If your 2012 Summer getaway coincides with the holiday weekend and you're looking for a sharp and gripping thriller, then pick up a copy of Claire McGowan's debut novel The Fall, which is published in paperback this week.
McGowan has clearly learned much from her role as Director of the Crime Writers Association, as The Fall is an immaculately engineered thriller that initially threatens to head into genre cliche territory but avoids all the traps and emerges as a fresh, challenging and enjoyable novel. It is also stylishly written, with a light and often witty touch.
The Fall tells the story of two women from opposite ends of the social spectrum whose lives crash into one another after a murder in a night club. Charlotte, a PR professional, is there with her banker fiancee Dan a few days before their perfect, extravagant wedding and fabulously expensive honeymoon. Keisha is there with her feckless, abusive boyfriend Chris.
Until Dan is arrested for the murder of the nighclub's owner, Charlotte's prime concern in life was her table plan and ensuring that the flowers don't clash with the linen at the reception of the Mandarin Oriental. Within days of his arrest she discovers that her middle class life was more fragile than she could have imagined. Her friends desert her with indecent haste, her career is in crisis and her banged-up boyfriend was up to his ears in debt.
Keisha, who already knew she was penniless, is pre-occupied by regaining access to her daughter Ruby who is in care and her sick mother.
Although neither realises it, the two women have more in common than their link to the murder, and this is what I liked best about The Fall: its subtle and clever analysis of the lines of class and colour that criss-cross London and their deconstruction as Keisha and Charlotte form an unlikely alliance. The passages that track their developing relationship are the most compelling in the book. While the men in the story are mostly hopeless - even likable investigating copper Matthew Hegarty demonstrates less than ideal judgment - the women are strong and resourceful, particularly Keisha.
The crime often feels subsidiary to this character-driven plot - even though it is the hinge that joins the two women - but that narrative is kept up as Hegarty, Charlotte and Keisha all negotiate their way through the web that has entangled them.
This is a strong, confident debut that deserves the praise that has been heaped on it, and I daresay that most who read it will be waiting expectantly for McGowan's next star turn The Lost, when it is published next year.