CRIME fiction is constantly evolving. Trends and voices rise and fall, and sometimes that means the rich history of the genre can disappear into a kind of undeserved obscurity, eclipsed by more current trends and authors.
But that isn’t to say that older works can’t appeal to new audiences, and thank goodness for Pushkin Press’s Vertigo Imprint, re-publishing influential classics of the genre that otherwise might be forgotten. Their latest re-release, Leo Perutz’s Little Apple (Pushkin Vertigo, £7.99) comes with cover praise from Ian Fleming, and the author was a favourite of writers as diverse as Graeme Green and Jorge Luis Borges. Set in 1918, the novel follows former POW Georg Vittorin as he tracks down the Russian Captain who was in charge of the camp where Vitorrin was held for three torturous years. Our hero’s journey seems straightforward enough, but as he treks through revolutionary Russia, he discovers that revenge can have unintended consequences.
The title of the book is taken from a Russian folk song: “Hey, little apple, where are you rolling?” making it clear that despite his apparent clarity of purpose, Vittorin may be more lost than he cares to admit.
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Perutz’s writing, as translated by John Brownjohn, is brisk and often witty. Little asides, such as one character telling Vitorrin he looks like “Satan on Christmas Eve,” raise a wry smile, and there’s a keen intelligence in the way that the book examines post-revolution Russia, giving a proper sense of the chaos that was erupting in the region.
Modern readers may be initially perturbed by the formal style of the novel, but once you are acclimatised to the book’s rhythms, Little Apple soon becomes a spellbinding portrait of a time and place brought to life through the story of one man’s search for revenge.
From a classic author to a more modern voice, as we turn to Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake (Orenda Books, £8.99). Bella lives an ordinary life, with a distant father, a mother who vacillates between intense moods and a husband whose love seems at best perfunctory. But after her mother dies and her father commits suicide, Bella discovers that her whole life is a lie and that she is not who she thinks she is. Did her father really kidnap her as a child? Is she really a girl who went missing decades earlier?
While it seems, at first, as though Jennings gives her big plot twist away at a surprisingly early stage, this is merely a precursor of the heart-breaking and emotionally stunning events to come. Less a crime story and more an exploration of what family means, and the terrible things that love can make us do, In Her Wake is one of the most mature genre novels I’ve read in a long time. Its funereal atmosphere is punctuated by moments of hope, and while some of the final revelations could be melodramatic in less assured hands, Jennings maintains an absolute sense of credibility in character and action that is truly affecting.
With haunting prose, perfectly formed characters and a plot that slots together seamlessly and naturally, In Her Wake is the kind of book you’ll want to tell everyone you meet to read, and I’ve already shortlisted it as being one of my favourite reads of 2016.