Rats, feral pigs and tragedy

Bloomsbury, £18.99

What a pleasure to have a thriller from such a master of letters as the award-winning American writer TC Boyle. Quite unlike his last novel, The Women, an acclaimed biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this is an eco-thriller that takes us into the dark heart of the question about how far man should go rectify his environmental guilt. It pits a savage (ironically so) animal rights activist against a scientist who believes she is acting in the interests of society, and the planet, to the detriment of certain species.

Anacapa Island is a Channel island off the coast of California, just north of Los Angeles. Here, in 1946, Beverly Boyd is shipwrecked — clinging on for dear life among the hostile rocks and utterly surrounded by rats, themselves shipwrecked here in the 19th century. Not indigenous, they are killing off the local wildlife.

Flash forward 50 years. Boyd’s grand-daughter, Alma Boyd Takesue, a stiff, upright biologist with the National Parks Service, is heading a mission to exterminate the rats with poison pellets and to restore the island’s ecosystem.

Standing in her way with terrifying ferocity is Dave LaJoy, an aninal rights militant, who tirelessly intercepts her mission first with the rats, then with some destructive feral pigs. Tragedy ensues, along with a twist that utterly perverts our perception of everything that came before.

This is a lyrical thriller that will haul you in politically and emotionally – and get your heart racing.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99

This debut novel from Tea Obrecht has caused big waves in the literary world. Already nominated for an Orange Prize, it’s being hailed as one of the year’s best.

Set in the post-Yogoslav war landscape of a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, goes on a mission of mercy to an orphanage. She and her old friend Zora begin to inoculate the children there – but before they can finish, the whispers start and Natalia becomes aware of age-old superstitions and secrets accumulating around her. Secrets that her seemingly friendly hosts have kept quiet about and that involve a strange family digging for something in the vineyards nearby.

Natalia has her own mystery to deal with surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death – after telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he – despite being in terrible health – journeyed to a remote settlement and died there. Why did he make so suicidal a journey? In a quest to understand his actions, Natalia begins going back over the stories he read her with relish and persistance. One in particular becomes the guiding light by which she will eventually find what she is looking for. A luminous debut.