which are erupting in the present day, is a reliable model, and Griffiths – a witty, insightful and entertaining writer – delivers a well-crafted thriller. But Kaur seems somewhat diminished by her estrangement from Brighton, her lovely family and especially her eccentric group of crime-solving misfits first seen in The Postscript Murders. They eventually appear on the last page here, but I wish they had been there from the start.
black is the night (Titan, £18.99) is a collection of stories in homage to Cornell Woolrich, the black master whose work inspired Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Truffaut’s The Bride Was Black and many other film adaptations. Edited by Maxim Jakubowski, who published Woolrich reprints in the 1980s, and with a lyrical foreword by Neil Gaiman, Woolrich’s desolate aesthetic makes Patricia Highsmith look like PG Wodehouse, and the stories here reflect that. I particularly liked Kim Newman’s Black Window, and James Sallis’ Parkview, which has more of an MR James flavor, while Barry N Malzberg’s terse biographical The Phantom Gentleman captures the dreaminess and darkness of the Woolrich’s seedy decline.