The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, translated by Laura McGloughlin (Doubleday, £12.99)
A welcome corrective to snow-blindness from too much Nordic noir, Hill's debut novel is set in a sweltering Barcelona. Things aren't going well for impulsive hot-head inspector Hector Salgado: in trouble for assaulting a suspect, he's suffered a serious blow to the cojones himself as his wife has left him for a woman. Two investigations – the first involving human trafficking and voodoo, the second a trio of pampered rich kids whose reunion party goes horribly wrong – give Salgado and his team plenty to do. The occasional lack of focus created by a big cast and a large number of disparate ingredients is more than compensated for by excellent characterisation, a sympathetic and engaging protagonist, and plenty of plot twists, with a cliffhanger ending that sets things up nicely for the next in the series.
What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright (Canongate, £12.99)
This Texas-set first novel from American forensic psychotherapist Wright is a coming-of-age drama with shades of Stand By Me. Kind but uncomprehending teenager Jim Beaudry tries to make sense of what has happened to his cousin Lee Ann, found one morning shaking and speechless on the porch of the house he shares with his grandmother. Jim is troubled by a dead girl who visits him in dreams that become a waking nightmare when he and Lee Ann stumble upon a real female corpse. It's the first of several gruesome discoveries in the area, and a manhunt ensues. But the mystery takes second place to a moving exploration of the vulnerability of youth, and of tangled family relationships.
The Playdate by Louise Millar (Pan, £12.99)
British journalist Millar's first novel is set in leafy north London where Callie, mother of Rae, is struggling: burdened by the worries of single motherhood on a tight budget and anxiety over her daughter's heart condition, and desperate to get back to work. She is also painfully conscious that she's been shunned on the school run and as a result is overly dependent for childminding and support on Suzy, a neighbouring mother of three with an apparently ideal family life. Adding to Callie's problems is the fact that a new arrival in the neighbourhood, the dangerously neurotic Debs, is working at the after-school club. This compelling and impressive debut is told from the point of view of all three women, and the reader's sympathy shifts constantly as the story becomes more creepy and unsettling when layers of intrigue and manipulation are slowly revealed.
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne (Headline, £12.99)
Another debut novel, this time purporting to be the contents of a notebook found in a now-defunct prison psychiatric unit, Heart-Shaped Bruise is narrated by an ex-inmate, the stroppy, obsessive and unreliable Emily Koll. A spoilt darling secluded in a posh boarding school with no idea that her father is one of London's most notorious gangsters, she gets a life-changing shock when, after murdering the policeman investigating him, Daddy is sent to prison. Changing her identity, Emily, vowing revenge, seeks out the officer's daughter whose testimony has sent her own father down, and ends up being psychoanalysed in a young offenders' institution. While the style, subject matter and characters' age make this most likely to be a hit with young adults, it's an exciting read for old ones, too, raw and gripping, with a wholly unexpected final twist.
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