The Investigation, by Jung-Myung Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim, Mantle, RRP£16.99, 356 pages
In a remote Japanese prison towards the end of the second world war, Sugiyama Dozan is found dead, hanging naked with his lips stitched together. He was not one of the many violent criminals, anti-war intellectuals or anti-Japanese Korean rebels being held captive, but one of the prison’s most feared guards.
Watanabe, a former literature student now working at the prison, is given the task of finding the killer. At first, all appears hopeless as he uncovers a tangled web of prison hierarchy and complex relationships between inmates and guards. But he is brave and resourceful; eventually, he gets his man.
The Investigation, Jung-Myung Lee’s first novel to be translated into English, is not just a whodunnit that provides the relief of a clear resolution. The book also tells the story of Japan’s wartime history and is inspired by the real-life jailed Korean poet and dissident Yun Dong-ju, whose work is quoted throughout. It is a gripping book but is at times somewhat let down by stilted prose.
Review by John Sunyer
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No Book But the World, by Leah Hager Cohen, Clerkenwell Press, RRP£12.99, 320 pages
In Leah Hager Cohen’s fifth novel, Ava Robbins, a woman in her thirties, looks back to a childhood that left her with a strong sense of “not belonging”. She and her brother Fred were raised by radically progressive parents – their father was an educationalist obsessed with Rousseau – and encouraged to run free and follow their instincts.
Ava’s recollections have been triggered by trauma. Fred – who suffers from behavioural problems that were never properly diagnosed – has been implicated in the death of a 12-year-old boy. Shifting between several different perspectives, the book pieces together what actually happened as Ava simultaneously attempts to make sense of her past.
Cohen is good at evoking memories – sights, smells, sounds, atmospheres. Her language is vivid and nuanced, though just occasionally it becomes a little overworked. This is, however, a poignant and illuminating study of the bonds within families and the power of early experiences.
Review by Orlando Bird
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The Telling Error, by Sophie Hannah, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£12.99, 356 pages
Given her background as a poet, it’s hardly surprising that the language in Sophie Hannah’s novels is so precise and elegantly phrased. More noteworthy, perhaps, is her sure grasp of psychology – particularly that of her beleaguered heroines, often thrown into chaos by the effects of crime or a catastrophic misjudgment on their own part.
In The Telling Error, a confrontational newspaper columnist is murdered, the killer having used the knife in such a way as to avoid any bloodletting. The phrase “He is no less dead” is scrawled in the dead journalist’s office. Nicki Clements is questioned as a suspect; while she has had nothing to do with the murder, there are other nasty clandestine elements in her life threatening to bubble to the surface.
Hannah’s signature character, detective Simon Waterhouse, is on hand to cut the Gordian knot, but the police procedural aspects are less interesting here in comparison to Hannah’s adroit manipulation of her carefully delineated cast.
Review by Barry Forshaw
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Missing You, by Harlan Coben, Orion, RRP£18.99, 416 pages
Harlan Coben is aware that one of the most potent weapons in the thriller writer’s armoury is ironclad plotting. So admirers may be nonplussed at first by this latest offering, which is far more diffuse than most of his previous books, with a superfluity of plot lines. But the author knows exactly what he’s doing.
NYPD Detective Kat Donovan has no idea why her lover Jeff abruptly terminated the relationship and disappeared. Two decades later, Kat discovers the missing Jeff on a dating website. But this is only one plot strand. Kat’s policeman father was murdered 18 years before and she’s not convinced that the man who confessed is the killer; meanwhile, the scion of a moneyed family asks Kat to look into his mother’s inappropriate sexual behaviour. If that’s not enough, people are being imprisoned in boxes on a secluded Amish farm.
If all of this makes your head spin, don’t worry: Coben draws the disparate plot strands together with masterly authority.
Review by Barry Forshaw