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A psychological masterpiece set amid the beauty of rural France

TRESPASS
BY ROSE TREMAIN
Chatto and Windus, £17.99

ROSE TREMAIN has proved herself time and again to be a novelist of astonishing skill, verve and imagination. Her latest outing was the Orange Prize-winning novel about the contemporary immigration experience of an Eastern European man, The Road Home. But she’s written brilliantly about everything from Charles II’s dog physician to the marriage of Christian IV of Denmark.

Here she turns her (Sorbonne-trained) talent to the windy Cevennes region of southern France, where murder, nastiness and emotional disintegration is ruining lives. Trespass is sinister from the beginning. Melodie, a Parisian schoolgirl uprooted to the south when her father gets relocated, escapes a school picnic, heads into the woods and finds something in a river that makes her scream and scream.

Flash forward to Anthony Very, a 60-year old antiques dealer in London, who has lost his knack for money-making. He decides to follow his sister down to Cevennes, where she lives with her partner, and buy a house there in which to retire. He chooses the Mas Lunel, the crumbling home of the dissolute drunk Aramon Lunel, a character so haunted by his violent past that he can’t remember how to act like an adult and spends his days fixating on the €400,000 he could get for his house. Meanwhile, Aramon’s sister Audrun is stuck in a bungalow down the road and spends her days fantasising about exacting revenge on Aramon and other members of the family. The past, had Aramon’s dissolution and his sister’s rage not implied as much, is seriously flawed.

Into this storm of menace walks Very, whose path is to cross in violent ways with those of the Lunels. Two worlds and cultures collide, ancient boundaries are crossed, taboos are broken and the title’s “trespass” becomes a term for all manner of physical and psychological intrusion and manipulation. The novel is framed by the cruel beauty of the Cevennes hills – a scenery Tremain evokes with stern power. As perfect a thriller and a novel as one can find in contemporary fiction, this is not only a gripping read but a thoughtful examination of human moral error.

THE JANUS STONE
BY ELLY GRIFFITHS
Quercus, £12.99

GRIFFITHS’ husband gave up a City job to train as an archaeologist, giving her the inspiration she needed to formulate her Ruth Galloway mysteries which are – you guessed it – about an archaeologist sleuth. Inspired by the author’s aunt’s stories about the landscape and legends of her native Norfolk, the books are set in the windy, misty east of England.

This is Galloway’s second outing. Technically, she’s a forensic expert – but she also happens to be a specialist in ancient ruins. She’s called in to investigate when builders, who have been demolishing a large old house in Norwich, uncover the skeleton of a skull-less child, beneath a doorway. A ritual sacrifice or straightforward murder? Galloway’s lover DCI Harry Nelson is on the case too and finds out that the house was once a children’s home. Two children did go missing 40 years before – and were never found.

With her knowledge of crumbling buildings and the bones that can be found within, Galloway is drawn ever more deeply into the case. Of course, it soon becomes clear that someone is trying very hard to put her off the scent and (almost) succeeds in scaring her to death.

The nice thing about this book, like Griffiths’ first, is the proper female humanity of its heroine. Galloway becomes accidentally pregnant, a fact that shocks her Puritanical parents. She’s not married, and feels this case involving dead children highly emotionally because of her own child-bearing future. It’s a warming thriller, if you can imagine such a thing, and Griffiths’ well honed prose style carries it along nicely.

THE HIDDEN MAN
BY DAVID ELLIS
Quercus paperback, £7.99

HERE we have a different type of thriller – no emotional pregnant women in central roles, for a start. Hardly surprising, as this is the work of a male lawyer from Chicago, who is also counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives when he’s not writing crime fiction. (His first book, Line of Vision, won the prestigious Edgar Award for Best First Novel.) There are, however, dead children involved – as with the above book – and it is thus an emotion-jerker as well as a classy page-turner.

On a hot summer night in 1980, two-year-old Audrey Cutler was snatched from her bed and never seen again. Flash forward 26 years and her brother, Sammy, coincidentally (some could call it fatefully) crosses paths with the man police tried and failed to convict for her kidnapping and murder. Within weeks that man is dead.

And – would you believe it? – Jason Kolarich, Sammy’s childhood friend, is engaged to defend him when he stands accused of the murder. But who has hired Kolarich and why? It’s not clear, and it doesn’t feel above-board. And why, when Kolarich’s investigations lead police to a buried cache of children’s bodies, do they kidnap his brother and threaten his life? As the clock ticks by for both Kolarich’s brother and his friend Sammy, Jason’s on track to discover a shocking truth in order to save them, and himself.

Short, sharp sentences, a complex plot and a driving legal acumen from the author make this a good pick for the next long plane ride on your books.