Lolito, by Ben Brook, Canongate, RRP£10.99, 288 pages
The fifth novel from prolific young author Ben Brooks seeks to update Nabokov for the age of webcams and sexting. When 15-year-old Etgar is betrayed by his girlfriend at a party, he seeks solace in an internet chatroom. There he “meets” Macy, a flirtatious middle-aged housewife. They agree to meet in person for a night in a London hotel, where Macy is bound to discover that Etgar is not the 25-year-old stockbroker he has claimed to be.
Brooks’s publishers describe the author as a literary Wunderkind. He certainly has talent: his prose is crisp and he incorporates unforced references to Facebook and Instagram into his prose as only a 21-year-old writer could.
But Brooks shies away from the darker implications of this age-gap love story and the book is eventually ruined by a soft-focus sentimentalism.
Review by David Evans
City of Women, by David Gillham, Penguin, RRP£8.99, 400 pages
Gillham’s accomplished debut novel is set in Berlin in 1943 and follows the extraordinary wartime life of soldier’s wife Sigrid Schröder, against the backdrop of her stricken city. Sigrid is having an affair with Egon, a Jewish man. When he disappears, memories of their encounters haunt her. Later, Sigrid becomes involved with an underground network of Germans who hide Jews and realises the young woman and two children she is helping are Egon’s wife and daughters.
Gillham, who trained as a screenwriter, injects Hollywood drama into the human relationships that are the backbone of his book. Each scene is arranged with a screenwriter’s precision so neither Sigrid nor the reader can work out who to trust. Through Sigrid, Gillham ponders the fate of the German Jews but this takes second place to plot: this is a novel that takes its reader along for a bumpy, exciting ride.
Review by Hazel Sheffield
A Tap on the Window, by Linwood Barclay, Orion, RRP£16.99, 483 pages
Thriller writers trading in conspiracy theories, cryptography and ancient artefacts may rule the roost at the moment but readers will almost inevitably find their way back to such sure-fire and highly adroit storytellers as Barclay, whose speciality is to take ordinary people and to gradually dismantle all the meaningful elements in their lives. It’s an ironclad narrative tactic, and one that worked repeatedly for the film-maker Alfred Hitchcock.
In this tale, Cal Weaver picks up an injured female hitchhiker on a rainy night. The girl is one of his son’s classmates. When she asks to stop and use a rest room, the nervous young woman who emerges no longer has the bloody hand injury she had earlier – and he realises it is not the same girl. When a woman is later found savagely killed, Cal is in the frame. This is Barclay firing on all cylinders, with not a code or symbol in sight.
Review by Barry Forshaw
The Shadow Tracer, by MG Gardiner, Michael Joseph, RRP£7.99, 358 pages
Stephen King did not necessarily do Meg Gardiner a favour when he anointed her as a future superstar of the thriller genre; despite her first-rate novels, she has not as yet made a commercial breakthrough commensurate with her talents. But here she is with a new publisher, a newly abbreviated name, and her best book yet.
Her heroine, Sarah, is living quietly with her five-year-old daughter Zoe when she hears that the school bus has crashed. When Sarah arrives at the hospital, her life is changed irrevocably. Although Zoe is uninjured, it is revealed that she is actually Sarah’s niece, and that her real mother, Beth, died at the hands of a malign cult known as the Worthe family. What’s more, the little girl possesses an even more dangerous secret.
As ever with Gardiner, we are ineluctably drawn into the plight of the heroine, and the orchestration of tension is exceptional.
Review by BF