by Iain Banks
Iain Banks' death two weeks ago from cancer ended one of the most enjoyable literary careers of recent times. The Quarry is both a poignant farewell - and typical Banks: the main protagonist, a wastrel called Guy, is himself dying of cancer. The plot rushes through a hallucinatory weekend, which Guy spends at home in rural Scotland, along with some of his closest friends. The story is narrated by Guy's son, Kit, who views his father's strengths and weaknesses through the prism of Asperger syndrome. Kit's own limitations mean he is both bored and baffled by the antics of his increasingly desperate dad and friends. Banks was good at dysfunctional eccentrics and here the black comedy feels more than usually bleak. Guy's friends are all failures of one sort or another, expending their energy in mutual sniping. When Guy is not denying his fate, he ponders a life half-lived. Banks had bemoaned the fact that his last book was "minor". He had a point, but even Banks in the minor key is superior to many of his "major" contemporaries.
by Gabriel Weston
(read by Penny Rawlins)
Gabriel Weston is the author of an award-winning memoir, Direct Red. The subject of that excellent, if mildly traumatic work of non-fiction is also her day job: she is a physician in one of London's over-run hospitals. Dirty Work sees Weston try her hand at fiction. The subjects this time are abortion, and its moral and human consequences. The premise is simple: Nancy, a young registrar specialising in gynaecology, is driven in part by her passionate conviction in a woman's right to an abortion. Nevertheless, her heart and mind seem to be in conflict when one day a woman almost dies in her care - "I have never seen so much blood" are the opening words of this short but intense ethical drama - and she is put on trial for her career and her beliefs. Penny Rawlins' cool tones suit the character's own rigour, and break impressively as Nancy falls apart. The central drama is somewhat dissipated by meditations on Nancy's childhood which at times feel close to padding for a superb short story. Dirty Work is tough, but impressive.
The Kill Room
by Jeffery Deaver
Hodder & Stoughton
The Kill Room ushers in two anniversaries: it's the 30th novel by bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, and the 10th to feature investigator Lincoln Rhyme. The premise, which is typically devilish, bears echoes of Sherlock Holmes' re-appearance in The Empty House. Robert Moreno is a man well used to danger: "Like Martin Luther King, like Gandhi, he was always at risk." This proves all too true when Moreno is taken out by "a million-dollar shot" - a sniper's bullet that can only have been fired from a near-impossible range. Moreno's assassination was ordered by the US government, but who else wanted him dead and why? At the end of her tether, assistant district attorney Nance Laurel turns to the double act of Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. Rhyme travels to the Bahamas and finds the sniper has left no clues at all. As he follows in the killer's footsteps, he uncovers a complex plot in which even the most peripheral clue can have devastating consequences. Deaver is not perhaps the most subtle thriller writer, but here he is on top form.