Andrew Taylor

Recent crime fiction | 4 June 2011

Mo Hayder has a considerable and well-deserved reputation as a writer of horrific crime novels that often revolve around the physical violence men do to women.

Mo Hayder has a considerable and well-deserved reputation as a writer of horrific crime novels that often revolve around the physical violence men do to women. Her latest, Hanging Hill (Bantam, £18.99), is no exception. Set in Bath, it’s the story of two estranged sisters — Zoe, a detective inspector equipped with a motorbike and a welter of scars, both physical and emotional; and Sally, the divorced mother of a teenage girl, who is struggling to cope with her vertiginous plunge from the agreeable plateau inhabited by Bath’s affluent middle classes. The narrative moves alternately between the sisters’ lives and the impact that the murder of a beautiful teenage girl has upon them. The plot encompasses sexual exploitation, drug-dealing, blackmail as well as murder.

One of the characters observes that Bath is nothing more than ‘a big village’. This may explain why everybody seems to know everyone else, but Mayhem Parva was never like this. Not that it matters — Hayder is an excellent writer who deals as convincingly with teenage angst as she does with forensic science. She has the priceless ability to keep you turning the pages. Occasional suspension of disbelief is a small price to pay for this, especially with the novel’s sly and beautifully finessed twist in the tail.

In literary terms, Howard Marks is best known for Mr Nice, a memoir of his career as a drug dealer. Now, with Sympathy for the Devil (Vintage, £6.99) he switches to fiction. Detective Sergeant Catrin Price returns to her native Cardiff, which she left 12 years earlier when her lover, another detective, turned out to be a junkie. At the same time the charismatic lead singer of Cardiff’s top indie band disappeared, perhaps because he jumped off the old Severn Bridge; his body has never been found.

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