Carthage, by Joyce Carol Oates, Fourth Estate, RRP£14.99, 400 pages

In New York state’s Adirondack Mountains, the search is on for 19-year-old Cressida Mayfield. She was last seen with Brett Kincaid, ex-fiancé of her older sister and an Iraq war veteran with an “intraocular lens in his mangled left eye. Titanium implant holding together the broken skull. The skin/skins of his face stitched together.”

Brett was drinking heavily and is unable to recall why there are traces of Cressida in his car, abandoned near the mountains; instead, he is haunted by his time in the US army, and the rape of an Iraqi girl by his platoon.

Did Cressida simply run away from home? Lose her way in the mountains? Or is Brett responsible? The ever-prolific Joyce Carol Oates is at the top of her game in this suspense-filled thriller. But Carthage is also a novel about guilt, punishment and forgiveness.

Review by John Sunyer

Boxer Handsome, by Anna Whitwham, Chatto & Windus, RRP£12.99, 288 pages

Childhood sparring partners, handsome Bobby and “Gypsy boy” Connor, will face each other in a boxing match representing their rival clans. They prepare for the bout with hot-blooded scraps over traveller girl Theresa.

Boxer Handsome, Anna Whitwham’s debut, has the enlarged sense of fate of a soap opera and her prose is delivered in short punchy sentences about ambition, attraction and family. Bobby – the novel’s pseudo-progressive protagonist – is struggling to escape his drunk, abusive father and the shadow of the estate on which he grew up.

London’s amateur boxing has bloomed in recent years but, beyond the mention of camera phones, Whitwham does not bring the present into her story. It’s all cooked breakfasts and East End boxing club signs painted “Thatcher-blue”.

Review by Lucie Elven

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