From riveting tales of mobster wars to a 21st century Romeo & Juliet… our critics pick

From a terrifying plot featuring mobster wars to a love story set on a tropical island and compelling historical fiction, check out our picks of the best new books to read this weekend. 

Our critics have perused hundreds of titles to select the very best of crime, historical and literary fiction – not to mention new releases.

So let us help you lie back with a good book and let the weekend drift by…   



City In Ruins

by Don Winslow

(Hemlock Press £22, 400pp)

This last instalment of Winslow’s magnificent trilogy about the life and struggles of Irish mobster Danny Ryan from Rhode Island brings his story to a juddering, unforgettable conclusion.

In this last novel Ryan is ­living in Las Vegas. He is a billionaire and a silent partner in two lavish hotels. But he has dreams: one is to create an extraordinary hotel that reflects the 21st century in a town with its roots firmly planted a century earlier.

His ambition ignites a war with the older Vegas power brokers and sees Ryan fighting for his life, and to protect his family. Add in a ruthless FBI agent bent on revenge and you have as potent and terrifying a plot as you would expect from Winslow. If this truly is his last hurrah, it is a fitting tribute to his exceptional skill and talent.

How To Solve Your Own Murder

by Kristen Perrin

(Quercus £16.99, 384pp)

This debut from a young American — now based in Surrey — announces the arrival of a very bright new talent on the cosy crime scene. Perrin’s first mystery has wit, style and suspense as well as a feisty heroine.

It starts back in 1965 when Frances Adams was just 17 and a fortune-teller predicted that she would be murdered one day. Sixty years later and Great Aunt Frances — as she has become — now a famous crime writer, is indeed murdered. Then comes the first twist. Her will insists that her great-niece Annie should be one of two people charged with solving her murder; if she does, she will inherit her millions and her considerable estate.

So begins a delightfully refreshing story of the plots and allegiances that riddle the tiny Dorset village, where everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet. This has a Netflix series written all over it — it is that good.

Last Witness

by Lucie Whitehouse

(Orion £18.99, 384pp)

Birmingham based DCI Robin Lyons lies at the heart of this enthralling police procedural, set against turbulent times in the city.

The body of 18-year-old Ben Renshaw is found murdered in woodland. But why? One explanation could be that the previous summer Ben and his best friend had given evidence against Alistair Heywood, son of a rich, influential family, in a rape trial.

Heywood was convicted, but only after a prolonged campaign of intimidation against the two boys. Is the murder an act of revenge from the Heywoods, or a sign of something even darker?

Meanwhile, DCI Lyons has to grapple with her rebellious teenage daughter Lennie, who is also in legal jeopardy, although to protect her may threaten the career of her boss, and former lover, DCS Samir Jafferi. Emotional and moving, this is a police story with a beating heart.




by John Boyne

(Doubleday £12.99, 176pp)

 Earth, shame and humiliation are inextricably linked in this tale of a gay professional footballer brought low. Not that Evan Keogh, the would-be artist son of an abusive Irish farmer father, enjoys the game — he has as little desire to be on the pitch as he does to be working in the fields. When we meet him, his days as a star player seem numbered as he awaits trial, charged with being an accessory to rape.

This is the second in a quartet of interlinked novels named for the ­elements and devoted to exploring trauma of various kinds. Here, the results are compelling, if fairly ­unrelentingly bleak, as we move between the court case and the ­sordid events that have led to it.

There’s the suggestion of a revenge plot, but the dots are never really joined; what remains is a potent ­portrait of a flawed young man elevated to the position of hero but mired in the damage of the past.

The Alternatives

by Caoilinn Hughes

(Oneworld £18.99, 352pp)

Meet the Flattery sisters, Irish born and bred, each with a PhD and all ­wrestling with existential crises. When geologist Maeve, weighed down by her awareness of the Earth’s fate, abruptly abandons her home, her siblings unite to find her.

There’s Nell, a university philosopher who is suffering from an alarming ­unidentified disease; Rhona, a political scientist with a passionate belief in ­citizens’ assemblies; and Maeve, a celebrity chef forced to choose between her principles and her career.

The dense blend of score settling, wise-cracking, ideas and eccentricity is nothing if not attention-grabbing, with the middle sections taking

the form of a play. It can be a bit exhausting, but Hughes’s commitment to facing the question of how to go onward in our troubled times is admirable.

The Morningside

by Tea Obreht

(W&N £20, 304pp)

The titular tower block is a crumbling edifice on an island that may once have been Manhattan. It’s where 11-year-old Sil and her mother are attempting to make a new life having signed up for a government repopulation programme. Sil’s mother remains tight-lipped about their past, but her Aunt Ena is full of ­folklore about ‘Back Home’ that ignites Sil’s imagination.

Obreht’s award-winning 2011 novel The Tiger’s Wife evoked the Balkan wars of the 1990s; here, it’s seemingly climate change that has driven the conflict that has turned the book’s protagonists into refugees.

The result is dystopian fiction at its most unnervingly captivating — submerged highways, tree-colonised train tracks, wheeling flocks of urban cranes.

But this is also an increasingly ­serious look at a future, both unimaginable and all too near at hand, where ­reasons to be hopeful are hard to come by — and yet where humanity continues to find a way.



Mrs Gulliver

by Valerie Martin

(Serpent’s Tail £16.99, 304pp)

A 21st-century Romeo & Juliet, set on a tropical island. The eponymous narrator runs a high-end brothel at which Carita presents herself, looking for work. Beautiful but blind, she proves a hit with the clients, among whom is rich-boy Ian, a romantic hot-head.

He and Carita marry secretly and escape, but a gun-battle in which Ian’s friend dies triggers (as it were) lethal local rivalries.

Will the star-crossed lovers survive? Will Mrs Gulliver’s own unexpected late-life romance endure? Like Shakespeare’s play, this dryly written, utterly brilliant novel considers love at first sight and the ­predicament of being female in what is always a man’s world.


by Lionel Shriver

(Borough Press £22, 288pp)

We’re in 2010s America, where intelligence is an elitist concept and clever people are enemies of the state. Groupthink, virtue-signalling and social-media pile-ons are rife. Pearson, a lowly ­university lecturer, is trying to navigate the fast-changing social and professional landscape while hanging on to her sanity and educating her brilliant children.

Ranged against Pearson is best friend Emory, a professional polemicist riding the anti-elitism wave, and (in a 1984-ish touch) Pearson’s snitchy youngest daughter. But then, in a dramatic twist, Pearson gets the upper hand. This culture wars satire is funny, moving and horribly believable.

You Are Here

by David Nicholls

(Sceptre £20, 368pp)

The king of middle-class romance has done it again with this lovely, touching story, cleverly set on a coastal walking path. Stunning countryside, pretty villages and quirky B&Bs are the backdrop for the budding relationship between lonely ­metropolitan Marnie and shy York-based Michael, pushed together by a match-making friend. As M&M navigate hill and dale, they reveal to each other their painful pasts. But can they have a future?

Nicholls’s knack for warm characters, funny dialogue and superb scene-setting is as spot-on as ever. You’ll want to pull on your hiking boots at the first opportunity.



The Voyageur

by Paul Carlucci

(Swift Press £16.99, 400pp)

Rum-soaked, laudanum-addled and at the mercy of amoral ne’er-do-wells, a ‘skinny and feeble and fragile’ anti-hero heads into the wilds of 1830s British North America in ­Carlucci’s swaggering debut.

Alex, easily led, motherless and awaiting the return of his father, is eking out an existence as a stock boy. Then along comes charismatic Serge, a drunken fur trader, who offers him friendship, love and a place on a testy expedition. The atmosphere is hostile, characters are unpredictable, guns are loaded and, in a skirmish at a trading post, Alex gets shot.

Rescue appears in the shape of Dr Beaumont, but in a dark and violent world, kindness comes with a mercenary agenda, as the doctor sets about exploiting his luckless patient for his own ends in this unrelentingly bleak frontier story.

The Household

by Stacey Halls

(Manilla Press £16.99, 400pp)

Prisons, a fine townhouse and a small home in the countryside are the settings for Halls’ fourth compelling novel.

Based on a real endeavour founded by Charles Dickens and wealthy heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts, who created a refuge for ‘fallen women’, Halls unspools the story of Urania Cottage and its inhabitants. They include staunch housekeeper Mrs Holdsworth, who’s often infuriated by the inept interference of the trustees, elegant Martha, who worked on the streets, and the irrepress­ible Annie, a petty thief.

As the women test the bounds and freedoms of their new situation, Angela is feeling equally circumscribed; her stalker has just been released from prison and, like the women she’s helping, she feels ‘like a mouse in a skirting board with the hole stuffed’. As ever, Halls’s story-telling is acutely observed and beautifully written.

Night Wherever We Go

by Tracey Rose Peyton

(Borough Press £9.99, 304pp)

There’s power and poetry in the pages of Peyton’s harrowing, haunting debut, where trauma and transcendence leave their indelible marks.

Telling the stories of six enslaved women, it gives voice to Alice, Nan, Lulu, Patience, Serah and Junie, who are attempting to survive the ­brutal regime on a failing cotton plantation in Texas. They are owned by the irascible, quarrelling couple Lizzie and Charles Harlow, but the six companions know them as ‘just Lucy, spawn of Lucifer, kin of the devil in the most wretched place most of us have ever known’.

The women tell their histories, tales full of loss, love and indefinable, defiant hope, but their bravery and resilience is tested to the quick when Charles decides to force the women to bear children for his profit.



by Percival Everett

(Mantle £20)

Everett reimagines Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from the perspective of Jim, the runaway slave. While Twain’s Jim is often seen as a caricature, Everett’s James is an educated man who debates freedom with Voltaire when not running for his life. The wit of the writing and the fascinating examination into the freeing power of language preserves the charm and action-packed adventure of Twain’s story, while cleverly – and at times harrowingly – deconstructing its flaws.

Joshua Korber Hoffman

The Other Tenant

by Lesley Kara

(Bantam £16.99)

Marlow Cairns is a property guardian – she lives in abandoned buildings while they await redevelopment. It suits her rootless, drifting life, haunted by the death of a school friend years before. But when she’s offered a place living in her old school in Hampstead, Marlow realises it’s time to confront her past. Once there, though, she discovers the building harbours new secrets alongside the old. An atmospheric tale that builds skilfully to a satisfyingly complex denouement.

John Williams

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